Part Two - Problems of the Marxist-Leninist Theory of Dialectics

11: The Problem of the General in Dialectics

The category of the general or universal occupies an extremely important place in the body of dialectical logic. What is the general or universal? Literally, in the meaning of the word, it is relating to all, i.e. to all individuals in the form of the limitless multitude of which the world within which we live and about which we speak presents itself to us at first glance. That is all that isunquestionable, very likely, that can be said about the general, equally acceptable to everyone.

Without going into the philosophical disagreements about the general or universal, one can note that the term ‘common’ (or rather ‘general’ or universal’) is used very ambiguously in the living language, indeterminately, and relates not only to different objects or meanings that do not coincide with one another, but also to directly opposite ones that are mutually exclusive. Any large dictionary (e.g. the Shorter Oxford Dictionary) contains a dozen such meanings. At the extremes of the spectrum, moreover, there are meanings such as can scarcely be considered consistent or compatible. ‘Common’ is used even for two objects, let alone all, both for what appertains to each of them (like the biped nature or mortality of both Socrates and Caius, or like the velocity or speed of an electron and of a train) and cannot exist separately from the relevant individua in the form of a separate ‘thing’, and for what exists precisely outside the individua in the form of a special individuum, namely a common ancestor, a common field (i.e. one for two (or all)), a common motor vehicle or entry, a common (mutual) friend or acquaintance, and so on and so forth.

One and the same word, or one and the same sign, obviously does not serve just for one and the same thing. Whether one sees in that the imperfection of natural language or on the contrary considers it the superiority of the flexibility of a living language over the rigidity of the definitions of an artificial language, the fact itself remains a fact and one, moreover, that is often encountered and therefore calls for explanation.

But then the quite reasonable question arises, whether or not it is possible to find something common between two extreme, mutually exclusive meanings of the world ‘common’ (or ‘general’) in the living language, equally sanctioned by usage, to find the basis of the fact of the divergence of meanings. In the interpretation that is sanctioned as the ‘sole correct one’ by the tradition of formal logic, it is impossible to discover such a common attribute as would form part of the definition of two polar meanings of ‘common’ (‘general’). Nevertheless, it is clear that here, as in many other cases, we are dealing with related words which, like human relatives, although they have nothing in common between them, all with equal right bear one and the same surname.

This relationship between the terms of natural language was once brought out by Ludwig Wittgenstein as quite typical in the following example: Churchill-A has a family likeness to Churchill-B in attributes a, b, c; Churchill-B shares attributes b, c, d with Churchill-C; Churchill-D has only a single attribute in common with Churchill-A, while Churchill-E and Churchill-A have not a single one in common, nothing except the name.

The image of a common ancestor, however, of a progenitor, cannot be reconstructed by abstracting those attributes, and only those, that are genetically preserved by all his (or her) descendants. There simply are no such attributes. But there is a community of name, recording a common origin.

It is the same with ‘common’ (‘general’) as a term. The original meaning of the word also cannot be established by a purely formal union of attributes, uniting all the offspring-terms into one family, into one class, because (to continue the analogy) Churchill-Alpha would have to be represented as an individuum who was simultaneously both brunette and blonde (not-brunette), both gangling and dwarfish, both snub-nosed and hook-nosed, and so on.

But there, of course, the analogy ends, because the position with related terms is rather different. The ancestor, as a rule, does not die but continues to live alongside all its offspring as an individuum among other individua, and the problem consists in discovering among the existing separate individua the one that was born before the others and therefore could have given birth to all the rest.

Among the attributes of a common ancestor who continues to live among his descendants, one has to presuppose a capacity to give birth to something which is opposite to itself, i.e. a capacity to give birth both to the gangling (in relation to itself) and the dwarfish (again in relation to itself). The common ancestor, consequently, can be representable as an individuum of medium height with a straight nose, and ash-grey locks, i.e. to ‘combine’ opposing determinations (if only potentially) in himself, to combine both the one and the other, directly opposite determinations in himself, like a solution or mixture. Thus the colour grey can be fully represented as mixture of black and white, i.e. as simultaneously white and black. There is nothing incompatible in that with the ‘common sense’ that Neopositivists like to enlist as an ally against dialectical logic.

