Tuesday, November 30, 2010


(Reflections on Chapter 1 Part 2 of Anti-Dühring)

Thomas Riggins

What is the subject matter and method of political economy according to Engels? First, though, what is political economy? Today we tend to teach economics as a special discipline and political science as another separate subject. This is an attempt by the bourgeoisie to keep politics and economics independent of one another. Marx and Engels, as did most nineteenth century thinkers, thought they were closely interrelated.

Political economy for Engels was the study of the laws governing the PRODUCTION and EXCHANGE “of the material means of subsistence in human society." While production and exchange are human functions they are intimately related to each other and have a reciprocal causative relationship.

However, there are many different ways to carry out production and exchange and they vary from society to society and culture to culture. Thus: “Political economy is therefore essentially a HISTORICAL science.”
By which Engels means its laws are not like those of physics-- the same for all-- but conditioned by historical circumstances.

Nevertheless there are some general statements that can made. For example, Engels thinks it doesn’t matter what society you are dealing with the modes of production and exchange will CONDITION the way the society distributes its social product.

He says large and small scale farming always have very different distribution patterns. This is because the former is associated with class struggle (masters and slaves, lords and serfs, capitalists and wage slaves) while the latter can exist without class struggle (i.e., without classes).

Modern large scale industry can be contrasted with Medieval local handicraft production controlled by guilds. The latter lacks large capitalists and permanent wage slaves and the former is, along with the modern credit system and "free competition" (the exchange form of modern industry and credit) responsible for both these new classes.

Differences in distribution leads to CLASS DIFFERENCES and the development of the STATE which originally came about to defend small groups from external aggression and to protect the common interests (irrigation systems in the East according to Engels). As classes begin to develop the state takes on another function, that "of maintaining by force the conditions of existence and domination of the ruling class against the subject class."

New forms of distribution are not simply neutral developments of the interaction of the MODE OF PRODUCTION and the FORM OF EXCHANGE. In fact as new modes of production and exchange develop the old forms of distribution, the state, and the laws act as drags trying to
maintain the older forms of distribution. The new mode production and exchange faces a long struggle before it can cast off the older forms of distribution.

Engels thought that capitalism, in his time about three hundred years old, was undergoing just such an antithesis in its forms of distribution which was leading to its downfall. He described the antithesis as follows: on the one hand CONCENTRATION OF CAPITAL at one pole of society (that of the bourgeoisie) and at the other pole CONCENTRATION OF THE PROPERTYLESS MASSES without much capital into cities and towns.
He thought that as far a capitalism goes this double concentration "must of necessity bring about its downfall."

Well, Engels' timing was a bit off and the development of monopoly capitalism (modern imperialism), two world wars, premature revolutions in underdeveloped regions of the world, and the development of vast new markets in the third world have postponed the day of reckoning.

Capitalism is now over four hundred fifty years old and the CONCENTRATIONS Engels spoke of are even greater and more unstable. Capitalism has, in fact, run out of places to go and can no longer rely on the expansion of new markets to pull it out of the disruptions and market collapse caused by cyclical overproduction. The DOWNFALL expected by Engels is once again on the agenda and the current inability of the US, Europe, Japan, and much of the rest of the world to overcome the present world wide capitalist crisis means that the final conflict may be closer than any of us thinks.

As long as capitalist production is on the rise everyone, Engels says, welcomes it, even the victims of its way of distributing its products. Capitalism just seems to be the way economics works. The first hints that something is wrong with the system does NOT come from "the exploited masses themselves"-- it comes from "within the ruling class itself." Engels gives as examples the great utopians Saint-Simon, Fourier and Owen.

The appearance of these early objectors indicates that the system has reached the top of its curve and is just beginning to decline. The utopians became aware of the horrible conditions of living the system was forcing upon its wage slaves and were full of moral indignation. But, Engels says, "moral indignation, however justifiable, cannot serve economic science as an argument, but only as a symptom."

If capitalist horrors became more and more manifest in Engels' day just think what they are like today. Millions around the world are unemployed or living in poverty and even slavery (or should I say billions)-- armed conflicts on every continent save Australia and Antarctica over resources and land, and the very oceans as well as the atmosphere, is in the process of being destroyed in the pursuit of capitalist profits.

The duty of economists is to explain how all of this is the consequence of the capitalist mode of production (although many economists prostitute themselves in the service of the system for the rewards of position and money at the cost of truth) and beyond that "to reveal, within the already dissolving economic form of motion, the elements of the future new organisation of production and exchange which will put an end to those abuses." Today only the communist , socialist, and workers parties are able to do this on a grand scale.

In his day, Engels pointed out that political economy had concentrated on the analysis of the capitalist system and had not yet described other modes of production from the past. In the century or so since his death this has been remedied by Marxist historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists and others.

