Joseph Dietzgen

Joseph Dietzgen
Full name Joseph Dietzgen
Born December 9, 1828
Blankenberg, Germany
Died April 15, 1888
Chicago, United States
Era 19th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Socialism
Main interests Epistemology
Notable ideas Dialectical materialism

Joseph Dietzgen (December 18281888) was a German socialist philosopher and a Marxist.

Joseph was born in Blankenberg in the Rhine Province of Prussia. He was the first of five children of father Johann Gottfried Anno Dietzgen (1794–1887) and mother Anna Margaretha Lckerath (1808–1881). He was, like his father, a tanner by profession; inheriting his uncle's business in Siegburg. Entirely self-educated, he developed the notion of dialectical materialism independently from Marx and Engels as an independent philosopher of socialist theory. His publications had major influences on Vladimir Lenin and the Russian Revolution of 1917, which are rarely commented on today. Ludwig Feuerbach's works had a great influence on his early theories. He had one son, Eugene Dietzgen.


[edit] Life as a Revolutionary/Philosopher

Early on in his youth, Joseph Dietzgen worked with the famed '48ers of the 1848 German Revolution. It was there that he first met Karl Marx and other socialist revolutionaries, as well began his career as a socialist philosopher. Following the failure of the 1848 Revolution he spent some time in the United States from 1849 to 1851, returning once again for a visit from 1859 to 1861. While in the New World he traversed the American South and witnessed first hand the lynchings which had come to characterize the slave states. During the period between his travels, Dietzgen joined the Alliance of Communists with Karl Marx back in Germany in 1852. In 1853, after marrying his wife Cordula Finke, he established his tannery business in Winterscheid, Germany. When he returned to the United States he set up another tannery in Montgomery, Alabama. From 1864 to 1868, he lived with his son Eugene in St. Petersburg, where he was headmaster in the state tannery. He worked with the Tsar of Russia on improvement of the Russian methods.[1] During his time spent in Russia he wrote one of his earliest texts, The Nature of Human Brain-Work, which was published in 1869. While he traveled, his wife managed the family tannery business back in Germany until he returned in mid 1869.[1] Once he was back home, he was visited by Marx and his daughter, who proclaimed that Joseph had become "the Philosopher" of socialism. By 1870, Marx had embraced Dietzgen as a friend, and later praised him and his theory of dialectical materialism in the 2nd edition of the first volume of Das Kapital.

On the 8th of June 1878, Dietzgen was arrested because of the article lectured and later printed in Cologne: The future of the social democracy. He spent 3 months in prison before his trial was absolved and Joseph was released with his articles. In 1881 Joseph sent his son Eugene to the United States in order to avoid the Kaiser's upcoming army draft, to safeguard his articles and documents, as well as to secure a family home in the new world. Young Eugene was 19 when he arrived in New York, but quickly jump started a family business which still exists today as the Eugene Dietzgen Drafting Corporation. During this period, Eugene and Joseph kept in close contact through extensive letters which are currently being documented and published. In the same year, he ran for the elections of the German Reichstag (the parliament), but emigrated in 1884 to New York City. He moved to Chicago two years later, where he became editor at the Arbeiterzeitung. Unfortunately Joseph's death in 1888 marked an end to his son's dependency, but his family line would continue to be part of some of the biggest engagements of the 20th century; from World War I, to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, to the heart of World War II.[2]

Dietzgen was later put on a stamp by the DDR. (

[edit] Dialectical Materialism

Probably Dietzgen's largest contribution to Marxist analysis was his philosophical theory of dialectical materialism, a method of understanding reality through the combination of Feuerbach's materialism and Hegel's dialectic. This overall principal asserts that society functions on a system of 'movers' which facilitate development; the economy (or the exchange of commodities) being the primary 'mover'. Marx emphasized the importance of this analysis indirectly in the first volume of Das Kapital, where he explains early on the importance of the commodity in understanding the effects of capitalism on use-value and surplus value. Dialectical materialism is also referenced in the Communist Manifesto when Marx states that "The history of all hitherto society is the history of class struggles."[3]

Dietzgen's words and life have for some underscored the unity that existed on the political left at the time of the First International, before Anarchists, Revolutionaries, and Social Democrats were later divided: "For my part, I lay little stress on the distinction, whether a man is an anarchist or a socialist, because it seems to me that too much weight is attributed to this difference." In this, he acted to reconcile marxists and anarchists (see Anarchism and Marxism).

