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[Xmca-l] Re: Hegel on Action

So far as I can see there are two references to the aphorism in Marx/Engels. Firstly in the famous 1873 Afterword to Capital by Marx and then echoed by Engels in his 1886 "Ludwig Feuerbach." As I said, in so far as a metaphor like this can be right or wrong, I would say it is correct. My problem is that in many many discussions I have had with people identifying themselves as Marxists, this aphorism has functioned as a *barrier *to understanding Hegel and his relation to Marx, something I have had to fight my through before being able to have a fruitful discussion about the issue. Because people are generally locked in to a dichotomy between concepts and the material world (notwithstanding declarations to the contrary), the aphorism is interpreted to mean that Hegel thought that thought determines being and Marx thought that being determines thought, just as you observe, David. Again, it is not that this aphorism is wrong, and really thought determines being. Of course not. The problem is, I think, that it pushes a natural scientific point of view in which the social world goes about its business according to Laws of History and ideas simply reflect that process. A corollary of this is that people are passive expressions of their social conditions and have no responsibility for their thoughts. In the words of "Theses on Feuerbach" - "The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of changed circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men who change circumstances and that the educator must himself be educated. Hence this doctrine is bound to divide society into two parts, one of which is superior to society."

Altogether, I prefer to start an interpretation of Hegel either with a blank sheet or from reading Hegel himself, not hearsay.

Here are some things I could say about the Hegel-Marx relation which may lend weight to the aphorism:

   * Hegel wrote at a time when there was no reason to
   believe (and no-one did believe) that the working class
   was an agent in history, capable of leading social
   reform. Indeed in early 19th century the working class
   did not exist as a class at all. Marx wrote in the wake
of huge social movements of the working class which, during his youth, had overthrown the French government.
   He had every reason to believe that the working class
   would make history, not (as Hegel and Owen had thought)
   the educated elite.

   * Hegel wrote philosophy and worked in a university;
   Marx wrote in fairly accessible language on politics and
   social issues, intended for mostly self-educated workers.

   * Hegel believed that he could anticipate social
   processes by logical analysis; Marx understood that the
   logical critique could be reconstructed only on the
   basis of already-observed social processes, making what
   was already happening intelligible. But both end up at
   the same point, namely that history is intelligible.

But at a philosophical level, the two writers came to *very similar conclusions*, not opposite conclusions. Politically, they were as different as the philosophy professor and the communist agitator. They lived in different times.


Andy Blunden
On 19/07/2017 8:50 AM, David Kellogg wrote:
Well, I'm a little bit torn. On the one hand, my heart is with Haydi; it really does seem to me that the "aphorism" is useful in understanding that marginal note of Lenin's. And that marginal note of Lenin's appears in Chapter Two of Thinking and Speech, so it's useful in understanding Chapter Two of Thinking and Speech. Chapter SEVEN of Thinking and Speech is really an empirical elaboration of Vygotsky's critique of Piagetian neo-Kantianism in Chapter Two, and so it's useful there too. I think Andy more or less acknowledges this when he says that the quote is a one off.

I also agree with the general tenor of Haydi's jeremiad against an aristocracy of philosophers who are perfectly willing to recognize their own contribution to the dialectic between theory and practice but who howl about empiricism when it comes to recognizing the immense contributions made by practitioners. This seems to me a violation of both the spirit and the letter of the dialectic, and sociogenetically it seems to me to turn the relationship between philosophy and social practices entirely on its head.

That said, I think Andy has a point. I'm at a workshop now, and don't have the library handy, but if I remember correctly then Marx didn't actually create the aphorism about standing Hegel on his head. The right-Hegelian critics of Marx did. What Marx said, responding to the criticism, was that he had FOUND Hegel standing on his head, and put him on his feet again. The problem is that this apposite remark, made in a polemical context, has been conflated with the famous quotation from Economic and Political Manuscripts to the effect that it is not mankind's consciousness which determines his being, but rather his social being that determines his consciousness. If we assume that this is directed against Hegel, we get Hegel entirely wrong: it is precisely with the phylogenesis and ontogenesis of consciousness that we find Hegel and Marx on exactly the same page.

David Kellogg
Macquarie University

"The Great Globe and All Who It Inherit:
Narrative and Dialogue in Story-telling with
Vygotsky, Halliday, and Shakespeare"

Free Chapters Downloadable at:


Recent Article: Thinking of feeling: Hasan, Vygotsky, and Some Ruminations on the Development of Narrative in Korean Children

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On Mon, Jul 17, 2017 at 10:26 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>> wrote:

    That remark by Lenin is his only comment on a passage
    of a hundred pages or so of the Science of Logic, the
    passage where in his own idealistic way Hegel is
    discussing effectively the Party question. It is
    extremely obscure and I gather it went over Lenin's
    head. Nonetheless, Lenin's notes were where I got
    started on Hegel and marked the beginning of the
    return of Marxists to a study of Hegel in the 20th
    century. Not Lukacs, not Korsch or Horkheimer, but Lenin.

    As to Marx's remark in the Afterword to Capital and
    Engels reference to it in "Ludwig Feuerbach" I always
    liked it and repeated it to others, too. But it did
    function as a kind of explanation of why I didn't
    study Hegel and believed that it was good enough to
    just read Marx. Once I got started reading Hegel I did
    not find the aphorism useful. It was kind of obvious
    that I had to penetrate the hard shell of logical
    rigmarole to get what I wanted. But how?? The idea of
    standing it on its head gave me no guidance at all. So
    I try to dissuade people who might want to tackle
    Hegel to not use this aphorism as a guide.


    On 17/07/2017 7:18 AM, David Kellogg wrote:

        In the Philosophical Notebooks, Lenin notes that
        the Aristotelian syllogism still has a whiff of
        Platonism about it.

        Precious metals don't rust.
        Gold is a precious metal.
        Therefore gold doesn't rust.

        I gather that what he means is that in the
        syllogism it is concrete, sensuous experience with
        a particular metal which comes dead last. But when
        we look at human experience as historical
        activity, we notice that it comes first: that it
        is thousands of years of experience with a
        particular metal, from the ancient Egyptians and
        their obsession with uncorruptibility onward,
        which leads to the valuation of gold and its
        exaptation as money, and then generalization to
        silver.  Lenin says that in its idealist form the
        syllogism is a game: it is this which must be
        "turned on its head" to see how the concept arises.


        If Marx's remark to that effect was not helpful or
        clarifying, why do you think Vygotsky and Luria
        (not to mention Lenin) were so taken with it?

        David Kellogg
        Macquarie University

        On Mon, Jul 17, 2017 at 12:01 AM, Andy Blunden
        <ablunden@mira.net <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>
        <mailto:ablunden@mira.net>>> wrote:

            I meant specifically that the aphorism about Hegel
            having to be turned on his head is not useful.


            Andy Blunden