Marxistic critique of Darwinism.

At the first glance it may seem (and it was often presented this way in Marxist textbooks) that both naturalistic systems live in compliance. However, if we get deeper into the works of Marxists we find out an interesting fact – the priniciples of dialectical materialism are often inconsistent with the essential elements of Darwinian and later neo-Darwinian teaching.

According to Marx Darwin had laid down the foundations for materialistic concept of developmental processes in living nature. Therefore one would expect that Marxism accepted also principles and aspects of Darwin’s teaching. In fact only philosophical consequences of Darwin’s teaching were seamlessly taken. The points of agreement are that in nature there are no teleological principles and species are basicaly variable entities subject to change and development. Darwinism thus underpinned that part of dialectical materialism which refuted metaphysical invariable substances. According to Marxists only matter exists, matter in motion, change and development. In this sense Darwinism became an ally in the fight against philosophical idealism.

Except the above mentioned agreement on variability of species Marxism de facto refutes principal tenets of Darwinian mechanisms of evolution. However, we should bear in mind that the later Marxism was an open system regarding problems of evolution with different points of view, but generally speaking we can conclude:

  • Marxism refutes radomness, undirectedness of evolution 1.

  • Marxism refutes graduality of evolutionary processes 2.

  • Marxsim often insists on the backward influence of phenotype on genotype 3.

  • Marxism stresses on the negentropy of living systems 4.

  • Marxism criticises mechanistic principles applied to organisms, e.g. it criticises emphasizing of the role of genes to the detriment of the whole 5.

  • Marxism sees Darwinian teaching and it’s application to human society as bourgeois propaganda 6.

  • Marxism criticizes reductionism of evolution – for example it dismisses “the struggle for life” 7.

  • Marxism strongly opposes to Darwinistic explanation of the origin of man and his ethics 8.
  • All the above points can be find elaborated in the writings of Marxist philosophers in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Later Marxist philosophers also incorporated structuralism and the theory of systems into their materialistic dialectics, in particular von Bertalanffy’s General system theory. A good example is an almanac “Principles of dialectical materialism and Contemporary Biology” (Czecho-Slovakia 1976).

    Marxism operates with the following laws of dialectics taken from Hegel:

  • The law of the unity and conflict of opposites;
  • The law of the negation of the negation;
  • The law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative changes;
  • The law of the passage of quantitative changes into qualitative means that biological structures, although consisting of physical and chemical entities, cannot be reduced to them – biological structures are of different, higher quality. As such, they have actually their own laws – although hitherto not examined. And as change and development belongs to the attributes of matter, so change and development belongs to living organisms. The development is actually “imanent” to the organisms, but under strict material principles. Darwinists ( Jay Gould, Moran and others) consider evolution as random process that is unique and unrepeatable and consider the origin of man as a random event. Marxists presents the opposite view. According to Engels and his followers the origin of man and his spirit is actually necessary, “iron necessary”.

    (It would be really inconsecutive if Marxists insisted on the existence of their dialectical laws in human society, which necessarily control the history from slave society through feudalism and capitalism to communism, but humanity as such would be seen as a product of a blind chance.)

    From the law of passage of quantitative changes into qualitative follows “saltationism” in evolution – organisms transform suddenly, as in society major changes in social order arise abruptly by revolution. Later Marxists explained this process by structuralistic approach. Structure accepts a number of changes, but beyond a certain threshold there is a complex change and repattering. Some Marxists insisted on a review of the classic Darwinian model of macroevolution as “microevolution extrapolated”. No wonder that well-known Darwinist Jay Gould saw some common points between the concept of punctuated equilibrium and the worldview of Soviet scientists.

    From the law of the unity and conflict of opposites follows that on the connecting line between genotype and phenotype – in the frame of the organism as a whole – there must also exist a feedback from phenotype to genotype. Either it takes in the purely Darwinian forms, as selection of phenotypes, or again according to some Marxian structuralists the feedback is more complex and phenotype modifies genotype by some unknown means.

