[Classics] Anti-Dühring

Part II: Political Economy

1. Subject Matter and Method

Political economy, in the widest sense, is the science of the laws governing the production and exchange of the material means of subsistence in human society. Production and exchange are two different functions. Production may occur without exchange, but exchange — being necessarily an exchange of products—cannot occur without production. Each of these two social functions is subject to the action of external influences which to a great extent are peculiar to it and for this reason each has, also to a great extent, its own special laws. But on the other hand, they constantly determine and influence each other to such an extent that they might be termed the abscissa and ordinate of the economic curve.

The conditions under which men produce and exchange vary from country to country, and within each country again from generation to generation. Political economy, therefore, cannot be the same for all countries and for all historical epochs. A tremendous distance separates the bow and arrow, the stone knife and the acts of exchange among savages occurring only by way of exception, from the steam-engine of a thousand horse power, the mechanical loom, the railways and the Bank of England. The inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego have not got so far as mass production and world trade, any more than they have experience of bill-jobbing or a Stock Exchange crash. Anyone who attempted to bring the political economy of Tierra del Fuego under the same laws as are operative in present-day England would obviously produce nothing but the most banal commonplaces. Political economy is therefore essentially a historical science. It deals with material which is historical, that is, constantly changing; it must first investigate the special laws of each individual stage in the evolution of production and exchange, and only when it has completed this investigation will it be able to establish the few quite general laws which hold good for production and exchange in general. At the same time it goes without saying that the laws which are valid for definite modes of production and forms of exchange hold good for all historical periods in which these modes of production and forms of exchange prevail. Thus, for example, the introduction of metallic money brought into operation a series of laws which remain valid for all countries and historical epochs in which metallic money is a medium of exchange.

The mode of production and exchange in a definite historical society, and the historical conditions which have given birth to this society, determine the mode of distribution of its products. In the tribal or village community with common ownership of land—with which, or with the easily recognisable survivals of which, all civilised peoples enter history—a fairly equal distribution of products is a matter of course; where considerable inequality of distribution among the members of the community sets in, this is an indication that the community is already beginning to break up.—Both large- and small-scale agriculture admit of very diverse forms of distribution, depending upon the historical conditions from which they developed. But it is obvious that large-scale farming always gives rise to a distribution which is quite different from that of small-scale farming; that large-scale agriculture presupposes or creates a class antagonism—slave-owners and slaves, feudal lords and serfs, capitalists and wage-workers—while small-scale agriculture does not necessarily involve class differences between the individuals engaged in agricultural production, and that on the contrary the mere existence of such differences indicates the incipient dissolution of smallholding economy.—The introduction and extensive use of metallic money in a country in which hitherto natural economy was universal or predominant is always associated with a more or less rapid revolutionisation of the former mode of distribution, and this takes place in such a way that the inequality of distribution among the individuals and therefore the opposition between rich and poor becomes more and more pronounced.—The local guild-controlled handicraft production of the Middle Ages precluded the existence of big capitalists and lifelong wage-workers just as these are inevitably brought into existence by modern large-scale industry, the credit system of the present day, and the form of exchange corresponding to the development of both of them—free competition.

But with the differences in distribution, class differences emerge. Society divides into classes: the privileged and the dispossessed, the exploiters and the exploited, the rulers and the ruled; and the state, which the natural groups of communities of the same tribe had at first arrived at only in order to safeguard their common interests (e.g., irrigation in the East) and for protection against external enemies, from this stage onwards acquires just as much the function of maintaining by force the conditions of existence and domination of the ruling class against the subject class.

Distribution, however, is not a merely passive result of production and exchange; it in its turn reacts upon both of these. Each new mode of production or form of exchange is at first retarded not only by the old forms and the political institutions which correspond to them, but also by the old mode of distribution; it can secure the distribution which is suitable to it only in the course of a long struggle. But the more mobile a given mode of production and exchange, the more capable it is of perfection and development, the more rapidly does distribution reach the stage at which it outgrows its progenitor, the hitherto prevailing mode of production and exchange, and comes into conflict with it. The old primitive communities which have already been mentioned could remain in existence for thousands of years—as in India and among the Slavs up to the present day—before intercourse with the outside world gave rise in their midst to the inequalities of property as a result of which they began to break up. On the contrary, modern capitalist production, which is hardly three hundred years old and has become predominant only since the introduction of modern industry, that is, only in the last hundred years, has in this short time brought about antitheses in distribution—concentration of capital in a few hands on the one side and concentration of the propertyless masses in the big towns on the other—which must of necessity bring about its downfall.

