Q & A on socialism: Part III of Anti-Dühring by Friedrich Engels

Questions by Host Anghelo Godino of Anakbayan-Europa, ND Online School
Answers by Jose Maria Sison, ILPS Chairperson Emeritus

November 22, 2020

  1. Can you give us an overview of Part III of Anti-Dühring on socialism?

JMS: In Part III of Anti-Dühring, Engels gives us the materialist history of the development of the ideas of socialism. This is the focus on Chapter 1 (on the Historical) . In Chapter 2 (on the Theoretical), he presents the materialist conception of history and of the contradictions in capitalism. And in Chapter 3 on Production, Chapter 4 on Distribution and Chapter on the State, Family and Education, he refutes Dühring’s idealist conception and fantasy plans for a “new socialitarian system” detached from history and social reality .

  1. According to Engels, what did the philosophers of the French Enlightenment envision? How far did the French revolution realize the Rule of Reason?

JMS: Engels states: the French philosophers of the 18th century, the forerunners of the Revolution, appealed to reason as the sole judge of all that is. A rational government, rational society, were to be founded; everything that ran counter to eternal reason was to be remorselessly done away with. We saw also that this eternal reason was in reality nothing but the idealised understanding of the eighteenth century citizen, just then evolving into the bourgeois. The French Revolution had realised this rational society and government.

Engels states further: But, the new order of things, rational enough as compared with earlier conditions, turned out to be by no means absolutely rational. The state based upon reason completely collapsed. Rousseau’s Social Contract had found its realisation in the Reign of Terror, from which the bourgeoisie, who had lost confidence in their own political capacity, had taken refuge first in the corruption of the Directorate, and, finally, under the wing of the Napoleonic despotism. The promised eternal peace was turned into an endless war of conquest.

The society based upon reason had fared no better. It became the rule of bourgeois reason, bringing about the antagonism between rich and poor, instead of dissolving into general prosperity. This had become intensified by the removal of the guild and other privileges, which had to some extent bridged it over, and by the removal of the charitable institutions of the Church. The development of industry upon a capitalistic basis made poverty and misery of the working masses conditions of existence of society. The number of crimes increased from year to year.

  1. How does Engels treat the disappointing events in the French Revolution? And how does he present the conditions of the French revolution and the extent of capitalist development as limitations on the views of the utopian socialists even if well-meaning?

JMS: Engels observes: All that was wanting was the men to formulate this disappointment and they came with the turn of the century. In 1802 Saint-Simon’s Geneva letters appeared; in 1808 appeared Fourier’s first work, although the groundwork of his theory dated from 1799; on January 1, 1800, Robert Owen undertook the direction of New Lanark.

At this time, however, the capitalist mode of production, and with it the antagonism between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, was still very incompletely developed. Modern industry, which had just arisen in England, was still unknown in France. But modern industry develops, on the one hand, the conflicts which make absolutely necessary a revolution in the mode of production, conflicts not only between the classes begotten of it, but also between the very productive forces and the forms of exchange created by it. And, on the other hand, it develops, in these very gigantic productive forces, the means of ending these conflicts. If, therefore, about the year 1800, the conflicts arising from the new social order were only just beginning to take shape, this holds still more fully as to the means of ending them.

The propertyless masses of Paris, during the Reign of Terror, were able for a moment to gain the mastery. But, in doing so, they only proved how impossible it was for their domination to last under the conditions then obtaining. The proletariat, which then for the first time evolved itself from these propertyless masses as the nucleus of a new class, as yet quite incapable of independent political action, appeared as an oppressed, suffering estate, to whom, in its incapacity to help itself, help could, at best, be brought in from without or down from above.

This historical situation also dominated the founders of socialism. To the crude conditions of capitalist production and the crude class conditions corresponded crude theories. The solution of the social problems, which as yet lay hidden in undeveloped economic conditions, the utopians attempted to evolve out of the human brain. Society presented nothing but wrongs; to remove these was the task of reason. It was necessary, then, to discover a new and more perfect system of social order and to impose this upon society from without by propaganda, and, wherever it was possible, by the example of model experiments. These new social systems were foredoomed as utopian; the more completely they were worked out in detail, the more they could not avoid drifting off into pure fantasies.

