Hiroshi Uchida (1988)

Marx's Grundrisse and Hegel's Logic

Source: Marx's "Grundrisse" and Hegel's "Logic" by Hiroshi Uchida, published by Routledge 1988, Preface, Chapter 1 and excerpts from following chapters.

1. Doctrine of Notion
2. Doctrine of Being
3. Doctrine of Essence



This book deals with the relation between Karl Marx's Grundrisse and the Logic of G. W. F. Hegel. I attempt to prove that the relation is more profound and more systematic than hitherto appreciated.

Marx's application of Hegel's Logic to the Grundrisse was first mentioned in a letter, written around 16 January 1858, to Friedrich Engels:

In my method of working it has given me great service that by mere accident I had again leafed through Hegel's Logic – Freiligrath found some volumes of Hegel which originally belonged to Bakunin and sent me them as a present.

Many students of Marx have referred to the letter and have discussed it, but Marx's use of Hegel's Logic in the Grundrisse has not been fully examined. Let us consider some representative writers who have concerned themselves with the relationship.

There are the editors of the original German edition of the Grundrisse (1953). This photocopy edition of the original two volumes of 1939 and 1941 has end-notes, many of which refer to Hegel's Logic. A reader using these notes, however, inevitably fails to find the hidden use of Hegel's Logic in the Grundrisse, because the notes are not based on a correct understanding of Marx's critique. These notes only create confusion.

Roman Rosdolsky wrote The Making of Marx's 'Capital', the pioneering study of the Grundrisse, whilst 'inhabiting a city whose libraries contained only very few German, Russian or French socialist works', and so he was able to use only 'the few books in his own possession. He nevertheless became aware of the relation of Hegel's Logic to Marx's Grundrisse, and wrote:

The more the work advanced, the clearer it became that I would only be able to touch upon the most important and theoretically interesting problem presented by the 'Rough Draft' – that of the relation of Marx's work to Hegel, in particular to the Logic – and would not be able to deal with it in any greater depth.

Although he thought that he could only 'touch upon' the problem, and that he could not 'deal with it in any greater depth', he ventured to remark:

If Hegel's influence on Marx's Capital can be seen explicitly only in a few footnotes, the 'Rough Draft' must be designated as a massive reference to Hegel, in particular to his Logic irrespective of how radically and materialistically Hegel was inverted! The publication of the Grundrisse means that the academic critics of Marx will no longer be able to write without first having studied his method and its relation to Hegel.

The fact that Hegel's influence on Marx's Capital is largely implicit was suggested in Marx's letter of 9 December 1861 to Engels: '... the thing [Critique of Political Economy 1861-3] is assuming a much more popular form, and the method is much less in evidence than in Part I' [i.e. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy of 1859]. This letter relates to the manuscripts of 1861-3, but the case is the same with Capital. Compared with Capital (or the manuscripts of 1861-3), the Grundrisse has many explicit references to Hegel, to the Logic. Rosdolsky, who studied with 'a number of difficulties', suggested that Marx critically utilised Hegel's Logic in writing the Grundrisse. However, Rosdolsky did not fulfil the task of proving this in his book.

Rosdolsky referred eight times to Hegel in his study of the Chapter on Money from the Grundrisse, and nine times when he considered the Chapter on Capital. He indicated a few specific points where Marx's critique of political economy was carried out in reference to the Logic. Most of the examples which Rosdolsky gave his readers are arbitrary and not relevant to the theoretical context of the Grundrisse. This should be said, albeit in the light of the difficulties which he endured whilst writing his study of the Grundrisse, the first variant of Capital.

Martin Nicolaus, the English translator of the Grundrisse in the Pelican Marx Library, has a similarly high opinion of the importance of Hegel's Logic in the 'Rough Draft'. In the Foreword to the English translation of the Grundrisse Nicolaus wrote as follows:

If one considers not only the extensive use of Hegelian terminology in the Grundrisse, not only the many passages which reflect self-consciously on Hegel's method and the use of the method, but also the basic structure of the argument in the Grundrisse, it becomes evident that the services rendered Marx by his study of the Logic were very great indeed.

