Monday, November 12, 2007

Dietzgen and Dialectics

A follow up on my previous post on Dialectics I mentioned Joseph Dietzgen in passing as having discovered dialectical materialism prior to Marx and Engels.

I also referenced him in this post;
Dialectics, Nature and Science.

A brief bio can be found here.

As well as in Wikipedia.

In fact Marx is reported to have introduced this auto-didactic working class intellectual as "Our Philosopher" to fellow members of the First International
( the International Working Man's Association, IWMA).

Joseph Dietzgen and the History of Marxism

Joseph Dietzgen (1828–1888) had an important role in the history of Marxism. One reason for this is that he coined the phrase “dialectical materialism” — the hallmark of “orthodox” Marxism. Another reason is that at the beginning of the 20th century, in the absence of Marx’s early writings, humanist critics of “orthodox” Marxism like Anton Pannekoek appealed to Dietzgen. An understanding of Dietzgen’s thought sheds new light on our understanding of “dialectical materialism” and on the debate between “orthodox” and “Hegelian” Marxists.

Tony Burns, in his study "Joseph Dietzgen and the History of Marxism," looks again at this remarkable and still little known German printer who independently developed the essential doctrines of (what came to be called) Marxism; in fact, the first use of the term "dialectical materialism" is attributed to him. Burns emphasizes Dietzgen's contribution to philosophy, especially his attempt to overcome what he saw as the one-sidedness of both classical materialism and idealism, and his early emphasis on psychology in relation to consciousness. Recalling Dietzgen's original contributions today contributes to our understanding of a number of present-day debates -- especially the rift between "orthodox" and "Hegelian" or "western" Marxism

Dietzgen was a contemporary with the Haymarket Anarchists and with one of the martyrs; August Spies jointly published the German Anarchist Social Democratic daily
Chicagoer Arbeiterzeitung.

My pal Larry Gambone does an excellent job outlining his view in his Dietzgen political biography; Cosmic Dialectics. He also has the
The Joseph Dietzgen Page

Cosmic Dialectics

chapbook / 22 pages / publisher: Red Lion Press / main creator: Larry Gambone / $2 / 1579 Centre, Montreal, PQ, H3K 1H5

This booklet offers a quick look at the life and libertarian philosophy of Joseph Dietzgen (1828-1888), a German socialist who moved to the States and continued his radical political activism until his death. Why should we care? Because "What makes Dietzgen important is that he deals directly with the underlying problems of cognition, and while one can find many similar ideas in the writings of the great libertarians and anarchists such as Proudhon, Tucker, Stirner and Malatesta, these concepts remain scattered throughout their works and can be easy to ignore. (And have been ignored). Too often libertarian social and political ideas are adopted while the underlying philosophy remains authoritarian. Dogmatic, Positivist and absolutist thinking has never been lacking in the movement. Dietzgen is a powerful antidote to this contradiction." So there.

Adam Buick outlines Dietzgen's views in Joseph Dietzgen - The Workers Philosopher

From 1928 we have this centenary celebration of Dietzgen published in the One Big Union the Western Canadian Journal of the Socialist Party of Canada.
Dietzgen was highly influential on the self taught working class intellectuals involved in the One Big Union and the Socialist Party of Canada as Peter Campbell observes in his book Canadian Marxists and the Search for the Third Way.

There are some striking ambivalences, if not paradoxes, about the role which Fourier designs for himself here: the proletarian who is uncontaminated by official philosophy, and determined both to excel in it and to overthrow it. The character was to have hundreds, if not thousands, of real-life embodiments in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe and America. The most notable, probably, is Joseph Dietzgen (1828-88), the Rhineland tanner and Social-Democrat whose name became a byword f or "proletarian philosophy" from St Petersburg to Chicago and New York, Glasgow, Liverpool, South Wales, the Netherlands and on to Petrograd again [ll]. There were also fictional versions, such as Earnest Everhard, the exigently named "proletarian philosopher" hero of Jack London's The Iron Heel (1908). The proletarian philosophers are robustly evolutionist, materialist, and socialist; what is hard to make out is why they saw their revolutionary project as requiring them to pay any attention at all to philosophy. Why didn't they just ignore it, as one of the most insignificant of all the elements of the old immoral world?