In the meantime capitalism has developed even greater productive capacities than Engels imagined-- but these "colossal productive forces" the capitalists can no longer control-- they can't control their exploitation of the earth without destroying it-- Exxon, BP, and other giant oil companies, they can't mine it with polluting its water and air, blowing off the tops of its mountains, creating hugh rivers of toxic sludge, cutting down it rain forests and melting its glaciers and driving thousands of species toward extinction.

It only remains for us to show that all the vast powers of production the capitalists can no longer control "are only waiting to be taken possession of by a society organized for co-operative work on a planned basis to ensure to all members of society the means of existence and the free development of their capacities and indeed in constantly increasing measure." We should be yelling this from the roof tops: "We're mad as Hell and we're not going to take it anymore!" Put that in your tea bag and brew it. If the BP oil "spill" in the Gulf of Mexico doesn't convince you that the power of modern industry cannot be safely left in the control of for profit corporations, I'm afraid nothing will.

The science of political economy can be traced back to the beginnings of capitalism. Its most famous proponent was Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations) but it was also advanced by the great French thinkers of the Enlightenment. However, Engels points out, these thinkers thought they were dealing with universal laws of economics, just as physical scientists propose universal laws of nature.

"To them," Engels says, "the new science was not the expression of the conditions and requirements of their epoch, but the expression of eternal reason; the laws of production and exchange discovered by this science were not the laws of a historically determined form of those activities, but eternal laws of nature; they were deduced from the nature of man."

It was the work of Marx, and Engels, that really matured this science and saw that rather than eternal laws of nature economic laws of production and distribution were relative to economic systems-- feudalism, capitalism, etc. This is one reason Engels, in his book Anti-Dühring, could hold Dühring in such disdain who could write, after Das Capital, that he would, in his own words, explain "the most general LAWS OF NATURE governing all economics...."

There are a few more ideas exposited by Herr Dühring that Engels wants to correct. First Dühring thinks that capitalists, for instance, use FORCE as a means to exploit working people. Engels says this is wrong. Engels maintains that EVERY socialist worker KNOWS that force does not cause exploitation it only PROTECTS it: "the relation between capital and wage -labour is the basis of" exploitation and this relation is an economic one not one based on force.

Engels says Dühring also confounds the difference between PRODUCTION and CIRCULATION (i.e., exchange) by lumping them together under and heading of production and then adds DISTRIBUTION as a second and INDEPENDENT department of the economy. Far from this being the case, Engels tells us, distribution is in fact DEPENDENT on the production and exchange relations of any given society. In fact, if we know these two relations for any given historical society we can "infer the mode of distribution" in it.

So, Engels point is that, after a rough start in the seventeenth century and blooming forth in the Enlightenment, the science of political economy became fully scientific in the last half of the nineteenth century with the theories of Marx and the work of those economists who were influenced by him. Through their work working people the world over slowly became aware of their true role in production and distribution (the creation of surplus value) and how it is the exploitation of their labor power that is the basis of the capitalist system.

It is important to note that, for Marxists, it is not the idea that capitalism is somehow unjust and immoral (a la Dühring) that is the key point. Engels writes: "If for the impending overthrow of the present mode of distribution of the products of labour, with its crying contrasts of want and luxury, starvation and surfeit, we had no better guarantee than the consciousness that this mode of distribution is unjust, and that justice must eventually triumph, we should be in a pretty bad way, and we might have a long time to wait."

Engels appears to be a bit too optimistic. We are still waiting for the "impending overthrow" of capitalism. It has been overthrown in a few places but it has also been restored in large areas where it was previously overthrown. So, I think we are still waiting for a general overthrow-- which is long overdue. We should be impatient, but not unduly so. We have been waiting a hundred years or so while many of our fellows have been waiting over two thousand years for the overthrow of this earthly order with even less likelihood of being gratified. But we still "might have a long time to wait."

Well, just why did Engels think we would have a short wait? The reason was that unlike previous centuries when the only forces opposed to the exploitation of the masses of people by the few were based on appeals to morality or ethics, the nineteenth century saw the creation of a MATERIAL FORCE, not an ideal or religious one, that could actually contest and overthrow the existing economic order based on exploitation.

Two great revolutions had recently created movements calling for the end of class exploitation and for the equality of the people-- the English and French bourgeois revolutions. But these movements, Engels says "up to 1830 had left the working and suffering classes cold." But in Engels' day this call and this movement has in one generation "gained a strength that enables it to defy all the forces combined against it and to be confident of victory in the near future."

