[Marxism] Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Quine and Hegel

shaun may mnwps at hotmail.com
Sun Jan 12 08:28:29 MST 2014

A few remarks in response to Jeff's contribution.

Hegel, like Soviet philosophy, of course, has to be read critically from the vantage point of what Marx and others subsequently have already achieved. And Marx has to read likewise. But they also must be read historically which is not separate from such a critique. Approximately 200 years since the publication of the *Science of Logic*. This critique must also extend to all those thinkers in the Soviet system - deeply influenced by Stalinism and the social conditions which it sought to legitimate -  who did work on the relationship between the content of the natural sciences and dialectics. 
It must not be forgotten that thinkers like Ilyenkov, Omelyanovsky, etc, lived and worked under the burden of this political weight. They were not "free-floating", anonymous, independent of the social conditions within which they were working. It would, in my opinion, be erroneous to approach any thinker ideologically, divorced from their relations within the prevailing historical conditions, if we truly wish to grasp the content and significance of his/her work. Omelyanovsky (or the political editor at Progress!) praises Brezhnev in the Epilogue to *Dialectics in Modern Physics*. But I wonder if this was "forced" or not, assuming it was from Omelyanovsky's own pen.  
Meszaros, in *Beyond Capital* [part 1], looks at Hegel in the form of a critique of 'breaking the spell of Hegel's universal permanent capital'. He also looks at his ideological successors ( I will not dignify them with the term 'epigones') like Hayek, Marginal Utilitists, etc. Probably the highest form of the ideological apotheosis of Hegel today is found in the increasingly hallowed halls of a post-modernist Grand Hotel Abyss. All the rooms are fully booked. 

Of course, we must not neglect the historical experience of Hegel himself, student, 19 years of age when the French Revolution broke out in 1789 and all the unfolding events in the course of and subsequent to this revolution. The French Revolution had a very deep and profound philosophical and political influence on Hegel.

Marx's thinking, his method of approach, was a dialectical approach but not "Hegelian", of course. He actually insists on this himself in the preface to Capital. Some say that the term "Marxist" has itself become problematic (with almost pseudo-religious connotation and resonance, e.g. was Stalin or Mao a "Marxist"?) so I think we can, according to some, safely place the term "Hegelian Marxist" within that orbit as well. What a "Non-Hegelian Marxist" is, I do not know. As strange a beast as the Hegelian variety, I dare say.

Anecdotally, I recall, in the mid 80s during the year long Miners' strike, at a meeting of socialists and trade unionists, I was addressing the floor about how we could develop the strategy to involve a wider section of the class in support for the Miners' struggle. A teacher from the local university interrupted by shouting from the floor..

"So you are a class-struggle Marxist, then!"

All the "Marxists" in the meeting immediately fell into fits of laughter.

Then one of these seated "Marxists" followed with...

"What other kind of Marxist is there?"

I simply could not resist the sarcastic retort...

"The Hegelian Marxist, of course".

The meeting descended further into mirth and frivolity. Later, when we were all having a drink together, I overheard somebody accuse somebody else of being "temperantly pissed". One cannot be a whitewasher and chimney sweeper at the same time. They are determinately and mutually incompatible activities. 

Marx superseded Hegel and Hegelianism as a whole but that does not mean that we cannot still learn from a critical, strictly non-apotheosised, reading of Hegel. As Badiou himself insisted in an essay published in 1977, what really interests us, as communists, for method/heuristic and primarily POLITICAL purpose, is "The Rational Kernel of the Hegelian Dialectic". I think Marx wrote more or less the same somewhere else. Dialectics can serve a heuristic function in the natural sciences but primarily we are developing ourselves and others to put an end to the capital system as a whole. And, in my sincere opinion, we need dialectics for that mighty historic task.

To be candid, I don't think the lifeless and tedious FORMAL Logic of Quine and similar others would be recommended reading...in a study of the DIALECTICAL Logic of Hegel, Marx and others. [Perhaps as a logical foil?] Formal logic itself (in the form of the category of DETERMINATE BEING) is a subsumed moment in dialectical logic. We do not deny the determinate or the determinacy of the existent. But to focus on it at the expense of dialectics is what Hegel would have referred to as being in the grip of 'Verstand' whose principle is that of 'undifferentiated identity'. 
For the communist, in my opinion, regardless of putative cultural enrichment, there really is no need whatsoever to rake over the ancient burial grounds of formal logic when there is nothing remaining there [unlike with Hegel] to reap from its sterile soils. Just the old stones and bones of a dead, superseded logic.
Well, I wouldn't do it.

Shaun May

'Sir, if you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee.'  Nancy Astor. 
'Madam, if you were my wife, I would drink it.' Winston Churchill.
Blenheim Palace, 1912


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