Preface to the new edition of Engels’ Dialectics of Nature

As advertised recently, Wellred Books have just republished that classical work of Engels Dialectics of Nature. Here we publish the Preface to the book, in which Rob Sewell outlines some of the most advanced discoveries in scientific study that confirm that dialectics is nothing more than the philosophical expression of the way nature works. Matter, science and society evolve, in which revolution is a natural and essential element. As advertised recently, Wellred Books have just republished that classical work of Engels Dialectics of Nature. Here we publish the Preface to the book, in which Rob Sewell outlines some of the most advanced discoveries in scientific study that confirm that dialectics is nothing more than the philosophical expression of the way nature works. Matter, science and society evolve, in which revolution is a natural and essential element.

Throughout their life-long collaboration, Marx and Engels developed a fascination with the revolutions in modern science, from biology, anatomy and physiology to astronomy, physics and chemistry. While Marx made a special study of mathematics, especially differential and integral calculus, Engels devoted his energies in following the natural sciences.

Ever since his arrival in London in September 1870, Engels was anxious to write a comprehensive work on science and dialectical materialism. "To me there could be no question of building up the laws of dialectics into nature", he said, "but of discovering them in it and evolving them from it." In other words, by scientific research he would reveal the objective dialectics of nature and so demonstrate the universal character of the basic laws of materialist dialectics.

The notes and studies for such a work make up the present fascinating book, Dialectics of Nature - edited and published in 1925, some thirty years after Engels' death. Only two of the articles included in the Dialectics were ever published previously: The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (1896) and Natural Science in the Spirit World (1898). The original book, as perceived by Engels, was never finished.

This was due mainly to the heavy political and theoretical schedule that lay before Engels. At Marx's insistence the revisionist Eugen Dühring had to be thoroughly answered, which resulted in the encyclopaedic Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science, popularly known as Anti-Dühring. After Marx's death, Engels was left with the Herculean task of editing and completing Das Kapital - the only person capable of adequately fulfilling such a task. Aside from this, he wrote two other important classics: Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy and The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.

The close collaboration between Marx and Engels lasted some 40 years. Engels has been regarded somewhat unfairly as the second fiddle in this relationship, a view sometimes fostered by Engels himself. "What I contributed - at any rate with the exception of my work in a few special fields - Marx could very well have done without me", wrote Engels. "What Marx accomplished I would not have achieved. Marx stood higher, saw farther, and took a broader and quicker view than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius; we others were at best men of talent. Without him the theory would be far from what it is today. It therefore rightly bears his name." (1)

Engels was an exceedingly modest man by nature. His extensive contribution to Marxist theory was outstanding, and not just "in a few special fields". His fruitful collaboration with Marx was far from one-sided. He was probably the most widely educated man of his day. He not only had a profound knowledge of economics and history, but his encyclopaedic mind enabled him to discuss the exact meaning of an obscure Latin phrase concerning Roman marriage law, or the reactions taking place when pure zinc is immersed into sulphuric acid. The Selected Correspondence of Marx and Engels illustrates the close affinity between both men.

"This morning in bed the following dialectical points about the natural sciences came into my head", wrote Engels, "The object of science: matter in motion, bodies. Bodies cannot be separated from motion, their forms and kinds can only be apprehended in motion; nothing can be said about bodies divorced from motion, divorced from all relation to other bodies. Only in motion does a body reveal what it is. Hence, natural science obtains knowledge about bodies by examining them in their relationship to each other, in motion. Cognition of the various forms of motion is cognition of bodies. The investigation of these various forms of motion is therefore the chief object of the natural sciences." (2)

Engels saw in the processes of nature a confirmation of the laws of dialectics, of the general laws of change, not only in society and human thought, but also in the external world. His notes on science, compiled in the Dialectics of Nature, were an attempt to comprehend the whole of science from the materialist standpoint.

Lenin, who would later take up the defence of materialist dialectics utilising the revolution in physics, in his Materialism and Empirio-criticism, had little to say on astronomy, geology, chemistry or biology. These scientific fields were however extensively examined by Engels in The Dialectics of Nature, although much of his observations consisted merely of rough notes, which he hoped to correct and expand later.

