I. Why Did Engels Write Anti-Dühring?
In the 1870s the German professor Eugen Dühring joined the German Social Democratic Party. He made a lot of friends and began interpreting socialism along lines that were new and different and which he thought were more in accord with modern science. Engels' German comrades asked him for clarification on some of these new views as Dühring was starting to collect a following. Engels, however, was busy doing other things. But after three years of requests he decided to write the book Anti-Dühring: Herr Eugen Dühring Revolution in Science. This book became one of the most important of the so-called Marxist "classics" and is a basic foundational document for the understanding of DIAMAT (Dialectical Materialism).
In this article I will make some comments on the prefaces to the work (there are three for the three German editions made in Engels' lifetime) before going on to review the First Part of the work, that devoted to philosophy, to try and situate it in our time at the beginning of the 21st century.
Engels tells us that Anti-Dühring is an extension of the world view first developed by Marx in his book The Poverty of Philosophy, then extended by the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital. To make sure that this solo flight would properly represent their joint philosophy, Engels read aloud the whole manuscript to Marx and the latter even wrote a chapter for the book (chapter ten of part two). I note this because many people today try to divorce the thought of Marx from that of Engels and maintain that Anti-Dühring is a deviation from Marx's philosophical views which were more sophisticated than those of Engels.
In order to write the book, Engels first took eight years to review the math and natural sciences of his day. The reason he did this was to convince himself that the laws of the materialist dialectic of motion which he and Marx had detected at work in history and in the evolution of human consciousness, were equally at work in Nature. These laws were first developed by the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel but, Engels says, in a "mystic form." Once stripped of this form, Marx and Engels were able to apply the dialectical method to both the natural and historical sciences.
Engels was aware that the charge might be made that the dialectic was being forced upon Nature from the outside and that the "facts" were being forced into the straight jacket of the theory. This serious charge is still made today by the bourgeois opponents of Marxism. Engels however says that he did all he could to avoid this:
"to me there could be no question of building the laws of dialectic into nature, but of discovering them in it and evolving them from it."
Engels lived in a time of rapid scientific advance towards the end of the 19th century. Only a few years before he wrote the second preface to his book, he says, the LAW OF THE CONSERVATION OF ENERGY was propounded ("the great basic law of motion") but it was put forth NOT qualitatively but only quantitatively as the "indestructibility and uncreatabilty of motion."
But now (1885-- the time of the second preface) Engels sees a more dialectical approach as scientists are beginning to discuss THE TRANSFORMATION OF ENERGY which when fully understood will remove "the last vestige of an extra mundane creator." A mere ten years after Engel's death (1895) Einstein published his famous equation E=mc2.
Engels says we still see rigid barriers in Nature-- the wave vs particle theory of light had not yet bloomed into quantum physics-- but had he lived I don't think Engels would have been thrown off by such seeming contradictions. Contradiction is the essence of dialectics. He writes that:
"The recognition that these antagonisms and distinctions, though to be found in nature, are only of relative validity, and that on the other hand their imagined rigidity and absolute validity have been introduced into nature only by our reflective minds-- this recognition is the kernel of the dialectical conception of nature."
So, the purpose of the book is to reaffirm the scientific nature of Diamat, to exclude the erroneous accretions of Herr Dühring, and to demonstrate that modern science, including Diamat, is the result of a long tradition of philosophical development whose two poles (as we shall see) include Aristotle and Hegel.
Engels thinks that science must "assimilate the results of the development of philosophy during the past two and half thousand years" to avoid basing itself on some bogus world view [as the Nazi movement later did] and to also get rid of its metaphysical (i.e., mechanistic and non-dialectical) baggage which is "its inheritance from English empiricism."
There are 22 parts to this commentary and next week we cover part II of Anti-Dühring: “The General Introduction.”
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.