Marxism and Science – Introduction
When it comes to Marxism and Science, Karl Marx gives us the core of his theory, “Darwin’s [Origin of Species] is very important and provides me with the basis in natural science for the class struggle in history.”1
While Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were developing their communistic worldview, Charles Darwin was presenting his theory of evolution and creating quite a stir among the intellectuals of the nineteenth century. Many people perceived that Darwin’s theory could provide the foundation for an entirely materialistic perspective on life. Marx and Engels were among those who recognized the usefulness of Darwin’s theory as just such a foundation for their theory of dialectical materialism.
In a letter to Engels, Marx writes, “During...the past four weeks I have read all sorts of things. Among others Darwin’s work on Natural Selection. And though it is written in the crude English style, this is the book which contains the basis in natural science for our view.”2
John Hoffman tells us that Marx so admired Darwin’s work that he “sent Darwin a complimentary copy of Volume I of Capital and tried unsuccessfully to dedicate Volume II to him.”3 Darwin’s wife insisted he not have any relationship with “that atheist.”
Marxism and Science – Darwin, Marx, and Society
When viewing Marxism and Science, Marx believed that Darwin’s evolutionary theory could be extended naturally to answer questions about human society. Marx felt that society, like life itself, had gone through an evolutionary process and must continue to undergo such a process until a classless society evolved. Marx integrated this notion of evolution into his worldview, writing, “Darwin has interested us in the history of Nature’s technology, i.e., in the formation of the organs of plants and animals, which organs serve as instruments of production for sustaining life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man, of organs that are the material basis of all social organization, deserve equal attention?”4
Engels more straightforwardly states the link between Darwin’s and Marx’s theories: “Just as Darwin discovered the law of evolution in organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of evolution in human history.”5
This claim has been reaffirmed throughout Marxism’s development. V.I. Lenin echoes Marx and Engels, stressing the scientific nature of their theory: “Just as Darwin put an end to the view of animal and plant species being unconnected, fortuitous, ‘created by God’ and immutable, and was the first to put biology on an absolutely scientific basis...so Marx...was the first to put sociology on a scientific basis...”6
Marxists understand evolution as an essential pillar in their worldview, due largely to the fact that it complements their social and historical theory so well.
Marxism and Science – Darwin and Teleology
The founders of Marxism entertained another reason for incorporating Darwin’s evolutionary theory into their system. Just as Secular Humanist theology cannot stand if it accepts the notion that God exists, so Marxist theology is directly opposed to God. Atheism is at the core of Marxist theory. This worldview is coherent and consistent only if God and the supernatural do not exist. Therefore, Marx and his followers eagerly embraced a theory of biology that makes God unnecessary for the origin of life.
Marx proclaims that Darwin’s Origin of Species dealt the “death-blow...to ‘teleology.’”7 F.V. Konstantinov, in The Fundamentals of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy, echoes Marx: “Darwin’s theory of evolution is the third great scientific discovery that took place in the middle of the 19th century. Darwin put an end to the notion of the species of animals and plants as ‘divine creations,’ not connected with anything else, providential and immutable, and thus laid the foundation of theoretical biology.”8
This “great scientific discovery” is crucial. Without the theory of evolution, the design of the universe could be explained only by postulating a rational, purposeful, powerful God, and this is inconceivable for Marxists. Miracles cannot exist in a materialistic worldview, so Marxism must accept evolution unreservedly.
Marxism and Science – Darwin and Dialectics
Darwin’s theory of evolution seemed to mesh perfectly with Marx’s interpretation of dialectics. Marx writes, “You will see from the conclusion of my third chapter...that in the text I regard the law Hegel discovered...as holding good both in history and natural science.”9 If nature is dialectical (Hegelian process of change) and Darwin’s notion about the mechanism nature employed to create species was correct, then Marx believed Darwin’s theory was dialectical.
Darwin’s theory of evolution appeared dialectical to early Marxists because it portrayed development as a process. Engels believed that Darwin’s “new outlook on nature was complete in its main features; all rigidity was dissolved, all fixity dissipated, all particularity that had been regarded as eternal became transient, the whole of nature was shown as moving in eternal flux and cyclical course.”10 The concept of eternal flux was important for the Marxist worldview, in keeping with Engel’s belief: “The world is not to be comprehended as a complex of ready-made things, but as a complex of processes.”11
Another reason Darwin’s theory seemed to reinforce Marx’s view of dialectics was that it called for the evolution of the simple to the more complex. Marxist dialectics states that process is always spiraling upward—that the synthesis is always a more advanced stage than the previous thesis. It appeared that Darwin’s theory of natural selection relied on the same concept of change—more advanced species evolved that were better suited to live in their environment, nature accumulated the good and disposed of the bad.
At first glance, then, Darwin’s theory of evolutionary change appeared to fit perfectly with Marx’s notions about dialectics. Closer inspection, however, showed otherwise. Lenin hinted at a problem when he placed Marx’s theories separate from and above Darwin’s, claiming, “Still, this idea, as formulated by Marx and Engels on the basis of Hegel’s philosophy, is far more comprehensive and far richer in content than the current idea of [Darwinian] evolution is.”12 Lenin saw a difference between Darwinian evolution and the dialectic applied to nature.
Marxism and Science – Conclusion
The key to understanding Marxism and Science is acknowledging that the Marxist interpretation of evolution has undergone a number of changes since Marx first embraced Darwin’s theory. These changes demonstrate the willingness of Marxists to revise and distort Dawin’s theory of gradualism in an effort to make it more compatible with their dialectic. Marxism attempts to interpret the theory of evolution in a way that supports the dialectic and denies the supernatural.
Regardless of how scientific or unscientific the theory of evolution is, we can be certain of one thing: Marxist biology consistently declares it as factually grounded in science. Evolution provides a basis for both Marxist theology and philosophy, and without this foundation, Marxists are unable to explain the design of our universe and the phenomena of the human mind. As Engels says, “In our evolutionary conception of the universe, there is absolutely no room for either a creator or a ruler.”13