Dietzgen influenced not only the autodidact Marxists in Canada but was influential on the working class autodidact Marxist movement in England and the U.S.;especially the followers of Daniel De Leon. "Our philosopher" thus had to be refuted by Lenin when he attempted to adopt the mantel of Marx's philosophic heir and spokesman for European Social Democracy.

V. I.Lenin
Preface To The Russian Translation Of Letters By Johannes Becker, Joseph Dietzgen, Fredericik Engels, Karl Marx, And Others To Friedrich Sorge And Others

Lenin: On the Question of Dialectics
Philosophical idealism is only nonsense from the standpoint of crude, simple, metaphysical materialism. From the standpoint of dialectical materialism, on the other hand, philosophical idealism is a one-sided, exaggerated, &uumlberschwengliches (Dietzgen)development (inflation, distention) of one of the features, aspects, facets of knowledge into an absolute, divorced from matter, from nature, apotheosised. Idealism is clerical obscurantism. True. But philosophical idealism is ("m o r e c o r r e c t l y " and "i n a d d i t i o n ") a road to clerical obscurantism through o n e o f t h e s h a d e s of the infinitely complex k n o w I e d g e (dialectical) of man.

On the Significance of Militant Materialism

At any rate, in Russia we still have - and shall undoubtedly have for a fairly long time to come - materialists from the non-communist camp, and it is our absolute duty to enlist all adherents of consistent and militant materialism in the joint work of combating philosophical reaction and the philosophical prejudices of so-called educated society.Dietzgen senior (4) - not to be confused with his writer son, who was a pretentious as he was unsuccessful - correctly, aptly an clearly expressed the fundamental Marxist view of the philosophical trends which prevail in bourgeois countries and enjoy the regard of their scientists and publicists, when he said that in effect the professors of philosophy in modern society are in the majority of cases nothing but "graduated flunkeys of clericalism".

Our Russian intellectuals, who, like their brethren in all other countries, are fond of thinking themselves advanced, are very much averse to shifting the question to the level of the opinion expressed in Dietzgen's words.But they are averse to it because they cannot look the truth in the face. One has only to give a little thought to the governmental and also the general economic, social and every other kind of dependence of modern educated people on the ruling bourgeoisie to realise that Dietzgen's scathing description was absolutely true.One has only to recall the vast majority of the fashionable philosophical trends that arise so frequently in European countries, beginning for example with those connected with the discovery of radium and ending with those which are now seeking to clutch at the skirts of Einstein, to gain an idea of the connection between the class interests and the class position of the bourgeoisie and its support of all forms of religion on the one hand, and the ideological content of the fashionable philosophical trends on the other.

August Thalheimer, the old German Bolshevik, used the 1928 Centenary to once again suggest, as did many of his detractors, that Dietzgen should not be read until one is well founded in the basics of Marx and Engels, and probably some Lenin.

Not surprisingly we find Dietzgen embraced by the Avant Garde modernist revolutionary cultural intellectuals around DADA

For Marxists and revolutionary thinkers who found Lenin too stringent in his ideology Dietzgen offered an intellectual alternative;

Josef Dietzgen and the Materialist Dialectic A chapter from Dialectics: The Logic of Marxism, and Its Critics--an Essay in Exploration

His influence on Anton Pannekoek and the German/Dutch Left Communist movement is documented in Chapter II of
Anton Pannekoek and the socialism of workers' self-emancipation, 1873-1960.

The Workers' Councils in the Theory of the Dutch-German Communist Left

For that the contribution of Dietzgen is fundamental to explain the birth of the Dutch Communist left and the development of the theory of the Workers’ Councils by Pannekoek.

For the Dutch left, the revolution is not a product of rough material forces, like in the physical field, but primarily a question of development of the spirit: there is initially a victory of the spirit before all material victory.

