David Riazanov

On Engels’ Anti-Dühring


Preface to Anti-Dühring, Moscow 1928. [1]
English Translation: Labour Monthly, May & June 1929.
Transcribed by Adam Buick.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Fifty years have passed since the appearance of Anti-Dühring as a separate book. The Preface to the first edition was signed by 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 in January 3, 18 77. The first section of the book, Philosophy, was published in nineteen 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 twenty-eight, 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 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, Most, 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’ 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 sixties, when he wrote one of the first criticisms of Capital. They had already found out at that time that he was a “privat-docent” 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 as 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, 1877. 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 Edward Bernstein, who, at that time, together with Most, Fritsch, &c., 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 thirty-seven votes to thirty-six. 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 also 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, &c. 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 his company were intending to sacrifice him to Liebknecht, and 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 personal prestige, but the cult of Dühring was still unvanquished; it was still necessary to fight him, and this was shown most clearly precisely 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 central 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 polemicises against them, although he does not mention them by name.

It remains to say something on the significance of Anti-Dühring. I have already pointed out the chief causes of Dühring’s popularity. This must always be kept in mind. Dühring gave the revolutionary youth a philosophy of the world. He gave them a system of ideas; he gave them a system of answers to troublesome questions. What had a Marxist at that time? There was the Communist Manifesto. But the Communist Manifesto without all that had preceded it, without all the preparatory data, of which it was the conclusion, without the appropriate historical knowledge, was less intelligible than Lassalle’s Programme of the Workers. It must be added also that it was only when a new edition was published in 1872, after it had been unobtainable for a long time, that it attained a really large circulation. Capital was rather widely read. But, even for Liebknecht, Capital was principally a book which gave him material for a Reichstag speech on working-class legislation, which provided him with material for an anniversary speech, if he wished to show to what degree the workers had been exploited by capitalism. Liebknecht was frankly convinced in 1874 that Buckle was the greatest of all historians and the creator of a new conception of world history, whilst Marx was only the creator of a new economic system. Just as in Russia, Capital in its philosophical and historical-materialist parts remained for the readers of Marx “an unread chapter of a favourite book” – as Plekhanov expressed it.

Engels’ literary connection with the Volksstaat (the People’s State), which appeared under Liebknecht’s editorship, began as early as 1873. He had to answer various practical questions. A certain Mühlberger wrote an article on the housing problem which showed that the People’s State had forgotten the difference between Proudhonism and Marxism, and Engels used this opportunity to give a magnificent exposition of the difference between Proudhonism and Marxism in this concrete example. This was the German, more scholarly and more fundamental way – to write for a concrete occasion. A description of the whole system of the world philosophy was still lacking. This was given for the first time in Anti-Dühring. Engels himself tells us wherein lies the significance of Anti-Dühring:–

“It (the polemic against Dühring) gave one, on the one hand, the opportunity to develop from the positive side, in the very varied subjects treated in the book, my views on questions of more general scientific or practical interest to-day ... It was necessary for me to go into all his conceptions and state mine in opposition to his. Negative criticism became, thanks to this, positive; the polemic was turned into a more or less connected exposition of the dialectical method and communist world-philosophy upheld by Marx and myself, and this, moreover, over a fairly comprehensive range of subjects.”

Engels thus himself recognises that the polemic against Dühring had induced him to put forward a system in opposition to a system, a world philosophy in opposition to a world philosophy. And in this lies the chief significance of Anti-Dühring. Marx and Engels naturally knew – what we only now know – that in their letter files lay the manuscript of German Ideology. They knew that they had the possibility in the forties of putting forward in opposition to the current bourgeois philosophy of “true Socialism” their system of Communist world philosophy. But only Marx and Engels knew that. Liebknecht who had worked and lived in the closest co-operation with Marx and Engels for twelve years did not know it; the innumerable readers did not know it, and, of course, no single reader of the Gotha Programme could have had any idea of it. For the first time, in 1878, in Anti-Dühring was given a system of Communist philosophy which could refute petty-bourgeois philosophy in all its different varieties – and in this Marx and Engels naturally based themselves on the earlier work already done by them.

Now (and this is a very interesting point), when we read the chapters in the German Ideology devoted to Feuerbach – they have been printed in the Archives issued by the Marx- Engels’ Institute – it is possible to establish how far Marx and Engels had changed their point of view. Not since the time of the Holy Family then, Comrade Stepanov would be correct – for the point of view adopted by Marx and Engels in this work had already been “withdrawn” in the German Ideology. That was a still earlier stage. That was a close approach to Marxism, but it was not yet Marxism.

In one of his articles against Heinzen, Marx said:–

“Where he succeeds in observing the diversity, he does not see the unity, and where he sees the unity, he does not see the diversity. When he manages to establish various definitions they immediately become petrified in his hands, and he regards it as the most harmful sophistry to set these conceptions against each other in such a way that they catch fire and come to life.”

