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Hegel’s Theory of the Syllogism and its Relevance to Marxists

Hegel’s Theory
of the Syllogism
and its Relevance to Marxists
TonySmith
Interest in the role of Hegelian philosophy in Marxism seems
to have waned considerably since the ’70s. Fashions come and
go in philosophy as elsewhere, of course, but the stark force of
Lenin’s dictum remains: ‘It is impossible completely to understand Marx’s Capital … without having thoroughly studied and
understood the whole of Hegel’s Logic. 1 In this article I shall
examine a somewhat neglected part of the Logic, the theory of
the syllogism, from this perspective. After some remarks on the
Logic in general and on the section on the syllogism in specific,
I discuss two ways in which this situation is relevant to the
theoretical foundations of Marxism. Then three areas of debate
within contemporary Marxism are considered where Hegel’s
theory of the syllogism may have interesting implications lor
praxis.

GENERAL READING OF THE LOGIC
The standard reading of Hegel’s Logic among Marxists is that
it traces a weird series of emanations from a supersubject termed ‘Spirit’. Here and there Hegel may have made some
worthwhile points that make sense when removed from this
context, such as his remarks on the connection of ‘quantity’

and ‘quality’. But as a whole the Logic represents the worst
features of idealistic metaphysics.2

There is certainly no lack of passages in the Logic that suggest this sort of reading. But it is also possible to justify not

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taking these passages at face value. Throughout his philosophical writings Hegel goes to great pains to distinguish the level of
philosophical thinking from what he terms ‘picture-thinking’.

The image of a metaphysical supersubject somehow creating
the world out of itself is clearly a picture-thought of precisely
the sort that Hegel insisted could not adequately capture a
philosophical thesis.3
If we bracket out the parts of the Logic that suggest picturethoughts, what is left? The Logic now can be read as at once a
theory of principles and of what is principled. There are three
general features of this project to be stressed, followed by some
examples to illustrate these features.

1. isomorphism. The structure of a principle and the structure of what is principled are isomorphic. The structure of an
explanation and the structure of what is to be explained must
map onto each other. Once one has been specified the other is
specified as well. They are two sides of the same coin. This
means that ‘principle’ is not to be taken in a subjectivist sense.

The term is to be taken in an ontological sense, rather than an
epistemological one. A principle for Hegel is not simply a
category we employ to make what is principled intelligible to
us. A principle also captures the intelligibility of what is principled in itself. In this sense Hegel is a realist.

2. different levels. Not all principles, and not all ways of
categorising what is to be principled, are on the same level.

Some principles are simpler than others, capable of grasping
only abstract structures. Others are more complex, capable of
grasping more concrete structures. Hegel’s Logic captures this
difference in levels through its systematic ordering of
categories, proceeding from the most abstract and simple levels
and moving step by step to progressively more concrete and
complex stages.

3. unity of unity and difference. What is principled is always
a manifold, a set of differences. A principle that grasps its intelligibility unifies that manifold in thought. The complete dialectic of principle/principled thus can be described in terms of a
unity of unity in difference. To say that the dialectic is played
out on different levels is to say that there are different ways the
unity of unity and difference can be categorised, some more
concrete and complex than others.

4. examples. The above points can be illustrated with the
help of the following categories: ‘being’; ‘ground’ and ‘existence; and ‘correlation’ and actuality,.4
The category of ‘being’ at the beginning of the Logic is the
most simple and abstract of all categories. ‘Being’ qua what is
to be principled and what simply and immediately is, while qua
principle it is the simple assertion that it is. We have simple
unity without any difference.

Matters are much more advanced if we skip ahead in the
systematic ordering to the level of ‘ground’ and ‘existence’, the
former serving as a type of principle and the latter as a way of
categorising what is to be principled. The structure isomorphic
to both can be diagrammed as follows:

G

t
E,

G

G

E,

E, …..

+

+

Grounds are to be specified for each individual item in existence; each existence has its own unique intelligibility. This is a
higher level, more complex, ontological structure than that in
which each item is viewed as groundless, as simply given in
immediacy. ‘Existence’ is on a higher level than mere ‘being’

precisely because the former is mediated through its grounds,
united with what grounds it while remaining distinct from its
grounds. On the other hand, the differences between the existences are categorised as immediate within this structure. They
are simply given, i.e. the existences are mediated with their
respective grounds, but not with each other.

This can be contrasted with the level of ‘correlation’ and
‘actuality’ .