This is the reason why its adversaries often presented it as an "idealist current".

The Dutch Left was a Marxist current which, like all the "radicals", such as Rosa Luxemburg, underlined importance of the consciousness factor in the class struggle, factor that in these times was defined –according to the terminology– as "spiritual factor".

The intellectual guide of the Dutch Marxists, throughout their first fights against the Revisionism and the mechanicism of the "Vulgate-makers" of the Marxism, was incontestably Joseph Dietzgen.

You can read Pannekoek on Dietzgen in his Lenin As Philosopher.

Bertell Ollman also points out the importance of Dietzgen's work in humanizing dialectical materialism and its influence on Pannekoek and the Left Communists. Whom today we would view as humanist Marxists, more interested in the dynamic of the relationship between individual development and our alienation from production/consumption.

Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society
Bertell Ollman
Chapter 3
The philosophy of internal relations

Marx never dealt with the special problems raised by the materialist content he gave to the philosophy of internal relations. No doubt this would have been part of the work he wanted to do on Hegel, but the pressing claims of his social and economic studies and of political activity never allowed him to begin. Provided that he could successfully operate with his relational view, he gave low priority to its elaboration and defense. This task was undertaken to some degree by Engels, particularly in his writings on the physical sciences, but more directly by the German tanner, Joseph Dietzgen. "Here is our philosopher," Marx said on introducing Dietzgen to the Hague Congress of the First International (Dietzgen, 1928, 15).13 Yet, despite further eulogies by Engels, Dietzgen's work remains relatively little known.14 However, Dietzgen's views provide a necessary supplement to Marx's own. The relationship between these two thinkers is clearly set out by Anton Pannekoeck, who claims that Marx demonstrated how ideas "are produced by the surrounding world", while Dietzgen showed "how the impressions of the surrounding world are transformed into ideas" (Pannekoeck, 1948, 24).15

Mindful of the dangers of using what one thinker says to support an interpretation of another, I shall limit my comments to features which Marx could not have missed in praising Dietzgen's work. Like Hegel, Dietzgen affirms that the existence of any thing is manifested through qualities which are its relations to other things. Hence, "Any thing that is torn out of its contextual relations ceases to exist" (Dietzgen, 1928, 96). So, too, Dietzgen declares—in almost the same words as Hegel-"The universal is the truth," meaning that the full truth about any one thing includes (because of its internal relations) the truth about everything (Dietzgen, 1928, 110).16 But unlike Hegel—and Marx too—who proceeds from these foundations to an investigation of the whole in each part, Dietzgen's inquiry is directed toward how such parts get established in the first place. For Hegel's and Marx's approach suggests that the preliminary problem of deciding which units of the whole to treat as parts has already been solved. Yet, it may legitimately be asked whether the unity posited by this conception does not preclude the very existence of those separate structures in which they claim to have caught sight of this unity. This is essentially the problem of individuation, or "abstraction", and it constitutes a major stumbling block for any philosophy of internal relations.

Dietzgen's contribution to the solution of this problem is his account of what can occur in individuation and what does occur. He asks, "Where do we find any practical unit outside of our abstract conceptions? Two halves, four fourths, eight eighths, or an infinite number of separate parts form the material out of which the mind fashions the mathematical unit. This book, its leaves, its letters, or their parts—are they units? Where do I begin and where do I stop?" (Dietzgen, 1928, 103). His answer is that the real world is composed of an infinite number of sense perceptible qualities whose interdependence makes them a single whole. If we began by applying the relational conception to social factors and then to things, we see now that it can also apply to qualities. Because the process of linking up qualities may be stopped at any point between the individual quality and the whole, the ways of dividing up the latter into distinct parts called "things" is endless. One result is that what appears as a thing here may be taken as an attribute of some other thing there. Every quality can be conceived of as a thing, and every thing as a quality; it all depends where the line is drawn. So much for what is possible.17

