Dialectics: a reply to Chris B.

Tue Jul 25 01:48:41 MDT 1995

This post is in a reply to Chris B. request for Juan I. to comment on
Marx's dialectic method.  I for one believe that Hegel, and especially his
dialectic method had great influence on Marx.  Moreover, I think to read
Marx as a "systematic" dialectician (as Tony Smith presents) is an
extremely fruitful way to understand Marx and his Critique of Political

As for the last six paragraphs of the Postface of the second edition of
*Capital*, it is my opinion, that these brief comments are very limiting
for making a general argument for Marx employment of dialectics as
method.  However, what they unambiguously offer is that Marx believed
himself to be practicing something which he termed the "dialectical method."

Marx says: "I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty
thinker, and even, here and there in the chapter on the theory of value,
coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him" (Vintage ed.

I would point that when Marx says that he "coquetted" Hegel's mode of
expression, is entirely different then employing a dialectical method.
The former he "coquetted," the latter he *adopted*.

However, Marx also makes it quite clear in these paragraphs that his
dialectical method is something different then Hegel's dialectical
method.  He calls his dialectical method "opposite" of Hegel's, and that
Hegel stood the dialectical method "on its head," whereby, "It must be
inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical

This cryptic metaphor seems to hold no literal meaningfulness, but
certainly is expressing a divergence from Hegel.  Just before this
comment, Marx had said: "My dialectical method is, in its foundations,
not only different from the Hegelian, but exactly opposite to it."  This
is usually interpreted to suggest that Hegel's idealist dialectic is
replaced by a materialist dialectic.  But one must be careful here, I do
not believe that Marx is suggesting here that a purely rationalist method
be replaced with a empiricist method, or abstract by concrete.  imo, Marx
is suggesting that science begin with human beings as they exist in their
materialized conditions, rather than how their lives are constituted.
For example, in Hegel's *Philosophy of Right* national constitutions are
seen as offering freedom to its citizens, for Marx a constitution merely
provides an ideal, only by observing citizens in their actual materialized
conditions can a degree of freedom be assessed.

In this sense Marx is rejecting an idealistic theory of verification,
viz. a "completed" categorial system; e.g. Hegel, Feuerbach, and Proudhon,
for a materialist verification by *praxis*.  Marx says in the second theses
on Feuerbach: "The question whether human thinking can reach objective
truth--is not a question of theory but a *practical* question.  In
practice man must prove the truth, that is, actuality and power, the
this-worldiness of his thinking."

Thus, imo, Marx is not rejecting a systematic categorial theory as his
method and presentation, but rather rejecting the (Hegelian) notion that
this systematic categorial theory will be a *closed* system of thought.
Rather it is an *open* and evolving theory, where it must always come back
to the materialized conditions of human beings.

And it is this difference between the Hegelian and Marxian systematic
dialectical method which allows Hegel to conclude that human beings are
*autonomous* within capitalism, while for Marx they are subjected to
constant structural coercion, hence remain *heteronomous*.  For example,
whereas, Hegel argues that private property provides individual freedom,
Marx sees it as providing the grounds for exploitation of one class over

Marx commits himself to a systematic categorial dialectical method, which
unlike the Hegelian one, does not find justification and verification in
a *closed* system of thought, but in an *open* totality which attempts to
make sense of, not only capitalism as such, but of the traditional
categories to re-construct capitalism in thought.

This distinction between a (Hegelian) *closed* system of thought, and an
(Marxian) *open* evolving system, especially demonstrates that capital is
not merely replacing the *Absolute*, for the Absolute is a construct to
close and justify the Hegelian system.  For Marx, there is no closure,
the system is open and evolving, whence praxis is not simply
speculative, but necessitated.

What should be emphasized is that what is similar between the Hegelian
and Marxian dialectic method is the dialectical treatment of categories
to re-construct the subject, viz. political economy.  The categories are
dialectically organized from the ontologically most simple abstract to
the most complex concrete (Marx makes this point in *Grundrisse*; Hegel
in *Phenomenology of Mind*).

Hans Despain
despain at econ.sbs.utah.edu
hans.despain at m.cc.utah.edu

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