Politics, polemic and Marxism: Engels' Anti-Dühring

Submitted by dalcassian on 25 June, 2014 - 2:08

Introduction by Sean Matgamna

"Without a revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement." V. I. Lenin

A century and a half after the publication of the Communist Manifesto, Marxists are faced with redeveloping, virtually from the ground up, a mass working-class socialist movement of the sort which one hundred years ago our predecessors thought they could point to as the towering achievement of the previous 50 years.

Of course, there are powerful labour movements, and not only in the old countries of capitalism such as Britain, where the trade unions possess a great latent power. Wherever capitalism has prospered in newly developing countries, from Brazil to Korea, labour movements have grown up to confront it. Therein lies the rational basis for our belief in a socialist future and for the conviction that what the socialists of today do can shape and secure that future.

But even where there are in these movements strong drives toward independent working-class politics, or, as there normally are, socialist tendencies within them, they are not - or not yet - socialist. Some of them, the British trade unions for example, which spent many decades notionally committed to the socialist transformation of society, have moved away from their old and all too vague reform socialism.

Marxism has retreated deeper into academia - though there is a lot less even of that than there used to be - or, in a ridiculous parody of what Marxism was to the Stalinist organisations, into the cloistered seclusion of one or other "revolutionary party", where it exists to grind out rationalisation and apologia to justify the decisions of the "party" apparatus: "Marxism" with its eyes put out, chained to the millwheel. Much "Marxism" is now of this sort: "Apparatus Marxism".

Apparatus Marxism is a peculiarly rancid species of pseudo-academic "Marxism" from which everything "objective", disinterested, spontaneous and creative is banished. Creativity is incompatible with the prime function of "apparatus Marxism": rationalising. Creativity and, so to speak, spontaneity is the prerogative of the all-shaping, suck- it-and-see empirical citizens who man the "Party" apparatus. Everything is thereby turned on its head. The sad history of the "Orthodox Trotskyist", or Cannonite, organisations is a story shaped by this conception of the relationship of Marxism to "the revolutionary party" - as a handmaiden of the apparatus. So too is the story of the the British SWP, for which "party building" calculations determine the "line" and "Marxism" consists in "bending the stick" to justify it.

Lenin rightly argued that revolutionary theory without revolutionary practice is sterile and that revolutionary practice without revolutionary theory is blind. "Apparatus Marxism" is both blind and sterile because it is not and cannot be a guide to practice. It exists to rationalise a practice that is in fact guided by something else - usually, the perceived advantage of the organisation. For Marxists, the unity of theory and practice means that practice is guided by theory, a theory constantly replenished by experience. In "Apparatus Marxism", the proper relationship of theory to practice and of practice to theory is inverted.

To understate it, "Marxism" is not in it's best-ever condition. Yet, the truth is that the destruction and eclipse of what might be called "20th Century Marxism" was historically necessary and is progressive - demolition work on the corrupt Stalinist counterfeit of "socialism" and "Marxism". Most of the political ideas that for decades passed for "Marxism" and socialism were authoritarian, more akin to medieval scholasticism than to post-renaissance thinking, and and in their social and political implications, downright reactionary: the destruction of that "socialism" and its servitor was necessary.

The objective conditions for the revival of authentic Marxism and of socialism conceived of a human liberation are, despite everything, more favourable now than at any time since the rise and consolidation of Stalinism in the USSR and in the Communist International 75 years ago.

But there can be nothing mechanical, and there is nothing necessarily inevitable, about the redevelopment of Marxism, or of mass socialist movements and organisations. That depends on what those socialists who stand in the tradition of working-class anti-Stalinism do now. We have to clarify our own ideas, we have to reclaim the genuine traditions of socialism even while we argue for socialism in the existing working class movement. A necessary part of this is work to rediscover what Marxism was, before the Stalinist ice-age.

Here, the study of Frederick Engels' Anti-Dühring is irreplaceable. Anti-Dühring is the only systematic exposition of Marxism by one of its founders. It was written in close consultation with the other, Karl Marx (who in fact contributed the section on dialectics). Anti-Dühring was the handbook of those who built the Second and Third, and founded the Fourth, Internationals. It remains a necessary part of the education of anybody who aspires to be a Marxist. This article by David Ryazanov, the leading Marxist scholar of the Bolshevik Party - murdered by Stalin in the mid-30s - will deepen that education.