What actually occurs, that is the construction of units of a particular size and kind out of the "formless multiplicity" presented to our senses, is the work of the human mind. In Dietzgen's words, "the absolutely relative and transient forms of the sensual world serve as raw material for our brain activity, in order through abstraction of the general or like characteristics, to become systematized, classified or ordered for our consciousness" (Dietzgen, 1928, 103). The forms in which the world appears to our senses are "relative" and "transient", but they are also said to possess the "like characteristics" which allow us to generalize from them. "The world of the mind", we learn, finds "its material, its premise, its proof, its beginning, and its boundary, in sensual reality" (Dietzgen, 1928, 119). In this reality, like qualities give rise to a single conception because they are, in fact, alike. This is responsible, too, for the wide agreement in the use of concepts, particularly of those which refer to physical objects. Yet, it is only when we supply these similar qualities with a concept that they become a distinct entity, and can be considered separately from the vast interconnection in which they reside.

According to Dietzgen, therefore, the whole is revealed in certain standard parts (in which some thinkers have sought to reestablish the relations of the whole), because these are the parts in which human beings through conceptualization have actually fragmented the whole. The theoretical problem of individuation is successfully resolved by people in their daily practice. The fact that they do not see what they are doing as individuating parts from an interconnected whole is, of course, another question, and one with which Dietzgen does not concern himself. He is content to make the point that, operating with real sense material, it is the conceptualizing activity of people that gives the world the particular "things" which these same people see in it. Even mind, we learn, results from abstracting certain common qualities out of real experiences of thinking; they become something apart when we consider them as "Mind" (Dietzgen, 1928, 120).18

Dietzgen's practical answer to the problem of individuation suggests how structures can exist within a philosophy of internal relations, something which Althusser for one has declared impossible.19 Yet, if individuation is not an arbitrary act but one governed by broad similarities existing in nature itself, there is a necessary, if vague, correlation between such natural similarities and the structures conveyed by our concepts. This is how the study of any conceptual scheme, whether based on a philosophy of internal relations or not, teaches us something about the real world (unfortunately, this cannot be pressed—as many insist on doing—beyond what is common to all conceptual schemes). That Marx, through his study of capitalism, came to stress certain social relations as more important does not in any way conflict with his conception of each part as relationally containing its ties of dependence to everything else. The fact that some ties are preferred and may, for certain purposes, be viewed as forming a structure is no more surprising than any other act of individuation (conceptualization) based on real similarities.

The significant service Dietzgen renders Marx is to show how a proper balance can be reached on a relational view between accepting the reality of the external world (including, too, the general trustworthiness of sense perception) and holding that the conceptual activity of human thought is responsible for the precise forms in which we grasp the world. Marx's support for Dietzgen and, more so, his own practice in conceptualizing new social units show clearly that he accepted such a balance. Yet, by stressing the first part (in criticism of his idealist opponents) and neglecting to develop the second, he left his epistemology open to misinterpretation as a kind of "naive realism"; and it is this belief that lies behind the widespread, mistaken use of ordinary language criteria to understand Marx's concepts.20

Walter Benjamin another 'humanist' Marxist refers to Dietzgen in his Theses On History;


The conformism which has been part and parcel of Social Democracy from the beginning attaches not only to its political tactics but to its economic views as well. It is one reason for its later breakdown. Nothing has corrupted the German working, class so much as the notion that it was moving, with the current. It regarded technological developments as the fall of the stream with which it thought it was moving. From there it was but a step to the illusion that the factory work which was supposed to tend toward technological progress constituted a political achievement. The old Protestant ethics of work was resurrected among German workers in secularized form. The Gotha Program * already bears traces of this confusion, defining labor as ‘the source of all wealth and all culture.’ Smelling a rat, Marx countered that ‘…the man who possesses no other property than his labor power’ must of necessity become ‘the slave of other men who have made themselves the owners…’ However, the confusion spread, and soon thereafter Josef Dietzgen proclaimed: ‘The savior of modern times is called work. The …improvement… of labor constitutes the wealth which is now able to accomplish what no redeemer has ever been able to do.’ This vulgar-Marxist conception of the nature of labor bypasses the question of how its products might benefit the workers while still not being at, their disposal. It recognizes only the progress in the mastery of nature, not the retrogression of society; it already displays the technocratic features later encountered in Fascism. Among these is a conception of nature which differs ominously from the one in the Socialist utopias before the 1848 revolution. The new conception of labor amounts to the exploitation of nature, which with naive complacency is contrasted with the exploitation of the proletariat. Compared with this positivistic conception, Fourier's fantasies, which have so often been ridiculed, prove to be surprisingly sound. According to Fourier, as a result of efficient cooperative labor, four moons would illuminate the earthly night, the ice would recede from the poles, sea water would no longer taste salty, and beasts of prey would do man's bidding. All this illustrates a kind of labor which, far from exploiting nature, is capable of delivering her of the creations which lie dormant in her womb as potentials. Nature, which, as Dietzgen puts it, ‘exists gratis,’ is a complement to the corrupted conception of labor.

