Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

Cover of Friedrich Engel's "Anti Duhring

Rereading Engel’s Anti-Duhring – a Critique of a Disruptive Idea with Immense Relevancy to This Day

An acute inner party struggle led to Engel’s book Anti-Duhring. In the 1870s, Eugen Duhring, who was a lecturer at Berlin University at the time, launched a serious attack on Marxism. This attack covered a wide range of topics, beginning with philosophy and political economy and ending with socialist theory.

As a result of this attack, the unity and unification of the party were severely damaged. In 1875, two German worker organisations, the Eisenacher and the ‘Lasalleans’, merged together to create what is now known as the Socialist Workers Party of Germany. Even though the merger was not totally effective, it did reduce the sense of sectarianism and uncertainty among the German working class, and it did strengthen the party as a result.

However, most party members did not study basic theoretical questions. As a result, their understanding of Marxism was pretty shallow. Taking advantage of this situation, Duhring established himself as a big theoretical authority within the party and introduced many pseudo-socialist ideas into the party. As a result, he caused numerous splits within the party.

According to Engels, Duhring and his colleagues used deceit and the art of publicity to achieve their ends. He called others charlatans while he was the charlatan. While pretending to be a genius, he copied, swindled, spewed nonsense, and labelled others as stupid and rejected others at the same time.

Using high sounding adjectives, he talked about himself pompously. According to him, his theory is a ‘new mode of thinking’, ‘an all-round penetrating idea’, and ‘a system creating concept’. According to him, his theory was the ‘ultimate and final truth’, while others’ theories were irrelevant.

Engels sarcastically said “before us we have an infallible superman who is a genius.” Engels proceeded to make fun of him by saying, “Compared with him, we are nothing, and we must bow to him.”

It was also Duhring’s goal to establish his authority through advertising propaganda. He wanted people to think he was a genius and a superman. Also, he wanted people to follow him blindly.

Engels and Marx despised Duhring’s trash. Engels called him an “impertinent dwarf”. Furthermore, he called his babblings pseudo-science and sublime nonsense.

Not only Berstein but even the good comrade Bebel was deceived by Duhring. Far from being academic, Duhring had a clear political and organisational line. He attacked Marxism on theoretical level to bring about a sham socialism which results in the multiple splits of the party.

To maintain party unity and raise the party’s theoretical level, Engels picked up his pen and supported Marx in order to undermine Duhring’s ferocious attack.

A Priori Method is an Idealist Method

Duhring’s body of work is extensive. It is a comprehensive philosophical philosophy. Its components include psychology, morality, nature, and historical law. Essentially, it is an analysis of the whole system of political economy and socialism. It also includes a critical history of political economy. The book consists of three volumes. However, there is one major question: where did all of the articles in this book come from?

In this regard, Engels stated: “It is only that he has given a new twist to the ideological method known as a priori.” In this method, the property of an object is deduced from the concept of the thing rather than by analysing the object itself. Thus, an object was forced to comply to an idea, but the concept was not to conform to the object. In other words, it deduces the reality of a thing from a previously established notion rather than the item itself.

Apriorism is an idealist knowledge theory. According to materialist knowledge theory, ideas are reflections of reality. It implies that all genuine knowledge is derived through experience, implying that there is no knowledge prior to experience. However, apriorism maintains that rational thought contains some innate knowledge that is intrinsic in the mind from birth. This knowledge is not gained by experience. Rather, he claimed that true knowledge can be deducted from these categories. This is what we refer to as apriorism.

Apriorist thinkers refuse to recognize that conceptual knowledge is dependent on perceptual knowledge. They believe that conceptual knowledge is independent of everything. They don’t go from facts to ideas. Rather, they go from ideas to reality.

Immanuel Kant was a prominent thinker who embraced apriorism in the 18th century. He contended that humans cannot get knowledge from sense material. He went on to claim that it is an inbuilt logical category that converts sense elements into knowledge. This is his knowledge philosophy. Thus, when we arrange sense materials, human reasons confer law on sense materials. As a result, they infer that knowledge is not objective, but rather manufactured by human brains, according to apriorism.