Anti-Dühring is an enormous polemic, the sort of thing that the philistine culture of the present-day left damns as "sectarianism". It fact it is the antidote to both sectarianism and to our predominant philistine Marxism. That culture is largely made up of the self-satisfaction of various "Apparatus Marxisms", protected, as behind high tariff walls, by the "party" regimes they serve. Demurals or questionings of cloistered certainties are inimical to that culture. This segmented "Marxism" stands in the way of Marxist self-renewal: it makes the cornerstone of revolutionary Marxism - as distinct from Academic Marxism and its gelded first cousin, "Apparatus Marxism" - the unity of theory and practice, Marxism as a guide to action, an impossibility.

In what way other than by debate and argument can reasoning self-respecting people, who have broken with religion, decide between the different opinions that inevitably arise amongst socialists who start from the same premises and have the same goals? What else is there except to reason, to discuss, to compare and exchange ideas, to argue and attempt to validate and buttress what you think is the truth by demolishing what you see as mistaken? The only other way is to set up a Pope or a College of Cardinals to pronounce on what is true and useful. That "other way" facilitates not Marxism but "Apparatus Marxism".

An earlier variant of the philistine culture dominant on the contemporary left threatened to destroy the German Marxist movement in its infancy. As Ryazanov shows in this fascinating account of the impact on German socialism of Engels' attempt to hammer out clarity and intellectual coherence among socialists, most of whom would, given the chance, have settled as between Engels and Dühring for a cosy, vague and thoroughly poisonous "broad-socialist" consensus. If that culture had not been overcome, the great German socialist movement could not have come into existence.

Of course, the fact that Frederick Engels wrote an epoch-making polemic does not certify that all polemic is good or Marxist. But, apart from the test of practice, which can't in its fullest revolutionary development be arranged at will, only free and open debate - polemic - can establish that. We do not have Engels, or Marx, or Lenin, or Trotsky. We have to use our own heads. Discussion about our differences - reason, argument and polemic about our differences - combined with unity in action - that is the way to collectively use our heads. There is no other way.

Sean Matgamna

David Riazanov: Politics, polemic and Marxism: Engels' Anti-Duhring

The preface to the first edition of Anti-Dühring was signed by Friedrich Engels, June 11 1878. This date, however, is not quite accurate. The articles against Dühring were first printed in Vorwärts, the central organ of united German Social Democracy. The first article appeared on January 3, 1877. The first section of the book, "Philosophy", was published in 19 issues ending May 13 1877. After this there was an interruption. The second section, "Political Economy", began to appear on July 27, occupied nine numbers and was finished on December 30, 1877. The third section, "Socialism", followed after a considerable gap lasting more than four months. It was published in five numbers, beginning May 5 and ending July 7, 1878. Thus, the last chapter was printed in Vorwärts a month later than is shown in the preface.

When we speak of the significance of Anti-Dühring it is necessary to bear in mind the position of German Social Democracy at that time. It is well known especially to those who have studied the disputes around the "Gotha Programme" - how inadequate was the Marxist equipment of German Social Democracy in 1875. The disputes which took place around this compromising project of a Programme are well known. But this still does not give a complete picture of the extraordinarily low Marxist level which at that time was characteristic of German Social Democracy. In one respect, Mehring was right. If Marx and Engels were dissatisfied with Liebknecht because of the compromise which he concluded with the Lassalleans in the sphere of programme and tactics, it was because they over-estimated the Marxist understanding in the ranks of the "Eisenachers", i.e., in the ranks of that Party which considered itself Marxist. If we take the central organ of Social Democracy, even after the union, we find there nothing more than an incredibly confused, almost vulgar, socialism. It was a monstrous mixture of some propositions of Marx, with some of Lassalle, and with a whole series of theses, the origin of which is to be found in contemporary bourgeois literature. It is sufficient to remark how from 1873 onwards the authority of Dühring grew greater and greater.

