Critical comments on Raya Dunayevskaya's 'Notes on the Smaller LOGIC'


by Cyril Smith

Hobgoblin 5 2003

Cyril Smith, author of MARX AT THE MILLENIUM (Pluto Press, 1996), submitted the following piece as a response to the publication of Raya Dunayevskaya's 1961 notes on Hegel's Smaller LOGIC in the April, May and June 2002 issues of NEWS & LETTERS.


It is nearly half a century since I first saw some of the writings of Raya Dunayevskaya. Alas, I was too narrowminded then to see what she was trying to do. Only recently have I started to study her work seriously and come to appreciate her pioneering work in uncovering Marx's humanism and investigating its relationship to Hegel's philosophy. The publication by NEWS & LETTERS of this work is a great contribution to the task of regenerating the international movement for socialism. However, as is the fate of all pioneers, history unfolds and overtakes even the most farsighted of thinkers. So I offer some critical comments, occasioned by the 1961 lecture on Hegel's Smaller LOGIC which you have recently published, only with the greatest respect. I believe that, during the quarter of a century which still remained to her after that lecture, Raya herself began to move in some of the directions I point to here.

I contend that it is necessary for us to continue this process, rather than leave the subject where she left it at the time of her death. Like many of her generation and ours, Raya Dunayevskaya started with Lenin's study of Hegel in 1914-15. With the indispensable help of his rough notes and of Marx's 1844 Manuscripts—not, of course, available to Lenin—she began her own independent study of Hegel. Only later did she begin to see the severe limitations of Lenin's struggle to break out of the falsifications of Marx's ideas in the Second International. That, I think, is the significance of her emphasis on Hegel's opening chapters of the Smaller LOGIC, the three "Attitudes to Objectivity." In my opinion, these pages reveal sides of Hegel's logic of which Lenin had no conception.

Hegel is not describing a special "method," which can be detached from his notions of reality, or his conception of history and the state. Rather, he is presenting the essential heart of the relations of bourgeois society and the forms of consciousness which reflect these relations. No mere philosophy can do more. What Marx accomplished went beyond any philosophy. That is why I cannot accept Raya's admonition, following Lenin, that we must "constantly deepen" Hegel's content, "through a materialistic, historical 'translation'." To try to do this, I think, is to miss the point of Marx's "Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic and Philosophy as a Whole," the most important of the 1844 manuscripts. Here Marx shows that Hegel stays within the confines of philosophy, and thus remains at home within what he called "estrangement." He also attacks Hegel because he "posited man as equivalent to self-consciousness." In the first of his Theses on Feuerbach (1845), Marx praises idealism-here that means Hegel-for "abstractly setting forth the active side," and condemns materialism. However, he also says that idealism "does not know real, sensuous activity," only spiritual, mental activity.

No philosophy, whether "materialist" or "idealist," could ever grasp "the significance of "revolutionary," of "practical critical" activity. Marx's two-sided attitude to Hegel leads me to be cautious about Dunayevskaya's statement about the last section of the LOGIC, which she thinks is "the philosophical framework which most applies to our own age." After all, she quotes quite correctly Hegel's statement that "the truths of philosophy are valueless apart from their interdependence and organic union". But that implies that we can't pick out those bits of Hegel's work which appear to fit in with our own revolutionary ideas. We must take him as a whole. Remember that Hegel clearly situates his massive system of thought within the historical context of his own time and place, in the aftermath of the French revolution in backward Germany. "Applying" it to the 21st ce ntury, it seems to me, is to do it injury, and to blunt Marx's critique.

I believe that Dunayevskaya's refusal to attend to Hegel's PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT, illustrates this mistaken attitude. Marx actually made this book the startingpoint for his lifelong struggle with Hegel, when he wrote his 1843 "Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of the State." I know that the old "Marxist" story about Hegel "upholding the Prussian State" was always nonsense. (Marx and Engels never went along with it.) And I am not excusing Hegel's dreadful racism and sexism. But this, his last book, plays a vital part in the Hegelian system. Look at his summary of it in the Philosophy of Mind, the section called "Objective Spirit."

As I see it, we should see Raya's work on Hegel as one stage of the struggle of revolutionary humanism to emerge from the shadow of the Russian revolution, the Stalinist degeneration and the only partially successful attempt of Trotskyism to grasp its meaning. Almost unanimously, the Second International ignored Hegel, and clung to a positivist falsification of Marx. Lenin and his followers broke with the opportunism of the old International, but in my opinion they remained trapped within its philosophical framework. Their "attitude to objectivity" took the form of an uneasy combination of empiricism and subjectivism. Above all, they were unable to approach Marx's conception of freedom, of "universal human emancipation." Revolution came to be seen as the work of a "leadership," rather than the self-conscious work of the proletariat as a whole. Dunayevskaya's "Marxist humanism" was a breakthrough precisely because it drew directly on the work of Marx and Hegel.

Now we have to take that work further, grasping in particular the critical relationship of these two thinkers. As the new century opens up, a new generation, free from the effects of past defeats, enters into global struggles. Not surprisingly, these young people start with all kinds of confusion and illusions. In freeing themselves from these problems, will they have to follow the same tortuous path which we had to negotiate? I don't think they will. Instead, I believe that they will find their own way to discover and surpass the liberatory notions of Marx. The priority today is to help them in that task.