Sunday, March 21, 2010


Thomas Riggins

Engels discusses the dialectics of quantity and quality in chapter 12 of part one of Anti-Dühring. In this chapter Engels takes on Dühring anti-dialectical approach to philosophy. Not having understood Hegel, Dühring thinks that since a contradiction appears to be absurd (how can you have A and not-A at the same time?) there can be no contradictions in reality. Engels sets himself the task of clearing up Dühring confusions.

Examples of contradictions in nature, according to Engels are, for example, MOTION, where a body is "in one and the same place and also not in it" and LIFE, where a being "is at each moment itself and yet something else." This, I must admit, sounds a bit like Sartre's existentialism and is perhaps for our time a bit more metaphorical than scientific. What Engels means by motion being a contradiction is perhaps best expressed in the following quote from the article "Motion" in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.

"The contradictory nature of motion consists in the unbroken unity of two opposing factors --- changeability and stability, motion and rest. in fact, the concept of change makes sense only in connection with the idea of a relatively stable, continuously fixed state. This very change, however, is at the same time also a fixed state, which continues and maintains itself; that is, it also possesses stability. In this contradictory unity of changeability and stability the leading role is played by changeability, for everything new in the world first appears by means of it, whereas stability and rest merely fix what has been attained through this process" (from the article by V.I. Sviderskii).

Dühring also makes fun of Das Kapital because of Marx's use of dialectics.
Marx's book, Dühring writes , is an example of the "absence of natural and intelligible logic" resulting in "dialectical frills and mazes and conceptual arabesques." As an example of Dühring complete misunderstanding of Marx's Das Kapital, Engels focuses on his attack on Marx's use of the dialectical notion that quantitative changes bring about qualitative changes.

Here is what Dühring himself has to say about this: "What a comical effect is produced by the reference to the confused, hazy Hegelian notion that quantity changes into quality, and that therefore an advance, when it reaches a certain size, becomes capital by this quantitative increase alone!"

By adding the word "alone" Dühring falsifies both the Hegelian law and Marx's understanding of it. This is what Marx wrote in Vol. 1 of Das Kapital when he discussed how a sum of exchange values, after reaching a certain quantity could become capital. "Here, as in natural science, IS SHOWN the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel (in his LOGIC) that merely quantitative differences beyond a certain point pass into qualitative changes."

Engels says Marx held a sum of exchange values can become capital only when it reaches a definite minimum size, depending on the conditions, "this fact is a PROOF OF THE CORRECTNESS of the Hegelian law." Dühring says Marx held BECAUSE quantity changes in to quality THEREFORE at a certain sum exchange value will become capital. The part about "depending on the conditions" is left out so "the very opposite" of what Marx meant [ i.e., an effect is taken as a cause] is put forth as his meaning. This is typical of what Dühring calls his "philosophy of reality." And, Engels adds, "he has the cheek to describe as COMIC the nonsense which he himself has fabricated."

One of the most obvious examples of the dialectical law under discussion is that of H2O. Water in the solid state becomes a liquid with the quantitative addition of heat and with even more heat the liquid state qualitatively changes into a gas.

Engels also points out that all of Part IV of Das Kapital (where Marx discusses the production of relative surplus value and modern industry, etc.) "deals with innumerable cases in which quantitative change alters the quality, and also qualitative changes alter the quantity, ot the things under consideration." The molecular theory of modern [1880s] chemistry is also based on this law.

Thus, Engels maintains, in both the social world and the natural world around us we "can see how 'quantity changes into quality,'and this allegedly confused, hazy Hegelian notion appears in so to speak corporeal form in things and processes--- and no one but Herr Dühring is confused and befogged by it."

