Marx and Engels (to Jay Moore)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Sun Feb 25 15:41:27 MST 2001

>In the Digest #3249, Jay lists a bibliography on the Marx-Engels
>relationship, including quite a lot of stuff critical of Engels.  In the
>1970s there was quite a trend in certain European Marxist/left circles to
>knock Engels, and a defence of Engels was made by George Novack.  Although
>I don't have much time for Novack, mainly for other political reasons, I
>think it might be useful to add his defence of Engels to such a list.
>I think it was originally published in Intercontinental Press, and maybe
>turned up later in a Novack collection.  I'm sorry I can't be more
>specific, but perhaps Louis can recall it, or else someone like Richard
>Fidler or Jose G. Perez would know it.
>Philip Ferguson

Phil is referring to "In Defense of Engels," a talk that George gave at the
1975 SWP convention. It can be found in a Pathfinder Press collection of
his articles titled "Polemics in Marxist Philosophy," which answers
Kolakowski, Colletti and others. Here's an excerpt from the Engels talk,
kept brief so I won't get harassed by the SWP lawyers over copyright


A favorite charge is that Engels was a one-sided "economic determinist" who
slighted the relative autonomy of political and other forces. This is
particularly untenable in light of the series of letters he wrote to Konrad
Schmidt, Franz Mehring, and other correspondents in the early 1890s. He
derided the narrow-minded individuals who attributed all social phenomena
to economic causes alone and disregarded the many-sided interaction of all
factors from the material substructure to the intellectual heights in the
process of social determination.

However, Engels never forgot to add what the praxologists usually overlook:
that economic conditions are ultimately decisive in historical
developments. As he wrote to J. Bloch, "There is an interaction of all
these elements [political, legal, philosophical, religious, and so on] in
which, amid all the endless host of accidents . . . the economic movement
finally asserts itself as necessary." His observation that "what these
gentlemen lack is dialectics" applies not only to those mechanical minds
who see nothing but economic causes and ignore the influence of
super-structural factors, but also to those fugitives from materialism who
refuse to acknowledge the determinative role of economics in the formation
of social-cultural features.

Engels can easily be absolved of having a mechanical approach to social
causation because he did not even have a mechanistic conception of natural
processes. He adopted a consistently dialectical method in respect to both
sectors of reality. The objections of the critics are directed not at his
alleged mechanical-mindedness, but at his insistence that human affairs as
well as physical phenomena are governed by lawfulness, a conception that is
fundamental to scientific method but anathema to nonmaterialist humanists.

Marx and Engels contended that through dialectical and historical
materialism socialism had matured from its infantile utopianism into a
thoroughly scientific approach to the world. This claim is discounted or
disqualified by the adversaries of Engels. They deny that Marxism is a
scientific theory based upon a correct knowledge of objective reality in
the same sense as the natural sciences.

The more sweeping critics say that scientific socialism is a gross
misnomer. In their opinion, as an ideology designed to further the aims and
interests of a particular class, it possesses no objectively demonstrable
validity. This line of thought is shared by Leszek Kolakowski, Ernst
Fischer, and members of the Frankfurt school, who regard Marxism not as a
fully scientific mode of thought but as a system of values and norms along
humanistic lines—which Engels, followed by Plekhanov, Kautsky, and Lenin,
converted into a misleading positivistic and scientistic ideology later
exploited by Stalinism.

In his book Art and Coexistence, published in 1966, Fischer holds that
Marxism is not a pure ideology (that is, a mystified consciousness of the
world) but a mixture of science and utopianism. Ernst Bloch’s philosophy of
hope makes utopian idealism the pivot of Marxism.

Decades ago Sidney Hook argued that Marxism could not be an objective
science because, unlike the socially neutral natural sciences, it
incorporates the narrow and subjective class interests of the proletariat.
He regarded Marxism as simply a pragmatically useful set of directives to
assist the activity of the working class in its struggles.

Marxism admits no opposition between the objective truths of science and
the interests of the working class; the two are inseparable. Marxism is
both the outlook of its revolutionary-socialist contingent and a scientific
mode of thought that gives the most correct and correctible interpretation
of reality. This invests it with the exceptional quality of being
revolutionary. The credentials for its scientific character come not only
from theoretical considerations but from practical proofs provided by
actual developments of world society, such as the current economic crisis.

In contrast to guesswork and intuition, scientific forecasting is founded
on the study of law-governed causal connections as they really exist and
operate. Marxism passes this practical test. Its value as a reliable and
effective guide to proletarian activity and its usefulness in predicting
the main trends of social and political development have been confirmed by
both the positive and negative experiences of the class struggle.

Such currents of thought as positivism, pragmatism, and existentialism deny
that philosophy must have a foundation in science. They restrict that
characteristic to the natural sciences or at most to some branches of
social science. Unlike the physical sciences, philosophy, they say, is not
concerned with the nature and laws of the world at Large but only with
human activities, aspirations, and values. If philosophy as such has no
intrinsic relation with the whole of reality, then dialectical materialism
is in the same boat and is bereft of scientific validity.  Praxis-oriented
thinkers agree that Marxist philosophy does not have the same status as the
special branches of science. That is the meaning of the contrast they draw
between the "scientistic" Engels and the humanistic early Marx. Figures
such as Adorno want to keep philosophy apart from science in order to
safeguard subjectivity.

To support this contention they sometimes point to the fact that, whereas
philosophy originally contained within itself many of the branches of
science from astronomy to psychology, these have since set up in business
for themselves. This process of divestiture has left philosophy with no
content of its own save the realm of human values. Philosophy is in the
miserable condition of King Lear, who handed over all his possessions to
his daughters and was left destitute and helpless with no domain of his own.

This picture of the interrelations between philosophy and the sciences
presents only one side of their progress. While one science after another
has split off from philosophy, the sciences as a whole have come closer
together at many points, as biophysics and biochemistry testify. These
growing interconnections and their results have provided a more
comprehensive and solid basis for the categories of scientifically guided
philosophic thought. The laws discovered in their specific fields of
operation have yielded the groundwork for elaborating and verifying the
most general Laws of motion in the universe.

Louis Proyect
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