[OPE-L:4851] Re: How to teach CAPITAL

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Wed, 23 Apr 1997 12:41:40 -0700 (PDT)

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In message Tue, 22 Apr 1997 07:27:22 -0700 (PDT),
Gerald Levy <glevy@pratt.edu> writes:

> Mike L wrote in [OPE-L:4832]:

>> However, I have distributed to them several pages of excerpts
>> from Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks (that I made years ago--- pre
>> -computers), which has the advantage of looking back to Hegel to see
>> what was important to a Marxist years later, has some good quotes from
>> Lenin as well as his excerpts from the Logic; it means that I can make
>> reference to Lenin's comments at those key points.
> But, what was important for Lenin and other Marxists might not have been
> as important for Marx and vice versa. At the risk of sounding profane, I
> must say that I was never too impressed with Lenin's grasp of Hegel as
> expressed in his marginal notes that became the _Philosophical Notebooks_.
> I also, from the standpoint of pedagogy, believe that the _PN_ make even
> more difficult reading than reading Hegel alone (this may be a problem
> with any work based on marginal notes where one has to *very carefully*
> read what is being excerpted and the notes).

What I find especially important in those PN, which I try to convey, is the
*development* of Lenin's understanding and appreciation of Hegel in the
course of his reading of the Logic. It is one which he acknowledges and
which leads him to declare his famous aphorism about the impossibility of
understanding Capital and especially its first chapter without grasping the
whole of the Science of Logic. (This is preceded by a less-famous aphorism
criticising Plekhanov in effect for not understanding Marx---although the
exact wording escapes me and I am away from notes and books.) He notes in
that aphorism, too, that the result of not grasping the Logic is that,
consequently, 50 years after, Marxists didn't understand Marx. A pretty
significant statement--- given that Lenin had been writing about Marx for
over 20 years himself, a definite self-criticism of his own previous
understanding--- all as the result of sitting down to read the Science of
Logic, which he hadn't read before, for the purpose of preparing an
encyclopedia article. Some aspects of the change in his position are quite
striking-- eg, he rejects the theory of knowledge in Empirio-Criticism and
focusses strongly on the idea of knowledge as a process, as involving
practice (which he sees as common to Hegel and Marx).
Perhaps his grasp may not have been perfect. (I'm really not a Hegel
expert and can't judge that.) However, working through that process of
looking at his growing appreciation of Hegel (what an author in a
journal I edited many years ago called "the education of V.I. Lenin") is a
way to bring home to students the importance of thinking about Hegel before
thinking about and reading Marx. I say, look, here's Lenin--- a
revolutionary Marxist, a person who has been writing since the 1890s about
Marxian theory, who has done empirical Marxian work, etc and he sits down
while in exile, reads and takes notes on the Science of Logic and says, I
never understood Capital because to do that you have to read and understand
the whole of the Logic! How many people writing about Marx and Capital now,
so many years after Lenin, do you think have done that, I ask. That's why we
are looking at Hegel first. (OK, sure, it's an appeal to authority--one that
not everyone values; however, it helps to make the case to these economics
students wondering what they are doing in a philosophy class about the need
to spend some time on this... and by the end of the course, hopefully they
agree with Lenin's aphorism.)
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 872-0494; Home fax: (604) 872-0485
Lasqueti Island: (250) 333-8810
e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca