Engels-Marx Letters, 30 & 31 May 1873:
Engels’ first brainstorm on science & dialectics

Engels to Marx in Manchester

[London,] 30 May 1873 697

Dear Moor,

This morning in bed the following dialectical points about the natural sciences came into my head:

The object of science: matter in motion, bodies. Bodies cannot be separated from motion, their forms and kinds can only be apprehended in motion; nothing can be said about bodies divorced from motion, divorced from all relation to other bodies. Only in motion does the body reveal what it is. Hence natural science obtains knowledge about bodies by examining them in their relationship to each other, in motion. Cognition of the various forms of motion is cognition of bodies. The investigation of these various forms of motion is therefore the chief object of the natural sciences. b

1. The simplest form of motion is change of place (within time, to do old Hegel a favour)—mechanical motion.

a) There is no such thing as the motion of a single body, but relatively speaking one can talk of a falling body in such terms. Motion towards a centre common to many bodies. However, as soon as a single body moves in a direction other than towards the centre, the laws of falling still apply, it is true, but they are modified c

b Marginal note by Carl Schorlemmer: ‘Very good; my own view. C. S.’

c Marginal note by Carl Schorlemmer: ‘Quite right.’

b) into the laws of trajectories and lead directly to the interaction of several bodies—planetary, etc., motion, astronomy, equilibrium—temporarily or apparently to motion itself. The real result of this kind of motion, however, is ultimately always the contact of the moving bodies; they fall into one another.

c) Mechanics of contact—bodies in contact. Ordinary mechanics, levers, inclined planes, etc. But this does not exhaust the effects of contact. Contact is manifested directly in two forms: friction and impact. It is a characteristic of both that, at certain degrees of intensity and under certain conditions, they give rise to new effects, no longer of a merely mechanical nature: heat, light, electricity, magnetism.

2. Physics proper, the science of these forms of motion, establishes the fact, after investigating each form of motion separately, that they merge into one another under certain conditions, and ultimately discovers that given a certain degree of intensity, which varies for different moving bodies, they all produce effects that transcend physics; changes in the internal structure of bodies—chemical effects.

3. Chemistry. In the case of the preceding forms of motion it was more or less immaterial whether the bodies under investigation were animate or inanimate. In fact inanimate objects revealed the nature of the phenomena involved in their greatest purity. Chemistry, on the other hand, can only discover the chemical nature of the most important bodies by using substances deriving from the life process. Its principal task is increasingly that of producing these substances synthetically. It forms the transition to the science of organisms, but the dialectical point of transition can only be constructed when chemistry has effected the real transition or is on the point of doing so. a

4. Organism—for the present I shall not indulge in any dialectical speculations on the subject. b

Since you are at the very centre of the natural sciences there, you will be in the best position to judge whether there is anything in it or not.


F. E.

If you think I am on to something, don’t tell anyone about it lest some rotten Englishman or other makes off with it. Working it all out will take a long time yet.

First published in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Bd. IV, Stuttgart, 1913. Printed according to the original.

a Marginal note by Carl Schorlemmer in English: ‘That’s the point!’

b Marginal note by Carl Schorlemmer: ‘Nor shall I. C.S.’

697 In this letter, Engels sets forth his ideas for The Dialectics of Nature (see present edition, Vol. 25), which he began in 1873. The letter was sent to Manchester, where Marx was staying at the time. Engels requested Marx to have Carl Schorlemmer and Samuel Moore read it; the manuscript still contains Schorlemmer’s marginal notes which are reproduced as footnotes in the volume.

Part of this letter was published in English for the first time in: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Correspondence. 1846-1895. A Selection with Commentary and Notes, Martin Lawrence Ltd., London [1934]; and in full in: Marx and Engels, Selected Correspondence, Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1955.—500

SOURCE: Engels, Friedrich. Letter to Karl Marx in Manchester, London, 30 May 1873, in MECW, vol. 44, Letter 300, pp. 500, 502-504, 673-674. Image of first page of Engels’ letter to Marx is on p. 501.

Marx to Engels in London

[Manchester,] 31 May 1873 37

25 Dover Street


Have just received your letter which edified me greatly. However, I shall venture no judgment until I have had time to reflect on the matter and consult the 'authorities'. a

I have been telling Moore about a problem with which I have been racking my brains for some time now. However, he thinks it is insoluble, at least pro tempore, because of the many factors involved, factors which for the most part have yet to be discovered. The problem is this: you know about those graphs in which the movements of prices, discount rates, etc., etc., over the year, etc., are shown in rising and falling zigzags. I have variously attempted to analyse crises by calculating these UPS AND DOWNS as irregular curves and I believed (and still believe it would be possible if the material were sufficiently studied) that I might be able to determine mathematically the principal laws governing crises. As I said, Moore thinks it cannot be done at present and I have resolved to give it up FOR THE TIME BEING.

The French catastrophe [………pp. 504-506]

Schorlemmer has just arrived. He cannot accompany Moore and me because Roscoe is unwell and this is the period for preparing for exams.

Schorlemmer read your letter and says that he is essentially in agreement with you but reserves his judgment on points of detail.



K. M.

First published in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Bd. IV, Stuttgart, 1913. Published in English in full for the first time.

a Carl Schorlemmer and Samuel Moore.

37 Part of this letter was published in English for the first time in: Marx on Revolution. Translated by Saul K. Padover, New York, 1971.—22, 504

SOURCE: Marx, Karl. Letter to Friedrich Engels in London, Manchester, 31 May 1873, in MECW, vol. 44, Letter 301, pp. 504, 506 [excerpts extracted from 504-506], 595.

In spite of the heavy burden of International business, Marx and Engels continued their intense theoretical activity. The correspondence in this volume enables one to trace the writing by Marx and Engels of several important works. Apart from those mentioned above, they include the preface by Marx and Engels to the 1872 German edition of the Manifesto of the Communist Party and Engels’ work The Housing Question. Engels’ letter to Marx of 30 May 1873 contains the first outline of the philosophical work planned by him, Dialectics of Nature (see this volume, pp. 500-03).

SOURCE: Marx Engels Collected Works, Volume 44 (London; New York; Moscow, 1975), Preface, p. XXXIII.

See also:

Liedman, Sven-Eric. The Game of Contradictions: the Philosophy of Friedrich Engels and Nineteenth Century Science, edited and translated by J. N. Skinner. Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2023. (Historical Materialism Book Series, 1570-1522; volume 274)

Originally published in Swedish in 1977, this book has finally been translated into English (with a new author’s preface) and analyses Engels’ work saturated in the context of 19th century science and scientific ideologies. See also the online presentation (with me as audience member) in of the book sponsored by Historical Materialism, on 11 January 2024. — RD

Engels contra Holism

Friedrich Engels on Empiricism, Spiritualism, Science,
Mysticism, and Philosophical Naivete

Engels on the British Ideology:
Empiricism, Agnosticism, & “Shamefaced Materialism”

Marx & Engels on elliptical motion & dialectical contradiction

Dialectics in A Dictionary of Marxist Thought /
Roy Edgley, Roy Bhaskar, Robert M. Young

Essence of dialectical method vs ideology:
key links

Greek Philosophy, the Scientific Revolution, Abstraction,
Phenomenology, & the Money Economy:
Selected Bibliography

Positivism vs Life Philosophy (Lebensphilosophie) Study Guide

Marx and Marxism Web Guide

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