The connection between distribution and the material conditions of existence of society at any period lies so much in the nature of things that it is always reflected in popular instinct. So long as a mode of production still describes an ascending curve of development, it is enthusiastically welcomed even by those who come off worst from its corresponding mode of distribution. This was the case with the English workers in the beginnings of modern industry. And even while this mode of production remains normal for society, there is, in general, contentment with the distribution, and if objections to it begin to be raised, these come from within the ruling class itself (Saint-Simon, Fourier, Owen) and find no response whatever among the exploited masses. Only when the mode of production in question has already described a good part of its descending curve, when it has half outlived its day, when the conditions of its existence have to a large extent disappeared, and its successor is already knocking at the door — it is only at this stage that the constantly increasing inequality of distribution appears as unjust, it is only then that appeal is made from the facts which have had their day to so-called eternal justice. From a scientific standpoint, this appeal to morality and justice does not help us an inch further; moral indignation, however justifiable, cannot serve economic science as an argument, but only as a symptom. The task of economic science is rather to show that the social abuses which have recently been developing are necessary consequences of the existing mode of production, but at the same time also indications of its approaching dissolution,-and to reveal within the already dissolving economic form of motion, the elements of the future new organisation of production and exchange which will put an end to those abuses. The wrath which creates the poet [Juvenalis, Satirae, 1, 79 (si nature negat, facit indignatio versum).—Ed.] is absolutely in place in describing these abuses, and also in attacking those apostles of harmony in the service of the ruling class who either deny or palliate them; but how little it proves in any particular case is evident from the fact that in every epoch of past history there has been no lack of material for such wrath.

Political economy, however, as the science of the conditions and forms under which the various human societies have produced and exchanged and on this basis have distributed their products—political economy in this wider sense has still to be brought into being. Such economic science as we possess up to the present is limited almost exclusively to the genesis and development of the capitalist mode of production: it begins with a critique of the survivals of the feudal forms of production and exchange, shows the necessity of their replacement by capitalist forms, then develops the laws of the capitalist mode of production and its corresponding forms of exchange in their positive aspects, that is the aspects in which they further the general aims of society, and ends with a socialist critique of the capitalist mode of production, that is, with an exposition of its laws in their negative aspects, with a demonstration that this mode of production, by virtue of its own development, drives towards the point at which it makes itself impossible. This critique proves that the capitalist forms of production and exchange become more and more an intolerable fetter on production itself, that the mode of distribution necessarily determined by those forms has produced a situation among the classes which is daily becoming more intolerable—the antagonism, sharpening from day to day, between capitalists, constantly decreasing in number but constantly growing richer, and propertyless wage-workers, whose number is constantly increasing and whose conditions, taken as a whole, are steadily deteriorating; and finally, that the colossal productive forces created within the capitalist mode of production which the latter can no longer master, are only waiting to be taken possession of by a society organised for co-operative work on a planned basis to ensure to all members of society the means of existence and of the free development of their capacities, and indeed in constantly increasing measure.

In order to complete this critique of bourgeois economics, an acquaintance with the capitalist form of production, exchange and distribution did not suffice. The forms which had preceded it or those which still exist alongside it in less developed countries, had also, at least in their main features, to be examined and compared. Such an investigation and comparison has up to the present been undertaken, in general outline, only by Marx, and we therefore owe almost exclusively to his researches[65] all that has so far been established concerning pre-bourgeois theoretical economics.

Although it first took shape in the minds of a few men of genius towards the end of the seventeenth century, political economy in the narrower sense, in its positive formulation by the physiocrats and Adam Smith, is nevertheless essentially a child of the eighteenth century, and ranks with the achievements of the contemporary great French philosophers of the Enlightenment, sharing with them all the merits and demerits of that period. What we have said of the philosophers a is also true of the economists of that time. To them, the new science was not the expression of the conditions and requirements of their epoch, but the expression of eternal reason; the laws of production and exchange discovered by this science were not laws of a historically determined form of those activities, but eternal laws of nature; they were deduced from the nature of man. But this man, when examined more closely, proved to be the average burgher of that epoch, on the way to becoming a bourgeois, and his nature consisted in manufacturing and trading in accordance with the historically determined conditions of that period.

