Nothing can be understood, as Adorno said of Hegel, in isolation from the whole:
‘in the context of the whole, but with the awkward qualification that the whole in turn lives only in the individual moments. In actuality, however, this kind of doubleness of the dialectic eludes literary presentation’ (Adorno 1963 Hegel: Three Studies – in the third one)
But the thing is that we can also cite Adorno’s aphorism from Minima Moralia that ‘the whole is the untrue’, and be sure here that although Marx now reveals the secret of value, this is, also, untrue. It is neither correct except insofar as a great numb of conditioning factors are held aside, nor is it incorrect, but it certainly is in need of supplementing. Without Hegel, and I would say without Adorno to guide a reading of Hegel, there is no chance of getting Marx. Lenin says as much as well.
Adorno’s Hegel is important for example when he says that Hegel does not fall for the uncritical facade:
‘there are good reasons why the dialectic of essence and appearance is moved to the centre of the Logic. This needs to be remembered at a time when those who administer the dialectic in it’s materialist version, the official thought of the East Bloc, have debased it to an unreflective copy theory’ Adorno Three Studies p8
We should be wary of appearances for sure, but also of essences. The essentializing character of seeking out value, or the tool, or the primitive instinct, over against the essence of human creative labour as architect, even the worst architect. Mediation has to be kept alive here, as perhaps a labour of thought. It is not a middle term, but it brings thinking to life between essence and appearance, and it is a permanent confrontation, this dialectic. It is not a world view (Adorno Three Studies p9)
Marx had said of the Phenomenology, as Adorno notes, that in it Hegel had grasped the nature of labour and man as the result of his labour. This labour is social, labour as something for something, or someone, else (Adorno Three Studies p18). This is quite a thing, to suggest Hegel’s spirit is social labour
‘the crucial connection between the concepts of desire and Labour removes the latter from the position of a mere analogy to the abstract active of the abstract spirit. Labour in the full sense is in fact tied to desire, which it in turn negates; it satisfies the needs of human beings on all levels, helps them without their difficulties, reproduces human life, and demands sacrifices if them in turn’ (Adorno Three Studies p22)
But idealism is mistaken to turn the totality of labour into something existing in itself as metaphysical principle, as if social labour could be conceives as separate fro nature on which it depends. No nature as such either, of course, and no abstract desire. We do not talk of human nature, nor think there are universal needs.
Adorno quotes Marx on nature and labour from the Critique of the Gotha Programme, ‘labour is not the sours of all wealth. Nature is just as much the source of use-values’ (in Adorno Three Studies p23) even as Marx notes this is both ‘correct’ and a bourgeois children’s book phrasing that cannot be left without a comment or two about the way in which humanity works with nature and that any suggestion that nature is a basis for subordinating those who only have their labour power to sell to be compelled to sell it ‘as a slave of other men who have made themselves the owners of the material conditions of labour’ (in Adorno Three Studies p 24)
This is followed by a critique of Hegel,s idealism in which labour is detached and becomes ideology as an inherent value. Adorno mentions the section on lord and bondsman but passes quickly rather to Hegel’s comments on religion and ‘spirit as artificer’, as labour, as an instinctive operation ‘like the building of a honeycomb by the bees’ (Hegel in Adorno Three Studies p24). To this inclusion of labour in spirit Adorno suggests ‘only a little more would be needed – remembrance of the simultaneously mediated and irrevocably natural moment of labour – and the Hegelian dialectic would reveal its identity and speak it’s own name’ (Adorno Three Studies p25)
Still, at least we can see where Marx got his interest in bees.
Hegel, in Phenomenology of Spirit, in the section on The Artificer, writes:
‘SPIRIT, therefore, here appears, as an artificer, and its action whereby it produces itself as object but without having as yet grasped the thought of itself is an instinctive operation, like the building of a honeycomb by bees
The first form, because it is immediate, is the abstract form of the Understanding, and the work is not yet in its own self filled with spirit. The crystals of pyramids and obelisks, simple combinations of straight lines with plane surfaces and equal proportions of parts, in which the incommensurability of the round is destroyed, these are the works of this artificer of rigid form. On account of the merely abstract intelligibleness of the form, the significance of the work is not in the work itself, is not the spiritual self. Thus either the works receive Spirit into them only as an alien, departed spirit that has forsaken its living saturation with reality and, being itself dead, takes up its abode in this lifeless crystal; or they have an external relation to Spirit’ p421