Chapter XIII [On Philosophy]: Engels on the Negation of the Negation
It seems that Herr Dühring approves of Marx's discussion of primitive accumulation at the end of Vol. I of Das Kapital: he calls it "relatively the best part of Marx's book." However, he has one big objection, viz., that Marx uses the "dialectical crutch" of "Hegelian verbal jugglery" to explain how private property will become social property. That verbal jugglery consists of the Hegelian concept of "the negation of the negation."
Herr Dühring thinks Marx ends up spouting nonsense since that is what "must necessarily spring" from using "Hegelian dialectics as the scientific basis" of one's discussion. This upsets Engels, but Dühring could take comfort from the fact that most bourgeois economists today would agree with him. In fact, it is because they agree with him that most of them themselves spout nonsense.
Before getting down to the nitty-gritty of the negation of the negation, Engels wants to take Dühring to task for thinking Marx was spouting nonsense when he spoke of property being both individual AND social at the same time.
Engels now explains the meaning of Marx's notion of property being both individually and socially owned at the same time. This problem comes up in Chapter 32 of volume one of DAS KAPITAL ("Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation").
In this chapter Marx details how the growth of capitalism led to the concentration of workers into factories and their loss of their own tools (which as individual craftsmen they formerly owned) resulting in their dependence on the capitalists not only for employment but also for the tools with which to work.
This development of capitalism is the FIRST NEGATION , with respect to the workers, of private property-- i.e., they lose their means of production to the capitalists (their tools and handicraft properties. But capitalism brings about its own negation (the SECOND NEGATION). This means that it gives birth to socialism as a result of its own internal contradictions ("with the inexorability of a law of Nature"). Thus Marx says: "It is the negation of the negation." [The "It" is socialism.]
"This does not, " Marx writes, "re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisitions of the capitalist era: i.e., on co-operation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production."
So, Engels maintains, Herr Dühring is way off the mark by calling that notion of Marx's a lot of contradictory Hegelian nonsense. Engels says, "To anyone who understands plain talk this means that social ownership extends to the land and other means of production, and individual ownership to the products, that is, the articles of consumption."
How can Dühring be so confused with regard to Marx's meaning? He misquotes Marx's words over and over again. Engels decides it is either because Dühring can't understand Marx, or he is quoting him from memory and getting it wrong.
It is important to realize that Marx is not using dialects in a mechanical fashion to construct his description of capitalism. Marx's famous observation, in this chapter of Das Kapital, that "One capitalist always kills many" and that capitalism should lead to socialism, is the result of an EMPIRICAL investigation of the capitalist mode of production. Due to competition and monopoly, capitalist concentration leads to the domination of a few big corporations, over production and to the relative impoverishment of the working masses.
These masses, however, have been trained to work in large socialized industrial enterprises which run on principles of specialization of functions and cooperation of labor. It is a small step from this capitalist set up to socialism. Only the private ownership of these effectively socialized means of production needs to be replaced by public ownership.
Only eleven years ago, in the Spring of 2010, General Motors Corporation was already a virtually socialized enterprise (60% owned by the American people due to the government bail out). It was only the lack of a socialist consciousness in the working class that allowed GM to remain under capitalist control and still allows representatives of the capitalist class to be elected to positions of governance in the US.
What Marx showed was that this process of change by which the petty producers were eliminated and replaced by the capitalist enterprises has now developed to the point where capitalism has, as Engels says, "likewise itself created the material conditions from which it must perish." [It's taking its sweet time about it.]
The point is that this is an HISTORICAL PROCESS, and Engels says "if it is at the same time a dialectical process, this is not Marx's fault, however annoying it may be to Herr Dühring."
This means that Marx is not appealing to the NEGATION OF THE NEGATION to demonstrate the historical necessity of the transformation of capitalism into socialism. He is doing just the opposite according to Engels. He is showing, by an appeal to history, that such a transformation is already under way and that this is the trend of future development. Only after doing this does Marx also point out this development can be described as well "in accordance with a definite dialectical law." He is NOT saying the law determines this development. E=mc2 does not determine that mass and energy are interchangeable, but that they are allows us to discover that E=mc2. Failure to realize this shows "Herr Dühring's total lack of understanding of the nature of dialectics."
Engels proceeds to give several examples of dialectical thinking that exemplify the negation of the negation. For example, in olden times there was common ownership of land which was negated by private property and all the attendant evils of that negation are currently manifest in our time and can only be eliminated by a negation of the negation (socialism).
Engels discusses how this was seen by Rousseau as far back as the middle of the 18th century, and although he did not know the "Hegelian jargon" he nevertheless developed "a line of thought which corresponds exactly to the one developed in Marx's CAPITAL." Let's look at the work Engels refers to.
