Did Lenin save Hegel from the dustbin of history?


An interesting review of Lars Lih’s Lenin biography (I posted about that book already) here. In this passage Mark Bergfeld, the reviewer, writes:

In a quite unusual move, Lenin turns to Hegel’s Science of Logic which forces a break with the deterministic, “scientific” Marxism of the Second International which placed its emphasis on gradualism and the ‘iron laws of economics’. By rescuing the dialectic from the intellectual dustbin, Lenin also reasserts the primacy of human agency in the revolutionary process, which finds its highest expression in the “April Theses” which proclaims “All Power to the Soviets” rather than proclaiming all power to the Bolsheviks or the Provisional Government for that matter. Lih does acknowledge that this represents a major shift in Lenin’s outlook but falls short of developing how theory consistently informed Lenin’s political and revolutionary practice.

This is an interesting take on the matter. Much of course has been made of Lenin’s decision to study Science of Logic while others struggled to understand the crisis of WWI but I have never seen it put quite this way – Lenin basically changed his position from “scientific Marxism” to what exactly? If humans makes history, then surely they do so in Marx more than they do in Hegel. The oddness of the picture – Lenin changes course by reading Logic – seems to be that found in this rather peculiar point: Lenin “believed” things would unfold in a deterministic way before he realized it’s the individual revolutionaries that matter and thus, being a revolutionary, he acted on this insight and changed the world. But is going back to individual human agency from the more advanced positions of “scientific Marxism” (with all of the latter’s insights into the role of material base and socio-economic development) a step forward? Were not the Populists already there? Going to the people, teaching them, trying to change their views and achieve a new state through slow gradual change of the “human agent”?

Does Lenin “rediscover” Hegel and thus succeeds at bringing about the Russian Revolution? Did Hegel make Russian Revolution possible? It seems unlike that a lonely fellow at a library reading a turgid book would somehow discover something so significant that it would change the world – too much power given to one human subject…

3 thoughts on “Did Lenin save Hegel from the dustbin of history?

  1. It’s not that unusual a comment, although I do find it odd. I think the main thing is the phrase just before the one that is emboldened, about ‘rescuing the dialectic’. This seems like a trope within Marxist activists in particular, that something about the dialectic makes Marxism superior to those damn fools with their ‘formal logic’. Any interrogation of this usually ends in incoherence, not least because the dialectic is an over-rated mystification of thinking, a formalisation itself of something much more complex. It sems to be the ‘special ingredient’, however, that too many Marxists think solves all the problems of agency merely by its invocation. As for your question, no, it’s totally untenable to answer anything other than ‘Hegel was effectively irrelevant to the Russian Revolution’, at least for any Marxist who hasn’t completely dropped into idealism (and Hegelianism).

  2. How does one determine a relevancy of a thinker such as Hegel to anything like Russian Revolution? Surely if Hegel somehow managed to persuade Lenin to take up the cause of the armed insurrection (something ultra-Leftist like Bogdanov already called from in 1908-09 and for which they were expelled from the official Bolshevik faction), then Hegel is relevant.

    Of course you are correct, dialectics is for the most part a kind of fuzzy concepts for majority of Marxist thinkers. However, not all Marxists think it is central to Marxism, and even though who do, often only say so without actually doing so: saying your stuff is dialectical does not make it so.

  3. Pingback: Review: Lars T. Lih – Lenin « @mdbergfeld

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