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.”