Engels and indigenous peoples

Charles Brown CharlesB at SPAMCNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Fri May 4 09:42:15 MDT 2001

>>> gschofield at one.net.au 05/03/01 08:26PM >>>
>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.


CB: Yes, I should have mentioned, as you do, that actually within paleoanthropology,
Engels has been more confirmed than disconfirmed relative to the wings of the debate

What I am getting at is Engels emphasis on "labour". To put it intuitively, I think he
is projecting the need to champion workers of the hand over workers of the brain back
into to the period of transition from apes to humans. In other words , an issue in
class exploitative society is projected somewhat into a period when there are no
classes. Of course Engels knows there are no classes then, but I am speculating about
his unconsious here. For, I think, his discussion of the issue is entirely
speculative, because there were no fossils from the transition period when he wrote ,
as I recall.

Of course, there was "labour" going on, in the sense that every species has to carry
out certain activities to live physiologically.  But that the upright posture, free
hands, and opposable thumb necessary to be a "laborer of the hand"  ( with tools ) was
the key in causing the explosion of difference between humans and their ape ancestors
does not seem correct to me, even if it occurred first ( although I think there is
evidence of symbolling which equals increased sociality simultaneous with freed

Engels does call it social labour. But I think the "social" is more key than the
"labour".  The main difference between human labour and ape labour is the degree and
quality of sociality, not the fact of engaging in material ,  physiological
self-provision.  I read Engels as emphasizing the latter, of course, especially in
contrast with the big brain that the idealist paleoanthropologists would have been
pushing. In other words, the materialism/idealism philosophy debate is reflected in
Engels speculation here. Engels is speculating that material practice is prior to
thinking in differentiating humans from apes.

However, the critical new aspect of the brain of the genus homo and their"ideas" was
that they are the bearers or "tools" of an explosion in social connections in quantity
and quality. The qualitative difference is especially made by the fact that "ideas" or
symbols allow enormous transgenerational communication and therefore, essentially,
expansion of the social connections across generations. More concretely, by using
symbols and systems of symbols which are customs, a living generation shares the
experiences of many dead generations, making their "labour" very, very SOCIAL. Even
within the living generation, a hunting or gathering party  of humans or genus homos
is able to act like a sort of superoraganism through language and other symbols. It is
more potent than packs of other species.  The same is true for protection against
predators. "Don't go down to the river. I saw a lion down there" or whatever ,has a
lot of survival value that other species don't quite have.

So it is the social organization and relations of production that the new brain and
ideas permit, not just "working with your hands and with tools" that is the big
difference.  The development of the tools is based on sociality  or communism too.

I'm basically saying that the leap from apes to humans is based on COMMUNISM or human
community as a qualitatively and quantitively greater sociality than that of the apes.

That's the criticism of Engels essay. But of course, Engels and Marx are socialists
and communists, and they understand the criticality of communism.


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