Many of his manuscripts appear to have been written between 1872 and 1882, a year prior to Marx's death. Readers clearly need a degree of patience with some of the chapters, which deal with the science of more than a hundred years ago. Words such as "force", "motion" and "vis viva" are used, where today we would speak of energy. The chapters on Basic forms of Motion, The Measure of Motion-Work, and Heat deal with controversies over various theories of energy, long resolved. These chapters are interesting from the point of view of how Engels analysed these issues, rather than the issues themselves. The essay on electricity is even more dated, but still revealing.

Needless to say, other parts, most notably the factual data used by Engels, have been rendered obsolete with the rapid progress of natural science. For example, the Kant-Laplace theory of cosmology is outdated. It has been established that the velocity of the electric current cannot exceed that of light. Whereas Engels refers to "albuminous bodies", today we would talk of DNA, RNA and protein molecules. Elsewhere there are incorrect statements in the text, for example in the section on stars and protozoa. With the invention of carbon dating, the estimated time spans used by Engels have also been drastically revised. Engels cannot be blamed for these errors. He simply followed the views of some of the best astronomers and zoologists of his day.

The development of science has vastly increased our knowledge over the last 130 years and many corrections have been introduced into our scientific understanding. It should also be appreciated that the ideas contained in the Dialects of Nature were Engels' preliminary thoughts on different subjects. He even ended the book with the phrase, "All this has to be thoroughly revised." (3) The surprising thing is not that there are mistakes in Engels' work, but how far Engels' ideas have broadly stood the test of time. More importantly, the general method and conception of the book remain completely valid.

Engels' work was recently brought to public attention by none other than Stephen Jay Gould, the celebrated palaeontologist and evolutionary biologist, who praised Engels' "trenchant political analysis of why Western science was so hung up on the a priori assertion of cerebral primacy." (4)

Gould went on to explain, "Engels had a keen interest in the natural sciences and sought to base his general philosophy of dialectical materialism upon a ‘positive' foundation. He did not live to complete his ‘dialectics of nature,' but he included long commentaries on science in such treaties as the Anti-Dühring. In 1876, Engels wrote an essay entitled, The Part Played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man. It was published posthumously in 1896 and, unfortunately, had no visible impact upon Western science." (5)

Today, the Dialectics of Nature should be read in conjunction with its modern counterpart, Reason in Revolt, Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science by Alan Woods and Ted Grant. The latter provides an up-to-date analysis of the latest discoveries of modern science, including chaos theory and complexity theory, from the standpoint of Marxism, and reveals that many of these new trends are strikingly similar to the theories of dialectical materialism worked out by Marx and Engels more than 150 years ago. With each passing day, new discoveries are being made which confirm the non-linear dynamics of science, in other words, the dialectical workings of nature.

The latest developments in physics, including the new theory of Ubiquity, have revealed new "power-laws" remarkably similar to the laws of dialectics. Ubiquity theory explains that everything tends towards a state of non-equilibrium, i.e. a critical state. This corresponds to the concept of quantity into quality (and vice versa) in dialectics, where quantitative changes at a certain critical point result in a qualitative change.

According to Mark Buchanan in his book on the subject, "... catastrophe theory, despite its provocative name, has very little to say about the workings of anything like the earth's crust, an economy, or an ecosystem. In these things, where thousands or millions of elements interact, what is important is the overall collective organisation and behaviour. To understand things of this sort, one needs a theory that applies generally to networks of interacting things, something for which catastrophe theory is ill prepared." (6)

He continues: "At the heart of our story, then, lies the discovery that networks of things of all kinds-atoms, molecules, species, people, and even ideas-have a marked tendency to organise themselves along similar lines. On the basis of this insight, scientists are finally beginning to fathom what lies behind tumultuous events of all sorts, and to see patterns at work where they have never seen them before." (7).

