Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Marxism and Darwinism by Anton Pannekoek (2003)

From the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard

(The Socialist Party has just re-issued this pamphlet with the following new introduction)

It could be asked why the Socialist Party in 2003 should re-issue a pamphlet on Marxism and Darwinism written almost a century ago by the Dutch socialist, Anton Pannekoek? Written in 1905, it can hardly be expected to add anything new to the subject of Marxism. Also, since then, there has been a vast accumulation of evidence in support of Darwin's evolutionist theories, with the result that they are almost universally accepted. This may be true but the continuing importance of this pamphlet is for different reasons. Pannekoek brought together the works of Darwin and Marx in a way that not only showed how each complemented the other but also provided vital lessons even for today.

What Pannekoek did was to present in a few simply written pages an integrated view of our human past which enables us to see in clear perspective our origins as an animal species and also our social nature which has been a key part of developing society. He shows how these two sides of our lives, the biological and the social, have not been entirely separate. Particularly in the section “Tools, Thought and Language”, he suggests that our physical attributes, the product of biological evolution, once pre-disposed a toolmaking tradition that stimulated abstract thought, language and an ability to develop socially by accumulating our experience from one generation to another. Eventually this dynamic interaction between the physical, mental and social with the natural environment was expressed as culture and then latterly, history.

What is also important in this pamphlet is its awareness of change. This is not just a reminder of the impermanence of things but also of our powers to create a society better able to provide for our needs. It was for this that Pannekoek recognised the importance of a scientific approach. Although he was trained as an astronomer and mathematician and made significant contributions in these fields, he also realised that it was in the study of human relationships and social problems where sound theory should lead most urgently to sound political action. It was this that took him into the fields of Darwinism and Marxism. “Thus, both teachings, the teachings of Darwin and Marx, the one in the domain of the organic world and the other upon the field of human society, raised the theory of evolution to a positive science.” (page 6)

With The Communist Manifesto issued in 1848, The Origin of Species in 1859 and the first volume of Capital in 1867, within a few years, Darwin and Marx placed our understanding of human origins and developing society on a scientific basis. This gave great strength to radical opinion which challenged supernatural ideas of creation and elitist views of history. Henceforward these lost much of their authority and were placed on the defence.

But the use of Darwinism was not only by those who were against creation and the political power of religion. Vulgarised as merely the “survival of the fittest” in the economic competition between individuals “social Darwinism” was used to justify class society. In this view capitalism was depicted as “the natural order of things”.

Pannekoek comments, “Strong as these arguments may appear at first sight they were not hard for socialists to overcome”. In countering these views he cited the social nature of humankind which meant that individuals draw their strength from co-operation with others. Indeed, human development would never have been possible without co-operation. Because it conferred vital survival advantages on the group co-operation can be said to be more in line with our natural inheritance.

This being the case, although strictly speaking, nothing humans can do can be said to be “unnatural”, it is evident that the class relationships of the capitalist system and the competitive economic individualism through which they operate are most destructive of the interests of the whole community. It was Pannekoek's vision of our past and of our future possibilities inspired by the works of Darwin and Marx that still has the utmost relevance to the plight of humanity today. It sets out the political means by which we can bring our social nature and our needs as individuals into harmony with social relationships based on co-operation.

This is why we are re-issuing this classic pamphlet, not simply because it is a historical document but also because it still blends the science of our origins as a species with an understanding of social development, our problems and what needs to be done to solve them. Like many radical writers of his day, Pannekoek was greatly impressed by the development of science in all fields and especially its application in rapid technical innovation. He was optimistic that progress would lead to a great working class movement and political action to create a classless society in which all means of production and resources will be held in common by all people and used solely for needs.

The fact that this is still to be achieved only adds to the urgency of our need to realise Pannekoek's vision. “With the abolition of classes the entire civilised world will become one great productive community . . . Here a new career opens for man; man's rising from the animal world and carrying on his struggle for existence by the use of tools, ceases, and a new chapter of human history begins.”

The pamphlet can be obtained from:The Socialist Party, 52 Clapham High St, London SW4 7UN for £1.30 (postage included). Cheques and postal orders should be made payable to “The Socialist Party of Great Britain”.

Diary of a worker (1980)

From the November 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard


Woke up. Went to work. Came home, had tea. Switched on box, sat down, fell asleep. Woke up, switched off box, went to bed. Couldn't sleep, finally dropped off at 1 o'clock.


