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- On Marx, Hegel and Historical Materialism
- N.B. This essay was formed out of a few scattered notes I had written down, it is as such merely a drawing-together of a few different lines of thought and points that can be drawn against Marxists who choose to reject Hegel and uphold some sort of science called dialectical and historical materialism. In my mind I had two primary targets: The Stalinists who hold steadfast to the orthodoxy of Stalin’s work ‘Dialectical and Historical Materialism’ and against Amadeo Bordiga and his attacks against Hegel in two somewhat less prominent works of his.
- 1. It is largely forgotten today that the contributions of Karl Marx to philosophy stand to condition much of modern sociology, philosophy and economics, at least by those outside of academia who would associate Marx in their minds with the names Stalin or Mao. The doctrine of Historical Materialism is the chief contribution of the Marxians to the philosophical tradition. I claim this is one of the better contributions of Marx, one which allows him and later Marxists to make many interesting and insightful critiques into the cultures and doctrines of their time. Yet, I claim, this is the most inconsistently applied doctrine from among the entire philosophical oeuvre of Marx. This is largely due to (as I will argue again later) the development of Marx’s approach from philosophy to economics, with his philosophical views remaining in a larvae like state, failing to bloom into a more fleshed out and internally consistent worldview, leaving many loose ends in areas that were not directly pertinent to his ends.
- 2. Our latter day Marxists and their historical counterparts (Plekhanovite Marxist-Leninists, Bordigist left communists, Trotskyists, anarcho-communists and so on) will apply the Marxist doctrine of historical materialism (really a kind of Schellingian Objective Idealism per Engels) to each and every philosophy and historical ideology that has arisen, except for Marx’s own words, which are risen up and treated like dogma. This rising up to dogma is necessary of course for the doctrine of historical materialism – when taken to an absolute standpoint as it often is by many Marxists or others (like Foucault) – to maintain a degree of validity and truth without itself being historically conditioned (and thus internally contradictory). Hegel maintains for many modern day Marxists the role of a bourgeois philosopher who could not overcome the conditioning of his day. They of course fail to correctly understand Hegel in a number of areas and never commit themselves to anything even resembling a detailed study of Hegel! The anti-Hegelian leftoids would prefer to commit themselves to anti-Hegelian rhetoric, transforming his philosophy into mere bourgeois babble without any substantial contributions to an understanding of reality. Furthermore, they mock the claim to Hegelian philosophy as science, yet uphold historical materialism as being absolutely scientific in nature.
- 3. This, I claim, is most clearly exemplified in Amadeo Bordiga’s essays concerning the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, in which he subjects the Hegelian philosophy to a frightful misreading (forgetting the nature of Absolute Idealism as a philosophy which unifies Materialism and Idealism, ironically a goal of the same work which Bordiga is commenting on, that is, Marx’s goal to unify Materialism and Idealism in his Naturalism and Humanism) and of course rejects any influence that the ‘Hegelian dialectic’ is to have had on Marx. Bordiga also claims in his essay ‘Immutable Tablets of the Communist Theory of the Party’ that the Hegelian philosophy has found itself a home in the USSR under Stalin and Khruschev. This statement is bizarre due to the clear influence of vulgar materialism on Stalin and Stalin’s campaign against Hegelians or those who would wish to speak positively of Hegel, such as Deborin.
- 4. The Marxist claims against the Hegelians can be summed up as follows: (a) Hegel falls into a kind of anti-realist idealism which abstracts itself from the world of matter and is thus a product of alienation inherent in bourgeois society. (b) Hegel supports a reactionary politics incompatible with the goals of socialism and communism. In other words, he is merely a philosopher of the Prussian state (c) The Hegelians dogmatically accept Hegel and reject any historical conditioning of thought. Hegel becomes for them a prophet. (d) The thought of Hegel is absolutely and fundamentally conditioned by bourgeois origins.