What made Engels so confident? There were two factors. First, modern industrial capitalism had created a working class ("called into being" a proletariat) that not only had the power to overthrow class privilege but the class system itself and further this is something it must do "on pain of sinking to the level of the Chinese coolie." Second, the bourgeoisie "has become incapable of any longer controlling the productive forces" created by modern industry. The bourgeoisie is "a class under whose leadership society is racing to ruin like a locomotive whose jammed safety-valve the driver is to weak to open."

History has a way of sometimes frustrating our expectations. To the working people of the generation following that of Engels, Lenin and the Russian Revolution represented the promise of the socialist victory. The bourgeois locomotive went off the rails and the resulting crash created two world wars and brought down the colonial empires of the Western Powers (at least de jure.)

However, unbeknownst to Engels, another engine was waiting in the roundhouse. This was the engine of US Imperialism which reconstructed the failed bourgeois system after the Second World War and brought about the downfall of the Russian Revolution. For a generation the call for the abolition of the classes left the workers of the US and it allies once again cold.

Meanwhile, against all expectations, the "Chinese coolies" had liberated themselves and created their own working class and are now creating a modern society based on a mixed economy. However, Engels was not too far off the mark. The advanced workers (in terms of pay scales) of the West are seeing their incomes sinking to the level of the Chinese. This will continue unless they "warm up" to the idea of socialism.

What are the future chances of socialism? Engels two factors are still at work. Capitalism is ripe for overthrow. As far as factor one is concerned. The class consciousness of the workers directed towards this end does not seem to be as developed as in Engels day. This is due to the massive pro capitalist propaganda both in the educational system and the mass media. But this hold is weakening and working people around the world are slowly beginning to wake up from their long sleep and see capitalism for what it really is. A naked system of human exploitation that can and must be replaced.

As for the second factor. The bourgeoisie is out of control! The rain forests, the oceans and the atmosphere are being destroyed by their run away system. These words of Engels are absolutely true today: "both the productive forces created by the modern capitalist mode of production and the system of distribution of goods established buy it have come into crying contradiction with that mode of production itself, and in fact to such a degree that, if the whole of modern society is not to perish, a revolution in the mode of production and distribution must take place, a revolution that will put an end to all class distinctions."

Unfortunately, I cannot agree with Engels that these two factors give me confidence that the Revolution will soon arrive. But that our society will perish if it doesn't seems all too apparent.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Thomas Riggins

Engels discusses the negation of the negation in Chapter XIII of Part One of Anti-Dühring [on Philosophy].

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, to 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.

Right now, Spring 2010, General Motors Corporation is already a virtually socialized enterprise (60% owned by the American people). It is only the lack of a socialist consciousness in the working class that allows GM to remain under capitalist control and 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 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 he 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.

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.

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. And so we conclude this brief introduction to Engels thought. If you persevered to the end with me-- thanks.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Thomas Riggins

Engels discusses the dialectics of quantity and quality in chapter 12 of part one of Anti-Dühring. In this chapter Engels takes on Dühring anti-dialectical approach to philosophy. Not having understood Hegel, Dühring thinks that since a contradiction appears to be absurd (how can you have A and not-A at the same time?) there can be no contradictions in reality. Engels sets himself the task of clearing up Dühring confusions.

Examples of contradictions in nature, according to Engels are, for example, MOTION, where a body is "in one and the same place and also not in it" and LIFE, where a being "is at each moment itself and yet something else." This, I must admit, sounds a bit like Sartre's existentialism and is perhaps for our time a bit more metaphorical than scientific. What Engels means by motion being a contradiction is perhaps best expressed in the following quote from the article "Motion" in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

"The contradictory nature of motion consists in the unbroken unity of two opposing factors --- changeability and stability, motion and rest. in fact, the concept of change makes sense only in connection with the idea of a relatively stable, continuously fixed state. This very change, however, is at the same time also a fixed state, which continues and maintains itself; that is, it also possesses stability. In this contradictory unity of changeability and stability the leading role is played by changeability, for everything new in the world first appears by means of it, whereas stability and rest merely fix what has been attained through this process" (from the article by V.I. Sviderskii).

Dühring also makes fun of Das Kapital because of Marx's use of dialectics.
Marx's book, Dühring writes , is an example of the "absence of natural and intelligible logic" resulting in "dialectical frills and mazes and conceptual arabesques." As an example of Dühring complete misunderstanding of Marx's Das Kapital, Engels focuses on his attack on Marx's use of the dialectical notion that quantitative changes bring about qualitative changes.

Here is what Dühring himself has to say about this: "What a comical effect is produced by the reference to the confused, hazy Hegelian notion that quantity changes into quality, and that therefore an advance, when it reaches a certain size, becomes capital by this quantitative increase alone!"

By adding the word "alone" Dühring falsifies both the Hegelian law and Marx's understanding of it. This is what Marx wrote in Vol. 1 of Das Kapital when he discussed how a sum of exchange values, after reaching a certain quantity could become capital. "Here, as in natural science, IS SHOWN the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel (in his LOGIC) that merely quantitative differences beyond a certain point pass into qualitative changes."

