www ISR
For ISR updates, send us your Email Address

Back to home page

ISR Issue 59, May–June 2008


Marxism in a single volume

BRIAN JONES reviews Frederick Engels' Anti-Dühring

Frederick Engels’ Anti-Dühring is rarely read or discussed by radicals and activists today. The book is out of print, and can usually only be found in used bookstores or online. Engels later extracted a small portion of this larger work and it became the much more widely read Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. The purpose of this article is to introduce a new generation to one of the most underutilized texts in the Marxist tradition.

The ideas of Eugene Dühring gained popularity in Germany in the 1870s. A blind radical railing against society and its officials, Dühring was an impoverished professor highly critical of his colleagues. Young students and workers were naturally sympathetic to him and rallied to his defense when he was driven from a job at Berlin University. Writing regularly in the socialist press, Dühring’s ideas promised (in his own words) an entirely “new mode of thought…system-creating ideas…from the foundation upwards original conclusions and views…a strictly scientific conception of things and of men.” Dühring promised to lay bare the “fundamental basis” of natural science, of philosophy, of economics, of human history. Dühring even laid out a plan for a future socialist society. (35–36)

Leading members of the socialist movement, such as Eduard Bernstein, August Bebel, and even Wilhelm Liebknecht hailed Dühring’s writings. Dühring’s writings were placed on the level of Marx’s Capital. After 1875, it became clearer to Liebknecht that Dühring was counterposing his ideas to Marx’s, and he implored Engels to write something in response. By 1876, Dühring’s popularity was at its height and Engels was convinced, reluctantly, to weigh in. These responses to Dühring were first published as a series of articles and finally in 1878 as one book under the facetious title Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science, later shortened to the rather blunt title Anti-Dühring.1

Since the world has largely forgotten the writings of Eugene Dühring, what value could there be in reading Engels’ refutation of them? Engels writes in the preface that he was reluctant to sink his teeth into such a “sour apple.” However,

Once bitten into, [it] had to be completely devoured; and it was not only very sour, but very large. The new socialist theory was presented as the ultimate practical fruit of a new philosophical system. It was therefore necessary to examine it in connection with this system, and in doing so to examine the system itself.
The process of responding to Dühring’s “system,” Engels explained, “gave me, in connection with the very diverse subject touched on in this book, the opportunity to develop in a positive form my views on questions which are today of wide scientific or practical interest.” (emphasis added) (10) What followed is perhaps the clearest explanation of a Marxist worldview in a single text. Anti-Dühring is a powerful introduction to historical materialism, Marxist economics, and dialectics.

Dühring on Dühring

A warning: the reader may be flummoxed at times attempting to understand what Dühring is trying to say. For Engels’ purpose, it was necessary to quote Dühring at length. The modern reader is likely to be less interested. And yet, Dühring is not the last to come along promising “system-creating ideas” or “final and ultimate truths.” Engels’ method in refuting Dühring is thus often as valuable as the specifics of the refutation. In addition, readers may recognize in Dühring’s political thought a moral protest against capitalism. Understanding the difference between this and a scientific understanding of capitalism is useful in our time, when politics based on moralism or on consumer-oriented solutions retain currency on the Left.

An additional warning: the reader may be highly entertained by Engels’ wit. He is surgical in his dissection of Dühring, but that doesn’t prevent him from lathering on the sarcasm and turning Dühring’s own words against him for comic effect. If the title didn’t already give it away, the text is a blistering assault, and Engels spares no effort to knock Dühring off his pedestal.

And, it must be said, Dühring has far to fall. “When a man is in possession of the final and ultimate truth and of the only strictly scientific approach,” Engels writes, “it is only natural that he should have a certain contempt for the rest of erring and unscientific humanity.” Dühring, according to Dühring, is just such a man. Dühring calls Kant “childish,” Hegel’s ideas “crudities,” and Darwin’s thought “a piece of brutality directed against humanity.” Fourier has a “childish mind,” Lassalle is “pedantic, hair-splitting,” and Marx is noted for his “narrowness of conception…impotence of the faculties of concentration and logical arrangement…barren conceptions…logical fantasy…vile mannerisms…philosophical and scientific backwardness.” (39)

“For the moment,” responds Engels to these insults, “we will guard against expressing any doubt as to their deep-rootedness, as we might otherwise be prohibited from trying to find the category of fools to which we belong.”

