previous.gif     next.gif    


By Alfred de Grazia

Part Four: Polemics and Personages



More research is needed to delineate the attitudes of Karl Marx and Frederick (or Friedrich) Engels towards the Uniformitarian and Catastrophist paradigms of the nineteenth century, and to explain why the two men chose to align themselves with the Uniformitarian rather than the Catastrophist mode of thought. After all, were they not complete revolutionaries?

The term "paradigm" has been popularized by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962; 2nd ed., Chicago, U. of Chicago Press, 1970). The term embraces much of the theory and discussion employing the terms "world-view" (J. C. Greene), Weltanschauung (A. von Humboldt), "ideologies" (Mannheim), "models" (R. Thom), "fictions" (Vaihinger). Kuhn's term is unquestionably appropriate as he defined it:

"On the one hand, it stands for the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on, shared by the members of a given community. On the other hand, it denotes one sort of element in that constellation, the concrete puzzle-solutions which, employed as models or examples, can replace explicit rules as a basis for the solution of the remaining puzzles of normal science." (p. 175)

It may be too often assumed that there is little which is problematical in the position of Marx and Engels on the present issue. That is, Marx and Engels were aspiring "modern" scientists; the movement of "true" science was along Uniformitarian lines; therefore marxism would join the victorious ranks of science, which, being politically neutral and scientifically objective, could serve communists as well as capitalists in education and politics. However, if the following steps are developed in the present research inquiry, the matter may be cast in a different light:


The Uniformitarians adhered to a paradigm of science that can be abstracted and observed as a developing process. Its elements were composed typically of the following beliefs: time and space are absolute; the Newtonian laws of gravity and motion govern natural events rigidly; the heavens are constant and the universe is orderly; they operate through measurably equal units of time and through measurably equal coordinates of space; time is long and uninterrupted by sudden leaps; the surface of the earth has accumulated its features over long periods of time; nor are sudden leaps found in biology and cultural history, which have proceeded "by very short and slow steps" (Darwin); and social change is part of "cosmic evolution" (Herbert Spencer).

The U paradigm can be considered broader than its circumscribed form as a mere hypothesis that rates of change in geology are to be considered as having been uniform unless proven to the contrary. Rather, the U idea is taken in its broadest form as a world view, in the period of its great victory. For it was tied to two centuries of prior changes in the sciences of man and the skies. The philosopher-psychologists Locke, Hume, Fontanelle, and Diderot had made of man a mechanical creature, highly determined by external forces. Hutton, the father of geological uniformitarianism, published his Theory of the Earth in 1775. Writes S. E. Mason A History of the Sciences (1962, 403), "Hutton based his view that the rock-forming agencies of the earth were constant on the by now established theory that the solar system was mechanically stable and permanently self-sustaining."

The close friendship and association of Darwin with the great U geologist adds credibility to the labeling of a U paradigm. In fact the peak prestige of the U paradigm would probably be registered around 1875, after the publication of the Descent of Man. (The Origin of the Species had been published in 1859.) By 1875, too, Ernest Renan was widely known for his social-scientific studies of religion and myth, foreshadowing The Golden Bough of James Frazer, of whom it has been said that "Frazer seems an English Renan, so close do the two men appear at a number of points both in outlook and reputation." (Vickery, 1973) The U paradigm penetrated all scientific fields.


The Catastrophist paradigm, whose principles had been steadily eroding between 1600 and 1875, offered the following beliefs: the world, the species, and mankind were created abruptly; they were repeatedly subject to destruction by divine or natural forces in the skies and earth; the time spanned by these catastrophes was short, changes in temporal and spatial dimensions of the universe are brought on by divine, heroic, and natural forces that are immense and unpredictable; all the hosts of heaven - sun, moon, stars, planets - may change their motions and qualities; in this awful setting, measurement is less of the essence of being than miracles; history moves in cycles.

Even since ancient Greek science (Parmenides, Pythagoras, Plato (et al). there had been a scientific type of catastrophism, employing the divine very much as Newton and most modern Uniformitarians did, as a removed and/ or mechanical power. This strain had been modernized, even as Newton was writing, by his disciple Whiston, and later by eminent figures such as Vico, N. A. Boulanger, Cuvier, and Buckland. The strain was much more evident in the time of Marx and Engels than now.