*The Gotha Congress of 1875 'United the two German Socialist parties, one led by Ferdinand Lassalle, the other by Karl Marx and Wilhelm Liebknecht. The program, drafted by Liebknecht and Lassalle, was severely attacked by Marx in London. See his ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’
Dietzgen's work continues to be the basis of all critical thinking around dialectics and contributes to a Marxism that is a living critique not an ossified ideological testament.

One of the most prominent Serbian philosophers, Bogdan Šešić was born in Valjevo on July 4, 1909. After 90 years of active life, he died in Belgrade on February 10, 1999.

Living in tumultuous times of the breakthrough and later disaster of the Hitler's Nazism, rise and fall of the Stalinism, as well as in times of the Yugoslav socialism of self-management, professor Šešić encountered numerous difficulties and conflicts, trying to maintain a theoretically consistent and ethically proper attitude, often defying the "fooleries" of his own time and milieu, with a feeling of "a hunted game".

As a teacher of philosophy at the Philosophical Faculty of Belgrade he acted calmly and thoroughly. His public appearances and comments in journals, although very polemic, were chiefly based on theoretical rather than ideological arguments and explications which were not much compliant with the spiritual climate of the time.
Professor Šešić is one of the most prolific writers among the Yugoslav philosophers. He published a considerable number of works in the area of logic and gnoseology. He also dealt with the problems of other philosophical disciplines such as: ontology, anthropology, axiology, esthetics, modern Marxist philosophy, philosophy of science, etc.

His opus published in Serbia includes:
1. Dialectic Materialism of Joseph Dietzgen. 1957.
Even the 'intellectual giant' of the new right; Ludwig Von Mises refers to Dietzgen, disparagingly of course in his simplistic philosophical counter to Dietzgen's dialectics. Dialectical Materialism was always an anathema to Von Mises as much as it is today to his followers. His is a universe of inputs and outputs, one where alienation does not exist it is simply an excuse for being lazy. Von Mises, like many of his right wing students sees no difference between the Nazi's and Marxists, which is where this quote comes from.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century no one ventured to dispute the fact that the logical structure of mind is unchangeable and common to all human beings. All human interrelations are based on this assumption of a uniform logical structure. We can speak to each other only because we can appeal to something com­mon to all of us, namely, the logical structure of reason. Some men can think deeper and more refined thoughts than others. There are men who unfortunately cannot grasp a process of inference in long chains of deductive reasoning. But as far as a man is able to think and to follow a process of discursive thought, he always clings to the same ultimate principles of reasoning that are applied by all other men. There are people who cannot count further than three; but their counting, as far as it goes, does not differ from that of Gauss or Laplace. No historian or traveler has ever brought us any knowl­edge of people for whom a and non-a were identical, or who could not grasp the difference between affirmation and negation. Daily, it is true, people violate logical principles in reasoning. But who­ever examines their inferences competently can uncover their errors.

Because everyone takes these facts to be unquestionable, men enter into discussions; they speak to each other; they write letters and books; they try to prove or to disprove. Social and intellectual coöperation between men would be impossible if this were not so. Our minds cannot even consistently imagine a world peopled by men of different logical structures or a logical structure different from our own.

