Hello all, I want to study Hegel’s dialectical materialism. Can you suggest some lucid material?

(Post on Facebook Marxist Internet Archive )

We can all see that this is a rather naive question. The person asking was under some vague impression that as a leftist they should understand dialectical materialism, and that this had to do with Hegel. But the answers to it were in a sense even worse, revealing a level of ignorance and scientific backwardness that has handicapped the left for a couple of generations.

Some responded that dialectical materialism was invented by Marx not Hegel. That is wrong, it was invented by another German proletarian philosopher Joseph Dietzgen:

Yet, it is not sufficient to dethrone the fantastic and religious system of life; it is necessary to put a new system, a rational one, in its stead. And that, my friends, only the socialists can accomplish. Or, if the doctors of philosophy think this language too presumptuous, I will put it differently, though the meaning remains the same: our social-democracy is the necessary outcome of a non-religious and sober way of thinking. It is the outcome of philosophic science. Philosophers wrestled with the priests in order to replace a non-civilized mode of thinking by a civilized one, to replace faith by science. The object is achieved, the victory is won. Cannibal religion of primitive ages was softened by Christianity, philosophy continued in its civilizing mission, and after many untenable and transient systems produced the imperishable system of science, the system of democratic (dialectic) materialism.(https://www.marxists.org/archive/dietzgen/1870s/religion.htm)

Idealism, which derives its name from the circumstance that it sets the idea and the ideas, those products of the human head, above and before the material world – both in point of time and importance, this idealism has started very extravagantly and metaphysically. In the course of its history, however, this extravagance has toned down and become more and more sober till Kant himself answered the question which he had set out to solve, viz.: “Is Metaphysics at all possible as a science?” in the negative; Metaphysics as a science is not possible; another world, that is, a transcendental world can only be believed and supposed. Thus the perversion of idealism has become already a thing of the past, and modern materialism is the result of the philosophical and also of the general scientific development.

Because the idealist perversity in its last representatives, namely Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, was thoroughly German, its issue, dialectical materialism, is also a pre-eminently German product.

Idealism derives the corporeal world from the mind, quite after the fashion of religion where the great spirit floats over the waters and has only to say: “Let there be,” and it is. Such idealist derivation is metaphysical. Yet, as mentioned already, the last great representatives of German idealism were metaphysicians of a very moderate type. They had already emancipated themselves considerably from the transcendental, supernatural, heavenly mind, – not, however, from the spell-bound worship of the natural mind of the world. The Christians deified the mind, and the philosophers were still permeated to such an extent with this deification, that they were unable to relinquish it – even when the physical human mind had already become the sober object of their study – making this intellect of ours the creator or parent of the material world. They never tire in their efforts to arrive at a clear understanding of the relation between our mental conceptions and the material things which are represented, conceived and thought.

To us, dialectical or Social-Democratic materialists, the mental faculty of thinking is a developed product of material Nature, whilst according to the German idealism the relation is quite the reverse. That is why Engels speaks of the perversity of this mode of thinking. The extravagant worship of the mind was the survival of the old metaphysics.(https://www.marxists.org/archive/dietzgen/1887/epistemology.htm)

But nobody on the Marxist Internet list advised the poster to go study Dietzgen. Instead a whole bunch of ‘hegelian marxists’ were advocated:  Marcuse, Lukacs, Colletti etc.

But the bigger question of why waste your time with Hegel was left aside. As an undergrad, under the influence of public lectures by the Trotskyist Gerry Healy, I read the Logic, Phenomenology of Spirit and good part of the Philosophy of Nature along with Lenin’s notes on Hegel. I must say it was a total waste of time.

Even as an undegrad I was struck by the way the author pretended to deduce things from premises, which went far beyond what the premises would support. The dialectical logic looked awfully like a conjuring trick used to distract attention whilst the desired conclusions were introduced as if by magic.

Later, I think as a second year student, I read Bachelard and Althusser whose skeptical views on Hegel reinforced my own hostile impression.

It is an odd paradox that Marx and Engels, the most prominent Communists theorists developed their own historical materialism in a process of root and branch criticism and demolition of Hegelianism of German philosophy of the 1840s ( The Holy Family, The German Ideology). But today in the 21st century almost the only reason that Hegel is studied is because many Marxists believe that Hegel’s ideas were in some way fundamental to understanding historical materialism.

It is notable that in the German Ideology, not only do  Marx and Engels make no mention of dialectics, let alone a positive reference to it but they  quite specific in their rejection of Hegel. Speaking of the young Hegelian school they write:

Far from examining its general philosophic premises, the whole body of its inquiries has actually sprung from the soil of a definite philosophical system, that of Hegel. Not only in their answers but in their very questions there was a mystification. This dependence on Hegel is the reason why not one of these modern critics has even attempted a comprehensive criticism of the Hegelian system, however much each professes to have advanced beyond Hegel. Their polemics against Hegel and against one another are confined to this — each extracts one side of the Hegelian system and turns this against the whole system as well as against the sides extracted by the others. To begin with they extracted pure unfalsified Hegelian categories such as “substance” and “self-consciousness”, later they desecrated these categories with more secular names such as species “the Unique”, “Man”, etc.

The idea that Marxism was based on dialectical rather than historical materialism goes through two stages. First Dietzgen invents  dialectical materialism in the 1870s and claims that the theory of social democracy is based on it. At the start of the 20th century it was still recognised that Dialectical Materialism was Dietzgen’s innovation.  The dialectical materialism of Dietzgen then became the official philosophy of Social Democracy and then of Communism. Since Marx’s Historical Materialism was also the official theory of both movements, dialectical materialism was projected back onto Marx and Engels and supposed to be their ‘method’. This is formalised in texts such as Stalin’s Dialectical and Historical Materialism. Stalin gave no credit to Dietzgen but instead projects the whole of diamat back onto Marx and Engels claiming that they had got diamat from the ‘rational kerenel’ of Hegel.

Later, during the cold war, a wave of Western Marxists arose who, despite their anti-stalinism had so imbibed Stalin’s statement about Marx using the rational kernel of Hegel that they went back to study Hegel in order to try to understand Marx. Trotskyists like Healey demanded that their followers study Hegel’s logic if they were to understand revolutions.

Marx had remarked :

The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language. (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1852/18th-brumaire/ch01.htm)

The horrible paradox is that a tradition that Marx himself had decisively rejected in the 1840s came, a century later, to weigh like a nightmare on the brains of late 20th century marxists.

The problem is that if you read a very out of date logician like Hegel, you cut yourself off from a century and half of advance which has long since shown the futility of the whole Hegelian idealist project. The point about Turing, brought out brilliantly by the more recent Turingist Greg Chaitin in his books is that as he puts it ‘you can not get two kilos of theorems from one kilo of axioms’. Hegel wants to derive all sorts of things from the dialectical development of negation, but what Chaitin and Turing prove is that you can never derive more from a logical system than is contained in your initial axioms. Hegel only appears to do it by sleight of hand where he introduces conclusions that he wants that are actually unsupported by his axioms. If you are willing to allow that sort of handwaving nonsense you completely depart from all science and materialism.

You have the absurdity of Marxists using computers and the internet to discuss anachonistic terms like dialectical versus formal logic when their very activities are entirely depependent on other logicians and materialists like Boole, Shannon and Turing about whom they know little or nothing.  Without Booles logic and Shannon’s demonstration that this could be implemented in switching circuits, there would be no digital electronics. Without Turing no mechanisation of thought, without Shannon’s information theory no wifi or internet.

If you want to understand logic Hegel is the last person to study. If you want to understand complex systems as they change, study Markov theory cybernetics and process algebra not Hegel.