R.Martens & Environment

zodiac zodiac at interlog.com
Wed May 1 13:31:19 MDT 1996

Siddharth Chatterjee quoted Engels:

>"Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our
>human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on
>us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on
>which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite
>different, unforseen effects which only too often cancel out the first.
>The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere,
>destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they
>were laying the basis for the present devasted condition of these
>countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres
>and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains,
>the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished
>on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were
>cutting at the roots of the dairy industry in their region; they had still
>less inkling that they were thereby depriving their mountains springs
>of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these
>would be able to pour still furious flood torrents on the plains during
>the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not
>aware that they were at the same time spreading the disease of scrofula.
>Thus, at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature
>like a conqueror over foreign people, like someone standing outside
>nature - but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature,
>and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the
>fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to
>know and correctly apply its laws."

This was a closing paragraph from an unfinished work by Engels on the nature
of labor on human evolution -- hands-labor affecting posture, culture, etc.
It was written in 1876, was called "The Part Played by Labor in the
Transition from Ape to Man", and Engels intended it to introduce a larger
work he planned to call _Die drei Grundformen der Knechtschaft_ -- Outline
of the General Plan. Engels never finished that, nor even the intro -- it
breaks off at the end.

But it was published post-humously, as Sidd notes, included in _Dialectics
of Nature_. It was posted to the list sometime last January, if I recall, so
you can get it in the list archives, or an online copy at

It's an interesting read, from a fan of Charles Darwin... (to whom, I
believe, Marx toyed with the notion of dedicating Capital). It came up on
this list because Stephen Jay Gould had mentioned it in an article just then


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