Hegelian usages in Marx's Grundrisse

Submitted by martin on 8 March, 2021 - 10:46 Author: Martin Thomas
Hegelian triad

In an 1873 afterword to an edition of Capital volume 1, Marx wrote:

The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of Das Kapital it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre epigones who now talk large in cultured Germany to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.”

I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel’s hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

In its mystified form, dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.

Dialectics in the sense of this approach of investigating "every historically developed social form as in fluid movement" runs through Marxist thought. Its relation with Hegel specifically is more complicated.

In his earlier writings Marx was polemical against or even scornful of Hegel and Hegelians, including left-wing Hegelians - in The Holy Family, in the Critique of Hegel's Doctrine of the State, in the Critique of Hegel's Dialectic, and in The Poverty of Philosophy. From maybe 1848 onwards, as he became involved in organised communist politics and turned his attention to economic and political studies, he largely dropped Hegelian usages. But (as recorded above) in Capital he occasionally "coquetted with" Hegelian modes of expression, and dropped in maybe a dozen passing or footnoted references to Hegel. I read those references as primarily jokes or jeux d'esprit - Hegel, whatever else, had a gift for vivid phrases - but others read them in the opposite sense, as signals to mark especially profound steps in the argument. In that 1873 Afterword, and occasionally elsewhere, Marx commented about valuable lessons from Hegel, but never with sustained argument or explanation, or in more than a sentence or two.

The Grundrisse, Marx's 1857-8 "rough notes", contain very few explicit references by Marx to Hegel. But it contains many passages quite dense in usages of terminology specific to Hegel: "posit" (the very ordinary German word setzen, set, sit, or put, used by Hegel in a special way); "suspend" (also rendered into English as "sublate": an ordinary German word, aufheben, with two ordinary meanings, keep and abolish, but used by Hegel in a special way to straddle both meanings); "limit" and "barrier" (Grenze and Schranke, in German, ordinary words but used by Hegel with specialised meanings)... ("Alienation" appears a bit in the Grundrisse, but not much. More common is the word "alien", corresponding to the very ordinary German word "fremd", meaning just "someone else's". In any case, "alienation" was not a "Hegelian" concept, not one special to Hegel; he used it somewhat in the Phenomenology of Spirit, or rather two usages both rendered into English as "alienation", Entfremdung and Entäusserung, but it was taken by him from the Romantics.)

The Grundrisse's English translator, Martin Nicolaus, has studded it with footnoted references where passages in Marx resemble passages in Hegel. We also find such things as an attempt by Marx to construct a "triad" of capital, wage-labour, and landed property, apparently on the model of Hegel's dialectical triads, as with Being-Essence-Notion. (Hegel did not, contrary to myth, call those triads thesis-antithesis-synthesis).

What should we make of those Hegelian usages in the Grundrisse? Had Marx dropped his previous criticisms of Hegel and Hegelianism? Do those returns to Hegelian usage help Marx, in the Grundrisse, or do they hinder?

Engels, in the review he wrote of Marx's write-up of part of Grundrisse rough notes, the 1859 Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, gave us, I think, a good starting indication of what can really be learned from Hegel's dialectics in addition to what could be learned from Kant's, from the ancient Greeks', etc. The indication is all the more striking in that the Contribution has almost none of the historical content which Marx would later add when writing Capital, so Engels was referring to "historical sense" for reasons other than the text compelling such references.

It was the exceptional historical sense underlying Hegel’s manner of reasoning which distinguished it from that of all other philosophers. However abstract and idealist the form employed, yet his evolution of ideas runs always parallel with the evolution of universal history, and the latter was indeed supposed to be only the proof of the former. Although this reversed the actual relation and stood it on its head, yet the real content was invariably incorporated in his philosophy, especially since Hegel - unlike his followers - did not rely on ignorance, but was one of the most erudite thinkers of all time.