Marx and Engels were deeply engaged in developing a paradigm of Socialism (or Communism) that was composed of numerous elements: materialism (with atheism); economic determinism (which Engels traced back to the beginnings of life itself); the stability of the heavens and earth in the very process of continuous change. Science as a unity, embracing nature, species, societies, and individuals, all responding to similar laws. All is to be measured along a historical continuum in which (the Hegelian dialectic) opposing forces move according to three principles: that quantities change into qualities and vice versa, that the opposites interpenetrate, and that negations are in turn negated. That geogeny teaches the evolution of the Earth was stated by Marx in 1844. The species evolved a will that is capable independently of abetting the relentless historical process: "Man is the sole animal capable of working his way out of the merely animal state." (Engels, Dialectics of Nature, New York: International Publ., 1940, p. 187.)


Given a sharply defined set of these three paradigms, one may expect to find that all three paradigms "interpenetrate" to some degree, but that the Marxist Paradigm overlapped considerably more with the other two. That is, close analysis may show that, with an approximately equal logic, rationality and (at least at that time) "evidence", either the Uniformitarian or the Catastrophist paradigm could be made to fit the Marxist paradigm. There are clear indications in their work of this: for example, Engels believed that mankind evolved first on the lost continent of Lemuria in the Indian Ocean, which sank catastrophically. Elsewhere he adopts the theory that intense atmospheric change (heat, etc.) can bring about conditions for new species of life and life itself. He rejects Lamarck's "vital aim" of evolution but often shows Lamarckian as well as Darwinian beliefs, even including the racial acquisition and inheritance of mathematical aptitude. Both Marx and Engels held to a kind of cyclical or at least helical theory in their historical dialectics, and Engels speculated upon a long-range cyclical cosmology - with worlds being born and then dying out, only to be reborn. His sense of absolute time was perhaps a little shaky, now taking in the grand new sweeps of geological time enthusiastically, and then again conjecturing a rapid evolution within the record of the human species. It remains to be seen how much he knew about or how seriously he considered the scientific-catastrophists such as N. A. Boulanger, or the scientific side of theists such as Buckland. At times he gave hints of backsliding; thus, writing in Dialectics of Nature (led. 1966, 28); "The defect of Lyell's view - at least in its first form - lay in conceiving the forces at work on earth as constant, both in quality and quantity ... the earth does not develop in a definite direction but merely changes in an inconsequent fortuitous manner."


Marx and Engels were conducting a triple campaign a) to revolutionize philosophy: They had turned Hegel upside down and were using his historical dialectics to unite all phenomena of nature, biology, and society into a single scheme. b) to offer political programmatics to the world: From the great philosophical scheme would be deducible the principles of the future society, the classless communist society. And c) to lead a political revolution. Any action on their part such as to align themselves with a scientific paradigm could not be accomplished to the neglect of any of these three goals. That is, to them a "fact" or "theory" of science, such as "long-term time", "drop-by-drop geology", or step-by-step biological evolution through natural selection could never be simply such. Either it could be made to fit their truly global paradigm and world-scheme, or it had to be discarded, or it was a mistake. Yet they were compelled to confront any assertion that engaged the attention of the "intelligentsia" or "the masses," and, of course, such were the elements of the great paradigms.


Whereupon, Marx and Engels assimilated, not without negative criticism, the Uniformitarian paradigm to their own Socialist Marxist paradigm in several philosophical steps. There is many a statement in the Marxian literature of the type of "We were first to..." and "Come into our camp..." And, also, direct statements show under what conditions they would accept "long-time"; "evolutionary biology"; stable nature, and "natural selection" into this system.


Simultaneously, they might have been seeking to attach to their movement the social respectability that began to accrue rapidly to "up-to-date" science. Their contempt of Catastrophists is manifest: "Cuvier's theory of the revolutions of the earth was revolutionary in phrase and reactionary in substance" (Engels, Dial. of Nat., p. 10) Their pride at being the essence of the modern scientist is manifest in many places.