But it is just here that the two incompatible positions in logic, and in understanding of the general (universal), take shape – that of dialectics and the completely formal conception. The latter has no desire to admit into logic the idea of development organically linked (both in essence and in origin) with the concept of substance, i.e. the principle of the genetic community of phenomena that are at first glance quite heterogeneous (insofar as no abstract, common attributes can be discovered among them).

It was thus that Hegel saw the point of departure of the paths of dialectical thought (in his terminology ‘speculative’) and purely formal thought; and in that connection he highly values Aristotle’s relevant statement: ‘As to what concerns more nearly the relation of the three souls, as they may be termed (though they are incorrectly thus distinguished), Aristotle says of them, with perfect truth, that we need look for no one soul in which all these are found, and which in a definite and simple form is conformable with any of them. This is a profound observation, by means of which truly speculative thought marks itself out from the thought which is merely logical and formal (my italics – EVI). Similarly among figures only the triangle and the other definite figures, like the square, the parallelogram, etc., are truly anything; for what is common to them, the universal figure [or rather the ‘figure in general’ – EVI], is an empty thing of thought, a mere abstraction. On the other hand, the triangle is the first, the truly universal figure, which appears also in the square, etc., as the figure which can be led back to the simplest determination. Therefore, on the one hand, the triangle stands alongside of the square, pentagon, etc., as a particular figure, but-and this is Aristotle’s main contention-it is the truly universal figure [or rather the ‘figure in general’ – EVI].... Aristotle’s meaning is therefore this: an empty universal is that which does not itself exist, or is not itself species. All that is universal is in fact real, in that by itself, without further change, it constitutes its first species, and when further developed it belongs, not to this, but to a higher stage.’

If we look at the problem of the determination of the general as a universal (logical) category from this angle, or at the problem of the theoretical reconstruction of the common ancestor of a family of related meanings seemingly having nothing in common, there is some hope of resolving it.

The stand of formal logic, oriented on finding the abstract, common element in every single representative of one class (all having one and the same name) yields nothing in this instance. The general in this sense cannot be found here, and cannot for the reason that there actually is no such thing, not in the form of attribute or determination actually common to all the individual in the form of a resemblance proper to each of them taken separately.

It is quite clear that the concrete (empirically obvious) essence of the link uniting the various individua in some ‘one’, in a common multitude or plurality, is by no means posited and expressed in an abstract attribute common to them, or in a determination that is equally proper to the one and the other. Rather such unity (or community) is created by the attribute that one individuum possesses and another does not. And the absence of a certain attribute binds one individuum to another much more strongly than its equal existence in both.

Two absolutely equal individuals, each of which has the very same set of knowledge, habits, inclinations, etc., would be absolutely uninteresting to one another, and the one would not need the other. They would simply bore each other to death. It is nothing but a simple doubling of solitariness. The general is anything but continuously repeated similarity in every single object taken separately and represented by a common attribute and fixed by a sign. The universal is above all the regular connection of two (or more) particular individuals that converts them into moments of one and the same concrete, real unity. And it is much more reasonable to represent this unity as the aggregate of different, separate moments than as an indefinite plurality of units indifferent to one another. Here the general functions as the law or principle of the connection of these details in the make-up of some whole, or totality as Marx preferred to call it, following Hegel. Here analysis rather than abstraction is called for.