If you compare what Engels wrote 130 years earlier, you can clearly recognise the parallels. "The general nature of dialectics to be developed as a science of interconnections, in contrast to metaphysics ", wrote Engels in the Dialectics of Nature (8). Again, "Dialectics as the science of universal inter-connection." (9) Dialectical thinking considers things "in their interconnection, in their sequence, their movement, their birth and their death." (10). "The great basic thought that the world is to be comprehended not as a complex of ready-made things but as a complex of processes, in which apparently stable things no less than the concepts, their mental reflections in our heads, go through an uninterrupted change of coming into being and passing away..." (11).

Engels furnishes us with an outline of the main laws of dialectics: "transformation of quantity and quality-mutual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes-development through contradiction or negation of the negation-spiral form of development." (12) While each level of development is governed by its own specific laws, these merge with the higher general laws of motion governing all spheres of existence and development, as outlined by Engels.

"If one wants to learn about the rhythms of history (or, shall we say, its dis-rhythms), one might just as well become familiar with the process by which, say, earthquakes happen", states Buchanan. According to him, "the critical state does indeed seem to be ubiquitous in our world." (13). For physicists, the heart of this concept is "non-equilibrium physics" or "the physics of complex systems". Marxists have consistently drawn comparisons between revolutions in history and upheavals and catastrophes in nature, whereby slow gradual changes result at a certain point in explosive developments, where quantity changes into quality. Again, physicists describe the point of transition as a "phase transition". "When ice melts in a gin and tonic, or when a puddle evaporates and is lost to the air, these too are phase transitions: each being the transformation of a substance from one form or ‘phase' to another. In every case, there is a change in the internal workings of the stuff, as its atoms or molecules organise themselves differently." (14).

Let us again compare this to Engels: "The rock comes to rest, but weathering, the action of the ocean surf, of rivers and glacier action continually destroys the equilibrium. Evaporation and rain, wind, heat, electric and magnetic phenomena offer the same spectacle. Finally, in the living organism we see continual motion of all the smallest particles as well as of the larger organs, resulting in the continual equilibrium of the total organism during normal period of life, which yet always remains in motion, the living unity of motion and equilibrium. All equilibrium is only relative and temporary." (15)

Studies were made in the 1960s of the changes from vapour to liquid of substances as diverse as oxygen, neon and carbon monoxide. Each critical state can be expressed through a power-law with its own mathematical number. There are many different critical states, each with a different critical number. However, researchers found while comparing the changes in diverse elements, exactly the same critical numbers repeatedly occurred. In the 1970s, Leo Kadanoff, a physicist from the University of Chicago, put his finger on the explanation:

"In studying the critical numbers that pop up in the critical states for different phase transitions, Kadanoff found that the basic physical dimension of the thing in question, of the very space in which it lives, is one of the factors that matters. He also found that only one other detail seems to matter, this being the general shape of the individual elements. In a gas of xenon, for example, each atom is like a tiny billiard ball. It can move around, but it can't point. In a magnet, the atoms are like arrows, and can ‘do' more since they can potentially point in lots of directions. When the individual elements have more options, you can imagine that it is harder for order to propagate from one place to another. Sure enough, this detail also affects the precise form of the self-similarity in the critical state.

"Incredibly, however, Kadanoff found that nothing else whatsoever seemed to matter. So forget the atomic masses and the electrical charges of the particles involved. Forget whether those particles are atoms of oxygen, nitrogen, krypton or iron. Forget even whether they are made of single atoms or are more complicated molecules made of several or even a hundred atoms. Forget everything, in fact, about the kinds of particles and how strongly or weakly they interact with one another. None of these details affects the organisation of the critical state even a tiny bit. Physicists refer to this considerable miracle as critical state universality, and it has now been supported by thousands of experiments and computer simulations.

