Labour Monthly



Review of The Problem of Population by Gyan Chand. Oxford Pamphlets on India (No. 19).
Tariffs and Industry by John Matthai, Oxford Pamphlets on India (No.20).
The Future of India by Penderel Moon, Pilot Press, 5s.
Reviews by Penderel Moo

Source : Labour Monthly August 1945, p.235-236
Publisher : The Labour Publishing Company Ltd., London.
Transcription/HTML : Ted Crawford/D. Walters
Public Domain : Marxists Internet Archive (2010). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Frederick Engels died fifty years. ago. It is already clear that he was much more important for world history than most of his contemporaries who were regarded as great statesmen or great thinkers, such men as Gladstone and Disraeli; Cardinal Newman and Herbert Spencer. A few of those who were acknowledged in their own time, such as Darwin and Pasteur, have not lost in stature with the passage of time. Engels is one of the very few who have gained enormously.

This is due to a simple fact. His ideas were ahead of those of almost all his contemporaries but they were not so far ahead that they failed to influence the course of history directly, as was the case, for example, with the socialistic ideas of the English Levellers. One might almost say that the most active period of Engels’ life began twenty-two years after his death, when Lenin, as appears from State and Revolution, applied the theories of The Origin of the Family with a success whose full magnitude he did not live to see.

Engels was the friend and colleague of Marx. The history of their friendship can perhaps best be followed from their correspondence They collaborated in. the Communist Manifesto and many less important works. Marx’s main writings were on economics and contemporary history. Engels applied Marxism to philosophy, the natural sciences, and anthropology as well. He always stressed that he owed his seminal ideas in these fields to Marx, but he certainly developed them very greatly. And if Marx had not lived it is clear that, Engels would been a great intellectual leader of socialism; though we cannot say at how many of Marx’s ideas he would have arrived.

Engels was a man of astonishing energy and versatility. He earned his living and -- incidentally he gave Marx much financial help &A#8212; as a cotton broker in Manchester. He was secretary of the First International. Apart from politics and economics, he wrote on physics, chemistry, biology, anthropology, philosophy, and war. He was a fox hunter because he hoped to be a cavalry leader in the revolution, as he had been in 1848 in Germany. Unlike Marx, who was highly monogamous, he had a series of love affairs.

A college of specialists would be needed to appreciate all the activities of such a man. I can only write with any authority on his contributions to science. The Origin of the Family, based on a comparatively small body of anthropological data, requires some correction as the result of new knowledge, but substantially less so than, for example, the accounts of animal evolution given by his contemporaries, Huxley and Haeckel. It still provides a framework into which later studies can be fitted without much difficulty. The modern Soviet school of prehistory demonstrates the fruitfulness of his approach.

Since he wrote Anti-Duhring, Feuerbach and Dialectics of Nature physics and chemistry have been revolutionised, substantially along the lines which he predicted. He contended that the Daltonian elements were probably compounds and certainly not indestructible. He could not be expected to have foreseen nuclear physics. Writing of electrochemistry as the point of contact of chemistry and physics he wrote “it is precisely at this point that the biggest results are to be expected.” The results have occurred. We cannot therefore go to Engels for a detailed discussion of modern physical problems but we can and should see how he tackled the problems of his day. His method remains perfectly valid and should help us to see where “the biggest results are to be expected.”

In the field of biology the changes since Engels’ time have not been so great, and many of his detailed points are still very well worth making; for example the fact that natural selection is not necessarily associated with overpopulation though it may be, and the fact that in human evolution the hand developed before the organs of speech.

It was not an accident that Engels saw so far into the problems of science.

With Marx’s help, he had attained to a deeper insight into the general laws of change than anyone before him. He was thus able to see facts both about changes in nature, and changes in human ways of controlling and understanding nature, which escaped his contemporaries.

Fifty years after his death his works are still guide to scientific and political method. Provided they are used as a source of methods and not of dogmas, we cannot study them too carefully.