"Anti-Dühring": discussion points (parts 2 and 3)

Submitted by martin on 2 January, 2010 - 4:34 Author: Martin Thomas

Click here for notes on Section 1.


Section 2. Chapter 1

Engels starts off by arguing that "political economy" is a "historical science", and that within political economy the "mode of production" is the decisive determinant.

  • Discussion point: how does Engels argue those two propositions?

Dühring, however, says Engels, bases his argument on "the distortion of the eternal economic laws of nature and of their effects owing to the intervention of the state, of force".

He derives his general economic conceptions from considering the "model" of a society of two people. Either they work cooperatively on an equal footing (justice), or one reduces the other to servitude (injustice).

  • Discussion point: what's wrong with that scheme?

The prospect for socialism, argues Engels, depends not on what this or that philosopher considers just or unjust, but on "tangible, material fact".

  • Discussion point: on which tangible, material fact?

Chapter 2

Dühring argues that political force is always primary, shaping economic relations; not vice versa.

Engels retorts: to make someone else your slave (or serf, or wage-slave) requires not just will but also a certain scale and type of property.

  • Discussion point: namely, what?

And further: even if you had a society of independent small producers, each with their own private property, and economic exchange between them was based on equal values, then "purely economic causes" would eventually bring capitalism. (It is not to be supposed that Engels thought that capitalism actually, in history, developed just by "purely economic causes". Engels had read the section in Capital on "primitive accumulation", and also knew that the postulated ideal small-producer society never in fact existed anywhere).

  • Discussion point: if so, what is the point of the argument about "purely economic causes"? And what exactly is the argument? How would "purely economic causes" generate capitalism?

Engels follows with a reference to some of the uses of "force" which actually accompanied the rise of capitalism - the English and French revolutions.

  • Discussion point: What account does he give of them?

Chapter 3

What does the "force" which might shape economic relations amount to, asks Engels? That depends on technology and socio-economic organisation, too. "Nothing is more dependent on economic prerequisites than precisely army and navy".

  • Discussion point: Engels illustrates: introduction of gunpowder into Europe; rifling of guns; gun carriages; bigger guns, and armour-plating, on warships... What effects did they have?

Chapter 4

Large-scale agriculture, claims Dühring, could only result from political domination by large landlords over large numbers of people. Engels disputes that.

  • Discussion point: How?

Engels then goes on to give his own account of the evolution of class domination.

  • Discussion points: Namely, what?
  • Engels here "corrects" his previous talk of society developing through "purely economic causes": how?
  • How does Engels avoid "functionalist" fallacies (saying that such-and-such "had to" develop because "the economy" needed it?)
  • Engels concludes the chapter with an argument in favour of force, namely, violent revolution: why?

Chapter 5

Dühring starts with a homily on how good it is that we have to work to get stuff, and don't have things so easy.

He goes on to account for value and price as a measure of the "economic energy" required to overcome "the resistance offered by nature and circumstances" to getting things.

Engels says that this is a garbled version of the regulation of value by socially necessary labour-time.

  • Discussion point: Why garbled?

In Capital Marx refers to Smith's account of the labour theory of value - labour-time, says Smith, is the natural measure of value because it is the measure of the "toil and trouble" required to get things. Marx criticising Smith, saying that Smith "has the modern wage-labourer in his eye", i.e. conflates all production with the plight of the modern wage-labourer.

  • Discussion point: Is Engels making a similar point here? Why does Marx reject the account of the labour theory of value as a "natural" fact?

Dühring continues: by imposing by force a tax or rent for access to certain things, people can artificially increase their value above "economic value proper", which does not vary with the social system.

Engels: Yes, monopoly rents exist. But they are exceptional and generally not lasting.

Dühring then confuses the "economic energy" required to produce something with the wage-cost of producing it.

Engels: This is the same as the shallow bourgeois theory that value is determined by adding up the costs of production. Only in the bourgeois theory profit appears as an extra cost of production due to the "wages" of abstinence, of risk, of management, etc. In Dühring's theory profit appears as an extra cost of production due to "robbery", a tax imposed by force.

  • Discussion point: Why is the labour theory of value better than the "costs of production" theory, with profit as the "wages" of abstinence, of risk, of management, etc.?
  • Discussion point: Engels goes on to argue that Dühring's "robbery" theory is not just wrong but self-contradictory. How?