They attempted to recruit practitioners of the new science to their political movement - or at least to their philosophy which, significantly, they felt would inevitably lead to their politics. Charles Darwin was the most notable case. Considering how enveloped Darwin was in the social circles of "gentlemanly" Whig England, and that his greatest defender and "social equal", Thomas Huxley, was a "Social Darwinist", ergo an enemy of the planned society, it can be ventured here that the attempt to capture Darwin would be as foolish as trying to hijack an El Al plane with a penknife. The London Geological Society was "composed of gentlemen", and was taken over by liberal Whigs, whose perceived opponents were the church and Tory establishment, not the capitalist class. (G. Grinnell, 131, In E. Milton, Ed., Recollections of Fallen Sky, 1978 (Distrib. by Metron Publications, Princeton) Marx and Engels are among the founders of the sociology of knowledge and were past masters at scrutinizing the motives behind people's actions. Indeed, Marx wrote, promptly upon reading The Origin of Species, in a letter to Engels (Marx-Engels Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1965, p. 128): "it is remarkable how Darwin recognizes among beasts and plants his English society with its division of labor, competition, opening up of new markets, 'inventions', and the Malthusian 'Struggle for Existence'". It may be considered whether they were here acting irrationally, or perhaps rationally on a "nothing ventured-nothing gained", or "there is nothing to be lost" basis. Whether there was actually some long-term losses as a result of such a "calculated risk" is a question worthy of consideration.


The study has an intense focus on such incidents, but its ulterior goals are larger than the personal interactions studied. The earlier interest of the present investigator in the connections between ideologies and practices (cf. The Velikovsky Affair) have suggested to him other similar cases such as the present one of Marx and Engels. The use of Catastrophists, Uniformitarians, and Socialists for case study leads in turn to a larger interest in the sociology and psychology of science.

The opportunity is extraordinary, for Marx and Engels were interested third parties to the widespread conflict of many years between Uniformitarians and Catastrophists. How they made up their minds to support the former, and to what extent they would support them, are questions whose answers bear importance in he history and philosophy of science.

Such considerations imply that there will be no lack of publishing outlets for the final manuscripts, but also that the final report should also avoid being "captured" by its medium of publication and should appear in separate monographic format, or, if not, under the most objective scientific auspices.


The proposed report is conceived as possessing a simple organization as follows:

Prospective Table of Content

The Alignment of Marx and Engels with Scientific Uniformitarians against the Catastrophists


A paradox of the scientific and social revolution; Marx and Engels (revolutionaries) reject "Revolutions of The Globe" (Cuvier's term) for drop-by-drop and bit-by-bit evolution.

Part One

The Setting for Decision (1830-1870)

I. The Socialist Paradigm of Marx and Engels
II. The Uniformitarian Paradigm
III. The Catastrophic Paradigm

Part Two

Matching the Paradigms

IV. The Three Scientific Models Compared for "Scientificity"
V. The Theological Question and Agnosticism in the Three Models
VI. Social Pressures: Public Opinion and Scientific Opinion on the Paradigms.
VII. The Politics of Scientific Paradigms: The "Social Darwinists" Win the Uniformitarian Paradigm; Marxists Are Trapped in It.


A Fateful Decision for "Scientific Socialism." Revision of the conventional view of the decision; query whether subsequent progress of "communist science" has shown effects of the internalized paradox or contradiction (e. g. was the Lysenko episode an "aberration" of Soviet science or was it an eruption of the internalized contradiction?)



The topic of the proposed research is specific but the materials of research are diffuse and far-flung. The material to be consulted does not lend itself to a preliminary set of titles. On the one hand, a number of works on nineteenth century intellectual history and histories of science (such as H. T. Pledge's Science Since 1500, 1959) carry accounts of Uniformitarianism and Catastrophicism, Darwinism, Marxism, the struggle between science and religion and so on to other topics under treatment here. There exist some excellent more special studies as well, such as C. C. Gillispie's Genesis and Geology (1951) and John C. Green's The Death of Adam (1959). The works of Lyell, Darwin, Cuvier, and many another contributor are of course readily available. The complete works of Marx and Engels are published in German and beginning to be published in English (in 100 volumes); meanwhile much of the essential work, such as Engels' Dialectics of Nature, is available in English, too. The "Social Darwinists" who 'stole" Darwinism from Marx and Engels (and socialism) are also treated in a number of sources, both original and secondary.

