Source: Thinking Sideways Podcast
Lewis Henry Morgan
de | Thema: Entwicklung in Natur und Gesellschaft
en | Theme: Development in Nature and Society
fr | Thème: Développement en nature et société
nl | Thema: Ontwikkeling in natuur en maatschappij
While within the Stalinist ideology Darwinism was rejected in favor of Lysenkoïsm, and in anthropology the determinist and mechanical theses of the unilinear “five stages” of development was maintained (apparently based on Lewis Henry Morgan), there has been an alternative developped within the Communist Left. Here we aim to present these contributions, as well as a few directions to move forward.
It is difficult to study biology without studying anthropology, and even more the other way around; there are too many analogies, and comparing the two learns a lot on method and classification. The two have too much in common, but they are also clearly distinct: the one applies to nature, the other to human society.
Here we do not pretend to provide definite answers, only to give some orientation to the subjects, and materials which are often hard to find.
I. Two great thinkers of the 19th Century
Marx and Engels were much inspired by two liberals: Charles Darwin and Lewis Henry Morgan. While the theory of Charles Darwin, in the British empiricist tradition, still stands in its general outlines, the unilinear evolutionary classification by the lawyer Henry Lewis Morgan, however innovative and inspiring it was, is outdated for both its method and classification; his work remains however a highlight in the history of anthropology, a bit like the works of Lamarck for biologie. And it does not imply that a classification of societies and an evolutionary theory of human societies would be impossible.
Charles Darwin’s biology
- en | Darwin Online , everything Darwin wrote, in many languages.
- en | The Talk Origins Archive , Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy (deceased in 2015); although “anti-creationist” (a non-discussion), yet a valuable source of information (1).
Lewis Henry Morgan’s anthropology
Ancient Society / Lewis H. Morgan
Other pdf’s: (Google Books) , (Global Grey eBooks) .
Other transcription: Gutenberg.org
Marx and Engels on Charles Darwin
de | Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels über Charles Darwin
Friedrich Engels on Lewis Henry Morgan
- de | Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigentums und des Staats
- en | The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State
- es | Origen de la familia, la propiedad privada y el estado
- fr | L’origine de la famille, de la propriété privée et de l’Etat
- it | L’origine della famiglia, della proprietà privata e dello Stato
- nl | De oorsprong van het gezin, van de particuliere eigendom en van de staat
II. Contributions from within the Communist Left
Marxism and Darwinism / Anton Pannekoek, 1909
The German and Dutch versions are to be considered as the original text, the English and French translation need correction. Translations in Estonian, Spanish, Rumanian and Ukrainien also exist. Only the Dutch version is annotated.
Anthropogenesis / Anton Pannekoek, 1945
The English and Dutch version are to be considered as the original text. Only the English version is annotated. Exists also in Esperanto, but not in German.
Ben Karlsberg and Pierre Bessaignet (2)
III. 20th Century controverses
Lysenko’s biological pseudo-science
When Pannekoek’s Marxisme and Darwinism was published, Trofim Lysenko was just 20 years old. He doesn’t refer to it, but claims a very different thesis of his own, combining arrogance with ignorance. Under the protection of Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, in the name of Marxism, he developed a theory which proofed not only scientifically ridiculous, but also catastrophic in agriculture.
In 1949 Trofim Lysenko (3) states:
“The appearance of Darwins’s teaching, expounded in his book, The Origin of Species, marked the beginning of scientific socialism.”
Then he attacks Darwin on his presumed Malthusianism (4), he quotes Friedrich Engels’ critic of “Darwinism” (meant social-Darwinism, which was rejected by Darwin himself, something Friedrich Engels couldn’t know), then he rejects Weismann (5), Mendel (6) and Morgan (7), the founders of modern genetics. And then he turns to:
“The materialist theory of the evolution of living nature necessarily presupposes the recognition of hereditary transmission of individual characteristics acquired by the organism under definite conditions of its life; it is unthinkable without recognition of the inheritance of acquired characters.”
Thus he replaces Darwinism by Lamarckism. Moreover, he states:
“Weissmann [=Weismann], as we see, speaks of having declared war against Lamarck’s principle; but it is easy enough to see that he declared war against that without which there is no materialist theory of evolution, that under the guise of “Neo-Darwinism” he declared war against the materialist foundations of Darwinism.”
With such twisting of words, he declares that Darwin was in fact a Lamarckist; that genetics (the explanation for variability) is opposed to Darwinism, and that selection is insignificant. Thus we end up with a Darwinism without variability and selection, but with inheritence of acquired characteristics. It is a pervert reasoning, typical of cynical Stalinism, where everything, very “dialectically”, becomes its own opposite.