Between the standpoint of the “German Ideology” and that developed in the first volume of Capital there is not any kind of “jump.” The basic conceptions which Engels developed in Anti-Dühring in the section Philosophy, even in those parts relating to natural science, were already completely formulated in Capital in a series of remarks, which were so distorted by Dühring. In Anti-Dühring Engels develops the dialectical method which Marx and he had created and which they had employed since 1846, since the time of the German Ideology.

When I published Engels’ Dialectics of Nature, which I had discovered, I emphasised, in my foreword, that in comparison with what Engels had said in Anti-Dühring this contained no single new idea. I wrote “no single new idea” intentionally. The quite untenable attempt of some comrades to find certain differences between Anti-Dühring and the Engels of the eighties, who had reached “completely opposite conceptions,” arises from the unclear understanding of a number of remarks in Anti-Dühring and from an inattentive reading of Engels’ foreword to the second edition of Anti-Dühring.

What does Engels say in this foreword? He is dealing with Dühring at a time when he was undergoing a “moulting process” with regard to the natural sciences. He uses a terminology that is not quite exact; all that he needed was not at his disposal, and he hoped that he would later be able to give his conception in a more carefully thought-out form. He wrote this in 1885. Whoever reads carefully the foreword to the second edition knows that Engels quite consciously, out of a feeling of peculiar literary tact, looked out for any change. One must read the letters of Engels to Marx to understand how difficult it was for Engels, for purely human reasons, to write polemics against Dühring. He said that it was very difficult for him to write against a blind person. He had to struggle with himself for a long time in order to overcome this clearly sentimental feeling. And, therefore, he said again in his foreword, that he could not have written otherwise than as he did in 1878.

I have already pointed out in my introduction to the Dialectics of Nature that Engels did not know Mendeleyev’s periodic law when he wrote Anti-Dühring. One must not forget that the articles of the section Philosophy were all printed previous to May, 1877, and had been sent for publication by the autumn of 1876. Engels had no opportunity of studying the technical literature of chemistry which was scattered through the various scientific journals. It may be mentioned in justification of him that only in 1877 did there appear in such a “compendium” as the comprehensive text book of chemistry as that of by Roscoe and Schorlemmer any exposition of Mendeleyev’s law. Engels could have used it for the second edition in 1885, when he had at his disposal a mass of material which confirmed his basic conceptions, but he deliberately did not do so. In the foreword to the second edition he gives a hint of a future work, but he does not change his views. It is the same basic conception which he had formulated in Anti-Dühring, which appears in the notes and drafts of articles written after 1878, only more fully explained. In this relation, any attempt to prove a contradiction between Engels in 1878 and in 1882, based on the desire to stick a new label on an old idea, is doomed to utter failure.

After Anti-Dühring, Engels had the opportunity to develop more fully some of the conceptions which he had briefly formulated in the philosophical section of his polemic against Dühring. In his special work on Feuerbach, he gave a detailed exposition of his own and Marx’s relations to the philosophy of Hegel and Feuerbach. In connection with this, Engels also gave a positive answer to a large number of questions relating to philosophy, ethics and social science. In this way, Engels’ book on Feuerbach becomes not only an important supplement, but also an excellent commentary on the corresponding chapters of Anti-Dühring . Not less important now in this connection are those parts which I have published from Engels’ German Ideology and Dialectics of Nature.

One must specially draw attention to Engels’ brilliant description, in the first section, of the origin and development of the idea of equality. Marx had already shown in Capital that the determination of the value of commodities by labour and the free exchange of these products of labour on the basis of this value, is the real foundation of the whole political, judicial and philosophical ideology of the modern bourgeoisie.

The sketch of Engels served as the stimulus for a series of Marxist works – in particular by Lafargue, Kautsky and Plekhanov – in which the origin of various kinds of “eternal” ideas is investigated.

The second section of Anti-Dühring is devoted to the basic problems of Marxist economic theory and to this day forms the most authoritative introduction to a study of Capital. Engels gives definitions of the subject matter, the method and the tasks of political economy. On this point I do not agree with those who regard political economy as a science which investigates only the economy of commodities and the capitalist commodity relations, and who conceive right only as the right of the producers of commodities. All such attempts constitute a desire to give a “beginning " and an “end” to everything, to define exactly, to point out precisely where development is still in progress, where a succeeding form abolishes the preceding, explains it and is itself fully explained by its antecedent conditions.

The second section contains noteworthy articles devoted to the theory of force, in which the mutual relations between the economic and political factors in the history of human society are explained in a masterly fashion. In addition, Engels gives a concise history of the art of war, showing what great significance the study of the history of the art of war has for the materialist interpretation of history .The full importance of these chapters will only be fully apparent when all Engels’ writings on military questions have appeared, but, together with the foreword to Borkheim’s book (1887) and the articles Can Europe Disarm? (1893), the sketch which Engels gave in Anti-Dühring represents the clearest formulation of the views which he had evolved in long years of study of the history and theory of warfare.

He was able to foretell the future imperialist war and to sketch its probable consequences with almost prophetic accuracy. It is true that the sketch of the history of the art of war which we have in Anti-Dühring finishes with 1877. The Franco-German War of 1870 was the last great war which Engels examined. In this respect Engels’ sketch stands in need of considerable supplementation.