    Some Marxist structuralists wrote openly about the possible contradiction of evolution and the physical law of entropy. In their view, the negentropic processes are applied mainly during embryonal development and also during evolution, where organization of living systems clearly rises. The problem seemed to be theoretically poorly understood in their opinion. These authors, who are often knowledgeable in physics and modern science, are clearly aware of the fact that living organisms are open systems.

    Sharp, although relatively primitive attacks on “mendelism-morganism-weismanism” during Stalinism could had found its fertile ground also in Marxistic dialectic. Sophisticated forms of denial of the omnipotence of genes are in Marxists’ consciousness still alive. It follows from the law of the unity and conflict of opposites as mentioned above. Matter is in a constant motion, the individual components and elements are in a dialectic tension and change and all parts of the system interact, potentiate themselves etc. … It should be noted that the corpuscular theory of gene was also rejected by once leading geneticist Richard Goldschmidt (1958), who had put forward the chromosomal concept of inheritance. A remarkable notice may be added in this context which was presented by Lenin. Marxism is according to Lenin closer to dialectical idealism than to mechanical materialism. According to such a view the organism should be taken in the undivided complexity and should not be reduced to some mechanism etc… Perhaps it is also the reason why some Marxists accepted partly favorably Teilhard de Chardin’s concept of evolution.

    According to Marxists Darwin and his followers passed unnoticed the social causes which in fact singled out man from the animal kingdom – in particular the role of work, the articulation of speech and social consciousness. Darwin is marked as “a natural dialectic”, “an inconsistent atheist” with features of “bourgeois delimination”. For example, Engels considered Darwin’s “struggle for life” as a void concept and the entire teaching as a combination of bourgeois economic doctrine, Malthusian Population Theory and Hobbes’ doctrine of the war of all against all – bellum omnium contra omnes.

    Finally, let’s mention also some points of contact between both theories. One of them – next to often fighting atheism – is the uncritical assessment of the work of “Founding Fathers”. Marxists always pushed forward their own ideas by invoking principles of dialectic materialism and legitimized their thoughts by reference to the classics of Marxism-Leninsm (Marx, Engels and Lenin). Neodarwinists proceed essentially the same way. It is quite common to come across peculiar arguments in “peer-reviewed journals”, veracity of which their authors back up – no matter how far-fetched they might be – by “natural selection” concept and support such arguments preferably by citing the works of Charles Darwin.


    References:

  • Fridrich Engels: Dialectics of Nature (1883)
  • Authors:”Principles of dialectical materialism and Contemporary Biology”
    Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia.
    Published by Pravda, Bratislava & Vysšaja škola, Moskva, (1977)

  • Philosophical dictionary 1974
    Filozofický slovník
    Published by Pravda, Bratislava, 1974
    translation from Filosofskij slovar, Izdavateľstvo političeskoj literatury, Moskva (1972)

  • Philosophical dictionary 1966
    Filozofický slovník
    Published by Svoboda, Praha 1966


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    There are often heated disputes what is chance and necessity in evolution. Without going further into this philosophical problem, which actually Darwinists and Marxists more obscure than elucidate, let us just quote their points of view.

    Darwinian view:

    Gould has written that if we could rewind the “tape” of evolution and replay it, the result would not be the same (Gould 1989). Among other things, humans are almost certain not to re-evolve. This is because the number of contingent causes (asteroids hitting the earth, continental drift, cosmic radiation, the likelihood of significant individuals mating and producing progeny, etc) are so high that it is unlikely they would occur again in the same sequence, or even occur at all. If an asteroid hadn’t hit the Yucátan Peninsula 65 million years ago, for example, mammals probably would never have diversified, as they didn’t in the 100 million years before that.
    (John Wilkins: Evolution and Chance (1997))

    I think the term “evolution by accident” is an accurate description of how evolution occurs.
    Larry Moran: Evolution by Accident (2006))

    Marxistic view:

    When Hegel makes the transition from life to cognition by means of propagation (reproduction), there is to be found in this the germ of the theory of evolution, that, organic life once given, it must evolve by the development of the generations to a genus of thinking beings.