Six o'clock alarm went off. Dragged myself out of bed. Missed bus, late for work. Came home, had tea, switched on box, load of rubbish on a Tuesday. Watched a programme called The Voyage of the Beagle which I thought was a Walt Disney adventure story. Turned out to be about someone called Darwin collecting bugs. Fell asleep in the armchair. Woke up, switched off telly and went to bed. Couldn't sleep, so read Penthouse instead.


Prayed for alarm not to go off. Alarm went off. Pulled myself out of bed. Quick cup of tea and some toast. Switched on tranny for time check. Disc jockey gibbering away. Switched off quickly. Dashed out to bus stop, missed bus, late for work. Bit of excitement in work today. The management was holding a presentation for old Dobbs, who was retiring after fifty years service with the firm; gave us a break from the usual boring routine. They presented him with a digital alarm clock, guaranteed for ten years, which means it will probably last longer than he will. Came home, had tea, switched on the television. Catastrophe! Telly wasn't working. Slumped in chair completely stunned. Too numb to gave a catnap, so I decided to read the Sun which I didn't have time to do in the tea break. Finally decided to have an early night. Couldn't sleep, so I decided to try counting sheep, only trouble was that they all seemed to have old Dobb's face.


Hoped the alarm was broken. Alarm not broken. Crawled out of bed, had breakfast. Jones next door offered to give me a lift into work every morning in exchange for my giving him petrol money, which meant that I could have an extra half-hour in bed every morning. Sauntered out of house and climbed into car. Car wouldn't start. Climbed back out again. Missed bus, late for work. Got a red-hot tip from a man at work whose cousin drinks in the same pub as a man who works in a stable, so at dinner time I nipped out to the bookie's and stuck a pound each way on Dangling Carrot running in the three-fifteen at Doncaster. Horse got beaten by a nose. Came home, had tea. Television fixed. Switched on, sat down. Good night for television. Fred and Ginger tripping the light fantastic. Fell asleep. Woke up, switched off box, went to bed. Finally dropped off at two.


Hoped alarm would fail to go off. Alarm failed to go off. Panic. Jumped out of bed, threw on clothes and rushed out. Quick "Good morning" to Jones's bum sticking out of from under bonnet. Missed bus, late for work. Read in the paper today about a chap who had just won three quarters of a million pounds on the football pools. Too much money for one person. They should divide it up into lots of smaller prizes so that more people would have a better chance of winning. Besides, you couldn't be happy with all that money. Look at all those stories you read about how unhappy rich people are.

Got another sure-fire tip today, this time from the canteen lady whose granny plays the ouija board; Pie In the Sky running in the two-thirty at Lingfield. Since I got paid I could afford two pounds each way. Unfortunately, it didn't have a prayer. Came home, had tea. No telly tonight, instead went up the pub. Had a few pints, played darts, had another few points . . . staggered home, went to bed, no problem falling asleep.


Fell out of bed before alarm went off. Too ill to have breakfast. Actually managed to catch the bus and was congratulating myself when I remembered that I don't work on a Saturday. Back up the pub tonight. Lively and interesting discussion about whether that last goal was offside at today's match, and then down to the serious business of playing our darts league match. Out of the pub and into the Chinese take-away, then home in time for the late-night double movie bill: Carry on Wage-Slave followed by: The Night of the Blood Sucking Parasite.


Best day of the week. Walked round to the pub for a couple of pints before dinner. Afterwards it was such a nice day, I decided to stroll home through the park so that I could work up an appetite for my favourite meal, that traditional English dinner of roast soya beef, and instant Yorkshire pudding. I was crossing the square when I spotted this guy up on a soap-box, so I stopped for a laugh. He was talking about a world without money! What a load of rubbish. I was going to stay and shoot down all his commie arguments but then I realised that it was almost time for Match of the Day so I decided instead to leave with one really witty parting shot, I shouted: "Why don't you go back to Russia?!" Nobody laughed. They were probably all Commies too. Imagine, a world without money! No money to buy all the things you want. Doesn't bear thinking about. Arrive home to see Jones's feet sticking out from beneath his car. He asked me if I was going back round for a few pints later on. Mumbled an excuse about having to something in the house. Actually, I didn't want to admit that I'd spent the last of my pocket money, so I stayed in and watched the telly instead. Some good films showing on a Sunday night, only trouble is that they are on too late. Went to bed. Couldn't sleep. Very restless tonight, kept thinking about that guy and his world without money. Told me that I was a slave! Crazy. I'm free to do what I like. Eventually dropped off to sleep at three . . . at six the alarm went off . . .