Dialectics of Nature
Frederick Engels J B S Haldane 1939 Engels' Dialectics of Nature Preface MARXISM has a two-fold bearing on science. In the first place Marxists study science among other human activities. They show how the scientific activities of any society depend on its changing needs, and so in the long run on its productive methods, and how science changes the productive methods, andtherefore the whole society. This analysis is needed for any scientific approach to history, and even non-Marxists are now accepting parts of it. But secondly Marx and Engels were not content to analyse the changes in society. In dialectics they saw the science of the general laws of change, not only in society and in human thought, but in the external world which is mirrored by human thought. Thatis to say it can be applied to problems of "pure" science as well as to the social relations of science. Scientists are becoming familiar with the application of Marxist ideas to the place of science in society. Some accept it in whole or in part, others fight against it vigorously, and say that they are pursuing pure knowledge for its own sake. But many of them are unaware that Marxism has anybearing on scientific problems considered out of their relation to society, for example to the problems of tautomerism in chemistry or individuality in biology. And certain Marxists are inclined to regard the study of such scientific and philosophical problems as unimportant. Yet they have before them the example of Lenin. In 1905 the Russian Revolution had failed. It was necessary to build up therevolutionary movement afresh. Lenin saw that this could only be done on a sound theoretical basis. So he wrote Materialism and Empirio- criticism. This involved a study, not only of philosophers such as Mach and Pearson, whom he criticised, but of physicists such as Hertz, J. J. Thomson, and Becquerel, whose discoveries could be interpreted from a materialistic or an idealistic point of view.However, Lenin did not attempt to cover the whole of science. He was mainly concerned with the revolution in physics which was then in progress, and had little to say on astronomy, geology, chemistry, or biology. But thirty years before Lenin, Engels had tried to discuss the whole of science from a Marxist standpoint. He had always been a student of science. Since 1861 he had been in close touch withthe chemist Schorlemmer at Manchester, and had discussed scientific problems with him and Marx for many years. In 1871 he came to London, and started reading scientific books and journals on a large scale. He intended to write a great book to show "that in nature the same dialectical laws of movement are carried out in the confusion of its countless changes, as also govern the apparent contingencyof events in history." If this book had been written, it would have been of immense importance for the development of science. But apart from political work, other intellectual tasks lay before Engels. Dühring had to be answered, and perhaps Anti-Dühring, which covers the whole field of human knowledge, is a
greater book than Dialectics of Nature would have been had Engels completed it. AfterMarx's death in 1883 he had the gigantic task of editing and completing Capital, besides which he wrote Feuerbach and The Origin of the Family. So Dialectics of Nature was never finished. The manuscript consists of four bundles, all in Engels' handwriting, save for a number of quotations from Greek philosophers in that of Marx. Part of the manuscript is ready for publication, though, as we shallsee, it would almost certainly have been revised. Much of it merely consists of rough notes, which Engels hoped to work up later. They are often hard to read, and full of abbreviations, e.g. Mag. for magnet and magnetism. There are occasional scribbles and sketches in the margin. Finally, although the bulk of the manuscript is in German, Engels thought equally well in English and French, and...
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