"In the critical state, the forces of order and chaos battle to an uneasy balance, neither ever fully winning or losing. And the character of the battle, and the perpetually shifting and changing strife to which it leads, is the same regardless of almost every last detail of the things involved." (16)

Not surprisingly, other branches of science have also come very close to the concepts of dialectical materialism. Stephen Gould and Niles Eldredge both came forward with the revolutionary theory of "punctuated equilibria", which explained evolution not as some slow, steady, gradual change for the better, as outlined by orthodox Darwinism, but a process full of leaps, breaks and transformations. This challenged the dominant Darwinian view of gradualism. Although Gould and Eldredge are not Marxists, they were certainly influence by materialist dialectics. "I am no Marxist", wrote Niles Eldredge, "and neither for that matter is Steve; learning and adoption are two different things." (17)

Eldredge went on to explain that new dialectical models on the lines of punctuated equilibria have turned up throughout science: "I am still not quite sure what to make of the zeitgeist of our own times, in which, quite apart from Marxism (or so I believe), paradigms similar to punctuated equilibria have shown up in a wide range of academic pursuits. Before us, there was the celebrated case of Thomas Kuhn, whose Structure of Scientific Revolutions became a best-seller in the early 1970s. His central thesis was essentially that science proceeds as status quo paradigms in stasis, integrated by rapid events that finally throw out the old paradigm in favour of a new one that handles all the anomalies swept under the table by its predecessor. Catastrophe theory, similarly, became a hot topic in mathematics as the 1970s wore on. Archaeology and political science have also seen new theories emerging along similar lines (some, I am happy to report, explicitly derived from punctuated equilibria). There may well be a general reaction against models stressing smooth, linear continuity emerging in the intellectual community generally-models of which punctuated equilibria is but one example." (18)

In his criticism of Charles L. Lumsden and Edward O. Wilson, Stephen Gould made use of Engels' brilliant essay on human evolution contained in the Dialectics of Nature, which has clearly stood the test of time.

"Ironically, for the man's work is anathema to Wilson, who senses the evil influence of Marxism behind all radical criticism of his socio-biology, the best nineteenth-century case for gene-culture co-evolution was made by Frederich Engels in his remarkable essay of 1876 (posthumously published in the Dialectics of Nature), The part played by labour in the transition from ape to man.

"Engels, following Haeckel's outline as his guide, argues that upright posture must precede the brain's enlargement because major mental improvement requires an impetus provided by evolving culture. Thus, freeing the hands for inventing tools (‘labour' in Engels's committed terminology) came first, then selective pressures for articulate speech, since, with tools, ‘men in the making arrived at the point where they had something to say to one another,' and finally sufficient impetus for a notable (and genetically based) enlargement of the brain:

" ‘First labour, after it, and then with it, articulate speech-these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man.'

"An enlarged brain (biology, or genes in later parlance) then fed back upon tools and language (culture), improving them in turn and setting the basis for further growth of the brain-the positive feedback loop of gene-culture co-evolution:

" ‘The reaction on labour and speech of the development of the brain and its attendant senses, of the increasing clarity of consciousness, power of abstraction and of judgment, gave an ever-renewed impulse to the further development of both labour and speech.'" (19).

In the field of biology, Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin have championed the dialectical approach. In fact their book, The Dialectical Biologist, published in 1985, was specifically dedicated to the memory of Fredrick Engels. Although Engels was limited by the material at his disposal at the time, recent science has confirmed his outlook in so far as "opposing forces lie at the base of the evolving physical and biological world." (20).

"The dialectical view insists that persistence and equilibrium are not the natural state of things but require explanation, which must be sought in the actions of the opposing forces", state Levin and Lewontin. "The conditions under which the opposing forces balance and the system as a whole is in stable equilibrium are quite special. They require the simultaneous satisfaction of as many mathematical relations as there are variables in the system, usually expressed as inequalities among the parameters of that system.

"If these parameters remain within the prescribed limits, then external events producing small shifts among the variables will be erased by the self-regulating processes of stable systems. Thus in humans the level of blood sugar is regulated by the rate at which sugar is released into the blood by the digestion of carbohydrates, the rate at which stored glycogen, fat, or protein is converted into sugar, and the rate at which sugar is removed and utilised. Normally, if the blood sugar level rises, then the rate of utilisation is increased by release of more insulin from the pancreas. If the level of blood sugar falls, more sugar is released into the blood, or the person gets hungry and eats some source of sugar. The result is that the blood sugar level is kept not constant but within tolerable limits. So far we are dealing with the familiar patterns of homeostasis, the negative feedback that characterises all self-regulation. However, the pancreas might respond weakly to a high sugar level, which could result in diabetic coma. Or the blood sugar level may fall so low that the person is incapable of eating.