In contrast, some of his works were quoted extensively by Lenin in the latter's philosophical polemic - notably the second last work as against the very last which is ignored entirely. Hence a list of Dietzgen's relevant philosophical works with accompanying dates of composition - not publication - can help to elucidate his philosophical evolution.

[edit] Death

Joseph died at home smoking a cigar. He had taken a stroll in Lincoln Park, and was having a political discussion in a "vivacious and excited" manner about the "imminent collapse of capitalist production". He stopped in mid-sentence with his hand in the air - dead of paralysis of the heart. He is currently buried at the Waldheim Cemetery[4] (now Forest Home Cemetery), in Forest Park, Chicago, a few feet away from the Haymarket Martyrs.

[edit] Major works

Das Wesen der menschlichen Kopfarbeit, 1869, engl "The Nature of Human Brainwork",

"The Religion of Social Democracy" (in six sermons from 1870–1875).

"Scientific Socialism" (1873).

"The Ethics of Social Democracy" (1875).

"Social Democratic Philosophy" (1876).

"The Inconceivable: a Special Chapter in Social-Democratic Philosophy" (1877).

"The Limits of Cognition" (1877).

"Our Professors on the Limits of Cognition" (1878).

"Letters on Logic" (addressed to Eugen Dietzgen) (1880–1884).

"Excursions of a Socialist into the Domain of Epistemology" (1886).

"The Positive Outcome of Philosophy" (1887).

More recent editions:

  • Nature of Human Brain Work: An Introduction to Dialectics, Left Bank Books, Reprint 1984
  • Philosophical Essays on Socialism and Science, Religion, Ethics; Critique-Of-Reason and the World-At-Large , Kessinger Publications, 2004, ISBN 1432615130
  • The Positive Outcome of Philosophy; The Nature of Human Brain Work; Letters on Logic, Kessinger Publications, 2007, ISBN 054822210X

[edit] Collected Writings

  • Josef Dietzgen, Smtliche Schriften, hrsg. von Eugen Dietzgen, 4. Auflage, Berlin, 1930
  • Joseph Dietzgen, Schriften in drei Bnden, hrsg. von der Arbeitsgruppe fr Philosophie an der Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR zu Berlin, Berlin, 1961–1965

[edit] Secondary literature


  • Anton Pannekoek: "The Standpoint and Significance of Josef Dietzgen's Philosophical Works" - Introduction to Joseph Dietzgen, The Positive Outcome of Philosophy, Chicago, 1928


  • SPD-Protokollnotizen S. 176; Liebknecht 1988, Biographisches Lexikon 1970, Dietzgen 1930, Friedrich Ebert-Stiftung, Digitale Bibliothek
  • P. Dr. Gabriel Busch O.S.B.: Im Spiegel der Sieg, Verlag Abtei Michaelsberg, Siegburg 1979
  • Josef Dietzgen, Smtliche Schriften, hrsg. von Eugen Dietzgen, 4. Auflage, Berlin, 1930
  • Joseph Dietzgen, Schriften in drei Bnden, hrsg. von der Arbeitsgruppe fr Philosophie an der Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR zu Berlin, Berlin, 1961–1965
  • Otto Finger, Joseph Dietzgen – Beitrag zu den Leistungen des deutschen Arbeiterphilosophen, Berlin, 1977
  • Gerhard Huck, Joseph Dietzgen (1828–1888) – Ein Beitrag zur Ideengeschichte des Sozialismus im 19. Jahrhundert, in der Reihe Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Bochumer Historische Schriften, Band 22, Stuttgart, 1979, ISBN 3-12-913170-1
  • Horst Grbner, Joseph Dietzgens publizistische Ttigkeit, unverffentlichte Magisterarbeit an der J-W-G-Universitt, Frankfurt/M, 1982
  • Anton Pannekoek, "Die Stellung u. Bedeutung von J. Dietzgens philosophischen Arbeiten" in: Josef Dietzgen, Das Wesen der menschlichen Kopfarbeit ; Eine abermalige Kritik der reinen und praktischen Vernunft, Stuttgart: J. H. W. Dietz Nachf., 1903

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b Feldmann, Vera Dietzgen, interview by Joshua J. Morris. Joseph Dietzgen Research (April 16, 2008)
  2. ^ Feldmann, Vera Dietzgen, interview by Joshua J. Morris. Joseph Dietzgen Research (May 2, 2008)
  3. ^ Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. The Communist Manifesto. London, 1848.
  4. ^ The Original Joseph Dietzgen Web Page

[edit] External links

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