Reflections on Hegel, Marx and Mao
Editor’s note: We received the following response from
a Chinese student to the new collection THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY: SELECTED
WRITINGS ON THE DIALECTIC IN HEGEL AND MARX, by Raya Dunayevskaya. We welcome
your participation in this ongoing dialogue.
In Hegel’s PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND, the stage of Spirit
can help us understand the historical periods of the French Revolution,
industrial capitalism, and state capitalism. This stage is featured by “spirit
in self-estrangement,” or as Hegel defined it, “the discipline of culture”
(cited in THE POWER OF NEGATIVITY, hereafter PON, p. 39). Raya Dunayevskaya
notes that it is full of “contradiction between the individual and society or
between what we would call petty bourgeois individualism and the truly social
individual” (PON, p. 39).
We might trace Marx’s critique of “alienation,” or
“fetishism of commodities” in capitalist society from the description of
spirit in self-estrangement by Hegel: “Spirit in this case, therefore,
constructs not merely one world, but a twofold world, divided and self-opposed.”
The dual character of labor, that is, concrete labor and
abstract labor, results in the twofold character of commodities, in other words,
use value and value. Because of this, human beings are separated from the
products they produce. They are alienated from the objective world. What’s
more, they are alienated from other human beings because of the division of
labor and large-scale machinery manufacture. Human beings become attachments of
machines, and human relations are thingified. In contrast, commodities are
endowed with life and idolized by humans. As a result, human beings are
alienated from their essential being. Life is dehumanized and creativity
suppressed. People cannot freely choose what they like to do. The world appears
a prison full of uncontrollable necessity.
This is reflected in the Enlightenment of the 18th
century. As Hegel commented, it managed to oppose faith and superstition, but
the sphere of spirit was divided into a lower region--the actual world, and a
higher region--”the ether of pure consciousness, raising itself above the
first.” He added: “This second world, being constructed in opposition and
contrast to that estrangement, is just on that account not free from it”
(cited in PON, p. 40). Superstructure is separated from and opposite to
objective reality. Theory is separated from practice.
Later on, in the 20th century, because of this
self-estrangement, Marxism could not be developed alongside the changes in the
economic conditions of the proletariat and the capitalists. Labor bureaucrats
positioned themselves high above the mass and the Communist Party was no longer
the mediated result of socialist theory and the practical struggle of the
Two Kinds of Subjectivity
An extreme example of the self-estranged spirit is what
Hegel calls the noble type of consciousness. Dunayevskaya connects this to the
Chinese leader Mao Zedong, who rests his consciousness high above ordinary
people and identifies his personal will with the will of the state. Hegel writes
that this type of mind binds “the essential reality and self indissolubly
together” and produces “a twofold actuality--a self that is truly
actualized, and a state power whose authority is accepted as true” (cited in
PON, pp. 40-41).
To Hegel, spirit in self-estrangement is due to the
presence of a first negation without a second negation, resulting in the “dead
form of the spirit’s previous state” (cited in PON, p. 42). Enlightenment
stuck to the opposite of faith and superstition, but failed to go on negating
itself--the pure consciousness, the culture (superstructure) separated from
objective practice. Dunayevskaya writes that it is the same with vulgar
materialism and with “Trotsky’s forced identification of nationalized
property and ‘workers’ state’” (PON, p. 42).
In countries such as Russia and China, nationalized
property did dig out the roots of capitalist exploitation by negating capitalist
private property. However, controlled by the party and government, it was
exposed to free appropriation by bureaucrats in power. In the abstract, the
masses owned the property of the whole nation, but actually they were penniless.
“Nationalized property” became an abstract idea and an empty slogan.
Individual will was suppressed by the authorities in the name of the people.
Communism turned into state capitalism and the enemy of humanism.
To Hegel, the second negation, which contains positive
elements for renewal, is extremely important. If we stop at first negation,
writes Hegel, revolution would become “merely the rage and fury of destruction”
(cited in PON, p. 42). As Dunayevskaya pointed out, “if you have not faced the
question of reconstruction on new beginnings but only destruction of the old,
you have, therefore, reached only ‘death--that achieves nothing, embraces
nothing within its grasp; for what is negated is the unachieved, unfulfilled
punctual entity of the absolutely free self’” (PON, p. 42).