The twist is that history, in Hegel's grand scheme, is not really history. As Hegel himself put it in his Introduction to his Philosophy of History, for him:

The history of the World… has been a rational process… the rational necessary course of the World-Spirit - that spirit whose nature is always one and the same, but which unfolds this its one nature in the phenomena of the World's existence. (Emphasis added).

In The Poverty of Philosophy Marx, learning from Feuerbach, criticised the Hegelian approach, as deployed by Proudhon:

For Hegel, all that has happened and is still happening is only just what is happening in his own mind. Thus the philosophy of history is nothing but the history of philosophy, of his own philosophy. There is no longer a 'history according to the order in time', there is only 'the sequence of ideas in the understanding'…

Or, as Marx put it more pungently in his letter to Annenkov summarising The Poverty of Philosophy: It is not history but trite Hegelian trash, it is not profane history - history of humanity - but sacred history - history of ideas… Humanity is only the instrument of which the idea of the eternal reason makes use in order to unfold itself...

Here Marx learned from Feuerbach. Feuerbach had insisted on the ineradicable variousness of reality, and condemned the speculative method which would deduce all that variety from a single principle.

The form of both Hegel’s conception and method is that of exclusive time alone, not that of tolerant space; his system knows only subordination and succession, not coordination and coexistence...

And in Hegel it was not even real time. Speculative philosophy has turned into an... attribute of the Absolute the development which it has detached from time. This detachment of development from time is... the conclusive proof that the speculative philosophers have done with their Absolute what theologians have done with their God who possesses all emotions of men without having emotion....

[Real] time, and not the Hegelian dialectic, is the medium of uniting opposites, contradictories, in one and the same subject.

Things change because they develop in time, not because dialectics tell us that an unchanging Absolute will manifest itself in things which unite opposites within them.

Feuerbach wrote of a “genetico-critical method” which would replace the speculative method of Hegel by one which would start with real things in order to examine and question their origin and development. That is what Marx actually did in Capital, having laid the ground in the Grundrisse but also moved on from that by detailed historical and economic investigation.

Marx's image of turning dialectics "right side up" from its form in Hegel has been much discussed. It is often presented as a matter of Marx starting from material reality and Hegel from ideas; and there are passages in Marx which hint at that.

But that is not satisfactory, as it stands. In the first place, what is "material" and what is not is difficult to delineate, both in Marx's writings (is a commodity, as value, material, or, as Marx puts it in Capital, "a thing which transcends sensuousness"?) and even more so in later science.

Moreover, it then becomes unbelievable how Hegel could have proceeded as he did. If he had an adequate method ready to hand, and all he needed to do was to investigate reality rather than ideas, why did not he not do that? In fact, Hegel often undertook investigations starting from the empirical. In his Introduction to his Philosophy of History, just quoted, he writes also: We must proceed historically - empirically. In his Phenomenology of Spirit, he starts with sense-certainty.

He investigated material facts assiduously. The point is, rather, that he investigated them with the aim of spinning them together into a construction which will show them as moments of the necessary unfolding of the World Spirit. The whole purpose, for him, was to overcome the dichotomy between subjective and objective and to overcome the puzzles of how an awkward, variegated, changeable external world could possibly be known. His answer: that awkward, variegated, changeable external world was known because it was in fact none other than the rational self-development of Absolute Knowledge, i.e., more or less, of God.

As he wrote in the Phenomenology of Spirit: "Nothing is known that is not in experience, or, as it is also expressed, that is not felt to be true, not given as an inwardly revealed eternal verity, as something sacred that is believed... Experience is just this, that the content - which is Spirit - is in itself substance, and therefore an object of consciousness. But this substance which is Spirit is the process in which Spirit becomes what it is in itself; and it is only as this process of reflecting itself into itself that it is in itself truly Spirit".

