Anti-Dühring/Preface to 1885 Edition

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Anti-Dühring by Friedrich Engels
Preface to 1885 Edition

I had not expected that a new edition of this book would have to be published. The subject matter of its criticism is now practically forgotten; the work itself was not only available to many thousands of readers in the form of a series of articles published in the Leipzig Vorwärts in 1877 and 1878, but also appeared in its entirety as a separate book, of which a large edition was printed. How then can anyone still be interested in what I had to say about Herr Dühring years ago?

I think that I owe this in the first place to the fact that this book, as in general almost all my works that were still current at the time, was prohibited within the German Empire immediately after the Anti-Socialist Law1 was promulgated. To anyone whose brain has not been ossified by the hereditary bureaucratic prejudices of the countries of the Holy Alliance2, the effect of this measure must have been self-evident: a doubled and trebled sale of the prohibited books, and the exposure of the impotence of the gentlemen in Berlin who issue prohibitions and are unable to enforce them. Indeed the kindness of the Imperial Government has brought me more new editions of my minor works than I could really cope with; I have had no time to make a proper revision of the text, and in most cases have been obliged simply to allow it to be reprinted as it stood.

But there was also another factor. The "system" of Herr Dühring which is criticised in this book ranges over a very wide theoretical domain; and I was compelled to follow him wherever he went and to oppose my conceptions to his. As a result, my negative criticism became positive, the polemic was transformed into a more or less connected exposition of the dialectical method and of the communist world outlook championed by Marx and myself — an exposition covering a fairly comprehensive range of subjects. After its first presentation to the world in Marx's Misére de la philosophie and in the Communist Manifesto, this mode of outlook of ours, having passed through an incubation period of fully twenty years before the publication of Capital, has been more and more rapidly extending its influence among ever widening circles, and now finds recognition and support far beyond the boundaries of Europe, in every country which contains on the one hand proletarians and on the other undaunted scientific theoreticians. It seems therefore that there is a public whose interest in the subject is great enough for them to take into the bargain the polemic against the Dühring tenets merely for the sake of the positive conceptions developed alongside this polemic, in spite of the fact that the latter has now largely lost its point.

I must note in passing that inasmuch as the mode of outlook expounded in this book was founded and developed in far greater measure by Marx, and only to an insignificant degree by myself, it was self-understood between us that this exposition of mine should not be issued without his knowledge. I read the whole manuscript to him before it was printed, and the tenth chapter of the part on economics ("From Kritische Geschichte") was written by Marx3 but unfortunately had to be shortened somewhat by me for purely external reasons. As a matter of fact, we had always been accustomed to help each other out in special subjects.

With the exception of one chapter, the present new edition is an unaltered reprint of the former edition. For one thing, I had no time for a thoroughgoing revision, although there was much in the presentation that I should have liked to alter. Besides I am under the obligation to prepare for the press the manuscripts which Marx has left, and this is much more important than anything else. Then again, my conscience rebels against making any alterations. The book is a polemic, and I think that I owe it to my adversary not to improve anything in my work when he is unable to improve his. I could only claim the right to make a rejoinder to Herr Dühring's reply. But I have not read, and will not read, unless there is some special reason to do so, what Herr Dühring has written concerning my attack4 in point of theory I have finished with him. Besides, I must observe the rules of decency in literary warfare all the more strictly in his regard because of the despicable injustice that has since been done to him by the University of Berlin. It is true that the University has not gone unpunished. A university which so abases itself as to deprive Herr Dühring, in circumstances which are well known, of his academic freedom5 must not be surprised to find Herr Schweninger forced on it in circumstances which are equally well known.

The only chapter in which I have allowed myself some additional elucidation is the second of Part III, "Theoretical". This chapter deals simply and solely with the exposition of a pivotal point in the mode of outlook for which I stand, and my adversary cannot therefore complain if I attempt to state it in a more popular form and to make it more coherent. And there was in fact an extraneous reason for doing this. I had revised three chapters of the book (the first chapter of the Introduction and the first and second of Part III) for my friend Lafargue with a view to their translation into French6 and publication as a separate pamphlet and after the French edition had served as the basis for Italian and Polish editions, a German edition was issued by me under the title: Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus von der Utopie zur Wissenschaft. This ran through three editions within a few months, and also appeared in Russian7 and Danish translations. In all these editions it was only the chapter in question which had been amplified, and it would have been pedantic, in the new edition of the original work, to have tied myself down to its original text instead of the later text which had become known internationally.