A——A
Here the principle is a correlation that mediates a number of
different actualities (for example, a causal law). The ontological structure of the principled is one in which the different actualities are not taken in their immediacy apart from each other.

Instead each actuality (e.g. that which is a cause, and that
which is an effect) is what it is precisely through its mediation
with other actualities. We do not have mere unity or mere difference, but a unity of unity and difference.

For Hegel it is clear that the principle ‘correlation’ is more
complex, more capable of capturing the intelligibility of that
which is concrete, than the principle’ ground’. He also held that
defining what is to be principled as ‘actuality’ is a more complex way of categorising it, allowing a fuller ontological
description of what the concrete is, than the category of ‘existence. Each actuality has its own set of grounds; besides that it
also is correlated with other actualities. Both orderings are two
sides of the same coin. Any argument justifying seeing one sort
of principle as more complex and concrete than the other
simultaneously justifies the assertion that one way of categorising what is to be principled is likewise more complex and concrete than the other.

THE SYSTEMATIC PLACE OF HEGEL’S THEORY OF
THE SYLLOGISM
There are two basic ways of reading Hegel’s theory of the syllogism. The first may be termed ‘the stuffed dresser reading’.

On this view Hegel starts off with (a) the traditional theory of
the syllogism with its lists of different syllogistic figures, and
(b) a number of empty ‘slots’ in the architectonic of the system
he has constructed. He then proceeds to stuff the different parts
of the traditional theory of the syllogism into these slots in his
system, as if he were stuffing different sorts of clothes into the
different drawers of a dresser. This sort of taxonomic exercise
may inspire an admiration for Hegel’s inimitable virtuousity in

such matters. But it has little intrinsic interest for Marxists (or
anyone else, for that matter).

Another sort of reading is more fruitful, and more in harmony with Hegel’s own statements of his intentions. This reading sees the theory of the syllogism as a further development of
the principle/principled dialectic described above, with ‘syllogism’ a type of principle yet more concrete and complex than
‘correlation’, and ‘object’ a way of categorising what is to be
principled that is yet more complex and concrete than ‘actuality’. This reading will be presented here.

For our purposes we do not have to trace Hegel’s ordering
of the thirteen different sorts of syllogisms. Instead we shall
move directly to the conclusions of his theory. This will first be
presented in abstract terms that may not be immediately intelligible to those not familiar with Hegelian jargon. The examples given in the next section will hopefully clarify things.

As a principle the syllogism connects three moments,
universality, particularity, and individuality. As principled objects are individuals mediated by particularities that are essential to them qua individuals, and these particularities are in turn
mediated through a universal that is essential to the particularities. As a principle no single syllogism is sufficient to
capture the intelligibility of its object Any attempt to conclude
that there is a connection between I aild U through premisses
asserting a connection between I-P and P-U leaves these latter two assertions unjustified. Likewise any attempt to connect
P-U through P-I and I-U leaves the latter two premisses
unmediated, and any attempt to connect I-P through I-U and
U-P treats those premisses as simply given immediately. For
syllogisms to operate as principles a system of all three sorts of
syllogism is required: I-P-U, P-I-U, and I-U-P. It is
only the system of syllogisms as a whole that serves as the
principle.5
There are two key points here. First, each determination is
thoroughly mediated with the other two. 6 Secohd, each determination takes in turn the role of the middle term, whose function it is to mediate the extremes into a single totality.7 On the
side of what is to be principled, Hegel writes that ‘everything
rational is a syllogism’.8 That is, everything intelligible, in so
far as it is intelligible, is ‘a universal that through particularity
is united with individuality. ,9 However, the isomorphism of
principle and principled implies that this is a one-sided way of
putting it. On the other side of what is to be principled the same
two features hold as characterise the principle. Each determination of the object is thoroughly mediated with the other two.

And one cannot claim any ultimate ontological priority for the
individual object, or for the particularities essential to it, or for
the universal essential to those particularities. Ontologically
each is itself the totality.

Correlations capture a mediation that unites different actualities. But some correlations are external to the actualities
correlated (e.g. the correlation connection a rise of mercury in a
barometer with a change in weather). Other sorts of correlations are not external. What makes the latter distinct from
the former is that these correlations go back to the essential nature of that which is correlated. With this, however, the relation
is no longer a mere correlation. It is now categorised as a particular expression of the shared-and in that sense universalessential nature. IO A system of syllogisms mediating I, P, and U
is thus a much mor~ complex principle of determination than a
correlation which mayor may not be external to what is correlated. By the same reasoning an ontological structure in
which individual objects are mediated through particularity and
universality is a more concrete way of categorising what is
principled.

