Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks, Vol. 38 of Collected Works

SOURCE: Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich. Collected Works: Volume 38: Philosophical Notebooks (1895 - 1916). Works cited herein translated by Clemence Dutt, edited by Stewart Smith. 4th Edition. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976.

Selections from the period 1914-16:

Conspectus of Hegel’s Book The Science of Logic  85-237
Conspectus of Hegel’s Book Lectures on the History of Philosophy  243-302
Conspectus of Hegel’s Book Lectures on the Philosophy of History  303-314
Plan of Hegel’s Dialectics (Logic). (Contents of the Small Logic (Encyclopaedia))
[a.k.a. “Conspectus of the Shorter Logic”]
Paul Volkmann. Epistemological Foundations of the Natural Sciences
(“Sciences and Hypothesis,” IX). Second Edition. Leipzig, 1910
Conspectus of Lassalle’s Book The Philosophy of Heraclitus the Obscure of Ephesus 337-352
On the Question of Dialectics 353-362
Conspectus of Aristotle’s Book Metaphysics 363-372
Conspectus of Feuerbach’s Book Exposition, Analysis and Critique of the Philosophy of Leibnitz 375-387

The source of bibliographic information, quotations, and links is the Marxists Internet Archive. See the contents page for other texts not listed here.

Notes in square brackets are from R. Dumain except where otherwise noted. Otherwise, Lenin is quoted directly. Typographic features of the printed edition are not necessarily preserved. Numbers in square brackets mark off quotes from one another.

The following notes do not represent the full contents of the volume. I have selected the most significant units from the time period 1914-16, a pivotal period in Lenin’s development. Extracts and comments are chosen for their pertinence to a research project and should reflect the main points made in these notebooks or minor points pertinent to Lenin’s themes (e.g. on Ernst Mach).

Lenin’s Conspectus of Hegel’s book The Science of Logic will be treated on a separate page. Though some better known quotes can be found in the other texts, this one is the foundation of the large claims that have been made about the revision of Lenin’s philosophical viewpoint and its relation to his politics in this period. The texts annotated below do not support such exaggerated claims: they exhibit continuity as well as novelty with respect to his earlier, much contested philosophical work, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. (One finds in later Lenin the same opposition to phenomenalism in the philosophy of science that inhere in MAEC and in other, earlier pieces in volume 38.) Furthermore, Lenin’s annotations to all but the one excepted conspectus can for the most part be viewed strictly on their philosophical merits, and regardless of Lenin’s or anyone else’s intentions or ideological linkages, their evaluation can be severed from other Marxist theoretical conceptions. (The other exceptions are brief but important references to Marx’s Capital in Plan of Hegel’s Dialectics (Logic) and On the Question of Dialectics, the latter of which can be taken as Lenin’s summa on the subject in this period.)

This implies a rejection of the notion (institutionalized in Soviet Marxism and elsewhere) that Marxist philosophy as a universal ontology or epistemology is logically the foundation upon which a Marxist analysis of society is built. Chronologically, Marxist philosophy emerged following the elaboration of Marxian social critique and was constructed by Engels and others in reaction to obfuscation of social theory, the sciences, and general world-views. Marxism legitimately intervenes in the analysis of all forms of social life including ideational, ideological and cultural constructs, and the search for a coherent total world-view is a legitimate and necessary quest, but Marxist social analysis is not deducible from a philosophical foundation, and a Marxist philosophical perspective is not the exclusive province of “Marxism” but should incorporate all justifiable advances in natural and social scientific endeavor, philosophy, logic, and mathematics. Hence general philosophical arguments of Marxists should not serve as a distraction from Marxist social theory (especially when examining the output of Soviet and similar regimes) and should not be assumed to be seamlessly integrated with social and political conceptions. Philosophical positions can be criticized or affirmed separately except where they have to be brought into logical accord with social analysis, and vice versa. While coherence and comprehensiveness are goals to be pursued, Lenin’s notion of Marxism as a “single block of steel” has fostered a century-long succession of deleterious consequences.

Aside from what is valuable in Lenin’s writings there is a larger problem of the intellectual dimension of the freezing of Lenin’s thought into the dogmatic structure of Soviet Marxism-Leninism. This problem is obvious to all but Marxist hacks, but it also begins with the contradictions within Lenin’s own polemics, simultaneously affirming and discouraging intellectual independence. There are, of course, innumerable analyses and a number of perspectives on this matter. This is one little-known, insightful late work by a major Marxist philosopher in this tradition who rejected Lenin’s earlier promulgation of dogma:

Cornforth, Maurice. Communism and Philosophy: Contemporary Dogmas and Revisions of Marxism. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1980. See especially the chapter Roots of Dogmatic Marxism.

