Marxism and Darwinism, by Anton Pannekoek (II)

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Introduction (ICC)


The article we are publishing below is the second part of Anton Pannekoek's pamphlet, Marxism and Darwinism, the first chapters of which we published in the preceding issue of the International Review . This text explains the evolution of man as a social species. With good cause, Pannekoek looks to the second great work of Darwin, The Descent of Man (1871) and clearly shows that the mechanism of the struggle for existence through natural selection, developed in The Origin of Species, cannot be applied schematically to the human species, as Darwin himself demonstrated. Among all the social animals, and more still in man, co-operation and mutual aid are the condition for the collective survival of the group, within which the weakest are not eliminated, but, on the contrary, protected. The motor of evolution of the human species is thus not the competitive struggle for existence and the advantage conferred to those living beings who are most adapted to the conditions of the environment, but the development of their social instincts.

Pannekoek's pamphlet shows that Darwin's book, The Descent of Man, offers a striking rebuttal to the reactionary ideology of "social Darwinism", notably advocated by Herbert Spencer (also distorted into the ideas of eugenics by Francis Galton), which based itself on the mechanism of natural selection, described in The Origins of the Species, in order to give a pseudo-scientific seal of approval to the logic of capitalism based upon competition, the law of the strongest and the elimination of the "weakest". To all the "social Darwinists" of yesterday and today (whom he designates as "bourgeois Darwinists"), Pannekoek responds very clearly, basing himself upon Darwin, that: "This throws an entirely new light on the point of view of the bourgeois Darwinists. They proclaim that only the elimination of the weak is natural and that this is necessary to prevent the corruption of the race. On the other hand, the protection provided to the weak is against nature and contributes to the decline of the race. But what do we see? In nature itself, in the animal world, we can establish that the weak are protected, that they don't hold out thanks to their own personal strength, and they are not eliminated due to their individual weakness. These arrangements don't weaken the group, but confer on it a new strength. The animal group in which mutual aid is better developed is better adapted to look after itself in conflicts. What, according to the narrow conception of these Darwinists, appears as a factor of weakness becomes exactly the opposite, a factor of strength, against which strong individuals who undertake struggle individually are not up to the job."

In this second part of the pamphlet, Pannekoek also examines, with great dialectical rigour, how the evolution of Man permitted him to free himself from his animality and of certain contingencies of nature, thanks to the conjoint development of language, thought and tools. Nevertheless, in taking up the analysis developed by Engels in his uncompleted article "The Role of Labour in the Transition of Ape to Man" (published in The Dialectics of Nature), he tends to underestimate the fundamental role of language in the development of the social life of our species.

This article of Pannekoek was drawn up a century ago and he couldn't thus integrate the latest scientific discoveries, notably in primatology. Recent studies on the social behaviour of anthropoid apes allow us to affirm that human language wasn't chosen in the first place for the making of tools (as Pannekoek seems to think, following Engels) but first of all for the consolidation of social links (without which the first humans wouldn't have been able to communicate to construct shelter, protect themselves from predators and the hostile forces of nature and then transmit their knowledge from one generation to the other). Although the text of Pannekoek makes a very well argued description of the process of the development of the productive forces since the first tools were made, he tends to reduce these solely to the satisfaction of the biological needs of man (notably the need to overcome hunger) and thus loses sight of the fact that the emergence of art (which made its appearance very early in the history of humanity) equally constituted a fundamental stage in the disengagement of the human species from the animal kingdom.

Moreover, although as we've seen, Pannekoek explains in a very synthetic way, but with a remarkable clarity and simplicity, the Darwinian theory of the evolution of man, in our opinion he doesn't go far enough in understanding the anthropology of Darwin. In particular, he doesn't show that with the natural selection of the social instincts, the struggle for existence has chosen anti-eliminatory behaviours that have given birth to morality[1]. By effecting a rupture between natural and social morality, between nature and culture, Pannekoek has not sufficiently understood the evolutionary continuity between the selection of social instincts and the protection of the weak through mutual aid, which allowed man to take up the road to civilisation. It is really this enlargement of solidarity and of the consciousness of belonging to the same species that permitted humanity, at a certain stage of its development under the Roman Empire (as underlined elsewhere in Pannekoek's text), to declare the Christian formula: "All men are brothers".

ICC, July 2009.


[1]. This idea is also presented in Kautsky's book Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History, which Pannekoek refers to and approves, as the following quote shows: "An animal impulse and nothing else is the moral law. Thence comes its mysterious nature, this voice in us which has no connection with any external impulse, or any apparent interest... Because the moral law is the universal instinct, of equal force to the instinct of self preservation and reproduction, thence its force, thence its power which we obey without thought, thence our rapid decisions, in particular cases, whether an action is good or bad, virtuous or vicious: thence the energy and decision of our moral judgement, and thence the difficulty to prove it when reason begins to analyse its grounds." (Ethics and the materialist conception of history, Chapter IV "The ethics of Darwinism."; section 4 "The social instinct" . English edition published by Charles H Kerr and Company, 1914). 

Furthermore, Darwin's anthropology is very clearly explained in the theory of the "reverse effect of evolution" developed by Patrick Tort, notably in his book The Darwin Effect: Natural Selection and the Birth of Civilisation (Editions du Seuil). Our readers can find a presentation of this work in an article on our website "On Patrick Tort's book The Darwin Effect: a materialist conception of the origins of morality and civilisation. "




VI. Natural law and social theory


The false conclusions reached by Haeckel and Spencer on socialism are no surprise. Darwinism and marxism are two distinct theories, one of which applies to the animal world, the other to society. They complete each other in the sense that the animal world develops according to the laws of Darwinian theory up to the stage of man and, starting from the moment where he is elevated from the animal world, it is marxism which constitutes the subsequent law of development. When one wishes to carry a theory from one domain to the other, where different laws apply, one can only make wrong deductions.

Such is the case when we wish to discover, starting from the law of nature, which social form is natural and more in conformity with nature, and this is just what the bourgeois Darwinists have done. They deduced from the laws which govern the animal world, where Darwinian theory applies, that the capitalist social order, which is in conformity with this theory, is a natural order, which must endure forever. On the other hand, there have also been some socialists who wanted to prove in the same way that the socialist system is the natural system.  These socialists said, 

"Under capitalism men do not carry on the struggle for existence with identical weapons, but with artificially unequal weapons. The natural superiority of those who are healthier, stronger, more intelligent or morally better, cannot predominate so long as birth, class, or above all the possession of money control this struggle. Socialism, in abolishing all these artificial inequalities, will make the conditions as favourable for all, and only then will the real struggle for existence prevail, in which personal excellence constitutes the decisive factor. Following Darwinian principles, the socialist mode of production will therefore be truly natural and logical."

As a critique of the conceptions of the bourgeois Darwinists, these arguments are not bad, but they are still ultimately erroneous. Both opposing sets of arguments are equally false because they both start from the long disproved premise that there exists a single natural or logical social system.

Marxism has taught us that there is no such thing as a natural social system, and that there can be none, or, to put it another way, every social system is natural, because every social system is necessary and natural in given conditions. There is not a single definitive social system that can claim to be natural; the different social systems succeed each other as a result of the development of the productive forces.  Each system is therefore the natural one for its particular epoch, as the following one will be for a subsequent epoch. Capitalism is not the only natural order, as the bourgeoisie believes, and no world socialist system is the only natural system, as some socialists try to prove. Capitalism was natural in the conditions of the 19th Century, just as feudalism was in the Middle Ages, and just as socialism will be at a future stage of the development of the productive forces. The attempt to promote a given system as the only natural system is as futile as if we were to take an animal and say that this animal is the most perfect of all animals. Darwinism teaches us that every animal is equally adapted and equally perfect in its form to adapt to its particular environment. In the same manner, marxism teaches us that each social system is particularly adapted to its conditions, and that, in this sense, it can be called good and perfect.

Herein lies the main reason why the attempts of the bourgeois Darwinists to defend the decadent capitalist system are bound to fail. Arguments based on natural science, when applied to social questions, must almost always lead to wrong conclusions.  In effect, while nature does not change significantly in the course of human history, human society, on the other hand, undergoes rapid and continuous changes. In order to understand the motor force and the cause of social development, we must study society itself. Marxism and Darwinism must remain in their proper domains; they are independent of each other and there is no direct connection between them.

Here arises a very important question. Can we stop at the conclusion that marxism applies only to society and that Darwinism applies only to the organic world, and that neither of these theories is applicable in the other domain? From a practical point of view it is very convenient to have one principle for the human world and another one for the animal world. In adopting this point of view, however, we forget that man is also an animal. Man has developed from the animals, and the laws that apply to the animal world cannot suddenly lose their applicability to man. It is true that man is a very peculiar animal, but if that is the case it is necessary to find from these very peculiarities why the principles applicable to all animals do not apply to men, or why they assume a different form.

Here we come to another problem. The bourgeois Darwinists do not have this problem; they simply declare that man is an animal, and without further ado they set about applying Darwinian principles to men. We have seen to what erroneous conclusions they come. To us this question is not so simple; we must first have a clear vision of the differences which exist between men and animals, then, from these differences, must flow why, in the human world, Darwinian principles are transformed into different ones, namely, into marxism.

VII. The sociability of man

The first peculiarity that we observe in man is that he is a social being. In this he does not differ from all animals, for even among the latter there are many species that live in a social way. But man differs from all the animals that we have observed until now in dealing with Darwinian theory; those animals that live separately, each for themselves, and struggle against all the others to survive. It is not with the rapacious animals that live separately and which are the model animals for the bourgeois Darwinians, that man must be compared, but with those that live socially. Sociability is a new force that we have not yet taken into account; a force that calls forth new relations and new qualities among animals.

It is an error to regard the struggle for existence as the unique and omnipotent force giving shape to the organic world. The struggle for existence is the principal force that is the origin of new species, but Darwin himself knew full well that other forces co-operate, which give shape to the forms, habits, and particularities of the organic world. In his later work, The Descent of Man, Darwin minutely examined sexual selection and showed that the competition of males for females gave rise to the gaudy colours of the birds and butterflies and, equally, to the melodious songs of the birds. There he also devoted a chapter to social living. One can also find many examples on this question in Kropotkin's book, Mutual Aid as a Factor in Evolution. The best exposé of the effects of sociability is given in Kautsky's Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History.