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THEORETICAL IMPORTANCE OF HEGEVS THEORY OF
THE SYLLOGISM FOR MARXISTS
1. the systematic imperative. It would be a mistake to believe
that substantive theoretical positions can be derived from
Hegel’s Logic, at least on the present reading. The Logic consists in an ordering of progressively more complex structures
of principles/principled. As such it provides a set of canons to
follow in theoretical work rather than some magic formula that
automatically churns out theories for us like sausages in a
sausage factory. Among these canons are the following: If we
wish to grasp a reality in its full complexity and concreteness
we cannot simply take it as an immediately given being. Nor
can we simply take it as an isolated existence with its own unique grounds to be discovered. Nor can we simply see it as an
actuality externally mediated with other actualities through various correlations. Instead we must see it as an object united in
difference with other objects through the essential particularities and universality that make the objects what they are.

This cannot be done through a single assertion or through a
series of isolated assertions. It can only be done through a
theory in which a number of different sorts of arguments are
systematically connected.

Marxists generally recognise that one of the key ways Marxist theory is distinct from most bourgeois social theory is in its
insistence that phenomena cannot be studied in isolation. A
naive bourgeois economist may take a rise in unemployment as
something given immediately, as something that just is. This is
done, for example, when it is identified with a ‘preference for
leisure’ that somehow simply just increased. A more sophisticated bourgeois economist might trace a rise in unemployment back to some set of grounds, such as previous demands
for higher wages. Yet more sophisticated bourgeois economists
treat a rise in unemployment as an actuality to be mediated
with other actualities (e.g. a high state budget deficit) through a
correlation (such as the thesis that high budget deficits lead to
high interest rates, which in turn slow down economic growth
and create unemployment). Marxist economists insist that these
sorts of accounts at best contain only partial elements of the
truth. They insist that unemployment can only be grasped in its
full complexity and concreteness if it is traced to the inner nature of capital, if it is seen as an essential manifestation of the
logic of capital accumulation and reproduction. In other words,
under capitalism unemployment has a necessity to it that
bourgeois approaches to the topic generally miss. And this cannot be established through any single argument. It demands a
study of the essential nature of capitalism, and of the various
mediations that connect that notion with an individual occurrence such as a rise in unemployment. It demands a systematic
theory.

What Marxists often do not recognize is that in asserting
these things they are implicitly accepting Hegel’s systematic
ordering in the Logic, with its move from ‘being’, to ‘ground’

and ‘existence’, through ‘correlation’ and actuality’, to ‘syllogism’ and ‘object’. If Marxist economists were called upon to
justify in general philosophical terms their methodological approach to the study of unemployment, whether they know it or
not they would inevitably soon find themselves defending
Hegel’s isomorphic claims: some sorts of principles are more
capable of grasping a concrete and complex reality than others
are; some ways of categorising the reality to be grasped captures its concreteness and complexity better than others. To put
the point as provocatively as possible: the Marxist approach to
political economy is correct because Hegel’s theory of the syllogism is correct.

32

2. anti-reductionism. As we have seen, Hegel’s theory of
the syllogism does not just call for a systematic approach to
what is to be explained. In this theory each term, I, P, and U,
must in turn take the position of the middle term constituting
the totality that makes the object what it is. This may sound
like typical Hegelian nonsense. But it can easily be translated
into another important canon for theoretical activity: reductionism must be avoided.

In Hegel’s own social theory, the theory of ‘objective
spirit’, Lockean individuals possessing both private interests
and abstract rights from the moment of individuality; the
socioeconomic institutions of civil society provide the moment
of particularity; and the state represents the highest level of
universality attainable at the level of objective spirit. It is possible to construct three sorts of social theory, each of which is
characterised by making one of these moments the middle term
that mediates the other two into a social totality. This gives us
three forms of reductionism. First, there is the socioeconomic
reductionism that comes from reducing individuality and the
state to the particular interests of civil society. Social contract
theory is interpreted by Hegel in these terms. Second, there is
the methodological individualism of a Hobbes or a Locke that
reduces socio-political reality to an expression of the private interests of individuals. Finally there is the political idealism of a
Plato, who reduces individuality and society to state imperatives. For Hegel each of these social theories is based on a
syllogism that is one-sided:

In the practical sphere the state is a system of three syllobisms.