  1. What is the Engels’ comment on Dühring’s view of the the utopian socialists? What is Engels’ evaluation of the utopian socialists Saint Simon, Fourier and Owen?

JMS: Engels dismisses as quibbling Dühring’s remarks of contempt for the fantasies of the utopian socialists and his failure to recognize their concern for the poor and oppressed, their honestly good intention and efforts: We can leave it to the literary small fry à la Dühring to solemnly quibble over these fantasies, which today only make us smile, and to crow over the superiority of their own bald reasoning, as compared with such “insanity”. For ourselves, we delight in the stupendously grand thoughts and germs of thought that everywhere break out through their fantastic covering, and to which these philistines are blind.

Engels evaluates each of the utopian socialists Saint Simon, Fourier and Owen. He appreciates them for striving to make a better of use of reason in the service of the oppressed and exploited working men and women even as he notes the utopian character of their ideas of socialism.

Engels gives to Saint Simon credit for recognizing the French Revolution as a class war between nobility, bourgeoisie, and the non-possessors. This was, in the year 1802, a most pregnant discovery. In 1816, Saint Simon declares further that politics is the science of production, and foretells the complete absorption of politics by economics. The knowledge that economic conditions are the basis of political institutions appears here only in embryo. Yet what is here already very plainly expressed is the idea of the future conversion of political rule over men into an administration of things and a direction of processes of production — that is to say, the “abolition of the state”, about which recently there has been so much noise.

If in Saint-Simon we find a comprehensive breadth of view, by virtue of which almost all the ideas of later Socialists, that are not strictly economic, are found in him in embryo, we find in Fourier a criticism of the existing conditions of society, genuinely French and witty, but not upon that account any the less thorough. Fourier takes the bourgeoisie, their inspired prophets before the Revolution, and their interested eulogists after it, at their own word. He lays bare remorselessly the material and moral misery of the bourgeois world. He confronts it with the philosophers’ dazzling promises of a society in which reason alone should reign, of a civilisation in which happiness should be universal, of an illimitable human perfectibility, and with the rose-coloured phraseology of the bourgeois ideologists of his time.

Still more masterly is his criticism of the bourgeois form of the relations between the sexes, and the position of woman in bourgeois society. He was the first to declare that in any given society the degree of woman’s emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation. But Fourier is at his greatest in his conception of the history of society. He divides its whole course, thus far, into four stages of evolution — savagery, the patriarchate, barbarism, civilisation.

Fourier, as we see, uses the dialectic method in the same masterly way as his contemporary, Hegel. Using these same dialectics, he argues against the talk about illimitable human perfectibility, that every historical phase has its period of ascent and also its period of descent, and he applies this observation to the future of the whole human race. As Kant introduced into natural science the idea of the ultimate destruction of the earth, Fourier introduced into historical science that of the ultimate destruction of the human race. —

Robert Owen had adopted the teaching of the materialistic philosophers: that man’s character is the product, on the one hand, of heredity; on the other, of the environment of the individual during his lifetime, and especially during his period of development. In the industrial revolution most of his class saw only chaos and confusion, and the opportunity of fishing in these troubled waters and making large fortunes quickly.

He saw in it the opportunity of putting into practice his favourite theory, and so of bringing order out of chaos. He had already tried it with success, as superintendent of more than five hundred men in a Manchester factory. From 1800 to 1829, he directed the great cotton-mill at New Lanark, in Scotland, as managing partner, along the same lines, but with greater freedom of action and with a success that made him a European reputation.

His advance in the direction of communism was the turning-point in Owen’s life. As long as he was simply a philanthropist, he was rewarded with nothing but wealth, applause, honour, and glory. He was the most popular man in Europe. Not only men of his own class, but statesmen and princes listened to him approvingly. But when he came out with his communist theories, that was quite another thing. Three great obstacles seemed to him especially to block the path to social reform: private property, religion, the present form of marriage.

