8 September 2011

CU Course on Hegel, Part 0, Introduction

CU Course on Hegel, Part 0, Introduction

Hegel: Introduction

Why do we need this particular course on Hegel among our twelve Communist University courses?

Because during any study of Karl Marx, his political associates, and his successors, one comes across Hegel repeatedly. Hegel was born in 1770 and died in 1831. The high period of “Hegelianism” was after Hegel’s death, between 1831 and 1841, and it was followed by a turbulent contestation of philosophies, in which both Marx and Engels played prominent parts, leading up to the multiple revolutions of 1848.

Hegel appears prominently in Marx’s work from just before the genesis of “Marxism” (i.e. in 1844 and early 1845). Hegel features massively again towards the conclusion of Engels’ life’s work, when Engels was writing influential material on philosophy.

Isaac Newton is supposed to have said that if he was great, it was only because he stood on the shoulders of giants. The giant upon whose shoulders Marx and Engels stood was Hegel.

Lenin wrote: “It is impossible completely to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, half a century later none of the Marxists understood Marx!!”

Philosophy is crucial, but it is too lightly treated in the Marxist canon. Marx got his doctorate for philosophy, and all his writings are conditioned by that study, yet he wrote no overt philosophy. Engels did his best, but his philosophical output is scant in comparison to what is really needed.

The problem that Lenin points to (which still exists) does not necessarily arise because the Marxists are lazy. It could also arise because:

  • There is too little directly philosophical material within the Marxist canon
  • Hegel’s work is comparable in volume to Marx’s, but is far more difficult to understand
  • The “Logic” is even more difficult to understand than other parts of Hegel
  • Hegel’s work is full of special terms that are not found in that form anywhere else
  • Such popularisation of Hegel’s work as exists is more often than not, misleading

We need a study of Hegel to remedy some of the above problems.

Good Hegel, Bad Hegel

Another difficulty is that although Hegel may have been the giant upon whose shoulders Marx was able to stand, yet Hegel was not Marx and Hegel was prone to errors, as we (being Marx’s successors) would see it. Hegel is accused of idealism, misogyny, and racism, to name only three cardinal sins.

Consequently, and whether these accusations are right or wrong, any student of Hegel must discriminate. This is certainly possible but it makes Hegel a more difficult study.

Hegel and the CU Methodology

In the other 11 CU courses, the dominant principle is to make available original material by the masters, like Marx, Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin, Fanon, Cabral Govan Mbeki and Joe Slovo, to mention only a few examples. The availability of their material in electronic form makes this possible. Secondary, interpretive material is avoided. The introductions that are given are kept to a relatively much shorter length as compared to the original writings.

When it comes to Hegel this is not going to be so easy. Even a single paragraph of Hegel’s writing can seem impossibly obscure at first sight. CLR James, writing of someone called Harris, who “ultimately wrote a very fine work on the Hegelian logic”, recalls what happened when the man got the book for the first time: “Harris says that he copied out the thing with his own hand, the whole thing, and when he was finished, he didn't understand a line, not a line. I know exactly how he felt.”

Andy Blunden is a great scholar and exponent of Hegel in plain language. Andy has been kind enough to help with his own ten-part course on Hegel, which we will exploit. But it is notable that whereas the CU way is to use four parts of original work to one part of introduction, with Blunden on Hegel it is the other way around. What follows is a compromise, somewhere between these two extremes.

Hegel Resources

Andy Blunden’s “Hegel by Hypertext” is the best and biggest collected resource. It includes a lot of Hegel’s works and lots of helpful explanatory material, by others and by Andy himself.

Other resources include Marx’s and Engels’ writing on Hegel; Jon Stewart and James Heartfield to debunk myths about Hegel; Evald Ilyenkov for the relationship with Marx’s work; and the existing CU course on Philosophy and Religion.

What do we want to get out of it?

After Capital, Volume 3, Hegel is the last frontier. There is nothing else that is more difficult; everything else will be less difficult. Purely from a subjective, studying point of view, Hegel is our bookend.

But in substance, he is much more. For example, Andy Blunden, writing of Hegels’ motivation as a youth, writes: “Hegel drew the conclusion that the German Revolution would have to be made with philosophy rather than with guns and mobs.”

It may well be that our future revolution will also have to be made of philosophy. At least, it may not be possible to have a revolution without first securing the philosophical front.

We are therefore looking to capture the salient (i.e. important; prominent; crucial; determinant) features of Hegel’s work.

These will include a fundamental theory of human development (dialectics); a unified conception of human history; and a full theory of the individual and collective Subjects of History, with a consequent theory of Freedom. These prizes would be enough, for one course.

  • Image: Alleged doodle of Hegel’s, showing a triad, found on the Internet. This may well be part of the misleading mythology around Hegel with which we must do battle.


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