Abstract: This article surveys an unpublished piece in which Engels examined the ecological conditions of Ireland in a chapter, entitled the “Natural Conditions” in his unfinished History of Ireland. This is the only time that either Marx or Engels analysed in detail the specific ecological structure of a particular social formation. In interpreting Engels’ findings, dialectically, we are able to explicate a dialectical framework that gives us a greater insight into how Engels understands how the dialectics of nature enfold in a particular bio-region and crucially those same organic processes of nature provide the necessary ecological conditions for society to engage in agricultural cultivation.
The geological system of Ireland and its particular sieve-like structure moderates the climatic condition of excessive rainfall so that cultivation can continue. The stony soil system plays a similar function to the limestone bedrock, in that it channels water through it. This piece of investigation by Engels can be seen as a concrete case study into the dynamic metabolising relationships between the diverse organic processes of Nature as they are appropriated by society in agricultural production. The conceptual trajectory of this dialectical analysis is to emphasise the inherent fluidity, mutual interaction and ‘universal connection’ of the forces of nature. This particular work of Engels on Ireland is a significant contribution to our understanding of not only of the dialectics of nature but also the methodology of dialectics.