It can be said that some of Engels’ assertions are not altogether incontestable. Especially when he wrote that armaments as used at the time of the Franco-German War “had reached such perfection that further improvements in this direction could not have any decisive influence.” Even firearms have undergone considerable development since 1878. New branches of military technique have appeared, based on the development of aircraft and the chemical industry. The submarine has brought about changes in the sphere of naval warfare. It is true that the experiences of the war of 1914-1918 have fully justified the conclusions at which Engels arrived on the basis of his examination of the question of the competition between armour-plating and artillery .Even in the form of dreadnoughts, the armoured-cruiser “has been brought to such a height of perfection that it has become so invulnerable as to be unsuitable for use.”

But Engels has excellently revealed the inner dialectic of militarism. Militarism, in its modern imperialist form, bears within itself all the seeds of its own destruction.

“What the bourgeois democracy of 1848 could not bring about, just because it was bourgeois and not proletarian, viz., to give the working masses a conscious will, corresponding to their class position, will inevitably be achieved by Socialism (Communism). And that means the destruction from within of militarism and with it of all standing armies.”

The third section of Anti-Dühring deals with Socialism. We have already seen how Bebel appraised the predecessors of Marx and Engels, the Utopian Socialists. Dühring in his works distorted not only the history of political economy but also with the history of Socialism. Engels’ book gave a new and powerful impetus to the study of Socialism. All the works of Kautsky, Bernstein, Plekhanov and Mehring on these subjects have their starting point, both as regards theme and as regards their general construction, in the fundamental thesis which Engels formulated in his excursus on the subject of the history of Socialism.

But this was not all that Engels achieved in the third section of Anti-Dühring. For the first time since the Communist Manifesto, on the basis of the experiences of the revolution of 1848, of the First International and of the Paris Commune, the fundamental questions of programme, strategy and tactics for the proletariat were put forward in a comprehensive manner. For the first time it was shown what inexhaustible treasure Marx’s Capital contained for the answers to these questions. Engels for the first time fully expounded how capitalism gives rise to and prepares all the material and intellectual elements of the future order of society. In the same section of Anti-Dühring, for the first time, the Marxist conception of the role and origin of the State, already hinted at in German Ideology, was developed in detail in opposition not only to Dühring but also to the Anarchists, the Lassalleans and even the Eisenachers, who had not been able to free themselves from the influence of the Lassallean cult of the State.

It is by no means an accident that careful working out of the questions of the programme only begins after the appearance of Anti-Dühring. The Erfurt Programme of German Social Democracy, which in its essence is partly the work of Engels, would have been inconceivable had it not been for the tremendous preparatory work which Engels had put into Anti-Dühring. The same can be said of the programme of the group for “Liberation of Labour”, and the first programme of our party. The most important part of Engels’ book entitled The Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science, which equally with the Communist Manifesto is to this day the best manual for mastering the foundations of Marxism, is taken from the third section of Anti-Dühring.

In the book of Antonio Labriola, Socialism and Philosophy, we find the following interesting thought:–

“Every country, unfortunately, has its Dühring. Who knows what other ‘Antis’ might have been written by the Engels’s of other countries. In my opinion, the real significance of Anti-Dühring is that it gives the Socialists of other countries and other tongues the possibility of arming themselves with those critical methods without which no ‘Anti-’ can be written, and which are essential for the fight against all those who distort or corrupt Socialism in the name of various sociological systems.”

Labriola was right. In every country where Marxism begins to develop it must cease to be in the position of a product of a “foreign creation”. Marxism can only triumph in a country if it succeeds in explaining, on the basis of fundamental Marxist principles, the concrete realities of the country concerned; if it succeeds in showing that the dialectical method, dialectical materialism, represents an all-embracing method in the sense that the concrete reality in question, with whatever particular “qualities” it may be endowed finds its explanation through it itself, by the struggle of its internal contradictions; that all these “specific characters” result from the inner class conflict, from the development of the struggle of contradictions in that particular section – be it historical, economic or geographical.

In his pamphlet Who are the Friends of the People? Lenin again emphasises the same idea, namely, that Marxism can only lead the proletariat against the bourgeoisie of the country in question when it becomes for the proletariat and for the revolutionary intelligentsia a new Communist world philosophy in opposition to all varieties of bourgeois philosophy. The immortal service of Engels in this respect – and those are correct who say that Anti-Dühring is, after and alongside of Capital, the most important Marxist work, is that, in opposition to bourgeois world philosophy, he for the first time put forward this Communist world philosophy. He left it to later Marxists to develop this Communist world philosophy on the basis of new and ever-developing national and international experiences, and to make it ever more complete, more comprehensive, without ever forgetting that the result can only be reached thanks to the aid of such an incomparable weapon as the method of dialectical materialism.



1. English translation of the preface to the 50th anniversary edition of Anti-Dühring published in Moscow in 1928, Labour Monthly May and June 1929 (the section dealing with the influence of Anti-Dühring on the development of Marxist ideas in Russia was not translated).


Last updated on 15.2.2006