Comrades acquainted with Anti-Dühring usually have an impression of Dühring as almost an absolute cretin. But Dühring was no idiot. He was a big figure. He had in him that which makes many such active men immediately attractive to youth, namely the qualities of a man with an encyclopedic education, who could orientate himself unusually freely in questions of natural science, philosophy, political economy, and socialism. He was a man who could give to the younger generation, in the old popular term, "a system of truth". He gave a complete system of world outlook, he gave answers to all the troublesome questions. Moreover, he was a man known to the younger generation by his hatred of the professors, and in his personal life not especially happy, as might be expected from a man who lost his sight at the age of 28, and was compelled to acquire all his knowledge with the aid of other, almost accidental, persons. He was a man living in great poverty. All this created sympathy towards him.

The chief apostle of Dühring in German Social Democracy was Eduard Bernstein. We have, at least, five separate recollections of Bernstein's on this interesting phase of his life. Each time he acknowledges that he was a very zealous and fervent disciple!
He infected Fritsch, Johann Most, August Bebel and Bracke with "Dühringism". He writes that in 1873 he never missed an occasion of hearing the lectures of Dühring and he carried with him in his enthusiasm a whole series of comrades, including foreigners, for the most part Russians. He gave Dühring's book to Bebel, then in prison, and Bebel wrote from prison in March 1874 an article entitled "A New Communist".

Bebel ends his article in the following fashion: All our considerations against Dühring's conception do not militate against his fundamental views. We consider them irreproachable, and regard him with complete approval. And we will never hesitate to declare that after Marx's Capital, the new work of Dühring belongs to the best that the new era has produced in the economic sphere. We, therefore, heartily recommend the study of his book.

This was the response of Bebel, who was dissatisfied with the Gotha unity, with the Gotha compromise. It can easily be imagined how this article was received in London. We have evidence that Engels immediately sent a request to Berlin as to who wrote this article. Liebknecht hastened to re-assure Engels (June 13 1874): Of course, it is impossible to avoid foolishnesses, but as soon as they are recognised they are, as far as possible, corrected. Have you any basis for believing that Dühring is worthless or a hidden enemy? Everything known to me about him strengthens me in the belief that, although he is confused, he is indubitably honest and stands unreservedly on our side.

The article denounced by you was not altogether correct and was written with an unbounded measure of enthusiasm. In any case the intentions of the author were certainly good and the article has not produced a bad effect.

Somewhat later Bloss declares to Engels, writing from prison: "In regard to Dühring you are right... in his Critical History of Socialism and Political Economy he wrote much stupidity. I have only now read this book."

After Liebknecht and particularly Bloss had become more acquainted with Dühring, Liebknecht sent a request to Engels on February 1 1875, that he should write an article about Dühring. Unfortunately, there are no letters of Engels and Marx in regard to this, but, obviously, they had created no little disturbance. Liebknecht writes: When will it be possible to receive from you some work on Dühring, who in the second edition of his History of Political Economy has again repeated all his numerous stupidities about Marx? I was attending the lectures of this man before Christmas. Megalomania, and at the same time a furious hatred of Marx, that is all. But he has entrenched himself very strongly among our people, especially in Berlin, and consequently it is necessary to examine him fundamentally. You probably have the second edition. If you have not, we will send it to you.

In a second letter, not immediately to Engels or Marx, but to Engels' [common-law] wife, Liebknecht adds: "You must tell Engels that he must deal with Dühring fundamentally, but it is necessary to remember one thing: Dühring is literally dying of hunger."

Engels did not agree particularly willingly. He resisted for a long time. From his correspondence with Marx we know that this task did not particularly attract him, the more so because just at this time he was in the full fervour of his occupation with natural science. It was only shortly before that he had communicated to Marx and to Schorlemmer the basic theses of his dialectics of nature. He was about to expand them in a special work, and he did not wish to throw aside this labour and occupy himself with a polemic against Dühring who was better known to him than to Liebknecht. Marx and Engels had already finished with Dühring.