It could make no sense, from the point of view of Hegel's dialectics, to invert this process of "showing" that all the everyday world is the self-development of Spirit, as reflected intuitively in religion and systematically in "science" - to invert it to "show" what? That Spirit, or Reason, or God are revealed by dialectical analysis to be, not rational, reconciling, and harmonising as Hegel wanted them to be, but awkward, variegated, and changeable as the at-first-sight world?

For Hegel, dialectics was not something which could be attached indifferently to idealism or to materialism. It more or less a synonym for idealism, which was (for him) more or less a synonym for science. "Science", for him, meant a unified system which would present all reality as the expression of a single principle, with none of the awkwardness and fallibility which in later days we have come to associate with science.

Engels would comment that dialectics, in his understanding, meant successive approximations: "the long historical development of science, which mounts from lower to ever higher levels of knowledge without ever reaching, by discovering so-called absolute truth, a point at which it can proceed no further..." (Ludwig Feuerbach). That, I think, is how science is. But, despite Engels, it is not at all how Hegel understood science or dialectics.

"Dialectics", for Hegel, meant an inbuilt process by which finite things generate contraries, and then a third element, and then "pass over" into higher determinations. Hegel, not one to undersell himself, described his dialectics as "the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and a finite mind"; the subsequent investigation was to show that the world and history are that unchanging God expressing itself.

A sort of "successive approximation" figured in Hegelian dialectics, but a different sort from in modern science. It was not theory successively approximating to reality, but the finite (everyday empirical reality, but, for Hegel, relatively un-real) being shown by philosophical dissection to approximate successively to theory (the Absolute Idea, the fundamental reality). "The infinite progress as such belongs to reflection that is without the Notion; the absolute method, which has the Notion for its soul and content, cannot lead into that... By virtue of the nature of the method just indicated, the science exhibits itself as a circle returning upon itself, the end being wound back into the beginning, the simple ground, by the mediation" (Science of Logic, section 3 chapter 3).

There is no analogy between the "circle" of science invoked by Hegel and the "circuit" of capital analysed by Marx. The very point of the circuit of capital is that it does not wind back exactly to the beginning, but produces a new start different from the beginning.

There is a sort of "turning upside down" in the move from Hegel's "finished", "systematic" science to the open-ended approach proposed by Engels. More light on the "turning upside down" can, I think, be got by recalling a critical comment on Hegel in Marx's 1844 Manuscripts. In Hegel, so Marx wrote, reason is at home in unreason as unreason. In other words the stubborn variousness and changeability of the world all turns out to be varied expressions of the cunning of eternal Reason. Marx, by contrast, wrote against the "trite Hegelian trash" (as in Proudhon) that in fact "it is the bad side that produces the movement which makes history, by providing a struggle".

In other words, "unreason is at home in reason as reason".

The discordant, the contradictory, the disruptive, is embedded in the apparently-tidy system, and is in fact the driver for advance. This approach "turns upside down" Hegel's, as expounded by him in The Philosophy of History:

"Our mode of treating the subject is, in this aspect, a Theodicy — a justification of the ways of God... so that the ill that is found in the World may be comprehended, and the thinking Spirit reconciled with the fact of the existence of evil. Indeed, nowhere is such a harmonising view more pressingly demanded than in Universal History; and it can be attained only by recognising the positive existence, in which that negative element is a subordinate, and vanquished nullity. On the one hand. the ultimate design of the World must be perceived; and, on the other hand, the fact that this design has been actually, realised in it, and that evil has not been able permanently to assert a competing position".

Marx had been trained in Hegelian usages at university, as a teenager and in his early 20s. Sometimes in 1857-8, when writing rough notes late at night, he reverted to them. Pretty much everywhere he did that, it blurred or skewed his investigation, rather than helping it.

Roman Rosdolsky, in his large and very valuable book The Making of Marx's Capital, gives the best reasoned exposition I can find of the often-expressed contention that the Hegelian constructions in the Grundrisse are a special virtue, for example in this passage by Rosdolsky on the equalisation of the rate of profit and the so-called "transformation problem".