    ( Friedrich Engels: Dialectics of Nature, Notes and Fragments (1883))

    …we have the certainty that matter remains eternally the same in all its transformations, that none of its attributes can ever be lost, and therefore, also, that with the same iron necessity that it will exterminate on the earth its highest creation, the thinking mind, it must somewhere else and at another time again produce it.

    ( Friedrich Engelsl: Dialectics of Nature (1883))

    Biological adaptation and directed development of living world is still waiting for universal explanation. Attempts to explain macroevolutionary process as direct and immediate continuation of microevolutionary changes (mutation, combination of genes, differenial proliferation, migration, isolation, genetic drift etc…) do not satisfy many scientists. Even C.H.Waddington was forced to admit that… if we reduce evolution to effective proliferation and Malthus scheme, the most important problems will stay sideways.
    (V.S.Borzenkov Princíp determinizmu. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.89)

    An absolute undirectedness and randomness is principally incomptabile with dialectical materialism, as already
    noticed by F.Engels in Dialectics of Nature.
    (J.Cíger: Logika celostnosti a teoretické myslenie v biológii. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná
    biológia. p.108)

    The idea that terms goal, directedness, purposeful behaviour have an objective content is finding more and more following also among representatives of dialectical materialism.
    (V.S.Borzenkov: Princíp determinizmu. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.96 )

    With the help of genome analysis the new laws of evolutionary process have been discovered. By deeper study of chromosomal homology data had been acquired that confirmed Vavilov’s law of homological series in heritable changes…
    (P.V.Alexejev, A.J.Iľjin Princíp straníckosti a princíp objektívnosti a biológia. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.221 )

    Dialectic materialistic concept of development doesn’t exhaust itself by statistical interpretation. This concept orients the researcher to the inquiry of internal necessity of developmental tendency, which breaks its way through the amount of random events.
    (P.V.Alexejev, A.J.Iľjin Princíp straníckosti a princíp objektívnosti a biológia. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.277 )

    In the autogenetic concept natural selection loses its positive, creative meaning. However ectogeneticists arrive at the same conclusion. With regard to their notion that every change is adequate to the influence of outer environment, natural selection loses its meaning, is useless. Incorrectness of both concepts has come to light in the development of biology. The development of biology is heading towards undivided image of organic world, which develops according to its own specific laws.
    (P.V.Alexejev, A.J.Iľjin Princíp straníckosti a princíp objektívnosti a biológia. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.278 )

    Relative autonomous developmental processes are often marked as imanent laws. This name is the expression of specifity of the given biotic process.
    (Igor Hrušovský: Princíp štruktúrnosti bytia a živej hmoty. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná
    biológia p.52.)

    We are facing here the explicit example of the objective dialectics of universal, particular and singular, which obviously determines also the development of living systems.
    (J.Cíger: Logika celostnosti a teoretické myslenie v biológii. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.91)

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    In the Soviet Union, for example, scientists are trained with a very different philosophy of change— the so-called dialectical laws, reformulated by Engels from Hegel’s philosophy. The dialectical laws are explicitly punctuational. They speak, for example, of the “transformation of quantity into quality.” This
    may sound like mumbo jumbo, but it suggests that change occurs in large leaps following a slow accumulation of stresses that a system resists until it reaches the breaking point. Heat water and it eventually boils. Oppress the workers more and more and bring on the revolution. Eldredge and I were fascinated to learn that many Russian paleontologists support a model similar to our punctuated equilibria.