The latter had interested them as early as the 1860s, when he wrote one of the first criticisms of Capital. They had already found out at that time that he was a "privat-docent" [junior lecturer] in political economy and a collaborator of the official newspaper Staatsanzeiger, to which Marx had definitely refused to contribute, and that Dühring had had a lawsuit with the well-known Privy Councillor Wagener in regard to the authorship of a certain production, a memorandum report written for Bismarck, on how to settle the socialist question. Wagener thought that he had to do with an ordinary "privat-docent" and put his own signature to the report. Dühring brought a lawsuit against him and won it. Marx and Engels were aware that Dühring in the sphere of political economy was a great worshipper of Carey and List, which was not known to the so-called young comrades.

Accordingly, Engels, who had just begun to take up a more interesting subject, was very unwilling to occupy himself with Dühring. And from the correspondence it is possible to see how much pressing was needed on the part of Liebknecht before Engels finally undertook the work.

In 1875-76 the cult of Dühring became stronger and stronger. "Instead of the fighting slogan 'Lassalle or Marx'", writes Bernstein in his latest autobiography, "it seemed that there was put forward a new slogan 'Dühring or Marx and Lassalle'. And in all this I was not a little to blame."

Attempts were made to use the Vorwärts to advertise Dühring. In fact, Liebknecht had to carry on a stubborn struggle, once having permitted this error on the part of Bebel, in order not to allow Vorwärts to be converted into an organ which exalted Dühring as a thinker on a level equal with Marx. The matter became more complicated still when Most wrote a big philosophical article on Dühring and sent it to Liebknecht. In 1876, Most even exceeded Bernstein in his Dühring worship; as an energetic worker and a magnificent agitator, he won for Dühring great popularity among the Berlin workers, the Berliner Freie Presse, the organ of the Berlin organisation, being greatly under the influence of Most.
On receiving Most's article, Liebknecht purposely sent it to Engels, because he presumed that Engels after reading it would understand that, whether he liked doing so or not, it was necessary to set to work about Dühring. Engels finally agreed to write a series of articles on Dühring and began the task.

I will not dwell in more detail on this point, because the correspondence of Marx and Engels gives a whole series of indications of the unwillingness with which in the beginning Engels addressed himself to this subject. In any case, he was not able to dispatch the first article before the autumn of 1876. This was the first section, on Philosophy.

But here there occurred a little mishap: Liebknecht had not expected that Engels would send his article so late. He expected them earlier, at the beginning of the electoral campaign - the elections took place in January 1877. It is understandable that Liebknecht and a number of other comrades were extremely occupied with the electoral campaign, too much so to pay attention to how Engels' articles would be printed. It is clear that Engels was fully justified in his dissatisfaction. It would have been impossible to make use of Engels' articles in a worse fashion than was done by Vorwärts during January, 1877. The chapters of the section on Philosophy were printed with the most abundant printer's errors, and were divided up senselessly without any basis.

Receiving his articles in this shameful form, Engels was nearly beside himself and thundered at the editors in his letters, seeing in all this almost an intrigue of the Dühringites. Such a thought would, in fact, very naturally occur to anyone who sees how this section of Anti-Dühring was printed.

Finally, Engels wrote one of his fiercest letters to Liebknecht. Engels' letters to Liebknecht were always in very sharp terms, but this was an extra sharp letter. Engels accused Liebknecht of all the mortal sins. But Liebknecht always showed great patience in relation to the "old man". He explained to Engels that it was all due to the electoral campaign, and finally peace was made between them, but this was immediately followed by a new incident,that of the famous Gotha Congress of 1877. The last portion of the part on Philosophy was printed on May 13 1877, and the Gotha Congress took place on May 27 to 29. Let us see how the history of this Congress is given by two authors.
We will first of all hear Mehring: How greatly Engels' book was necessary was shown perhaps in the most striking fashion by the rather unfavourable reception that it received from the Party. Most and others were not far removed from closing the columns of the Vorwärts to it, thus giving to the heretic Engels a similar fate to that already dealt out to Dühring by the official university clique. Fortunately, the Congress of 1877 did not take this step. Solely on the basis of agitational and practical considerations, it decided to continue the publication of this purely scientific polemic in its paper, but only in a scientific supplement to the central organ. Not a few sharp words, however, were said. Neisser accused the editorial board of Vorwärts of not making sufficient efforts for a proper supervision of Engels' work, and Walteich remarked in his arrogant manner, which had already antagonised Lassalle, that Engels' tone was bound to lead to the ruin of literary taste and because of him the spiritual fare provided by Vorwärts was becoming absolutely uneatable.