Yet, in the course of the nineteenth century this undeniable fact has been contested. Marx and the Marxians, foremost among them the "proletarian philosopher" Dietzgen, taught that thought is determined by the thinker's class position. What thinking produces is not truth but "ideologies." This word means, in the context of Marxian philosophy, a disguise of the selfish interest of the social class to which the thinking individual is attached. It is therefore useless to discuss anything with people of another social class. Ideologies do not need to be refuted by discursive reasoning; they must be unmasked by denouncing the class position, the social background, of their authors. Thus Marxians do not discuss the merits of physical theories; they merely uncover the "bourgeois" origin of the physicists.

The Marxians have resorted to polylogism because they could not refute by logical methods the theories developed by "bour­geois" economics, or the inferences drawn from these theories demonstrating the impracticability of socialism. As they could not rationally demonstrate the soundness of their own ideas or the un­soundness of their adversaries' ideas, they have denounced the accepted logical methods. The success of this Marxian stratagem was unprecedented. It has rendered proof against any reasonable criticism all the absurdities of Marxian would-be economics and would-be sociology. Only by the logical tricks of polylogism could etatism gain a hold on the modern mind.

Polylogism is so inherently nonsensical that it cannot be carried consistently to its ultimate logical consequences. No Marxian was bold enough to draw all the conclusions that his own epistemological viewpoint would require. The principle of polylogism would lead to the inference that Marxian teachings also are not objec­tively true but are only "ideological" statements. But the Marxians deny it. They claim for their own doctrines the character of abso­lute truth. Thus Dietzgen teaches that "the ideas of proletarian logic are not party ideas but the outcome of logic pure and sim­ple."[xi] The proletarian logic is not "ideology" but absolute logic. Present-day Marxians, who label their teachings the sociology of knowledge, give proof of the same inconsistency. One of their champions, Professor Mannheim, tries to demonstrate that there exists a group of men, the "unattached intellectuals," who are equipped with the gift of grasping truth without falling prey to ideological errors.[xii] Of course, Professor Mannheim is convinced that he is the foremost of these "unattached intellectuals." You simply cannot refute him. If you disagree with him, you only prove thereby that you yourself are not one of this elite of "unattached intellectuals" and that your utterances are ideological nonsense.

For Von Mises and his followers both Fascism and Socialism are ideologically driven not market driven. They are ideals imposed on the market, not arising from the conditions of the marketplace. Once again mistaking the very real political structures of existing capitalism for an idealized free market, which never has or will exist. Fascism, the New Deal, Stalinism, indeed even post-WWII welfare capitalism is anathema to the Von Mises school. But the fact is that they are the historical development of capitalism not as 'free enterprise' but as state monopoly capital, regardless of their ideological clothing.

Von Mises ideal capitalism evolved in the 2oth Century in order to deal with its own internal contradictions and crisis's. Something that the idealists of his school of thought fail to recognize even today. They still promote the ideal of some mythical free market that exists only in their own imaginations. Thatchers England, Reagan's America, these are the creatures of Von Mises imagination.

As the economic boom of the 1980s proceeded, 'stage-set' schizophrenia - where every shopfront resembled an art-installation and every pedestrian a method actor -- proved prophetic: repro-pubs with mocked-up drawing rooms and fake book-shelves sprang up overnight. Leeds City Centre was overhauled so that the very alleys looked like Disney's concept of Victoriana. Visiting London's Docklands was like a trip round a toystore hallucinating a building in each gaudy trinket. The film Bladerunner and cyberpunk Science Fiction made Philip K. Dick's schizoid alienation a prize commodity. William Burroughs was read more and more widely. Those in regular work reported that 'straights' were all taking drugs. The certified experience of schizophrenia certainly made me cynical about its use as a kind of sugar on the pill of various academic novelties:[2] Jean Baudrillard, for example, read like a cash-in rather than a fellow-traveller. Finally, only the dialectical philosophy of Marx, Dietzgen and Lenin was up to dealing with the relativity of ideology in a material world that is still there when you reopen your kaleidoscope eyes.