Now that we have acquired sufficient knowledge of our “layer of critical foundations”, Herr Dühring, and his method in the philosophical field, it will not be difficult for us to foretell the way in which he will handle political economy. In philosophy, in so far as his writings were not simply drivel (as in his philosophy of nature), his mode of outlook was a distortion of that of the eighteenth century. It was not a question of historical laws of development, but of laws of nature, eternal truths. Social relations such as morality and law were determined, not by the actual historical conditions of the age, but by the famous two men, one of whom either oppresses the other or does not—though the latter alternative, sad to say, has never yet come to pass. We are therefore hardly likely to go astray if we conclude that Herr Dühring will trace political economy also back to final and ultimate truths {D. Ph. 2}, eternal natural laws, and the most empty and barren tautological axioms; that nevertheless he will smuggle in again by the backdoor the whole positive content of political economy, so far as this is known to him; and that he will not evolve distribution, as a social phenomenon, out of production and exchange, but will hand it over to his famous two men for final solution. And as all these are tricks with which we are already familiar, our treatment of this question can be all the shorter.

In fact, already on page 2,[66] Herr Dühring tells us that

his economics links up with what has been “established” in his Philosophie, and “in certain essential points depends on truths of a higher order which have already been consummated [ausgemacht] in a higher field of investigation” {D. C. 2}.

Everywhere the same importunate eulogy of himself; everywhere Herr Dühring is triumphant over what Herr Dühring has established and put out [ausgemacht]. Put out, yes, we have seen it to surfeit—but put out in the way that people put out a sputtering candle. [In German an untranslatable play on words: ausmachen means consummate and also put out.—Ed.]

Immediately afterwards we find

“the most general natural laws governing all economy” {4} —

so our forecast was right.

But these natural laws permit of a correct understanding of past history only if they are “investigated in that more precise determination which their results have experienced through the political forms of subjection and grouping. Institutions such as slavery and wage bondage, along with which is associated their twin-brother, property based on force, must be regarded as social-economic constitutional forms of a purely political nature, and have hitherto constituted the frame within which the consequences of the natural economic laws could alone manifest themselves” {4-5}.

This sentence is the fanfare which, like a leitmotif in Wagner's operas, announces the approach of the famous two men. But it is more than this: it is the basic theme of Herr Dühring's whole book. In the sphere of law, Herr Dühring could not offer us anything except a bad translation of Rousseau's theory of equality into the language of socialism, such as one has long been able to hear much more effectively rendered in any workers’ tavern in Paris. Now he gives us an equally bad socialist translation of the economists’ laments over the distortion of the eternal natural economic laws and of their effects owing to the intervention of the state, of force. And in this Herr Dühring stands, deservedly, absolutely alone among socialists. Every socialist worker, no matter of what nationality, knows quite well that force only protects exploitation, but does not cause it; that the relation between capital and wage-labour is the basis of his exploitation, and that this was brought about by purely economic causes and not at all by means of force.

Then we are further told that

in all economic questions “two processes, that of production and that of distribution, can be distinguished”. Also that J. B. Say, notorious for his superficiality, mentioned in addition a third process, that of consumption, but that he was unable to say anything sensible about it, any more than his successors {7-8} and that exchange or circulation is, however, only a department of production, which comprises all the operations required for the products to reach the ultimate consumer, the consumer proper {11-12}.

By confounding the two essentially different, though also mutually dependent, processes of production and circulation, and unblushingly asserting that the avoidance of this confusion can only “give rise to confusion”, Herr Dühring merely shows that he either does not know or does not understand the colossal development which precisely circulation has undergone during the last fifty years, as indeed is further borne out by the rest of his book. But this is not all. After just lumping together production and exchange into one, as simply production, he puts distribution alongside production, as a second, wholly external process, which has nothing whatever to do with the first. Now we have seen that distribution, in its decisive features, is always the necessary result of the production and exchange relations of a particular society, as well as of the historical conditions in which this society arose; so much so that when we know these relations and conditions we can confidently infer the mode of distribution which prevails in this society. But we see also that if Herr Dühring does not want to be unfaithful to the principles “established” by him in his conceptions of morality, law and history, he is compelled to deny this elementary economic fact, especially if he is to smuggle his indispensable two men into economics. And once distribution has been happily freed of all connection with production and exchange, this great event can come to pass.