    (Stephen Jay Gould: Panda’s Thumb (1978)) )

    …it is understandable, that evolutionary dynamics expresses itself by more or less radical structural changes.
    (Igor Hrušovský: Princíp štruktúrnosti bytia a živej hmoty. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.52)

    Historical perspective orients the researcher to the study of developmental process from the quantitative as well as qualitative point of view and the development is understood as a series of phases linked to each other, where each new phase is dialectic negation of the previous phase, resolution of its internal contradictions and at the same time it gives birth to new, its own contradictions.
    (S.A.Pastušnyj: Historické hľadisko. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.223)

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    On the background of successes achieved by concrete historical approach, oversimplified interpretation of genotype and phenotype came forward, either in the spirit of mechano-lamarckism (phenotype-genotype) or in the spirit of neodarwinism (genotype-phenotype). Concrete historical approach enabled to overcome both of these extremes and worked up dialectic-materialistic interpretation of the relationship between phenotype and genotype.
    (S.A.Pastušnyj: Historické hľadisko. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.223)

    If in the past time it was claimed in agreement with this concept (autogenesis) that outer environment, however intense its effect were coudln’t change genotype, now, after the discovery of the laws of artificial and natural mutagenesis the ideas about mutual influence of phenotype and genotype have become more broaden and deeper. According to N.P.Dubinin: “Change of … genotype under influence of processes of aggregate development modifies and changes… phenotype. The change of phenotype passes during its influence upon genotype through the system of organic determinism, which modifies it, in the cosequence of which non-adequate mutational changes may appear.”
    (S.A.Pastušnyj: Historické hľadisko. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.214-215)

    From lamarckism which absolutized the relation phenotype-genotype, the development headed towards neodarwinism, where we place also those contemporary geneticists who according to K.M.Zavadskij reduce evolution to phenotypic manifestation of hereditary changes (mutations), e.g. who absolutise opposite relationship between genotype and phenotype.
    (S.A.Pastušnyj: Historické hľadisko. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.215)

    This transsystemic union (internal and external) and its information processes could by means of statistical randomness co-determine process of mutation as “proposals” for realization of possibilities, that is adaptational possibilities, from which natural selection excludes forms which do not permit survival and further development.
    (J.Cíger: Logika celostnosti a teoretické myslenie v biológii. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.108)

    To know the gene as an internal differentiated system and as an organic part of the unified system of the genotype means to take into consideration the influence of complicated complex of factors from outer world and it is related with the inspection of their mutagene activity.
    (S.A.Pastušnyj: Historické hľadisko. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná
    biológia. p.208)

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    Life is able to to prevent the increase of entropy, which is characteristic for abiotic area.
    (Igor Hrušovský: Princíp štruktúrnosti bytia a živej hmoty. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.48)

    …in embryonal development and evolution…Here the laws of higher levels do not follow from the lower on the physical and chemical base and basic life phenomena are at odds with the second law of thermodynamics. Living organism keep themselves up in the state of fantastic improbability. In embryogenesis and in evolution organisms pass to more and more improbable states, to gradation of order and organization. According to the opinion of majority of modern biologists the problem of negentropic tendecies in living organisms though urgently brought up is theoretically far from being coped with.
    Soviet biologist V.A.Engelgardt claims that the tendency to arrangement, creating order from chaos contradicts to the principle of entropy, e.g. the second law of thermodynamics. In his opinion…living organisms must be open systems…
    (Igor Hrušovský: Princíp štruktúrnosti bytia a živej hmoty. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.51)

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    The concept of gene is not only objective, but also subjective.
    (S.A.Pastušnyj: Historické hľadisko. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.200)

    Mechanistic materialism considers even the most complicated entities only for summary of parts and their properties. One hundered years ago it was popular to say that man is only a system of complicated levers and pipes which transport “energetical fluid”. Fifty years ago man was a system of servomechanisms and nowadays he is often a medium for processing and transmission of information. Each of such approach is useful in exploring man, but none of them should be absolutized. Vitalism and holism proves that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, but only because of the existence of non-material life forces. Dialectical materialism though agrees with the claim that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, however this more, with which it is superior to the sum of its parts, is organized system of these parts with mutual relationships and mediated bonds among them…This type of wholes is marked as “organic wholes”.
    (F.Čížek: Princíp systémovosti. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.150)