This is Mehring's account. Now let us turn to Bebel's story: Still more unpleasant were the debates provoked by Most on the subject of Engels' articles in Vorwärts directed against Dühring. The latter had succeeded in getting on his side almost all the leaders of the Berlin working-class movement. I was also of the opinion that for the purposes of agitation it was necessary to support and utilise every literary tendency which, like the works of Dühring, sharply criticised the existing social order and declared in favour of Communism. From this point of view, I had already in 1874 written from prison for the Volkstaat two articles under the heading "A New Communist", in which I examined the works of Dühring. They had been sent to me by Eduard Bernstein, who, at that time, together with Most, Fritsch, etc., belonged to the most fervent admirers of Dühring. The circumstance that Dühring had very quickly come into conflict with the university authorities and the government - a conflict which ended with his dismissal in June 1877, from Berlin University - still more raised his prestige in the eyes of his followers. All this led Most to introduce the proposal that for the future such articles as those of Engels against Dühring, which did not present any interest for the great mass of readers, or evoked the dissatisfaction of the readers, should not be published any more in the central organ.

Both Bebel and Mehring, however, do not quite accurately represent what took place at the Congress. There were even more unpleasant things. Neisser's remarks have already been given by Mehring. Liebknecht waxed indignant against Neisser. Then Most and his comrades introduced a resolution that the Congress should declare that "articles such as the recent articles of Engels against Dühring are entirely devoid of interest for the readers of Vorwärts, and should be removed from the central organ". Liebknecht, of course, wanted to protest, but there was immediately introduced another proposal by Kleimich and his comrades, that "discussions on the proposal of Most, and on other proposals relating to Engels' articles in the Vorwärts, should be introduced only from the point of view of material expediency and not in any case from the point of view of principle or of science". This resolution of Kleimich was passed by 37 votes to 36. After this, Liebknecht declared that the discussions lost all significance if on this question it was possible to speak only of material expediency. Then Bebel and his comrades introduced a resolution as follows:

Taking into consideration the length (!) of the articles of Engels against Dühring and presuming that in future they will become even longer, and taking into account that the polemic which is being conducted by Engels in the columns of Vorwärts against Dühring or against his adherents will give to the latter or his adherents the right to reply with equally lengthy articles and in this way to take up excessively the space of Vorwärts, and taking into account that our cause has nothing to gain from this, since it is a matter of a purely scientific dispute, the Congress resolves that the publication of the articles of Engels against Dühring in the chief portion of Vorwärts shall cease, and that all these articles shall be printed in the scientific supplement of Vorwärts or as a separate pamphlet. And in the same way all further debates in regard to this special subject must be removed from the main portion of Vorwärts.

This resolution was accepted by the Congress after Most had withdrawn his resolution and identified himself with the proposal of Bebel. Thus, Bebel at this Congress played a part considerably different from that described in his memoirs.

Liebknecht, in one of his letters to Engels, writes that, unfortunately, he had not had a chance of talking things over with Bebel, and Bebel committed this blunder. At any rate, the whole of this episode concerning Dühring and Engels' articles in the central organ, the chief editor of which was Liebknecht, and in which Bebel had great influence, is very characteristic of the intellectual calibre of the German Social Democratic Party at that time.

