Hegelian and Marxist DialecticsHaving read Timpanaro's book *On Materialism* (Verso) I agree that he made telling criticisms of Western Marxists including both the Frankfurters and the Althusserians. He quite correctly IMO established linkages between Marxist materialism and the tradition of natural science materialism (which goes back to Democritus and Lucretius). Timpanaro also quite correctly establishes linkages between Marxism and biological materialism including Darwinism. He also provided a very clearheaded discussion of Engels' views on the relationships between the notions of freedom and necessity.
Timpanaro in *On Materialism* presents himself as rehabilitating the reputation of Engels in the face of what was in his opinion the unfair criticisms of the Western Marxists but paradoxically IMO this defense of Engels is undercut by Timpanaro's anti-Hegelianism. Yet the Engels of *Anti-Durhing* and of *The Dialectics of Nature* (regardless of what one might think of that work) was hardly an anti-Hegelian, quite the contrary. Perhaps, Timpanaro has succeeded in resolving this paradox in other writings but he didn't IMO do so in *On Materialism.*
I have not read Timpanaro's *On Materialism*. James' criticism of this book are probably accurate. In any case, I will not speak directly to Timpanaro other than to say that I disagree with the passage Blaut quoted and note that it is supportive of the characterization by Bhaskar that Timpanaro's work is a sort of unreflective empirical realism.
I will speak on Hegel, however, because his work is vital in at least three respects to the core of Marxian theorizing. The first Hegelian element in Marxism is his theory of change, that of becoming and the transformative overcoming of natural and socially emergent limitations. Hegel's theory of change and development is not restricted to Marxism; it underpins evolutionary and developmental thought from Darwin to Marx to Mead. The second element is Hegel's theory of the objectification of the material world through human labor, or the objectivity of human action. In Hegel, this theory is distorted because it is forced into a larger philosophical program. Nevertheless, it is Hegel who is the genesis of the anthropological hard core of Marxian materialism. In fact, Lenin argues that it "it impossible to fully grasp Marx's *Capital*, and especially its first chapter, if you have not studied through and understood the *whole* of Hegel's *Logic*." "Consequently," Lenin adds, "none of the Marxists for the past half century have understood Marx." Perhaps this is a bit exaggerated, but if Hegel is only half as important to Marx's theory as Lenin avers then Hegel cannot be dismissed. Finally, the third element I will mention is Hegel's attack on the liberal conception of the individual. Hegel argues that, contrary to individualism, the source of motivation that guides individuals through their choices, and the structure of choices itself, are social productions, external to the individual, entering the individual through social interaction. This means that the needs and desires of people are determined by the character of social formation and historical system in which they are socialized. This is an important aspect of Marxian materialist relativism.
There are elements in Hegel's thinking that must be criticized, and perhaps there is no more constructive criticism of Hegel than the one developed by Marx himself, such as his critique of Hegel's Right, but one cannot arbitrarily eject Hegel from Marxian thought because key elements of Hegelian thought are intrinsic to it. This means that to exclude relevant Hegelian element from Marxian thought distorts Marxian thought.
When Marxists heap adulation on a reactionary, racist, anti-humanist metaphysician and Prussian propagandist, then perhaps we have a slight problem.
Sure, some of Hegel's ideas are built into Marx's thinking and later Marxism. So are Aristotle's, Leibniz's, etc. Sure, Marx matured in an atmosphere of Hegelianism and could not have avoided being influenced byt it (even if the influence was filtered through radical Hegelians). But if we leap backward over Marx to Hegel and start to proclaim that Hegelian ontology has any value and validity today, we really come close to betraying the spirit of Marx.
Some Marxists have claimed to find that just about every non-Marxist philosopher was advancing "materialism." It isn't true of Hegel.
Hegel and Kant represent the two important streams of idealist thinking that have come down to us. We can give those guys credit for their place in the history of ideas, but we have to recognize that historical and dialectical materialism denies the validity of most of their doctrines. *Except* in the context of the history of ideas, they have no relevance.