When a certain number of animals live in a group, herd or flock, they lead a common struggle for existence against the outside world; within such a group the struggle for existence ceases. The animals that live socially no longer wage a struggle against each other, wherein the weak succumb, it's just the reverse; the weak enjoy the same advantages as the strong. When some animals have an advantage by means of sharper smell, greater strength, or experience which allows them to find the best pasture or to evade the enemy, this advantage benefits not only themselves, but equally the entire group, which comprises less advantaged individuals. The combining of the less advantaged individuals with the more advantaged allows the former to overcome to a certain extent the consequences of their less favourable properties.

This combining of the animals' separate strengths into one unit gives to the group a new and greater strength than any one individual possessed, even the strongest. It is owing to this united strength that herbivores can ward off rapacious animals. It is only by means of this unity that some animals are able to protect their young. Social life therefore enormously profits all of the members.

A second advantage of sociability arises from the fact that where animals live socially, there is a possibility of the division of labour. Such animals send out scouts or place sentries whose task is to look after the safety of all, while the others are safely eating or gathering, relying on their guards to warn them of danger.

Such an animal society becomes, in some respects, a unity, a single organism. Naturally, relations remain much looser than the cells of a single animal body; and the members remain equal between themselves - it is only among the ants, bees and several other insects that an organic distinction develops - and they are capable in certain unfavourable conditions of living alone. Nevertheless, the group becomes a coherent body, and there must be some force that holds the individual members together.

This force constitutes the social motives, the instinct that holds the animals together and thus permits the perpetuation of the group. Every animal must place the interest of the entire group above its own; it must always act instinctively for the benefit of the group without consideration for itself. If every weak herbivore thinks only of itself and runs away when attacked by a wild animal, the united herd is scattered anew. Only when the strong motive of self-preservation is suppressed by a stronger motive of union, and each animal risks its life for the protection of all, only then does the herd remain and enjoy the advantages of sticking together. Self-sacrifice, bravery, devotion, discipline and loyalty must arise in the same way, for where these do not exist, cohesion dissolves; society can only exist where these exist.

These instincts, while they have their origin in habit and necessity, are strengthened by the struggle for existence. Every animal herd still stands in a competitive struggle against the same animals of a different herd; the herds that are best fitted to withstand the enemy will survive, while those that are less well equipped will perish. The groups in which the social instinct is better developed will be better able to hold their ground, while the groups in which social instinct is low will either fall easy prey to their enemies or will not be able to find favourable pastures. These social instincts become therefore the most important and decisive factors that determine who shall survive in the struggle for existence. It is owing to this that social instincts have been raised to the position of predominant factors in the struggle for survival.

This throws an entirely new light on the point of view of the bourgeois Darwinists. They proclaim that only the elimination of the weak is natural and that this is necessary to prevent the corruption of the race. On the other hand, the protection provided to the weak is against nature and contributes to the decline of the race. But what do we see? In nature itself, in the animal world, we can establish that the weak are protected, that they don't hold out thanks to their own personal strength, and they are not eliminated due to their individual weakness. These arrangements don't weaken the group, but confer on it a new strength. The animal group in which mutual aid is better developed is better adapted to look after itself in conflicts. What, according to the narrow conception of these Darwinists, appears as a factor of weakness becomes exactly the opposite, a factor of strength, against which strong individuals who undertake struggle individually are not up to the job.

This supposedly degenerating and deteriorating race carries off the victory and proves itself in practice the smartest and best.

Here we first see clearly how near-sighted, narrow and unscientific are the claims and arguments of the bourgeois Darwinists. They have derived their natural laws and their conceptions of what is natural from a part of the animal world which man resembles least, the solitary animals, while leaving unobserved those animals that live practically in the same circumstances as man. The reason for this can be found in their own conditions of life; they themselves belong to a class where each competes individually against the other. Therefore, they see among animals only that form of the struggle for existence which corresponds to the bourgeois competitive struggle.  It is for this reason that they overlook those forms of the struggle that are of greatest importance to men.

It is true that these bourgeois Darwinists are aware of the fact that everything in the animal world as in the human cannot be reduced to pure egoism. The bourgeois scientists say very often that every man is possessed of two feelings; egoism or self-love, and altruism or love of others. But as they do not know the social origin of this altruism, they cannot understand its limits or conditions. Altruism in their mouths becomes a very vague idea which they don't know how to handle.

Everything that applies to social animals applies also to man. Our ape-like ancestors and the primitive men that developed from them were all defenceless weak animals who, as almost all apes do, lived in tribes. Here the same social motives and instincts emerged which later, with man, developed into moral feelings. That our customs and morals are nothing other than social feelings, feelings that we find among animals, is known to all; even Darwin spoke about "the habits of animals related to their social attitudes, which would be called moral among men." The difference is only in the measure of consciousness; as soon as these social feelings become clearly conscious to men, they assume the character of moral feelings. Here we see that the moral conception - which bourgeois authors considered as the main distinction between men and animals - is not peculiar to men, but is a direct product of conditions existing in the animal world.