Let us first recall how Herr Dühring developed his argument in the field of morality and law. He started originally with one man, and he said:

“One man conceived as being alone, or, what is in effect the same, out of all connection with other men, can have no obligations; for such a man there can be no question of what he ought, but only of what he wants, to do” {D. Ph. 199}.

But what is this man, conceived as being alone and without obligations, but the fateful “primordial Jew Adam” {110} in paradise, where he is without sin simply because there is no possibility for him to commit any?—However, even this Adam of the philosophy of reality is destined to fall into sin. Alongside this Adam there suddenly appears—not, it is true, an Eve with rippling tresses, but a second Adam. And instantly Adam acquires obligations and—breaks them. Instead of treating his brother as having equal rights and clasping him to his breast, he subjects him to his domination, he makes a slave of him—and it is the consequences of this first sin, the original sin of the enslavement of man, from which the world has suffered through the whole course of history down to the present day—which is precisely what makes Herr Dühring think world history is not worth a farthing.

Incidentally, Herr Dühring considered that he had brought the “negation of the negation” sufficiently into contempt by characterising it as a copy of the old fable of original sin and redemption {see D. K. G. 504}—but what are we to say of his latest version of the same story? (for, in due time, we shall, to use an expression of the reptile press,[67] “get down to brass tacks” on redemption as well). All we can say is that we prefer the old Semitic tribal legend, according to which it was worth while for the man and woman to abandon the state of innocence, and that to Herr Dühring will be left the uncontested glory of having constructed his original sin with two men.

Let us now see how he translates this original sin into economic terms:

“We can get an appropriate cogitative scheme for the idea of production from the conception of a Robinson Crusoe who is facing nature alone with his own resources and has not to share with anyone else... Equally appropriate to illustrate what is most essential in the idea of distribution is the cogitative scheme of two persons, who combine their economic forces and must evidently come to a mutual understanding in some form as to their respective shares. In fact 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 embryonically in their logical necessity... Co-operative 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... Between the state of equality and that of nullity on the one part and of omnipotence and solely-active participation on the other, there is a range of stages which the events of world history have filled in in rich variety. A universal survey of the various institutions of justice and injustice throughout history is here an essential presupposition” {D. C. 9-10} ....

and in conclusion the whole question of distribution is transformed into an

“economic right of distribution” {10}.

Now at last Herr Dühring has firm ground under his feet again. Arm in arm with his two men he can issue his challenge to his age. But behind this trinity stands yet another, an unnamed man.

“Capital has not invented surplus-labour. Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the labourer, free or not free, must add to the working-time necessary for his own maintenance an extra working-time in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owners of the means of production, whether this proprietor be the Athenian [aristocrat], Etruscan theocrat, civis Romanus [Roman citizen], Norman baron, American slave-owner, Wallachian Boyard, modern landlord or capitalist” (Marx, Das Kapital, Vol. I, 2nd edition, p. 227).

When Herr Dühring had thus learned what the basic form of exploitation common to all forms of production up to the present day is—so far as these forms move in class antagonisms—all he had to do was to apply his two men to it, and the deep-rooted foundation of the economics of reality was completed. He did not hesitate for a moment to carry out this “system-creating idea” {D. Ph. 525}. Labour without compensation, beyond the labour-time necessary for the maintenance of the labourer himself—that is the point. The Adam, who is here called Robinson Crusoe, makes his second Adam — Man Friday—drudge for all he is worth. But why does Friday toil more than is necessary for his own maintenance? To this question, too, Marx step by step provides an answer. But this answer is far too long-winded for the two men. The matter is settled in a trice: Crusoe “oppresses” Friday, compels him “to render economic service as a slave or a tool” and maintains him “also only as a tool”. With these latest “creative turns” {D. K. G. 462} of his, Herr Dühring kills as it were two birds with one stone. Firstly, he saves himself the trouble of explaining the various forms of distribution which have hitherto existed, their differences and their causes; taken in the lump, they are simply of no account—they rest on oppression, on force. We shall have to deal with this before long. Secondly, he thereby transfers the whole theory of distribution from the sphere of economics to that of morality and law, that is, from the sphere of established material facts to that of more or less vacillating opinions and sentiments. He therefore no longer has any need to investigate or to prove things; he can go on declaiming to his heart's content and demand that the distribution of the products of labour should be regulated, not in accordance with its real causes, but in accordance with what seems ethical and just to him, Herr Dühring. But what seems just to Herr Dühring is not at all immutable, and hence very far from being a genuine truth. For genuine truths {D. Ph. 196}, according to Herr Dühring himself, are “absolutely immutable”. In 1868 Herr Dühring asserted—Die Schicksale meiner sozialen Denkschrift etc.—that

