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

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sun Dec 24 2006 - 10:03:48 EST

"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. 


Plekhanov concedes the point, in the section above, that:

a) "there is not a single feature [associated with 'human nature', JL]
which is not found in some other variety of animal"; and

b) "there is absolutely no foundation for considering man to be some
special being and separating him off into a separate 'kingdom'".

but ...


> 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. <

Note the inference by Plekhanov concerning the evolution of the species

The implication here is that humans only became fully human with the
development of their tool-making abilities.   From that perspective, human 
societies that have  developed productive forces to a higher level could be 
seen as being "superior" and more advanced from an _evolutionary_ perspective!
This is a dangerous perspective politically. 

To begin with, humans at the dawn of human history (i.e. after the creation 
of  the new species) are just as human as humans in our time.   I know of no 
credible scientific or anthropological evidence to the contrary.

Even worse is the implication that the humans in  "more advanced" human 
societies, in terms of the development of the forces of production, are more
"human" than those in social formations in which the forces of production 
are less developed!   

But, anyway, thanks for the reference.  I think it locates well the origins of 
a particular perspective on these issues among Marxists going back to
Engels, continuing on with Plekhanov, and continuing still further with 
more recent advocates of 'dialectical materialism'.  It raises the issue
of whether there were some Eurocentric biases in "classical Marxist"

Best wishes for the holidays and 2007!

In solidarity, Jerry

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