The reason why moral feelings do not spread further than the social group to which the animal or the man belongs is found in the nature of their origin. These feelings serve the practical object of keeping the group together; beyond this they are useless. In the animal world, the range and nature of the social group is determined by circumstances of life, and therefore the group almost always remains the same. Among men, however, the groups, these social units, are ever changing in accordance with economic development, and this also changes the extent of the validity of social instincts.

Ancient groups, at the origins of the savage and barbarian peoples, were more strongly united than the animal groups, not only because they were in competition, but also because they directly made war. Family relationships and a common language strengthened this union further. Every individual depended entirely on the support of the tribe. Under such conditions, social instincts, moral feelings, the subordination of the individual to the whole, had to be developed to the utmost. With the further development of society, the tribes are dissolved into larger economic entities and reunited in towns and peoples.

New societies take the place of the old ones, and the members of these entities carry on the struggle for existence in common against other peoples. In equal ratio to economic development, the size of these entities increases, the struggle of each against the other decreases, and social feelings spread. At the end of antiquity we find that all the known people around the Mediterranean formed one unit, the Roman Empire. At that time there also arose the doctrine which extended moral feelings to the whole of humanity and formulated the maxim that all men are brothers.

When we regard our own times, we see that economically all the people more and more form one unit, even if this is a weak one.  Consequently, the feeling prevails - it's true relatively abstract - of a brotherhood that encompasses all civilised people. Even stronger is nationalist feeling, above all in the bourgeoisie, because nations are the entities in the bourgeoisie's constant struggle. Social feelings are strongest towards members of the same class, because classes are the essential social units embodying the convergent interests of their members. Thus we see that social entities and social feelings change in human society with the progress of economic development. [1]

VIII. Tools, thought and language

Sociability, with its consequent moral instincts, is a peculiarity which distinguishes man from some, but not all, animals. There are, however, some peculiarities which belong to man only, and which separate him from the entire animal world. These, in the first instance, are language, then reason. Man is also the only animal that makes use of self-made tools.

Animals show a slight propensity for these, but among men they have developed specific new characteristics. Many animals have some kind of voice and can, by means of sounds, communicate their intentions, but only men can emit sounds which serve as a medium for naming things and actions. Animals also have brains with which they think, but the human mind shows, as we shall see later, an entirely new departure, which we designate as rational or abstract thinking. Animals, too, make use of inanimate things which they use for certain purposes; for instance, the building of nests. Monkeys sometimes use sticks or stones, but only man uses tools which he makes himself deliberately for particular purposes. These primitive tendencies among animals convince us that the peculiarities possessed by man came to him, not by means of a miracle of creation, but by a slow development.  To understand how these first traces of language, thought and use of tools developed new properties and their first early importance with man involves considering the problem of the humanisation of the animal.  

Only human beings as social animals have been capable of this evolution. Animals living in isolation cannot arrive at such a stage of development. Outside society, language is just as useless as an eye in darkness, and is bound to die. Language is possible only in society, and only there is it necessary as a means of discussion between its members. All social animals possess some means of expressing their intentions, otherwise they would not be able to act together on a collective plan. The sounds that were necessary as a means of understanding during collective labour for primitive man, must have developed slowly into names of activities, and then into names of things.

The use of tools also presupposes a society, for it is only through society that attainments can be preserved. In a state of isolated life everyone must discover this use for themselves, and with the death of the inventor the discovery will also become extinct, and each will have to start anew from the very beginning. It is only through society that the experience and knowledge of former generations can be preserved, perpetuated, and developed. In a group or tribe a few may die, but the group itself is in a way immortal. It survives. Knowledge in the use of tools is not innate, it is acquired later.  This is why an intellectual tradition is indispensable, which is only possible in society.

While these special characteristics of man are inseparable from his social life, they also stand in strong relation to each other. These characteristics have not been developed separately, but have all progressed in common. That thought and language can exist and develop only in common is known to everyone who has tried to describe the nature of their own thoughts. When we think or consider, we, in fact, talk to ourselves; we observe then that it is impossible for us to think clearly without using words. Where we do not think with words our thoughts remain indistinct and we cannot grasp specific thoughts. Everyone can realize this from their own experience. This is because so-called abstract reason is perceptive thought and can take place only by means of concepts. So we can only designate and master concepts by means of words. Every attempt to broaden our minds, every attempt to advance our knowledge, must begin by distinguishing and classifying by means of names or by giving to the old ones a more precise meaning. Language is the body of thought, the only material with which all human science is built.

The difference between the human mind and the animal mind was very aptly shown by Schopenhauer in a citation which is also quoted by Kautsky in his Ethics and the Materialist Conception of History (pages 139-40, English translation). "The animal's actions are dependent upon visual motives, on what it can see, hear, sense or observe.  We can nearly always see and say what induced the animal to do this or the other act, for we, too, can see it if we pay attention. With man, however, it is entirely different. We cannot foretell what he will do, for we do not know the motives that induce him to act; they are thoughts in his head. Man considers, and in so doing, all his knowledge, the result of former experience, comes into play, and it is then that he decides how to act. The acts of an animal depend upon immediate impression, while those of man depend upon abstract conceptions, upon his thoughts and concepts. Man is in some way driven by invisible and subtle threads. Thus all his movements give the impression of being guided by principles and intentions which give them the appearance of independence and obviously distinguishes them from those of animals."[2]

Because they have bodily needs, men and animals are forced to seek to satisfy them in surrounding nature. Sensory perception is the impulse and immediate motive, the satisfaction of the needs is the aim and end of the appropriate act. With the animal, action follows immediately after impression. It sees its prey or food and immediately it jumps, grasps, eats, or does that which is necessary to grasp it, and this is inherited as an instinct. The animal hears some hostile sound, and immediately it runs away if its legs are so developed to run quickly, or lies down and plays dead so as not to be seen if its colour serves as protection. Between man's perceptions and acts, however, there comes into his head a long chain of thoughts and considerations. His actions will depend upon the result of these considerations.

