‘THE conformity of concepts with objects is not subjective,’ Lenin stressed in a comment on cognition in his Philosophical Notebooks, close to the end of his critical re-reading and materialist re-rendering, three years before Russia’s 1917 Revolution, of Hegel’s idealist two-volume work The Science of Logic.
The key sentence shows, first of all, that Lenin’s dialectical materialist philosophical position remained firmly as he’d set it out just six years before in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism – i.e., that: ‘The mastery of nature manifested in human practice is a result of an objectively correct reflection within the human head of the phenomena and processes of nature, and is proof of the fact that this reflection, (within the limits of what is revealed by practice) is objective, absolute and eternal truth.’
In fact – as part of the Bolshevik party’s preparation for revolution – Lenin was annotating and in every necessary way re-expressing Hegel’s idealist 1812 text materialistically: which was exactly what, in this section of his Notebooks, he deliberately set out to do. It was with the same thoroughness and determination that Lenin, and Trotsky too, prepared the Bolshevik Party for the October Revolution.
Lenin at the same time had insisted from the outset: ‘Logic is the science not of external forms of thought, but of the laws of development of “all material, natural and spiritual things”, i.e., of the development of the entire concrete content of the world and its cognition, i.e., the sum-total, the conclusion of the History of knowledge of the world.
But noted as well directly alongside that first sentence above – and at the same time clearly distinguishing Hegel’s objective idealism from the subjective idealism of his famous German philosophical predecessor Immanuel Kant – had been Hegel’s specifically idealist assertion, in his Volume Two The Doctrine of the Notion, that ‘the object, and the objective and subjective world, not merely ought to conform to the Idea, but are themselves the conformity of Notion and reality . . .’
Lenin promptly re-rendered that sentence materialistically as: ‘The Idea (read: man’s knowledge) is the coincidence (conformity) of notion and objectivity (the ‘‘universal’’). This – first.’ He then continued: ‘Secondly, the Idea is the relation of the subjectivity (= man) which is for itself (= independent, as it were) to the objectivity which is distinct (from this Idea) . . . Subjectivity is the impulse to destroy this separation (of the idea from the object).’
In a fuller summary he added: ‘Cognition is the process of the submersion (of the mind) in an organic nature for the sake of subordinating its power to the power of the subject and for the sake of generalisation (cognition of the universal in its phenomena). . .’
After that the Notebooks straight away proceeded to re-render Hegel’s subsequent passage materialistically – i.e., to ‘stand it on its feet’ as Marx and Engels originally depicted such necessary re-expression) – all the way through to the Science of Logic’s next page as follows, and insisting in Lenin’s further clarification: ‘The coincidence of thought with the object is a process: thought (=man) must not imagine truth in the form of dead repose, in the form of a bare picture (image), pale (matt), without impulse, without motion, like a genius, like a number, like abstract thought.
‘The idea contains also the strongest contradiction, repose (for man’s thought) consists in the firmness and certainty with which he eternally creates (this contradiction between thought and object) and eternally overcomes it. . .’
In the wake of that Lenin was also able to emphasise still more memorably: ‘Cognition is the eternal, endless approximation of thought to the object. The reflection of nature in man’s thought must be understood not “lifelessly,” not “abstractly”, not devoid of movement, not without contradictions, but in the eternal process of movement, the arising of contradictions and their solution.’ Lastly he stressed, continuing once again to re-render Hegel: ‘The Idea is Cognition and aspiration (volition) [of man] . . . the process of (transitory, finite, limited) cognition and action converts abstract concepts into perfected objectivity.’
Lenin had gone on to credit Hegel with having ‘brilliantly divined the dialectics of things (phenomena, the world, nature) in the dialectics of concepts.’ Yet immediately following that praise he had promptly recognised the need to stress: ‘indeed divined, not more’ – and also to add alongside it: ‘This aphorism should be expressed more popularly without the word dialectics: approximately as follows: in the alternation, reciprocal dependence of all notions, in the identity of their opposites, in the transitions of one notion into another, in the eternal change, movement of notions, Hegel brilliantly divined PRECISELY THIS RELATION OF THINGS, OF NATURE.’
He had continued as follows, assembling in answer to his own emphasised query: ‘what constitutes dialectics?’: ‘= mutual dependence of notions . . . all . . . without exception/transitions of notions from one into another . . . all . . . without exception / the relativity of opposition between notions . . . the identity of opposites between notions.’ Alongside such constituents he also stressed: ‘NB Every notion occurs in a certain relation, in a certain connection, with all the others.’
On the next page Lenin added – in agreement with Hegel but not of course uncritically – ‘The differences between Being and Essence, between Notion and Objectivity, are relative,’ and promptly proceeded to re-render this once again underneath: ‘The moments of the cognition (= of the “idea”) of nature by man – these are the categories of logic.’
Following that he specifically continued to re-render Hegel’s idealist statement that ‘The Idea itself is the Dialectic’ by at once standing Hegel altogether ‘on his feet’ and insisting: ‘The dialectic is not in man’s understanding, but in the “idea”, i.e., in objective reality.’ (my italics – MD)
Then he developed this point even further by positively praising Hegel’s statement that ‘the expression “unity” of thinking and being, of finite and infinite, etc. is false, because it expresses “quietly persisting identity”’; and by emphasising afterwards in illustration of this:– ‘It is not true that the finite simply neutralises the infinite and vice-versa. Actually, we have a process.’
After this – and at the same time fully agreeing with Hegel that ‘truth is a process’ – Lenin prepared to re-express Hegel’s insistence that the Idea ‘is’ truth as: ‘From the subjective idea, man advances towards objective truth . . .’ Consequently he added: ‘The idea, i.e., truth as a process – for truth is a process – passes in its development through three stages: 1) life; 2) the process of knowledge, which includes human practice and technique . . . , 3) the stage of the absolute idea (i.e., of complete truth).’
