Willi Dickhut: Hegel’s Logic as Culmination and End of Classical Philosophy

Willi Dickhut (1904–1992) was a pioneer and leading thinker of the MLPD. He acquired his ability for independent, creative Marxist-Leninist thinking in the ever higher unity of theory and practice mainly through mastery of the dialectical method. As a worker with no academic background, he trained himself also through self-studies in natural science and philosophy. During the first postwar years he wrote a short philosophical paper on the relevance of the bourgeois philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831).

The original version of this paper written by Willi Dickhut is published in Rote Fahne, No. 2, 2015, for the first time. The emphasis in italics and bold type corresponds with the emphasis in the original quotes. The quotes from Lenin's works and the stated sources correspond with the standard works available today.

 

At the functionaries’ conference on March 31, 1946, in Solingen-Wald, Comrade U. Wohlbold spoke during the discussion on culture and declared the development from Schopenhauer through Hegel to Nietzsche as nothing but a succession of reactionary philosophies. This is a completely wrong assessment of Hegel.

 

Classical philosophy was a revolutionary philosophy, the philosophy of the rising bourgeoisie. Hegel brought classical philosophy to its culmination and conclusion. Heinrich Heine consequently was quite right in saying, “Our philosophical revolution has come to an end. Its great circle was closed by Hegel.”1 Hegel has often been misunderstood by both the progressive forces of society and the reactionary forces. Hegel’s statement, “All that is real is rational; and all that is rational is real,”2 was understood, and welcomed, by narrow-minded governments and reactionaries as an expression of the preservation of things that be, and, for the same reason, condemned by equally narrow-minded liberals, even though Hegel stated: “In the course of its development reality proves to be necessity.”3 It must be concluded from this: All that exists deserves to perish! Herein precisely lies the revolutionary kernel of the Hegelian philosophy: there can be no finality, no fixed state of human thinking and action, but everything is in motion, in flux, in development.

 

This is underscored by Frederick Engels:

 

Marx was and is the only one who could undertake the work of extracting from the Hegelian logic the nucleus containing Hegel’s real discoveries in this field, and of establishing the dialectical method, divested of its idealist wrappings, in the simple form in which it becomes the only correct mode of conceptual evolution.4

 

Does this mean that Marx accepts Hegel’s idealism? On the contrary! Although philosophical idealism is a necessary prerequisite of modern materialism (therein lies its significance: idealism negated primitive, naive materialism; the negation of idealism brought forth, as synthesis, dialectical materialism), Marx criticized the idealism of Hegel, but thought very highly of his dialectics. Marx writes in Volume 1 of Capital, for instance:

 

The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner.5

 

It was the merit of Marx and Engels to save this dialectics, Hegel’s great theoretical achievement, from idealism, detach it and apply it materialistically, as Engels himself expresses in the Preface to Anti-Dühring:

 

Marx and I were pretty well the only people to rescue conscious dialectics from German idealist philosophy and apply it in the materialist conception of nature and history.6

 

Lenin shared Marx’s and Engels’ opinion of Hegel. Despite his high esteem for Hegel he stressed at the same time:

 

Hegel’s logic cannot be applied in its given form, it cannot be taken as given. One must separate out from it the logical (epistemological) nuances, after purifying them from Ideenmystik (mysticism of ideas – Ed.): that is still a big job.7

 

It follows from this that from the profusion of mystical ideas in Hegel’s idealist philosophy one must select and utilize what is correct, the true ideas, i.e., those which objectively mirror being, reality.

 

And this is where Comrade U. Wohlbold is mistaken, who sees the idealist crotchets and mystifications, i.e., the reactionary shell, but not the revolutionary, dialectical kernel of Hegel’s philosophy. Lenin spoke of trying “to read Hegel materialistically”:

 

I am in general trying to read Hegel materialistically: Hegel is materialism which has been stood on its head (according to Engels) – that is to say, I cast aside for the most part God, the Absolute, the Pure Idea, etc.…8

 

Comrade Wohlbold, however, throws out the baby with the bath water; he rejects the revolutionary, dialectical kernel together with the reactionary, rotten, idealistic shell. That is why Lenin stated in regard to specific lines of thought pursued by Hegel:

 

One must first of all extract the materialist dialectics from it. Nine-tenths of it, however, is chaff, rubbish.9

 

This is the only correct position to take on Hegel’s philosophy. The kernel is more important than the shell because it harbors within it development. The materialist dialectician must know how to find and extract the genial idea while he throws away the reactionary idealism and mysticism. Lenin did that with Hegel’s philosophy. Comrade Wohlbold does the opposite. He emphasizes the reactionary idealism and the mystic shell of the Hegelian philosophy and dismisses with them simultaneously the true essence, the genial idea of the philosophy of this great thinker. That is his mistake.