- 5. My response to the claims is along the following lines: (a) Absolute Idealism is a reaction contrary to the abstract and world-denying idealism which precludes reality from our epistemic limits and a reaction against the incoherent empiricism that denies reason (such as that found in Hume for example). (b) Hegel’s philosophy fundamentally lends itself to a societal structure which closely resembles communism.  I also claim that Hegel is a figure which was in his time extraordinarily progressive, siding with anti-imperialist and anti-colonial struggles in his time, such as the Haitian revolution or his support for the freedom of Ireland. (c) The fundamental premise of Hegel’s work ‘The Phenomenology of Spirit’ is to justify to the position of natural consciousness the validity of the philosophical mode of thought. Hegel fundamentally rejects presuppositional philosophy in favour of the critical approach of Kant and a high degree of scepticism. Hegel also did not at any stage in his work hold that thought is abstracted from the material world in the sense that philosophy is an eternal ontological thing separate from material reality. This will be expanded on later in the essay. (d) This is flawed in two important ways. Firstly, Hegel was not of bourgeois origins as such, but of petit-bourgeois origins, just like many Marxists. Secondly, the nature of Hegel’s philosophy is to critique presuppositions and fancies which may condition this philosophy, hence it is a fundamentally critical philosophy. If an absolute historical materialist subjects Hegel to this criticism they must also do the same for Marx, which I claim will have conclusions which are unsettling to them.
- 6. It is claimed by many Marxists, such as Bordiga that: “Marx merely reminds us that his dialectical method is the opposite of Hegel’s and that he had criticized his mystifying, i.e. idealistic side 30 years earlier.” The issue with this is twofold. Hegel, first of all, does not have a ‘dialectical method’ as such and this is a notion that appears to have been developed after Hegel. Second of all, Marx’s own ‘dialectical materialism’ is not all distinct from the negatively dialectical part of Hegel’s Logic, so to claim it is the ‘opposite’ appears to be rather incoherent. I would then interpret this claim to then mean that Hegel’s system of philosophy, which is claimed to be ‘Idealism’ by Bordiga, is the exact opposite of Marx’s. This is absolutely and totally contrary to Marx’s own so-called ‘materialism’ (which in reality is naturalism and humanism which appears to seek to reconcile materialism and idealism) and is moreso a descent into the vulgar materialism exemplified by figures like Plekhanov. I can only assume that Bordiga adopts this Plekhanovite materialism following Lenin, who in his pre-1914 years held this to be a fundamentally Marxist philosophy. Though it is clear that after Lenin’s study of Hegel he abandoned these notions of vulgar materialism in favour of a more developed Hegelian standpoint.
- 7. As was touched on earlier, the understanding the anti-Hegelian Marxists possess of Hegel is extraordinarily weak and undeveloped. An area which this is exemplified most clearly is in their understanding of the notion of Spirit. Some Marxists will even possess an understanding of Hegel’s position in relation to other philosophers and philosophies of his time, yet fall completely, in the most lazy of fashions, when it comes to Hegel’s speculatively rational aspect of his philosophy or really to anything which is a concrete ontology. An example of this can be clearly found in the lecture from the Marxist Student Union entitled: “Dialectics: From Hegel to Marx.” The lecture itself is quite good in content, it is clearly well researched and presented in an informed and developed fashion, but immediately following this somewhat detailed presentation on dialectics, the issue of Hegel’s own speculative ontology is brought up. Very little attention is given to this, aside from a vague mention of Spirit, the notion of Spirit is dismissed as some laughable kind of mysticism or esotericism, as was all of Hegel’s philosophy for Marx, however, I argue that this is absolutely baseless and uneducated in nature. Spirit is, for Hegel, an intersubjective thing, it is constituted in the real world by the human subjects that nature gives rise to. It is important to note here that Hegel makes a distinction between the order of explanation and the order of existence. In the order of explanation ‘Spirit’ is prior as the Idea. In the order of existence, Nature is prior. This is compatible with a materialist conception of the world to the utmost extent, it is merely incompatible with an incoherent understanding of the world which can possess no real direction, reason or order. Spirit then, is something which has a basis within a coherent philosophical conception of the world, an intersubjective community which is brought into reality through the dialectical movement of history is clearly distinct to some sort of mystical notion of Spirit which we would expect to find in the writings of a Catholic mystic of the middle ages.