Whence comes this difference? It is not hard to see that it is closely associated with the use of tools. In the same manner that thought comes in between man's perceptions and his actions, the tool comes in between man and the object he seeks to grasp. Furthermore, because the tool comes between man and outside objects, this is also why thought must arise between the perception and the execution. Man does not start out on his objective empty-handed, whether it's against his enemy or to pick fruit, but goes about it in a roundabout manner; he takes a tool, a weapon (weapons are also tools) which he uses with the fruit or against the hostile animal; this is why in his head sensory perception cannot be followed immediately by the act, his mind must make a detour: he must first think of the tools and then follow through to the objective. The material detour causes the mental detour; the additional thought is the result of the additional tool.

Here we took a very simple case of primitive tools and the first stages of mental development. The more complicated technique becomes, the greater is the material detour, and as a result the mind has to make greater detours. When each made his own tools, the memory of hunger and struggle must have directed the human mind to the making of tools. Here we have a longer chain of thoughts between perceptions and the ultimate satisfaction of human needs. When we come down to our own times, we find that this chain is very long and complicated. The worker who is discharged foresees the hunger that is bound to come; he buys a newspaper in order to see whether there are any offers of work; he goes to look for work, offering himself for a wage, which he will not see until much later, with which he can buy food and thus protect himself from starvation. All this will be first thought through in his head before being put into practice. What a long circuitous chain the mind must make before it reaches its goal! But it conforms with the complex development of our society, in which man can satisfy his wants only by means of a highly developed technique.

It is to the above that Schopenhauer draws our attention, the unfolding in the mind of the threads of reflection, which anticipate action and which must be understood as the necessary product of the use of tools. But we have still not come to the most essential point. Man is not the master of one tool only, but of many, which he uses for different purposes, and from which he can choose. Man, because of these tools, is not like the animal. The animal never advances beyond the tools and weapons with which it was born, while man can change artificial tools.  This is the fundamental difference between men and animals.  Man is a kind of animal with changeable organs and this is why he must have the capacity to choose between his tools.  In his head various thoughts come and go, his mind considers all the tools and the consequences of their application, and his actions depend upon this reflection.  He also combines one thought with another, and holds fast to the idea that fits in with his purpose. This deliberation, this free comparison of a series of sequences of selected individual reflections, this property which fundamentally distinguishes human thought from animal thought, must be directly connected to the use of tools chosen at will.

Animals do not have this capacity; it would be useless to them for they would not know what to do with it. On account of their bodily form, their actions are constrained.  The lion can only jump upon his prey, but cannot think of catching it by running after it. The hare is so formed that it can run away; it has no other means of defence even if it would like to have. These animals have nothing to consider except the moment of jumping or running, the moment where impressions gain sufficient power to release action. Every animal is so formed as to fit into some definite mode of life. Their actions become and are handed down as habits, instincts. These habits are obviously not unchangeable. Animals are not machines, when subject to different circumstances they may acquire different habits. Physiologically and as far as their aptitudes are concerned, the functioning of their brain is no different from ours.  It is uniquely practical at the level of results. It is not in the quality of their brains, but in the formation of their bodies that animal restrictions lie. The animal's action is limited by its bodily form and surroundings, which leave it little latitude for reflection. Human reasoning would, for the animal, be a totally useless faculty without any purpose, because it could not use it and would do it more harm than good.

Man, on the other hand, must possess this ability because he exercises discretion in the use of tools and weapons, which he chooses according to particular requirements. If he wants to kill the swift stag, he takes the bow and arrow; if he meets the bear, he uses the axe, and if he wants to break open a certain fruit he takes a hammer. When threatened by danger, man must consider whether he shall run away or defend himself by fighting with weapons. This ability to think and to consider is indispensable to man in his use of artificial tools, just as the awakening of the mind in general is connected to the free mobility of the animal world. 

This strong connection between thoughts, language, and tools, each of which is impossible without the other, shows that they must have developed at the same time. How this development took place, we can only conjecture.

Undoubtedly it was a change in the circumstances of life that made an ape-like animal the ancestor of man. Having migrated from the forests, the original habitat of apes, to the plain, man had to undergo an entire change of life. The difference between hands to grasp and feet to run must have developed then. This was the origin of the two basic conditions for development to a superior level: sociability and the ape-like hand, well adapted for grasping objects. The first rough objects, such as stones or sticks, episodically used in collective labour, came to hand unsought, and were then thrown away. This must have been repeated instinctively and unconsciously so often that it must have left an imprint on the minds of those primitive men.