"The opposing forces are seen as contradictory in the sense that each taken separately would have opposite effects, and their joint action may be different from the result of either acting alone. So far, the object may seem to be the passive victim of these opposing forces. However, the principle that all things are internally heterogeneous directs our attention to the opposing processes at work within the object. These opposing processes can now be seen as part of the self-regulation and development of the objective. The relations among the stabilising and destabilising processes become themselves the objects of interests, and the original object is seen as a system, a network of positive and negative feedbacks." (21)

Dialectics of Nature deals extensively with such problems of dialectics as causality, necessity and chance. Here Engels criticises the one-sided outlook of the scientific establishment, its "commonsense" philosophy, and its metaphysics, which treats chance and necessity as two separate entities, with one or the other taking precedence. "In contrast to both conceptions, Hegel came forward with the hitherto quite unheard-of propositions that the accidental has a cause because it is accidental, and just as much also has no cause because it is accidental," stated Engels (22). In other words, necessity is inseparably linked to accident and expresses itself through accident.

According to Engels, it was this method of looking at things that allowed Darwin to make his epoch-making discovery. "Precisely the infinite, accidental differences between individuals within a single species", stated Engels, "differences which become accentuated until they break through the character of the species, and whose immediate causes even can be demonstrated only in extremely few cases, compelled him to question the previous basis of all regularity in biology, viz. the concept of species in its previous metaphysical rigidity and unchangeability. Without this concept of species, however, all science was nothing." (23)

The theory of Ubiquity also ventures into many different fields, even touching on human history and human behaviour, including free will. "Once you become accustomed to the idea, it is not so hard to accept that the essential logic of the critical state might arise in simple physical things such as a pile of grains, or even in the rocks of the earth's crust or the trees of the forest, where definite physical laws control how activity spreads from one place to another", states Buchanan.

"When the stress becomes too great somewhere along a fault, the rock slips, shifting stress onto the rocks further down the line. In cases such as this, there is no need to reckon with anything so ineffable and capricious as a thought or an emotion. But once people become involved, things are not so simple... aren't we making a dangerous leap in supposing that the critical state has anything to do with human history?" (24)

"... To understand any particular revolution, historians surely need to study all the social conditions from which it springs. To understand what makes a person take up arms, go on strike or decide not to have children, the historian indeed has to try to get inside that person's mind, and weigh up all the social pressures and influences to which the person is responding. Only in this way can the historian come to understand what sparked a revolution, as many people's actions followed in some understandable way from the conditions they were in. But the historian really needs also to know more about the way in which influences of all kinds can propagate through a population. To understand why mass movements are not rare and history is as interesting and as varied as it is, we need to understand the character of the critical state." (25)

After looking at examples, ranging from the making of trails to the movement of populations, the author concludes "there can be a mathematics for people. It cannot tell you, of course, what any one person will do, and yet it may be able to say what kind of patterns are likely to emerge out of the millions." He goes on to explain, "One of the messages of universality is that understanding something often means looking past the surface details to spy the deeper logic beneath."

Here the proponents of Ubiquity are attempting to come to grips with concepts dealt with by George Fredrick Hegel some 200 years ago. Hegel talks of understanding not only the "appearance" but also the "essence" of things, not in isolation but in their inter-connections, in their endless action and reaction. This is the deeper logic that lies beneath the surface of things. We need to understand things in their movement and change, their identity and difference, their contradictory nature, which is the essence of things.

"Necessity has been defined, and rightly so, as the union of possibility and actuality", stated Hegel. Necessity is blind only as long as it is not understood. Freedom and necessity are not mutually exclusive, but intrinsically bound together. Hegel was the first to understand this relationship. To him, freedom is the appropriation of necessity. It means no independence from natural laws, but knowledge of such laws, allowing them to work for us. The more we understand, the greater is our freedom.