Engels says Marx held a sum of exchange values can become capital only when it reaches a definite minimum size, depending on the conditions, "this fact is a PROOF OF THE CORRECTNESS of the Hegelian law." Dühring says Marx held BECAUSE quantity changes in to quality THEREFORE at a certain sum exchange value will become capital. The part about "depending on the conditions" is left out so "the very opposite" of what Marx meant [ i.e., an effect is taken as a cause] is put forth as his meaning. This is typical of what Dühring calls his "philosophy of reality." And, Engels adds, "he has the cheek to describe as COMIC the nonsense which he himself has fabricated."

One of the most obvious examples of the dialectical law under discussion is that of H2O. Water in the solid state becomes a liquid with the quantitative addition of heat and with even more heat the liquid state qualitatively changes into a gas.

Engels also points out that all of Part IV of Das Kapital (where Marx discusses the production of relative surplus value and modern industry, etc.) "deals with innumerable cases in which quantitative change alters the quality, and also qualitative changes alter the quantity, ot the things under consideration." The molecular theory of modern [1880s] chemistry is also based on this law.

Thus, Engels maintains, in both the social world and the natural world around us we "can see how 'quantity changes into quality,'and this allegedly confused, hazy Hegelian notion appears in so to speak corporeal form in things and processes--- and no one but Herr Dühring is confused and befogged by it."

Next we will deal with the last chapter on Engels' discussion of philosophy in Anti-Dühring-- the chapter on the negation of the negation.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Marxism and Vegitarianism

Thomas Riggins

Mark Rowlands has an interesting review of Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, EATING ANIMALS, in the TLS of March 5, 2010 ("Choice Cuts"). It raises important moral, and for Marxists, I think, political problems, that arise from the way animals are killed and consumed under the capitalist dominated meat production industry (under which almost ALL our meat is produced in the US-- ie., by CAFOs or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

Unfortunately, Foer's argument is based on LOGICAL conclusions deduced from readily available empirical facts and , as Rowlands points out human beings in general "don't respond well to logical argument"-- especially when they are engaged in politics. Marxists, however, if they have escaped from the mental disorder of sectarianism and have matured beyond the infantile disorder of ultra-leftism, may prove an exception since their whole philosophy ultimately derives from a logical conclusion deduced from Marx, after he read Hegel's Logic, regarding the way to end human exploitation by means of abolishing the extraction of surplus labor by capitalists.

Well, let us look at Foer's arguments and see if Marxists should also fight to end the exploitation of our fellow animals-- not only on moral grounds but also on the grounds of the SELF INTEREST of the working people of the world. The following is based on Rowlands' review, Double quotes (") are from Foer's book, single quotes (') from Rowlands.

Why did Foer write this book? Because he has recently become a parent and he wanted to set forth examples of the best moral behavior and health behavior for his children. It may turn out that this example applies to all of us.

The book is based on three empirical facts (scientific facts) which are used as premisses to draw a conclusion that any person who is rational (and not an overly irrational teabager) will accept. The premisses are:

1. Human beings do not need to eat animals to live healthy lives.

2. They way animals are now treated and killed for us to eat 'causes suffering on an unimaginable scale' [this presupposes we think this is morally wrong-tr].

3. The way animals are now raised for food is 'environmentally catastrophic.'

THEREFORE: We should not use animals for food as they are now treated and raised.

Notice this is not an absolute vegetarian conclusion, and indeed the author calls for what he terms "contingent vegetarianism"-- but more on this later. Let's look at the evidence for the truth of the three premisses.

Premiss One: The American Dietetic Association says that vegetarian diets are appropriate for humans at all stages of life and that meat eating is unnecessary [like smoking-- it just a bad habit--tr] and is healthy for us--less cancer and heart disease. [Working people would certainly benefit from better and more healthy diets and Marxists should be advocating for vegetarianism as tribunes of the people--tr].

Premiss Two: the 'horrors of factory farms are well known.' Cattle are supposed to be killed by a bolt to the brain, to cite just one example, but investigations have shown a 'non-negligible minority' are still alive and conscious when the skin is peeled off their faces and their legs are chopped off. Similar horrors happen to pigs, chickens, horses, etc. [Since many humans are singularly unaffected by the torture and killing of animals (hunters fishers, fans of cock, dog, and bull fights, fur wearers, etc.,) this may be the weakest premiss-- tr].

Premiss Three: The UN Climate Commission (Pew Commission) reports that the the animal food industry 'is responsible for more climate change emissions than all forms of transport combined-- in fact, nearly 40 per cent more.' Talk about reducing gas emissions! And don't forget all the government unregulated animal poop flooding the nation, getting into the food supply-(E. coli comes from animal intestines--what's it doing in peanut butter?), as well as the water supply. I hope you don't live near a factory pig farm.

