Notes on Dialectics – Hegel’s Preface to the First Ed. of The Science of Logic

Notes on Dialectics is a book on the Marxist (Hegelian) dialectic by CLR James. I am reading the first part and putting my thoughts here. I will be writing about it in sections and hopefully be able to make some sort of synthesis at the end. This is the second reading and in this part he is looking into Hegel’s larger Logic, from The Science of Logic, the Preface. For notes on the intro you can read here.

James tells us that what Hegel provides us with in the Preface is a new way of organizing thoughts, not a new way of thinking, “But knowing what you do when you think.” (p13)

Hegel quotes from the Preface:

  • “On the other hand, the period of fermentation with which creation begins seems to be past. At its first appearance such a period generally wears an aspect of fanatical hostility toward the prevalent systemization of the older principle; it is also, partly, fearful of losing itself in the wilderness of particulars while it shuns the labour required for scientific development, and in its need of such a development grasps, at first, at an empty formalism. The demand for the digestion and development if the material now becomes so much the more pressing. This is a period in the development of an age, as in the development of an individual, when the chief business is to acquire and maintain the principle in its undeveloped intensity. But the higher requirement is that the principle should be elaborated into systematized knowledge.”

The way ideas become absorbed: first appearance followed by hostility toward the older principle, abstraction of a new principle, filling in, and systematization, “being, essence, notion.” (p14)

  • “But it is the nature of the content and that alone which lives and stirs in philosophic cognition, while itself originates and determines the nature of philosophy.”

James tells us this is the key to the dialectic and therefore marxist thinking. “Thought is not an instrument you apply to a content. The content moves, develops, changes and creates new categories of thought, and gives them direction.” (p15) That to use the dialectic in understanding the labor movement, we see the movement of labor and its expression.

James says, “The labor movement takes certain forms, Commune, the Second International, and Third, unions, CIO, IWW, etc. These are (1) international above all. But (2) they express this essential internationalism in national form. It is an international movement that takes national form, each form being peculiar to the nation; but the basic laws are international because labour is an international “object”.” (p15) But as labor moves and develops new forms of activity, say the International, other organization can not be thought of without considering the International. He says, however, “You can, of course, like labour bureaucrats, refuse to recognize this. But their thoughts and actions are governed by it never the less.” (p15)

Each new category develops philosophical thought, or “philosophic cognition”, but these are not static, and continue to move and change themselves. The thought of the First International, we can not simply attach it to the Second International. The form is the same, and although there are similarities or a relation between them, they are not the same. We must expand our understanding of these categories to consider them.

“But it is from conforming to finite categories in thought and action that all deception originates.”


Notes on Dialectics – Introduction

Notes on Dialectics is a book on the Marxist (Hegelian) dialectic by CLR James. I am reading the first part which covers The Preface to the First Edition of The Science of Logic and putting my thoughts here. I will be writing about it in sections and hopefully be able to make some sort of synthesis at the end. This is the first reading over the Intro.


We start with a piece from Lenin’s article On the Question of Dialectics, where he breaks down some basic ideas of dialectics.

  • Unity of opposites, and their “self-movement”


    Dialectic (Photo credit: tpholland)

  • “Development is the “struggle” of opposites.”
  • Two conceptions of development
    • i. as decrease/increase, repetition
    • ii. development as a unity of opposites

CLR James quotes on the dialectic and using it to look at the labor movement:

  • “..I recognized early on that the Logic constituted an algebra, made to be used in any analysis of constitution and development in nature or in society.” p8
  • “So that when we [JFT] worked on the Logic we were able to understand its movement by testing this movement against the history of the labour movement and, conversely, the movement of the Logic enabled us to understand and develop for contemporary and future needs the history of the labour movement.” p8

James breaking down Hegelian terms:

  • Substance is objective reality, p8
  • Subject is Mind, consciousness, thought, p8
  • “The next stage in the development (evolution) consists in the gathering strength of one of the opposites so that it overcomes the other, embraces it, and itself becomes the basis of a new stage in the Substance, in which the Subject, equally developing, is able to distinguish the new unity of further opposites.” p9
  • unities of Imagination? p10 *(I will have to develop this as I continue)
  • Actuality – the concrete; “the new developing reality faces an opposition with which it must engage in mortal struggle.” p10
  • Truth – “Truth can only be where it makes itself its own result. Truth, in our analysis, the total emancipation of labour, can only be achieved when it contains and overcomes its complete penetration by its inherent antagonism, the capital relation.” p10

What does James say about the labor movement?

It begins in 1789 because labor finds conscious expression, it is self-aware. In Capital, we know that labor movement is the history of labor and proaction itself, but here he is discussing the movement of labor in its conscious expression.

In looking at the Internationals, we look at the movement of consciousness (Subject) and reality (Substance). For the First International, we see widespread rebellions in Europe at the time, theory rooted in activity and the consciousness of the class on the rise. The Second International, “moves away from its marxist origins”, Eduard Bernstein saying, “The movement is everything”. The social democrats begin moving away from international struggle and begin supporting their states. The Third International, shifts back toward proletariat revolution. James says Lenin starts the Third with a opposition to the Second. Later, James says, “Stalinism is not an accident” referring to truth, explained by Hegel:

“In the course of its process the idea creates the illusion, by setting an antithesis to confront it; and its action consists in getting rid of the illusion which it has created. Only out of this error does the truth arise. In this fact lies the reconciliation with error and with finitude. Error or other-being, when superseded, is still a necessary dynamic element of truth: for truth can only be where it makes itself its own result.”