Conspectus of Hegel’s book The Science of Logic
Written: September-December 1914
First Published: 1929 in Lenin Miscellany IX.
Source: Volume 38, pp. 85-241.
Conspectus of Hegel’s book “The Science of Logic” consists of three notebooks, which have a common pagination from 1 to 115. On the cover of the first notebook, in addition to the inscription "Hegel. Logic I," there is the entry: “Notebooks on Philosophy. Hegel, Feuerbach and others.” On the cover of the second notebook, to the pagination 49-88, there is the appendage: NB p. 76 (pp. 192-193 of this volume). At the bottom of page III, there is written: “End of Logic. 17.XII.1914.” The conspectus was probably begun during the first half of September 1914, when Lenin moved from Poronin to Bern, Switzerland.

[This is the largest and most historically significant and influential of the notebooks. This will be treated via a separate web page.]

Conspectus of Hegel’s Book Lectures on the History of Philosophy
Written: 1915
Source: Volume 38, pp. 243-302
First Published: 1930 in Lenin Miscellany XII.

Introduction to the History of Philosophy

A very profound correct comparison!! Every shade of thought = a circle on the great circle (a spiral) of the development of human thought in general

 Volume XIII. Volume I of The History of Philosophy. History of Greek Philosophy


NB: the linking of the germs of scientific thought with fantasy à la religion, mythology. And nowadays! Likewise, the same linking but the proportions of science and mythology are different.


In other words, this “fragment” of Hegel’s should be reproduced as follows:

Dialectics in general is “the pure movement of thought in Notions“ (i.e., putting it without  the mysticism of idealism: human concepts are not fixed but are eternally in movement, they pass into one another, they flow into one another, otherwise they do not reflect living life. The analysis of concepts, the study of them, the “art of operating with them” (Engels)[14] always demands study of the movement of concepts, of their interconnection, of their mutual transitions).

In particular, dialectics is the study of the opposition of the Thing-in-itself (an sich), of the essence, substratum, substance—from the appearance, from “Being-for-Others.” (Here, too, we see a transition, a flow from the one to the other: the essence appears. The appearance is essential.) Human thought goes endlessly deeper from appearance to essence, from essence of the first order, as it were, to essence of the second order, and so on without end.

Dialectics in the proper sense is the study of contradiction in the very essence of objects: not only are appearances transitory, mobile, fluid, demarcated only by conventional boundaries, but the essence of things is so as well.


[On development:]

If everything develops, then everything passes from one into another, for development as is well known is not a simple, universal and eternal growth, enlargement (respective diminution), etc.—If that is so, then, in the first place, evolution has to be understood more  exactly, as the arising and passing away of everything, as mutual transitions.—And, in the  second place, if everything develops, does not that apply also to the most general concepts and categories of thought? If not, it means that thinking is not connected with being. If it does, it means that there is a dialectics of concepts and a dialectics of cognition which has objective significance.


[On the paradox of motion, vs Chernov:]

(3) it depicts motion as a sum, as a concatenation of states of rest, that is to say, the (dialectical) contradiction is not removed by it, but only concealed, shifted, screened, covered over.

We cannot imagine, express, measure, depict movement, without interrupting continuity, without simplifying, coarsening, dismembering, strangling that which is living. The  representation of movement by means of thought always makes coarse, kills,—and not only by means of thought, but also by sense-perception, and not only of movement, but every concept.

    And in that lies the essence of dialectics.

    And precisely this essence is expressed by the formula: the unity, identity of opposites.


[Not subjective like Zeno]


α) subjective dialectics.
β) in the object there is dialectics, but I do not know, perhaps it is Schein,[25] merely appearance, etc.

fully objective dialectics, as the principle of all that is


[Comment by Lenin:]

Quite right and important—it is precisely this that Engels repeated in more popular form, when he wrote that natural scientists ought to know that the results of natural science are concepts, and that the art of operating with concepts is not inborn, but is the result of 2,000 years of the development of natural science and philosophy.

The concept of transformation is taken narrowly by natural scientists and they lack understanding of dialectics.


[Various remarks, then.....]

Hegel’s logic cannot be applied in its given form, it cannot be taken as given. One must separate out from it the logical (epistemological) nuances, after purifying them from Ideenmystik: that is still a big job.)


[Remark on Mach]

Volume XIV. Volume II of the History of Philosophy


[Remark: Kant and the Sophists and Phenomenologism[6] à la Mach]

“Vanishing moments” = Being and not-Being. That is a magnificent definition of dialectics!!



Intelligent idealism is closer to intelligent materialism than stupid materialism. Dialectical idealism instead of intelligent; metaphysical, undeveloped, dead, crude, rigid instead of stupid.


To be elaborated:

    Plekhanov wrote on philosophy (dialectics) probably about 1,000 pages (Beltov + against Bogdanov + against the Kantians + fundamental questions, etc., etc.). Among them, about the large Logic, in connection with it, its thought (i.e., dialectics proper, as philosophical science) nil!!



[on universals]:

Thereby Hegel hits every materialism except dialectical materialism.