(1) The Individual or person, through his particularity or
physical or mental needs (which when carried out to
their full development give civil society), is coupled
with the universal, i.e. with society, law, right, government. (2) The will or action of the individuals is the intennediating force which procures.for these needs satisfaction in society, in law, etc., and which gives to
society, law, etc., their fulfilment and actualization. (3)
But the universal, that is to say the state, government,
and law, is the permanent underlying mean in which the
individuals and their satisfaction have and receive their
fulfilled reality, intermediation, and persistence. Each of
the functions of the notion, as it is brought by intermediation to coalesce with the other extreme, is brought
into union with itself and produces itself: which production is self-preservation. It is only by the nature of this
triple coupling, by this trial of syllogisms with the same
termini, that a whole is thoroughly understood in its organization. II

What is required is thus a theory that captures the full complexity of the reality here, avoiding all one-sided reductionisms.

Of course no Marxist can accept Hegel’s manner of
categorising the socio-political realm. States’ institutions may
have a considerable degree of relative autonomy. However, in a
capitalist society it will always be the case that ‘in the final
analysis’ state institutions must further capital accumulation, or
else the social order will break down in crisis. This means that
the state cannot be categorised as a universal standing above
the socioeconomic level. Likewise the level of civil society is
not, as Hegel believed, simply a realm of particularity in which
the particular interests of the agricultural class, the business
class, and the class of civil servants are in a fairly harmonious
balance (with a small rabble standing off to the side).12 Within
the agricultural class there is a class antagonism between
capitalist farmers and agricultural wage labourers, and within
the business class there is the same class antagonism between
other sorts of capitalists and other sorts of wage labourers. As a
result in Capital we find a quite different substantive analysis.

Nonetheless, this analysis fits into the framework of Hegel’s
theory of the syllogism quite easily. ‘Capital’ is the moment of
universality. From the inner nature of capital a number of distinct structural tendencies can be derived. In Hegelian terms
these form the moment of particularity. And finally there are
the acts of individual capitalists, wage labourers, etc., whose
acts are structured by those particular tendencies and are thus
also mediated with the inner nature of capital.

If it is true that the logical-ontological apparatus of Hegel’s
theory of the syllogism is incorporated into Marx’s theory even
while Hegel’s substantive socio-political theory is rejected,
then the Hegelian canon that reductionism must be avoided is
clearly of relevance to Marxists as well. If the above interpretation holds, then there are three forms of reductionism that continually threaten Marxist theory. First, there is the reductionism
of a capital logic approach. This is a theoretical perspective
based on a syllogism in which capital, the universal, is seen as
the middle term directly mediating particular structural tendencies and individual acts. Second, there is the reductionism that
sees particular structural tendencies as central, and the inner nature of capital and the acts of individuals as mediated by them.

An example would be the view that the particular tendencies of
late capitalism are so different from those of capitalism in its
early period that Marx’s account of the inner nature of capital,
written in that early period, is now out-dated. Finally there is
the version of methodological individualism that calls itself
Marxist. This standpoint reduces both the inner nature of
capital and particular tendencies within capitalism to the intended and unintended consequences of the acts of individuals on
the micro level.

Hegel’s theory of the syllogism does not save us from the
task of examining the strengths and weaknesses of these
theoretical perspectives on their own terms (a task which cannot be attempted here). But it does provide reasons for supposing prima facie that each position will prove to be one-sided,
that each will need to be mediated by the others if an adequate
theory is to be constructed, a theory with a concreteness and
complexity that matches that of its object. Of course it would
be foolish to think that Hegel’s Logic could do more than this
and show us what an adequate systematic theory would look
like in detail. However, the fact that it cannot do all our
theoretical work for us ought not prevent us from seeing the aid
it does provide. And as to the question what a theory without
the above sorts of one-sidedness might look like, we could do
worse than consider Capital in this light. Marx does not treat

individuals as marionettes. But neither are their acts to be made
intelligible solely in terms of their privately enacted decisions.

Also, the inner nature of capital is connected with specific
developments. But for Marx this connection is mediated
through intermediate links and not direct. And Marx does allow
for new structural tendencies to arise in capitalism. But he
would insist that there is something that both early and late
capitalism share, something that makes both capitalist. In these
ways, and many others, Marx’s own dialectical subtlety has
been overlooked by his followers at their cost.