 

Before studying Hegel’s works we should embrace the view of Lenin, who quotes individual statements and even entire sections, underlines those outstanding passages with which he agrees, criticizes and corrects the mistakes, translates the mystical formulations into plain language, processes them materialistically and interprets them accordingly, and sums up the results. Through dialectical-materialist analysis of the Hegelian philosophy and summarizing of the concrete we then acquire a correct picture (analysis and synthesis).

 

Hegel’s dialectics contained a decisive error about which Lenin wrote:

 

Not only is the transition from matter to consciousness dialectical, but also that from sensation to thought, etc.

Hegel the supporter of dialectics, could not understand the dialectical transition from matter to motion, from matter to consciousnessespecially the second. Marx corrected the error (or weakness?) of the mystic.

What distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition? The leap. The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness. The unity (identity) of Being and not-Being.10

 

Hegel sees in the dialectics of thought not the reflection of the dialectics of being. For him dialectics is the self-development of the concept: “nature in the Hegelian system represents merely the ‘alienation’ of the absolute idea…”11. Apart from the idealistic content, the Hegelian dialectics constitutes a truly revolutionary form, prompting Lenin to declare:

 

As the most comprehensive and profound doctrine of development, and the richest in content, Hegelian dialectics was considered by Marx and Engels the greatest achievement of classical German philosophy. They thought that any other formulation of the principle of development, of evolution, was one-sided and poor in content, and could only distort and mutilate the actual course of development (which often proceeds by leaps, and via catastrophes and revolutions) in Nature and in society. (Lenin, Karl Marx)12

 

The valuable aspect of Hegelian philosophy is mainly the part that refers to dialectics. This is the essence, wherefore Lenin emphasizes:

 

It is impossible completely to understand Marx’s Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic.13

 

An essential moment of dialectics is negation as moment of connection, as moment of development, retaining the positive. This thought is brought out clearly by Hegel when he states:

 

All that is necessary to achieve scientific progress — and it is essential to strive to gain this quite simple insight — is the recognition of the logical principle that the negative is just as much positive, or that what is self-contradictory does not resolve itself into a nullity, into abstract nothingness, but essentially only into the negation of its particular content, in other words, that such a negation is not all and every negation but the negation of a specific subject matter which resolves itself, and consequently is a specific negation, and therefore the result essentially contains that from which it results.14

 

This view is entirely in conformity with the materialist view. It is expressed much more clearly still in the recognition of contradictions as the driving force of development. Contrary to ordinary imagination, which regards identity (harmony) as more important than contradiction, Hegel declares the primacy of contradiction:

 

For as opposed to it Identity is only the determination of simple immediacy, or of dead Being, while Contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality, and it is only insofar as it contains a contradiction that anything moves and has impulse and activity.15

 

By that Hegel means the self-movement of the spirit, which in reality is only a reflection of the self-movement of the material world. Lenin calls this self-development, brought about by internal contradictions, “the kernel of dialectics.”16

 

In his comments, i.e., his dialectical-materialist assessment of Hegel’s Logic, Lenin addresses the following thought of Hegel:

 

Hence Law is not beyond Appearance, but is immediately present in it; the realm of Laws is the quiescent reflection of the existing or appearing world.17

 

Lenin’s assessment is:

 

This is a remarkably materialistic and remarkably appropriate (with the word “ruhige” [“quiescent” – Ed.]) determination. Law takes the quiescent — and therefore law, every law, is narrow, incomplete, approximate.18

 