Whatever else I should have liked to alter relates in the main to two points. First, to the history of primitive society, the key to which was provided by Morgan only in 1877. But as I have since then had the opportunity, in my work: Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Stoats (Zurich, 1884) to work up the material which in the meantime had become available to me, a reference to this later work meets the case. The second point concerns the section dealing with theoretical natural science. There is much that is clumsy in my exposition and much of it could be expressed today in a clearer and more definite form. I have not allowed myself the right to improve this section, and for that very reason am under an obligation to criticise myself here instead.

Marx and I were pretty well the only people to rescue conscious dialectics from German idealist philosophy and apply it in the materialist conception of nature and history. But a knowledge of mathematics and natural science is essential to a conception of nature which is dialectical and at the same time materialist. Marx was well versed in mathematics, but we could keep up with natural science only piecemeal, intermittently and sporadically. For this reason, when I retired from business and transferred my home to London8, thus enabling myself to give the necessary time to it, I went through as complete as possible a "moulting", as Liebig calls it9, in mathematics and the natural sciences, and spent the best part of eight years on it. I was right in the middle of this "moulting" process when it happened that I had to occupy myself with Herr Dühring's so-called natural philosophy. It was therefore only too natural that in dealing with this subject I was sometimes unable to find the correct technical expression, and in general moved with considerable clumsiness in the field of theoretical natural science. On the other hand, my lack of assurance in this field, which I had not yet overcome, made me cautious, and I cannot be charged with real blunders in relation to the facts known at that time or with incorrect presentation of recognised theories. In this connection there was only one unrecognised genius of a mathematician a who complained in a letter to Marx 10 that I had made a wanton attack upon the honour of \sqrt{-1}.

It goes without saying that my recapitulation of mathematics and the natural sciences was undertaken in order to convince myself also in detail — of what in general I was not in doubt — that in nature, amid the welter of innumerable changes, the same dialectical laws of motion force their way through as those which in history govern the apparent fortuitousness of events; the same laws which similarly form the thread running through the history of the development of human thought and gradually rise to consciousness in thinking man; the laws which Hegel first developed in all-embracing but mystic form, and which we made it one of our aims to strip of this mystic form and to bring clearly before the mind in their complete simplicity and universality. It goes without saying that the old philosophy of nature — in spite of its real value and the many fruitful seeds it contained — was unable to satisfy us. As is more fully brought out in this book, natural philosophy, particularly in the Hegelian form, erred because it did not concede to nature any development in time, any "succession", but only "co-existence". This was on the one hand grounded in the Hegelian system itself, which ascribed historical evolution only to the "spirit", but on the other hand was also due to the whole state of the natural sciences in that period. In this Hegel fell far behind Kant, whose nebular theory had already indicated the origin of the solar system,' and whose discovery of the retardation of the earth's rotation by the tides also had proclaimed the doom of that system. And finally, to me there could be no question of building the laws of dialectics into nature, but of discovering them in it and evolving them from it.

But to do this systematically and in each separate department, is a gigantic task. Not only is the domain to be mastered almost boundless; natural science in this entire domain is itself undergoing such a mighty process of being revolutionised that even people who can devote the whole of their spare time to it can hardly keep pace. Since Karl Marx's death, however, my time has been requisitioned for more urgent duties, and I have therefore been compelled to lay aside my work. For the present I must content myself with the indications given in this book, and must wait to find some later opportunity to put together and publish the results which I have arrived at, perhaps in conjunction with the extremely important mathematical manuscripts left by Marx11 .