PRACTICAL IMPORT~CE OF HEGEL’S THEORY OF
THE SYLLOGISM FOR MARXISTS
Hegel’s Logic provides only canons for theoretical work, and
not a ready-made substantive theory Marxists can simply take
over. It would be even more foolish to hope that substantive
practical evaluations can be directly derived from the Logic.

Nonetheless Hegel’s theory of the syllogism is not without its
practical implications for Marxists, although they must be
presented quite tentatively. For each one-sided theoretical option there appears to be an equally one-sided practical orientation. Here too each of these orientations must be examined on
its own terms. But here too Hegel does provide us with reasons
to regard each one-sided perspective as prima facie inadequate.

Let us first take the syllogism underlying methodological
individualism, which sees individuals and their acts as the middle term that mediates both particular tendencies and the system as a whole. An example of a practical orientation that follows from this might be an emphasis on the importance of individuals’ ballot activity, both in electoral contexts on the
political level and in voting regarding strike actions. What is
correct here is the importance granted to the moment of the individual’s consent to political and trade union activity. But
what is missing is an acknowledgement of how both the inner
nature of capital and particular tendencies within capitalism
work to atomize individuals. Consider a decision whether or
not to strike made by individuals privately through mailed-in
ballots. Here the power of capital over against each of them
taken separately will generally lead to cautious and defensive
voting. But if such decisions are made collectively, in a public
space where there is an opportunity for the atomisation· to be
overcome and a sense of the collective power of a united
workforce to arise,’then voting will generally take on a bolder
tone as workers are more prone to go on the offensive.

Similarly, the practical orientation of building socialism
through convincing atomised individuals to pull the correct
leverS once every few years is one-sided. It cannot substitute

33

for political mobilisation of those individuals to overcome this
atomisation.

In the syllogism underlying the capital logic approach the
universal, capital, is seen as the middle term forming particular
tendencies and individual actions into a totality. The practical
consequence of holding this syllogism exclusively is ultra-leftism. If everything within the society is immediately reducible
to a function or manifestation of capital, then the only possible
practical orientation for socialists is to step outside the society,
to be in immediate and total opposition to everything that occurs within it. This practical perspective correctly sees how often measures supposedly designed to reform capitalism end up
simply furthering capital accumulation. But a sectarian attitude
toward all measures short of the immediate overthrow of
capitalist social relations is no answer. That both leaves the
reign of capital unchallenged here and now, and fails to provide
any convincing strategy regarding how to move from the here
and now to a point where this reign can be challenged. This
practical orientation fails to see that between minimalist
demands that are immediately accessible to a majority of
people but which in principle do not touch the rule of capital,
and maximalist demands that are accessible to a majority and
therefore also do not threaten the rule of capital, there are transitional demands. These are proposals that the vast majority of
people find intelligible here and now, but which are ultimately
incompatible with the social relations defining capitalism. They
are proposals that are plausible to non-revolutionaries, but
which have revolutionary implications. 13 If the fight for such
transitional demands is successful, individuals are educated
politically and specific movements are set up that shift the
balance of forces away from the interests of capital. In
Hegelian terms, the moments of individuality and particularity
are thus mediated with the struggle against the universality of
capital. In contrast, the ultra leftism calling for the immediate
revolutionary seizure of power concerns itself exclusively with
the universal. Hegelian logic provides a reason for considering
such an undialectical practical orientation as prima facie mistaken.

B

2

E

G

Finally, there is the syllogism that makes the moment of
particularity the middle term that constitutes the society as a
totality. In the previous section the theoretical perspective was
mentioned that views particular tendencies in late capitalism as
making Marx’s theory outdated. Rather than capturing the inner nature of this system, its essence, Marx supposedly merely
summarized the particular features of early capitalism. When
the rise of new social movements is seen as being among the
most important of these new tendencies, then this theoretical
view has definite practical implications: the abandonment of
class politics for what can be termed the politics of particularity.14
On this view the struggles against racial and sexual oppression, against environmental degradation and the avoidable
harm inflicted upon consumers, against the militarisation of
society, and so on, cannot be reduced to the struggle against

34

capital. Accordingly, the women’s movement, the anti-racist
movement, the environmental movement, the movement for
consumer rights, the peace movement, and so on, ought not to
be made subservient to the labor movement. That would ignore
the specificity of these movements. And it would be to take one
particular struggle, the struggle against class exploitation, and
elevate it to a universality it does not possess. The attempt by
Marxists to reduce everything to the logic of capital expresses
the inherent ‘totalitarianism of identity philosophy’ .15 This unfortunate legacy of Marx’s Hegelian heritage leads Marxists to
seek an illusory universality at the cost of ignoring the particularity which is truly constitutive of the social domain.