If we return to the question of the genetic community of the different (and opposing) meanings that the term ‘common’ or ‘general’ (‘universal’) has acquired in the evolution of the living language, the problem seemingly boils down to recognising that among them which can confidently be considered as the progenitor-meaning, and then to tracing why and how the initial meaning, first in time and immediately simple in essence, was broadened so as to embrace something opposite, something that was not originally intended at all. Since it is difficult to suspect our remote ancestors of an inclination to invent ‘abstract objects’ and ‘constructions’, it is more logical (it would seem) to consider the original meaning the one that the term ‘common’ still preserves in such expressions as ‘common ancestor’ and ‘common field’. Philological research provides evidence, incidentally, in favour of that view. ‘What would old Hegel say in the next world,’ Marx wrote with satisfaction to Engels, ‘if he heard that the general (Allgemeine) in German and Norse means nothing but the common land (Gemeinland), and the particular, Sundre, Besondere, nothing but the separate property divided off from the common land? Here are the logical categories coming damn well out of "our intercourse" after all.’

It is quite understandable that if we have in mind here the originally simple, ‘truly general’ meaning of the word, as Hegel would have said, then it is impossible to discover in the idea according to which the general (universal) precedes the individual, the separate, the particular, the isolated, or exclusive, both in essence and in time, even a hint of the refined mysticism that permeates the corresponding views of Neoplatonists and medieval Christian scholasticism, whereby the universal is made a synonym of the idea, being considered from the very beginning as the word, as logos, as something incorporeal, spiritualised, purely mental. On the contrary, the universal in its original meaning appears distinctly in the mind, and therefore in the language expressing it, as a synonym of a quite corporeal substance, in the form of water, fire, tiny uniform particles (‘indivisibles’), and so on. Such a notion may be considered naive (though in fact it is far from being so naive), crudely sensual, ‘too materialistic’, but there is not the slightest tendency to, or trace of, mysticism in it.

It is therefore quite absurd to press the accusation that is constantly advanced against materialism by its opponents, the accusation of a disguised Platonism that is immanently linked, as it were, with the thesis of the objective reality of the universal. If, of course, one takes the view from the very beginning (but why – we do not know) that the universal is the idea, and only the idea, then not only do Marx and Spinoza turn out to be ‘cryptoplatonists’ but also Thales and Democritus.

One is forced to evaluate the identification of the universal with the idea (as the initial thesis of any system of philosophical idealism) as an axiom accepted quite without proof, as the purest prejudice inherited from the Middle Ages. Its vitality is not fortuitous but is linked with the really immense role that the word and the verbal ‘explication’ of the idea have played and play in the moulding of intellectual culture. From that, too, arises the illusion that the universal allegedly has its actual existence (its reality) only and exclusively in the form of logos, in the form of the meaning of a word, term, or linguistic sign. Since philosophical consciousness specially reflecting on the universal is concerned from the very beginning with its verbal expression, the dogma of the identity of the universal and the sense (meaning) of a word also begins to seem a natural premise, and the soil on which it grows, and the air that it breathes, to be something self-evident.

We would note in passing that the prejudice described here, read as absolute truth by modern Neopositivists, also seemed such to Hegel, who is not a favourite with them. Hegel, too, candidly suggested that materialism was impossible as a philosophical system on the grounds that philosophy was the science of the universal, and the universal was the idea, just the idea, and only the idea, and could not be anything else. He had the immense advantage over the latest devotees of this prejudice that he understood thought itself much more profoundly. Thus it was Hegel himself who thoroughly undermined the prestige of the prejudice that consisted in identifying thought and speech; but he returned a prisoner to it by a roundabout route since, though he did not consider the word the sole form of the being there of an idea, it retained the significance of the first form of its being for him, both in time and in essence. Hegel, and this was typical of him in general, first smashed the old prejudice, and then restored it to all its rights by means of a cunningly clever dialectical apparatus.

The radical, materialist rethinking of the achievements of his logic (dialectics) carried through by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, was linked with affirmation of the objective reality of the universal, not at all in the spirit of Plato or Hegel, but rather in the sense of a law-governed connection of material phenomena, in the sense of the law of their being joined together in the composition of some whole, in the context of a self-developing totality or aggregate, all the components of which were related as a matter of fact not by virtue of their possessing one and the same identical attribute, but by virtue of a unity of genesis, by virtue of their having one and the same common ancestor, or to put it more exactly, by virtue of their arising as diverse modifications of one and the same substance of a quite material character (i.e. independent of thought and word).