During the eighteen months of depression that followed the 'hyperactivity' of the visions, the poet found solace in literature. By concentrating on the paradoxes of representation, certain writers -- Christopher Dewdney, J. H. Prynne, Philip K. Dick -- demonstrated that the disturbance of normal perception had been a product of social being rather individual consciousness. In 1991, Iain Sinclair's Downriver proved that 80s schizophrenia was not so much an individual affliction; more a national event. The poet resorted to writing imaginary reviews in non-existent literary journals.

Indeed Von Mises, Ayn Rand and the other deep thinkers on the right still lack the depth of philosophic inquiry that Dietzgen, the self taught worker intellectual, was capable of. Von Mises misrepresentation of dialectics and Dietzgen actually fails to grasp the liberatory conception of the importance of the individual to Dietzgen. So shrill is he and his followers in equating dialectics=Marxism=authoritarianism.

Dialectical materialism is a way of confronting the false precepts of idealism not by conquering them but absorbing them which is a libertarian process. In other words the Left promoted individual liberty before the Right claimed to be its champion. Which is why in the world of real politics the New Right gave way to the political machinations of the Protestant Evangelical Moral Majority under Reagan who only paid lip service to libertarianism.

The doctrine of being of materialism fights the one of idealism by absorbing it rather than by rejecting it. Materialism considers idealism as being neither a truth nor a falsity, but rather a gnoseological INCONSISTENCY. "The inconsistency does not lie in the fact that IDEAL driving forces are recognized, but in the investigation not being carried further back behind these into their motive causes" (Marx-Engels 1959: 231). "Ideal forces" are present indeed in the existence, but they are GENERATED by the highly complex material conditions. Plainly and concretely, the starting point of the materialist doctrine of being can be exemplified as follows:

"My desk as a picture in my mind is identical with my idea of it. But my desk outside of my brain is a separate object and distinct from my idea. The idea is to be distinguished from thinking only as a part of the thought process, while the object of my thought exists as a separate entity."

(Dietzgen 1906a: 62-63 - published in 1869)

If we neglect for the moment the HISTORICAL praxis that produced the desk Joseph Dietzgen (1820-1888) is specifically referring to and eventually placed it in front of him and him in front of it, we isolate, with that example, the two fundamental ontological principles describing the relationship between matter and spirit according to materialism.

"The first principle of materialism can therefore be put like this: that causal process in space and time, given to us in sensation, exists or continues INDEPENDENTLY of any mind or spirit, consciousness or idea. The second principle is the complement of this, and DENIES the INDEPENDENT existence of anything non-material. Perceptions, ideas, intuitions, feelings, purposes, ideals, consciousness and mind only exist as products of particular kinds of material processes. They are the perceptions, ideas and so on of material organisms, products of the functioning of specific organs of their bodies, formed in the conditions of their material mode of life.

(Cornforth 1968: 45)

It is ironic that Von Mises missed reading Eugene Dietzgen's work, see below, which compared his fathers writings with the father of individualist anarchism, Max Stirner. Dietzgen had more in common with the anarchist thought of American individualists like Benjamin Tucker than the apologists for idealistic capitalism like Von Mises.

At the Marx Internet Archive they have
posted two works by Dietzgen

And his works are still available in print.
A German version is available here and can be translated by Google. Which is what I have done with the link.

His work on Brain work is echoed in the writings of Kropotkin who also saw no difference between mental or manual labour.

Google has his
Philosophical Essays On Socialism And Science, Religion, Ethics: Critique-of-reason And The World-at-large available as a limited access online text.

A full digitalized version of the book in PDF and other formats is available from the University of California for free online here.

Far from being considered irrelevant today Dietzgen is brought up by Stephen Lyng in his book Holistic Health and Biomedical Medicine -A Counter System Analysis in comparison with Althusser;
The Dialectical Paradigm

Joseph's son Eugene Dietzgen preserved his fathers legacy of ideas and
published them through the Chicago Socialist publishing house Charles Kerr.
Which he helped finance.