What really pisses me off is reading Marxists proclaiming the importance of old idealist philosophers -- and new idealist philosophers -- and totally neglecting the naturalist, realist, philosophers. We have to overcome the tendency to heap invective on thinkers whose ideas are close enough to Marxism to pose a real threat of presenting an alternative to Marxism and of seducing people away from Marxism. That was the case with Lenin vis-a-vis Mach -- no radical, but yet a philosopher of science, unlike Hegel. Think of the way we vilify or ignore Dewey. Russell. Whitehead. Mead. The positivists. Etc. These folks represent the main line of thinking in philosophies that are friendly to science and are to one degree or another materialist (although the word of course scared them). Nor are these philosophers somehow anti-humanist and anti-subjective. There is, IMHO, more humanism in John Dewey than there is in the entire Hot Dog school. Dewey, after all, pioneered the most humanistic form of education that we have. And, for goodness sake, Mead practically invented social psychology.
Enough said. I don't plan to respond to other postings on this thread unless it becomes unavoidable (personal).
Founding figures of pragmatism, Peirce, Dewey, and even the unique Mead, in part, based their program on Kant's concept of pragmatic belief and on Hegelian idealism (although for Mead Fichte had more of an impact; Mead's knowledge of Hegel, as well as of Marx, although he is sympathetic to Marxism, appears to be indirect). Pragmatism, like the Marxian program, involved the working out of German idealism into a scientific stance. Unfortunately, pragmatism took on an explicit reformist socialism in the United States. Nevertheless, radical transformation of the world logically follows from the work of Mead, and the underlying concept of praxis in pragmatism, particularly in Mead, parallels Marx. Sadly, pragmatism was marginalized by the logical empiricist project in the US and subsequently almost disappeared after Dewey's death in the early 1950s, only to resurface in neo-pragmatism, which in my view has little in common with its namesake.
Finally, on pragmatism, I want to note that Mead's work is very interesting, and quite complex. Interpreting him is compounded because what are considered his main writings are synthesized lecture notes recorded by students who attended his packed lectures - Mead, who had an amazing mind, never wrote any lecture notes - and these several layers of translation means one must proceed cautiously, interpreting this massive collection of lecture notes in light of Mead's articles and essays. One of the best interpreters of Mead presently is Hans Joas, however, I think Joas attributes more of an intersubjectivist position to Mead than I find in Mead. My reading of Mead is that he held much more of a materialist and objectivist stance; I think Mead's basic theory of action parallels Marx's. But I need to read and understand much more of Mead before I can feel entirely confident of my interpretation of him.
On the subject of Hegel, I find that historical materialism confirms Hegel's theory that desires and needs of people are determined by their historical context, that historical materialism confirms Hegel's theory of the objectification of sociohistorical reality through human labor, and that Hegel's theory of dialectical development is confirmed by Marxian theory. Certainly Hegel was an idealist. And he definitely was an apologist for the Prussian state. But crucial elements in the foundation of Marxism are found in Hegel; more so from Hegel is Marxian thought drawn than from any other philosophical source. Marx remained methodologically a Hegelian throughout his career. And his tangles with Hegel during his Feuerbachean period constitute the core of Marx's vision of reality.
The following comments of yours seem to be way off the mark.
"Founding figures of pragmatism, Peirce, Dewey, and even the unique Mead, in part, based their program on Kant's concept of pragmatic belief and on Hegelian idealism."
Kant's categorical imperative was absolute and a priori, in no sense "pragmatic." How can you possibly tie that (and the Crtique of Practical Reason) to Dewey's powerful concept of value judgments as agendas for action and judged by their practical consequences (pretty much Mead's view also)? Mead reviews Kant in *Movements of Thought in the 19th C.* and definitely (though gently) rejects it. I've read most of Mead and Dewey at one time or another and I find no "Hegelian idealism" anywhere (after c.1900).
"[For] Mead Fichte had more of an impact; Mead's knowledge of Hegel, as well as of Marx, although he is sympathetic to Marxism, appears to be indirect)."
