DIALECTICS: G.S. JONES ON ENGELS 2

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Tue Apr 18 00:35:18 MDT 1995


SUMMARY AND REVIEW BY R. DUMAIN -- PART 2

Jones, Gareth Stedman.  "Engels and the end of classical German
philosophy", NEW LEFT REVIEW, #79, May-June 1973, p. 17-36.

I wrote part one of this summary review on 11 April.  Before I get
to the rest of the article, let me recapitulate its import by
repeating a note I uploaded some time previous to part one of this
review.  Jones ....

"crystallizes and concatenates some of the most important issues
we have been considering: Hegel and the dialectic, the
Hegel-Engels relationship, the Marx-Engels relationship,
dialectics of nature and history, and perhaps most important of
all, the unfinished state of historical materialism as Marx and
Engels left it.  Regarding this unfinished state, instead of
blaming Marx and/or Engels for what happened later, it seems to
me, if blame is the name of the game, we ought to blame the German
Social Democratic Party to begin with."

----------------------

THE POLITICAL LACUNAE OF THE LATER ENGELS

Jones denies the sometime assertion that Engels gravitated toward
reformism late in life, quoting statements from Engels affirming
the need for violent revolution and citing his quarrels with
Kautsky.  Engels warned repeatedly in his correspondence against
economic reductionism.  However, Engels made other statements, for
example, on universal suffrage, that lend support to the reformist
thesis.  Jones evaluates the problem thusly:

"What these texts indicate, more than anything else, is not
reformism, but the lack of any theory of the political instance of
social formations.  It should be emphasized that this lacuna, and
its consequences, was not confined to Engels.  Marx himself never
produced a theory of the political superstructures of capitalist
social formations; and he too was responsible for formulations
fully as equivocal as those of Engels cited above, in fact if
anything even more so .... These disarming formulations make it
clear that Engels never 'revised' the heritage of Marx ....   The
confusions of some of Engels' later texts .... reflect, rather, a
_theoretical_ limit to the -- unfinished -- work of both Marx and
Engels at the close of the 19th century.  The absence, on the
theoretical plane, of any mechanism to connect the determination
in the last instance by the economy and the relative autonomy of
superstructures, was reproduced on the political plane in an
inability to produce a systematic theory of revolutionary
politics.  Instead, this absence was largely displaced into the
one domain where a firmly based scientific theory had been
established -- the theory of the capitalist mode of production
found in _Capital_."  [p. 35]

There is more of interest on this page, but let's jump to the
concluding paragraph of the essay:

"Theoretically, however, his [Engels'] inability to think through
the novelty of historical materialism as a science led him to an
understandable attempt to fill in the gaps with philosophy -- the
Hegelian philosophy of his youth.  There is no doubt that Marx
(who had shared a youthful Hegelianism) approved this attempt,
unambiguously endorsing the _Anti-Duhring_.  But, as we have seen,
there was no inconsistency between Hegel's 'method' and his
'system'.  Therefore, in borrowing Hegel's 'method', Engels found
himself, despite himself, an unconscious prisoner of the
assumptions of the 'system'." [p. 36]

---------------

One may not agree with every point made by Jones in this essay,
but this little article is certainly more fruitful in its
delineation of the issues involved than some entire books.

[18 April 1995]


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