Anti-Dühring is organized into three sections—Philosophy, Political Economy, and Socialism—each responding to a book by Dühring on the same theme. Due to the constraints of space, what follow are not summaries of the sections, but merely highlights from each.


In this section, Engels shows that (for all the abuse that Dühring heaps on the philosophies of Hegel) Dühring, in his so-called “philosophy of reality” reveals himself to be a devout Hegelian in one respect (as we shall see, he rejects the Hegelian dialectic). The most important thread that connects the two is their philosophical idealism, which is to say their belief that changes in the world are, in the first place, the products of changes in ideas. “The essence of all thought,” writes Dühring, “consists in the synthesis of the elements of consciousness into a unity…. It is the unified synthesis which gave rise to the indivisible idea of the world.” (51)

Confused? You’re not alone. Dühring assures us, “Every question can be decided axiomatically in accordance with simple basic forms, as if simple…basic principles of mathematics were concerned.” (51)

To gain understanding of the world, one therefore need not investigate the world, but merely one’s thoughts about the world. Engels explains,

What he is dealing with are therefore principles, formal principles derived from thought and not from the external world, which are to be applied to Nature and the realm of man, and to which therefore Nature and the realm of man have to conform. (43)
Just like Hegel, Dühring has it upside-down.
But with this the whole relationship is inverted: the principles are not the starting point of the investigation, but its final result; they are not applied to Nature and human history, but abstracted from them; it is not Nature and the realm of humanity which conform to these principles, but the principles are only valid insofar as they are in conformity with Nature and history. That is the only materialistic conception of the matter. (44)
Dühring even goes so far as to endow nature with a will, with consciousness and intent. He tells us that, “the instincts were primarily created for the sake of the sense of pleasure which is associated with their activity.” What is the origin of these instincts? Dühring argues, “We should not regard [them] as directly, but only indirectly, willed.”(79)

Engels shows how Dühring misrepresents Darwin’s ideas about natural selection in order to attack them. Dühring, for example, makes much of how Darwin once compared his ideas to those of the misanthrope, Malthus, who argued that social catastrophes were a natural check on the growth of human populations. Dühring thus paints Darwin with this Malthusian brush. “In the precise and definite sense the struggle for existence is found only in the realm of brutality,” he writes, “insofar as animals live by seizing prey by force and devouring it.”

Engels responds:

…[A]fter he has reduced the idea of the struggle for existence to these narrow limits he can give full play to his indignation at the brutality of this idea, which he himself has restricted to brutality. But this moral indignation applies only to Herr Dühring himself, who is indeed the only author of the struggle for existence in this limited conception and is therefore also solely responsible for it. (82)
Engels contrasts Darwin’s materialism with Dühring’s idealism:
If therefore tree-frogs and leaf-eating insects are green, desert animals are sandy yellow, and animals of the polar regions are mainly snow-white in color, they have certainly not adopted these colors on purpose or in conformity with any ideas; on the contrary, the colors can only be explained on the basis of physical forces and chemical action. And yet it cannot be denied that these animals, because of those colors are fittingly adapted to the environment in which they live, in such a way that they are far less visible to their enemies.… But if Herr Dühring insists that this adaptation must be effected through ideas, he says in other words that the purposive activity must be brought about through ideas, it must be conscious and intentional. And this brings us, as is usually the case in his philosophy of reality, to a purposive creator, to God. (84)
In the next chapter, Engels moves on to other aspects of Dühring’s philosophy:
We refrain from giving samples of the mishmash of platitudes and oracular sayings, in a word, of the simple balderdash, with which Herr Dühring regales his readers for fifty full pages as the deep-rooted science of the elements of consciousness. We will cite only this: “The person who can only think by means of language has never yet learnt what is meant by abstract and pure thought.” On this basis animals are the most abstract and purest thinkers, because their thought is never obscured by the officious intrusion of language. (98)
The latter part of the first section of Anti-Dühring concerns itself with questions of morality, law, and dialectics. Here the reader will find a thorough defense of historical materialism, akin to Trotsky’s pamphlet, Their Morals and Ours, as well as a crystal-clear explanation of dialectics.