Next we will deal with the last chapter on Engels' discussion of philosophy in Anti-Dühring-- the chapter on the negation of the negation.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Marxism and Vegetarianism

Thomas Riggins

Mark Rowlands has an interesting review of Jonathan Safran Foer's new book, EATING ANIMALS, in the TLS of March 5, 2010 ("Choice Cuts"). It raises important moral, and for Marxists, I think, political problems, that arise from the way animals are killed and consumed under the capitalist dominated meat production industry (under which almost ALL our meat is produced in the US-- ie., by CAFOs or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

Unfortunately, Foer's argument is based on LOGICAL conclusions deduced from readily available empirical facts and , as Rowlands points out human beings in general "don't respond well to logical argument"-- especially when they are engaged in politics. Marxists, however, if they have escaped from the mental disorder of sectarianism and have matured beyond the infantile disorder of ultra-leftism, may prove an exception since their whole philosophy ultimately derives from a logical conclusion deduced from Marx, after he read Hegel's Logic, regarding the way to end human exploitation by means of abolishing the extraction of surplus labor by capitalists.

Well, let us look at Foer's arguments and see if Marxists should also fight to end the exploitation of our fellow animals-- not only on moral grounds but also on the grounds of the SELF INTEREST of the working people of the world. The following is based on Rowlands' review, Double quotes (") are from Foer's book, single quotes (') from Rowlands.

Why did Foer write this book? Because he has recently become a parent and he wanted to set forth examples of the best moral behavior and health behavior for his children. It may turn out that this example applies to all of us.

The book is based on three empirical facts (scientific facts) which are used as premisses to draw a conclusion that any person who is rational (and not an overly irrational teabager) will accept. The premisses are:

1. Human beings do not need to eat animals to live healthy lives.

2. They way animals are now treated and killed for us to eat 'causes suffering on an unimaginable scale' [this presupposes we think this is morally wrong-tr].

3. The way animals are now raised for food is 'environmentally catastrophic.'

THEREFORE: We should not use animals for food as they are now treated and raised.

Notice this is not an absolute vegetarian conclusion, and indeed the author calls for what he terms "contingent vegetarianism"-- but more on this later. Let's look at the evidence for the truth of the three premisses.

Premiss One: The American Dietetic Association says that vegetarian diets are appropriate for humans at all stages of life and that meat eating is unnecessary [like smoking-- it just a bad habit--tr] and is healthy for us--less cancer and heart disease. [Working people would certainly benefit from better and more healthy diets and Marxists should be advocating for vegetarianism as tribunes of the people--tr].

Premiss Two: the 'horrors of factory farms are well known.' Cattle are supposed to be killed by a bolt to the brain, to cite just one example, but investigations have shown a 'non-negligible minority' are still alive and conscious when the skin is peeled off their faces and their legs are chopped off. Similar horrors happen to pigs, chickens, horses, etc. [Since many humans are singularly unaffected by the torture and killing of animals (hunters, fishers, fans of cock, dog, and bull fights, fur wearers, etc.,) this may be the weakest premiss-- tr].

Premiss Three: The UN Climate Commission (Pew Commission) reports that the the animal food industry 'is responsible for more climate change emissions than all forms of transport combined-- in fact, nearly 40 per cent more.' Talk about reducing gas emissions! And don't forget all the government unregulated animal poop flooding the nation, getting into the food supply-(E. coli comes from animal intestines--what's it doing in peanut butter?), as well as the water supply. I hope you don't live near a factory pig farm.

What is "contingent vegetarianism?" Foer himself has become "a committed vegetarian." He is not vegan. Cheese and milk seem to be ok, but in so far as the dairy business is also part of the CAFO system (dairy cows end up there as do their calves) premiss two seems applicable.

Foer leaves open the possibility of humane (?) farming which allows for limited meat eating but Rowlands thinks that Foer's arguments are stronger that Foer himself thinks they are. 'The qualified nature of his conclusion -- contingent vegetarianism -- suggests that he hasn't quite understood just how convincing his book is.'