He knew what confronted him if he attacked these — outlawry, excommunication from official society, the loss of his whole social position. But nothing of this prevented him from attacking them without fear of consequences, and what he had foreseen happened. Banished from official society, with a conspiracy of silence against him in the press, ruined by his unsuccessful communist experiments in America, in which he sacrificed all his fortune, he turned directly to the working class and continued working in their midst for thirty years.

Every social movement, every real advance in England on behalf of the workers links itself on to the name of Robert Owen. He forced through in 1819, after five years’ fighting, the first law limiting the hours of labour for women and children in factories. [He was president of the first congress at which all the Trade Unions of England united in a single great trade association.]
The utopians, we saw, were utopians because they could be nothing else at a time when capitalist production was as yet so little developed. They necessarily had to construct the elements of a new society out of their own heads, because within the old society the elements of the new were not as yet generally apparent; for the basic plan of the new edifice they could only appeal to reason, just because they could not as yet appeal to contemporary history. But when now, almost eighty years after their time, Herr Dühring steps on to the stage and puts forward his claim to an “authoritative” system of a new social order — not evolved out of the historically developed material at his disposal, as its necessary result —but constructed in his sovereign head, in his mind, pregnant with ultimate truths.

  1. In Dühring’s “new socialitarian system”, the capitalist mode of production is quite good, and can remain in existence, but the capitalist mode of distribution is of evil, and must disappear. Why is this statement wrong and harmful according to Engels?

JMS: A priori Dühring draws from his head the “universal principle of justice” to draw up his “new socialitarian system.” But in fact he considers as good the capital mode of production in which the workers are exploited, with the capitalist extracting the surplus value. He does not mind that the capitalist exploits the workers and does not say how the latter can free themselves from exploitation. He completely ignores the fact that the value of the commodity is created by the labor power of the workers in the work place.

It is the capitalist mode of distribution which he considers evil and he asserts that the workers have the right to consume all that they produce and must be compensated accordingly. He wishes that the capitalist does not extract anything and the enterprise always remains where it begins with the capitalist standing by to watch the means of production depreciate and become exhausted. In the socialitarian system, there are no savings to be made for simple or expanded reproduction and for other requirements to maintain the enterprise. Dühring builds a pure fantasy world.

Engels points out: Accumulation is completely forgotten. Even worse: as accumulation is a social necessity and the retention of money provides a convenient form of accumulation, the organisation of the economic commune directly impels its members to accumulate privately, and thereby leads it to its own destruction.

Engels further states: We now find that Herr Dühring’s “socialitarian” system is nothing more than the carrying through of this principle in fantasy. In fact, it turned out that Herr Dühring has practically nothing to take exception to in the mode of production — as such — of capitalist society, that he wants to retain the old division of labour in all its essentials, and that he consequently has hardly a word to say in regard to production within his economic commune.

  1. How does Engels explain the value of the commodity and the functions of production and distribution in the economy?

JMS: According to Engels: The only value known in economics is the value of commodities. What are commodities? Products made in a society of more or less separate private producers, and therefore in the first place private products. These private products, however, become commodities only when they are made, not for consumption by their producers, but for consumption by others, that is, for social consumption; they enter into social consumption through exchange. The private producers are therefore socially interconnected, constitute a society. Their products, although the private products of each individual, are therefore simultaneously but unintentionally and as it were involuntarily, also social products.

In what, then, consists the social character of these private products? Evidently in two peculiarities: first, that they all satisfy some human want, have a use-value not only for the producers but also for others, and secondly, that although they are products of the most varied individual labour, they are at the same time products of human labour as such, of general human labour. In so far as they have a use-value also for other persons, they can, generally speaking enter into exchange; in so far as general human labour, the simple expenditure of human labour-power is incorporated in all of them, they can be compared with each other in exchange, be assumed to be equal or unequal, according to the quantity of this labour embodied in each.

In two equal products made individually, social conditions being equal, an unequal quantity of individual labour may be contained, but always only an equal quantity of general human labour. An unskilled smith may make five horseshoes in the time a skilful smith makes ten. But society does not form value from the accidental lack of skill of an individual, it recognises as general human labour only labour of a normal average degree of skill at the particular time. In exchange therefore, one of the five horseshoes made by the first smith has no more value than one of the ten made by the other in an equal time. Individual labour contains general human labour only in so far as it is socially necessary.