Hegel was an apriorist as well. He believed that logical categories existed prior to human history. According to him, the development of these logical categories is what gave rise to the history of the world. He held that human history and world history is governed by universal divine reason. In this way Duhring copied Hegel’s apriorism. Engels incisively criticized apriorism. He elaborated materialist theory of reflection. He argued that principle was not the starting point of research. It must come as ultimate result of research.

Engels criticised apriorism. He elaborated the principle of materialist theory of reflection. He argued that principle is not the starting point of research. Rather it should be the ultimate result of research. It is not that objective world try to adapt principle. In contrast, a principle is correct only when it conforms to objective world. However, Duhring turned things upside down. Engels continued to argue that all knowledge including abstract mathematical principles came from practical experience.

Critiquing Duhring’s “socialism”, Engels said that his socialism was created by apriori method. According to Duhring socialism is not the reflection of the objective law of social development. Nor, it is the reflection of the class interests of working class. He took it as a product of a universal reason.

History isn’t decided by geniuses

Utopian socialists think a society can be changed only by the force of reason. The reason referred to here, according to them, is apriorist. They could not see the fact that knowledge come from social practice. They denied the fact that truth is a process of development. Thus, they believed in idealist conception of history and thought history as being created by genius.

In China, it was said that a wise king would appear every 500 years. The Jewish people likewise believed that a messiah would appear to save them. It claims that a saviour will appear and save the people. Before these saviors arrive, the poor and oppressed have no choice but to wait patiently.

The utopians thought of themselves as saviours. From their perspective, heroes, geniuses, and great men made history, not slaves. Only a few geniuses could bring the light of reason to the world and create a genuinely rational society in the past. Thus, they negated mass struggles and class struggles. He adopted the utopian socialists’ doctrine, while comprehensively discrediting it.

He refuted the idealist view of history using a materialist perspective. According to him, all social and political changes are fuelled by the economic foundation of society and class struggle, not man’s brain or better insight into “eternal truth” or “universal justice.” The birth of capitalism wasn’t caused by mistakes in man’s knowledge. In the then historical context, it was inevitable because capitalism corresponded to the development of social productive forces.

Likewise, capitalism must give way to socialism not because people realize it’s incompatible with justice and equality, or because they want to eradicate classes. It was because capitalist production relations stifle the development of social productive forces, and only socialist production relations can liberate them.

As a result, the question is not one of envisioning a flawless social order in one’s imagination and then imposing it on society. Only by objectively observing and understanding the rules that govern society’s development, and relying on the struggle of the masses to translate theory into material power, can society be changed. Marxism has always acknowledged the mental reaction to material things, as well as the historical function of heroes, leaders, and geniuses. However, no matter how brilliant the geniuses, they cannot change the laws of history or direct its course. History is made by the people, not by a few geniuses.

Only when the ideas of heroes, leaders, and geniuses represent the interests of the advanced class, conform to the needs of objective reality, and are comprehended by the masses do they have the potential to become a massive material force capable of transforming the world.

Where do wisdom and talent originate? Wisdom, according to Liu Shao-chi, is a “natural quality,” innate and independent of social activity, and a simply physiological gift. This is simply an enhanced form of apriorism.

Talent is within the realm of category of knowledge and is not bestowed by nature. Although man’s wisdom and ability are related to his brain’s level of perfection, the evolution of his brain has been the result of man’s long-term labor and the development of language. Since the human brain is a labor product, how can man’s wisdom and ability be separated from social practice?

Physiological differences between people cannot explain that talent is naturally endowed. The real forming of talent is acquired through tempering and study. All such assertions as “born talent,” ”all-embracing talent” of leaders are nothing but out-and-out lies. Only social practice and the masses can give us wisdom and ability.

Also Read