Hegel seriously “believed,” thought, that materialism as a philosophy was impossible, for philosophy is the science of thinking, of the universal, but the universal is a thought. Here he repeated the error of the same subjective idealism that he always called “bad” idealism. Objective (and still more, absolute) idealism came very close to materialism by a zig-zag (and a somersault), even partially became transformed into it.


(Phenomenologists à la Mach & Co. inevitably become idealists on the question of the universal, “law,” “necessity,” etc.)

[Sidebar:] NB the Cyrenaics and Mach and Co.



The significance of the universal is contradictory: it is dead, impure, incomplete, etc., etc., but it alone is a stage towards knowledge of the concrete, for we can never know the concrete completely. The infinite sum of general conceptions, laws, etc., gives the concrete in its completeness.


 The movement of cognition to the object can always only proceed dialectically: to retreat in order to hit more surely—reculer pour mieux sauter (savoir?).[25] Converging and diverging lines: circles which touch one another. Knotenpunkt[26] = the practice of mankind and of human history.

(Practice = the criterion of the coincidence of one of the infinite aspects of the real.)

[sidebar: “empty dialectics” in Hegel]


In analysing Plato’s dialectics, Hegel once again tries to show the difference between subjective, sophistic dialectics and objective dialectics:  “That everything is one, we say of each thing: ‘it is one and at the same time we show also that it is many, its many parts and properties’—but it is thereby said: ‘it is one in quite another respect from that in which it is many’—we do not bring these thoughts together. Thus the conception and the words merely go backwards and forwards from the one to the other. If this passing to and fro is performed with consciousness, it is empty dialectics, which does not unite the opposites and does not come to unity.”


[Simplicity of the Notion]

Hegel dilates at length on Plato’s “Philosophy of Nature,” the ultra-nonsensical mysticism of ideas, such as that “triangles form the essence of sensuous things” (265), and such mystical nonsense. That is highly characteristic! The mystic-idealist-spiritualist Hegel (like all official, clerical-idealist philosophy of our day) extols and expatiates on mysticism, idealism in the history of philosophy, while ignoring and slighting materialism. Cf. Hegel on Democritus—nil!! On Plato a huge mass of mystical slush.



[Hegel interprets Aristotle idealistically]

Aristotle’s criticism of Plato’s “ideas” is a criticism of idealism as idealism in general: for whence concepts, abstractions, are derived, thence come also “law” and “necessity,” etc. The idealist Hegel in cowardly fashion fought shy of the undermining of the foundations of idealism by Aristotle (in his criticism of Plato’s ideas).

[Sidebar:] When one idealist criticises the foundations of idealism of another idealist, materialism is always the gainer thereby. Cf. Aristotle versus Plato, etc., Hegel versus Kant, etc.


Aristotle thus pitifully brings forward god against the materialist Leucippus and the idealist Plato. There is eclecticism in Aristotle here. But Hegel conceals the weakness for the sake of mysticism!


Hegel, the supporter of dialectics, could not understand the dialectical transition from matter to motion, from matter to consciousness—especially the second. Marx corrected the error (or weakness?) of the mystic.

[Sidebar:] Not only is the transition from matter to consciousness dialectical, but also that from sensation to thought, etc.


What distinguishes the dialectical transition from the undialectical transition? The leap. The contradiction. The interruption of gradualness. The unity (identity) of Being and not-Being.


The following passage shows especially clearly how Hegel conceals the weakness of Aristotle’s idealism" [quotation follows]


“In nature” concepts do not exist “in this freedom” (in the freedom of thought and the fantasy of man!!). “In nature” they (concepts) have “flesh and blood.”— That is excellent! But it is materialism. Human concepts are the soul of nature —this is only a mystical way of saying that in human concepts nature is reflected in a distinctive way (this NB: in a distinctive and dialectical way!!).


Pp. 318-337 solely on the Metaphysics of Aristotle!! Everything essential that he has to say against Plato’s idealism is suppressed!! In particular, there is suppressed the question of existence outside man and humanity!!! = the question of materialism!


Aristotle is an empiricist, but a thinking one.

[Sidebar]: cf. Feuerbach: To read the gospel of senses in  interconnection = to think


The coincidence of concepts with “synthesis,” with the sum, summing up of empiricism, sensations, the senses, is indubitable for the philosophers of all trends. Whence this coincidence? From God (I, the idea, thought, etc., etc.) or from (out of) nature? Engels was right in his formulation of the question.


Reason (understanding), thought, consciousness, without nature, not in correspondence with nature is falsity = materialism!


It is repulsive to read how Hegel extols Aristotle for his “true speculative notions” (373 of the “soul,” and much more besides), clearly spinning a tale of idealistic (= mystical) nonsense.

Suppressed are all the points on which Aristotle wavers between idealism and materialism!!!


[Quotes from Hegel on sense perception; Lenin on Hegel’s evasion]

((The idealist stops up the gap leading to materialism. No, it is not gleich- gültig whether from without or from within. This is precisely the point! “From without”—that is materialism. “From within” = idealism. And with the word “passivity,” while keeping silent about the term (“from without”) in Aristotle, Hegel described in a different way the same from without. Passivity means precisely from without!! Hegel replaces the idealism of sense-perception by the idealism of thought, but equally by idealism.))