Uniform phenomena therefore do not necessarily possess anything like a ‘family resemblance’ as the sole grounds for being counted as one class. The universal in them may be outwardly expressed much better in the form of differences, even opposites, that make the separate phenomena complement one another, components of a whole, of some quite real, organic aggregate, and not an amorphous plurality of units taken together on the basis of a more or less chance attribute. On the other hand, the universal, which manifests itself precisely in the particularities, in the individual characteristics of all the components of the whole without exception, also exists in itself as alongside other isolated individua derived from it. In that there is nothing even remotely mystical; a father often lives a very long time side by side with his sons. And if he is not present, he was once, of course, i.e. must be definitely thought of in the category of ‘being there’. The genetically understood universal does not simply exist, naturally, in the ether of the abstract, in the elements of the word and idea; and its existence in no way abolishes or belittles the reality of its modifications and of the separate individua derived from it and dependent on it.

In Marx’s analysis of capital the concept of the universal that we have briefly described plays most important methodological role. ‘To the extent that we are considering it here, as a relation distinct from that of value and money, capital is capital in general, i.e. the incarnation of the qualities which distinguish value as capital from value as pure value or as money. Value, money, circulation, etc., prices, etc., are presupposed, as is labour, etc. But we are still concerned with neither with a particular form of capital, nor with an individual capital as distinct from other individual capitals, etc. We are present at the process of its becoming. This dialectical process of its becoming is only the ideal expression of the real movement through which capital comes into being. The later relations are to be regarded as its developments coming out of this germ. But it is necessary to establish the specific form in which it is posited at a certain point. Otherwise confusion arises.’

Here there is very clearly brought out that relation between value and capital which Hegel in the passage cited above, discovered between a triangle and a square, pentagon, etc., and, moreover, in a dual sense. (1) The concept of value in general is in no case defined here through the aggregate of the abstract, general attributes that one may want to discover in the composition of all its special forms (i.e. commodities, labour power, capital, rent, interest, etc., etc.) but is achieved by way of the most rigorous analysis of one single, quite specific, and actually existing relation between people, the relation of the direct exchange of one commodity, for another. In the analysis of this value reality, reduced to its simplest form, the universal determinations of value are brought out that are later met (reproduced) at higher levels of development and analysis as abstract, general determinations of money and labour power, and capital.

(2) If we are concerned with defining capital in general, then, as Marx specially remarked, we must take the following point of principle into account, which has ‘more of a logical than an economic character’. ‘... Capital in general, as distinct from the particular real capitals, is itself a real existence. This is recognised by ordinary economics, even if it is not understood, and forms a very important moment of its doctrine of equilibrations, etc. 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, and, as Ricardo says, so admirably distributes itself in accordance with the needs of production. Likewise, through loans, etc., it forms a level between the different countries. If it is therefore e.g. a law of capital in general that, in order to realise itself, it must posit itself doubly, and must realise itself in this double form, then e.g. the capital of a particular nation which represents capital par excellence in antithesis to another will have to lend itself out to a third nation in order to be able to realise itself. This double positing, this relating to self as to an alien, becomes damn real in this case. While the general is therefore on the one hand only a mental (gedachte) mark of distinction (differentia specifica), it is at the same time a particular real form alongside the form of the particular and individual.’ It is ‘the same also in algebra,’ Marx continued. ‘For example, a, b, c, are numbers as such; in general; but then again they are whole numbers as opposed to a/b, b/c, c/b, c/a, b/a, etc., which latter, however, presuppose the former as their general elements’.

The situation of the dialectical relation between the general (universal) and the particular, the individual, by virtue of which the general cannot in principle be revealed in the make-up of the particular individuals by formal abstraction (by way of identifying the similar or identical in them) can be most vividly demonstrated by the example of the theoretical difficulties connected with the concept ‘man’, with the definition of the essence of man, the solution of which was found by Marx, basing himself precisely on a dialectical understanding of the problem of the general. ‘. . The essence of man is no abstraction inherent in each separate individual. In its reality it is the ensemble (aggregate) of social relations.’ as Marx aphoristically formulated his conception in the famous theses on Feuerbach.