Yet the advance of theoretical natural science may possibly make my work to a great extent or even altogether superfluous. For the revolution which is being forced on theoretical natural science by the mere need to set in order the purely empirical discoveries great masses of which have been piled up, is of such a kind that it must bring the dialectical character of natural processes more and more to the consciousness even of those empiricists who are most opposed to it. The old rigid antagonisms, the sharp, impassable dividing lines are more and more disappearing. Since even the last "true" gases have been liquefied, and since it has been proved that a body can be brought into a condition in which the liquid and the gaseous forms are indistinguishable, the aggregate states have lost the last relics of their former absolute character12. With the thesis of the kinetic theory of gases, that in perfect gases at equal temperatures the squares of the speeds with which the individual gas molecules move are in inverse ratio to their molecular weights heat also takes its place directly among the forms of motion which can be immediately measured as such. Whereas only ten years ago the great basic law of motion, then recently discovered, was as yet conceived merely as a law of the conservation of energy, as the mere expression of the indestructibility and uncreatability of motion, that is, merely in its quantitative aspect, this narrow negative conception is being more and more supplanted by the positive idea of the transformation of energy, in which for the first time the qualitative content of the process comes into its own, and the last vestige of an extramundane creator is obliterated. That the quantity of motion (so-called energy) remains unaltered when it is transformed from kinetic energy (so-called mechanical force) into electricity, heat, potential energy, etc., and vice versa, no longer needs to be preached as something new; it serves as the already secured basis for the now much more pregnant investigation into the very process of transformation, the great basic process, knowledge of which comprises all knowledge of nature. And since biology has been pursued in the light of the theory of evolution, one rigid boundary line of classification after another has been swept away in the domain of organic nature. The almost unclassifiable intermediate links are growing daily more numerous, closer investigation throws organisms out of one class into another, and distinguishing characteristics which almost became articles of faith are losing their absolute validity; we now have mammals that lay eggs, and, if the report is confirmed, also birds that walk on all fours. Years ago Virchow was compelled, following on the discovery of the cell, to dissolve the unity of the individual animal being into a federation of cell-states — thus acting more progressively rather than scientifically and dialectically13 — and now the conception of animal (therefore also human) individuality is becoming far more complex owing to the discovery of the white blood corpuscles which creep about amoeba-like within the bodies of the higher animals. It is however precisely the polar antagonisms put forward as irreconcilable and insoluble, the forcibly fixed lines of demarcation and class distinctions, which have given modern theoretical natural science its restricted, metaphysical character. The recognition that these antagonisms and distinctions, though to be found in nature, are only of relative validity, and that on the other hand their imagined rigidity and absolute validity have been introduced into nature only by our reflective minds — this recognition is the kernel of the dialectical conception of nature. It is possible to arrive at this recognition because the accumulating facts of natural science compel us to do so; but one arrives at it more easily if one approaches the dialectical character of these facts equipped with an understanding of the laws of dialectical thought. In any case natural science has now advanced so far that it can no longer escape dialectical generalisation. However it will make this process easier for itself if it does not lose sight of the fact that the results in which its experiences are summarised are concepts, that the art of working with concepts is not inborn and also is not given with ordinary everyday consciousness, but requires real thought, and that this thought similarly has a long empirical history, not more and not less than empirical natural science. Only by learning to assimilate the results of the development of philosophy during the past two and a half thousand years will it rid itself on the one hand of any natural philosophy standing apart from it, outside it and above it, and on the other hand also of its own limited method of thought, which is its inheritance from English empiricism.

September 23, 1885
F. Engels


1. The Anti-Socialist Law was passed by the German Reichstag on October 21, 1878, to counter the socialist and working-class movement. Extended in 1881, 1884, 1886, 1888, it banned all party organisations, mass workers' organisations and the socialist and labour press; Social-Democrats were subjected to reprisals. The Social-Democratic Party, with the help of Marx and Engels, managed, however, to overcome the opportunist (Hochberg, Bernstein and others) and "ultra-Left" (Most and others) tendencies in its ranks and, while the law was in force, correctly combined legal and illegal work to strengthen and extend its influence considerably among the masses. The law was abrogated on October 1, 1890. Engels assesses it in the article "Bismarck and the German Working Men's Party" for The Labour Standard. (Back)

2. The Holy Alliance -- an association of European monarchs, founded in 1815 by Tsarist Russia, Austria and Prussia, to suppress revolutionary movements and preserve feudal monarchies in European countries. (Back)

3. This manuscript, to which Marx himself gave the title Randnoten zu Dührings Kritische Geschichte der National ökonomie, was written before March 5, 1877 and then sent to Engels. It was first published by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism, CC CPSU in: Marx / Engels Gesamiausgabe, F. Engels, Herrn Eugen Dühring's Umwälzung der Wissenschaft/Dialektik der Natur. Sonderausgabe, Moscow-Leningrad, 1935, pp. 341-71. (Back)

4. Dühring attempted to refute some of Engels' criticisms in the book: Dühring, Kritische Geschichte der Nationalökonomie und des Sozialismus, Dritte, theilweise umgearbeitete Auflage, Leipzig, 1879, pp. 566-67. (Back)

5. In July 1877, Dühring was deprived of the right to lecture at Berlin University for his sharp criticism of university practices. His dismissal sparked off a vociferous protest campaign by his supporters and was condemned by broad democratic circles. (Back)