Whereas the Ricardian school came to grief on the contradiction between the determination of value by labour and the existence of the general rate of profit, this contradiction provided the point of departure for Marx's new theory of profit. Unlike the Ricardians, he does not attempt to rescue the law of value 'from the contradic­tions of immediate experience by making a violent abstraction', but demonstrates, on the contrary, how, by means of the intervention of the general rate of profit, 'a market price differing from this exchange­ value comes into being... on the basis of exchange-value... or more correctly, how the law of exchange-value is realised only through its own antithesis'.

One can therefore understand the satisfaction which Marx expressed about this particular achievement of his theory in a letter to Engels on 14 January 1858. He writes, 'I am getting some nice developments. e.g. I have overthrown the entire doctrine of profit as previously conceived. In the method of working it was of great service to me that by mere accident I leafed through Hegel's Logic again.' And he added: 'If there should ever be a time for such work again, I should very much like to make accessible to the ordinary human intelligence - in two or three printer's sheets - what is rational in the method which Hegel discovered but at the same time enveloped in mysticism'...

We have been able to confirm many times in the course of this work that 'leafing through' Hegel's Logic not only contributed to the solution of the problem of profit, but also many others.

We now know what the 'overthrowing' of previous theories of profit consisted in: namely, the scientific understanding of profit as a 'necessary form of appearance' of surplus-value. But not only that. Marx's solution to the problem of the general rate of profit required many intermediate links; it not only presupposed a theory of production prices and cost prices, but also a correct understanding of the turnover of capital, and above all, of the problem of surplus­ value.

On the other hand an elucidation of the problem of surplus­ value was not possible, so long as the fundamental distinction between variable and constant capital remained unrecognised, which in turn presupposed the discovery of the dual character of the labour con­tained in commodities. All these intermediate links are absent in Ricardo and the other classical economists. It is no surprise, then, that Ricardo 'seeks directly to prove the congruence of the economic categories with one another' and 'arbitrarily' to equalise the rate of profit with the rate of surplus-value.

Hence his attempt 'to derive undeniable empirical phenomena by simple formal abstraction directly from the general law... The vulgar mob has therefore concluded that theoretical truths are abstractions which are at vari­ance with reality, instead of seeing, on the contrary, that Ricardo does not carry true abstract thinking far enough, and is therefore driven into false abstraction.'

In other words: Ricardo lacks the dialectical incisiveness which is required to understand capital as a 'unity-in-process' and elaborate its contradictions. The chief defect of the Ricardian theory of profit was therefore its inadequate method - and this was the pivot which Marx could use to 'overthrow' this theory. In this respect the service rendered by Hegel's Logic cannot be rated highly enough…

As one critic of Marx has rightly said: 'His basic philosophical position is evident through all the fissures in his system. He approaches the object of his study, bourgeois society, with Hegelian methods, Hegelian modes of thought and Hegelian concepts.' (E.Preiser, Das Wesen der Marxschen Krisentheorie, p.272.)

Actually, I think, Marx's exposition of the "transformation problem" in his unfinished volume 3 of Capital (he never felt confident enough of it to present it in text ready for publication) is useful, but warped by Hegelian overtones, as in the very idea of a "transformation of value into price", as if commodities "first" have values and then those values "transform themselves" into prices. There is no such "prior" structure of exchange at value-ratios.

The drift of Rosdolsky's, and others', argument is that in the Grundrisse Marx constructs his theory as a "system" in which everything is deduced by unravelling the internal contradictions of "capital-in-general", in a way that Marx doesn't make manifest in Capital.

For Hegel, "science" was more or less synonymous with a "system of totality", as he put it the Science of Logic, or a system in which everything is placed as a deduction from a first principle.