Rousseau wrote the DISCOURSE ON THE ORIGIN OF INEQUALITY in 1755. Unlike most of the thinkers of the Enlightenment Rousseau thinks that the development of civilization, the growth of private property and individualism have led to the intensification of human inequality rather than being forces for the growth of liberty, equality and fraternity.
The invention of agriculture brought about the concept of property and the idea of justice to ensure the rights of people with respect to it. It is not possible, Rousseau says, “to conceive how property can come from anything but manual labor.”
But once property in land and its products was introduced, greed, competition, the desire to accumulate the produce and labors of others was also introduced. “All these evils were the first effects of property, and the inseparable attendants of growing inequality.”
We must remember that in the state of nature there is no “right” to property other than what a person, by his/her own labor can extract for the necessities of life. The growth of private property, the development of classes, the foundation of the state and laws to protect private property represent a negation of the original existential condition of humanity vis a vis nature.
Now, under the rule of law and living in a state, how do the rich and powerful few prevent the many, the poor and oppressed, from asserting their rights to their own labor and the natural use of the products of nature? That is, how do they keep their negation of the natural state from being negated?
Rousseau says “the rich man, thus urged by necessity, conceived at length the profoundest plan that ever entered the mind of man: this was to employ in his favor the forces of those who attacked him, to make allies of his adversaries, to inspire them with different maxims and to give them other institutions as favorable to himself as the law of nature was unfavorable.”
This was done by appealing to all to join together in forming a society based on laws designed to protect everyone from everyone. Here is what we should do, said the first usurpers of the common property of humanity: “Let us, in a word, instead of turning our forces against ourselves, collect them in a supreme power which may govern us by wise laws, protect and defend all the members of the association, repulse their common enemies, and maintain eternal harmony among us.”
Well this certainly sounds good. Liberty and Justice for All-- who could be against that. Throw in motherhood and apple pie and you have an unbeatable formula. Thus, Rousseau says, “All ran headlong to their chains, in hope of securing their liberty.”
This was, "or may have been," Rousseau says, "the origin of society and law." This was a clever set up pulled off by the rich. Engels would suggest, I am sure, that it was probably not consciously done. This scenario is a retroactive description based on a rational analysis of the consequences of the agricultural revolution. Rousseau lacked the vocabulary, as did Enlightenment intellectuals in general, to describe these historical developments as purely objective developments. This vocabulary would have to await Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx.
The result of the negation of individuals living in a state of nature was the appearance of civilization and the existence of numerous independent political organizations which recreated the conditions of the state of nature but now, on a higher level, between states and peoples.
One need only turn to the daily press to read about the outrages in Afghanistan, the rape of Iraq for its oil, or the constant bullying of small states by powerful ones to see the truth of Rousseau's words that this change is responsible for "national wars, battles, murders, and reprisals, which shock nature and outrage reason; together with all those horrible prejudices which class among the virtues the honor of shedding human blood. The most distinguished men hence learned to consider cutting each other's throats a duty; at length men massacred their fellow-creatures by thousands without so much as knowing why, and committed more murders in a single day's fighting, and more violent outrages in the sack of a single town, than were committed in the state of nature during whole ages over the whole earth." Well, this is where we find ourselves today. I hope left-center unity will get us out of here to a better place but the center usually does not hold.
The remedy to this state of affairs, the negation of the negation, is the abolition of private property and the establishment of a world socialist order. The heroic attempt, and temporary defeat, to establish this order in the last century reminds us of the immense difficulty involved in this task, but it in no way diminishes the need to do it. Maybe China will succeed where the Soviet Union failed.
Engels gives several other examples of the negation of the negation for the edification of Herr Dühring but I think his point is sufficiently clear. He concludes his discussion of philosophy (part one of Anti-Dühring) with a brief conclusion (Chapter XIV) which is that Herr Dühring has absolutely nothing of importance to say about philosophy. Nevertheless, as we have seen, he served as a useful foil for Engels to give a fine presentation of Marxist philosophy.
Next week we will look at Chapter I Part II of Anti-Dühring (Political Economy
About the Author:
Thomas Riggins is a retired philosophy teacher (NYU, The New School of Social Research, among others) who received a PhD from the CUNY Graduate Center (1983). He has been active in the civil rights and peace movements since the 1960s when he was chairman of the Young People's Socialist League at Florida State University and also worked for CORE in voter registration in north Florida (Leon County). He has written for many online publications such as People's World and Political Affairs where he was an associate editor. He also served on the board of the Bertrand Russell Society and was president of the Corliss Lamont chapter in New York City of the American Humanist Association.