To the animal, surrounding nature is a single unit, of the details of which it is unconscious. It cannot distinguish between various objects because it lacks the names of the distinct parts and objects that allow it to differentiate. Certainly this environment is not unchanging. To changes which signify "hunger" or "danger", the animal reacts in an appropriate manner, with specific actions. Globally, nevertheless, nature remains a single unit and our primitive man, at his lowest stage, must have been at the same level of consciousness. From the great mass surrounding him, some objects (tools) come into his hands which he used in procuring his existence.

These tools, which are important aids, were given some name, were designated by a sound which at the same time named the particular activity. With this designation, the tool stands out as a particular thing from the rest of the surroundings. Man thus begins to analyse the world by way of concepts and names, self-consciousness appears, artificial objects are purposely sought and consciously made use of while labouring.

This process - for it is a very slow process - marks the beginning of our becoming men. As soon as men deliberately seek and apply certain tools, we can say that these have been ‘produced'; from this stage to the manufacturing of tools, there is only one step. With the first name and the first abstract thought, fundamentally man is born.  Much still remains to be accomplished: the first crude tools already differ according to use; from the sharp stone we get the knife, the bolt, the drill, and the spear; from the stick we get the hatchet. Thus, man is qualified to face the wild animal and the forest and already shows himself as the future king of the earth. With the further differentiation of tools, which later served the division of labour, language and thought develop into richer and newer forms, while thought leads man to use the tools in a better way, to improve old ones and invent new ones.

So we see that one thing brings on the other. The practice of sociability and labour are the springs from which technique, thought, tools and science have their origin and continually develop. By his labour, primitive ape-like man has risen to real manhood. The use of tools marks the great departure that ever more widens between men and animals.

IX. Animal organs and human tools

It is on this point that we have the main difference between men and animals. The animal obtains its food and subdues its enemies with its own bodily organs; man does the same thing with the aid of artificial tools. Organ (organon) is a Greek word which also means tools. Organs are natural tools, connected to the body, of the animal. Tools are the artificial organs of men. Better still, what the organ is to the animal, the hand and tool is to man. The hands and tools perform the functions that the animal organ must perform alone. Owing to its structure, the hand, specialised to hold and direct various tools, becomes a general organ adapted to all kinds of work; tools are the dead things which are grasped by the hand to perform a role and which make the hand a changeable organ that can perform a variety of functions.

With the division of these functions, a broad field of development is opened up for men which animals do not know. Because the human hand can use various tools, it can combine the functions of all possible organs possessed by animals. Every animal is built and adapted to a definite environment and mode of life.  Man, with his tools, is adapted to all circumstances and equipped for all surroundings. The horse is built for the prairie, and the monkey is built for the forest. In the forest, the horse would be just as helpless as the monkey would be if brought to the prairie. Man, on the other hand, uses the axe in the forest, and the spade on the prairie. With his tools, man can force his way in all parts of the world and establish himself all over. While almost all animals can only live in particular regions, which supply their needs, and cannot live elsewhere, man has conquered the whole world. Every animal has, as a zoologist expressed it once, its strong points by which it maintains itself in the struggle for existence, and its weaknesses, which make it a prey to others and prevent it from multiplying itself. In this sense, man has only strength and no weakness. Owing to his having tools, man is the equal of all animals. As these tools do not remain stationary, but continually improve, man grows above every animal. His tools make him master of all creation, the king of the earth.

In the animal world there is also a continuous development and perfection of organs. This development, however, is connected with the changes of the animal's body, which makes the development of the organs infinitely slow, as dictated by biological laws. In the development of the organic world, thousands of years amount to nothing. Man, however, by transferring his organic development upon external objects has been able to free himself from the chain of biological law. Tools can be transformed quickly, and technique makes such rapid strides that, in comparison with the development of animal organs, it can only be called amazing. Owing to this new road, man has been able, within the short period of a few thousand years, to rise above the most evolved of the animals, so much that the latter surpass the less evolved. With the invention of artificial tools, animal evolution in a way is ended.  The child of the apes has developed at a phenomenal speed towards divine power, and he takes possession of the earth as his exclusive dominion. The peaceful and hitherto unhindered development of the organic world ceases to develop according to Darwinian theory. It is man that acts in the plant and animal world as breeder, tamer, cultivator; and it is man that does the weeding. He changes the entire environment, making the further forms of plants and animals suit his aim and will.

This also explains why, with the origin of tools, further changes in the human body cease. The human organs remain what they were, with the always notable exception of the brain. The human brain had to develop together with tools; and, in fact, we see that the difference between the higher and lower races of mankind consists mainly in the contents of their brains. But even the development of this organ had to stop at a certain stage. Since the beginning of civilisation, the functions of the brain are ever more taken away by some artificial means; science is treasured up in the storehouses that are books. Our reasoning faculty of today is not much better than the one possessed by the Greeks, Romans or even the Teutons, but our knowledge has grown immensely, and this is greatly due to the fact that the mental organ was unburdened by its substitutes, books.