I simply don't find Fichte's Absolute Idealism in Mead. See again Movements of Thought. See The Philosophy of the Present (on "Absolute Idealism"). Contrast Fichte's "Absolute Self" to Mead's view that "the individual is an other before he is a self" (ibid, 169).Mead understood Hegel pretty well -- he devotes a long chapter to him in Movements of Thought. Where, exactly, does Mead build on Fichte?
"Pragmatism...involved the working out of German idealism into a scientific stance."
Pragmatism, from Dewey through Morris (stopping short of Rorty!) is really a systematic denial of German idealism. See Dewey's The Quest for Certainty if you doubt me.
Andy, you seem to be trying to anchor Marxism in idealist philosophy. That is wrong, wrong, wrong, and (applying the pragmatic principle) it doesn't help to bring on the revolution.
> Kant's categorical imperative was absolute and a priori, in no sense
I didn't say anything about Kant's categorical imperative. I wrote about his construct of "pragmatic belief." Kant writes that pragmatic belief is "contingent belief, which yet forms the ground for the effective employment of means to certain actions" (Critique of Pure Reason). Pragmatists took up this concept and ran with it. Therefore this critique of yours that follows along these lines is entirely irrelevant. Kant had more than one idea, Jim. Let's try to stay focused on what it is I have argued, not what it is you know about the subjects being discussed.
Dewey trained under Hegelians. Early in his career he explicitly threw idealism over in favor of Darwinian evolution. So did Marx, who also studied under Hegelians. Nevertheless, Hegelian thought permeates Dewey's epistemological stance, such as his life-long critique of dualisms and his focus on the constitutive role of the actor in the reorganization of problematic environment. And just as much Hegelian thought runs through Marx, right down to the day he died.
> I simply don't find Fichte's Absolute Idealism in Mead.
Then you really haven't studied Mead. As Joas (1997) has pointed out, far more than Hegel or Schelling, "Meads conception of the situation in which action occurs can in large measure be elucidated by [Fichte]." What intrigues Mead is Fichte's concern over the matter of world construction by subjects and the process of moral praxis that underpins this construction. For Fichte, the problem is how a world that is independent of the self is captured in the internal field of subjectivity. Fichte's solution is similar to Hegel's: create an absolute subject by projecting consciousness panlogistically. Mead, like Marx, rejects absolute idealism. Nevertheless, there are two themes in Mead's interpretation of Fichte that become central to Mead's theory of self and society.
First, Fichte presents a sophisticated account of the formation of the self. He argues that the self is "dependent on the objectifications of our practice, and cannot be achieved through mere introspection that does not lead to the subjects attention to the external world" (Joas 1997). (Hegel also makes this argument, but Mead is less familiar with Hegel so he doesn't identify this.) Immediately apparent is the similarity with Marx's argument that the world and the self are the objectification of man's objective (or essential) powers. Crucially, Marx's argument also appears closer to the Fichtean formulation than to the Hegelian in this regard. Marx's (1983) criticism of Feuerbach is precisely because Feuerbach supposes that the world can be accessible to the self through contemplation, and thus Feuerbach does not understand reality as the sensuous production of human practical activity. What is particularly relevant here is that Mead finds the same problem addressed in Fichte's work, and the similarity in the logic Marx and Mead deploy after taking over the form of Fichte's argument reveals a significant convergence in their work. Marx and Mead arrive at their theory of the individual independently through Fichte.
In describing the importance of Fichte's work, Mead writes,
The second theme Mead develops in Fichte is "a dialectical relationship between the delimitation of the self and its embeddedness" (Joas 1997) in the totality. The "constitution of a finite self is possible only within the framework of an overarching unity which has the character of a self" (Joas 1997). Here, Fichte posits the absolute self, a concept Mead finds unacceptable in its objective idealist form. Mead grounds this idea in the material world, seeing an analog between the absolute self and society. Mead writes:
Again, the analog of the absolute self and society Mead finds in Fichte is strikingly similar to the analog that Marx finds in Hegel's conception of the absolute idea. "In Mead's view, Fichte's limitation as an idealist could be seen in his attempt to integrate the evolution of the world as a phase of human moral experience; he failed at the task of conceiving of evolutionary emergence of human beings from a pre-human age of the worlds development" (Joas 1997). Still, Fichte's insights impress Mead, namely in
> Where, exactly, does Mead build on Fichte?