For further reference, see:
- Trofim Denisovich Lysenko (marxists.org)
- Trofim Lysenko (Wikipedia)
- Proletarian Science? : The Case of Lysenko / Dominique Lecourt ; Introduction by Louis Althuser, translated by Ben Brewster. – London : nlb, 1977. – 165 p. Source:
Stephen Jay Gould versus Richard Dawkins
The unilinear five stages theory in anthropology
Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology
IV. Three more theses on human origins and development
Elaine Morgan and the aquatic ape theory
Alain Testart’s classificatory and evolutionist anthropology
- fr | Alain Testart ; an exceptional “academic” white dove in modern anthropology, to be critically evaluated.
- fr | Eléments de classification des sociétés / Alain Testart. – Paris : Errance, 2005. – 160 p.
- fr | Avant l’histoire : L’évolution des sociétés, de Lascaux à Carnac. – Paris : Gallimard, 2012. – 549 p.
Chris Knight’s Blood Relations
Blood Relations : Menstruation and the Origins of Culture / Chris Knight. – New Haven, London : Yale University Press, 1991. – 581 p.
“This highly original book presents a new theory of the origins of human culture integrating perspectives of evolutionary biology and social anthropology within a Marxist framework. Chris Knight rejects the common assumption that human culture was a modified extension of primate behaviour and argues instead that it was the product of an immense social, sexual, and political revolution initiated by women.” (Back cover).
A facinating thesis based on an encyclopædic background, distributed within the Communist Left (8), but one that didn’t hold water, as the author himself admits (9).
There is no synchronisation of menstrual cycli to the moon to create solidarity of women. Since the idea was launced in 1984 by P.W. Turke it has remained a purely theoretical construct without empirical confirmation. And while Chris Knight claims to be marxist (he has a trotskyist background), not a word about productionforces and -relations.
V. Related materials
Socialisme et science positive (Darwin-Spencer-Marx) / par Enrico Ferri . – Paris : V. Giard & E. Brière, 1896. – 217 p.– Original title: Socialismo e scienza positive, 1894
1. For the never ending sterile debate on “creationism” and “intelligent design”, see: Rocks of Ages : Relationship between religion and science / Stephen Jay Gould. – New York : Ballantine Books, 1999. – 256 p.; which can be read as a defence of science against religion, but also as a defence of religion against science; it makes however an end to many myths; and: The God Delusion / Richard Dawkins. – London : Bantam Press, 2006. – 463 p., in which Darwinism is expanded beyond biology into an all embracing atheist ideology in which humans are dominated by “genes” and “memes”. The agnostic Thomas Huxley thought that the question whether God existed or not couldn’t be answered; for Charles Darwin the question was beyond our understanding: “one might just as well ask a dog to understand Newton”; for Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels the whole question needed to be criticised: why is such an imaginary question being posed?
2. Compare: Aux origines de la monnaie / Sous la direction d’Alain Testart. – Paris : Errance, 2001. – 144 p.
3. The situation in biological science : Addres delivered at the Session of the Lenin Academy of Agricultural Sciences of the u.s.s.r., July 31, 1948. – Moscow : Foreign Language Publishing Holuse, 1949. – 72 p. The back-cover is missing; it is a rare copy, found in a second-hand bookshop in Alkmaar, accompanied by a curious creationist reply to Lysenko: Geloof en Wetenschap bij Lysenko / door Dr. J. Lever. – Overdruk uit “Geloof en wetenschap”, Orgaan Christelijke Vereniging van Natuur- en Geneeskundigen in Nederland, Jrg. 48, nr. 6, 1950. Uitgave Kleywegt, Loosduinen.
4. See: Darwin without Malthus : The Struggle for Existence in Russian Evolutionary Thought / Daniel P. Todes. – New York, Oxford : Oxford University Press, 1989. – 221 p.
5. August Weismann (1834-1914), German evolutionary biologist, who advocated that evolution only took place in germ cells (gametes); precursor of modern genetics. In order to disprove Lamarck’s inheritance of acquired characteristics he cut off the tails of mice, which wasn’t reproduced in the next generation; lysenkoïst cynics said that he had only proven that mutilations were not inherited. He preceeded the rediscovery of Mendel’s work, and was reluctant to accept it. He also preceeded the mutation-theory of Hugo de Vries (1848-1935).
6. Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), Moravian Augustinian abbot who worked on inheritance, and who’s works remained in obscurity for decades until 1900.
7. Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866-1945), american evolutionary biologist, one of more who rediscovered the forgotten Mendelian laws around 1900, he became famous for his work on fruit flies, which was ridiculized by the populist Lysenkoists who wanted immediate results for agriculture.
8. Review of Chris Knight’s “Blood Relations : Menstruation and the Origins of Culture” / Amos (i.c.c.), 12 October 2008.
9. Notably in Chapter VII. Chris Knight refers positively to Alain Testart and Elaine Morgan, but neither of these two accepted his thesis. For an alternative understanding of the “ideology of blood” (Lévy-Strauss): L’amazone et la cuisinière : Anthropologie de la division sexuelle du travail / Alain Testart. – Paris : Gallimard, 2014. – 188 p.
Compiled by Vico, 26 June 2018, latest additions 18 January 2019