[Lenin cites Hegel on sense perception as subjective idealism: Lenin calls this an evasion of materialism.]

"Then follows the famous analogy of the soul with wax, causing Hegel to twist and turn like the devil confronted with holy water, and to cry out about it having “so often occasioned misapprehension.” (378-379)


[Hegel passage quoted ending: "Only insofar as we are of a material nature, are we able to behave in such a nature, are we able to behave in such a way; the point is that our material existence comes into play” ]

[Sidebar:] a cowardly evasion of materialism

((A close approach to materialism—and equivocation.))


[On Hegel commenting on Aristotle]

[Sidebar:] Hegel conceals the weaknesses of idealism

But he leaves aside the question of Being outside man!!! A sophistical dodge from materialism!


[Lenin notes Hegel's anger and fear of materialism]

 ...“Whether the understanding thinks actual objects when it is abstracted from all matter requires special investigation....” (389) And Hegel scrapes out of Aristotle that ostensibly "νουζ[37] and νοητόν are one and the same”, etc. A model example of the idealistic misrepresentations of an idealist!! Distorting Aristotle into an idealist of the eighteenth-nineteenth century!!

[Sidebar:] distortion of Aristotle


[Sidebar:] Hegel against the Stoics and their criterion



Slander against materialism!! “Necessity for the Notion” is not in the slightest “abrogated” by the theory of the source of cognition and the concept!! Disagreement with “common sense” is the foul quirk of an idealist.


[On Hegel on Epicurus and sense-perception:]

The “first beginning” is forgotten and distorted by idealism. Dialectical materialism alone linked the “beginning” with the continuation and the end.


[Epicurus on atoms —> sensation]

Hegel completely concealed (NB) the main thing: (NB) the existence of things outside the consciousness of man and independent of it.


[Hegel views Epicurus’ account of sense-perception as trivial.]

[Sidebar:] A model of distortion and slander against materialism by an idealist

Hegel has avoided Epicurus’ theory of cognition and begun to speak of something else, which Epicurus does not touch on here and which is compatible with materialism!!


[Lenin quoting Hegel:] “Or else Epicurus altogether denies Notion and the Universal as the essential...” (490) although his atoms “themselves have this very nature of thought”... “the inconsistency ... which all empiricists are guilty of....” (491)

[Sidebar:] nonsense! lies! slander! NB

This avoids the essence of materialism and materialist dialectics.


[Sidebar on Hegel quote on Epicurus:] he pities God!! the idealistic scoundrel!!


[Lenin mocks Hegel on Epicurus and modern natural science.]

Correct is only the reference to the ignorance of dialectics in general and of the dialectics of concepts. But the criticism of materialism is schwach [feeble].


[Lenin quotes Hegel’s positive remarks on Epicurus and Aristotle.]



[Lenin quoting Hegel:]  But this is good only for “endlichen” [finite things] .... “With superstition there also passed away self-dependent Connection and the world of the Ideal.” (499)

[Sidebar:] for what did they (the classics) value idealism??



[Rest of the section: on soul and the gods.]



[Lenin approvingly quotes Hegel on dialectics of skepticism]


[Lenin quotes and comments on Hegel’s take on the diversity of philosophies, misunderstood  by others who see the diversity but not the philosophy.]


[Quote from Hegel on skepticism against dogmatism.]

Hegel against the absolute! Here we have the germ of dialectical materialism.


[Lenin agrees with Hegel on blind criticism as the worst dogmatism.]


[Quotes from Hegel: skepticism is self-destructive and cannot defeat dialectical speculative ideas.]

Volume XV. Volume III of The History of Philosophy.
(The End of Greek Philosophy, Medieval and Modern Philosophy up to Schelling, pp. 1-692)


But this philosophical idealism, openly, “seriously” leading to God, is more honest than modern agnosticism with its hypocrisy and cowardice.


[Nothing here but listing of philosophers’ names]

Conspectus of Hegel’s Book Lectures on the Philosophy of History
Written: 1915
Source: Volume 38, pp. 303-314.
First Published: 1930 in Lenin Miscellany XII.
Conspectus of Hegel’s book “Lectures on the Philosophy of History” consists of a separate notebook on whose cover is written “Hegel.” On the reverse side of the cover, in pencil, there is a list of Plato’s dialogues with references to pages in Vol. XIV of Hegel, which contains the second book of Lectures on the History of Philosophy.


Here in Hegel is often to be found—about God, religion, morality in general—extremely trite idealistic nonsense


Subdivisions: The Oriental World—The Greek—The Roman—The German World. Empty phrase-mongering about morality, etc., etc.

China.   Chapter I (113 to 139). Description of the Chinese character, institutions, etc., etc. Nil, nil, nil!

“Christianity.” (328-346) Banal, clerical, idealistic chatter about the greatness of Christianity (with quotations from the Gospels!!). Disgusting, stinking!