In his lecture series Movements of Thought in the Nineteenth Century. Evidently you must have an abridged version of these lectures in a reader you are drawing from.
> Pragmatism, from Dewey through Morris (stopping short of Rorty!) is really
> a systematic denial of German idealism. See Dewey's The Quest for Certainty
> if you doubt me.
Marx's work was also a denial of German idealism. This doesn't mean that Marxism or pragmatism is not shot through with Hegelian thought.
> Andy, you seem to be trying to anchor Marxism in idealist philosophy.
If this is so, then Marx's work is also anchored in idealist philosophy. I have credited Marx with no more Hegelian attributes that are present in his work.
In your first post you said "Founding figures of pragmatism, Peirce, Dewey, and...Mead, in part, based their program on Kant's concept of pragmatic belief and on Hegelian idealism "
"...based their program." A very strong statement. And utterly wrong.
Every philosopher, everywhere, has had some sort of concept of contingent, pragmatic belief. The point is that Kant and, in a different way, Fichte, held to a concept of absolute truth; contingent belief was a side-issue. Now you say "pragmatists took up this concept [of contingent belief, pragmatic belief] and ran with it." Nonsense. Neither Dewey nor Mead credit Kant as a real source of the pragmatic principle. They could as well have given some credit to Aristotle or Hume.
"Kant had more than one idea, Jim. Let's try to stay focused..." I really appreciate that remark. Likewise "you haven't really studied Mead." What sophomoric arrogance!
"Hegelian thought permeates Dewey's epistemological stance" -- this is utter bilge -- "such as his life-long critique of dualisms" -- as though the critique of dualism automatically makes you into a Hegelian!
"For Mead Fichte had more of an impact; Mead's knowledge of Hegel...appears to be indirect." Absurd. Where's the evidence? Don't give us *Movements of Thought in the 19th C* which was a (wonderful) history of ideas, not a presentation of Mead's philosophy. And Fichte doesn't even rate a footnote in Mead's major works. And Hegel gets only a few glancing comments. But Mead KNEW Hegel: here Movements of Thought, in which Hegel gets a long chapter (and more -- he is shown to be the central figure in the Romantic movement in philosophy) is quite relevant. You slyly claim influence of Fichte on Mead with two huge quotes from Movements of Thought and with a comment that Mead describes "the importance of Fichte's thought" in that work, obscuring the fact that the context is the history of ideas ONLY!
Where does Mead build on Fichte? "In his lecture series Movements of Thought in the 19th Century. Evidently you [Jim] must have an abridged version of these lectures in a reader you are drawing from." What arrogance!
Andy, you really ARE trying to anchor Marxism in idealist philosophy. You admit it ("If this is so then Marx's work is also anchored in idealist philosophy"). Like most of the others who have tried to do this, your aim is bring Marxist theory back into the fold of mainstream theory. I think this is a political aim, not just an intellectual one. This I infer from your sophistic soap-box arguments and your resort to abusive language.
En la lucha revolucionaria
Actually, while I agree with Jim Blaut that Marx absorbed Hegel's idea into Marxism, there is absolutely no question that Lenin decided a deep study of Hegel would help him to understand the crisis of the Second International, which had backed the imperialist war. Lenin would not bother writing a 600 page Hegel Notebook just for his curricula vitae. Everything he read and wrote was for a purpose. He was almost monomaniacally devoted to revolution. He once complained about a Beethoven sonata to the effect that it might take his mind off of capitalist barbarism.
What preoccupied Lenin in this conjuncture was the failure of the Marxist movement to understand the world dialectically. This has been endemic to the Marxist _movement_ since its inception.
You can see evidence all around you. Take, for example, the "state capitalist" theory. What is this except an inability to understand the former Soviet Union dialectically. They argue that there can only be socialism or capitalism. Either/Or. Adam Rose of the British SWP, a likable youth all in all who used to post to the Spoons lists, once cited a passage from Marx that "defined" socialism. He challenged me to show how the Soviet Union lived up to that definition. I tried to explain to him that Marxists were more interested in motion, in dynamic processes but he couldn't get it.