Other writers have presented the Grundrisse as Hegelian in more extravagant terms. For example, Hisorshi Uchida: "The Introduction corresponds to the Doctrine of the Notion [Begriff]. The Chapter on Money corresponds to the Doctrine of Being [Sein]. The Chapter on Capital corresponds to the Doctrine of Essence [Wesen]". Hegel's Science of Logic is structured into three parts, Being, Essence, Notion, with his deductions from the concept of Notion finally arriving back at "being, imperishable life, self-knowing truth, and… all truth". Or: "Being is known to be the pure Notion in its own self, and the pure Notion to be the true being".

My view is that when Marx, in the Grundrisse, regresses to Hegelian usages, that slows him down and blurs his investigation. And later writers' seizing on whatever looks most "Hegelian" as the deepest and most important part of the argument in the Grundrisse has blurred their understanding even more. For example, actual economic research showed Marx that capital was not just a dialectical self-evolution of money.

In later writings Marx dug himself out of the Hegelian "systemisations", and in Capital he added the central section on the labour process, and the important section on primitive accumulation, to provide frame and structure.

In the Grundrisse itself, as far as I can see, there is no special warping of the argument in the patches where Marx adopts the Hegelian usage "posit" (in German, the very everyday word setzen, set, put, sit). The twist to Hegel's use of setzen, "posit", is that for him cause posits effect and equally effect posits cause. Cause and effect are identical; they are parts of a circular logic. Hegel rules it out on principle that small causes can produce big effects. (Science of Logic vol.1 §3 ch.3; shorter Logic, §153, §154). But Marx had not forgotten his critique of Hegel's drive to "harmonise" everything into a perfect circle, and as far as I can see the word "posit", in English translations of the Grundrisse can generally be read as "set" or "establish" with no trouble. Elsewhere Hegelian usages do distract the investigation.

• Marx's speculation that "value [is] to be conceived as the unity of use-value and exchange-value" (p.267). It isn't.

• His two attempts to fit "labour" into a dialectical construction from capital, or from landed property, which slow him down in seeing the distinction, in fact the opposition, between labour-power and labour, and seeing that it is labour-power, not labour, which stands opposite capital in exchange.

"The only use-value... which can form the opposite pole to capital is labour.... the real not-capital is labour" (p.272, p.274)

"Capital is the creator of modern landed property, of ground rent" (p.276), and then "wage-labour in its classic form... is initially created by modern landed property" (p.277).

• His self-confusing search for the "barrier" or "limitation" to capital.

• His occasional reversion to deducing everything from "capital-in-general", as if it were an equivalent within capitalist society of what the World Spirit was, on Hegel's account, in history. In fact, as Marx explained elsewhere in the Grundrisse, "capital" does nothing without the action of capitalists. "Socialists sometimes say, we need capital, but not the capitalist... Capital is indeed separable from an individual capitalist, but not from the capitalist, who, as such, confronts labour". "The existence of capital vis-a-vis labour requires that capital in its being-for-itself, the capitalist, should exist and be able to live as non-worker".

Earlier in his anti-Hegelian The Holy Family he had explained similar about "history". "History 'possesses no immense wealth', it 'wages no battles… 'history' is not, as it were, a person apart, using people as a means to achieve its own aims; history is nothing but the activity of people pursuing their aims".

"Capital-in-general" is a confused idea. "Capital in general, as distinct from the particular real capitals, is itself a real existence... For example, capital in this general form, although belonging to individual capitalists, in its elemental form as capital, forms the capital which accumulates in the banks or is distributed through them" (p.449). Capital in liquid money form, i.e. held in bank accounts or by banks, has its differences from capital "sunk" into buildings, machines, etc. But the difference is not that one is general and the other is particular.

Marx seems to recall an idea from Hegel: "The general is on the one hand only a mental mark of distinction, it is at the same time a particular real form alongside the form of the particular and individual" (p.450). The Grundrisse translator, Martin Nicolaus, refers us to p.600 of Hegel's Science of Logic. Hegel there offers a philosophical reworking of the religious idea that God both is expressed in diverse realities in the world and exists as a person apart. That does not help us understand capital. Reality does not flow through a circuit in which it alternates between empirical forms and God. Capital does flow through a circuit alternating between "sunk" and liquid forms. The liquid form, despite Marx's scribbled speculation, is not "general".