What is "contingent vegetarianism?" Foer himself has become "a committed vegetarian." He is not vegan. Cheese and milk seem to be ok, but in so far as the dairy business is also part of the CAFO system (dairy cows end up there as do their calves) premiss two seems applicable.

Foer leaves open the possibility of humane (?) farming which allows for limited meat ending but Rowlands thinks that Foer's arguments are stronger that Foer himself thinks they are. 'The qualified nature of his conclusion -- contingent vegetarianism -- suggests that he hasn't quite understood just how convincing his book is.'

My take is that vegetarianism is the only politically correct position to take vis a vis the interests of the working class, and not only the working class but all of humanity as well. First, how can Marxists not advocate the most healthy diet possible for people? Capitalist agribusiness pushes meat for profit not out of concern for human well being. Second,if we destroy the earth, sea and atmosphere with unending pollution the working people and all other segments of humanity cannot possible survive. CAFOs are major contributors to this pollution. The capitalists have no intention of doing anything serious about ending pollution as long as their super profits keep rolling in. To defend our class and humanity we should advocate AT LEAST contingent vegetarianism.

I think that under capitalism we will not be able to change significantly the eating habits of people. It will take the complete reeducation of humanity that will be required under socialism to bring up future generations of humans dedicated to people before profits, the abolition of war, protection of the environment, the end of economic exploitation, and the end of the killing and eating of animals with all of its attendant cruelty.

Nevertheless, this is a topic worthy of consideration and discussion by the international communist and worker's movement. The time has come for both individual Marxists, and, indeed, whole parties to debate this issue and come to a consensus based on the scientific evidence and the logical conclusions derived from it.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Thomas Riggins

Engels discusses this topic in Chapter XI, Part I of Anti-Dühring (Morality and Law. Freedom and Necessity). Dühring claims to discuss the problems of law and politics with knowledge gained from "the MOST EXHAUSTIVE SPECIALIZED STUDIES." And he contrasts his own in depth studies with the "admittedly neglected legal studies of Herr Marx."

Well, if Thomas Henry Huxley was Darwin's Bulldog, Engels was Marx's and nothing sets him off more that Dühring's propensity to portray himself in a favorable light at the expense of Marx, especially when Marx's knowledge of the subject matter under review was many magnitudes greater than the paltry speculations put forth by Dühring.

In his discussion on law and politics Dühring begins by making sweeping generalizations about the law in general, such as that "revenge" is the basis of criminal law, and then moves on to comparisons of French law with the Prussian 'Landrecht'-- all of which reveals that Herr Dühring knows very little about these matters. He seems ignorant of the fact that French law,that is, modern civil law [outside of England] "rests on the social achievements of the Great French Revolution" as embodied in the Code Napoléon.

Dühring puts himself forward as a great student of the law, but Engels points out that he is not only ignorant with regard to French law, but that his ignorance carries over to Roman law and even Germanic law (especially its English version "which is the only Germanic law which has developed independently of Roman authority up to the present day and spread to all parts of the world....")

Dühring's form of socialism has another great defect and that is his rampant anti-Semitism. Engels says "his hatred of the Jews" is carried "to ridiculous extremes" which he "exhibits on every possible occasion." Engels really takes Dühring to task over this issue. Dühring thinks that hatred of Jews is based on "natural grounds" and is a "natural judgment" while Engels says it is a wide spread prejudice "inherited from the bigotry of the Middle Ages."

What is worse is that Dühring thinks one of the arguments in favor of "socialism" is that it will lead to better methods of Jew control. These are Dühring's words: "socialism is the only power which can oppose population conditions with a rather strong Jewish admixture." Engels sums up his view of Dühring's opinions as those of a man full of "grandiloquent boasts" and exhibiting "the crassest ignorance."

At this point Engels remarks that when dealing with questions of morality and law it is hard to ignore the question of "free will." Are all our actions predetermined or can we be held responsible for them? Herr Dühring gives two, conflicting, answers to this problem. His first answer is that there is a tug of war in the mind (brain) between instincts and reason. Our instincts pull us one way and reason another. The more rational we are, the more educated and subject to reason, the less we will be subject to the irrational emotions driven by out instinctual impulses. Dühring thinks this explanation will do away with the silly notion of "inner freedom." Each individual's behavior will be determined by his or her proportion of rational to irrational "drives".

Engels does not really evaluate this first answer, but says it is blown out of the water by Dühring's second answer. Engels quotes Dühring: "We base moral responsibility on freedom, which however means nothing more to us than susceptibility to conscious motives in accordance with out natural and acquired intelligence. All such motives operate with the inevitability of natural law, notwithstanding an awareness of possible contrary actions; but it is precisely on this unavoidable compulsion that we rely when we apply the moral levers."