He was involved with DeLeon's Marxist Socialist Labor Party. DeLeon like many
Marxists suffered from authoritarian tendencies to be the sole voice of the class
and the party.

The despotic sway of DeLeon had not been
relished and bad feeling existed all over the country.

Some were jealous of it, others were disgusted by it.
Of these latter was Eugene Dietzgen of Chicago, whose
father, Joseph Dietzgen, had been a compatriot with
Karl Marx. Dietzgen saw how DeLeonism was perverting
the movement and rebelled against it. He had
been friendly to the Social Democratic Party, and this
was made a pretext by some of DeLeon’s henchmen in
Chicago to prefer charges and to ultimately expel him.
He issued a pamphlet in March against DeLeonism
under the title Leze Majesty and Treason to the “Fakirs”
in the Socialist Labor Party, and sent it to every section
of the party in the country. This, in conjunction with
a weekly onslaught on DeLeonism which Wayland’s
Appeal to Reason was making in the interests of a united
socialist movement, had some effect.

Eugene went on to become a successful Chicago
manufacturer of slide rulers,
survey equipment and the first table top printing process in the U.S.
known as Diazo type.

His essay on the importance of his fathers work is;




LOCARNO, March, 1905.

("Philosophical Essays", Joseph Dietzgen. Publ.: Charles Kerr & Co., Chicago 1917)

(Translated by Ernest Untermann.)

(Scanned, proof-read and slightly improved translation by Richard O. Hamill and Svein O. G. Nyberg, Edinburgh 1998)

For further reference see:


Bricianer, Serge. Pannekoek and the Workers' Councils, intro. by John Gerber, trans. by Malachy Carroll. St. Louis, MO: Telos Press, 1978.

Burns, Tony. "Joseph Dietzgen and the History of Marxism", Science & Society, vol. 66, no. 2, Summer 2002, pp. 202-227.

Dietzgen, Joseph. Philosophical Essays. Translated by M. Beer and Th. Rothstein; with biographical sketch and introduction by Eugene Dietzgen, translated by Ernest Untermann; edited by Eugene Dietzgen and Joseph Dietzgen, Jr. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1917.

Dietzgen, Joseph. The Positive Outcome of Philosophy. Introduction by Dr. Anton Pannekoek; translated by Ernest Untermann; edited by Eugene Dietzgen and Joseph Dietzgen, Jr. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr & Company, 1906.

Easton, Loyd D. "Empiricism and Ethics in Dietzgen," Journal of the History of Ideas, vol. 19, no. 1, Jan. 1958, pp. 77-90.

Macintyre, Stuart. A Proletarian Science: Marxism in Britain 1917-1933. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Mehring, Franz. "Philosophy and Philosophizing" (1909), trans. Rubin Gotesky, Marxist Quarterly, April-June 1937, pp.293-297.

Nizan, Paul; Fittingoff, Paul, trans. The Watchdogs: Philosophers and the Established Order. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972.

Rée, Jonathan. Proletarian Philosophers: Problems in Socialist Culture in Britain, 1900-1940. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984.

.The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Joseph Dietzgen, a companion of Marx and Engels, once said that an old man who looks back on his life may see it as an endless series of mistakes which, if he could only have his time back again, he would doubtless choose to eliminate. But then he is left with the dialectical contradiction that it was only by means of these mistakes that he arrived at the wisdom to be able to judge them to be such. As Hegel profoundly observed, the self-same maxims on the lips of a youth do not carry the same weight as when spoken by a man whose life’s experience has filled them with meaning and content. They are the same and yet not the same. What was initially an abstract thought, with little or no real content, now becomes the product of mature reflection.

Find blog posts, photos, events and more off-site about:
, , , ,
, , , , , , , , , ,

1 comment:

Larry Gambone said...

Thanks a million Eugene! I am working on a new edition of "Brainwork" that AK will be publishing and some of the articles on the Proletarian Philosopher that you include I do not have in the Dietzgen Bibliography.