Dühring maintains that:

The first and most important principle of the basic logical characteristics of being is the exclusion of contradiction. Contradiction is a category which can only appertain to a combination of thoughts, but not to reality. There are no contradictions in things, or, to put it another way, contradiction applied to reality is itself the apex of absurdity. (136)
Engels counters:
So long as we consider things as static and lifeless, each one by itself, alongside of and after each other, it is true that we do not run up against any contradictions in them.… But the position is quite different as soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence on each other. Then we immediately become involved in contradictions. (137)
He then proceeds to list a few basic examples:
A living thing is at each moment itself and yet something else. Life is therefore also a contradiction which is present in things and processes themselves, and which constantly asserts and solves itself; and as soon as the contradiction ceases, life too comes to an end, and death steps in. We likewise saw that also in the sphere of thought we could not avoid contradictions, and that for example the contradiction between man’s inherently unlimited faculty of knowledge and its actual realization in men who are limited by their external conditions and limited also in their intellectual faculties finds its solution in what is, for us at least, and from a practical standpoint, an endless succession of generations, in infinite progress. (138)
Later, Engels points out how differential calculus in mathematics equates straight lines and curves, achieving results that common sense would deem impossible.
Elementary mathematics, the mathematics of constant magnitudes, moves within the confines of formal logic, at any rate taken as a whole; the mathematics of variable magnitudes, whose most important part is the infinitesimal calculus, is in essence nothing other than the application of dialectics to mathematical relations. (153)
Chapters 9 and 10 proceed to defend two basic dialectical concepts from Dühring’s attacks: the transformation of quantity into quality, and the negation of a negation. The former is simply the recognition that often, incremental changes in the quantity of a thing, at some point transform into a qualitative change in the thing as a whole.

Engels cites a classic example:

The change of the state of water, which under normal atmospheric pressure changes at 0° C. from liquid into a solid state [ice], and at 100° C. from the liquid into the gaseous state, so that at both these turning points the merely quantitative change of temperature brings about a qualitative change in the condition of the water. (144)
He also points out how different chemical compounds can have radically different properties (one is poisonous, the next is breathable), only because each has a different amount of carbon or hydrogen molecules. Mere quantitative changes in the combination of elements create qualitatively different substances.

But what of the “negation of a negation”? What does this mean? Think of it as a development of the idea that reality is full of contradictions. Contradictions tend to work themselves out in a way that one side is negated (destroyed, removed, etc.). But that is not all—the remaining side (the first “negation”) is usually itself later negated. Hence the negation of the negation is a way that contradictions tend to get resolved.

Here is an example from Engels: blockquote>Let us take a grain of barley…if it falls on suitable soil, then under the influence of heat and moisture a specific change takes place, it germinates; the grain as such ceases to exist, it is negated, and in its place appears the plant which has arisen from it, the negation of the grain. But what is the normal life-process of this plant? It grows, flowers, is fertilized, and finally once more produces grains of barley, and as soon as these have ripened the stalk dies, is in its turn negated. As a result of this negation of the negation we have once again the original grain of barley, but not as a single unit, but ten, twenty, or thirty fold. (154) But for our (and Engels’) purposes, the most important example is the development of human society. Engels explains Marx’s argument that the contradictions of class society work themselves out in a similar pattern.