In general the philosophy of history yields very, very little—this is comprehensible, for it is precisely here, in this field, in this science, that Marx and Engels made the greatest step forward. Here most of all, Hegel is obsolete and antiquated.

Plan of Hegel’s Dialectics (Logic)
(Contents of the Small Logic (Encyclopaedia))
[a.k.a. “Conspectus of the Shorter Logic”]
Written: 1915
Source: Volume 38, pp. 315-318.
First Published: 1930 in Lenin Miscellany XII. Published according to the manuscript.
Plan of Hegel’s Dialectics (Logic)—contained in a notebook directly following the conspectus of Georges Noel’s book Hegel’s Logic and a list of “writings on Hegelianism”; written in 1915.
[Note: Square brackets in the quote below are from the original publication.]

If Marx did not leave behind him a “Logic” (with a capital letter), he did leave the logic of Capital, and this ought to be utilised to the full in this question. In Capital, Marx applied to a single science logic, dialectics and the theory of knowledge of materialism [three words are not needed: it is one and the same thing] which has taken everything valuable in Hegel and developed it further.

Paul Volkmann, Epistemological Foundations of the Natural Sciences
(Erkenntnistheoretische Grundzüge der Naturwissenschaften, 2nd ed., Leipzig-Berlin, 1910.) (“Sciences and Hypothesis,” IX).
Notes written: 1915
Source: Volume 38, p. 328.
First Published: 1930 in Lenin Miscellany. Published according to the manuscript.

The author is an eclectic and vulgariser in philosophy, especially when speaking against Haeckel, about Buckle, etc., etc. Nevertheless, the tendency is materialist, e.g., p. 35—“The question whether we dictate concepts to nature, or nature to us” is, he says, a combination of both points of view. Mach, he says, is right (p. 38), but I counterpose to it (Mach’s point of view) the “objective” point of view:

“Thus I hold that logic in us has its origin in the uniform course of things outside us, that the external necessity of natural events is our first and most real schoolmistress” (p. 39).

He rebels against phenomenology and modern monism,—but completely fails to understand the essence of materialist and idealist philosophy. In fact, he reduces the matter to “methods” of natural science in a general positivist sense. He is not even capable of raising the question of the objective reality of nature outside the consciousness (and sensations) of mankind.

Conspectus of Lassalle’s Book The Philosophy of Heraclitus the Obscure of Ephesus
Written: 1915
Source: Volume 38, pp. 337-353
First Published: 1930 in Lenin Miscellany XII. Published according to the manuscript

Conspectus of Lassalle’s book “Die Philosophie Herakleitos des Dunklen von Ephesos.” Berlin, 1858 (The Philosophy of Heraclitus the Obscure of Ephesus, Berlin, 1858) is contained in a notebook following the note on Lipps’ book Natural Science and World Outlook. Following the conspectus of Lassalle’s book, there is a fragment in the notebook entitled “On the Question of Dialectics.”


[Lengthy condemnation of the book beginning with the following paragraph]

One can understand why Marx called this work of Lassalle’s “schoolboyish” (see the letter to Engels of...[February 1, 1858]): Lassalle simply repeats Hegel, copies from him, re-echoing him a million times with regard to isolated passages from Heraclitus, furnishing his opus with an incredible heap of learned ultra-pedantic ballast.


Some chapters of the second part are interesting and not without use solely for the translations of fragments from Heraclitus and for the popularisation of Hegel, but that does not do away with all the above-mentioned defects.

The philosophy of the ancients and of Heraclitus is often quite delightful in its childish naïveté [....]

[Examples follow re chemical transformation & on gold & commodities. Lenin comments on Lassalle's idealist view of money.]


Lassalle reads into Heraclitus even a whole system of theology and “objective logic” (sic!!), etc.—in short, Hegel “apropos of” Heraclitus!!


An infinite number of times (truly wearisomely) Lassalle emphasises and rehashes the idea that Heraclitus not only recognises motion in everything, that his principle is motion or becoming (Werden), but that the whole point lies in understanding “the processing identity of absolute (schlechthin) opposites” (p. 289 and many others); Lassalle, so to speak, hammers into the reader’s head the Hegelian thought that in abstract concepts (and in the system of them) the principle of motion cannot be expressed otherwise than as the principle of the identity of opposites. Motion and Werden, generally speaking, can be without repetition, without return to the point of departure, and then such motion would not be an “identity of opposites.” But astronomical and mechanical (terrestrial) motion, and the life of plants, animals and man—all this has hammered into the heads of mankind not merely the idea of motion, but motion precisely with a return to the point of departure, i.e., dialectical motion.


This is naïvely and delightfully expressed in the famous formula (or aphorism) of Heraclitus: “it is impossible to bathe twice in the same river”—actually, however (as had already been said by Cratylus, a disciple of Heraclitus), it cannot be done even once (for before the whole body has entered the water, the latter is already not the same as before).