- 8. The pitiful claim of Marxists to a science of Marxism is seen by many in academia as being a ridiculous claim, particularly when Marxists themselves uphold the empiricist-materialist standard of science, rather than a more classical understanding of what ‘science’ is to mean. Many Marxists, such as J. Moufawad-Paul, will claim that historical materialism is merely ‘applying the scientific method to historical conditions’, but this is itself a statement which accepts dogmatically the scientific worldview. The latter day ‘scientific Marxists’ will also conveniently ignore questions concerning the validity of historical materialism as an ideology that rises above and beyond the conditioning of history. It is a system which fundamentally cannot account for truth outside of deterministic arisings of ideas which are determined by an unintelligent matter, in this way, historical materialism submits itself to an ontology which puts matter, or nature, outside of the human subject completely and thereby makes truth something truly inaccessible to our epistemic limits. This also makes the ‘scientific Marxist’ viewpoint contra ontology and metaphysics (particularly present in Stalin’s pathetic work on ‘Dialectical and Historical Materialism’, where he attempts to separate the viewpoint of something called ‘Dialectics’ and Metaphysics, though it is not exactly clear despite this what ‘Dialectics’ actually is). However, is it not a self-evident truth that we are conditioned by our material environment in which we find ourselves in? While I do absolutely agree with that statement, it would be incorrect to thereby subject every philosophical viewpoint to this analysis, ignoring its own content in favour of the conditions in which it arose. Of course I do not also claim that each and every Marxist does such a thing, I merely attack this tendency to do so here. It is through the critical philosophical method of Kant, which Hegel appropriated and used against Kant, that I claim philosophy can overcome its historical conditioning, if each and every viewpoint is subjected to reason then the objective conditions in which a viewpoint arose can be critiqued and these influences can be eradicated. Philosophy must then have as its goal the negation of any and all falsehoods in every viewpoint.
-  https://www.docdroid.net/0N7qBEt/continuityandrupture.pdf
- This is the claim made by Dr. Joshua Moufawad-Paul in his book ‘Continuity and Rupture; Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain’. Of course this claim is ridiculous, the attempt to condemn any speculation beyond the purely empirical sciences and to include historical materialism (clearly falling within the domain of sociology) within the empirical sciences reeks of dishonesty and poor philosophy, though this is not very surprising, Moufawad-Paul is a Maoist after all.
-  https://libcom.org/library/immutable-tablets-communist-theory-party
- Both of the following are translated essays by Amadeo Bordiga concerning Marx’s ‘Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844’.
-  Hegel’s work ‘Outlines of the Philosophy of Right’ is (a) absolutely historically conditioned as its plans are directly pertinent to the existing Prussian state (hence Hegel’s well known axiom that the real is rational and that the rational is real), and (b) subject to change, as his political philosophy therein expounded has no particular relevance for the totality of his work.
-  https://marxismocritico.com/2014/06/02/lenins-encounter-with-hegel/
- It is important to note, as is stated in the article linked above, that the viewpoint Lenin adopted post-1914 did not influence any of his major publications and remained largely private, after Hegel’s philosophical notebooks were published this Hegelian aspect was largely suppressed due to the Stalinist anti-Hegelianism prominent at the time. Kevin Anderson points out in the article that the philosophical viewpoint of Lenin is still largely ambiguous, but it is clear to anyone that post-Hegel, Lenin is clearly not absolutely within the bounds of this un-dialectical, base and dogmatic materialism we find in Plekhanov.
-  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=687g4npL5bI
- It is about over half way through at which point does the topic of Spirit get mentioned and rejected at face-value.
-  I am of course here assuming that the reader agrees with a rationalist outlook on the world, if they do not then there is any number of questioning that could be thrown at them, but to cover such an issue in an essay of such a small size as this would be a task beyond me at the current time.
- Karl Marx: “The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844.” Link: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1844/manuscripts/preface.htm
- Amadeo Bordiga: “Commentary on the Manuscripts of 1844. “ Link: https://libcom.org/library/commentary-manuscripts-1844-amadeo-bordiga
- “Immutable Tablets of the Communist Theory of the Party.“ Link: https://libcom.org/library/immutable-tablets-communist-theory-party
- Kevin B. Anderson: “Lenin’s Encounter with Hegel after Eighty Years.” Link: https://marxismocritico.com/2014/06/02/lenins-encounter-with-hegel/
- Dr. Joshua Moufawad-Paul: “Continuity and Rupture; Philosophy in the Maoist Terrain”
- Link: https://www.docdroid.net/0N7qBEt/continuityandrupture.pdf
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