The police and the University authorities again came to the assistance of Dühring. The Congress ended in May 1877. Engels had to take up the continuation of his articles. Just at this period, Dühring reached the zenith of his popularity. The Ministry for Education raised the question about Dühring's dismissal from Berlin University. This was one of the great sensational events in Europe at the time, and was not less attentively followed in our own fatherland, where already prior to this people had begun to be interested in Dühring. Mikhailovsky wrote a lengthy article in Notes of the Fatherland on the "Scandal in Berlin University". Vorwärts and Liebknecht were compelled to come to the defence of Dühring, for it was impossible to leave him at the mercy of the university authorities. A series of articles appeared in Vorwärts in defence of Dühring, and this time not as the author of a definite system, but simply as the defender of the freedom of science which it was necessary to defend in the Prussian police state. The Vorwärts also even printed poems and odes in honour of Dühring, just at the time of the gap between the printing of the first and second sections of Anti-Dühring. Many young students - Schippel, Emmanuel Wurm, Firek, Manfred Wittich - came to the defence of Dühring together with Fritsch and Most, the last named arranging workers' meetings, etc. The others on their side organised a series of students' meetings,where Dühring was defended as a representative of oppressed science. Mehring declares in his History of German Social Democracy that this was the last idealistic movement among German students.

Dühring, however, who attracted sympathy for himself as a state-persecuted savant, drove away almost all his adherents by his unbearable character. Just at the moment when he had achieved his greatest success in coming close to the Berlin workers and their leaders, he committed a series of acts which made any kind of joint work with him impossible. Thus, to the state University he wished to oppose a free academy, and he drew up regulations for this academy, but of such a kind that he disgusted the Berlin Social Democrats. He opposed his free academy to the idea of a labour university, which he refused to consider, for he did not intend, as he wrote, to give anyone an opportunity to exploit him. Bernstein suspected Dühring, as he writes in two variants of his memoirs, of having together with Most organised the campaign against Engels at the Gotha Congress. For this suspicion he had certain grounds.

The Berliner Freie Presse, in which Most and his comrades participated, as late as October 1878, was still defending Dühring in toto. But by the beginning of November a complete rupture had taken place. Dühring definitely came to the conclusion that Most and company were intending to sacrifice him to Liebknecht, in that they did not fulfil their promises, in that they did not succeed in securing the cessation of Engels' articles in Vorwärts. So, Bernstein writes, Dühring declared that the Social Democrats simply wished to utilise him for their party, and thus to ruin his scientific career.
Bernstein, in another variant of his memoirs, writes: "It was not Engels who killed Dühring, but Dühring who killed himself."

The same idea is to be found in a letter of Liebknecht's to Engels. Naturally, this is an exaggeration. Dühring had lost prestige, but the cult of Dühring was still unvanquished; it was still necessary to fight him, and this was shown most clearly in 1878. A new journal, The Future, was founded, the predecessor of which was the scientific supplement of Vorwärts. The programme of this paper, which was intended to serve as the scientific organ of the party, constituted such an eclectic mixture that Engels could write to Marx with full justification that there was developing in Germany a new German vulgar socialism, which was worthy to rank with the "true socialism" of 1845. Consequently, Engels wrote the subsequent articles against Dühring, those of the sections "Political Economy" and "Socialism", in a different manner. He struck at Dühring, but he aimed his blows at Most, Fritsch, Liebknecht and Bebel. In some places, Engels directly polemises against them, although he does not mention them by name.

Bebel, August: Central founding leader (with Wilhelm Liebknecht) of the German Marxist movement. Remained central until his death in 1913.

Bernstein, Eduard: In 1877, a prominent younger comrade of Bebel and Liebknecht. Later became close to Engels, and later again (from 1898) the chief advocate of "Revisionism" (reformism) in the German socialist movement.

Bismarck, Otto von: Prime minister of Prussia 1862-71, and Chancellor of Germany 1871-90.

Carey and List: Advocates, writing in the USA, of national economic development by way of tariffs and other protective measures.

Eisenachers: Bebel's and Liebknecht's "Marxist" group before they merged with the followers of Ferdinand Lassalle.

Gotha Programme: Adopted by the German socialist movement in 1875 when the co-thinkers of Marx and Engels merged with the followers of Ferdinand Lassalle. Marx and Engels considered the programme to be a confused mish-mash, and Marx wrote a famous and furious "Critique of the Gotha Programme", although this was not to be published for 15 years.
Lassalle, Ferdinand: Important early leader of the German workers' movement. Died in 1864. Marx and Engels criticised 

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