Therefore when I say that a commodity has a particular value, I say (1) that it is a socially useful product; (2) that it has been produced by a private individual for private account, (3) that although a product of individual labour, it is nevertheless at the same time and as it were unconsciously and involuntarily, also a product of social labour and, be it noted, of a definite quantity of this labour, ascertained in a social way, through exchange; (4) I express this quantity not in labour itself, in so and so many labour-hours, but in another commodity.

Money is already contained in embryo in the concept of value; it is value, only in developed form. But since the value of commodities, as opposed to the commodities themselves, assumes independent existence in money, a new factor appears in the society which produces and exchanges commodities, a factor with new social functions and effects. We need only state this point at the moment, without going more closely into it.

The concept of value is the most general and therefore the most comprehensive expression of the economic conditions of commodity production. Consequently, this concept contains the germ, not only of money, but also of all the more developed forms of the production and exchange of commodities. The fact that value is the expression of the social labour contained in the privately produced products itself creates the possibility of a difference arising between this social labour and the private labour contained in these same products.

Once the commodity-producing society has further developed the value form, which is inherent in commodities as such, to the money form, various germs still hidden in value break through to the light of day. The first and most essential effect is the generalisation of the commodity form. Money forces the commodity form even on the objects which have hitherto been produced directly for self-consumption; it drags them into exchange.

  1. What is the material basis of socialism? How does socialism arise from the contradictions within capitalism?

JMS: Engels teaches us that socialism is not an ideal but is based on the actual contradictions of capitalism: The new forces of production have already outgrown the bourgeois form of using them; and this conflict between the productive forces and the mode of production is not a conflict which has arisen in men’s heads, as for example the conflict between original sin and divine justice; but it exists in the facts, objectively, outside of us, independently of the will or purpose even of the men who brought it about. Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex in thought of this actual conflict, its ideal reflection in the minds first of the class which is directly suffering under it—the working class.

As exploiting class, the capitalists extract surplus value from the working class. On their path of advance, working people who own their means of production are swept away. Engels explains: [A]s soon as the means of production had become social and were concentrated in the hands of the capitalists, this situation changed. Both the means of production and the products of the small, individual producer lost more and more of their value; there was nothing left for him to do but to go to the capitalist and work for wages. Wage labor, hitherto an exception and subsidiary, became the rule and the basic form of all production; hitherto an auxiliary occupation, it now became the laborer’s exclusive activity. The occasional wage worker became the wage worker for life.

The laws of commodity production dominate society. Competition also reigns in the marketplace competition, unplanned and anarchic beyond any individual’s control. Engels explains: These laws…enforce themselves on the individual producers as compulsory laws of competition. At first, therefore, they are unknown even to these producers, and have to be discovered by them gradually, only through long experience. They assert themselves apart from the producers and against the producers, as the natural laws of their form of production, working blindly. The product dominates the producers.

The laws of the market compel each capitalist to constantly revolutionize the means of production, turning “the infinite perfectibility of the machine in large-scale industry into a compulsory commandment for each individual industrial capitalist to make his machinery more and more perfect, under penalty of ruin.” These improvements in machinery, “the most powerful instrument for shortening labor-time,” which under different conditions would be a means to free the mass of people from long hours of toil, under capitalism become “the most unfailing means for placing every moment of the laborer’s time and that of his family at the disposal of the capitalist.”

Engels points out that that the resulting explosion of human productivity lays the real, material foundation for a planned society based on the free development of all human beings. Instead of working more, increased productivity can mean that we all work less. He states: Today this is no longer a fantasy, no longer a pious wish. The present development of the productive forces is already adequate as the basis on which the increase in production which must follow from the socialization of the productive forces—the abolition of the barriers and disturbing factors and of the waste of products and means of production—can reduce the time required for labor, with every individual taking his share, to what on our present conceptions would be a small amount.