"In this way, necessity is transfigured into freedom, not the freedom that consists in abstract negation, but freedom concrete and positive. From which we may learn what a mistake it is to regard freedom and necessity as mutually exclusive. Necessity indeed qua necessity is far from being freedom: yet freedom presupposes necessity, and contains it as an unsubstantial element in itself... In short, man is most independent when he knows himself to be determined by the absolute idea throughout." (26)

Hegel's reference to the "absolute idea" is but an idealistic expression for objective necessity. Freedom does not exist in the illusion of independence from these natural laws. As Engels explained, it is blind only so long as it is not understood. Freedom comes through the knowledge of these laws, and the possibility of making them work in a particular way towards a definite end. "Freedom therefore consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature, a control founded on knowledge of natural necessity", wrote Engels.

We cannot circumvent the laws of nature, but through knowledge we can make them work for us. The more we extend this knowledge, the more we begin to conquer nature. Today, we have no control over the weather, and can only predict the weather with accuracy no more that three or four days in advance. However, in the future, with increased understanding of this non-linear system, we can begin to influence and eventually control our weather patterns. Until that time, we remain slaves of blind necessity.

With every step forward in "regulating" nature, new freedoms are opened up. Marx explained that the shortening of the working day was a precondition for true freedom, meaning that it allowed time for people to develop their physical and mental potential to the full. For Engels, the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism meant the leap from the Realm of Necessity to the Realm of Freedom, where conscious planning replaces the anarchy of production.

Buchanan makes an interesting observation: "After a great discovery, scientists suddenly see everywhere that which they had never seen before." (27) For a long time, false philosophical ideas have exercised a negative influence on scientists. Now, in a number of fields, they have stumbled upon a dialectical view of nature, although many still refuse to call it by its correct name:

"If many historians [and scientists - RS] have searched for gradual trends or cycles as a way of finding meaning and making sense of history, they were using the wrong tools. These notions arise in equilibrium physics and astronomy. The proper tools are to be found in non-equilibrium physics, which is specifically tuned to understanding things in which history matters." (28)

It is this accidental discovery of a non-linear (that is, dialectical) view, which has opened up all kinds of new possibilities and allowed scientists to see things in a different way, in their interconnection and contradiction.

Causality exists in nature, and objective laws govern the whole of nature. This represents objective necessity within the material world, and is not an arbitrary invention of the human mind. There exists a natural, objective interconnection between the phenomena of the world. Engels speaks of the "law of nature", of the "necessities of nature". These laws assert themselves unconsciously "in the form of external necessity in the midst of an endless series of seeming accidents." (Engels). Such accidents are things or events, whose interconnection is so remote that we regard them as non-existent or negligible.

Dialectical thinking, which has grown out of the dialectics of nature, gives us a far deeper comprehension of things. By a process of successive approximations, permitting more precise concretisations, and giving thought a richness of content, human thought comes ever closer to living phenomena.

The dialectic is materialist, because its roots are deep in objective reality, in nature. There is no place in this system for Heaven, Hell or the immortal soul. There exists only the material world, made up of infinite processes and not motionless categories. Consciousness grew out of the unconscious, psychology out of physiology, the organic world out of the inorganic, and the solar system out of the nebulae. In essence, this constitutes the materialist view of nature.

The movement towards a dialectical view of nature by a number of leading scientists is of fundamental importance. It marks a shift away from the mysticism that has crept into a number of scientific areas such as cosmology and some branches of theoretical physics. It cuts right across all attempts to reconcile science with religion, of which there are numerous examples.

The physicist Stephen Hawking concluded his best seller, A Brief History of Time, with the words "the ultimate triumph of human reason" was "to know the Mind of God". Paul Davis, another physicist, talks in his book, The Mind of God, of the need to embrace "the mystical path". Even Ilya Prigogine concludes his very good book with "time is a construction and therefore carries an ethical responsibility" and makes references to the "God of Genesis". The Catholic Church has embraced the "Big Bang" as evidence of the Creation, while the President of the United States, George W. Bush, the most powerful person on the planet, has openly embraced Intelligent Design-another way of saying Creationism-the clearest example of Christian fundamentalism masquerading as science.

