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[Xmca-l] Re: Hegel on Action
- To: David Kellogg <email@example.com>, "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
- Subject: [Xmca-l] Re: Hegel on Action
- From: Andy Blunden <email@example.com>
- Date: Wed, 19 Jul 2017 12:14:12 +1000
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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
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.
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
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.
"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
Free E-print Downloadable at:
On Mon, Jul 17, 2017 at 10:26 AM, Andy Blunden
<email@example.com <mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>> 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?
On Mon, Jul 17, 2017 at 12:01 AM, Andy Blunden
I meant specifically that the aphorism about Hegel
having to be turned on his head is not useful.