Ian Pitchford wrote:
> REPLY: As a piece of socio-historical analysis I think this is particularly
> weak and derivative. The left's ambivalence toward evolution by natural
> selection can be traced back to Marx and Engels who were delighted by Darwin's
That's true, but Marxism is not the same thing as Darwinism, and it is
certainly not the same thing as social Darwinism which vied with Marxism
in the Victorian era and now makes a reappearance under the auspices of
people like Steven Pinker et al.
If anything, Marxism has never really come to terms with the social
Anthropologist Marcel Bloch points out that the work had an enormous
impact on the thinking of the first generation of Marxists, who
unfortunately tended to emphasize the more mechanical aspects of the work.
Paul Lafargue, Marx's son-in-law, wrote two books that erred on the
social Darwinist side. For example, Lafargue argues that women occupied
superior places in primitive society and supplies totally fallacious
evidence about the relative brain sizes of men and women. Obviously this
kind of bullshit is still alive.
Of greater significance is Karl Kautsky, whom the socialist movement
regarded as the outstanding Marxist of the age, and intellectual and
political heir to Engels. According to Bloch, Kautsky was an
enthusiastic follower of Darwin and Spencer before he ever came across
Marx. In 1881, Kautsky wrote an article for Die Neue Zeit titled "The
Indian Question." The reason the Europeans defeated the Indians, he
explains, is that they had not gone far enough in the development of
technology. In other words, they lacked Darwinian fitness, or quite
possibly they lost the "competition and . . . struggle for existence,"
in Harvey's words.
Plekhanov's Fundamental Problems of Marxism also exhibits much of the
same mechanistic concept of historical change. In the chapter
"Productive Forces and Geography," Plekhanov makes the case that the
Indians of North America remained at a low stage of development because
they lacked domesticated animals. He also claims that the Masai killed
all their captives because they had no "technical possibility" of making
use of slave labor. Bloch points out that the crude economic determinism
of this work was intended to strengthen the polemical stance of the
revolutionary Marxist current in Russia. Plekhanov and Lenin were in
conflict with a variety of reformism that believed that consciousness
was independent of material conditions. What is lost in this
undialectical approach is the reality of precapitalist society, which
did not really fit into this schema.
Whatever ties that the latest version of social Darwinism has to the
left seems tenuous at best. Probably the sort of stuff that might find a
home in the rapidly mutating Nation Magazine but not in the Monthly
Review, thank goodness.
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