And alongside that he developed the same point by expressing it over again most fully as: ‘Truth is a process. From the subjective idea, man advances towards objective truth through “practice” (and technique).’
Subsequently, and on the same page, he then proceeded to agree with Hegel’s opinion that since logic’s subject-matter is truth, and if ‘truth as such essentially is in cognition’, then cognition has to be dealt with: and therefore that ‘in connection with cognition it is already … necessary to speak of life.’
So Lenin also proceeded: ‘The idea [i.e., Hegel’s idea – MD] of including Life in logic is comprehensible – and brilliant – from the standpoint of the process of the reflection of the objective world in the (at first individual) consciousness of man and of the testing of this consciousness (reflection) through practice . . .’
Then – after referring to Hegel’s shorter Encyclopaedia as he annotated Volume Two’s last but one chapter ‘The Idea of Cognition’, and from the standpoints both of materialism and of Hegel’s recognition that Kant and all subjective idealists and sceptics decline to see the appearing Thing-in-itself in phenomena and so ‘divorce phenomena from objective truth, doubt the objectivity of cognition, remove everything empirical from the Thing-in-itself’ – Lenin went on to add the following brief sentences:
‘It is impossible to understand without the process of understanding (of cognition, concrete study etc.) In order to understand, it is necessary empirically to begin understanding, to rise from empiricism to the universal. In order to learn to swim, it is necessary to get into the water.’
It was in just such a context that Hegel had accurately recognised the key shortcoming of both Kant and all subjective idealists and sceptics: i.e., their inability to overcome the limitation that the ‘Thing-in-itself’ (in fact every so-called ‘Thing-in-itself’ – MD) remains inaccessible, ‘hidden’, and therefore must amount – in Hegel’s own critical phrase – to an ‘absolute Beyond for Cognition.’
Hegel had also said of Kant and all his fellow subjective idealists and sceptics: ‘The determinations of thought in general, the categories and the determinations of reflection as well as the formal Notion and its moments, are here given the position not that they are finite determinations in and for themselves, but that they are so in the sense that they are subjective as against that empty Thinghood-in-itself; the error of taking this relation of the untruth of Cognition as valid has become the universal opinion of modern times [i.e. before 1812 – MD].
Or as Lenin then re-rendered it: ‘Kant took the finite, transitory, relative, conditional character of human cognition (its categories, causality, etc., etc.,) as subjectivism, and not as the dialectics of the idea (= of nature itself), divorcing cognition from the object.’
Four pages later, Lenin went on to re-express a further passage of Hegel’s which now speaks of ‘the Practical Idea’. Just prior to the passage, Hegel had declared that for Kant cognition remained incomplete because ‘the Notion does not become unity with itself in its object or its reality . . . Hence in this Cognition the Idea does not yet reach truth because of the inadequacy of the object to the subjective Notion.’
Following that plain statement Hegel had continued, proceeding nevertheless ever more idealistically and mysteriously: ‘But the sphere of Necessity is the highest point of Being and of Reflection; . . . in and for-itself it passes over into the freedom of the Notion, while the inner identity passes over into its manifestation, which is the Notion as Notion . . .
‘. . . The Idea, insofar as the Notion is now for itself the Notion determinate in and for itself, is the Practical Idea, or Action.’ Straight away Lenin took the opportunity to re-render that altogether more clearly as follows: ‘Theoretical cognition ought to give the object in its necessity, in its all-sided relations, in its contradictory movement, in and for itself.
‘But the human notion “definitively” catches this objective truth of cognition, seizes and masters it, only when the notion becomes “being-for-itself” in the sense of practice. That is, the practice of man and of mankind is the test, the criterion of the objectivity of cognition.’
Yet he cautioned himself: ‘Is that Hegel’s idea? It is necessary to return to this.’ And in fact, later on the following page, Lenin did specifically conclude: ‘Marx, consequently, clearly sides with Hegel in introducing the criterion of practice into the theory of knowledge: see the Theses on Feuerbach.’
So in re-rendering Hegel still further materialistically Lenin was able explicitly to insist that: ‘Practice is higher than (theoretical) knowledge, for it has not only the dignity of universality, but also of immediate actuality.’
Then Lenin added three pages on, in this key context siding himself too with Hegel: ‘Cognition . . . finds itself faced by that which truly is as actuality present independently of subjective opinions . . . (This is pure materialism!)’
He continued however, warning here against the traces of every and any residue of philosophical idealism: ‘Man’s will, his practice, itself blocks the attainment of its end . . . in that it separates itself from cognition and does not recognise external actuality for that which truly is (for objective truth.) What is necessary is the union of cognition and practice.’
Two pages later, Lenin then summarised in clarification: ‘The activity of man, who has constructed an objective picture of the world for himself, changes external actuality, abolishes its determinateness, (= alters some sides or other, qualities of it) and thus removes from it the features of Semblance, externality and nullity, and makes it as being in and for itself (= objectively true).’ And on the next page he stressed: ‘The result of activity is the test of subjective cognition and the criterion of OBJECTIVITY WHICH TRULY IS.’
Then below that – commenting now on the first sentence of The Science of Logic’s last chapter, to which Hegel had finally and no less idealistically affixed his title: ‘The Absolute Idea’ – Lenin identified such objectivity fully as: ‘The unity of the theoretical idea (of knowledge) and of practice – this NB – ‘and this unity precisely in the theory of knowledge, for the resulting sum is the ‘‘absolute, idea’’ (and the idea = ‘‘the objectively true’’).’