I think the problem is this second answer ends up with "unavoidable compulsion." Yet the first answer also says about the same thing. The tug of war between reason and unreason will be resolved by the preponderance of the strength of each force within the individual. Engels calls it a "parallelogram of forces" resulting in the action taken being a mean between them. So perhaps Engels overstates the case that Dühring's two answers contradict each other.

Be that as it may, Engels is really interested in the second answer. It is not, he says, the result of any original thinking on the part of Dühring. It is a dumbed down version of Hegel, as is so often the case with Dühring's views. It was Hegel who "was the first to state correctly the relation between freedom and necessity". "Necessity," Hegel wrote, " is BLIND only IN SO FAR AS IT IS NOT UNDERSTOOD."

Engels explains that. FREEDOM is knowing what the laws of nature are and how we can use them "towards definite ends." This is true both for the natural [or external] realm (physics, chemistry, etc.,) and for the inner or mental realm. These two sets of laws can be separated conceptually (the physical and mental) but they are actually one set in reality. "Freedom of the will therefore means nothing but the capacity to make decisions with knowledge of the subject."

This means the more knowledge you have, the more educated you are about the things you are dealing with the FREER you are in dealing with them and at the same time the more NECESSITY comes into play-- i.e., of knowing what necessary actions must be done to attain the goal sought. Engels says, with respect to the will, "the uncertainty, founded on ignorance, which seems to make an arbitrary choice among many different and conflicting possible decisions, shows precisely by this that it is not free, that is is controlled by the very object it should it self control. And since freedom increases with knowledge of the world it, like equality, and law and morality, is "necessarily a product of historical development."

The greatest liberation from natural necessity of humankind on record, yet still strictly determined by physical laws, was the discovery of how to make FIRE: "the generation of fire from friction." Engels says that in our [his] age we might think the greatest advance in human control of nature, and thus in freedom, was the invention of the STEAM ENGINE and the modern world that it has made possible. We would be wrong. Fire was the very first of the forces of nature that humans began to learn how to control and it was this feat of "man" that "thereby separated him for ever from the animal kingdom."

Nevertheless, the invention of the steam engine was a great leap forward. Engels thought that the steam engine had so increased the productive forces of humankind that we could, in the age of steam, solve the social problem. For the increase in the PRODUCTIVE FORCES "alone make possible a state of society in which there are no longer class distinctions" in which there be will enough socially created product for all and "for the first time there can be talk of real human freedom"-- that is, "of an existence in harmony with the laws of nature that have become known."

Well, if we are threatening to destroy our environment, killing the oceans, and destroying the last of the oxygen producing rain forests (the lungs of the planet) and billions of people are facing starvation and famine, something has gone amiss in the last century and a half and we are definitely out of sync with the laws of nature while the increase in the productive forces is bringing servitude not freedom to masses of humanity. Engels vision is on hold.

Engels, however, was no utopian socialist, and would not have been shocked if he had been told that the human race was still many generations away from his musings on the attainment of "real human freedom." He had a longer time frame than many of his erstwhile followers who throw in the towel whenever there is a major setback. "But how young the whole of human history still is," he wrote, "and how ridiculous it would be to attempt to ascribe any absolute validity to our present views, is evident from the simple fact that all past history can be characterized as the history of the epoch from the practical discovery of the transformation of mechanical motion into heat up to that of the transformation of heat into mechanical motion." Engels' views are, of course, not absolutely valid, but I see nothing that has happened in the miniscule slice of time that has expired since he expressed them and the present day which would lead one to think they are out of date.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Thomas Riggins

Engels discusses this topic in Chapter X, Part I of Anti-Dühring (Morality and Law. Equality). Engels discusses Dühring's method of analysis. Dühring thinks you break a subject down to its most simple components and then, using mathematical axioms, you can logically deduce what its true nature is. Engels calls this the A PRIORI method. In this method you logically deduce the nature of the object from its concept not from from the object itself. Then you reverse the process. You take your refurbished concept of the object and then judge the nature of the object by means of it instead of just studying the object itself. This is the garbage in, garbage out method.

In discussing "equality", Herr Dühring deduces the nature of society by logic "instead of from the real social relations of the people around him." He says the simplest form of society consists of just two people. Here you have two human wills and at this stage the two are ENTIRELY EQUAL to one another. From this Dühring says we can deduce "the development of the fundamental concepts of right." These two persons, by the way, are men.

Engels calls these two equal men "phantoms" because to be entirely equal they have to be free from any real life distinctions, including sexual distinctions and experiences, and thus become just abstract creations of Dühring's brain not real people at all.