(NB:) This Cratylus reduced Heraclitus’ dialectics to sophistry, pp. 294-295 and many others, by saying: nothing is true, nothing can be said about anything. A negative (and merely negative) conclusion from dialectics. Heraclitus, on the other hand, had the principle: “everything is true,” there is (a part of) truth in everything. Cratylus merely “wagged his finger” in answer to everything, thereby showing that everything moves, that nothing can be said of anything.


It is strange that, in rehashing the religious philosophy of Heraclitus, Lassalle does not once quote or mention Feuerbach! What was Lassalle’s attitude in general to Feuerbach? That of an idealist Hegelian?


[More quotations and Lenin’s criticisms of Lassalle as idealist Hegelian reading Heraclitus as such.]


Ergo: T h e   h i s t o r y  o f   p h i l o s o p h y 

[Column 1:]

Greek Philosophy indicated all these moments

[Column 2:]

”      ”   the separate sciences
”      ”   the mental development of the child
”      ”   the mental development of animals
”      ”   l a n g u a g e  NB:

+ psychology 
+ physiology  
of the sense  o r g a n s 

[Column 3:]

these are the fields of knowlege from which the theory of knowledge and dialectics should be built

kurz,[briefly] the history of cognition in general

the whole field of knowledge


[Quotes on identity between word, name and law]

And it is precisely Heraclilean ideas that Hippocrates expresses when he says:

“Names are the laws of nature.”

[Sidebar:] very important! NB

[On Plato’s refutation of Heraclitus]

One gets the impression that Lassalle, the idealist, left in the shade the materialism or materialistic tendencies of Heraclitus, misrepresenting him as Hegelian.

On the Question of Dialectics
Written: 1915
Source: Volume 38, pp. 357-361.
First Published: 1925 in Bolshevik, No. 5-6.
This fragment is contained in a notebook between the conspectus of Lassalle’s book on Heraclitus and the conspectus of Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Written in 1915 in Bern.


The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts (see the quotation from Philo on Heraclitus at the beginning of Section III, “On Cognition,” in Lasalle’s book on Heraclitus[1]) is the essence (one of the “essentials,” one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter (Aristotle in his Metaphysics continually grapples with it and combats Heraclitus and Heraclitean ideas).

The correctness of this aspect of the content of dialectics must be tested by the history of science. This aspect of dialectics (e.g. in Plekhanov) usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum-total of examples [“for example, a seed,” “for example, primitive communism.” The same is true of Engels. But it is “in the interests of popularisation...”] and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world).

[Examples in mathematics, mechanics, physics, chemistry, and social science follow]


The identity of opposites (it would be more correct, perhaps, to say their “unity,”—although the difference between the terms identity and unity is not particularly important here. In a certain sense both are correct) is the recognition (discovery) of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature (including mind and society). The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement,” in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the “struggle” of opposites. The two basic (or two possible? Or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).

In the first conception of motion, self - movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external—God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of “self” - movement.

The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the “self-movement” of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to “leaps,” to the “break in continuity,” to the “transformation into the opposite,” to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new.

The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.


NB: The distinction between subjectivism (scepticism, sophistry, etc.) and dialectics, incidentally, is that in (objective) dialectics the difference between the relative and the absolute is itself relative. For objective dialectics there is an absolute within the relative. For subjectivism and sophistry the relative is only relative and excludes the absolute.


In his Capital, Marx first analyses the simplest, most ordinary and fundamental, most common and everyday relation of bourgeois (commodity) society, a relation encountered billions of times, viz., the exchange of commodities. In this very simple phenomenon (in this “cell” of bourgeois society) analysis reveals all the contradictions (or the germs of all contradictions) of modern society. The subsequent exposition shows us the development (both growth and movement) of these contradictions and of this society in the Σ of its individual parts. From its beginning to its end.


Such must also be the method of exposition (i.e., study) of dialectics in general (for with Marx the dialectics of bourgeois society is only a particular case of dialectics). To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., with any proposition: the leaves of a tree are green; John is a man: Fido is a dog, etc. Here already we have dialectics (as Hegel’s genius recognised): the individual is the universal. (cf. Aristoteles, Metaphisik, translation by Schegler, Bd. II, S. 40, 3. Buch, 4. Kapitel, 8-9: “denn natürlich kann man nicht der Meinung sin, daß es ein Haus (a house in general) gebe außer den sichtbaren Häusern,” “ού γρ άν ΰείημεν είναί τινα οίχίαν παρα τχς τινάς οίχίας”) [for, of course, one cannot hold the opinion that there can be a house (in general) apart from visible houses]. Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes) etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs, the concepts of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say: John is a man, Fido is a dog, this is a leaf of a tree, etc., we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other.

Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as in a “nucleus” (“cell”) the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general. And natural science shows us (and here again it must be demonstrated in any simple instance) objective nature with the same qualities, the transformation of the individual into the universal, of the contingent into the necessary, transitions, modulations, and the reciprocal connection of opposites. Dialectics is the theory of knowledge of (Hegel and) Marxism. This is the “aspect” of the matter (it is not “an aspect” but the essence of the matter) to which Plekhanov, not to speak of other Marxists, paid no attention.