The talk of "capital in general" has made some latter-day Marxists assert that arguments based on changes in competition (as in Robert Brenner's analysis bit.ly/rbren-c) ipso facto fall short of the proper Marxist way of proceeding, which should be by deduction from "capital in general". Marx did write some passages which give them comfort.

"System" and "method" were usefully discussed by Engels in his later pamphlet, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy.

[Hegel felt himself] compelled to make a system and, in accordance with traditional requirements, a system of philosophy must conclude with some sort of absolute truth. Therefore, however much Hegel, especially in his Logic, emphasised that this eternal truth is nothing but the logical, or, the historical, process itself, he nevertheless finds himself compelled to supply this process with an end... In his Logic, he can make this end a beginning again, since here the point of the conclusion, the absolute idea — which is only absolute insofar as he has absolutely nothing to say about it — 'alienates', that is, transforms, itself into nature and comes to itself again later in the mind, that is, in thought and in history….

And so we find at the conclusion of the Philosophy of Right that the absolute idea is to be realized in that monarchy based on social estates which Frederick William III so persistently but vainly promised to his subjects, that is, in a limited, moderate, indirect rule of the possessing classes suited to the petty-bourgeois German conditions of that time; and, moreover, the necessity of the nobility is demonstrated to us in a speculative fashion.

Owing to the needs of the 'system' [Hegel] very often had to resort to those forced constructions about which his pigmy opponents make such a terrible fuss even today. But these constructions are only the frame and scaffolding of his work. If one does not loiter here needlessly, but presses on farther into the immense building, one finds innumerable treasures...

Whoever placed the chief emphasis on the Hegelian system could be fairly conservative in both spheres; whoever regarded the dialectical method as the main thing could belong to the most extreme opposition, both in politics and religion. Hegel himself, despite the fairly frequent outbursts of revolutionary wrath in his works, seemed on the whole to be more inclined to the conservative side. Indeed, his system had cost him much more 'hard mental plugging' than his method.

Engels skewers the liberal-harmonistic bias of Hegel's "system" building in similar terms to those developed by Marx in his Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic in the 1844 Manuscripts.

There, Marx criticises: the uncritical positivism and the equally uncritical idealism of Hegel’s later works – that philosophic dissolution and restoration of the existing empirical world.

[In that dissolution-and-restoration] reason is at home in unreason as unreason. The man who has recognised that he is leading an alienated life in law, politics, etc., is leading his true human life in this alienated life as such. Self-affirmation, self-confirmation in contradiction with itself – in contradiction both with the knowledge of and with the essential being of the object – is thus true knowledge and life...

There can therefore no longer be any question about an act of accommodation on Hegel’s part vis-à-vis religion, the state, etc. [i.e. of the idea that Hegel was fundamentally a radical, but compromised with existing religion and the existing state in order to keep his job], since this lie is the lie of his principle.

Engels is wrong to attribute Hegel's system-building to deference to "traditional requirements [that] a system of philosophy must conclude with some sort of absolute truth". Hegel committed himself more than his forerunners and contemporaries, not less, to constructing an all-embracing system.

Engels knew well enough that Hegel's "method" must be subject to critique as much as the "system". In the pamphlet he wrote: "It was first of all essential to carry through a thorough critique of the Hegelian method." And he emphasised the fallibility of scientific investigation, its constant openness to revising ideas in the light of new details.

The passages which present, or seem to present, the "method" and the "system" as detachable and independent are thus misleading. For Hegel, the "method" was important precisely as the way to build the system and to make those dodgy "forced constructions" of transition from one term to another about which, it seems to me, his "opponents", however "pigmy", had every reason to "make a fuss". It was the way to fade out finite detail as "unreal" by presenting it only as an evolution of the infinite.