Before the capitalist era, at least in England, petty industry existed on the basis of the private property of the laborer in his means of production. The so-called primitive accumulation of capital in this case is the expropriation of these immediate producers, that is, in the dissolution of private property based on the labor of its owner. (150)
This first “negation,” is how the contradictions of early industry work themselves out. Capitalism destroys the economy of small producers. Engels quotes Marx: “This expropriation is accomplished by the action of the immanent laws of capitalistic production itself, by the centralization of capital. One capitalist always kills many.”

That is the first negation.

Engels quotes Marx’s explanation of the second: “That which is now to be expropriated is no longer the laborer working for himself, but the capitalist exploiting many laborers.” The natural development of capitalism leads to its undoing—the negation of the negation.

Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, grows the mass of misery…grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in number, and disciplined, united, and organized by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself.… The expropriators are expropriated. (151)
Engels’ critics have tried to impute to Engels the idea that the dialect is a grand key that unlocks all the secrets of nature. But Engels is merely explaining that the general processes of society, and the natural world from which it springs, operate dialectically rather than statically—that is, through the motion engendered by contradictory forces acting on one another, in a never-ending process of coming into being and passing away.

Political economy

“In my system” Dühring explains,

The relation between general politics and the forms of economic law is determined in so definite and at the same time so original a way that it would not be superfluous, in order to facilitate study, to make special reference to this point. The formation of political relationships is, historically, the fundamental fact, and the economic conditions dependent on this are only an effect or a particular case, and are consequently always facts of the second order. (180)
In this, as in many things, Dühring has it exactly backwards—economic relations set the parameters for political developments, not the other way around. To understand this, the reader must also know that Dühring builds up his ideas about society from a hypothetical Robinson Crusoe situation—a man stranded on an island, with his accomplice, Friday. From the relations and struggles between these two stranded humans, Dühring attempts to show how oppression and exploitation developed in its present form.

“In fact,” Dühring maintains,

Nothing more than this simple dualism is required to enable us accurately to portray some of the most important relations of distribution and to study their laws in germ in their logical necessity.… Cooperative working on an equal footing is here just as conceivable as the combination of forces through the complete subjection of one party, who is then compelled to render economic service as a slave or as a mere tool and is maintained also only as a tool.… A universal survey of the various historical institutions of justice and injustice is here the essential presupposition. (176)
This is Dühring’s “force” theory—the idea that the root of all exploitation and oppression is force. Engels refutes this concept, by pointing out that
[T]he question arises: how did Crusoe come to enslave Friday? Just for the pleasure of doing it? No such thing. On the contrary, we see that Friday “is compelled to render economic service as a slave or as a mere tool and is maintained only as a tool.” Crusoe enslaved Friday only in order that Friday should work for Crusoe’s benefit. And how can Crusoe derive any benefit for himself from Friday’s labor? Only through Friday producing by his labor more of the necessaries of life than Crusoe has to give him to keep him in a fit state to work.… The childish example specifically selected by Herr Dühring in order to prove that force is “historically the fundamental fact,” in reality, therefore, proves that force is only the means, and that the aim is economic advantage. And inasmuch as the aim is “more fundamental” than the means to secure it, so in history the economic side of the relationship is much more fundamental than the political side. The example therefore proves precisely the opposite of what it was supposed to prove. (181–82)
If force is not the “fundamental fact” of human society, then what is? Engels answers: production.
In order to make use of a slave, a man must possess two kinds of things: first, the instruments and material for his slave’s labor; and secondly, the minimum necessaries of life for him. Therefore, before slavery becomes possible, a certain level of production must already have been reached and a certain inequality of distribution must already have appeared. (182)
But even that inequality can develop without force.
Historically, private property by no means makes its appearance as the result of robbery or violence. On the contrary. It already existed, even though it was limited to certain objects, in the ancient primitive communes of all civilized peoples. It developed within these communes, at first through barter with strangers, till it reached the form of commodities. The more the products of the commune assumed the commodity form, that is, the less they were produced for their producers’ own use, and the more for the purpose of exchange, the more the primitive natural division of labor was replaced by exchange also within the commune, the more inequality developed in the property of the individual members of the commune. (184)
In the following chapter, Engels invites us to investigate the concept of “force” itself more closely. “Crusoe enslaved Friday ‘sword in hand.’ Where did he get the sword from? Even on the imaginary islands of Crusoe stories, swords have not, up to now, grown on trees, and Herr Dühring gives us no answer whatever to this question.”

