Engels and indigenous peoples

Greg Schofield gschofield at one.net.au
Thu May 3 18:26:58 MDT 2001

At 10:55  3/05/01 -0400, you wrote:
>CB: I had a similar experience to yours with _The Origin_, Greg. I had
>majored and done graduate work in cultural anthropology. So, of course, I
>had many critiques of the book based on "modern" work, But eventually, I
>started to see that the main theses of _The Origin_ , hold up despite the
>errors you mention and others. It is like the dedication to Engels in _The
>Dialectical Biologist_.  "To Frederick Engels, who got it wrong a lot of
>the time but who got it right where it counted ". We might add that in
>_The Origin_ Engels got it wrong even less than in his biological writing.

I think the thing I most admire about Engels (so different to Marx in
nearly every aspect) was his love of stepping into the dark and blazing a
trail where none existed before. Marx was far more cautious and not enough
credit is given to Fred for opening the way and the thing is he seemingly
never minded taking second place and admired his follower (Marx) all the
more for his breathtaking ability to shape things exactly.

I would also mention his military writings which have stood the test of
time so well without any caveats at all. Underrated and undervalued, his
work on the Origin took precedence over all else following Marx's death and
having seen Marx's notebooks it was no easy task to present this bequest.
Typically he takes on all the faults as his own and attributes all the
better aspects to Marx and Morgan.

As you know at first sight the Origin looks, too most in modern eyes,
disreputable and wrong headed. I am glad to find another who has taken it
seriously and seen the precious legacy it contains - my original interest
was archaeology, the problems of which drew me deeper and deeper into
historical materialism - typically things only really feel into place after
I left university.

It is perhaps the idea of having a theory of history which seems hardest to
grasp in the first instance. Harder still to recognise that it is abstract
theory which historical illustrations are used to illuminate aspects of
this more generalised scheme. A few soviet writings, which I read in
translation, seem to merely impose the scheme on the material much like the
more familiar Stone,Bronze and Iron periodization.

However if you have not yet read George Thomson I can recommend him

>As to your story, and mine, Lenin urges us to learn how truth emerges from

Agreed, the role of error is not given its due.  A truly great error bursts
apart in the most amazing directions, while more cautious approaches can be
fettered by an accumulation of little errors and not move forward at all.

>I would be interested to hear "more in depth" what you say on the following:
>"However, this error could easily be removed without effecting anything much
>of the overall thesis - only in one regard was there an effect and that was
>once a biological imperative had been removed from theory there was a small
>and important theoretical gap (what was the motive force between humans to
>make these changes in kinship - if anyone is interested this could be dealt
>with in more depth)."

I will sometime later today send another post on the odd contribution Peggy
Dobbins made to solving the "gap"problem in the Origin. I saw odd for her
little work "From Kin to Class" has some really stunning errors but in the
midst of which is a magnificant gem of truth - but more on this soon.

>I do still have some disagreement with Engels hypothesis in " The Played
>by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man ", which is in the same area
>you mention questions.

It is years since I have read this, strangely I read it before Leakey's
full report of "Lucy" had been absorbed. The academics where at that stage
fully convinced that big-brained apes was how we evolved - in fact they
ridiculed Engels quite a lot on his "silly" approach.

Humaniods who stood up, had a fairly human gait and human hands but small
"ape" brains was anticipated by Engels and apparently no-one(very few at
least) else. So my reading of Engels of this matter was coloured by the
discovery of "Lucy" which seemed to confirm much of his main thesis. Other
than that I will have to reread him, but something he said about the mode
of human disbursement across the globe is intriguing and I think there is
some evidence to support him, but I will have to do a little reading to be

I would be very interested in your criticisms which might prove an
interesting area, well at least for us.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

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