[OPE-L] Plekhanov on humans as tool making animals

From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Sun Dec 24 2006 - 08:53:19 EST

Hi All, 
The following passages from Plekhanov's *The Development of the Monist View  
of History* (Chapter V) reminded me of our debates on Marx's conception of  
I wish you all some enjoybale days with your families and friends and a happy 
 new year. 
"Franklin called man “a tool-making animal.” The use and production of tools 
 in fact does constitute the distinguishing feature of man. Darwin contests 
the  opinion that only man is capable of the use of tools, and gives many 
examples  which show that in an embryonic form their use is characteristic for many 
 mammals. And he naturally is quite right from his point of view, i.e., in 
the  sense that in that notorious “human nature” there is not a single feature 
which  is not to be found in some other variety of animal, and that therefore 
there is  absolutely no foundation for considering man to be some special 
being and  separating him off into a special “kingdom.” But it must not be 
forgotten that  quantitative differences pass into qualitative. What exists as an  
embryo in one species of animal can become the distinguishing  feature of 
another species of animal. This particularly applies to the use  of tools. An 
elephant breaks off branches and uses them to brush away flies.  This is 
interesting and instructive. But in the history of the evolution of the  species “
elephant” the use of branches in the fight against flies  probably played no 
essential part; elephants did not become elephants because  their more or less 
elephant-like ancestors brushed off flies with branches. It  is quite otherwise with 
man. _[8]_ (http://www.marx.org/archive/plekhanov/1895/monist/ch05.htm#n8)  
The whole existence of the Australian savage depends on his boomerang, just  
as the whole existence of modern Britain depends on her machines. Take away 
from  the Australian his boomerang, make him a tiller of the soil, and he of 
necessity  will change all his mode of life, all his habits, all his manner of 
thinking,  all his “nature.” 
We have said: make him a tiller of the soil. From the example of  agriculture 
it can clearly be seen that the process of the productive action of  man on 
nature presupposes not only the implements of labour. The implements of  labour 
constitute only part of the means necessary for production. Therefore it  
will be more exact to speak, not of the development of the implements of  labour, 
but more generally of the development of the means of  production, the 
productive forces – although it is quite certain  that the most important part in 
this development belongs, or at least belonged  tip to the present day (until 
important chemical industries appeared)  precisely to the implements of labour. 
In the implements of labour man acquires new organs, as it were, which change 
 his anatomical structure. From the time that he rose to the level of using 
them,  he has given quite a new aspect to the history of his development. 
Previously,  as with all the other animals, it amounted to changes in his natural 
organs.  Since that time it has become first of all the history of the 
perfecting of  his artificial organs, the growth of his productive forces. 
Man – the tool-making animal – is at the same time a social  animal, 
originating in ancestors who for many generations lived in more or  less large herds. 
For us it is not important at this point why our ancestors  began to live in 
herds-the zoologists have to ascertain, and are  ascertaining, this-but from 
the point of view of the philosophy of history it is  extremely important to 
note that from the time the artificial organs of man  began to play a decisive 
part in his existence, his social life itself began to  change, in accordance 
with the course of development of his productive  forces. 
“In production, men not only act on nature but also on one another. They  
produce only by co-operating in a certain way and mutually exchanging their  
activities. In order to produce, they enter into definite connections and  
relations with one another and only within these social connections and  relations 
does their action on nature, does production, take place.” _[9]_ 
The artificial organs, the implements of labour, thus turn out to be organs  
not so much of individual as of social man. That is why every essential  
change in them brings about changes in the social structure. 
“These social relations into which the producers. enter with one  another, 
the conditions under which they ex-change their activities and  participate in 
the whole act of production, will naturally vary according to the  character of 
the means of production. With the invention of a new instrument of  warfare, 
fire-arms, the whole internal organization of the army necessarily  changed; 
the relationships within which individuals can constitute an army and  act as 
an army were transformed and the relations of different armies to one  another 
also changed. Thus the social relations within which individuals  produce, the 
social relations of production, change, are transformed, with the  change and 
development of the material means of production, the productive  forces. The 
relations of production in their totality constitute what are called  the 
social relations, society, and, specifically, a society at a definite stage  of 
historical development, a society with a peculiar, distinctive character.  
Ancient society, feudal society, bourgeois society are such totalities of  
production relations, each of which at the same time denotes a special stage of  
development, in the history of mankind.” _[10]_ 
It is hardly necessary to add that the earlier stages of human  development 
represent also no less distinct totalities of production relations.  It is 
equally unnecessary to repeat that, at these earlier stages too, the state  of the 
productive forces had a decisive influence on the social relations of  men."

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