6. Initially, the French translation was made by Lafargue, and published under the title Socialisme utopique et socialisme scientifique in the journal Revue socialiste, Nos. 3-5, March-May 1880. p. 10. (Back)

7. The Russian translation was first published, as Scientific Socialism, in the illegal journal Students, No. 1, of December 1882, a separate pamphlet The Development of Scientific Socialism was put out by the Emancipation of Labour group in Geneva, in 1884. (Back)

8. Engels left his Manchester business on July 1, 1869 and moved to London on September 20, 1870. (Back)

9. In the introduction to his fundamental work on agrochemistry, Justus Liebig speaks of the evolution of his scientific views and notes: "Chemistry is moving forward at an incredible speed, and the chemists wishing to keep up with it are in a state of constant moulting. One sheds one's old feathers, no longer suitable for flight, but new ones grow in their stead and one flies all the better." See 1. Liebig, Die Chemie in ibrer Anwendung auf Agricultur und Physiologiz, 7. Aufl., Braunschweig, 1862, Th. I, p. 26. (Back)

10. This refers to the letter written by the German Social-Democrat Heinrich Wilhelm Fabian to Marx on November 6, 1880 (Engels described Fabian in his letters to Kautsky of April 11, 1884, to Bernstein of September 13, 1884, and to Sorge of June 3, 1885. See MECW, Vol. 47). (Back)

11. Marx's 1,000-odd sheets of mathematical manuscripts were written mainly in the 1860s, 1870s and early 1880s. The most complete texts of these manuscripts and the abstracts and excerpts of Marx's own notes were first published by the Institute of Marxism-Leninism in the language of the original and translated into Russian in K. Marx, Mathematical Manuscripts, Moscow, 1968. (Back)

12. A reference to the works of the Irish physicist Thomas Andrews (1869), the French physicist Louis Paul Cailletet and the Swiss physicist Raoul Pierre Pictet (1877). (Back)

13. According to the theory expounded by Rudolf Virchow in Die Celluhrpathologie, first published in 1858, the individual animal breaks up into tissue, the tissue into cell-states, and the cell-states into cells, so that, in the final analysis, the individual animal is a mechanical sum of separate cells.

Speaking of the "progressive" nature of this theory, Engels alludes to Virrhow's membership of the German bourgeois Party of Progress, organised in June 1861. p. I} (Back)

It is much easier, along with the unthinking mob à la Karl Vogt, to assail the old philosophy of nature than to appreciate its historical significance. It contains a great deal of nonsense and fantasy but not more than the unphilosophical theories of the empirical natural scientists contemporary with that philosophy, and that there was also in it much that was sensible and rational began to be perceived after the theory of evolution became widespread. Haeckel was therefore fully justified in recognising the merits of Treviranus and Oken. In his primordial slime and primordial vesicle Oken put forward as a biological postulate what was in fact subsequently discovered as protoplasm and cell. As far as Hegel is specifically concerned, he is in many respects head and shoulders above his empiricist contemporaries, who thought that they had explained all unexplained phenomena when they had endowed them with some force or power -- the force of gravity, the power of buoyancy, the power of electrical contact, etc. -- or where this would not do, with some unknown substance: the substance of light, of heat, of electricity, etc. The imaginary substances have now been pretty well discarded, but the power humbug against which Hegel fought still pops up gaily, for example, as late as 1869 in Helmholtz's Innsbruck lecture (Helmholtz, Populäre Vorlesungen, Issue II, 1871, p. 190). In contrast to the deification of Newton which was handed down from the French of the eighteenth century, and the English heaping of honours and wealth on Newton, Hegel brought out the fact that Kepler, whom Germany allowed to starve, was the real founder of the modern mechanics of the celestial bodies, and that the Newtonian law of gravitation was already contained in all three of Kepler's laws, in the third law even explicitly. What Hegel proves by a few simple equations in his Naturphilosophie, § 270 and Addenda (Hegel's Werke, 1842, Vol. 7, pp. 98 and 113 to 115), appears again as the outcome of the most recent mathematical mechanics in Gustav Kirchhoff's Vorlesungen uber mathematische Physik, 2nd ea., Leipzig, 1877, p. 10 and in essentially the same simple mathematical form as had first been developed by Hegel. The natural philosophers stand in the same relation to consciously dialectical natural science as the utopians to modern communism. (Engels) (Back)