My take is that vegetarianism is the only politically correct position to take vis a vis the interests of the working class, and not only the working class but all of humanity as well. First, how can Marxists not advocate the most healthy diet possible for people? Capitalist agribusiness pushes meat for profit not out of concern for human well being. Second,if we destroy the earth, sea and atmosphere with unending pollution the working people and all other segments of humanity cannot possible survive. CAFOs are major contributors to this pollution. The capitalists have no intention of doing anything serious about ending pollution as long as their super profits keep rolling in. To defend our class and humanity we should advocate AT LEAST contingent vegetarianism.

I think that under capitalism we will not be able to change significantly the eating habits of people. It will take the complete reeducation of humanity that will be required under socialism to bring up future generations of humans dedicated to people before profits, the abolition of war, protection of the environment, the end of economic exploitation, and the end of the killing and eating of animals with all of its attendant cruelty.

Nevertheless, this is a topic worthy of consideration and discussion by the international communist and worker's movement. The time has come for both individual Marxists, and, indeed, whole parties to debate this issue and come to a consensus based on the scientific evidence and the logical conclusions derived from it.

Sunday, March 07, 2010


Thomas Riggins
(Engels and Philosophy VI)

Engels discusses this topic in Chapter XI, Part I of Anti-Dühring (Morality and Law. Freedom and Necessity). Dühring claims to discuss the problems of law and politics with knowledge gained from "the MOST EXHAUSTIVE SPECIALIZED STUDIES." And he contrasts his own in depth studies with the "admittedly neglected legal studies of Herr Marx."

Well, if Thomas Henry Huxley was Darwin's Bulldog, Engels was Marx's and nothing sets him off more that Dühring's propensity to portray himself in a favorable light at the expense of Marx, especially when Marx's knowledge of the subject matter under review was many magnitudes greater than the paltry speculations put forth by Dühring.

In his discussion on law and politics Dühring begins by making sweeping generalizations about the law in general, such as that "revenge" is the basis of criminal law, and then moves on to comparisons of French law with the Prussian 'Landrecht'-- all of which reveals that Herr Dühring knows very little about these matters. He seems ignorant of the fact that French law,that is, modern civil law [outside of England] "rests on the social achievements of the Great French Revolution" as embodied in the Code Napoléon.

Dühring puts himself forward as a great student of the law, but Engels points out that he is not only ignorant with regard to French law, but that his ignorance carries over to Roman law and even Germanic law (especially its English version "which is the only Germanic law which has developed independently of Roman authority up to the present day and spread to all parts of the world....")

Dühring's form of socialism has another great defect and that is his rampant anti-Semitism. Engels says "his hatred of the Jews" is carried "to ridiculous extremes" which he "exhibits on every possible occasion." Engels really takes Dühring to task over this issue. Dühring thinks that hatred of Jews is based on "natural grounds" and is a "natural judgment" while Engels says it is a wide spread prejudice "inherited from the bigotry of the Middle Ages."

What is worse is that Dühring thinks one of the arguments in favor of "socialism" is that it will lead to better methods of Jew control. These are Dühring's words: "socialism is the only power which can oppose population conditions with a rather strong Jewish admixture." Engels sums up his view of Dühring's opinions as those of a man full of "grandiloquent boasts" and exhibiting "the crassest ignorance."

At this point Engels remarks that when dealing with questions of morality and law it is hard to ignore the question of "free will." Are all our actions predetermined or can we be held responsible for them? Herr Dühring gives two, conflicting, answers to this problem. His first answer is that there is a tug of war in the mind (brain) between instincts and reason. Our instincts pull us one way and reason another. The more rational we are, the more educated and subject to reason, the less we will be subject to the irrational emotions driven by out instinctual impulses. Dühring thinks this explanation will do away with the silly notion of "inner freedom." Each individual's behavior will be determined by his or her proportion of rational to irrational "drives".