Now what would justify one person becoming subordinate to another if they are entirely equal? Well if one of the two wills was, Engels explains, "afflicted with inadequate self-determination" then Dühring allows for its subordination. In other words the entirely equal wills are not entirely equal after all. Engels gives two more examples from Dühring in which "equality" will be replaced by inequality and subordination: they are "when two persons are 'morally unequal'" and when they are unequal mentally. Of course it is Herr Dühring and his followers who decide the moral and mental qualifications.

All this goes to show, Engels concludes, that Dühring has a shallow and botched outlook regarding the notion of equality. But this does not mean the idea of equality does not play "an important agitational role in the socialist movement of almost every country." The issue of Human Rights is the contemporary version of this debate. Following Engels, I will say that the "scientific content" of Human Rights will "determine its value for proletarian agitation."

The scientific content will be established by studying the history of the idea of Human Rights (AKA "equality.") It took thousands of years to get from the ideas about equality in the ancient world to those that the socialist movement holds, or should hold today. In the classical world of Greece and Rome inequality was as important as equality (slaves versus Roman citizenship for example).

Christianity recognized a form of equality-- all were equally subject to original sin. There was also, early on, the equality of the ELECT. But these were really bogus forms of equality as far as THIS world was concerned. Then, when the Germans overran the Roman Empire the ideals of human equality were set back for a thousand years due to the entrenchment of the FEUDAL ORDER.

Nevertheless, within that order a class was growing that would "become the standard- bearer of the modern demand for equality: the bourgeoisie." As a result of the maritime discoveries of the fifteenth century (da Gama, Columbus, etc.,) markets began to grow and the handicraft industries of the middle ages expanded into manufacturing concerns. This economic revolution took place within the political structure of feudalism. The bourgeoisie began to champion the notion of human rights and equality because human labor qua labor was seen as of equal value, a fact recognized in bourgeoisie political economy as the law of value "according to which," Engels writes, "the value of a commodity is measured by the socially necessary labour embodied in it." This connection was first brought to light by Marx in Das Kapital, Engels says.

The social contradiction between the new economic order of capitalism and the feudal political order brought about the great revolutions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Engels explains that "where economic relations required freedom and equality of rights, the political system opposed them at every step." It is interesting to note that the bourgeoisie was able to wrest power from the feudalists and is to day's dominant ruling class. The same contradiction on a higher level, this time between the working classes and the bourgeoisie, has not been resolved. But only a revolutionary transfer of political power to the workers can overcome the economic problems, as well as the social questions of war and imperialism, that mark the present period of bourgeoisie decline.

Engels points out that with the decline of the Roman Empire and the development of independent states each claiming the same rights to nationhood as the others, and being, in the bourgeois world at least, on similar levels of development, the notion of equality gave way to to that of universal human rights. That "universal human rights" are basically bourgeois rights is illustrated by the fact that "the American constitution, the first to recognize the rights of man, in the same breath confirms the slavery of the coloured races existing in America: class privileges are proscribed, race privileges sanctioned."

The logical extension of the call for the abolition of class privileges by the bourgeoisie is the working class' call for the abolition of classes themselves. There are two aspects to the demand for equally made by the working people. The first is a protest against the poverty and oppression of the workers as compared to the wealth and power of the rich. This first aspect is spontaneous and "is simply an expression of the revolutionary instinct" of oppressed people. The second aspect is derived from the bourgeoisie's own ideals and demand for equality in face of the feudal order and is put forth "in order to stir up the workers against the capitalists with the aid of the capitalists' own assertions." In both cases, according to Engels, the real demand of the workers is not class equality but the ABOLITION OF CLASSES. Any demand beyond [i.e., other than] that, he says, "passes into absurdity."

What Engels has tried to show is that our modern notions of human rights and of human equality are not eternal verities good for every time and clime. Both the bourgeois and proletarian versions are historical products. So are the views of the Taliban, for example, on the treatment of women and the rights of non Islamic people or those of some South Africans on the number of wives a man can have. These views as well as those we call "modern", by which we mean 'Western" in their capitalist or working class incarnations developed as a result of "definite historical conditions that in turn themselves presuppose a long previous history."

Those values, therefore, WE take for granted are the product of a specific historical trajectory in which they functioned to bring about and stabilize the world capitalist system. Engels says, quoting Marx, if the modern notion of human rights "already possesses the fixity of a popular prejudice" this is due to the continuing influence of the Enlightenment on our times. The task of socialists today is to agitate for truly effective universal human rights-- and these include the right to a living income, to health, to food, housing, education, and to live in a world at peace-- attainable once and for all through the abolition of classes.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Thomas Riggins

Engels discusses this topic in chapter IX of Anti-Dühring (Morality and Law. Eternal Truths). He begins as usual by calling Dühring's statements on this topic BALDERDASH: and well he might since the good Herr begins by saying, "He who can think only by means of language has never yet learnt what is meant by ABSTRACT and PURE thought. "Indeed! Thinking without language? This prompts Engels to say then the "animals are the most abstract and purest thinkers." This quip is reminiscent of Hegel's response to the theologian Schleiermacher who said the essence of Christianity was unquestioning faith in your Lord. Hegel said then "the dog makes the best Christian."