Knowledge is represented in the form of a series of circles both by Hegel (see Logic) and by the modern “epistemologist” of natural science, the eclectic and foe of Hegelianism (which he did not understand!), Paul Volkmann (see his Erkenntnistheorische Grundzüge, S.)

[“Circles” in philosophy: philosophers are listed.]


[Final 3 paragraphs can be found on this web page: V.I. Lenin on Idealism & The Spiral of Knowledge]

Conspectus of Aristotle’s Book Metaphysics
Written: 1915
Source: Volume 38, pp. 363-372.
First Published: 1930 in Lenin Miscellany XII. Published according to the manuscript.
Conspectus of Aristotle’s book “Metaphysics” is contained in a notebook directly following the fragment “On the Question of Dialectics.” The book was published by Schwegler in Greek with a German translation [2 vols.].

[What is living & dead, Aristotle’s dialectics, subjective & objective; universal & particular; fantasy always a part of cognition.]


A mass of extremely interesting, lively, naïve (fresh) matter which introduces philosophy and is replaced in the expositions by scholasticism, by the result without movement, etc.

Clericalism killed what was living in Aristotle and perpetuated what was dead.


[Sidebar:] Philosophy is often diverted by the definition of words, etc. Everything, all categories are affected


Highly characteristic and profoundly interesting (in the beginning of the Metaphysics) are the polemic with Plato and the “puzzling” questions, delightful for their naïveté, and Bedenken [doubts] regarding the nonsense of idealism. And all this along with the most helpless confusion about the fundamental, the concept and the particular.

NB: At the beginning of The Metaphysics the stubborn struggle against Heraclitus, against his idea of the identity of Being and not-Being (the Greek philosophers approached close to dialectics but could not cope with it). Highly characteristic in general, throughout the whole book, passim, are the living germs of dialectics and inquiries about it....

In Aristotle, objective logic is everywhere confused with subjective logic and, moreover, in such a way that everywhere objective logic is visible. There is no doubt as to the objectivity of cognition. There is a naïve faith in the power of reason, in the force, power, objective truth of cognition. And a naïve confusion, a helplessly pitiful confusion in the dialectics of the universal and the particular—of the concept and the sensuously perceptible reality of individual objects, things, phenomena.

Scholasticism and clericalism took what was dead in Aristotle, but not what was living; the inquiries, the searchings, the labyrinth, in which man lost his way.

Aristotle’s logic is an inquiry, a searching, an approach to the logic of Hegel—and it, the logic of Aristotle (who everywhere, at every step, raises precisely the question of dialectics), has been made into a dead scholasticism by rejecting all the searchings, waverings and modes of framing questions. What the Greeks had was precisely modes of framing questions, as it were tentative systems, a naïve discordance of views, excellently reflected in Aristotle.


Delightful! There are no doubts of the reality of the external world. The man gets into a muddle precisely over the dialectics of the universal and the particular, of concept and sensation, etc., of essence and phenomenon, etc.


[Quotes from Aristotle on Forms, mathematics, sensible things]

Here we have the point of view of dialectical materialism, but accidentally, not consistently, not elaborated, in passing.


[Lenin quotes Windelband, various excerpts from Aristotle]

[[Primitive idealism: the universal (concept, idea) is a particular being. This appears wild, monstrously (more accurately, childishly) stupid. But is not modern idealism, Kant, Hegel, the idea of God, of the same nature. (absolutely of the same nature)? Tables, chairs and the ideas of table and chair; the world and the idea of the world (God); thing and “noumen,” the unknowable “Thing-in-itself”; the connection of the earth and the sun, nature in general—and law, λόγος, [logos] God. The dichotomy of human knowledge and the possibility of idealism (= religion) are given already in the first, elementary abstraction


The approach of the (human) mind to a particular thing, the taking of a copy (= a concept) of it is not a simple, immediate act, a dead mirroring, but one which is complex, split into two, zig-zag-like, which includes in it the possibility of the flight of fantasy from life; more than that: the possibility of the transformation (moreover, an unnoticeable transformation, of which man is unaware) of the abstract concept, idea, into a fantasy (in letzter Instanz [in the final analysis] = God). For even in the simplest generalisation, in the most elementary general idea (“table” in general), there is a certain bit of fantasy. (Vice versa: it would be stupid to deny the role of fantasy, even in the strictest science: cf. Pisarev [“Blunders of Immature Thought”] on useful dreaming, as an impulse to work, and on empty daydreaming.)


[Quote on “difficulties” of the “philosophy of mathematics”]

Book 13, Chapter 3 solves these difficulties excellently, distinctly, clearly, materialistically (mathematics and other sciences abstract one of the aspects of a body, phenomenon, life). But the author does not consistently maintain this point of view.