If it’s just a matter of finding a weapon, then Friday might just as easily have become the master and not the slave had he found a sword first—or better yet, a pistol! And, anyway, Engels reminds us, not all weapons are equal.

So, then, the revolver triumphs over the sword; and this will probably make even the most childish axiomatician comprehend that force is no mere act of the will, but requires very real preliminary conditions before it can come into operation, that is to say, instruments, the more perfect of which vanquish the less perfect; moreover, that these instruments have to be produced, which also implies that the producer of more perfect instruments of force…vanquishes the producer of the less perfect instrument, and that, in a word, the triumph of force is based on the production of arms, and this in turn on production in general—therefore on “economic power,” and on the “economic order,” on the material means which force has at its disposal. (189)
Relations of domination arose, argues Engels, not because someone decided one day to forcibly enslave someone else, but as a product of material changes. The growth of human productivity, particularly with the rise of agriculture, both required and made possible a surplus that could sustain larger, more sedentary populations and a greater division of labor. The most significant division of labor was that between those who performed work and those entrusted by the society as a whole with guardianship over the surplus and over the maintenance of the necessary conditions of production. At some moment, however, these functions aimed at serving society at large were transformed into positions of lordship over society; the guardians and dispensers of the surplus became the controllers and appropriators of the surplus, who then employed coercive means, when necessary, to maintain their control.

Force is not an “absolute evil,” the “original sin” by which all problems of society can be explained, as Dühring argued—a point that still needs to be made against pacifists and some anarchists who reject all forms of coercion. On the contrary, force can also play a positive role, as “the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one, that it is the instrument with the aid of which social movement forces its way through and shatters the dead, fossilized political forms.” (209)

It is only with sighs and groans that [Dühring] admits the possibility that force will perhaps be necessary for the overthrow of an economic system of exploitation—unfortunately, because all use of force demoralizes the person who uses it. And this in spite of the immense moral and spiritual impetus which has been given by every victorious revolution! (209–10)
The remainder of this section is concerned with explaining the basic concepts of Marxist economics, such as value, surplus value, and capital. Here the reader must suffer through Dühring’s tortured economic muddle. Engels tries very hard to clarify Dühring’s ideas, but it isn’t always easy. Still, the method of considering various economic categories separately—the difference between money and capital, between labor and labor power, value and surplus value, etc.—is useful in training oneself to think like a Marxist.

Engels’ chapter on capital and surplus value is particularly illuminating. Here he describes how Marx, investigating how money changes into capital, discovers that money and capital do not circulate in the same way. The circulation of one, in fact, is the inversion of the circulation of the other. “The simple owner of commodities sells in order to buy; he sells what he does not need, and with the money thus procured he buys what he does need.” (231)

But the process for capital is precisely the opposite.

The embryo capitalist starts by buying what he does not himself need; he buys in order to sell, and to sell at a higher price, in order to get back the value of the money originally thrown into the transaction, expanded by an increment in money; and Marx calls this increment surplus value. (231)
But this presents a problem: where did the surplus value come from? It cannot come from simply buying below value and selling above value, since the gains and losses of everyone operating as buyer and seller would cancel each other out. “Nor can it come from cheating, though cheating can enrich one person at the expense of another, it cannot increase the total sum possessed by both, and therefore also it cannot augment the sum of the values in circulation.” (231)

Engels calls the solution to this problem the “most epoch-making achievement of Marx’s work.” He quotes Marx: “In order to be able to extract value from the consumption of a commodity, our friend, Moneybags, must be so lucky as to find…in the market, a commodity whose use value possesses the peculiar property of being a source of value.” (232)