Lenin’s assessment of Hegel is similar in the question of causality, of the objective connection of the world. Causality describes only the general mutual dependence of a universal connection, the mutual concatenation of events, only links of the all-encompassing world connection, which manifests itself fragmentarily, one-sidedly, incompletely. Concerning this, in connection with Hegel’s Logic Lenin states:

 

The formation of (abstract) notions and operations with them already includes idea, conviction, consciousness of the law-governed character of the objective connection of the world. To distinguish causality from this connection is stupid. To deny the objectivity of notions, the objectivity of the universal in the individual and in the particular, is impossible. Consequently, Hegel is much more profound than Kant, and others, in tracing the reflection of the movement of the objective world in the movement of notions… — so the simplest generalisation, the first and simplest formation of notions (judgments, syllogisms, etc.) already denotes man’s ever deeper cognition of the objective connection of the world. Here is where one should look for the true meaning, significance and role of Hegel’s Logic.19

 

The doctrine of the concreteness of truth, the investigation of the specific features of phenomena, the analysis, the dissecting, without ignoring the interconnection, have been completely absorbed into Marxism. Dialectical materialism rejects dogma, rejects the rigid, mechanical, calls for investigating and concretizing the given situation, the given phenomenon, the given thing.

Lenin in his lively language develops for us a graphic picture of Hegelian dialectics:

 

A river and the drops in this river. The position of every drop, its relation to the others; its connection with the others; the direction of its movement; its speed; the line of the movement — straight, curved, circular, etc. — upwards, downwards. The sum of the movement. Concepts, as registration of individual aspects of the movement, of individual drops (=“things”), of individual “streams,” etc. There you have à peu près [approximately – Ed.] the picture of the world according to Hegel’s Logic, — of course minus God and the Absolute.20

 

In a few lines, Lenin brings out the revolutionary side of Hegel’s philosophy, dismissing the reactionary side in half a sentence. This stands in fundamental contradiction to the view of Comrade Wohlbold, to whom Hegel’s entire philosophy is reactionary.

 

Marx extracted all that is of value from the Hegelian philosophy and further developed what he took in the theory of dialectical materialism. He did this mainly by dialectically analyzing capitalist society, its emergence, its development tendencies, its contradictions, and the inevitability of its passing into a higher, the socialist, social order. Had the Hegelian philosophy lacked the revolutionary element, this would not have been possible.

 

It would be going too far to delve into this in more detail. Placing the great thinker of classical philosophy, who brought the philosophical revolution of bourgeois society to its culmination and completion with his system, on the same level with the genuine reactionary Nietzsche is equivalent to the position of Lassalle, who looked upon all classes outside of the working class as a “reactionary mass.” Reactionary are all bourgeois philosophers since the conclusion of the period of classical philosophy. Since then, only Marxist-Leninist philosophy, dialectical materialism, is revolutionary. The assessment by Comrade Wohlbold is not a dialectical materialist, but a mechanical materialist assessment. One must not dismiss all bourgeois philosophers as just one “reactionary philosophical mass”; one may only judge them in terms of the historical development.

 

 

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1 Heinrich Heine, “On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany,” in: Heinrich Heine, The Harz Journey and Selected Prose, Penguin Classics 2006, p. 289

2 Quoted in: Engels, “Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy,” Marx and Engels, Selected Works (in three volumes), Vol. 3, p. 337; see Hegel's Philosophy of Right. Preface.

3 ibid., p. 338

4 Frederick Engels: Karl Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy,” Part One, Franz Duncker, Berlin 1859, Review in Das Volk, No. 16, August 20, 1859, in: Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Progress Publishers, Moscow 1970, pp. 224-225

5 Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, p. 29

6 Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 25, p. 11

7 Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 264

8 ibid., p. 104

9 ibid., p. 154

10 ibid., pp. 281 and 282

11 Engels, “Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy,” Marx and Engels, Selected Works (in three volumes), Vol. 3, p. 344

12 Lenin, “Karl Marx,” Collected Works, Vol. 21, p. 53

13 Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 180

14 Hegel’s Science of Logic, Introduction, General Notion of Logic, § 62, www.marxists.org/reference/archive/hegel/works/hl/hlintro.htm 12/31/06

15 Quoted in: Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 139

16 ibid., p. 228

17 Quoted in: Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38, p. 151

18 ibid.

19 ibid., pp. 178-179

20 ibid., 147

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