It is no great insight to point towards Engel’s admiration of Darwin and his desire to place his and Marx’s theory in the vein of scientific advance: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history.” However, I am curious about how this analogy functions for good ol’ Friedrich. In Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, Engels outlines how his scientific aspirations (“To make a science of socialism, it had to first be placed upon a real basis”) run up against dialectical materialism’s philosophical precursor: Hegelianism. After recognizing the “great merit” of Hegel and his revival of dialectics, Engels argues that Hegelianism is Darwinian, and vice versa. “Nature works dialectically and not metaphysically.” Nevertheless and as we all know–Hegel’s fatal flaw–he’s an idealist. “To him the thoughts within the brain were not the more or less abstract pictures of actual things and processes, but, conversely, things and their evolution were only the realised pictures of the “Idea,” existing somewhere from eternity before the world was.” But we, dialectical materialists, know that all past history is the history of class struggles. Bring on the real!
With Marx, we are told, “idealism was driven from its last refuge, the philosophy of history.” He goes on, “Socialism was no longer an accidental discovery of this or that ingenious brain, but the necessary outcome of the struggle between two historically developed classes–the proletariat and the bourgeoisie” (emphasis mine). History is and always has been driven by class struggle, but Marx showed us that the scientific outcome of this history, the evolutionary leap upon which we (in 1880) are surely upon the precipice, is communism. At this point, with all the talk of inevitability, I’m starting to wonder why I’m spending so much time studying this stuff.
I don’t mean to be too harsh on Friedrich here, but the contradiction of this account stuck out to me quite blatantly as I was reading this week. How can Engels critique idealist philosophy on one page and then on literally the next page declare that Marxian philoosophy has discovered communism be the historically necessary outcome of class struggle? If communism isn’t contingent but inevitable, why was Marx’s philosophizing necessary?
Though he moves on without seeming to note this contradiction, Engels doesn’t leave this question totally unanswered. A few pages on, we are brought back to the analogy of the natural sciences. “Once we understand [natural forces], we [can] grasp their action, their direction, their effects, it depends only upon ourselves to subject them more and more to our own will, and by means of them to reach out own ends.” Marxism, then, is like a ‘hard science’ that allows the proletariat to objectify their social conditions and seize political power.
Leaving aside for now the critiques of this model of ‘hard’ sciences that would come after Engels’ death, I guess I’m curious about the precise point where he overreaches–communism, sadly, was not historically necessary. In this text, it seems to me that in his desire to fashion Marxism after Darwinism, he fails to see that Darwin doesn’t make guesses about where evolution is heading. If we grant class struggle as a, or even the, driving force of history upon a model like evolution, surely that doesn’t grant us the power to see where evolution might go next?