The commodity with that “peculiar” property is labor power. Engels further explains how this works:

On our assumption, therefore, the laborer each day costs the owner of money the value of the product of six hours’ labor, but he hands over to him each day the value of the product of twelve hours’ labor. The difference in favor of the owner of money is—six hours of unpaid surplus labor.… The trick has been performed. Surplus value has been produced; money has been converted into capital. (233)
In discovering the origin of surplus value, Marx “exposed the mechanism of the existing capitalist mode of production and of the mode of appropriation based on it; he revealed the core around which the whole existing social order has crystallized.” (234)


In the final chapters of Anti-Dühring, Engels gives a materialist history of the development of the ideas of socialism (I), a materialist history of society and of the contradictions of the capitalist era (II), and a refutation of Dühring’s utopian plans for a “new socialitarian system” (III, IV, and V).

As we have seen, Dühring had nothing but contempt for early utopian socialists such as Fourier or Lassalle. Engels treats them in an entirely different manner. He describes the passion and commitment of these thinkers and their struggles. To begin with, however, he explains that their ideas were, of necessity, limited by the times in which they lived.

To the immature stage of capitalist production and the immature class position, immature theories corresponded. The solution of social problems, a solution which still lay hidden in the undeveloped economic conditions, was to be produced out of their heads. Society presented nothing but abuses; it was the task of the thinking intellect to remove them. (291)
Still, early socialist writers were able to make penetrating critiques of the existing social system. Engels explains that Fourier, for instance, analyzed how
[C]ivilization moves in a “vicious circle,” in contradictions which it constantly reproduces but is never able to overcome, so that it constantly attains the opposite of what it wants or pretends that it wants to achieve. So that, for example, “in civilization, poverty springs from superabundance itself.” (293)
Owen, a wealthy businessman, tried to set up several socialist communities. His ideas were utopian, but Engels describes how he stuck to his principles despite the personal consequences.
There were three great obstacles which above all seemed to him to block the path to social reform: private property, religion, and marriage in its present form. He knew what confronted him if he attacked them: complete outlawry from official society and the loss of his whole social position. But nothing could hold him back; he attacked them regardless of the consequences, and what he had foreseen came to pass. Banished from official society, banned by the press, impoverished by the failures of communist experiments in America in which he sacrificed his whole fortune, he turned directly to the working class and worked among them for another thirty years. (296)
The chapter that follows is a remarkably clear explanation of what the utopians could not have understood: that the inner, dialectical process of class society creates its own undoing. Here, Engels’ sublime command of historical materialism and dialectics is uncluttered by references to Dühring. He begins,
The materialist conception of history starts from the principle that production, and with production the exchange of its products, is the basis of every social order; that in every society which has appeared in history the distribution of the products, and with it the division of society into classes or estates, is determined by what is produced and how it is produced, and how the product is exchanged. According to this conception, the ultimate causes of all social changes and political revolutions are to be sought, not in the minds of men, in their increasing insight into eternal truth and justice, but in changes in the mode of production and exchange; they are to be sought not in the philosophy but in the economics of the epoch concerned.
Likewise, the means of changing society must have some material basis. “These means are not to be invented by the mind, but discovered by means of the mind in the existing material facts of production.” (300)

Socialism, according to Engels, is not an ideal, but is based on the actual contradictions of capitalism.