    However minutely we may study stucture of lower level, the pieces of knowledge about it can be neither from the empirical nor from the logical point of view the sufficient foundation for conclusions about the structure of higher level in the organization of the living system.
    Analogy with physical systems can be no way used here. If in physics the conclusions about macro-level are built upon knowledge and lawfulness of lower level, in biology the extrapolation of knowledge of processes on molecular level to the area of living macrosystems has very limited possibilities.
    (F.Čížek: Princíp systémovosti. In Princípy dialektického materializmu a súčasná biológia. p.162)

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    Points (6), (7), (8) hide the danger of Marxistic propaganda, there is no necessity to elaborate them at length. We will quote only some ideas by Engels, his marxistic followers only “deepened” his teaching.

    The whole Darwinian theory of the struggle for existence is simply the transference from society to organic nature of Hobbes’ theory of bellum omnium contra omnes and of the bourgeois economic theory of competition, as well as the Malthusian theory of population. When once this feat has been accomplished (the unconditional justification for which, especially as regards the Malthusian theory, is still very questionable), it is very easy to transfer these theories back again from natural history to the history of society, and altogether too naive to maintain that thereby these assertions have been proved as eternal natural laws of society.
    ( Friedrich Engels: Dialectics of Nature, Notes and Fragments (1883))

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    Points (6), (7), (8) hide the danger of Marxistic propaganda, there is no necessity to elaborate them at length. We will quote only some ideas by Engels, his marxistic followers only “deepened” his teaching.

    The struggle for life. Until Darwin, what was stressed by his present adherents was precisely the harmonious cooperative working of organic nature, how the plant kingdom supplies animals with nourishment and oxygen, and animals supply plants with manure, ammonia, and carbonic acid. Hardly was Darwin recognised before these same people saw everywhere nothing but struggle. Both views are justified within narrow limits, but both are equally one-sided and prejudiced. The interaction of bodies in nonliving nature includes both harmony and collisions, that of living bodies conscious and unconscious co-operation as well as conscious and unconscious struggle. Hence, even in regard to nature, it is not permissible one-sidedly to inscribe only “struggle” on one’s banners. But it is absolutely childish to desire to sum up the whole manifold wealth of historical evolution and complexity in the meagre and one-sided phrase “struggle for existence.” That says less than nothing.
    .
    .
    .
    The conception of history as a series of class struggles is already much richer in content and deeper than merely reducing it to weakly distinguished phases of the struggle for existence.
    ( Friedrich Engels: Dialectics of Nature, Notes and Fragments (1883))

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    Points (6), (7), (8) hide the danger of Marxistic propaganda, there is no necessity to elaborate them at length. We will quote only some ideas by Engels, his marxistic followers only “deepened” his teaching.

    Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it really is the source — next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself.

    ( Friedrich Engelsl: The Part played by Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man (1876)

    In general, evolutionary ethics has non-scientific character, because the reduction of society and morality to phenomena of biological nature always conceals the danger of possibility of antisocial and amoral conclusions.
    (Filozofický slovník 1974, p. 143)

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  • 3 responses to “Marxistic critique of Darwinism.

    1. John A. Davison

      Martin

      Thank you for putting this in perspective.

      The only thing I see that Marxism and Darwinism share is their atheism and that is their undoing. Stephen Jay Gould was a declared Marxist and as near as I can tell so are Dawkins and Myers although neither admit it.

      I am convinced that phylogeny was planned from beginning to end and the end is any time now. All that remains is extinction.

      • Thank you John. I would like to add also “theists” from Biologos. They present themselves as Darwinists who believe in imanent evolution like Marxists.

    2. Is there evidence that our culture is in the process of undergoing profound change during the past couple of centuries? Do we understand how cultural beliefs persist from one generation to the next? Are cultural changes random? Is culture completely ethereal — with no physical manifestations? How could a cultural concept be expressed in a DNA sequence? I invite you to read A Few impertinent Questions about Autism, Freudianism and Materialism.

      http://30145.myauthorsite.com/
      http://www.authorhouse.com/Bookstore/ItemDetail.aspx?bookid=69391

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