Here one clearly sees not only the sociological principle of Marx’s thinking, but also its logical principle. Translated into the language of logic, his aphorism means that it is useless to seek the general determinations expressing the essence of a class, be it the human race or some other genus, in a series of the abstract, general attributes possessed by each member of the given class taken separately. The essence of human nature in general can only be brought out through a scientific, critical analysis of the ‘whole ensemble’, of man’s social and historical relations to man, through concrete investigation and understanding of the patterns with which the process of the birth and evolution both of human society as a whole and of the separate individual has taken place and is taking place.

The separate individual is only human in the exact and strict sense of the word, insofar as he actualises – and just by his individuality – some ensemble or other of historically developed faculties (specifically human forms of life activity), of a culture formed before and independently of him, and mastered by him during upbringing (the moulding of the person). From that angle the human personality can rightly be considered as an individual embodiment of culture, i.e. of the universal in man.

Universality so understood is by no means a silent, generic ‘sameness’ of individuals but reality repeatedly and diversely broken up within itself into particular (separate) spheres mutually complementing each other and in essence mutually dependent on each other and therefore linked together by bonds of community of origin no less firm and no less flexible than the organs of the body of a biological specimen developed from one and the same egg cell. In other words, theoretical, logical determination of the concrete universality of human life can consist solely in disclosing the necessity with which the diverse forms of specifically human life activity develop one from the other and in interaction of the one on the other, the faculties of social man and his corresponding needs.

The materialist conception of the essence of man sees (in full agreement with the data of anthropology, ethnography, and archaeology) the universal form of human life in labour, in the direct transformation of nature (both external and his own) that social man brings about with the help of tools made by himself. That is why Marx felt such sympathy to Benjamin Franklin’s famous definition (quoted in Boswell’s Life of Johnson) of man as a tool-making animal: a tool-making animal and only therefore also a thinking animal, talking, composing music, obeying moral norms, and so on.

The definition of man in general as a toolmaking animal is a typical example in which the Marxian conception of the universal as the concretely universal is seen most clearly of all, and also the Marxian conception of its relation to the particular and the individual. From the standpoint of the canons of formal logic this definition is much too concrete to be universal, for under it such undoubted members of the human race as Mozart or Leo Tolstoy, Raphael or Kant cannot be subsumed.

Formally such a definition applies only to a narrow circle of individuals, to the workers in engineering works, say, or workshops. Even workers who do not make machines (or tools) but only use them, formally do not come within the scope of this definition. The old logic therefore rightly regarded it not as a universal but exclusively as a particular definition, not as a definition of man in general but of a particular profession.

The general (concretely universal) stands opposed to the sensuously given variety of separate individuals primarily not as a mental abstraction but as their own substance, as a concrete form of their interaction. As such it also embodies or includes the whole wealth of the particular and individual in its concrete determinateness and that not simply as the possibility of development but as its necessity. The conception of the general and of its paths of scientific realisation described here is by no means the monopoly of philosophical dialectics. Science, in its real historical development, unlike its depiction in the epistemological and logical constructions of Neopositivists, always begins, more or less consistently, from such a concept of the universal, and that often in spite of the conscious logical precepts and maxims that its representatives profess. This circumstance is clearly traceable in the history of the concept ‘value’, a universal category of political economy.

The abstraction of value in general and the word that records it are as old as market relations. The Greek axia, the German Werth, and so on were not created by Sir William Petty, or Adam Smith, or Ricardo. Every merchant and peasant of all ages used ‘value’ or ‘worth’ for everything that could be bought or sold, everything that cost something, or was worth something.