Capitalist economic expansion enslaves workers to the machine, and creates unplanned disruptions. The capitalist system goes periodically into crisis as the wage conditions depress the market and the profit rate tends to fall, as the “expansion of the market cannot keep pace with the expansion of production.” “By degrees the pace quickens; it becomes a trot; the industrial trot passes into a gallop, and the gallop in turn passes into the mad onrush of a complete industrial commercial, credit, and speculative steeplechase, only to land again in the end, after the most breakneck jumps—in the ditch of a crash.”

Thus, the idea for solving these crises through socialist transformation comes from capitalism’s own tendency to socialize production. Engels points out: Both the period of industrial boom, with its unlimited credit inflation, and the crisis itself through the collapse of great capitalist establishments, urge forward towards that form of the socialization of huge masses of means of production which we find in the various joint-stock companies.

The capitalist system socializes the character of production and also creates and enlarges the modern industrial proletariat which has the motive and opportunity to revolutionize society through their collective action. Engels declares: By more and more transforming the great majority of the population into proletarians, the capitalist mode of production brings into being the force which, under penalty of its own destruction, is compelled to carry out this revolution.… The proletariat seizes the State power, and transforms the means of production in the first instance into State property.

  1. Does state ownership of industry necessarily mean the emergence of socialism? What more ought to be done to arrive at socialism?

JMS: Of course, the capitalist class can use the capitalist state to shore up the crisis-stricken capitalist economy with financial bailouts and stimulus packages and even go as far as to acquire ownership of failing enterprises. Engels points out that state ownership of industry in and of itself did not constitute socialism:

The modern state, whatever its form, is an essentially capitalist machine; it is the state of the capitalists, the ideal collective body of all capitalists. The more productive forces it takes over, the more it becomes the real collective body of all the capitalists, the more citizens it exploits. The workers remain wage-earners, proletarians. The capitalist relationship is not abolished; it is rather pushed to an extreme.

Engels teaches us that even though states always present themselves as representatives of the whole society, in truth every state has a class character. The state actually arose “for the forcible holding down of the exploited classes in the conditions of oppression…determined by the existing mode of production.” And he put forward the prognosis that after the working-class revolution establishes and develops socialism the road is paved for the withering of the state in the absence of any class to be held in subjection. The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then ceases of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the process of production. The state is not “abolished,” it withers away.

  1. How does Engels differentiate the Marxist world view from the viewpoints of Dühring?

JMS: Engels refutes Dühring’s idealist thinking and a priori propositions which are detached from history and reality. Engels lays out the Marxist world view: historical materialism. In doing so, he uses a dialectical and materialist method to explain the development of their ideas and those of the socialist movement generally. Unlike Dühring, who arrogantly looks down on all other thinkers, Marx and Engels acknowledge their debt to their predecessors.

Engels appreciates Hegel in the following words: The whole natural, historical, and spiritual world was presented as a process, that is, as in constant motion, change, transformation, and development; and the attempt was made to show the internal interconnections in this motion and development. From this standpoint the history of mankind no longer appeared as a confused whirl of senseless deeds of violence…but as the process of development of humanity itself.

While appreciating the dialectical kernel of Hegel’s thought as a great step forward, Engels points out the idealist character of Hegels’ philosophy: .The realization of the incorrectness of previous German idealism led necessarily to materialism, but, it must be noted, not to the simple metaphysical and exclusively mechanical materialism of the eighteenth century. Instead…modern materialism sees history as the process of the evolution of humanity, and its own problem as the discovery of the laws of this process.

  1. What are Dühring’s ideas on things like religion, education, and family? What are Engel’s critical comments? JMS: The constitution of the future Dühringian state provides in violation of the freedom of thought and belief: In the free society there can be no religious worship; for every member of it has got beyond the primitive childish superstition that there are beings, behind nature or above it, who can be influenced by sacrifices or prayers”. A “socialitarian system, rightly conceived, has therefore … to abolish all the paraphernalia of religious magic, and therewith all the essential elements of religious worship”.