A brief digression on Hegel is in order here. The critics of
‘Hegelian identity philosophy’ seem to be unaware that Hegel
by no means insists on there being a moment of identity
(universality) always and everywhere. They overlook that in
the theory of the judgement that precedes the section on the
syllogism in the Logic Hegel includes the category of the negative infinite judgement He gives as examples assertions such
as: ‘The mind is no elephant’ and ‘A lion is no table’ .16 Hegel
here admits that it is indeed possible to assert the moment of
difference, of particularity, exclusively in some cases. And he
grants that when one operates on this categoriallevel the theory
of the syllogism-with its stress on the unity of identity and
difference, the mediation of universality and particularity-is
not relevant So a global critique of ‘Hegelian identity
philosophy’ will not wash. Instead the question is whether in
the present case the relation between capital and the particular
social movements mentioned above is like the ‘relationships’

between the mind and an elephant, a lion and a table.

There are two main arguments for insisting that there is difference without unity here. The first is based on the fact that
sexism, racism, environmental damage, etc., exist in other
modes of production. Hence they cannot be identified with the
logic of capital. But with this move an ironic ‘dialectical shift
takes place (as often happens to those who reject dialectics).

The defenders of difference,· those most against the tyranny of
identity philosophy, are now insisting on the identity of the
tendencies to sexism, racism, environmental damage, and so
on, across different social forms. And it is now the Marxists
who insist on the sense in which these phenomena are different
within different social forms. Marxists do not claim that these
phenomena are always and everywhere mediated through the
logic of capitalism, but that this is the case within capitalist 80- .

cial formations. The inner nature of capital is manifested in a
tendency to seek divisions within the workforce. This furthers
racist and sexist social divisions, and stimulates the rise of antiracist and anti-sexist social movements to combat these
divisions. The inner nature of capital is connected with a
specific tendency for firms to ignore externalities, i.e. the social
coSts of production and distribution that are not part of the internal costs of firms. This leads to both environmental damage
and to the production of commodities that impose avoidable
harm on consumers. Environmental groups and a consumers
movement are responses to these tendencies. The inner nature
of capital is connected with an imperative to employ the
resources of the state both to avoid economic stagnation and to
ensure that as much of the globe as possible remains a potential
field for capital accumulation. The expansion of military expenditures accomplishes both goals, and so militarism too is a
particular tendency that arises within capitalism. Peace
movements arise in response. The connection between capital
and these movements seems somewhat closer than that between the mind and an elephant!

A second argument for the politics of particularity asserts

..

that viewing the struggle against capital as a principle of unity
uniting the different social movements elevates one particular
struggle-that of wage labour against capital-to a universality
it does not possess. It is true that the labor movement can be
(and has been) reduced to a struggle for higher wages for white
males without much regard for either the sorts of products
made or the environmental damage resulting from producing
them. It therefore also seems correct that the different social
movements each should have its independent organization,
leadership, press, and so on. Still, it is also true that within
capitalist societies the logic of capital tends to generate and
reproduce· racism, sexism, militarism, and so on, and so the
struggle against these tendencies-when pushed far enoughfuses with the struggle against capital. As long as each specific
social movement undertakes this latter struggle separately, its
chances of success are slim. Progressive social movements
must find a way to unite in this struggle against capital, without
sacrificing the specificity of each particular struggle. And out of
all the particular struggles it is the struggle of labour that confronts capital most directly. It is capital’s control of surplus
labour that ultimately allows it to generate the tendencies the
social movements listed above struggle against Therefore it is
the struggle of labour that can cut off these tendencies at their
root In the terms of Hegel’s theory of the syllogism, the syllogism in which particularity is the middle term cannot stand
alone. It must be mediated with the other syllogisms. It must
especially be mediated with a syllogism which acknowledges
how the struggle against capital unites the different social
movements, a syllogism in which the moment of universality is
the middle term.