Another example of undialectical thought is Stalin's definition of a nation. He says that a nation must have a common language, territory, psychology and economic life. If it does not satisfy _all_ of these criteria, then self-determination is not a legitimate demand. This undialectical approach would have served the Congolese struggle for independence under Lumumba very poorly when dozens of different ethnic groups with different languages were trying to unite to overthrow Belgian colonial rule.
My first encounter with Hegel was as a graduate student at the New School in 1966. I found it all rather liberating because what Hegel seemed to be saying in essence is that while all philosophy aims at the universal, it can not help but express momentary episodes in the evolution of thought overall. Our ideas are the conscious expression of our historical evolution. I interpreted this as the death of philosophy when I read it and figured out that continued study was rather a waste of time. The post-Hegelians, including Marx, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, drew pretty much the same conclusions but with radically different ramifications.
I didn't give Hegel much thought after that until I joined the SWP and started attending new members classes with the house philosopher George Novack. He gave an able, if rather plodding, explication of the importance of the Hegelian dialectic to Marxism. My reaction was that this made perfect sense.
>From that point on, however, I pretty much put Hegel out of mind and got much more use out of studying the MARXIST DIALECTIC. This was driven home in my readings of the 18th Brumaire, v. 1 of Capital and Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution. Who needs Hegel when you see the dialectic being applied by Marxists.
At any rate, I still think that Marxism today has a big problem with being able to understand the world dialectically. Unlike the News and Letters group, which Kevin Anderson belongs to, I don't make a fetish over reading Hegel. (They are rooted in a tradition, by the way, started by Johnson and Forrest of the Trotskyist movement. aka, CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya. These two, like Lenin, thought that study of Hegel was _mandatory_. Considering that James was probably the most profound Marxist thinker of the past 50 years, this doesn't seem like such a terrible idea.)
As far as dialectical thinking is concerned today, there are a whole bunch of scholars and activists who are quite good at this. Jim Blaut is of course extremely accomplished. So is Doug Henwood, who treats economics. For all my complaints about David Harvey, I think he is a very gifted dialectician. I have tried to write about the American Indian using a dialectical approach, but of course I am rather a dimwit compared to this illustrious group.
At any rate, one of the hopes I have for this mailing-list is to develop among us such skills. As well as providing news of revolutionary struggles around the world (good reports from Dennis!) and some cheap entertainment.Louis Proyect
The belief that dialectics are an essential and insufficiently studied element of Marxist activity is very important to me. I am not convinced that you need to read Hegel in order to get the idea. In fact I confess to having never read a word by Hegel. I do take Lenin seriously, though, and perhaps I should at least glance at his Hegel notebook.
L Proyect is right on the money when he says that the "state capitalist" theory is an example of undialectical thought. "What is the USSR? Clearly it does not is not 'the Good.' Therefore it is 'the Bad!'" People just are not prepared to understand that phenomena are not pure, have internal contradictions, and that (yet) this does not mean that we should not take sides.
In 1983 there was a campaign to elect Harold Washington as the first Black mayor of Chicago. The movement was based in the African-American and Latino communities, and had a lot of support from the progressive white community. The political system at that time in Chicago was semi-feudal in nature; it had old-style ward bosses, "muscle", patronage, and was completely racist. We went with it because in those circumstances it was an anti-racist, democratic (small-d) movement. The response of the left to it was like a catalogue of undialectics. Some of the parties reacted to Washington based -entirely- on his party affiliation. "The Democratic Party is a party of imperialism. Harold Washington is a Democrat. Therefore Harold Washington is an imperialist. Therefore we denounce him we denounce you for working with him," etc. etc. Others' reaction was based -entirely- on the mass character of the movement. They decided that the Millenium had come. They took up jobs in the administration and were never heard of again.