JMS: Engels comments: Religion is being prohibited. Herr Dühring, however, cannot wait until religion dies its natural death. He proceeds in more deep-rooted fashion. He out-Bismarcks Bismarck; he decrees sharper May laws not merely against Catholicism, but against all religion whatsoever; he incites his gendarmes of the future against religion, and thereby helps it to martyrdom and a prolonged lease of life. Wherever we turn, we find specifically Prussian “socialism”.

After Herr Dühring has thus happily destroyed religion,“man, made to rely solely on himself and nature, and matured in the knowledge of his collective powers, can intrepidly enter on all the roads which the course of events and his own being open to him”. Let us now consider for a change what “course of events” the man made to rely on himself can intrepidly enter on, led by Herr Dühring.

Regarding the family, Dühring prescribes the following: The first course of events whereby man is made to rely on himself is: being born. Then,for the period of natural minority, he remains committed to the “natural tutor of children”, his mother. “This period may last, as in ancient Roman law, until puberty, that is to say, until about the fourteenth year.” Only when badly brought up older boys do not pay proper respect to their mother’s authority will recourse be had to paternal assistance, and particularly to the public educational regulations to remedy this. At puberty the child becomes subject to “the natural guardianship of his father”, if there is such a one “of real and uncontested paternity” {293, 294}; otherwise the community appoints a guardian.

Engels comments critically: Just as Herr Dühring at an earlier point imagined that the capitalist mode of production could be replaced by the social without transforming production itself, so now he fancies that the modern bourgeois family can be torn from its whole economic foundations without changing its entire form. To him, this form is so immutable that he even makes “ancient Roman law”, though in a somewhat “ennobled” form, govern the family for all time; and he can conceive a family only as a “bequeathing”, which means a possessing, unit.

Here the utopians are far in advance of Herr Dühring. They considered that the socialisation of youth education and, with this, real freedom in the mutual relations between members of a family, would directly follow from the free association of men and the transformation of private domestic work into a public industry. Moreover, Marx has already shown (Capital, {Vol. I,} p. 515 et seqq.) that “modern industry, by assigning as it does an important part in the socially organised process of production, outside the domestic sphere, to women, to young persons, and to children of both sexes, creates a new economic foundation for a higher form of the family and of the relations between the sexes”.

Dühring preaches: “Every dreamer of social reforms naturally has ready a pedagogy corresponding to his new social life”. Engels comments critically: If we are to judge by this thesis, Herr Dühring is “a veritable monster” among the dreamers of social reforms. For the school of the future occupies his attention at the very least as much as the author’s rights, and this is really saying a great deal. He has his curricula for school and university all ready and complete, not only for the whole “foreseeable future” but also for the transition period. But we will confine ourselves to what will be taught to the young people of both sexes in the final and ultimate socialitarian system.

  1. How did Engels express concisely the synthesis made by Marx? And what were his two great discoveries?

JMS: Engels declares: It was the work of Marx to synthesize German dialectics, English economics, and French materialism into an analysis of the inner process of capitalism. “This was done by the discovery of surplus value. It was shown that the appropriation of unpaid labor is the basic form of the capitalist mode of production.”

He states further: These two great discoveries, the materialist conception of history and the revelation of the secret of capitalist production by means of surplus value, we owe to Marx. With these discoveries, socialism became a science, which had in the first place to be developed in all its details and relations.

  1. Have the teachings of Marx and Engels on socialism been proven in history after their deaths? In view of the success of modern revisionism subverting and overthrowing the proletariat, what is the socialist future?

JMS: The teachings of Marx and Engels have been proven in history, mainly with the socialist revolutions in the Soviet Union and China in the 20th century. These came about as a result of the economic crisis and wars in the era of modern imperialism and the proletarian-socialist revolution. They proved that socialism could arise from conditions of capitalist oppression and exploitation and that it could be established and developed as state and society ruled by the working class.

Although the Soviet and Chinese socialist societies have been subverted by modern revisionism, the addition of China and Russia as two major imperialist powers to the world capitalist system is now rapidly intensifying inter-imperialist contradictions and is generating the conditions for the rise of anti-imperialist and democratic struggles throughout the world and the resurgence of the world proletarian-socialist revolution.###