Engels does not really evaluate this first answer, but says it is blown out of the water by Dühring's second answer. Engels quotes Dühring: "We base moral responsibility on freedom, which however means nothing more to us than susceptibility to conscious motives in accordance with out natural and acquired intelligence. All such motives operate with the inevitability of natural law, notwithstanding an awareness of possible contrary actions; but it is precisely on this unavoidable compulsion that we rely when we apply the moral levers."

I think the problem is this second answer ends up with "unavoidable compulsion." Yet the first answer also says about the same thing. The tug of war between reason and unreason will be resolved by the preponderance of the strength of each force within the individual. Engels calls it a "parallelogram of forces" resulting in the action taken being a mean between them. So perhaps Engels overstates the case that Dühring's two answers contradict each other.

Be that as it may, Engels is really interested in the second answer. It is not, he says, the result of any original thinking on the part of Dühring. It is a dumbed down version of Hegel, as is so often the case with Dühring's views. It was Hegel who "was the first to state correctly the relation between freedom and necessity". "Necessity," Hegel wrote, " is BLIND only IN SO FAR AS IT IS NOT UNDERSTOOD."

Engels explains that. FREEDOM is knowing what the laws of nature are and how we can use them "towards definite ends." This is true both for the natural [or external] realm (physics, chemistry, etc.,) and for the inner or mental realm. These two sets of laws can be separated conceptually (the physical and mental) but they are actually one set in reality. "Freedom of the will therefore means nothing but the capacity to make decisions with knowledge of the subject."

This means the more knowledge you have, the more educated you are about the things you are dealing with the FREER you are in dealing with them and at the same time the more NECESSITY comes into play-- i.e., of knowing what necessary actions must be done to attain the goal sought. Engels says, with respect to the will, "the uncertainty, founded on ignorance, which seems to make an arbitrary choice among many different and conflicting possible decisions, shows precisely by this that it is not free, that is is controlled by the very object it should it self control. And since freedom increases with knowledge of the world it, like equality, and law and morality, is "necessarily a product of historical development."

The greatest liberation from natural necessity of humankind on record, yet still strictly determined by physical laws, was the discovery of how to make FIRE: "the generation of fire from friction." Engels says that in our [his] age we might think the greatest advance in human control of nature, and thus in freedom, was the invention of the STEAM ENGINE and the modern world that it has made possible. We would be wrong. Fire was the very first of the forces of nature that humans began to learn how to control and it was this feat of "man" that "thereby separated him for ever from the animal kingdom."

Nevertheless, the invention of the steam engine was a great leap forward. Engels thought that the steam engine had so increased the productive forces of humankind that we could, in the age of steam, solve the social problem. For the increase in the PRODUCTIVE FORCES "alone make possible a state of society in which there are no longer class distinctions" in which there be will enough socially created product for all and "for the first time there can be talk of real human freedom"-- that is, "of an existence in harmony with the laws of nature that have become known."

Well, if we are threatening to destroy our environment, killing the oceans, and destroying the last of the oxygen producing rain forests (the lungs of the planet) and billions of people are facing starvation and famine, something has gone amiss in the last century and a half and we are definitely out of sync with the laws of nature while the increase in the productive forces is bringing servitude not freedom to masses of humanity. Engels vision is on hold.

Engels, however, was no utopian socialist, and would not have been shocked if he had been told that the human race was still many generations away from his musings on the attainment of "real human freedom." He had a longer time frame than many of his erstwhile followers who throw in the towel whenever there is a major setback. "But how young the whole of human history still is," he wrote, "and how ridiculous it would be to attempt to ascribe any absolute validity to our present views, is evident from the simple fact that all past history can be characterized as the history of the epoch from the practical discovery of the transformation of mechanical motion into heat up to that of the transformation of heat into mechanical motion." Engels' views are, of course, not absolutely valid, but I see nothing that has happened in the miniscule slice of time that has expired since he expressed them and the present day which would lead one to think they are out of date.