MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of People
Authors: Pavel Yudin and Mark Rosenthal
First published: 1954 in A Short Philosophical Dictionary, fifth edition
Translated:by Anton P.
Darwin, Charles (1809-1882)
Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was a great English scientist, the founder of evolutionary biology and of the materialistic doctrine of the origin and development of species. Darwin was one of the great innovators in science, not afraid to raise a hand against obsolete dogmas. Darwin put an end to the view on the species of unconnected and random animals and plants “created by God” and unchangeable. Darwin proved that animals and plants are constantly changing, forming new forms; the emergence of new forms, as well as the disappearance of old ones, is caused not by the creative act of God, as religion teaches, but is the result of natural-historical development (selection). Before Darwin, there were supporters of evolutionary views on the world of animals and plants, but only Darwin for the first time scientifically and comprehensively, on a huge natural-scientific material, substantiated the theory,
After that, only ignorants or people hostile to science opposed the theory of development in nature. The study of fossil animals and plants confirms that more ancient organisms are simpler arranged than later ones, that the development of the organic world proceeded from less complex forms to more complex ones. The kinship of organisms is also confirmed by the generality of their structure. The human hand, the wing of a bat, etc. will give seals built according to the same type and consist of bones arranged in the same order. The relationship of organisms is also confirmed by comparing them in the embryo. Organisms that differ sharply from each other are very similar to each other in the embryonic state. Darwin explained the origin and development of species by natural and artificial selection. Organisms are characterized by variability and heredity of changes that are useful to an animal or plant in its struggle for existence, are fixed. Accumulating and inherited, they cause the emergence of new animals and plant forms.
To prove the laws of natural selection, Darwin compared this selection with artificial selection, which is performed by humans in agriculture. Man selects plants and animals based on their usefulness. The foundation of Darwinian theory is the doctrine of natural and artificial selection. Through this theory, Darwin gave a rational explanation of expediency in the organic world, which idealists and obscurantists have used for a long time to substantiate and defend their religious ideas. Darwin dealt the fatal blow to “teleology” in the natural sciences. Having smashed the metaphysical doctrine of the immutability of species and materialistically explaining the phenomena of purposefulness, Darwin affirmed the victory of materialism in explaining the most complex phenomena of organic nature. It was a great feat.
For all the greatness of the Darwinian theory of the origin and development of species, it suffers from a number of significant shortcomings and gaps. Correctly explaining the origin of species in terms of their development and change, Darwin exaggerated the role of the struggle for existence in the development of organisms. He was uncritical of Malthus’s reactionary theory of overpopulation. Darwin believed that this theory prompted him to develop the question of the struggle for existence. Based on the theory of Malthus, Darwin came to the erroneous statement that intraspecific struggle is a decisive factor in biological progress. Darwin denied the presence of leaps in the development of organic nature, rejected not only Cuvier’s cataclysms, but also dialectical development, including revolution, while from the point of view of the dialectical method, evolution and revolution are always interconnected.
All these, as well as other shortcomings and errors of Darwinian theory were first revealed and fought against by Ivan Vladimirovich Michurin and his school of biologists, who took a step to a new, higher stage in the development of evolutionary biology. Darwin’s theory mainly explained only the past history of nature. Darwin, in contrast to religious beliefs, cited irrefutable scientific evidence of the origin of man from anthropoid apes. But, remaining on a purely biological basis, he could not solve this issue completely.
The correct solution to the question of the origin of man was given by American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan’s work on the origin of the family in primitive society and Friedrich Engels’ further research on the role of labor in early human societies. In his work “The Role of Labor in the Transformation of Ape to Man,” he teaches that the use of tools of labor played a decisive role in distinguishing man from the animal world. The use of tools led to a change in the physical nature of man, to the development of his hand and brain, to the emergence of speech, which created a qualitative difference between man and other animals. Material production plays a decisive role in the development of man as a social being, and not geographical or biological factors, as certain Western sociologists try to portray. In the 20th century, Western biologists and sociologists made attempts to transfer the theory of natural selection to human society. The reactionary nature of these attempts manifested itself in the so-called social Darwinism.
Since its inception, Darwinism has been persecuted by official science as a doctrine that fundamentally undermines religious prejudices. Scientific Darwinism is contrasted with the Mendelian-Weismanist-Morganist theory, which advocates an idealistic and metaphysical view of nature. Darwin’s doctrine was brilliantly defended and developed by the great Russian scientists: Ivan Sechenov, the Kovalevsky brothers (Vladimir and Alexander), Vasily Dokuchaev, Ilya Mechnikov, Kliment Timiryazev, Ivan Pavlov, Vladimir Leontyevich Komarov, Ivan Michurin, Vasily Williams, etc. In the USSR, Darwinism received universal recognition and comprehensive development in the works of biologists.
Darwin’s main work is The Origin of Species (1859).