The new forces of production have already outgrown the bourgeois form of using them; and this conflict between the productive forces and the mode of production is not a conflict which has arisen in men’s heads, as for example the conflict between original sin and divine justice; but it exists in the facts, objectively, outside of us, independently of the will or purpose even of the men who brought it about. Modern socialism is nothing but the reflex in thought of this actual conflict, its ideal reflection in the minds first of the class which is directly suffering under it—the working class. (301)
Like other ruling classes, the capitalists extracted surplus value from the laboring class. But other laboring classes always owned the means of production, and even most of their own product. For the first time, capitalism changed that.
[A]s soon as the means of production had become social and were concentrated in the hands of the capitalists, this situation changed. Both the means of production and the products of the small, individual producer lost more and more of their value; there was nothing left for him to do but to go to the capitalist and work for wages. Wage labor, hitherto an exception and subsidiary, became the rule and the basic form of all production; hitherto an auxiliary occupation, it now became the laborer’s exclusive activity. The occasional wage worker became the wage worker for life. (304–5)
Now, the laws of commodity production take hold and rule over society. Everyone relates to each other through competition in the marketplace, but this competition is unplanned, anarchic, and is beyond any individual’s control.
These laws…enforce themselves on the individual producers as compulsory laws of competition. At first, therefore, they are unknown even to these producers, and have to be discovered by them gradually, only through long experience. They assert themselves apart from the producers and against the producers, as the natural laws of their form of production, working blindly. The product dominates the producers. (305)
The laws of the market compel each capitalist to constantly revolutionize the means of production, turning “the infinite perfectability of the machine in large-scale industry into a compulsory commandment for each individual industrial capitalist to make his machinery more and more perfect, under penalty of ruin.” (307) These improvements in machinery, “the most powerful instrument for shortening labor-time,” which under different conditions would be a means to free the mass of people from long hours of toil, under capitalism become “the most unfailing means for placing every moment of the laborer’s time and that of his family at the disposal of the capitalist.” (308)

The resulting explosion of human productivity lays the real, material foundation for a planned society based on the free development of all human beings. Instead of working more, increased productivity can mean that we all work less.

Today this is no longer a fantasy, no longer a pious wish. The present development of the productive forces is already adequate as the basis on which the increase in production which must follow from the socialization of the productive forces—the abolition of the barriers and disturbing factors and of the waste of products and means of production—can reduce the time required for labor, with every individual taking his share, to what on our present conceptions would be a small amount. (329)
Yet under capitalism economic expansion enslaves workers to the machine, and creates unplanned disruptions. Since the “expansion of the market cannot keep pace with the expansion of production,” the natural dynamic of the new system is to periodically go into crisis. “By degrees the pace quickens; it becomes a trot; the industrial trot passes into a gallop, and the gallop in turn passes into the mad onrush of a complete industrial commercial, credit, and speculative steeplechase, only to land again in the end, after the most breakneck jumps—in the ditch of a crash.” (310)

The idea for solving these crises through a socialist transformation comes not out of thin air, but flows from capitalism’s own tendency to socialize production. Small, isolated units production are more and more swallowed up by large-scale units of production.

“Both the period of industrial boom, with its unlimited credit inflation, and the crisis itself through the collapse of great capitalist establishments, urge forward towards that form of the socialization of huge masses of means of production which we find in the various joint-stock companies.” (311)

The new system not only socializes production, but also creates a group of people with the motive and opportunity to revolutionize society through their collective action—the modern working class.

By more and more transforming the great majority of the population into proletarians, the capitalist mode of production brings into being the force which, under penalty of its own destruction, is compelled to carry out this revolution.… The proletariat seizes the State power, and transforms the means of production in the first instance into State property. (314)
Yet, for Engels, state ownership of industry in and of itself did not constitute socialism:
The modern state, whatever its form, is an essentially capitalist machine; it is the state of the capitalists, the ideal collective body of all capitalists. The more productive forces it takes over, the more it becomes the real collective body of all the capitalists, the more citizens it exploits. The workers remain wage-earners, proletarians. The capitalist relationship is not abolished; it is rather pushed to an extreme. (313)
Even though, historically, states always present themselves as representatives of the whole society, in truth every state has a class character. The state actually arose “for the forcible holding down of the exploited classes in the conditions of oppression…determined by the existing mode of production.” (315) The working-class revolution, however, creates a new possibility.