The republication of the Dialectics of Nature, a classic in its own right, is a welcome addition to the arsenal of the new scientific revolution. It will also help provide the philosophical weapons needed in the fight against religious obscurantism, and arm the new generation with the scientific outlook of modern dialectical materialism. This will enable us to attain a better understanding of the world in which we live. Such an understanding is the prior condition for a successful struggle to change the world, to rid it of poverty, hunger and war, and to make it a fit place for people to live in.

Preface to the new edition of Engels’ Dialectics of Nature
Buy the book from Wellred

"Philosophers have interpreted the world", stated Marx long ago. "The point however is to change it." However, we leave the last word to Fredrick Engels who to the end of his life displayed such an undying optimism for the future of humankind:

"With man we enter history. Animals also have a history, that of their descent and gradual evolution to their present position. This history, however, is made for them, and in so far as they themselves take part in it, this occurs without their knowledge and desire. On the other hand, the more that human beings become removed from animals in the narrower sense of the word, the more they make their history themselves, consciously, the less becomes the influence of unforeseen effects and uncontrolled forces on this history, and the more accurately does the historical result correspond to the aim laid down in advance. If, however, we apply this measure to human history, to that of even the most advanced peoples of the present day, we find that there still exists here a colossal disproportion between the proposed aims and the results arrived at, that unforeseen effects predominate, and that the uncontrolled forces are far more powerful than those set into motion according to plan. And this cannot be otherwise as long as the most essential historical activity of men, the one which has raised them from the animal to the human state and which forms the material foundation of all their other activities, namely the production of their requirements of life, i.e., in our day social production, is above all subject to the interplay of unintended effects from uncontrolled forces and achieves its desired end only by way of exception, but much more frequently the exact opposite. In the most advanced industrial countries we have subdued the forces of nature and pressed them into the service of mankind; we have thereby infinitely multiplied production, so that a child now produces more than a hundred adults previously did. And what is the result? Increasing overwork and increasing misery of the masses, and every ten years a great collapse. Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind, and especially on his countrymen, when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest historical achievement, is the normal state of the animal kingdom. Only conscious organisation of social production, in which production and distribution are carried on in a planned way, can lift mankind above the rest of the animal world as regards the social aspect, in the same way that production in general has done this for mankind in the specific biological aspect. Historical evolution makes such an organisation daily more indispensable, but also with every day more possible. From it will date a new epoch of history, in which mankind itself, and with mankind all branches of its activity, and particularly natural science, will experience an advance that will put everything preceding it in the deepest shade." (29).

Rob Sewell

London, October 2006


(1) Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, p.361, 1970

(2) Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol.44, p.500

(3) Engels, Dialectics of Nature, p.316

(4) Gould, Ever Since Darwin, p.211, London 1981

(5) Ibid, p.210

(6) Buchanan, Ubiquity, p.14, London 2001, my emphasis

(7) Ibid, p.14

(8) Engels, Dialectics of Nature, my emphasis, p.63

(9) Ibid, p.17

(10) Engels, Anti-Dühring, p.29, London, Marxist-Leninist Library

(11) Marx and Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 3, p.362

(12) Engels, Dialectics of Nature, p.17

(13) Buchanan, p.13

(14) Ibid, p.74

(15) Engels, Dialectics of Nature, pp.249-250

(16) Buchanan, p.81-82

(17) Eldredge, Reinventing Darwin, p.102, London 1995

(18) Ibid, p.103

(19) Gould, An Urchin in the Storm, pp.111-112, London 1987

(20) Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin, The Dialectical Biologist, p.280, 1985

(21) Ibid, pp.280-281

(22) Engels, Dialectics of Nature, p.223

(23) Ibid, p.224

(24) Buchanan, p.153

(25) Ibid, p.194-195

(26) GWF Hegel, The Doctrine of Essence, Hegel Selections, p.214, 1929

(27) Buchanan, p.87

(28) Ibid, p.17

(29) Engels, Dialectics of Nature, pp.35-36