Classics of Marxism – Famous Quotes and Extracts

Extracts from Friedrich Engels, “Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science” (1894)

With regards to the discussion on the question of capitalism’s decadence that is pursued on the topic pages, we present extracts from two chapters of the ‘Anti-Dühring’, sustaining that the historical materialism developed by Marx and Engels concerns historical modes of production in general, and that their conclusions are not limited to the “cyclical” or periodic crises of capitalism in particular, nor hindered by them, as one of the participants seems to imply.

From: Part II, Political Economy. 1. Subject Matter and Method

«The connection of the respective distribution with the respective material conditions of existence of a society is so much in the nature of things that it is regularly reflected in popular instinct. As long as a mode of production is in the ascending branch of its development, even those who draw the short straw in its corresponding mode of distribution cheer for it. Thus the English workers at the advent of large-scale industry. Even as long as this mode of production remains the socially normal one, satisfaction with the distribution prevails on the whole, and if objections arise – then from the bosom of the ruling class itself (Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen), all the more finding no appeal among the exploited mass. Only when the mode of production in question has a good part of its descending branch behind it, when it has half outlived itself, when the conditions of its existence have largely disappeared and its successor is already knocking at the door – only then does the ever more unequal distribution appear to be unjust, only then is an appeal made from the outlived facts to so-called eternal justice. Scientifically this appeal to morality and the law does not help us a finger’s breadth; economic science cannot see in moral indignation, however justified it may be, a reason for proof, but only a symptom. Its task is rather to prove the newly emerging social abuses as necessary consequences of the existing mode of production, but also at the same time as signs of its dawning dissolution, and to uncover within the dissolving economic form of movement the elements of the future new organization of production and exchange which will eliminate those abuses. The wrath that makes the poet is absolutely in place in the description of these abuses, or also in the attack against the harmonizers in the service of the ruling class who deny or palliate these abuses; but how little it proves for the particular case is already evident from the fact that one finds material enough for it in every epoch of all history up to now.»

(Part II: Political Economy. I. Subject Matter and Method, 6th section. Our translation)

Web transcription for M.I.A., August 1996: Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring. Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science. Source: Progress Publishers, 1947; Translated by Emile Burns from the 1894 edition.

German in: Karl Marx/ Friedrich Engels – Werke. (Karl) Dietz Verlag, Berlin. Band 20. Berlin/DDR. 1962. Web transcription: Friedrich Engels, Herrn Eugen Dühring’s Umwälzung der Wissenschaft, (Leipzig, 1878 (1); Stuttgart, 1894 (3)). Text according to the 3rd and last edition revised and augmented by Engels.

Translator’s Note:

Verbatim, Engels speaks here of an ascending, respectively a descending “branch of development” of “a mode of production”, which the latter has to subsequently follow in the course of its history. Before the surpassing of a mode of production by a superior successor is on the historic agenda, this descending branch of a mode of production’s development needs to have been followed through for“a good part”; it has to have “half outlived itself”. The conditions of existence” of this mode of production must have largely disappeared” and its successor must be “already knocking at the door”, before its concomitant “unequal distribution” is massively felt as an injustice, an “abuse”, and is put into question.

Note that the Progress Publishers’ translation of 1947 substitutes Engels’ rather plastic tree-metaphor to describe the general historical course of a mode of production by a“curve”.