And if the theoretical political economists had tried to work out a concept of value in general, guided by the recipes that purely formal, nominalistly oriented logic still suggests to science, they would never, of course, have done so. Here it has not been a matter at all, from the very beginning, of the bringing out of the abstractly general, of the similar that each of the objects possesses, which general word usage long ago united in the term ‘value’ (in that case it would simply introduce order into the notions that any shopkeeper uses, and the matter would be limited to simple ‘explication’ of the shopkeeper’s notions about value, to a simple, pedantic enumeration of the attributes of those phenomena to which the word ‘value’ is opposite, and no more; and the whole exercise would amount simply to clarification of the scope of the term’s applicability). The whole point, however, is that the classical political economists posed the question quite differently, so that the answer to it proved to be a concept, i.e. an awareness of the real generality. Marx pointed out clearly the essence of their posing of the question.

The first English economist Sir William Petty arrived at the concept of value by the following reasoning: ‘If a man can bring to London an ounce of Silver out of the Earth in Peru in the same time that he can produce a Bushel of Corn, then one is the natural price of the other. . . .’

Let us note in passing that in the reasoning adduced here the term ‘value’ is absent in general, ‘natural price’ being spoken of. But we are present here right at the birth of the fundamental concept of all subsequent science of the production, distribution, and accumulation of wealth. Here the concept also expresses (reflects) (like Hegel’s example of the triangle) such a real phenomenon given in experience as (being quite particular among other particulars) at the same time proves to be universal and represents value in general.

The classical political economists spontaneously groped out the way of determining value in its general form; but in retrospect, having already formed the relevant concept, they tried to ‘verify’ it in accordance with the canons of logic, relying on Locke’s notions about thought and the universal, which led them into a number of paradoxes and antinomies. The general, when they tried to ‘justify’ it by analysis of its own particular variants, like profit and capital, was not only not confirmed, but was directly refuted by them, contradicted by them.

Only Marx succeeded in establishing the reason for the origin of the various paradoxes, and so the way out; and he did so just because he was guided by dialectical notions of the nature of the general and its inter-relations with the particular and the individual. The reality of the universal in nature is a law, but a law in its reality (as is shown, in particular, by modern natural science, e.g. the physics of the microworld) is not realised as some abstract rule by which the movement of each single particle taken separately would be governed, but only as a tendency manifesting itself in the behaviour of a more or less complex ensemble of individual phenomena, through the breach and negation of the universal in each of its separate (individual) manifestations. And thought is forced willy-nilly to take that circumstance into account.

The general determinations of value (of the law of value) are worked out in Capital in the course of an analysis of one example of the concreteness of value, historically the first and therefore logically the simplest, i.e., the direct exchange or barter of one commodity for another, with the most rigorous abstraction of all other individual forms (developed on its basis), namely money, profit, land rent, and so on. Marx saw the shortcoming of Ricardo’s analysis of value precisely in his not being able, when examining the problem of value in its general form, to forget profit. That is why Ricardo’s abstraction proved incomplete and so formal.

Marx himself obtained a solution of the problem in general form because all the subsequent formations – not only profit but also even money – were taken as not existent at the start of the analysis. Only direct exchange or barter without money was analysed; and it was immediately clear that such a raising of its individual to the general differed in principle from the act of simple, formal abstraction. Here the peculiarities of the simple commodity form, specifically distinguishing it from profit, land rent, interest, and other individual forms of value, were not thrown away as something inessential; quite the contrary, their theoretical expression coincided with the determination of value in its general form.

The incompleteness of Ricardo’s abstraction, and the formality linked with it, consisted precisely in its being formed on the one hand through his inability to abstract it from the existence of other developed forms of value, and on the other hand through his abstracting of the peculiarities of direct commodity exchange. The general was thus taken in the end as completely isolated from the particular and separate, and ceased to be its theoretical expression. That is what distinguishes the dialectical conception of the general from the purely formal conception.

The distinction between Marx’s dialectical materialist conception, however, and the interpretation given the general in Hegel’s idealistic dialectics is no less important. And it is important to bring this out clearly for the reason that their conceptions are too often equated in Western literature. Yet it is quite obvious that the orthodox Hegelian interpretation of the general, despite all its dialectical value, comes close, on a decisive point of principle and not just in details, to that very metaphysical view that Hegel himself had so strongly undermined the authority and influence of. This comes out particularly clearly in the concrete applications of the principles of Hegelian logic to the analysis of real, earthly problems.