Because revolutionists failed to address the question
“What should we do after revolution,” the “socialist” regimes collapsed
in one country after another, including Russia and Eastern Europe. Others like
China and Vietnam have actually converted to state capitalism, with rampant
bureaucratic corruption, while North Korea is ruled by authoritarian government.
This recent history makes us aware that the struggle for
human freedom is never-ending. After we negate the external opposites, we need
to negate the internal opposites inside ourselves. We need to negate our
previous revolutions with a new revolution, to rediscover the “absolutely free
self” from a higher starting point. Then the second negation will provide a
positive basis for future negations.
What is Negativity?
In his SCIENCE OF LOGIC, Hegel wrote: “The negativity
which has just been considered is the turning point of the movement of the
Notion. It is the simple point of negative self-relation, the innermost source
of all activity, of living and spiritual self-movement, the dialectic soul which
all truth has in it and through which it alone is truth; for the transcendence
of the opposition between the Notion and Reality, and that unity which is the
truth, rest upon this subjectivity alone. The second negative, the negative of
the negative, which we have reached, is this transcendence of the contradiction,
but is no more the activity of an external reflection than the contradiction is:
it is the innermost and most objective movement of Life and Spirit, by virtue of
which a subject is personal and free” (cited in PON, p. 20).
The dialectic of negativity is the absolute method. It
enables us to keep pace, not only with the development of external objective
reality, but also with internal subjective reality--the ever-changing concept of
freedom, the ever-progressing human consciousness.
The goal of absolute negativity is to realize true
freedom, which is reached in the final stage--Absolute Knowledge. At this stage,
human beings will obtain the Absolute Idea, which is the unity of objectivity
and subjectivity, the unity of thought and practice, and the mediated result. It
is the stage when human consciousness achieves total freedom by grasping the
absolute method--the dialectic of negativity. This stage is never the end of
human history. Instead, it is the new beginning in the everlasting process of
The Absolute Idea is a process of development, which
goes from individuality to universality and from universality to individuality.
All these stages can happen simultaneously. According to Hegel, the object is
not just a “thing-in-itself,” but the unity of the particular object and its
universal notion. He wrote: “The object as a whole is the mediated result (the
syllogism) or the passing of universality into individuality through
specification, as also the reverse process from individual to universal through
canceled individuality or specific determination” (cited in PON, p. 17).
Dunayevskaya wrote that Hegel concluded that “nothing
in life or in thought has a beginning so simple as is imagined but that ‘every
beginning must be made from the Absolute, while every progress is merely the
exhibition of the Absolute It is the Absolute only in its completion’” (PON,
To Dunayevskaya, no matter whether it is “notion,”
“Spirit,” or “absolute,” it applied to the development of socialism: “So
although we began with the universal of socialism and although we have seen
socialism in the various phases of the [Paris] Commune, the Soviets, the CIO, it
is not yet IT for it can be it ‘only in its completion.’ The new society
will not be until it is; now we see only intimation, approximations, but it is
nevertheless all around us, in the lives of the workers and in the theory of the
party, so until the solution of the conflict and the abolition of the division
(between mental and manual labor), we are back to stages of development” (PON,
Based on nationalized property, the so-called socialism
in Soviet Union and China was actually state capitalism. Normally, only
Communist Party members could hold high positions in the government. Although
congress representatives were supposedly elected from the masses, they were
actually appointed by party officials of higher positions. In contrast to the
bottom-to-top system of democratic election, this top-to-bottom system of
official appointment made any supervision by another power or party impossible.
The party was no longer “the Other,” or “the mediated result of the three layers,” which incorporated and served as a medium between the notion of socialism and the practical struggle of the proletariat (PON, p. 17). The party was no longer “what it is by its relationship to the proletariat outside” (PON, p. 17).
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