As soon as there is no longer any class of society to be held in subjection; as soon as, along with class domination and the struggle for individual existence based on the former anarchy of production…[are] abolished, there is nothing more to be repressed which would make a special repressive force, a state, necessary. The interference of the state power in social relations becomes superfluous in one sphere after another, and then ceases of itself. The government of persons is replaced by the administration of things and the direction of the process of production. The state is not “abolished,” it withers away. (315)

This analysis of the state was forgotten by both social democracy, which came to equate socialism with gaining a majority in parliament, and by Stalinism, which identified bureaucratic state control of production with socialism.

Finally, with the establishment of workers’ democratic control of production, the anarchy of blind competition, and the crises that come with it, can be ended.

The seizure of the means of production by society puts an end to commodity production, and therewith to the domination of the product over the producer. Anarchy in social production is replaced by conscious organization on a planned basis. The struggle for individual existence comes to an end.… Men’s own social organization which has hitherto stood in opposition to them as if arbitrarily decreed by Nature and history, will then become the voluntary act of men themselves. (318)

Challenging Dühring point for point, Engels lays out his own and Marx’s worldview: historical materialism. In doing so, he also uses a dialectical and materialist method to explain the development of their ideas and those of the socialist movement generally. Unlike Dühring, who looks down on all other thinkers, Marx and Engels frankly acknowledge their debt to their predecessors. The “great merit” of the ideas of Hegel, writes Engels, was that, for the first time

The whole natural, historical, and spiritual world was presented as a process, that is, as in constant motion, change, transformation, and development; and the attempt was made to show the internal interconnections in this motion and development. From this standpoint the history of mankind no longer appeared as a confused whirl of senseless deeds of violence…but as the process of development of humanity itself. (30)
This dialectical kernel of Hegel’s thought represented a great step forward. Hegel was, however, an idealist.
The realization of the incorrectness of previous German idealism led necessarily to materialism, but, it must be noted, not to the simple metaphysical and exclusively mechanical materialism of the eighteenth century. Instead…modern materialism sees history as the process of the evolution of humanity, and its own problem as the discovery of the laws of this process. (31)
Modern materialism abolishes the need for philosophy, as such.
[M]odern materialism embraces more recent advances of natural science, according to which Nature also has its history in time, the celestial bodies, like organic species…coming into being and passing away…modern materialism is essentially dialectical, and no longer needs any philosophy standing above the other sciences. (32)
It was the work of Marx to synthesize German dialectics, English economics, and French materialism into an analysis of the inner process of capitalism. “This was done by the discovery of surplus value. It was shown that the appropriation of unpaid labor is the basic form of the capitalist mode of production.” (33)

“These two great discoveries,” continues Engels, “the materialist conception of history and the revelation of the secret of capitalist production by means of surplus value, we owe to Marx. With these discoveries, socialism became a science, which had in the first place to be developed in all its details and relations.” (33–34)

Engels, in Anti-Dühring, contributed mightily to that endeavor.2

Brian Jones is a teacher, actor, and activist in New York.

All page numbers (in brackets after quotes from the text) are taken from the International Publishers (1972) edition of Anti-Dühring; the text is also available on the Marxist Internet Archive atühring/index.htm.

1 These developments were explained in detail by David Riazanov in a preface to the 1928 Moscow edition of Anti-Dühring, available at

2 In the second half of the twentieth century, academics attacked Engels as a mechanical reformist, and laid the mistakes of German Social Democracy (and for some, the crimes of Stalin!) at his feet. The ideas presented in Anti-Dühring—such as how the dialectics of nature are analogous to the dialectics of human society—were presented as evidence of his break with Marx’s conception of the dialectic. This attempt to draw a sharp line between the politics of Engels and those of Marx is described and refuted in detail in the article, “Engels’ Marxism” by John Rees (International Socialism Journal 65, 1994) and in George Novack, “In Defense of Engels,” Polemics in Marxist Philosophy (New York: Monad Press, 1978), 85–115. Even on a purely biographical basis, the evidence of their mutual political collaboration and agreement is overwhelming. Novack and Rees points out, for example, that the idea for Anti-Dühring was Marx’s, that Marx reviewed the entire manuscript, and that Marx even wrote one of the chapters on economics!

Back to top