The point is as follows. When Hegel explains his ‘speculative’ conception of the general in opposition to the ‘purely formal’ on the example of geometrical figures (treating the triangle as ‘the figure in general’) it may seem at first glance that here was the logical schema in ready-made form that enabled Marx to cope with the problem of the general determination of value. Actually, it would seem that Hegel saw the difference between genuine universality and purely formal abstraction in the truly general’s itself existing in the form of the particular, i.e. its an empirically given reality existing in time and space (outside men’s heads) and perceived in contemplation.

According to Hegel, the general as such, in its strict and exact sense, exists exclusively in the ether of ‘pure thought’ and in no case in the space and time of external reality. In that sphere we are dealing only with a number of particular alienations, embodiments, hypostasies of the ‘genuinely general’.

That was why the definition of man as a toolmaking animal would have been quite unacceptable to Hegelian logic, and logically incorrect.

For the orthodox Hegelian, as for any representative of the formal logic criticised by him (a very notable unanimity!), Franklin’s definition (and Marx’s) was much too concrete to be general or universal. In the production of tools Hegel saw not the basis of everything human in man, but only one, though important, manifestation of his thinking nature. In other words the idealism of the Hegelian interpretation of the general leads to the very same result as the metaphysical interpretation he so disliked. When Hegelian logic is taken in its pristine form as the means of evaluating the movement of thought in the first chapters of Capital, the whole movement seems ‘illegitimate’ and ‘illogical’. The Hegelian logician would be right, from his angle, if he were to say of Marx’s analysis of value that there was no general determination of this category in it, that Marx only ‘described’ but did not theoretically ‘deduce’ the determination of one special, particular form of the realisation of value in general, because that, like any truly general category of human life activity, was a form immanent in the ‘rational will’ and not in man’s external being, in which it was only manifested and materialised.

So Hegelian logic, despite all its superiority over formal logic, could not and cannot be taken into the armoury of materialistically oriented science without any essential amendments, and without a radical purging of all traces of idealism. For idealism did not remain something ‘external’ for logic at all, but orientated the very logical sequence of thought. When Hegel spoke, for example, of the transitions of opposing categories (including the general and the particular), the schema of the examination then and there received a one-way character. In the Hegelian schema there could be no place, say, for the transition that Marx discovered in the determinations of value, the transformation of the singular or individual into the general. With Hegel only the general had the privilege of alienating itself in forms of the particular and the singular, while the singular always proved to be a product, a particular ‘modus’ of universality (and therefore poor in content).

The actual history of economic (market) relations testified, however, in Marx’s favour, demonstrating that the form of value in general was by no means always the general form of the organisation of production. It became the general, but up to a certain point (and for very long) it remained a particular relation happening from time to time between people and things in production. Only capitalism made value (the commodity form of the product) the general form of the interrelations of the components of production.

This transition of the individual and chance into the general was not at all rare in history, but was even rather the rule. It has always happened in history that phenomena that subsequently became general arose first precisely as individual exceptions to the rule, as anomalies, as something particular and partial. Hardly anything really new can arise in any other way.

It is in the light of that, that the rethinking to which the Hegelian dialectical conception of the general was subjected by Marx and Lenin must be understood. While preserving all the dialectical moments noted by Hegel, materialism deepened and broadened its conception, transforming the category of the general or universal into the most important category of the logic of concrete investigation of concrete, historically developing phenomena.

In the context of the materialist conception of the dialectics of history and the dialectics of thought, the Hegelian formulas sound differently from on the lips of their creator, having lost all mystical colouring. The general includes and embodies in itself the whole wealth of details, not as the ‘idea’ but as a quite real, particular phenomenon with a tendency to become general, and developing ‘from itself’ (by virtue of its inner contradictions) other just as real phenomena, other particular forms of actual movement.’ And there is not a trace of any of the Platonic-Hegelian mystique in that.

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