Book 13, Chapter 10 touches on the question, which is better expounded by Schwegler in the commentary (in connection with Metaphysik VII, 13, 5): science is concerned only with the universal (cf. Book 13, Chapter 10, § 6), but only the particular is actual (substantial). Does that mean that there is a gulf between science and reality? Does it mean that Being and thought are incommensurable? “Is true knowledge of reality impossible?” (Schwegler, Vol. IV, p. 338.) Aristotle answers: potentially knowledge is directed to the universal, actually it is directed to the particular.

Conspectus of Feuerbach’s Book Exposition, Analysis and Critique of the Philosophy of Leibnitz
Written: between September and November 4 (17), 1914.
Source: Volume 38, pp. 375-387.
First Published: 1930 in Lenin Miscellany XII. Published according to the manuscript.
Conspectus of L. Feuerbach’s book “Darstellung, Entwicklung und Kritik der Leibnizschen Philosophie.” Sämtliche Werke. Bd. IV, Stuttgart, 1910 (Exposition, Analysis and Critique of the Philosophy of Leibnitz, Collected Works, Vol. IV, Stuttgart, 1910) is contained in a separate notebook on whose cover is written: “Feuerbach.” The conspectus was made in Bern at the end of 1914 or the beginning of 1915.


In the brilliant exposition of Leibnitz some especially outstanding passages should be mentioned [....]

The book on Leibnitz was written by Feuerbach in 1836, when he was still an idealist


P. 27—The feature that distinguishes Leibnitz from Spinoza: in Leibnitz there is, in addition to the concept of substance, the concept of force “and indeed of active force...” the principle of “self-activity” (29)—

Ergo, Leibnitz through theology arrived at the principle of the inseparable (and universal, absolute) connection of matter and motion. So, it seems to me, Feuerbach is to be understood?


[Quotes from Feuerbach: Spinoza as unity, Leibniz as differentiation. Leibniz—substance as active force—vs. Descartes—dead matter]

For this, to be sure, Marx valued Leibnitz, despite his, Leibnitz’s,“Lassallean” features and his conciliatory tendencies in politics and religion.


[Lenin summarizes Leibniz's notion of monads, quotes [re] Leibniz on life principles and souls]

My free interpretation: Monads = souls of a certain kind. Leibnitz = idealist. And matter is
something in the nature of an other-being of soul, or a jelly linking them by a worldly, fleshly connection.


[More quotes on matter, space, and monads]

Here is dialectics of a kind, and very profound, despite the idealism and clericalism.


[Quotes from Feuerbach on body, soul, and monads. Mention of theodicy.]


In his Nouveaux essais sur l’entendement, Leibnitz criticised Locke’s empiricism,— saying nihil est in intellectu, etc., nisi intellectus ipse (!) (152).

(Feuerbach in the first edition also idealistically criticises Locke.)

[L. Feuerbach, Darstellung, Entwtcklung und Kritik der Leibniz’schen Philosophie (Exposition, Analysis and Critique of the Philosophy of Leibnitz), 1st ed., 1837]


[Quotes Feuerbach on transition from Leibniz to Kant, with sidebars]
[Quotes Feuerbach on generalization & sense-perception]
[Quotes Feuerbach on Leibniz as half-Christian and half-naturalist]
[Quotes Feuerbach: deception of speech is much greater than alleged deception of the senses]
[Note on defense of Spinoza]

See also:

Lenin, V. I. “The Marx-Engels Correspondence” (written 1913, first published in Pravda No. 268, November 28, 1920), in Collected Works, Volume 19 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), pp. 552-558.


Coombs, Nathan. “Did Lenin Refound Marxist Dialectics in 1914?”, The European Legacy, 2015.

Pateman, Joe. “Lenin Without Dogmatism,” Studies in East European Thought, vol. 71, 2019, pp. 99-117.

White, James D. “Lenin and Philosophy: The Historical Context,” Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 67, no. 1, January 2015, pp. 123-142.


Ilyenkov, Evald. On the Coincidence of Logic with Dialectics and the Theory of Knowledge of Materialism, from Dialectical Logic (1977).

INTERVIEW: Evald Ilyenkov and Soviet Philosophy, by Andrey Maidansky and Vesa Oittinen, Monthly Review, January 2020 (Volume 71, Number 8).

Oittinen, Vesa. “Ilyenkov and Lenin’s Dialectic,” XIX Ильенковские Чтения  21. апреля 2017.

Marx to Engels, 10 May 1870 (Letter)

Marx & Engels on elliptical motion & dialectical contradiction

V.I. Lenin: Their Abstraction & Ours

V.I. Lenin on Idealism & The Spiral of Knowledge

Lenin on fantasy & cognition

Pisarev, Lenin, & dreaming

Lenin on Aristotle

Communism and Philosophy: Contemporary Dogmas and Revisions of Marxism
by Maurice Cornforth

Ludwig Feuerbach: A Bibliography

Salvaging Soviet Philosophy (1)

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

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