Having learned the difference between men and animals, let us now again consider how the two groups are affected by the struggle for existence. That this struggle is the cause of perfection to the extent that the imperfect is eliminated, cannot be denied. In this struggle the animals become ever more perfect. Here, however, it is necessary to be more precise in expression and in observation of what perfection consists. In being so, we can no longer say that it is the animals as a whole that struggle and become perfected. Animals struggle and compete by means of particular organs, which are decisive in the struggle for survival. Lions do not carry on the struggle by means of their tails; hares do not rely on their eyes; nor do the falcons succeed by means of their beaks. Lions carry on the struggle by means of their muscles (for springing) and their teeth; hares rely upon their paws and ears, and falcons succeed on account of their eyes and wings. If now we ask what is it that struggles and what competes, the answer is, the organs struggle, and in this way they become more and more perfect. The muscles and teeth of the lion, the paws and ears of the hare, and the eyes and wings of the falcon carry on the struggle. It is in this struggle that the organs become perfected. The animal as a whole depends upon these organs and shares their fate, in which the strengths will be victorious or the weaknesses will be vanquished.

Let us now ask the same question about the human world. Men do not struggle by means of their natural organs, but by means of artificial organs, by means of tools (and weapons we must understand as tools). Here, too, the principle of perfection and the weeding out of the imperfect, through struggle, holds true. The tools struggle, and this leads to the ever greater perfection of tools. Those groups of tribes that use better tools and weapons can better secure their survival, and when it comes to a direct struggle with another race, the race that is better equipped with artificial tools will win and will exterminate the weaker one. The great improvements in technique and methods of work at the origins of humanity, such as the introduction of agriculture and of stock rearing, make men a physically stronger race that suffers less from the harshness of the elements. Those races whose technical aids are better developed, can drive out or subdue those whose artificial aids are not developed, can secure the better land. The domination of the European race is based on its technical supremacy.[3]

Here we see that the principle of the struggle for existence, formulated by Darwin and emphasised by Spencer, has a different effect on men than on animals. The principle that struggle leads to the perfection of the weapons used in the strife, leads to different results between men and animals. In the animal, it leads to a continuous development of natural organs; that is the foundation of the theory of descent, the essence of Darwinism. In men, it leads to a continuous development of tools, of the techniques of the means of production. And this is the foundation of marxism.

It appears therefore that marxism and Darwinism are not two independent theories, each of which applies to its special domain, without having anything in common with the other. In reality, the same principle underlies both theories. They form a unity. The new course taken with the appearance of man, the substitution of tools for natural organs, causes this fundamental principle to manifest itself differently in the two domains; that of the animal world to develop according to the Darwinian principle, while among mankind it is marxism which determines the law of development. When men freed themselves from the animal world, the development of tools, productive methods, the division of labour and knowledge became the propelling force in social development. It is these that brought about the various economic systems, such as primitive communism, the peasant system, the beginnings of commodity production, feudalism, and now modern capitalism. It only remains for us to place the current mode of production and its passing within this suggested framework and correctly apply to them the basic position of Darwinism. 

X. Capitalism and socialism

The particular form that the Darwinian struggle for existence assumes as the motor force of development in the human world, is determined by men's sociability and their use of tools.  Men struggle collectively in groups. The struggle for existence, while it is still carried on among members of different groups, nevertheless ceases among members of the same group, and its place is taken by mutual aid and social feeling. In the struggle between groups, technical equipment decides who shall be the victor; this results in the progress of technique. These two circumstances lead to different effects under different social systems. Let us see in what manner they show themselves under capitalism.

When the bourgeoisie gained political power and made the capitalist mode of production the dominant one, it began by breaking feudal bonds and making the people free. It was essential for capitalism that each producer should be able to take part freely in the competitive struggle; without anything hindering their freedom of movement, and without their activities being paralysed or curbed by guild duties or fettered by legal statutes, for only thus was it possible for production to develop its full capacity. The workers must have free command over themselves and not be hindered by feudal or guild duties, for only as free workers can they sell their labour-power to the capitalists as a whole commodity, and only as free labourers can the capitalists fully use them. It is for this reason that the bourgeoisie has done away with all the old ties and duties. It made people entirely free, but at the same time left them entirely isolated and unprotected. Formerly people were not isolated; they belonged to some guild; they were under the protection of some lord or commune, and in this they found strength. They were a part of a social group to which they owed duties and from which they received protection. These duties the bourgeoisie abolished; it destroyed the guilds and abolished feudal relations. The freeing of labour also meant that man could no longer find refuge anywhere or rely upon others.

Everyone had to rely upon himself. Alone against all, he must struggle, free of all bonds but also of all protection.

It is for this reason that, under capitalism, the human world more resembles the world of rapacious animals and it is for this very reason that the bourgeois Darwinists looked for the prototype of human society among the solitary animals. To this they were led by their own experience. Their mistake, however, consisted in considering capitalist conditions as eternal human conditions. The relation between our capitalist competitive system and the solitary animals was expressed by Engels in his book, Anti-Dühring (p.293, English edition. This may also be found on p.59 of Socialism, Utopian and Scientific) as follows:

"Finally, modern industry and the opening of the world-market made the struggle universal, and at the same time gave it an unheard-of virulence. Advantages in natural or artificial conditions of production now decide the existence or non-existence of individual capitalists, as well as of whole industries and countries. He that falls is remorselessly cast aside. It is the Darwinian struggle of the individual for existence transferred from Nature to society with intensified violence. The conditions of existence natural to the animal appear as the final term of human development." [4]

What is in struggle in this capitalist competition, the perfection of which will decide the victory?