Dühring is not a relativist on the subject of laws and morals. There is only one true moral law, not only for humans but creatures form outer space as well. He says, morals "must occur in concordant fashion among all extra-human beings whose active reason has to deal with the conscious ordering of life impulses in the form of instincts." By "extra-human beings" he means those living "on other celestial bodies." "Rational beings" would be (following Kant) a better term I think.

Dühring is quite insistent about this sort of thing, writing, "GENUINE TRUTHS ARE ABSOLUTELY IMMUTABLE ... so that it is altogether stupid to think that the correctness of knowledge is something that can be affected by time and changes in reality." What he is claiming is that human knowledge can attain, as Engels says, "sovereign validity and an unconditional claim to truth."

Well, is that true? "Is human thought sovereign?" Engels asks us to consider the following (it is very instructive for those who accuse Marxists of being DOGMATIC): "... in all probability we are just at the beginning of human history [not at the End of History as some pundits declared tr], and the generations which will put US right are likely to be far more numerous than those whose knowledge we --- often enough with a considerable degree of contempt --- have the opportunity to correct." This is to ward off Herr Dühring and his absolutely immutable balderdash. With some exceptions Engels has held up fairly well I think (with some refurbishing along the way.)

As for human knowledge being sovereign, Engels says it is "in its disposition, its vocation, its possibilities and its historical ultimate goal; it is not sovereign and it is limited in its individual realization and in reality at any particular moment." As for "eternal truths," Herr Dühring's conception is too idealistic and not of much use in the actual practice of science. Reason would arrive at the point where the intellectual world would be completely at a stand still if we had only Dühring's immutable truths to work with. But this does not mean that there are NO eternal truths at all.

Well there are some such as 2+2=4, water is H2O, Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC. Simple mathematical, chemical, historical truths, etc., but certainly no BIG eternal truths such as Dühring has in mind-- laws of history or of politics.

Especially when we are dealing with social phenomena are we not going to find eternal laws. This type of knowledge is always limited and relative and, as Engels points out , these kinds of law "exist only in a particular epoch and among particular peoples and are by their very nature transitory." And as for the dogmatism of Marxists-- Engels wants to stress that NO "individual whatsoever is in a position to deliver the final and ultimate truth." One can imagine what he would have thought of the Cult of Personality.

Outside of trivial truths we cannot have much faith that absolutely immutable truth is going to be available to us in the physical and social sciences with respect to truth and error, but what about morality and the knowledge of good and evil? Well, throughout history and all over the world we find different moralities and moral outlooks and some "are in direct contradiction to each other."

In the West we have two versions of Christian feudal morality, Catholic and Protestant, and many subdivisions of these as well. No morality is "true" in the sense of ultimate reality. Different classes have different values. There is a bourgeois morality and a working class morality. Engels thinks the morality of the future is, for us, truer than that which represents the past. The working class represents the future of humanity, for Engels, and so as far as "truth" is concerned it is working class morality that is "true" for us. It has been over a hundred and thirty years since Engels wrote Anti-Dühring and we have seen two large scale experiments in working class control-- the Chinese and Soviet experiments. It would be interesting to compare the morality taught in these two dispensations with Western bourgeois notions of morality. The following reference is a place to start [The Role of Morality in Communist Production by GeorgLukács1919 www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/1919/morality.htm. ]

Engels says the three classes of modern society are the feudal aristocracy, the the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. I think by now only the last two have any relevance in the major parts of the world. These two have different moral ideals, although many strata of the proletariat have been contaminated by bourgeois values. But the fact of these two different moral outlooks shows "that men, consciously or unconsciously, derive their ethical ideas in the last resort from the practical relations on which their class position is based--- from the economic relations in which they carry on production and exchange."

If there are areas of agreement between differing moralities, Engels says, this is because they have shared a common historical development and thus overlapping is to be expected. Engels rejects any attempt to impose eternal truths of morality since they are the products of historical conditioning. He also thinks there has been progress in moral ideas as in other fields (science, medicine, industry, etc.) and this is due to the class struggle, the struggle of people to free themselves from exploitation and poverty, which has led to moral reforms. But a truly human morality that rests on foundations independent of class struggle "becomes possible only at a stage of society which has not only overcome class antagonisms but has even forgotten them in practical life."