Readers of Nicolaus's introductory Foreword naturally expect him to refer to the crucial points where the Grundrisse contains a critical application of the Logic. However, this expectation is not fulfilled, though the Grundrisse contains several footnotes to the Logic. Those footnotes are never sufficient to explain how the Logic was critically absorbed as a whole and in detail in the Grundrisse. For example, though Nicolaus properly noted that Marx relates 'production' to Hegel's 'ground', he failed to recognise that the reference is intimately connected with Marx's conception of money in its third determination as 'a contradiction which dissolves itself'. The same expression appears just before 'ground' in the Logic.

Nor did Nicolaus notice that Marx refers 'means of production' to 'matter' (Materie) and 'labour-power' to 'form' (Form) in the Logic, and he mistranslated the German term Materie as 'material'. Therefore it may be helpful to remind readers of the Nicolaus translation that they should consult the original German text if they wish to rediscover Hegel's Logic in the Grundrisse.

Besides Hegel, Aristotle should be considered in connection with philosophical aspects of the Grundrisse. Alfred Schmidt commented on this in his excellent work, The Concept of Nature in Marx: 'Although the Grundrisse contains an extraordinary amount of new material on the question of Marx's relation to Hegel and, through Hegel, to Aristotle, they have so far hardly been used in discussions of Marx's philosophy.' Marx's comments in his letter of 21 December 1857 to Ferdinand Lassalle are evidence that he was most interested in Aristotle whilst writing the Grundrisse: 'I always had great interest in the latter philosopher [Heraclitus], to whom I prefer only Aristotle of the ancient philosophers.'

Schmidt is correct to point out the use of Aristotle in the 'Rough Draft', remarking that Marx approached Aristotle through Hegel. However, Schmidt failed to find any direct use of Aristotle by Marx. As we will see later, Marx does refer directly to him, for instance, when he posits the commodity at the beginning of the 'Chapter on Money' as the concrete instantiation (synolon) of the primary substance (prote ousaia) and the secondary substance (deuterai oustai).

However, Schmidt made a noteworthy suggestion concerning the use of Aristotle in the Grundrisse:

Here [in the Grundrisse] Marx tried to grasp the relation of Subject and Object in labour by using pairs of concepts, such as 'form-matter', or 'reality-possibility', which stem from Aristotle, whom he rated highly as a philosopher. In an immediate sense, of course, Marx depended on the corresponding categories of Hegel's logic, but as they are interpreted materialistically their Aristotelian origin shines through more clearly than it does in Hegel himself.

According to Schmidt, Marx used Aristotle to construct a materialist basis for his theory, and he used Hegel to inquire why and how modern life is alienated and appears in an idealist form. Hegel, though thinking himself to be the greatest Aristotelian, actually deformed Aristotle's philosophy. He changed what Aristotle defined as 'active reason', which existed in every individual, into 'substance as subject'.

In my view, Marx attempts to reform Hegel's philosophy using materialist aspects of Aristotle's philosophy, in order to prove why and how modern life is developed through the force of capital. His critique of Hegel does not simply reduce his idealism to a materialist basis, but consists in converting his philosophy of alienation and reification into historical categories. He uses these to clarify perverted life in capitalism, and he reads Hegel's 'idea' as a form of bourgeois consciousness.

Marx's use of Hegel's Logic in the formation of Capital can be summarised as follows:

  1. In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts (1844) he studies not only the Phenomenology of Spirit and the Philosophy of Right, but also the Encyclopaedia. He characterises the Shorter Logic as 'the money of the spirit'. This means that the Logic is the most abstract philosophical expression of the bourgeois spirit or consciousness of value. This consciousness of value forms the basic economic relation of bourgeois society.
  2. In The Holy Family of 1845 he discusses Hegel's mode of presentation, writing, for example, that many forms of fruit really exist, so 'man' may abstract 'fruit in general' as an idea. Hegel, however, reverses the process, insisting that at the beginning 'fruit in general' exists as substance, and it posits many particular forms of fruit as positive subjects. Marx reveals the secret of Hegel's philosophy, which presupposes an ideal subject par excellence, even though this subject is in reality a 'thought-product' or abstraction that exists merely in the mind.
  3. In The Poverty of Philosophy of 1847, Marx implies a simultaneous critique of political economy and of Hegel's philosophy, especially the Logic, when he criticises Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's System of Economic Contradictions, or the Philosophy of Poverty of 1846.
  4. In the Grundrisse of 1857-8 Marx at last develops his critique of political economy and of Hegel's philosophy, especially the Logic, which he claims Proudhon misread. In Marx's view Proudhon grounded his socialism falsely. Marx uses a critical reading of the two classics to undermine Proudhon's theory of socialism.
  5. Whilst writing the Critique of Political Economy 1861-3, Marx re-reads the Shorter Logic and takes notes from it. Although his method of working in these manuscripts is 'much less in evidence', as already mentioned, the fact that he seems to apply the Logic to these manuscripts should not be overlooked.
  6. As is well known, in the Afterword to the second German edition of Capital, Marx recalls his criticism of 'the mystificatory side of the Hegelian dialectic' in The Holy Family,and announces:

I ... openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even, here and there in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which the dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general forms of motion in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be inverted, in order to discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.

Terrell Carver correctly suggested that Marx's 'rational kernel' is Hegel's analysis of logic and the 'notion', and 'the mystical shell' is Hegel's confusion of categorial movement with reality. The difficulty in reading Hegel's Logic, however, consists in making a clear distinction between these two aspects and giving concrete examples from the text. In the text Hegel describes the process of 'becoming' of the 'notion' as simultaneously the process in which the 'idea', the mystical subject, posits itself as reality. The Grundrisse is the first text in which Marx attempts to relate the 'becoming' of the 'subject' to the categories of political economy, and therefore there is more evidence of his analysis in it than in Capital, which displays his solution. The Grundrisse is the most suitable text for studying the relation of the critique of political economy to the Logic.

The correspondence of each part of the Grundrisse to the Logic is briefly summarised as follows:

  1. The Introduction corresponds to the Doctrine of the Notion.
  2. The Chapter on Money corresponds to the Doctrine of Being.
  3. The Chapter on Capital corresponds to the Doctrine of Essence.

If the relation were not conceptualised this way, it would never become visible as 'an artistic whole'.

The themes of the Grundrisse can be summarised in the following way:

For Marx, Hegel's Logic is 'the money of the spirit', the speculative 'thought-value of man and nature'. This means that in bourgeois society 'man' and nature, and body and mind, are separated and reconnected through the relation of private exchange. Their relation is alienated from the persons who form the relation, which is mediated by value. They become 'value-subjects', and those who possess enough value also rule the society. The Logic in fact describes the value-subject abstractly.

In bourgeois society the value-subject also rules nature, the indispensable condition of life, because the subject monopolises physical as well as mental labour, so the non-possessor of nature is forced to engage in physical work. This coercion is seemingly non-violent and is legally mediated through the value-relation on which modern property is founded. In modern society there is wide-spread acceptance of the legitimacy of one person controlling the product of another's labour, and the other's labour itself, in order to appropriate a surplus product. This approval is founded on the value-relation and the 'form' of the commodity. Value is abstract and imagined in the mind, and also embodied in money. Hegel's Logic implicitly ascribes a sort of power to money, and Marx presents it as the demiurge of bourgeois society. That is why he characterises the Logic as 'the money of the spirit'. His task in the Grundrisse therefore consists in demonstrating that the genesis of value and its development into capital are described in the Logic, albeit in a seemingly closed system which reproduces itself, and overall his work is directed towards transcending capitalism in practice.


Further Reading: Geoff Pilling on Concepts of Capital | Ilyenkov on Abstract & Concrete | Hegel, Economics & Marx's Capital, Cyril Smith | Logic of Marx's Capital, Tony Smith
Shorter Logic, Hegel | Marx on Capital | The Grundrisse