it was “a tendency of all higher civilisation to put more and more emphasis on property, and in this, not in confusion of rights and spheres of sovereignty, lies the essence and the future of modern development”.

And furthermore, he was quite unable to see

“how a transformation of wage-labour into another manner of gaining a livelihood is ever to be reconciled with the laws of human nature and the naturally necessary structure of the body social”.

Thus in 1868, private property and wage-labour are naturally necessary and therefore just; in 1876 both of these are the emanation of force and “robbery” and therefore unjust. And as we cannot possibly tell what in a few years’ time may seem ethical and just to such a mighty and impetuous genius, we should in any case do better, in considering the distribution of wealth, to stick to the real, objective, economic laws and not to depend on the momentary, changeable, subjective conceptions of Herr Dühring as to what is just or unjust.

If for the impending overthrow of the present mode of distribution of the products of labour, with its crying contrasts of want and luxury, starvation and surfeit, we had no better guarantee than the consciousness that this mode of distribution is unjust, and that justice must eventually triumph, we should be in a pretty bad way, and we might have a long time to wait. The mystics of the Middle Ages who dreamed of the coming millennium were already conscious of the injustice of class antagonisms. On the threshold of modern history, three hundred and fifty years ago, Thomas Münzer proclaimed it to the world. In the English and the French bourgeois revolutions the same call resounded—and died away. And if today the same call for the abolition of class antagonisms and class distinctions, which up to 1830[68] had left the working and suffering classes cold, if today this call is re-echoed a millionfold, if it takes hold of one country after another in the same order and in the same degree of intensity that modern industry develops in each country, if in one generation it has gained a strength that enables it to defy all the forces combined against it and to be confident of victory in the near future—what is the reason for this? The reason is that modern large-scale industry has called into being on the one hand a proletariat, a class which for the first time in history can demand the abolition, not of this or that particular class organisation, or of this or that particular class privilege, but of classes themselves, and which is in such a position that it must carry through this demand on pain of sinking to the level of the Chinese coolie. On the other hand this same large-scale industry has brought into being, in the bourgeoisie, a class which has the monopoly of all the instruments of production and means of subsistence, but which in each speculative boom period and in each crash that follows it proves that it has become incapable of any longer controlling the productive forces, which have grown beyond its power, a class under whose leadership society is racing to ruin like a locomotive whose jammed safety-valve the driver is too weak to open. In other words, the reason is that both the productive forces created by the modern capitalist mode of production and the system of distribution of goods established by it have come into crying contradiction with that mode of production itself, and in fact to such a degree that, if the whole of modern society is not to perish, a revolution in the mode of production and distribution must take place, a revolution which will put an end to all class distinctions. On this tangible, material fact, which is impressing itself in a more or less clear form, but with insuperable necessity, on the minds of the exploited proletarians—on this fact, and not on the conceptions of justice and injustice held by any armchair philosopher, is modern socialism's confidence in victory founded.


[65] Engels has in mind, above all, Marx's works The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) and Vol. I of Capital (1867). Marx carried out a thorough study of pre-capitalist forms of production in his Economic Manuscripts of 1857-58 (first version of Capital).

[66] In Part II, except Chapter X, of Anti-Dühring, Engels quotes from the second (1876) edition of Dühring's Cursus der National- und Socialökonomie.

[67] Reptiles — a nickname widespread in Germany in the 1870s for journalists subsidised by the government. This expression, but in a different sense, was used by Bismarck on January 30, 1869, in the Prussian Chamber of Deputies, this time with reference to the government's adversaries.

[68] Engels is referring to the July Revolution of 1830 in France, which brought big bankers and industrialists to power; from this time on, as a result of the final victory of the bourgeoisie over the nobility, the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie came to the fore.

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