No doubt there has never been an activist who opted for
political mobilisations over exclusively electoral work, for a
transitional program over ultra left demands, or for class
politics over the politics of particularity, as a result of thinking
about Hegel’s theory of the syllogism! There are political
reasons for taking these options that have nothing to do with
the general dialectic of universality, particularity, and individuality. Nonetheless, when we try to spell out in
philosophical terms what is at stake in such decisions Hegel
can be of help. Hegel insisted that neither a syllogism in which
individuality is the middle term, nor one in which universality
is, nor again one in which particularity takes that position, is
adequate by itself. Only a system of syllogisms in which each
is mediated by the others can capture the full concreteness and
complexity of the socio-political realm. From this we can
derive a prima facie case for considering some sorts of praxis
as superior to others. More than this philosophy cannot do.

6

7

8
9
10
11

12
13

Notes
1
2
3

4
5

V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38 (London: Lasrence &
Wishart, 1976), p. 180.

A recent example of this view is found in W. A. Suchting’s Man
and Philosophy (London: Macmillan, 1986.

A non-metaphysical reading of Hegel’s Logic is developed at
length in Klaus Hartmann’s appropriately titled ‘Hegel: A NonMetaphysical View’ in Hegel.· A Collection of Critical Essays, A.

C. Macintyre (ed.), (New York: Doubleday, 1972). See also Terry
Pinkard’s ‘The Logic of Hegel’s Logic’ in Hegel, a collection
edited by M. J. Inwood (Oxford University Press, 1985).

See Hegel’s Logic (Encyclopaedia version), (Oxford University
Press, 1975), p. 257.

I-P-U, P-I-U, and I-U-P are, of course, the three tradi-

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tional figures of the Aristotlean theory of the syllogism. In their
most abstract interpretation these three figures make by the
Syullogism of Existence. On the next higher level, the Syllogism
of Reflection, the same three figures are given a more adequate
interpretation in the Syllogism of Allness, the Syllogism of Induction, and the Syllogism of Analogy. A yet more concrete and
complex interpretation of them comes with the Categorical Syllogism, the Hypothetical Syllogism, and the Disjunctive Syllogism, the three syllogisms that, taken together, make up the
Syllogism of Necessity. Finally the Syllogism of Existence, the
Syllogism of Reflection, and the Syllogism of Necessity themselves are interpreted in terms of the I-P-U, P-I-U, and 1U-P figures writ large, respectively. The details of this ordering
don’t concern us here; what is important is to note Hegel’s insistence that on any level each of the three must be mediated with
the other two if an adequate account is to be given. (Hegel also
tacks on the Mathematical Syllogism at the end of the section on
the Syllogism of Existence, more in order to include the basic
axiom of mathematics than anything else.)
‘In the consummation of the syllogism … the distinction of
mediating and mediated has distinction of mediating and
mediated has disappeared. That which is mediated is itself an essential moment of what mediates it, and each moment appears as
the totality of what is mediated.’ Hegel’s Science of Logic (London: AlIen and Unwin, 1969), p. 703.

On the one hand ‘the true result that emerges … is that the middle
is not an individual Notion determination but the totality of them
all’ (Ibid., p. 684). On the other, ‘the extremes also shall be
posited as this totality which initially the middle term is’ (Ibid.,
p.696).

Ibid., p. 664.

Ibid., p. 669.

‘The mediating element is the objective nature of the thing’

(Ibid., p. 666).

Hegel’s Logic, Ope cit., pp. 264-65. Emphasis added to last sentence.

See Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (Oxford University Press,
1942), pp. 131ff.

‘It is necessary to help the masses in the process of daily struggle
to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist
programme of revolution. This bridge should include a system of
transitional demands, starting from today’s conditions and
today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and
unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of
power by the proletariat’ (Leon Trotsky, The Death Agony of
Capitalism, New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973, p. 183). Examples mentioned by Trotsky include a sliding scale that ties wages
to price increases, and the demand that firms open their books to
their workers. These demands arise in the context of the
capital/wage labour relation. It is important to note that there are
other sorts of transitional demands that arise in different contexts, such as the demand that all social costs of production be
taken into account, that militarism be overcome, and so on. This
is crucial for the next section of the paper.

Jurgen Habermas defends this position in volume IT of his
Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns (Frankfurt aIM:

Suhrkamp, 1981).

The philosophical critique of identity philosophy is associated
with Theodor Adorno and with contemporary French post-structuralism. See the discussion in Peter Dews, ‘Adorno, Post-Structuralism and the Critique of Identity’, New Left Review 157
(May/JDle 1986).

Hegel’sLogic, ope cit., p. 238.

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