There is, it seems to me, a counter-argument that Dühring could reasonably make against Engels here: that in his theory the "robbery" has the net effect not so much of increasing the prices of produced commodities as of reducing the effective wage. Engels has already quoted Dühring as talking about a "forcing down of the worth of labour".

  • Discussion point: What do you make of that? (Think about Marx's argument in the Critique of the Gotha Programme about why it is wrong to criticise capitalism on the grounds that it makes wages unfairly low).

(Remember that the Critique of the Gotha Programme had not yet been circulated outside a very small circle of the German Social-Democratic Party leadership.. It would not be published until 1891).


Chapter 6

What about skilled labour? In Marx's theory, skilled labour time counts as a multiple of average labour time.

  • Discussion point: Why, and how?

Dühring interprets this as Marx snobbishly refusing "to recognise the labour-time of a porter and that of an architect as of absolutely equal value".

  • Discussion point: Engels makes three distinct points in reply to this...
  • Discussion point: What does Engels say about pay for skilled labour under a workers' government?

Engels recalls the criticism in the Critique of the Gotha Programme of the demand (which also appeared in the Labour Party's old Clause Four) for workers to be paid "the full fruits of their labour".

  • Discussion point: What's wrong with that demand?

Chapter 7

Engels summarises Marx's theory of surplus-value.

  • Discussion point: "The value of the labour-power, and the value which that labour-power creates in the production process, are two different magnitudes". What do you make of that?

Dühring's idea of capital is confused and contradictory, but the doctrine in the end comes down to: "Labour produces; force distributes".

  • Discussion point: In Wage Labour and Capital, especially, Marx insists that capital is "a social relation". What do you make of that?

Chapter 8

Dühring adds thoughts which are just garbled versions of what Marx had written in Capital.

Chapter 9

This chapter is about ground-rent, on which apparently Dühring followed Carey in contrast to Ricardo. Marx followed Ricardo, though modifying Ricardo's theory.

Ricardo's basic idea is this. For farm production, the socially-necessary labour-time is the labour-time required on the least fertile land brought into use. Farmers on more fertile land can thus appropriate an extra. That is paid to the landlord in the form of ground-rent.

Chapter 10

This chapter of Anti-Dühring was written by Marx, not Engels. It is about the history of economic theory. Discussing Petty, Smith, Hume, Quesnay, etc., it charges Dühring with arrogant dismissal of ideas which were real advances in their time.

  • Discussion point: "According to [Dühring] the only value all earlier economists had was to serve either as 'rudiments' of Herr Dühring's 'authoritative' and deeper foundations, or, because of their unsound doctrines, as a foil to the other". What do you make of that?

Part 3. Socialism. Chapter 1

The French Revolution promised to introduce the rule of Reason. But it became the rule of bourgeois reason, thus bringing "antagonism between rich and poor". etc.

Thus came thinkers proposing a better form of reason to reshape society. Some of their ideas were fantasies? "For ourselves, we delight in the stupendously grand thoughts and germs of thought that everywhere break through their fantastic coverings".

Saint-Simon... "antagonism between 'workers' and 'idlers'" ... "science and industry... united... to direct the whole of social production by the regulation of credit" ... "conversion of political rule over men into an administration of things..."

  • Discussion point: What do you make of that?

Fourier... "the degree of women's emancipation is the nature measure of the general emancipation" ... "under civilisation poverty is born of superabundance".

  • Discussion point: What do you make of that?

Owen... "man's character is the product of the environment" ... "three great obstacles seemed to him to block the path to social reform: private property, religion, the present form of marriage" ... "equal obligation to labour and equal rights in the product".

  • Discussion point: What do you make of that?
  • Discussion point: What do you make of Dühring's contempt for the utopian socialists?

Chapter 2

Under the bourgeoisie "productive forces [have] developed with a rapidity... unheard of before".

(Back in chapter 11 of part 1, Engels criticised Dühring's ideas about freedom on the grounds that they abstracted from the technical, material basis of freedom; and in chapter 10 of part 1, Dühring's ideas about equality, on the grounds that they ignored the fact that the doctrine of equality is a product of bourgeois society and not of nature).