On the other hand, the subtlety (if the word may be permitted) of the proposed investigation requires that fragments of evidence and indicators be pulled from many sources. Consultants, who have spent their lives reading in the voluminous archives, can probably give some of the best clues to where to look for pieces of the mosaic. The most important letter of Darwin to Marx refusing permission to let Volume II of Das Kapital be dedicated to him (13 October 1880) was first published in the Soviet Journal Pod Znamenem Marxizma in 1931 (un 1-2). In his speech at the grave of Marx (17 march 1883), Engels, according to Valentino Gerratana (New Left Review, 1975, p. 61) quoting from Marx-Engels Selected Works (London, 1978, p. 435), "publicly linked for the first time the name of his great dead friend with that of Darwin," saying "Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history." The statement is repeated by Engels in 1888 in his preface to the English translation of the Communist Manifesto. Again, tucked away in Marx' Theories of Surplus Value (London, 1969, V. II, p. 121), is the assertion that Darwin could be used to refute Malthus (despite Darwin's statement that Malthus was his inspiration for the theory of natural selection!) Or, in setting a benchmark for the total disrepute of catastrophism (which is necessary to show that Marx and Engels would have had strong motives for eschewing it), one searches out indicators such as The Spectator (7 May 1887, 626) asserting, "No geologist of repute now believes that mountain-ranges originated in catastrophes."

The literature in German, French, and Italian on evolutionism and Marxism is large, and at this point it is hard to say which works may turn out to contain more than the typical polemical and philosophical arguments. By the same token, it would be premature and tedious to list the works of Hume, Kant, Hegel, Lamarck, Lewis Morgan, Herbert Spencer, and others, who also have a general relevance and may be cited and quoted in establishing the "circumstantial evidence" for the character of the missing pieces of the puzzle. The three paradigms of Uniformitarian, Catastrophist, and Marxian thought will have to be originally constructed, though with reference to numerous works. The specific question of the research - the psychological dynamics of Marx and Engels in "adopting" the uniformitarian model in whole or in part - has not, to the knowledge of the investigator here, been asked before. The obvious "answer" given or implied in numerous places in the literature, that "Marx and Engels liked Darwin's scientific explanation of the origin of species" will, it is believed, be reduced to a misleading simplism upon the completion of the research.


The research proposed above was submitted for support to the National Science Foundation in 1977 and turned down smartly by its anonymous critics. A note in The Journal of the History of Ideas, (Jan-Mar 1978, 135) based upon articles of Lewis S. Feuer (32 Annals of Science, 1975, 33 Ibid., 1976), called the well-known writer Isaiah Berlin to task for repeating a canard about Marx. Apparently, the widely disseminated story, that Marx had written Darwin asking for permission to dedicate to him the second volume of Das Kapital, was false; further, Darwin had not written to Marx in reply, refusing kindly the permission. But the Darwin letter had been written to Eward Aveling.

In reply, I. Berlin explained that in truth Marx and Darwin had not written to each other. Berlin's passage in his book, Karl Marx, was based on a 1934 article in Biochronik which in turn cited a Russian translation of Darwin's 1880 letter in a 1931 work. He added that the story was still being disseminated in the Soviet Union. Of course, it is also still carried in a number of English-language works.

Marx complained of the Origin of Species as being "grossly unfolded in the English manner" and Engels of its "crude English method." Marx, long before Darwin, had conceived of society as having a natural history and was a king of evolutionist, without natural selection. But both approved of his work. If I were now, six years later, to answer the question I posed for research: "Why did the great revolutionaries not support revolutionism?" I would not have to contend with this annoying proof of their support. I would perhaps move toward the theory that they gave Darwinism reluctant support because they were being swept off their feet by the rush to evolutionism, and because they were so totally joined in opposition to the religious establishment.

The implications of the problem posed here, and for my interest in it, are not alone historical and philosophical. I foresee that communist theory, impelled by the logic of revolutionism, may discover quantavolutionary roots in the thought of Marx and Engels and find their development to be more compatible with marxist theory than is evolutionism. If so, the center of natural philosophy and its subtended sciences might shift to the Soviet Union.


previous.gif     next.gif