Saturday, March 10, 2012

Michael Lebowitz: Foreword for the Indian Edition of “Following Marx”

By Michael Lebowitz
Radical Notes
Following Marx: Method, Critique, and Crisis
March 6, 2012

In his notes on Hegel’s Science of Logic, Lenin came to an essential conclusion that I embrace and which is reflected in the essays in this book:

Aphorism: 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!! [1]

Lenin’s comment did not drop from the sky. Rather, its germination can be traced in his Philosophical Notebooks; it can be seen in his growing appreciation of Hegel’s conception of the interconnection of all elements (‘the necessary connection of the whole world’, ‘the mutually determinant connection of the whole’) and of Hegel’s dialectical process of reasoning (‘the immanent emergence of distinctions’).[2]

‘The basic idea,’ Lenin observed, ‘is one of genius: that of the universal, all-sided, vital connection of everything with everything and the reflection of this connection — Hegel materialistically turned upside-down — in human concepts, which likewise must be hewn, treated, flexible, mobile, relative, mutually connected, united in opposites, in order to embrace the world.’[3]

But it was not only Hegel’s understanding of the inner connection that Lenin embraced. It was also the recognition of the problems inherent in appearances and therefore the necessity to go beyond appearance. ‘Thought proceeding from the concrete to the abstract,’ he indicated, ‘does not get away from the truth but comes closer to it.’ This process of abstraction is essential: ‘From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice — such is the dialectical path of the cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality.’[4] In short, as Hegel stressed, we must go beyond even the regularities in appearances if we are to understand what underlies those regularities. Developing ‘laws’ and theories simply on the basis of empiricism, Lenin learned here, is inherently ‘narrow, incomplete, approximate’.[5]

Reading Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks, I was guided through Hegel’s Logic and from there to an understanding of the Grundrisse and Capital. In these collected essays on method, appearance and essence, crisis theory and one-sidedness — as well as in my Beyond Capital and The Socialist Alternative (Lebowitz 2003, 2010), I try to pass on what I have learned. It is my hope that Indian scholars and activists can follow the same path — the one that Lenin pointed to:

Continuation of the work of Hegel and Marx must consist in the dialectical elaboration of the history of human thought, science and technique…. And purely logical elaboration? It coincides. It must coincide, as induction and deduction in Capita1.[6]

For, if there is one thing clear to me, it is that what Lenin called ‘the eternal, endless approximation of thought to the object’ has not come to an end, and it has been a great error to believe that we have inherited ‘truth in the form of a dead repose’.[7]


Lebowitz, Michael A. 2003. Beyond CAPITAL: Marx’s Political Economy of the Working Class. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lebowitz, Michael A. 2010. The Socialist Alternative: Real Human Development, New York: Monthly Review Press.

Lenin, V.I. 1961. Collected Works, Vol. 38: ‘Philosophical Notebooks’, Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

[1] Lenin, 1961: 180.
[2] Ibid, 97,106.
[3] Ibid, 146–7.
[4] Ibid, 171.
[5] Ibid, 150–1.
[6] Ibid, 146–7.
[7] Ibid, 195.

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