  • Discussion point: So, in what sense is capitalism "progressive"?

Capitalism comes up against a "conflict between productive forces and modes of production", or a "contradiction between socialised production and capitalist appropriation".

  • Discussion point: What conflict?

"In... crises... the economic collision has reached its apogee".

  • Discussion point: How?

Capitalism moves towards monopolies and state capitalism. Here "the capitalist relation is not done away with. It is rather brought to a head. But, brought to a head, it toppies over".

  • Discussion point: Why does statisation bring us to the brink of socialist transformation? What qualifications to this idea does Engels add in a footnote?
  • Discussion point: How do the facts of large-scale privatisation and contracting-out over the last 30 years square with this argument? Do they mean that capitalism is moving backwards, away from readiness for socialism?

The answer: "the proletariat seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first place into state property".

  • Discussion point: In the first place? And this is a matter of working class just taking over the existing state machine?

Engels again introduces an idea which had figured in the Critique of the Gotha Programme: the "ultimate scientific insufficiency" of the slogan "a free people's state".

  • Discussion point: Insufficient? Why?

Socialism "could become possible... only when the actual conditions for its realisation were there".

  • Discussion point: What conditions?

Engels concludes by defining what he sees as "the task of... scientific socialism". Not just to predict socialism as from above, not just to introduce an arbitrary "good idea" into political life, not just to urge on working-class discontent any old how, but...

  • Discussion point: But what?

Chapter 3

Dühring explains crises from "artificially produced under-consumption". Engels: "the underconsumption of the masses is a necessary condition of all forms of society based on exploitation... but it is the capitalist form of production which first gives rise to crises". (Engels has sketched how in chapter 2).

  • Discussion point: How? Other than by enforcing underconsumption...

Dühring's socialist system: a conglomerate of economic communes (co-operatives). "How is... production carried on?... Precisely as in the past, except that the commune takes the place of the capitalists".

  • Discussion point: How else might production be changed?

"The abolition of the antithesis between town and country was demanded by Fourier, as by Owen..."

  • Discussion point: Why? And how would the abolition be carried out?

(This idea of abolishing the contrast between town and country was a widespread left-wing idea for a long time, and led to some actual attempts, such as Welwyn Garden City. For myself, Jane Jacobs' book The Death and Life of Great American Cities convinces me that the 19th century socialists were wrong about this. We should aim for a sharper contrast between town and country).

  • Discussion point: What do you think about that?

Chapter 4

Dühring would change production little. But distribution? According to Dühring the socialist system will trade between the "economic communes" (cooperatives) with pricing on the basis of the estimates of quantity of labour used. Inside the communes, each member will get a stipend, more or less equal.

Engels first asks: what about expansion, replacement of equipment, reserve funds?

Second: in fact Dühring's system would lead to the formation of individual hoards, and end with "the recreation of high finance".

  • Discussion point: How?

"From the moment when society enters into possession of the means of production and uses them in direct association... people will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of much-vaunted 'value'."

(Trotsky, in Revolution Betrayed, reflecting on the experience of "war communism", takes a different view, or at least a view which is different if the phrase "from the moment" is to be understood even one-tenth literally. Trotsky argues that a "NEP" will generally be necessary after socialist revolution, and that the abolition of money (thus of value) will be a process of many generations, comparable to the abolition of the state. In my view, Trotsky was right. Actually, even in Engels's lifetime, Kautsky's commentary on the Erfurt Programme proposed a "gradualist" transformation of wage-relations after the socialist revolution, without provoking any protest from Engels).

  • Discussion point: What do you think?

Chapter 5

Politically, in Dühring's socialist system, "there will also be army, police, gendarmerie. Herr Dühring has many times already shown that he is a good Prussian; here he proves himself a peer of that model Prussian who... 'carries his gendarme in his breast'..."

The gendarmerie will ban religion; retain bourgeois family institutions; enforce eugenic breeding.

Engels lets his alternative be understood only by implication

  • Discussion point: But clear implication?

Dühring offers great detail on the school system of his socialist future.

Engels's criticism suggests three things which Engels sees as important in schools: (1) teaching Latin and Greek (you will find Kautsky, many years later, pushing this same point); (2) teaching modern languages; (3) the combination of instruction with practical productive activity.

  • Discussion point: What do you think?