This urge to canonize or anathematize is so darn common. And yet the "shades of gray" empiricist approach, whereby you never commit to anything and dart this way and that based on a wise and ultimately cynically superior weighing of "the good and the bad", is equally unsatisfactory. I was involved in the movement to get the University of Illinois to divest itself of its South African-linked holdings. I was talking to a group of faculty who pretty much took this view: apartheid was bad, but there were flaws in the liberation movement, divestment was not a perfect strategy, indeed there were flaws in everything and the 'superior man' will not get caught up in the enthusiasm of fools. Desperate for some way to get through their reserve, I laid the following Zen koan on them:
(That is, even though you have discovered that 'the movement' is not a perfect and unitary thing, it is still enough 'the movement' that you should contribute bail money at least.) Did it get through? Not entirely :-( Being determines consciousness after all.....
Louis Proyect said, "Another example of undialectical thought is Stalin's definition of a nation. He says that a nation must have a common language, territory, psychology and economic life. If it does not satisfy _all_ of these criteria, then self-determination is not a legitimate demand. This undialectical approach would have served the Congolese struggle for independence under Lumumba very poorly when dozens of different ethnic groups with different languages were trying to unite to overthrow Belgian colonial rule."
At the risk of sounding silly, there is a whole "science" of decision-reaching which is used by judges. Appeals courts sometime produce "lists" like that for the guidance of lower courts in determining whether (for example) something is "fair use" or a "copyright violation", something "infringes" or "does not infringe" on a registered trade mark, package design, etc. In general, however, the idea is not that anything will come up "Yes" or "No" on every item of the list. The idea is that the wise judge will look at all the features and then decide, possibly even dialectically, what the phenomenon in question "is" considering the purpose of the law and the surrounding circumstances. See, even the representatives of the class enemy can think dialectically at times.
I have thought about this from the point of view of questions like "what is the class character of state X." "What does it mean to say that state X is a 'workers' state', 'part of the socialist camp', etc., that is, part of that set of 'things we have to defend', and that state Y is not?" In general I believe there are a lot of things that have to be looked at. Those who believe that 'it's a simple question, you just see if the people who had the revolution were in the majority wage workers' or 'it's a simple question, you just see if the majority of the productive property is state-owned' etc. are underestimating the complexity of things.
Both Hook and Colletti argued that dialectics as worked out by Hegel, and as summarized by Engels' three laws of dialectics were incompatible with materialism, hence the need in both thinkers' views for an alternative to traditional dialectical materialism. Both Hook and Colletti argued that dialectical materialism is not a genuine materialism but a kind of disguised idealism in which the Hegelian God was unwittingly smuggled into Marxism. This was because Hegel had always opposed the notion of a transcendental God who exists "out there." He opposed what he called the "bad infinite," - the conception of God which made him the ultimate cause of the world. For Hegel such a conception reduced God to being "merely the limit of the finite...a specific, finite infinite." Instead, Hegel posited a God who was in the world rather than outside it. In other words he posited a pantheistic God somewhat like Spinoza's but whereas Spinoza's God was unchanging, Hegel's God was conceived of as evolving over time.
In the view of both Hook and Colletti all this creates problems for dialectical materialists. Thus Lenin in his notebooks on Hegel quotes with approval his statement "it is the nature of the finite to pass beyond itself, to negate its negation and to become infinite..." However, in Hegel's text it is evident that the "nature" of the finite to act this way because the infinite (i.e. God's teleology) is at work within it. Therefore, for both Hook and Colletti the wholesale adoption of these Hegelian formulations by dialectical materialists means that they have unwittingly smuggled the Hegelian God into Marxism. Therefore, both Hook and Colletti sought alternative philosophical rationales for Marxism - the former in Dewyian pragmatism the latter in a neo-Kantianism.
It is also noteworthy that both Hook and Colletti eventually moved to the right politically. Hook became a very right-wing social democrat and cold warrior (but one who still called himself a "socialist" and even sometimes a "Marxist" until the end). I know that Colletti has turned against Marxism but I was unaware that he has moved as far to the right as Charles reports. That raises the question of whether there is a necessary connection between their specific philosophical views and their later political shifts. In Hook's case this has been the subject of some controversy. Many critics of Hook link his abandonment of a conventional dialectical materialism with his later rightwards shift. However, Christopher Phelps has denied that there is any necessary connection.