Engels’ Dialectics of—Human Activity in—Nature

Siyaveş Azeri
Pages 69-97| Published online: 27 Jan 2022

Azeri, Siyaveş. 2022. “Engels’ Dialectics of—Human Activity in—Nature.” Marxism & Sciences 1(1):69–97.


Several Marxist theorists criticize Engels for his supposed non-dialectical and non-philosophical conceptualization of “praxis,” which, according to Lukacs, amounts to Engels’ alleged misunderstanding of Kantian “thing-in-itself.” I argue that such “criticisms” of Engels is based on a dualistic understanding of practical vs. theoretical. Contrary to the critiques’ allegations, Engels provides an account of prax-is/labour as a philosophical category that is truthful to Marx’s and his own earlier efforts for constituting a materialist dialectics—one that anticipates the concept of “human activity” elaborated particularly in philosophical works of Evald Ilyenkov and psychological studies of Lev Vygotsky. According to Engels, the so-called laws of dialectics are historical thus depending on human activity as it is “with man [that] we enter history.” Furthermore, it is through labour (the highest form of human activity) that not only the human hands but also social humanity and human consciousness have been constituted. Thus, laws of dialectics are the most general laws of human activity in social nature. Engels, truthful to Marx’s materialist method, prioritizes action over substance.

Keywords: Dialectics, praxis, activity, labour, substance.


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