Marx and Engels did not forget - or, if Marx sometimes when making rough notes, late at night, in 1857-8, did forget, we should not forget - the critique that Feuerbach had made of Hegel.

Feuerbach criticised not only Hegel’s system, but also his dialectical method, and proposed a different dialectics, one of the development of knowledge through dialogue between the investigator and reality, self-critical revaluations, and dialogue between different investigators.

Dialectics is not a monologue that speculation carries on with itself, but a dialogue between speculation and empirical reality. A thinker is a dialectician only in so far as he is his own opponent...

The absolute philosopher [i.e. Hegel] said, or at least thought of himself — naturally as a thinker and not as a man — ‘La vérité c’est moi’, in a way analogous to the absolute monarch claiming, ‘L’État c’est moi’. or the absolute God claiming, ‘L’être c’est moi’. The human philosopher, on the other hand, says: Even in thought, even as a philosopher, I am a man in togetherness with men. The true dialectic is not a monologue of the solitary thinker with himself. It is a dialogue between ‘I’ and ‘You’… Not alone, but only with others, does one reach notions and reason in general...

The first point against Hegelian philosophy, for Feuerbach, was to test theory by empirical reality (while recognising, of course, that science also needs much labour of reconceptualisation, abstracted analysis, and so on, as well as the empirical testing) - rather than using theory as a series of constructions to shoehorn reality into a preconceived scheme. At one point he wrote, defiantly:

"The writer of these lines would not mind at all if... he is accused of subscribing to empiricism… The deepest secrets are to be found in the simplest natural things, but, pining away for the Beyond, the speculative phantast treads them under his feet".

He showed, in a first sketch of the argument that would be more developed by Marx, that Hegel’s dialectics appeared to dissolve the empirically-given by critical analysis, but always ended with speculative “proofs” of the supposed logical necessity of what in fact it knew only empirically.

At first everything is overthrown, but then everything is put again in its former place.

The Hegelian terms "limit" and "barrier" (or "limitation", as Miller renders it in his translation of the Science of Logic), much used by Marx in some passages of the Grundrisse, are, I submit, so irrevocably skewed by their Hegelian origins, in a discussion of the "transition from the finite to the infinite", as to blur investigation.

These are not the terms "limit", "barrier", "limitation" in their ordinary usage, in which we encounter age limits or speed limits, or physical limitations due to arthritis or whatever. The limit, or the barrier, of something is its qualitative definition. It is not quantitative.

"Through the limit something is what it is, and in the limit it has its quality".

"In order that the limit which is in something as such should be a limitation [barrier], something must at the same time in its own self transcend the limit, it must in its own self be related to the limit as to something which is not… As the ought, something is raised above its limitation [barrier], but conversely, it is only as the ought that it has its limitation… The plant transcends the limitation [barrier] of being a seed, similarly, of being blossom, fruit, leaf… The infinite is the true being, the elevation above limitation [barrier]".

The attempt to deduce capitalist crises from a speculatively-identified "barrier" or "limitation" to capital produces only cloudy generalities, from which Marx moved on in his substantive discussion of crises in Theories of Surplus Value volume 2. It gives aliment to the confusing search for guarantees that capitalism will "break down" of its own volition, in abstraction from class struggle, and to the idea that crises can be analysed just by unravelling the internal contradictions of capital in general, and deducing, for example, the Tendency of the Rate of Profit to Fall, on which I have written in my book Crisis and Sequels. (In fact, even if that Tendency were valid, it would directly explain only a slow long-term trend for profit rates to fall, and not any periodic crisis).

In his 26 years following the Grundrisse, Marx made no attempt to make "accessible to the ordinary human intelligence in two or three printer's sheets" (32 or 48 pages octavo) what was good in Hegel's method. The reason, I submit, could be a growing awareness, despite nostalgia, that taking usages straight from Hegel, as templates, serves poorly.

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