Re: [OPE-L] [Andy Blunden] Smith's and Hegel's historical materialism?

From: glevy@PRATT.EDU
Date: Mon Oct 10 2005 - 21:50:10 EDT

The folowing message from Andy Blunden is being foorwarded with his
permission./ In solidarity, Jerry

----- Original Message -----
From: "Andy Blunden" <>
Sent: Monday, October 10, 2005 6:57 PM
Subject: Re: thread on OPE-L

Look I think the response to this observation misses the point a lot.
There seems to be a determination to fit people into Engels' "two great
camps" and then, were that not enough, to take the entirety of a writers'
corpus and lump it into a fixed box, as if it appeared Aristotle-like as
the manifestation of the category into which the writer had been fitted.
So, Hegel is an idealist and not a materialist, therefore everything he
writes is idealist, therefore the argument about ideas and cultures
being the product of development of the forms of labour and organisation
of production is after all just in the service of Spirit.

So that there is no misunderstanding, I don't for a moment propose that
there is a fixed doctrine called "historical materialism" and A Smith,
Hegel, Marx and Engels all subscribed to it. Each of these writers
interconnected as they are had their own take on history and this
developed over time and from work to work.

But if you are interested in Hegel's writing, in understanding it, and for
that matter in better understanding Marx, then you have to work out what
all this stuff about Spirit means. Hegel has something very important to
say to those of us who get tied up in abstract conundrums, and it's
sometimes difficult to grasp.

I will never forget the revelation it was for me, as someone struggling to
undnerstand Spinoza for the first time, when someone pointed out that he
was a Pantheist and everytime he mentioned "God" I should read "Nature."
I could then apply what I learnt here to listening to my "scientific"
friends who went on about the work of "Nature", and everytime they said
"Nature" I heard "God".

Now, Hegel's Spirit is not Spinoza's God or modern science's Nature, but it
is a very rich concept indeed. The key to understanding it is watching it
grow in Hegel's mind. Should one have to tell a "historical materialist"
about such an idea? In "System of Ethical Life" - which Hegel was working
on during his collaboration with Schelling, but completed in his first
year after Schelling left Jena - you can see Hegel working out how ways of
thinking, culture and so on, develops on a material base. Put all this in
the context of the problems of western philosophy and in particular the
legacy of conundrums left over by Kant, and that Hegel was obviously
engaged in trying to overcome these problems. "Ethical Life" is about 80%
history and 20% metaphysics. In later works the balance shifts, so
"Ethical Life" gives us a real window into what Hegel is trying to do and
where he is coming from.

Feuerbach's and obviously even more so, Marx's, critique of Hegel is a lot
more than calling him as idealist. Why do people like Marx and Lenin always
praise Spinoza when Spinoza thought that the entire material world was the
body of God? Obviously they see right past the question of God. Look at
Marx's attitude to God in the 1844 Mss. Sure Marx criticises Hegel for it
all being "the work of Spirit" and this is true, but Marx also saw that
this Spirit was the entire culture, inclusive of the forces of production
(as they would come to be known), religion, politics, etc., taking the
whole problem away from individual consciousness and brainpower,
sensation, individualism and so on, into the worlkd of politics, culture
and history. The methodological point of removing the pre-existing spirit
ostensibly manifested by the work of Man opens important doors, enabling
Marx to rethink Hegel's work.


Andy Blunden
Marxists Internet Archive

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