First come technical tools, machines. Here again applies the law that struggle leads to perfection. The machine that is more improved outstrips the less improved, poor quality and low output machines are eliminated and industrial technique develops with gigantic strides to ever greater productivity. This is the real application of Darwinism to human society. The particular thing about it is that under capitalism there is private property, and behind every machine there is a man. Behind the gigantic machine there is a big capitalist and behind the small machine there is a small capitalist. With the defeat of the small machine, the small capitalist perishes with all his illusions and his hopes. At the same time the struggle is a race between capitals. Large capital is better equipped; large capital conquers the small, and thus grows even larger. This concentration of capital undermines capital itself, for it reduces the bourgeoisie whose interest it is to maintain capitalism, and it increases that mass which seeks to abolish it. In this development, one of the characteristics of capitalism is gradually abolished. In the world where each struggles against all and all against each, the working class develops a new association, the class organisation. The working class organisations begin by ending the competition existing between workers and combine their separate powers into one great power in their struggle with the outside world. Everything that applies to social groups also applies to this new class organisation, born in external conditions. In the ranks of this class organisation, social motives, moral feelings, self-sacrifice and devotion for the entire body develop in a most remarkable way. This solid organisation gives to the working class that great strength which it needs in order to conquer the capitalist class. The class struggle which is not a struggle with tools but for the possession of tools, a struggle for the possession of the technical equipment of humanity, will be determined by the organised action, by the strength of the new rising class organisation.  Through the organised working class an element of socialist society is already revealed. 

Let us now look at the future system of production as it will exist in socialism. The struggle leading to the perfection of the tools, which has marked the whole history of humanity, does not cease. As before under capitalism, the inferior machine will be overtaken and rejected by the one that is superior. As before, this process will lead to greater productivity of labour. But private ownership of the means of production having been abolished, there will no longer be a man behind each machine calling it his own and sharing its fate. 

With the abolition of classes the entire civilised world will become one great productive community. What applies to it applies to any real collective. Within this community mutual struggle among members ceases and will be carried on uniquely with the outside world. But in the place of small communities, we will see a world community. This signifies that the struggle for existence in the human world is ended.  The fight against the external world will no longer be a struggle against our own kind, but a struggle for subsistence, a struggle against nature.[5] But owing to development of technique and science, this can hardly be called a struggle. Nature is subject to man and with very little effort on his side, she supplies him with abundance. Here a new life's work opens for humanity: the rise of man from the animal world and his fight for existence by the use of tools, ceases.  The human form of the struggle for existence ends, and a new chapter of the history of humanity begins.

Anton Pannekoek





[1]. We should note that the growing importance of feelings of solidarity within the human race does not escape Darwin when he writes:

"As man advances in civilisation, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races. If, indeed, such men are separated from him by great differences in appearance or habits, experience unfortunately shews us how long it is, before we look at them as our fellow-creatures". (The Descent of Man, chapter IV) (ICC note).

[2]. This translation differs from that in the 1912 English translation of Marxism and Darwinism as it has been checked against the Dutch original. However, both translations differ from the English translation of Kautsky's work referred to in the text. This reads "The animal has only visual presentations and consequently only motives which it can visualise. The dependence of its acts of will from the motives is thus clear. In men this is no less the case and they are impelled (always taking the individual character into account) by the motive with the strictest necessity: only these are not for the most part visual but abstract presentations, that is conceptions, thoughts which are nevertheless the result of previous views thus of impression from without. That gives him a certain freedom, in comparison namely with the animals. Because he is not like the animal determined by the visual surroundings present before him but by his thoughts drawn from previous experiences or transmitted to him through teaching. Hence the motive which necessarily moves him is not at once clear to the observer with the deed, but he carries it about with him in his head. That gives not only to his actions taken as a whole, but to all his movements an obviously different character from those of the animal; he is at the same time drawn by finer invisible ones. Thus all his movements bear the impress of being guided by principles and intentions, which gives the appearance of independence and obviously distinguishes them from those of the animal. All these great distinctions depend however entirely from the capacity for abstract presentations, conceptions". Kautsky, Ethics and Materialist Conception of History, p139-40. Charles H. Kerr and Company.

[3]. Scientifically speaking, there is no such thing as a European race. This said, the fact that Pannekoek uses the term race to distinguish one grouping of human beings from another does not at all amount to a concession to racism on his part. On this level as well, he is in continuity with Darwin who clearly demarcated himself from the racist theories of the scientists of his day such as Eugene Dally. Furthermore, we should recall that, at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, the term race did not have the same connotations it has today, as can be seen from the fact that certain writings of the workers' movement even spoke (inappropriately, it's true) about the workers as a race (ICC note) .   


[4]. Anti-Duhring. Part III; Socialism, Chapter II Theoretical (ICC note).

[5]. The expression "struggle against nature" is inappropriate. It's a question of the struggle for the mastery of nature: the establishment of a world human community presupposes that it is capable of living in total harmony with nature (ICC note).



General and theoretical questions: