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The Westminster Review (essay date 1892)

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The Westminster Review (essay date 1892)

SOURCE: Review of The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, in The Westminster Review, Vol. CXXXVII, June, 1892, pp. 702-03.

[In the following excerpt, the anonymous critic reviews the 1892 reprint of Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (originally published in 1845) and finds fault with the book's attack on the capitalist system.]

We have received the two new volumes of the “Social Science Series,” The Condition of the Working Classes in England in 1844,1 by Frederick Engels, and Commercial Crises of the Nineteenth Century,2 by H. M. Hyndman. Of these the former is a reprint of a book which appeared first in 1845, and its author is not ashamed of the “good and faulty features” of the work of his youth; he even regards with wonder the fact that so many of the prophecies he then made have proved right. It is indeed true that the number of such is exceedingly small; perhaps the most successful is that found on page 87, where we read that a crisis may be expected in 1847, more violent and more lasting than that of 1842; the footnote tells us that “it came in 1847.” This instance is barely sufficient upon which to found a claim to infallibility. We hear nothing of the revolution in England promised on page 18, “in comparison with which the French Revolution and the year 1794 will prove to have been child's play.”

It is, perhaps, well that we should be reminded of the sins of our fathers; and certainly they are brought very clearly before us in this book, and here, perhaps, is the justification for its republication. But in theory its author is less fortunate than in statement of fact. All the horrors of overcrowding, of tyranny and immorality, which meet us on every page of the book, have now been partially remedied, or at least mitigated; hence it is obvious that the supposition here advanced that they are due to the capitalist (or bourgeois) system is unsound, for that system has developed since 1842, and yet the evils due to it have been lessened.

We cannot follow the details of this book, but we may notice two main objections which may be urged against this and many similar works. It is surely unwise to take Karl Marx as an infallible guide after his main positions have been disproved over and over again. Socialism, indeed, seems to be behind the times in its arguments, and indeed in its very basis, if it can be said to have one. Secondly, we notice that this book shares in the fault of many other German, and especially Socialist writers. Their view of England's economic condition is generally incomplete, and is based upon the assumption that Englishmen will act, under given circumstances, as their own countrymen do. Hence Mr. Rae could say that “England is the despair of the foreign Socialist,” since there is little analogy between the English and Continental working man. This difference is due to different traditions, ideals, and prospects. Tradition has taught the English labourer to rely on lawful means of obtaining his aims, and past success justifies and strengthens his tradition, and bids him reject the more violent measures of the foreign Socialist. He does not wish to destroy capitalists, but rather to become one himself, and raise himself as he sees others rise round him day by day. In short there is in England no such sharp class distinction as Socialist writers assume; and ignorance of this fact has naturally enough led to the invention of worthless theories and conclusions. …


  1. The Condition of the Working Classes in England in 1844. By Frederick Engels. Translated by Florence Kelley Wischnenetzy.

  2. Commercial Crises of the Nineteenth Century. By H. M. Hyndman. (“Social Science Series”). London: Swan, Sonnenschein & Co. 1892.

The Spectator (essay date 1892)

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SOURCE: “A Communistic Prophet,” in The Spectator, No. 3,349, Sept. 3, 1892, pp. 326-27.

[In the following essay, the anonymous critic comments on the 1892 reprinting of The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, discussing specifically the preface Engels wrote for the new edition. The critic suggests that the book was worth republishing “if only to show what foolish things a clever man may say.”]

There are men who lack the courage of their convictions. Of these is not Mr. Frederick Engels. He has the courage both of his convictions and his predictions. In 1845 he wrote a book, from the communistic point of view, on the condition of the working class in England, which he described as being so bad that it could not well be worse, imputing all their woes to the greed of capitalists and the selfishness of the bourgeoisie, meaning thereby all who do not earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. This book [The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. With Preface written in 1892. By Frederick Engels. London: Swan Sonnensehein and Co.], which has been long out of print, is now republished, with a preface dated January, 1892, wherein the author reaffirms his opinions, and protests anew that what he calls the capitalistic system is alone responsible for the evils which he exaggerates and deplores; the inference, of course, being that if this system were replaced by State Communism, violently or otherwise, the working classes would be made happy as by the stroke of an enchanter's wand, and everything be for the best in the best of possible worlds. This conclusion, be it observed, is unsupported either by argument or evidence; for, like the traditional judge, Mr. Engels offers no reasons for his judgments, and lays down the law with the unhesitating confidence of an infallible Pope delivering himself of a new dogma. Nevertheless, his book is well-timed and was perhaps worth republishing, if only to show what foolish things a clever man may say. Mr. Engels has a swift and vigorous style; he testifies in many instances as an eye-witness, and his description of the condition of the working classes at the period in question, though not always accurate, is vivid and picturesque.

By comparing his account of past times with our own knowledge of the present, we see how great are the strides we have made since 1844, how much better off are the masses, how much pleasanter their lives, how much brighter their prospects,—and all without that cataclysm which Mr. Engels foretold and apparently desired. He asserted (writing in 1845) that by 1852 or 1853 (there is nothing like being exact) the English people would have had “enough of being plundered by the capitalists, and left to starve when the capitalists no longer required their services;” and then he goes on:—

If, up to that time, the English bourgeoisie does not pause to reflect,—and to all appearance it certainly will not do so,—a revolution will follow with which none hitherto known can be compared. The proletarians, driven to despair, will seize the torch which Stephens has preached to them (sic); the vengeance will come down with a wrath of which the rage of 1793 gives no true idea. The war of the poor against the rich will be the bloodiest ever waged. Even the union of a part of the bourgeoisie with the proletariat, even a general reform of the bourgeoisie, would not help matters. … These are inferences which may be drawn with the greatest certainty; conclusions, the premises for which are undeniable facts, partly of historical development, partly facts inherent in human nature. Prophecy is nowhere so easy as in England, where all the component elements of society are clearly defined and sharply separated.

Why prophecy should be easy because the component elements are sharply defined, is not made plain to us. This, however, is a mere detail; if we are unable to follow Mr. Engels's arguments, that is no reason why we should not accept his conclusions; and it is evident, from the tone of his preface, that neither the failure of his forecasts nor the logic of facts has disturbed the serenity of his self-confidence. The bourgeoisie are still his abhorrence; and if they treat the working man better than they did in days gone by, it is with the object of getting more work out of him, or for some equally sordid reason. Even the improvement, which our author admits, “makes more evident the central fact that the cause of the miserable condition of the working class is to be sought, not in these minor grievances (such as have been redressed since 1844), but in the capitalistic system itself.” The alternative of the capitalistic system is the suppression of private capitalists, and the organisation of industry by the State. The State would become the universal employer, producer, and paymaster. Factories, machine-shops, newspapers, farms, and, we presume, every other enterprise now worked on the “capitalistic system,” would be “run” by Government officers in the interest of the community. It passes comprehension how people of culture, men who can think like Marx and write like Mr. Engels, are able to persuade themselves and others of the feasibility of State socialism. Everybody who knows aught of human nature, or has any acquaintance with affairs, knows that no such system could by any possibility succeed, that it could not even be initiated without a degree of confusion and coercion, confiscation and oppression from which the mind shrinks in dismay. And yet there are millions in Germany, and probably as many in France, who believe that with the triumph of social democracy would begin an industrial millennium, an era of uninterrupted prosperity. The rank and file believe it partly because they think any change would be for the better, partly because they are told so by their leaders; their leaders believe it, either because they are incapable of reasoning, or because, like some mediæval saints, they ignore reason and despise facts. Able man as he is, it does not seem to occur to Mr. Engels that when he assails the existing economic system, and asserts that some other system which has never been tried would remove the evils he sets forth, the burden of proof rests with him. He cannot know that the cataclysm which he desires would produce the result which he predicts. He only thinks so, and The Condition of the Working Class so abounds with anticipations which have been falsified by the event, that a better title for it would be “The Vanity of Prophesying.” In 1845, he denounced Free trade and the Repeal of the Corn Laws, because, in his opinion, they would be followed by a fall of wages. They have been followed by a rise of wages, probably greater than ever previously took place in so short a time, a rise which has coincided with a 20 per cent. diminution, in the textile and engineering trades, of working time. Forty-eight years ago the factory day was twelve hours; it is now nine and a half, and the purchasing power of money is greater than it was then. With more thrift and less drink, the working class of this country would be as well off as the mass of mankind can hope to be,—or probably ever will be. For years past the tendency has been for profits to fall and wages to rise; and the extinction or serious diminution of the capital, which so greatly rouses communistic ire, would be the utter ruin of wage-earners.

Another communistic theory, one which Mr. Engels proclaims in almost every chapter of his book, is that society is divided into two distinct classes, bourgeoisie and proletarians; and as the latter are defined as depending on their day's work (when they can get it) for their day's food, the former category must include all who have aught to lose, whether they be “hands” who have saved money, or factory-masters who have made fortunes. Socialists contend that the proletarians are in the majority. But this is a pure assumption. We, on the contrary, contend that the Haves outnumber the Have-nots; and even the Have-nots in this country, whatever they may be in Germany, are a long way from believing that a general cataclysm would improve their condition. In truth, Socialism of the sort advocated by Mr. Engels, though a noisy creed, is a hopeless cause. Even in Germany, where the governing classes so much dread it, and its votaries are so many, a social revolution is altogether inconceivable. Whether the bourgeoisie outnumber the proletarians or not, they are, at any rate, a powerful minority; dispose of all the wealth of the community and all the forces of the State, and include the ablest and most energetic members of the community. The issue of a contest waged under these conditions could hardly be doubtful; and a Communistic revolution without a contest is not in the nature of things. One chief function and raison d'être of Governments is the encouragement of thrift by the protection of property; and as the chief object of militant Socialists is the suppression of private property, an object which can be attained only by despoiling individual owners, they would be resisted to the death not alone by the constituted authorities, but by every man who has aught to lose.

Nevertheless, the teachings of gentlemen like Mr. Engels do an infinity of mischief. We make no doubt that he is a humane man, who would shrink with horror from the idea of putting a single capitalist to death. Unfortunately, behind him and his like are men who accept their doctrines in blind faith, and scruple not to carry them into effect. The Paris insurrections of 1849-1872, which cost the lives of thousands, were due to the teachings of Communistic prophets, and the outrages which have lately terrorised the French capital, are causing so much confusion in the United States, and will inevitably, if repeated, provoke cruel reprisals, are the handiwork of fanatics who have sat at the feet of the cultured advocates of anarchy and disorder.

The Economic Journal (essay date 1895)

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The Economic Journal (essay date 1895)

SOURCE: The Economic Journal, Vol. V, No. 19, September, 1895, pp. 490-92.

[In this obituary, the anonymous author discusses the London death of Engels and offers a brief summary of Engels' life, works, and collaboration with Karl Marx.]

It will be news to many who have long associated Engels with Marx and Marx with Engels, that Friedrich Engels was living quietly in London till the 5th of August, 1895, when the fatal cancer ended his career. He had been long our guest, and we had treated him well; we had allowed him to carry out his work unmolested, in the ways he liked best.

As Liebknecht said, ‘we cannot think of the one man without the other, and there is no third.’ Yet Engels began his public career by a work that seems to have been entirely his own, the book on The Condition of the Working Classes in England (1845). It was finished in Barmen, Rhenish Prussia, where Engels was born (1820), and where he had learned the business of a cotton manufacturer, as the son of a wealthy employer. But it was built on observations and studies of English facts and English records, due to a two years' residence in Manchester (1843-4). Though this remarkable book is probably in no debt to Marx, the author had met Marx and worked with him in Paris (1844), when the Deutsch-französischeJahrbücher was running its brief course. Engels claims to have taught the ‘brazen law of wages' in that journal (in a Criticism of Political Economy). A review there of Carlyle's Past and Present is strikingly sympathetic, except (as might be expected) on religion; and Carlyle is quoted now and again by Engels in his later books. To Engels and to Marx, English industry was the typical industry, and English economics the classical economics; the study of both was an essential stage in the training of a socialist if he were to be a scientific socialist and not a dreamer or Utopian of the school of St. Simon or Robert Owen. Engels took part with Marx in the polemical as well as the more ‘scientific' work. The Holy Family, for example, a disagreeable proof of the brutality of controversy on the Continent fifty years ago, was an attack (1844) by the two now inseparable authors on their at one time beloved friend Bruno Bauer, and others. The famous Communistic Manifesto, whatever we think of it otherwise, is profoundly serious. It was issued by Marx and Engels in 1848 on the invitation of the League of Communists, holding its meetings in London. The preface written by Engels, 28th June, 1883, immediately after the death of his friend, puts its leading ideas clearly:—

The economic production of every epoch of history, with its necessary consequences in the way of social organisation, forms the foundation of the political and intellectual history of the epoch in question. Accordingly (since the dissolution of the original community of landed possessions) all history has become a history of class-conflicts, conflicts between the despoiled and the despoiling, the ruled and the ruling classes, at different stages of social development. But this conflict has now reached a stage in which the despoiled and subject class (the proletariate) cannot free itself from the despoiling and dominating (the middle classes) without freeing at the same time the whole of society together, along with it, for ever, from spoil and domination and class conflicts. This leading idea is due to Marx alone and exclusively. I have said this repeatedly before.

There was certainly no taint of jealousy in Engels towards his friend to the end, and at the time of the manifesto they were joint editors of a journal, the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, that contrived to live two years (1848-9). Much besides that journal came to an end with the events of 1849. Engels took part in the Republican rising in Baden in that year, in the artillery branch of the service. He was forced on its failure to retreat to England, where he played the cotton manufacturer again at Manchester, in the English branch of his father's business. He left business in 1869, with ample means of support. Living thenceforward in London, he devoted himself energetically to his chosen work. He and Marx, besides writing for the public, had to educate their party. They had to control and direct as well as often to originate agitation. On the death of Marx in 1883, Engels remained to be the ‘oracle,’ the ‘Nestor,’ the ‘general,’ of the German socialists, and of a considerable body of the English.

His printed works, if we exclude fugitive articles, are not a long list. Eugen Dühring's Umwälzung der Wissenschaft (1878) is a good exposition of the historical, philosophical, and economic basis of scientific socialism. The Development of Socialism from a Utopia to a Science (1882) treats the same subject in simpler language; and Engels has always a greater gift of exposition than Marx. Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der classischen deutschen Philosophie (1888) shows the real interest which the Hegelian philosophy possessed for the founders of modern German socialism. Engels' excursion into the region of primitive institutions (The Origin of the Family, & c., 1884) is a reading of L. H. Morgan, and of doubtful value. It helps to show, however, how fully he believed in the economic basis of all history, and also how wide his interests were in spite of this narrowness of view. His book on Dühring (e.g. pp. 157-166) gives us a glimpse of his knowledge of military matters; and it was on the strength of ample knowledge that he ventured (in Time, 1890) to propound a paradoxical theory of the effect on Europe of the possible fall of the Czardom. His latest published writing was probably the two articles in Le Devenir Social (April and May, 1895) on ‘The History of Primitive Christianity.’ They draw out a very striking historical parallel between Christianity and Socialism. Both have been democratic and revolutionary; both have had their periods of struggles, sects, superstitions, violence, gradual consolidation, and gradual victory.

To those who can appreciate only the major writers on economics, the great service of Engels will seem to be his editing of Das Kapital, of which Marx lived to publish only the first volume. The other two-volumes have now appeared; and we owe them to Engels. It is not too much to say that without Engels the greatest work of Marx would have come to us not only imperfect (which it still is), but seriously defective.

A large number of MSS. of both the authors still remain unpublished, and are at the disposal of Messrs. Bebel and Singer, the literary executors of Engels. Engels left also a large library, of which the destination is not yet publicly known.

V. I. Lenin (essay date 1895)

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SOURCE: “Frederick Engels,” in Labour Monthly, Vol. 17, No. 8, August, 1935, pp. 498-505.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1895 and reprinted in 1935, Lenin offers a brief overview of Engels' life and works and praises Engels' contribution to socialism.]

Oh, what a lamp of reason ceased to burn,
What a heart had ceased to throb?(1)

In London, on August 5, 1895, Frederick Engels breathed his last. After his friend Karl Marx (who died in 1883), Engels was the most remarkable scientist and teacher of the modern proletariat in the whole civilised world. Ever since fate brought Karl Marx and Frederick Engels together, the lifework of both friends became their common cause. To understand, therefore, what Frederick Engels has done for the proletariat, one must clearly master the significance of the work and teaching of Marx in the development of the contemporary labour movement. Marx and Engels were the first to show that the working class with its demands was the necessary outcome of the modern economic order, which together with the bourgeoisie inevitably creates and organises the proletariat. They have shown that it is not the well-meaning attempts of some noble-minded individuals that will deliver humanity from the ills which now oppress it, but the class struggle of the organised proletariat. Marx and Engels, in their scientific works, were the first to explain that socialism is not the fancy of dreamers but the final aim and the inevitable result of the development of the productive forces of modern society. All recorded history up till now was the history of class struggles, the change of domination and the victory of one social class over another. And this will continue until the bases of the class struggle and class rule—private property and anarchic social production—have ceased to exist. The interests of the proletariat demand the overthrow of these bases, and therefore the conscious class struggle of the organised workers must be directed against them. And every class struggle is a political struggle.

These views of Marx and Engels have now been made their own by the whole proletariat fighting for its emancipation, but when the two friends in the 'forties took part in the socialist literature and social movements of their time, such opinions were something quite new. At that time there were many people—talented and mediocre, honest and dishonest—who, carried away by the struggle for political freedom and the struggle against the autocracy of kings, police and priests, did not see the antagonism of interests between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. These people did not even admit the idea of the workers coming forward as an independent social force. There were, on the other hand, many dreamers, some of them men of genius, who thought that it was but necessary to convince the rulers and governing classes of the injustice of the modern social order, and it would then be easy to establish peace on earth and general well-being. They dreamt of a socialism without struggle. Finally, almost all the socialists of that day and the friends of the working class generally considered the proletariat only an ulcer and observed with horror how, with the growth of industry, this ulcer was growing too. All of them, therefore, contemplated how to stop the development of industry together with the proletariat, how to stop the “wheel of history.” Contrary to the general fear of the growth of the proletariat, Marx and Engels placed all their hopes on its continuous growth. The greater the number of proletarians, the greater will be their power as a revolutionary class, and the nearer and more possible the coming of socialism. In a few words, the services rendered by Marx and Engels to the working class may be expressed thus: they taught the working class to know itself and become class conscious and they substituted science for dreaming.

This is why the name and life of Engels should be known to every worker. This is why we must give in this volume (the aim of which is, as in all our publications, to awaken class consciousness in the Russian workers) an outline of the life and activity of Frederick Engels, one of the two great teachers of the modern proletariat.

Engels was born in 1820 in Barmen, in the Rhine province of the Prussian kingdom. His father was a manufacturer. In 1838, Engels was forced by family circumstances to enter one of the Bremen commercial houses as a salesman, before completing his course at the gymnasium. His commercial occupation did not prevent Engels from working on his scientific and political education. While still at the gymnasium he came to hate autocracy and the arbitrariness of officials. His studies of philosophy led him further. The teaching of Hegel dominated German philosophy at that time, and Engels became his disciple. Although Hegel himself was an admirer of the autocratic Prussian state, in whose service he was occupying the post of professor in the Berlin University, the teaching of Hegel was revolutionary. The faith of Hegel in human reason and its rights, and the fundamental proposition of the Hegelian philosophy that a constant process of change and development is going on in the universe, had led those of the students of the Berlin philosopher who did not desire to reconcile themselves with the actual state of things, to the idea that the struggle with the actual state of things, the struggle with the existing wrong and ruling evil, is equally rooted in the universal law of eternal development. If all things develop, if one set of institutions is replaced by others, then why should the autocracy of the Prussian king or the Russian tsar—or the enrichment of an insignificant minority, or the domination of the bourgeoisie over the people—continue for ever?

The philosophy of Hegel spoke of the development of the mind and ideas; it was idealistic. From the development of the mind it deduced the development of nature, man, human and social relations. Marx and Engels, while maintaining Hegel's idea of the eternal process of development,2 rejected the preconceived idealistic outlook. Turning to life, they saw that it is not the development of mind that explains the development of nature, but on the contrary, mind must be explained from nature, from matter. … Contrary to Hegel and other Hegelians, Marx and Engels were materialists. Casting a materialistic glance at the universe and humanity, they perceived that just as material causes lay at the basis of all phenomena of nature, so also the development of human society was conditioned by the development of material productive forces. The relations in which men stand to each other in the production of things necessary for the satisfaction of their human needs depend upon the development of the productive forces. And it is in these relations that the explanation is to be found of all the phenomena of social life, human aspirations, ideas and laws.

The development of productive forces creates social relations based upon private property, but now we see that the same development of the productive forces deprives the majority of their property and concentrates it in the hands of an insignificant minority. It destroys property, the basis of the modern social order; this development itself tends towards the very aim which the socialists put before themselves. The socialists need but understand which of the social forces is, by its position in modern society, interested in the realisation of socialism and imbue this force with a consciousness of its interests and historical tasks. The proletariat is that force. Engels made his acquaintance with the proletariat in England, in the centre of British industry, in Manchester, whither he moved in 1842, entering into the service of a commercial house of which his father was a shareholder. Here, Engels did not merely sit in the factory office but walked about the slums in which the workers were cooped up and saw their poverty and misery with his own eyes. But he did not confine himself to personal observations. He read all that had been discovered before him concerning the position of the British working class and made a careful study of all the official documents that were accessible to him. The fruit of his studies and observations was the book which appeared in 1845: The Condition of the Working Class in England.

We have already mentioned above the chief service of Engels as the author of The Condition of the Working Class in England. There were many, even before Engels, who described the sufferings of the proletariat and showed the necessity of helping it. Engels was the first to say that the proletariat was not merely a suffering class, but that it was the shameful economic position in which the proletariat finds itself which inexorably drives it forward and forces it to fight for its final emancipation. And the fighting proletariat will help itself by its own efforts. The political movement of the working class will inevitably lead the workers to the consciousness that there is no way out for them except socialism. On the other hand, socialism will be a power only when it becomes the aim of the political struggle of the working class. Such are the main ideas of Engels' book The Condition of the Working Class in England, ideas, now owned by the entire thinking and fighting proletariat, but which at that time were quite new. These ideas were enunciated in a book, attractively written and full of the most authentic and terrible pictures of the distress of the British proletariat. That book was a terrible indictment of capitalism and the bourgeoisie. The impression created by it was very great. Engels' book began to be referred to everywhere as the best picture of the conditions of the modern proletariat. And, in fact, neither before nor since 1845 did there appear so striking and truthful a picture of the distress of the working class.

It was only in England that Engels became a socialist. In Manchester he entered into relations with the workers of the British labour movement and began to write for the English socialist publications. In 1844, on returning to Germany via Paris, he became acquainted in that city with Marx, with whom he had already previously entered into correspondence. In Paris, under the influence of the French Socialists and French life, Marx also became a Socialist. Here the friends jointly wrote a book entitled The Holy Family, or a Criticism of Critical Criticism. In this book which appeared a year before The Condition of the Working Class in England and of which the greater part was written by Marx, are laid the foundations of that revolutionary materialistic socialism, the chief ideas of which we expounded above. The Holy Family is a humorous nickname for the Bauer brothers, philosophers, and their disciples. These gentlemen preached criticism, which stands above any reality, above parties and politics, rejecting all practical activity, and only “critically” contemplates the surrounding world and the events which take place in it. The Messrs. Bauer judged the proletariat disdainfully as an uncritical mass. Marx and Engels decidedly attacked this absurd and harmful tendency. In the name of the worker—a real human personality, downtrodden by the ruling classes and the government—they called not for contemplation but for a struggle for a better order of society. They considered, of course, the proletariat as the power that is capable of waging such a struggle and that is interested in it. Even before the appearance of The Holy Family, Engels published in the German-French Annuals of Marx and Ruge, the Critical Essay of Political Economy in which he considered, from the point of view of socialism, the main phenomena of the modern economic order as the necessary consequence of the rule of private property. The intercourse with Engels undoubtedly contributed to the decision of Marx to make a study of political economy, the science in which his works produced a whole revolution.

Engels lived in Brussels and Paris from 1845 to 1847, combining scientific pursuits with practical work among the German workers in Brussels and Paris. Here Marx and Engels came into contact with the secret German “Communist League,” which commissioned them to expound the main principles of socialism elaborated by them. This is how the famous Manifesto of the Communist Party of Marx and Engels, printed in 1848, originated. This little booklet is worth a whole number of volumes: its spirit gives life to the movement of the entire organised and fighting proletariat of the civilised world.

The revolution of 1848, which first of all broke out in France and then spread to other countries in Western Europe, brought Marx and Engels back to their native land. Here, in Rhenish Prussia, they found themselves at the head of the democratic Neue Rheinische Zeitung which was published in Cologne. The two friends were the soul of all the revolutionary democratic aspirations in Rhenish Prussia. They defended to the utmost the interests of the people and of freedom, against the reactionary forces. The latter, as is known, gained the upper hand. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung was suppressed. Marx, who during his emigrant life lost his rights as a Prussian subject, was banished, while Engels took part in the people's armed uprising, fought for liberty in three battles, and after the defeat of the rebels escaped to London via Switzerland.

Marx also settled down in that city. Engels soon after became once more a clerk and afterwards a shareholder of the commercial house in Manchester in which he had worked in the 'forties. Up to 1870 he lived in Manchester while Marx lived in London, which did not, however, prevent them from maintaining a most lively intellectual intercourse: they corresponded almost daily. The two friends exchanged their views and knowledge in this correspondence and continued, in collaboration, to elaborate scientific socialism. In 1870, Engels moved to London and their common spiritual life, full of strenuous labour, was continued till 1883, the year when Marx died. Its fruit was, on the part of Marx, Capital, the greatest work on political economy of our age, and on the part of Engels—a whole number of large and small works. Marx worked on an analysis of the complicated phenomena of capitalist economy. Engels, in works written in a very easy and frequently polemic style, elucidated the more general scientific questions and various events of the past and present, in the spirit of the materialist conception of history and the economic theories of Marx. Of these works of Engels, we will mention: a polemical work against Dühring (here are analysed the most important questions in the domain of philosophy, natural science and social science),3The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (translated into Russian, published in St. Petersburg, 1895), Ludwig Feuerbach (Russian translation with notes by Plekhanov, Geneva, 1892), an article on the foreign policy of the Russian government (translated into Russian in the Geneva Social-Democrat, Nos. 1 and 2), some remarkable articles on the housing question, and finally, two small but very valuable articles on the economic development of Russia (Frederick Engels on Russia, translated into Russian by Vera Zasulich, Geneva, 1894). Marx died before completing his great work, Capital. However, there was a rough draft, and Engels, after the death of his friend, undertook the heavy labour of working up and publishing the second and third volumes of Capital. In 1885 he published Volume II and in 1894 Volume III. (He did not succeed in working up Volume IV.) A great deal of work was required on these two volumes. The Austrian Social-Democrat Adler rightly remarked that by the publication of Volume II and III of Capital Engels erected in memory of the genius that had been his friend, a majestic monument on which he without intending it indelibly carved his own name. These two volumes of Capital are, indeed, the work of both Marx and Engels. Ancient legends tell of various touching examples of friendship. The European proletariat may say that its science was created by two scholars and fighters, whose relations surpass all the most touching tales of the ancients concerning human friendships. Engels always—and, on the whole, justly so—placed himself behind Marx. “With Marx,” he wrote to an old friend, “I always played second fiddle.” His love for Marx when the latter was alive, and his reverence for Marx's memory after the latter's death, were infinite. This stern fighter and strict thinker possessed a deeply loving soul.

After the movement of 1848-49, Marx and Engels, in exile, were not occupied with science alone. Marx in 1864 formed the International Workingmen's Association and led it during the course of a whole decade. Engels too took an active part in its affairs. The work of the International Association, which, according to the idea of Marx, united the proletarians of all countries, was of tremendous significance for the development of the labour movement. The unifying role of Marx and Engels continued even after the International Association came to an end in the 'seventies. Moreover, it may be said that their importance as spiritual leaders of the labour movement was constantly increasing in so far as the movement itself was growing incessantly. After the death of Marx, Engels alone continued to remain the counsellor and leader of the European socialists. His advice and directions were sought both by the German socialists (who, despite government persecution, rapidly and uninterruptedly increased in numbers) and the representatives of backward countries, such as Spaniards, Rumanians, and Russians, who had to think out and weigh their first steps. All of them drew upon the rich treasure of knowledge and experience of old Engels.

Marx and Engels, both of whom knew the Russian language and read Russian books, took a lively interest in Russia, followed with sympathy the Russian revolutionary movement and maintained connections with Russian revolutionaries. Both of them were democrats before they became socialists, and the democratic feeling of hatred towards political despotism was strongly developed in them. This direct political feeling together with a profound theoretical understanding of the connection between political despotism and economic oppression, as well as their rich experience of life, made Marx and Engels uncommonly responsive, particularly in regard to politics. Therefore, the heroic struggle of a small handful of Russian revolutionaries with the mighty tsarist government found the most sympathetic echo in the hearts of these tried revolutionaries. The inclination on the contrary, of turning, for the sake of supposed economic advantages, from the immediate and important task of Russian socialists—the winning of political freedom—naturally appeared in their eyes as suspicious and was even considered by them a betrayal of the great cause of the social revolution. “The emancipation of the proletariat must be the work of the proletariat itself”—this is what Marx and Engels constantly taught. But in order that it may fight for its economic emancipation, the proletariat must win for itself certain political rights. Besides this, Marx and Engels clearly saw that a political revolution in Russia would be of tremendous importance also for the labour movement in Western Europe. Autocratic Russia was always a bulwark of the entire European reaction. The uncommonly favourable international position in which Russia was placed by the war of 1870, which for a long time put Germany and France at loggerheads, only increased, of course, the importance of autocratic Russia as a reactionary force. Only a free Russia that requires the oppression of neither the Poles, Finns, Germans, Armenians nor that of other small peoples, and does not need the constant incitement of France against Germany—only a free Russia will enable modern Europe to breathe a sigh of relief from the military burdens, will weaken all the reactionary elements in Europe and increase the power of the European working class. This is why Engels, for the sake also of the success of the labour movement in the West, ardently desired the establishment of political freedom in Russia. By his death, the Russian revolutionaries have lost their best friend.

Eternal memory to Fred Engels, the great champion and teacher of the proletariat!


  1. From a well-known verse by Nekrassov written on the death of the famous revolutionary publicist of the 'fifties and 'sixties, Dobrolubov.

  2. Marx and Engels pointed out, many a time, that they, in their intellectual development, are very much indebted to the great German philosophers, particularly Hegel. “Without German philosophy,” says Engels, “there would have been no scientific socialism.”

  3. This is a wonderfully rich and instructive book. Unfortunately only a small portion of it is translated into Russian, containing an historical outline of the development of socialism—Socialism, Utopian and Scientific.

Dirk J. Struik (essay date 1945)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2477

SOURCE: “Friedrich Engels and Science,” in New Masses, Vol. LVII, No. 10, December 4, 1945, pp. 10, 12-13.

[In the following essay, Struik assesses and praises Engels' contributions and achievements in the philosophy of science. Struik's assessment focuses on Engels' Dialectics of Nature which, the critic explains, examines the “fundamental dialectical laws which govern the universe as well as the inquiring mind.”]

Outstanding among the thinkers of past generations are a few whose thought was so penetrating, whose vision so clear, that study of their works gives guidance to those who try to understand the principles underlying contemporary science. Leibnitz was one of them, and Hegel, despite all his vagaries, was another. Friedrich Engels belongs to this group of brilliant men.

Engels is always remembered, in the first instance, as the collaborator of Marx, and it is true that he had the advantage of constant stimulation by the greatest thinker of the nineteenth century. It is also true that Engels always considered himself the Number Two of the team. This tends to obscure the great merits of Engels himself as a thinker as well as a man of action. It is still necessary to stress the fact that Engels, in his own name, was a thinker of the very first rank, whose ideas are bound to influence not only world politics, but also the philosophy of science for many generations to come.

It is perhaps unfortunate that Engels never presented the world with a magnum opus, a fundamental treatise like Marx's Capital or Spinoza's Ethics. His ideas, even more than those of Leibnitz, were scattered in polemical books, in essays, in letters and in epigrammatical notes. Much of his fundamental work was only published in recent years, in his Dialectics of Nature. Many scientists and philosophers, caught in the common prejudice against working class materialism, have not yet taken notice of Engels' contributions, despite the appeals of scientists like Bernal, Haldane, Vavilov or Komazov.

How can we characterize Engels' work on the understanding of modern and past scientific trends? We can repeat Engels himself and explain that it consists in the search for the fundamental dialectical laws which govern the universe as well as the inquiring mind. Many people are suspicious of such explanation, since they are told that dialectics is a form of sophistry and that, after all, Engels took some laws of nature and squeezed them into a straitjacket of antiquated Hegelian formalism. It requires little study to see how ill this formulation fits the lively, alert and penetrating analysis to which Engels subjected the results of past and contemporary science. Let any one interested in understanding Engels read only the thirty-four pages of his Introduction to the Dialectics of Nature, and he will see how far Engels was from squeezing any facts into straitjackets. His efforts were rather concentrated on rescuing many a petrified notion from the straitjacket into which academic pedantry was wont to squeeze it. Dialectics, as Engels understood it, was liberation, not enslavement.

As a matter of fact, what else can be expected from such a humane being as Friedrich Engels was, alive to all important events in the world from England to China, a leader of the labor movement, a political analyst of the very first order, an economist with considerable business experience, a former soldier who kept abreast of all new military developments, a linguist who read Russian to understand agrarian conditions and Persian to enjoy the luxurious poetry of Hafiz? Marx used to worry about Engels' adventurous escapades on fox-hunts. When Engels, during the last years of his life, took to the study of natural science, he tackled this field not only in the best traditions of German scholarship, but also with the background of a man of the world in the best and noblest sense.

When, therefore, Engels undertook to formulate the general laws of nature and society as well as those of thought, and selected for this purpose the language of Hegel, he had good reason for it. The reason was that no better terminology had been invented, and, as far as I know, there is no substitute even now. Rather than reformulate these laws, we had better try to understand their meaning. Then we have treasure trove indeed.

The first law is that of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. This means essentially that in nature as well as in society, in a manner fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or energy, or both. What appears to one man as a change in quality, as for instance the difference in the properties of chloride and bromide, appears to the other as the difference of electrons in their atoms, in this case seventeen, and thirty-five respectively. And where another man may see only a difference in number, as in the pounds of weight on the camel's back, for the camel it may mean the difference between a healthy or an injured spine. Engels, who liked to trace the pertinence of the fundamental laws in all directions, quoted Napoleon as one of his authorities:

“Two Mamelukes were undoubtedly more than a match for three Frenchmen, 300 Frenchmen could generally beat 300 Mamelukes, and 1,000 Frenchmen invariably defeated 1,500 Mamelukes.”

Engels often illustrated the meaning of the fundamental laws of extremely simple examples, especially in his Anti-Duehring, which was written for the general public. This has occasionally disappointed sophisticated readers. Such an abstract and far-fetched way of saying that ten bushes make a copse, and 5,000 make a jungle! What escaped these good people is the universality of the law, which holds for bushes and beans and Mamelukes as well as for electrons and fibres and solar systems. Nobody who reads the recently published report on atomic energy by Prof. Henry D. Smyth can fail to see how profoundly quantitative difference, and very simple quantitative difference at that, affect the qualitative differentiation of matter. This fundamental character of Engels' law gives us the general confidence that quantitative analysis and synthesis may also bring the solution to riddles still unsolved, such as the further development of nuclear physics and the transformation of elements, the creation of new biological species, or the synthesis of living matter itself.

[Quantitative differences need not always be expressable in their simplest form, that is, in integer numbers. The difference between electricity and magnetism, for example, is reflected in a more complicated quantitative relationship. The late Prof. G. D. Birkhoff, however, has shown how subtle esthetic differences can already be based on very simple quantitative differences.]

But even if we grant all this, some critics have said, what is the use of this law anyhow? Does it teach us how a new biological or chemical process can be performed in a specific case? The answer, of course, is a decided no. No general principle can replace the patient work at desk or in laboratory. The more general the principle, the less it proclaims about a concrete application. The principles of evolution, or of transformation of energy, also establish guidance in research without prescribing the precise course of events. Yet there are few persons who deny their fundamental importance. Engels' fundamental principle is even more general than the principles of evolution or energy. It deserves to be tested, to be analyzed, rather than rejected. The present generation of scientists is, as a matter of fact, no longer in the mood of some of the old time positivists, who rejected the value of philosophical guidance for the benefit of science. Engels' formulation deserves serious study, and is beginning to get it.

Similar considerations can be applied to Engels' two other fundamental laws. The second of them is known as the interpenetration of opposites. Though Engels did not explain its meaning as carefully as he did with the first law, the principle is sufficiently clear. In the first place it expresses the fact that every thing or conception is meaningless without its opposite. This is sometimes trivial, as in man—no man, or warm—cold, but there are many cases where the study of opposites and their relation gives fundamental results as in the case of positive and negative electricity, attraction and repulsion, or the two magnetic poles. Engels' treatment of the relation of force and its manifestation, one as the active, the other as the passive side of motion, is quite modern, and in sharp contrast to the metaphysical approach common in his day, which treated force as having independent existence. This last example illustrates, moreover, that there is more to the law than mere relation of opposites. It establishes the fact that there are no rigid lines of separation in nature or society, that things that seem to be opposites will turn out to be different aspects of the same thing. The term “opposites” has to be understood in a broader sense than in classical logic, so that heredity and adaptation appear in their mutual relation, dominating in endless variety the development of living matter from protozoa to human beings. The main advances in scientific work have always been in the discovery of relations between categories which seem contrasted at the time of their discovery, between such categories as immutability and change, causality and statistics, life and death. Engels' analysis of the deep connections between casual and statistical relations, based on a materialist interpretation of certain places of Hegel's logic, belongs to the best work written on the subject.

The third law of dialectics is the negation of the negation, which in its abstract formulation seems to be one of the most sterile dicta concerning nature and society. What does it help us when, we pass from plus a to minus a, and from minus a back to plus a, or when we change water into ice and ice back to water? The word negation, moreover, seems something only applicable to specific human statements. Yet Hegel claimed this principle as the cornerstone of his whole system and Engels' formulation seems to bear it out. It is necessary to understand this conception of “negation” in a new and wider, objective sense, for which another term is difficult to find. Engels illustrated his interpretation by his famous example of the barley seed “negating” itself into a plant, and the plant “negating” itself into many seeds. In this way we find in the law of the negation of negation an outline of the process of creation, describing how new processes arise from previous ones. Almost every process in nature has the tendency to develop opposite processes to stop it, and in this process of stopping new and often more comprehensive processes develop. The evolution of living matter from elementary organisms to mammals follows such a route, and so does the formation of mountain ranges as well as the growth of an individual being. Even the evolution of matter itself, as we now begin to understand it, follows similar dialectical processes. Modern physics and chemistry has grown strong in the discovery of such chains of “contradictions” negating each other, as in the contrast of Newton's corpuscular theory of light versus Huygens' undulatory theory, at present “negated” in the quantum theory of light.

Let us allow ourselves another quotation.

“There are two principles that have been the cornerstone of modern physics. The first, that matter can be neither created nor destroyed but only altered in form, has led to the principal known as the law of conservation of matter. The second, that energy can be neither created nor destroyed but only altered in form, has ever since been the plague of inventors of perpetual-motion machines; it is known as the law of conservation of energy.”

“These two principles have constantly guided and disciplined the development and application of science. For all purposes they were unaltered and separate until some five years ago. For most practical purposes they still are so, but it is known that they are, in fact, two phases of a single principle, for we have discovered that energy may sometimes be converted into matter and matter into energy.”

This sounds like a typical quotation from Engels' Dialectics of Nature till we realize that “some five years ago” must be 1940. The quotation is taken from Professor Smyth's new book on atomic energy. The conversion of matter into energy has been observed in the nuclear fission of uranium, which releases an enormous amount of energy. This release of nuclear energy is dialectics of nature with a vengeance. In such events Engels used to speak of “cases which would have pleased old Hegel.” Modern science follows a direction which would have pleased “old” Engels.

By means of these detailed investigations of the science of his time and their interpretation as aspects of three general laws, Engels helped to accomplish still another task, the modernization of materialism. Every generation, from the Greeks till the present, has had its own interpretation of materialism and its principal tenets that ultimate reality is matter in motion and that both are uncreatable, that is, are their own final cause. Engels saw clearly that materialism on the basis of the old mechanics of Newton and Laplace was constantly becoming more untenable, and that the nineteenth-century materialists in their attempts to defend it only succeeded in crude vulgarization. He showed the way in which the ancient principles of the Ionian philosophers had to be elaborated in order to account for the revolutionary scientific discoveries of a new age. This enabled him, not only to sketch a unified presentation of the modern scientific method, but to look deeper into the nature of things than even many contemporary scientists.

Every reader of Engels' essays on the dialectics of nature must be struck by the masterful way in which he applied his method to the understanding of the past. The historian of science can find instruction and inspiration, and doubtless often challenge, in every page which Engels devoted to a discussion of men and systems of former days. This modern outlook is the more striking if we compare his writings to those of some outstanding historians of science of the middle of the nineteenth century, with a Whewell, a Libri, a De Morgan. Even compared with a modern author like Dampier his vision is remarkably fresh. Our young and exciting history of technology seems to move along the trails which Engels blazed, even without conscious reference to him. Both history of science and of technology can only profit by a serious study of the “Old General” of the labor movement.

We can therefore recommend the study of Engels' essays to philosophers, scientists and historians alike. The man whose work in the social field has contributed so much to the successes of the Soviet Union and with this to the one of the most fundamental phenomena of modern times deserves the full attention of all thinking men, indeed.

Bernhard J. Stern (essay date 1948)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9895

SOURCE: “Engels on the Family,” in Science and Society: A Centenary of Marxism, Vol. XII, No. 1, Winter, 1948, pp. 42-64.

[In the following essay, Stern examines Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property and the Statein order to elucidate Engels' view of the family and the effects of capitalism on family development. Stern discusses the strengths and weaknesses of Engels' arguments.]


The major work in Marxian literature on the family, Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State,1 appeared thirty-six years after the Communist Manifesto. There are several anticipations of its points of view, however, in the Manifesto and in other writings of Marx and Engels prior to it, which throw light on the genesis and development of their later judgments.

The discussion of the family in the Communist Manifesto is not extensive. In developing upon the theme that the bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production and thereby the relations of production and with them all social relations, is asserts that “The bourgeoisie has torn from the family its sentimental veil and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation.”2 On the other hand, because “the proletarian is without property, his relation with his wife and children has no longer anything in common with bourgeoisie family relations.”3

The Manifesto pours scorn upon those who contend that Communists advocate the abolition of the family. Its authors plead guilty only to the charge that they seek the end of the form of the family founded on private gain, that they aim to prevent the exploitation of children by their parents, that they advocate the substitution of social education for home education which their opponents then declared was “a destruction of the most hallowed of relations.” Marx and Engels stated vigorously that “Bourgeois claptrap about the family and education, about the hallowed correlation of parent and child, becomes all the more disgusting, the more by the action of modern industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor.” To the charge that Communists want to make women common property they retort angrily that “The bourgeois sees in his wife a mere instrument of production. He hears that the instruments of production are to be exploited in common, and naturally, can come to no other conclusion than that the lot of being common to all will likewise fall to the women. He has not even a suspicion that the real point aimed at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of production.”4 Marx and Engels argued that the false charge of “communization of women” against the Communists comes with ill grace from a class maintaining public prostitution, and where seduction of the wives of others is not infrequent. They predicted that the abolition of the present system of production would lead to the disappearance of both public and private prostitution.

The comments on the family in the Communist Manifest had had their antecedents in the earlier writings of Marx and Engels. Marx in 1845 had warned against considering the family abstractly, apart from its specific historical setting. In his criticism of the anarchist Max Stirner he wrote: “We make a mistake when we speak of ‘the’ family without qualification. Historically, the bourgeoisie endows the family with the characteristics of the bourgeois family, whose ties are boredom and money.” Marx then contended that in the eighteenth century the family had already been in process of dissolution: “The inner ties of the family, the individual parts out of which the concept of family life is made up, such as obedience, affection, conjugal fidelity, etc., had vanished; but the real body of the family, property relations, an exclusive attitude towards other families, an enforced life in common—the conditions that were determined by the existence of children, by the structure of modern towns, by the development of capital, etc.—these persisted, despite considerable modifications.”5

In The Holy Family, written in 1845, Marx and Engels first made the observation that the degree of the emancipation of woman could be used as a standard by which to measure general emancipation. This was restated by Marx in 1868 in a letter to the surgeon, Dr. L. Kugelmann, in which he wrote: “Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex,” and then added banteringly, “(the ugly ones included).”6

The impact of the technological changes of the industrial revolution on the family was also discussed at some length by Engels prior to the appearance of the Communist Manifesto in his The Conditions of the Working Class in England, published in 1845.7 The significance of his findings on this subject and also those of Marx who discussed the same problem further in Capital8 will be analyzed later in this article.


Most of the recent discussion in the United States of Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State has focused upon criticism of Morgan's data on the evolution of the family upon which Engels based his work and which later anthropologists have found to be invalid. What has not been noted is the productive use to which Morgan's findings were put by Engels in what is without doubt one of the most influential documents on behalf of the emancipation of women in the world's literature.

Engels' discussion of the position of women under a suppositious group marriage, and his reconstruction of the rise of monogamy, are merely prefatory to his major thesis of the subjection of women in modern capitalist society. The book transcends the limitations of the anthropological materials utilized. Morgan's work is but a springboard for a bold and trenchant indictment of male dominance over women, marked by biting satire and sophisticated humor. Engels has written a humanistic tract that uses the mature scholarship of many fields to pour scorn upon conventional hypocrisies debasing women in modern society. Its barbs are most stinging on subjects that were then, and still are to a large extent, tabu. As a document aimed at freedom for womankind, it is vigorously frank and plain spoken. It is more than popular polemics, however. It abounds in insights and establishes many fundamental principles of sociological analysis of the family that are of great value.

The number of positive and valid general propositions that emerge from Engels' work is impressive. Not always formulated explicitly by Engels, they lay the basis of his approach to the family, and determine his method of analysis. They are presented here in categorical form without the corroborating data and supporting argument given in the book:

—The family is a dynamic, ever changing cultural historical product, not a divinely ordained natural institution;

—Its forms and functions vary widely from period to period, from country to country, and from class to class, and tend to respond to the demands which each society places upon it. It must not therefore be studied apart from its social content, but rather in its economic, technological, legal and religious settings;

—Changes in methods of production lead to changes in the relations of production and consequently they modify the totality of social relations, including the family.

—Patterns of family relationships are tenacious, and there are lags in the adjustment of attitudes and practices to changing productive relations, with customs of previous periods persisting and influencing behavior;

—Division of labor between the sexes in the family has been characteristic of all societies;

—Authority, power and property relationships between the sexes in the family are determined by the role which men and women play in the productive process, which is in turn determined by the nature and ownership of the instruments of production;

—When in simpler societies women's work is socially as important as that of men, there is an approximate equality between the sexes;

—The patriarchal family which developed in Old World societies involving exclusive supremacy of the men was an outgrowth of the domestication of animals and the breeding of herds. This innovation developed a hitherto unsuspected source of wealth and created new social relations. Because of the division of labor within the family, the men became the owners of the new source of subsistence, the cattle, and later of the new instruments of labor, the slaves. This greatly enhanced men's position in the family and subordinated the women;

—Individual sex love, in the modern sense of the word, played little part in the rise of the patriarchal monogamy, which was based primarily upon the economic purpose of making man supreme in the family, and of propagating as future heirs to his wealth, children indisputably his own;

—Polygyny and polyandry are only exceptional “historical luxury products”;

—Under the patriarchal family, woman's exclusion from “social production,” that is from employment outside the home, has been not merely to her economic disadvantage but has involved social and sexual discrimination as well. Prostitution, adultery and the principle of the indissolubility of marriage are by-products of such discrimination;

—Under these circumstances, co-existent with monogamous marriage, there has been “hetaerism,” i.e., sexual intercourse between men and women outside of marriage, which sometimes develops into open prostitution. There also has developed the neglected wife, hence the wife's attendant lover and the cuckold husband;

—Sexual (i.e., romantic) love between mates is a modern concept depending for its realization upon the degree of equality of rights of the sexes. Such love can only develop fully when marriage is no longer a marriage of convenience, for the preservation and inheritance of property;

—Family law is a reflection of past and present property relations;

—The legal concept of freedom of contract under Protestant capitalism affected the family through the introduction of the right of choice of mates on the basis of mutual love, but property relations rendered this right largely theoretical since they still left power in the hands of the parents to choose mates for their children;

—The lady of civilization surrounded by false homage and estranged from all real work, has an infinitely lower status than the hard-working woman of primitive societies;

—The emancipation of women is possible only when women take part in production outside the home on a large scale, and work in the household no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of their time. This has become feasible because modern large-scale industry not merely permits the extensive employments of female labour but demands it, while it also tends toward ending private domestic labor by the development of service industries;

—Under capitalism, however, if the wife carries out her family duties, she is denied the opportunity to engage in production outside of the home and is unable to earn; while if she wants to earn independently by outside work, she cannot carry out family duties. For this reason, the individual family in capitalist society is in Engels' words “founded on the open or concealed domestic slavery of the wife, and modern society is a mass composed of these individual families as its molecules”;

—When the family ceases to be the major economic unit of society through the introduction of large-scale production and social ownership, the care and education of the children become increasingly a social responsibility, relieving the wife, now socially employed, of oppressive home burdens and permitting real affectional relations to develop;

—The socialization of the means of production, Engels predicted, would make freedom to choose a mate a reality by reducing to a minimum the anxiety about bequesting and inheriting; it would negate male supremacy, established for the preservation and inheritance of property, and would make love rather than money the basis of choice of mate;

—Marriage based on sexual love is by its nature exclusive and thus individual, so that if economic conditions disappear which make women put up with the habitual infidelity of their husbands (i.e., the concern for their own means of livelihood and that of their children), the equality of women will tend to make men really monogamous rather than to make women polyandrous.

This list of generalizations is imposing because of the many fertile ideas it contains. Many of them anticipated by years and even decades the research findings of later social scientists. Later studies on the family might have profited considerably if they had followed some of these leads instead of disdainfully repudiating Engels' total contribution on the basis of some of his book's manifest weaknesses in the use of data on primitive societies.


Engels' relation to Morgan in the discussion of the family in primitive societies merits brief treatment. Morgan's views were hailed by him as far in advance of those prevalent among his contemporaries in the infant science of anthropology. Engels cited Morgan's data and theories profusely, and based many of his own judgments upon them. Yet Engels cautioned as to the tentative nature of Morgan's scientific generalizations and of his own conclusions. In the preface to the fourth edition of the Origin of the Family, he wrote in 1891: “The fourteen years which have elapsed since the publication of his (Morgan's) chief work have greatly enriched the material available for the study of the history of primitive societies. … As a result some of Morgan's minor hypotheses have been shaken or even disproved. But not one of the great leading ideas of his work has been ousted by this new material.”9 Since Engels wrote these words, anthropological research has made significant strides and it can now no longer be said that anthropology sustains all of Morgan's basic generalizations on the family, although it is recognized that they compare favorably with the views of Morgan's contemporaries.10

Today anthropologists do not support the hypothesis, for example, that group marriage was the earliest form of family relationship, a view upon which Engels relied heavily. Engels himself was not uncritical of Morgan's discussion of group marriage and declared that “here lies a newly discovered field of research which is almost completely unexplored.”11 He stated:

At the time Morgan wrote his book, our knowledge of group marriage was still limited. … The punaluan family [Morgan's term for the Hawaiian family, which he designated a group marriage] provided, on the one hand, the complete explanation of the system of consanguinity in force among the American Indians, which had been the starting point of all Morgan's researches; on the other hand, the origin of the matriarchal gens could be derived directly from the punaluan family; further the punaluan family represented a much higher stage than the Australian classificatory system. It is therefore comprehensible that Morgan should have regarded it as the necessary stage of development before pairing marriage and should believe it to have been general in earlier times. Since then we have become acquainted with a number of other forms of group marriage, and we know now that Morgan here went too far.”12

Engels then goes on, however, to claim as evidence of “a cruder form of group marriage” the exogamous classes or moieties described by Lorimer Fison and A. W. Howitt for Australia. Their data, however, and the later descriptions of Australian marital relationships do not support the contention that a functioning and stable marital union of a group of males with a group of females ever existed.13 In fact, Engels nowhere states that such a stable group family prevailed, although he is often so interpreted because of his ambiguity. He declares: “Group marriage which in these instances from Australia is still marriage of sections, mass marriage of an entire section of men, often scattered over the whole continent, with an equally widely distributed section of women—this group marriage, seen close at hand, does not look quite so terrible as the philistines, whose minds cannot get beyond brothels, imagine it to be. … The Australian aborigine, wandering hundreds of miles from his home among people whose language he does not understand, nevertheless often finds in every camp and every tribe women who give themselves to him without resistance and without resentment; … the man with several wives gives one up for the night to his guest.”14 These passages merely define the nature of the sexual prerogatives found in this area, and do not describe a stable marriage relationship of a group of men with a group of women.

In an article he published in Die neue Zeit in 1892,15 Engels indicates how loosely he applied the term “group marriage.” He here designates as evidence for “a newly discovered case of group marriage,” Sternberg's findings among the Gilyaks on the island of Sakhalin. Sternberg had reported that:

The Gilyak addresses as father, not only his own natural father, but also all the brothers of his father, all the wives of these brothers, as well as all the sisters of his mother, he addresses as his mothers; the children of all these “fathers” and “mothers” he addresses as his brothers and sisters … every Gilyak has the rights of a husband in regard to the wives of his brothers and to the sisters of his wife; at any rate the exercise of these rights is not regarded as unpermissible.16

In his deductions from this, Engels seems to confuse the kinship terms of the clan system and the potential rights subsumed under them with actual functional family relationships. He seems to sense how tenuous such evidence is, for in the same passage he comments: “this form of marriage, at least in the instances still known to occur today, differs in practice from a loose pairing marriage or from polygamy only in the fact that custom permits sexual intercourse in a number of cases where otherwise it would be severely punished. That the actual exercise of these rights is actually dying out only proves that this form of marriage is itself destined to die out which is further confirmed by its infrequency.”

The primary error underlying Engels' entire discussion of this problem is the assumption that clan terminology and the customs of levirate and sororate could be explained only by postulating an earlier form of group marriage of which they are thought to be survivals. Such an explanation is, however, unnecessary, for they are explicable in terms of their social function.17 Such of Engels' generalizations as are dependent upon the premise of an initial group marriage in primitive societies, as for example, that the incest tabu came late in human history, need to be revaluated in terms of present knowledge of anthropology. For it is now recognized that bilateral families usually but not always monogamous, are found among simple hunting, food-gathering societies such as the Andamanese, the Fuegians, the Bushman and the Semang as well as among the simpler tribes of North America. In these primitive societies, as in our own, kinship is reckoned both through the father and the mother, and upon marriage the newly formed social unit of man and wife tends to have somewhat greater autonomy than is characteristic of societies where the clan is the important unit. In simple food gathering societies the size of the groups is so small that few have clans, the possible exception being the clan-like divisions of the Australians. In the advanced hunting and food-gathering societies of the Northwest Coast of the United States, clans are found in some communities and not in others. Clan societies are most characteristic of agricultural and pastoral areas. While it is not known how early clans developed in human history, it now appears quite certain, contrary to Morgan, that the small family unit, the extended bilateral family, the work party of either sex, the band and the small community or village, developed much earlier than did the clan. The development of clan institutions, either matrilineal or patrilineal, does not mean a catastrophic change in social organization. Clans represent a formal naming and classification of kin groups which everywhere previously functioned in the economic sphere even though unformalized.18 After the clan has been formalized, the bilateral family relationship, though weakened considerably, does not entirely disappear. Secondary distinctions are usually made, for example, between actual brothers and sisters and cousins although they may be classified by one kinship term. Engels in his discussion of group marriage and elsewhere is often obscure in his differentiation between the family and the clan. This is readily explicable, for the relationship between them had not been defined by the scientists of his day. It was not understood for decades afterward, and there is no unanimity on the subject today.


A fruitful approach to an analysis of the changes in relations between the family and the clan in primitive societies is to be found through the application of one of Engels' important generalizations that changes in the instruments of production influence the division of labor between the sexes and determine property surpluses which, in turn, lead to marked changes in the position of women in society and in the family. The division of labor between the sexes was a necessary condition of survival among hunting and food-gathering peoples. While women's occupations were different from those of men, they were of equal importance. Because the bearing and nursing of children impeded their movements in the hunting of animals, women usually performed the more sedentary but none the less essential and arduous tasks. There were significant exceptions, but generally men occupied themselves with the chase of large and swift animals, while women gathered vegetable products and slow-moving animals such as grubs, shellfish and small fish that were within the reach of the camp. Fish traps and fish hooks were often tended by women, but such fishing as required continuous labor and prolonged movement was man's work. Men usually prepared the utensils for the chase, and since the principal materials utilized by the hunter were made of stone and wood, he used the hammer, knife and drill as he manufactured the required tools. Normally in these societies women worked on meat, skins and fibres; they cooked, preserved food, prepared skins, sewed and weaved baskets and cloth. Since the welfare of the community depended equally upon the labor of both sexes, there was a rough and ready equality between them. Engels was thus right, and helped correct a widespread misapprehension, when he wrote: “One of the most absurd notions taken over from eighteenth-century enlightenment is that in the beginning of society, woman was the slave of man.”19

The relationship of the families to one another is also determined by the nature of the economy. Because of the limitations of food supply, simple hunting and fishing communities were sparsely populated. They usually consisted of bands of less than forty and not more than eighty persons. Individual families never lived alone. Their members went out on food-collecting parties in season. During the winter months, they assembled for ceremonies that bound various families together socially and politically and served the purpose of mutual defense and joint sharing of meagre food supplies. Because of the absence of surpluses, there was no significant exchange possible and hence no chance for individual, family or other group specialization along lines of specific skills and interests. These developed along with other changes in the structure of society, whenever property surpluses developed, whether in advanced hunting, food-gathering societies (as in the case of the salmon-fishing peoples of the Northwest Coast of the United States), or in agricultural and agricultural-pastoral societies.

The decisive factor which determined the structure and functioning of the family was, in Engels' opinion, the manner in which property was inherited. He rightly observed that there was a difference in the rules of inheritance of property in primitive societies and in class societies. His formulation of these differences must, however, be modified in terms of what is now known. Recent studies have shown that one must distinguish between the right to the use of property which the members of a family share, and the right to control of property over time, that is inheritance.20 In primitive societies, with few exceptions, spouses have a common domicile, and their children remain with them for various periods. Food, shelter and household paraphernalia are therefore shared in common. Within the family, both parents generally contribute to their mutual support and to that of the children without consideration of the value of the goods. In general, when exchanging goods and making presents to outsiders, individual ownership manifests itself. If and when the family breaks up, the man and woman claim the property each has collected or made. There is in other words common use of property within the family, but individual property rights are maintained.

In contrast to our society, the right to shared property in the family does not extend to inheritance. Among us, both spouses may legally inherit from their separate family estates, and the property of both spouses legally descends to their children or to the living spouse, although each has the right to will the property as desired. In our society, in other words, the members of the family have prior claims to property which any one member holds individually during his lifetime, and this priority overrides any right of the dead spouse's consanguinal kin (i.e., father, mother, brothers, sisters) to claim this property. That is, the members of the marital group now possess a joint right to economic goods and the family derives property by inheritance from both spouses.

Such recognition of the duality of parenthood in relation to permanence of property rights is not found in primitive societies. It is absent both from primitive societies organized into small family groups (those which trace kinship bilaterally) and from those societies organized unilaterally (i.e., in patrilineal or matrilineal clans). Except for a few special cases, the small family in primitive societies does not constitute the legal unit for the pooling of permanent rights over economic goods. This means that the husband does not inherit from the wife nor the wife from the husband, nor do the children have prior rights to property drawn from the father's and the mother's line. In such bilateral primitive societies just as in those that have a formal clan system, property is transmitted to the consanguinal relatives excluding the spouse. Commonly none of the children are given priority, but instead property goes to the brothers of the deceased. The wife and the children have no claims, and are left destitute as far as the economic goods of the husband and father are concerned. The functional significance of the widespread practice of the levirate (the marriage of the deceased husband's brother by the widow) is clarified in the light of this rule of inheritance, for in this way the widow and her children continue to have use of the deceased's property which his brother takes over. If the widow returns to her kin, the children have no claim on the property whatsoever. In the matrilineal and patrilineal clan societies, unilateral inheritance of the property receives greater emphasis.

In simple food-gathering societies, authority in the men's sphere of activity centers around the father and in the women's sphere around the mother. If authority tends to be superficially patriarchal in character, this may be attributed to the relative backwardness of women's knowledge and skills as compared to those of men, and hence their lesser economic importance. The elaboration of mother-right seems to be a development especially characteristic of agricultural peoples. The domestication of plants was a product of women's work, an outgrowth of their food-gathering activities. As a consequence of women's development of agriculture, economic power and hence social importance shifted relatively in favor of women, so that many, although not all, agricultural peoples are matrilineal. The domestication of animals was achieved by men as an outgrowth of their hunting activities. When domestication of animals was combined with agriculture by the use of the animal-drawn plow, and in some areas with pastoralism as well, even larger surpluses were possible. Woman's economic importance then receded relative to man's, and patrilineal descent became predominant.

Clans developed from the earlier bilateral family because of rules of residence and inheritance of property. Newly married couples reside either with the husband's or wife's parents, and patrilocal residence tends to develop into patrilineal lineage, matrilocal residence into matrilineal lineage. The inheritance of property unilaterally increases the importance of the clan grouping as property surpluses develop. This is because there is a continuity in the clan that does not exist for the family. The family is inevitably a loose unit, not only because of the possibility of divorce, separation or death of either of the spouses but because, as the children grow up, they leave to found new families. Even in the case of the extended families in the agricultural communities of the Old World, composed of blood brothers with their wives and descendants, the girls leave the family upon marriage. The clan, however, operates on the principle that once a member always a member, and so it is capable of providing a greater sense of security to its members.

While it appears clear that both matrilineal and patrilineal clans can be direct offshoots of prior bilateral families, there has been acrimonious controversy over whether or not the matrilineal clan was prior to the patrilineal. Engels felt this to be Morgan's great contribution and declared: “The rediscovery of the primitive matriarchal gens as the earlier stage of the patriarchal gens of civilized peoples has the same importance for anthropology as Darwin's theory of evolution has for biology and Marx's theory of surplus value has for political economy.”21 Engels laid much stress on the fact that the domestication of cattle was the crucial factor in modifying the balance of power between the sexes in favor of man by creating significant surpluses through men's work. V. Gordon Childe recently supported this hypothesis when he declared:

Among the pure cultivators, owing to the role of the women's contributions to the collective economy, kinship is naturally reckoned in the female line, and the system of “mother right” prevails. With stockbreeding, on the contrary, economic and social influence passes to the males and kinship is patrilineal.22

American anthropologists, particularly Swanton,23 Lowie,24 and Kroeber,25 emphatically assailed the generalization that the matrilineal clan preceded the patrilineal and contended for the priority of the patrilineate. Murdock's careful appraisal of the evidence26 shows the conclusion to be inescapable that the simpler cultures tend to be matrilineal and the more advanced ones patrilineal. There is not, however, universal matrilineal priority. The type of clan organization that prevails is found to be directly correlated with economic aspects of culture, as Engels had contended. Murdock concluded that:

the patrilineate and matrilineate represent adjustments to special elaborations respectively in the male and female realms of economic activity. … Social organization under primitive conditions tends to be matrilineal only partially and in an incipient sense, and is elaborated into a full-fledged and consistent matrilineal system only after cultural advances favorable to the retention and the expansion of the principle, e.g., the adoption of agriculture. Typical mother-right, or the full matrilineal complex, would then be, not primitive, but a special adjustment to a somewhat exceptional set of social and economic circumstances on a relatively advanced level of cultural development.

“Patrilineal forms,” he further declares, “show an especially high correlation with animal domestication, metal-working and general occupational specialization, all of which fall mainly within the masculine sphere of economic activity.”27 Linton makes a comparable generalization: “there does seem to be a very rough and general correlation between the line of descent selected by a particular group and the sex which is of preponderant economic importance. Male-supported societies tend to be patrilineal, female supported ones matrilineal.”28 Thus while Morgan erred in conceiving the matrilineal clan to be the earliest form of social organization, he was more nearly correct than were his later American critics when he contended that the matrilineal clan preceded the patrilineal.

In historical times, the bilateral family superseded the clan as the primary unit for the inheritance of property, and both family and clan became subordinate to the state. This development is associated with economies in which surplus commodities are exchanged with the intermediacy of money. In such societies there are families which engage in what may be called industrial food production, that is, they produce enough food to feed not merely their own members, but also families which are engaged in industry other than food production. When such industrial production, with its large surpluses, develops, then urban culture becomes possible. With it comes an emphasis on private property and exchange, with consequent differences in wealth among persons; also the possibility of utilizing the labor of others, and hence the basis of the development of classes. In the course of time, the society based on kinship groups is broken up. Control is exercised through the state, the subordinate units of which are not unilateral kinship groups but local territorial associations. Such cultures arose in the Mediterranean area, in the ancient world. In Greece, for example, the importance of the patrilineal clan or gens was undermined by the edict of Cleisthenes in 508 B.C., which reorganized the society into demes or township communities along territorial lines in order to break up the power of the kinship groups. Within the territorial group the bilateral family remains to take on different forms and to serve diverse functions in different periods and classes.


The impact of a change in the methods of production upon the family is effectively illustrated in the case of the shift from locally self-sufficient agricultural economies with domestic handicraft production to large-scale factory production under commercial and industrial capitalism. In this process the home became separated from the place of work and joint labor by family members gave way to the sale of individual labor to employers who owned the instruments of production and utilized them for profit. Men and women, husbands and wives, often competed for the same jobs as individuals on the labor market.29 Engels and Marx were not alone in stressing the revolutionary significance of the resulting transformation that occurred not only in the economic functions of the family, but in the authority relationships between husband and wife and parents and children. the Victorian reformers in novels with social themes,30 the aristocratic critics of rising capitalism,31 and many others who upheld rural values against urban values, all decried the changes in the family occasioned by the employment of women and children as factory wage earners.

Official government reports laid bare not only the exploitation of women and children in the factories but the changing moral standards and family disruption.32 Engels made full use of these official documents in his Condition of the Working Class in England (first published in German in 1845), as Marx did later in Capital. In his early work Engels, like other contemporary writers, stressed primarily the disintegration of the family brought about by capitalism. While describing the distressing working and living conditions prevailing in factory towns, he declared:

The employment of the wife dissolves the family utterly and of necessity, and this dissolution, in our present society, which is based upon the family, brings the most demoralizing consequences for parents as well as children. A mother who has no time to trouble herself about her child, to perform the most ordinary loving services for it during its first year, who scarcely indeed sees it, can be no real mother to the child, must inevitably grow indifferent to it, treat it unlovingly like a stranger. The children who grow up under such conditions are utterly ruined for later family life, can never feel at home in the family which they themselves found, because they have always been accustomed to isolation, and they contribute therefore to the already general undermining of the family in the working-class. A similar dissolution of the family is brought about by the employment of the children … the children emancipate themselves, and regard the paternal dwelling as a lodging-house, which they often exchange for another, as suits them.

In many cases the family is not wholly dissolved by the employment of the wife, but turned upside down. The wife supports the family, the husband sits at home, tends the children, sweeps the room and cooks. … It is easy to imagine the wrath aroused among the working-men by this reversal of all relations within the family, while the other social conditions remain unchanged.33

Engels then also expressed strong views on the consequences of continuous factory employment of children and unmarried women upon preparation for marriage:

It is self-evident that a girl who has worked in a mill from her ninth year is in no position to understand domestic work, whence it follows that female operatives prove wholly inexperienced and unfit as housekeepers. They cannot knit or sew, cook or wash, are unacquainted with the most ordinary duties of a housekeeper, and when they have young children to take care of, have not the vaguest idea how to set about it.34

Engels does not in this book indicate his belief that the disintegration of the feudal family was laying the basis for a higher form of the family. Not that he or Marx ever glorified the feudal family, as has been erroneously charged.35 For example, after he described the results of the situation then frequently found, in which the women became the sole providers because of male unemployment, he wrote:

If the wife can now base her supremacy upon the fact that she supplies the greater part, nay, the whole of the common possession, the necessary inference is that this community of possession is no true and rational one, since one member of the family boasts offensively of contributing the greater share. If the family of our present society is being thus dissolved, this dissolution merely shows that, at bottom, the binding tie of this family was not family affection, but private interest lurking under the cloak of a pretended community of possessions.36

Yet Engels' account of the influence of women's employment in factory production is here wholly negativistic. It does not explicitly indicate positive trends actual or potential in the new situation.37

In his Capital (published in 1867) Marx corrected this emphasis without weakening the indictment of capitalism's use of the new technology. He wrote in the chapter on “Machinery and Large Scale Industry;”

However terrible, however repulsive, the breakup of the old family system within the organism of capitalist society may seem; none the less, large-scale industry by assigning to women, and to young persons and children of both sexes, a decisive role in the socially organized process of production, and a role which has to be fulfilled outside the home, is building the new economic foundations for a higher form of the family and the relations between the sexes. I need hardly say that it is just as stupid to regard the Christo-Teutonic form of the family as absolute, as it is to take the same view of the classical Roman form, or of the classical Greek form, or of the Oriental form—which by the way constitute a historically interconnected developmental series. It is plain, moreover, that the composition of the combined labor personnel out of the individuals of both sexes and various ages—although in its spontaneously developed and brutal form (wherein the worker exists for the process of production instead of the process of production existing for the worker) is a pestilential source of corruption and slavery—under suitable conditions cannot fail to be transformed into a source of human progress.38

Engels later took a like position in the Origin of the Family.39

When Marx and Engels stressed the constructive consequences of industrialism, they dissociated themselves from the feudal critics of the changing family. They differentiated sharply between technological changes and their use for profit under capitalism. They noted the beneficent effects of women's employment outside the home, of their escape from the insularity of the restricted environment of the home with its limited social contacts, and from the dependence upon the earnings of their husbands. They observed that outside employment afforded women means for the fulfillment of their personalities, and the attainment of full economic, psychological, cultural and legal equality with their spouses. These potentialities they declared could not be fulfilled under capitalism. Marx and Engels understood fully the dilemmas with which women were confronted under capitalism, and the difficulties of women who carry the double responsibilities of being workers and wives.

Marx and Engels visualized the full solution of this problem only under socialism. They did not underestimate, however, the important role played by trade unionism and political activity under capitalism for the improvement of working and living conditions, as a means to permit more effective participation of women in economic affairs and in civic life. Collective bargaining, the struggle for legislation for the shorter work day and for more healthful factory environments, and the women's rights movement have achieved significant results although constant vigilance has been necessary to sustain gains. Historically, the position of women in society and in the home has generally reflected prevailing attitudes toward human rights. As the rights of the masses have been extended and their conditions improved, women have benefited directly and indirectly. On the other hand, in periods of reaction and counter-revolution, restrictions against women in economic life and their disabilities in the home have been intensified.40 Yet even in recent periods of reaction, as under the Nazi government in Germany, where there were insistent and organized efforts to subordinate women and to confine them to childbearing and domestic work under the indisputable authority of the male members of the family, women could not be completely restored to their feudal status. Modern capitalist productive techniques demand the employment of women, as Engels noted, and in spite of its announced program, the Nazi regime was unable to eliminate women from industry.41 The Nazis were, however, able to prevent the employment of women in civil service, in the professions and in skilled trades, to institute lower wage scales for women than for men, and to reinstitute many of the coercive customs of the patriarchal family that had been eliminated in previous decades.42

In the United States there are sociologists who contrast favorably what they regard as the stability of the families of the Ozark and Appalachian mountaineers with the looser structure of the modern family.43 One of the authors, who attacks modern progressive trends in the family, gloomily predicts that “unless some unforeseen renaissance occurs, the family system will continue headlong its present trend toward nihilism.” To prevent this, he advocates that powerful educational and propaganda agencies be used “to bring about a revision and more or less permanent reinstatement of familism,” and to “make it extremely uncomfortable for the agents provocateurs of atomism,” which is his designation for progressive writers on the family.44 Such views as these find support from those Freudian analysts who would have women “accept their femininity,” a position that has recently been promulgated in its most blatant form in Lundberg and Farnham's recent work,45 which glorifies medieval values.

Recent developments in the United States, however, have all encouraged family trends in the opposite direction from those advocated by these writers. Technological advances in the sources of motive power, in manufacturing processes and in new materials have increased rather than checked the possibilities of women's participation in industrial life. The marked expansion in the employment of women during World War II was an acceleration of an historic trend. Since 1870, the number of women employed has mounted along with the increase in urbanization and apartment dwelling, with the decline in the birth rate, with the increase in consumers' goods and the rise of living standards, with the greater availability of housekeeping conveniences and of canned and processed foods, with better educational opportunities for women, and with the growth of the women's rights movement and other liberal and trade union movements which have improved the social, economic and political status of women in American life. The extent of the recent increase in employment of women is seen by the fact that the total number of non-agricultural employed women rose from 10,730,000 in March, 1940 to over 16,000,000 in 1944 and 1945. Contrary to the predictions of many authorities, it did not recede to the pre-war level after V-J day. By the end of January, 1946, the total was 14,750,000.46 Since that time the number of non-agricultural employed women has fluctuated but the figure has risen again to about 16,000,000.47 That the number of women in factory production increased by 1,000,000 from the fall of 1939 to September, 1946 when it totalled 3,750,000,48 is particularly significant.

The proportion of married women in the labor forces has been considerable and has grown appreciably from 35.5 percent in 1940 to 44.3 percent in 1946.49 In 1946, both the husbands and wives in over 5,000,000 families (almost a fifth of all families with both husband and wife present) were in the labor force, an increase of about 2,000,000 over 1940.50 In February, 1946, 15 percent of wives in normal families with one or more children worked, compared with nine percent in 1940.51 Of the married women working in 1946, 890,000 were wives or the heads of families in which there were children under six years of age.52

These developments have had important effects upon the allocation of authority in the American family, as Marx and Engels anticipated. They have increased women's demands, and have given them greater bargaining power for the attainment of equality of rights and duties with their husbands, including sexual as well as economic and intellectual rights. To assist women to carry on the double task of home and work, husbands have come to take a more active share in household duties, and the ideal of mutuality of interests and sharing of difficulties of husbands and wives has to that extent been strengthened. Governmental provisions for educational and recreational services for children while their mothers are at work, have become imperative, but these services, which were provided reluctantly by economy-minded legislators during World War II, are now being curtailed. Although there has been considerable progress, the participation of women in industry has by no means resulted in actual equality for women with men in the United States. Conventional attitudes on women's responsibilities in the home are still tenacious. There remain marked sex distinctions in civil and in political laws which discriminate against women.53 Traditionally, women have been paid less than men for performing the same labor and have had to combat historically derived attitudes, used to advantage by employers, that they are less capable than men in developing skills and attaining men's level of productivity. Thus in our society there have been many impediments to women's social equality both in law and in practice, and social services and legislation have been insufficient to cushion the effects upon the family of women's entrance into industry. The emancipatory effects of technological change have not been fully realized because of the restraining effects of the class structure of society and the conservative attitudes and customs it nurtures.

Marx and Engels gave valuable perspectives for an evaluation of the contemporary situation. They were not concerned merely with formal, material equality of women with men. Economic emancipation of women they regarded as a prerequisite, the foundation stone, for the emancipation of women in family relations. But they were also alert to the need for equality in all aspects of human relationships, including sex relations. Engels, for example, discussed the fact that the sanctions of monogamy have historically only been applied to women, and contended that both enjoyments and restrictions in sex relations should be shared equally by both parties.54 He set forth an ideal of a monogamic family of equals in which both spouses would find personality fulfillment through stimulating companionship and mutually satisfying sex enjoyment. He envisioned a relationship devoid of male coercion and condescension; a family which was stable, not because religious sanctions and laws made divorce difficult, but because it was cemented by reciprocal love. The family was above all, in his mind, an agency to give a sense of personal security to its members through the affection of the spouses for one another, and through rewarding devotion of offspring and parents. He advocated governmental services and technological innovations to facilitate the fruition of the family based on affection, by relieving women of drudgery associated with household tasks.55 He thus enriched the ideal of the family and offered designs for living for the development of free and emotionally mature persons. It is for the complete attainment of these enlightened goals of family and personal living, that Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto called for the end of class exploitation and the establishment of socialism.


  1. Frederick Engels, Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats. Im Anschluss an Lewis H. Morgan's Forschungen (1st ed. Zurich, 1884; 5th ed., Stuttgart, 1892). Between the appearance of the first and fifth editions, the book had been translated into Italian, Roumanian, and Danish and it has since been published in many languages. The most recent English translation is The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. In the Light of the Researches of Lewis H. Morgan. (New York, International Publishers, 1942). All references to the book in this article will be to this edition. August Bebel's Die Frau in der Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft (Zurich, 1884), later editions of which were published under the title, Die Frau und der Sozialismus, was also translated into many languages and did much to extend the influence of Engels' book.

  2. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, “The Communist Manifesto,” Selected Works, 2 vols. (New York, 1935), I, p. 208.

  3. Ibid., p. 216.

  4. Citations ibid., p. 223-25.

  5. Quoted in D. Ryazanoff, ed., The Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (New York, 1930), p. 162.

  6. Karl Marx, Letters to Dr. Kugelmann (New York, 1934), p. 83.

  7. Frederick Engels, Die Lage der Arbeitenden Klasse in England (Leipzig, 1845), English translation, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (London, 1892).

  8. Karl Marx, Capital, translated from 4th ed. by Eden and Cedar Paul (New York, 1929), p. 527-29.

  9. Engels, Origin of the Family, p. 17 f.

  10. For a critical approach of Morgan's work see Bernhard J. Stern, Lewis Henry Morgan, Social Evolutionist (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1931). This book was written when the attack upon the weaknesses of early social evolutionism was at its height. It contains what I now recognize to be some errors of fact and interpretation. The position taken in the book on Morgan's views on the family, however, remains essentially correct. See also Bernhard J. Stern, “Lewis Henry Morgan Today,” SCIENCE AND SOCIETY, X (1946), p. 172-76, and Melville Jacobs and Bernhard J. Stern, Outline of Anthropology (New York, 1947), p. 146-72.

    Engels' statement in the preface to the first edition written in 1884, that in the period preceding civilization, the social structure is determined not only by the production of material goods but also by the family as the producer of human beings, has recently been sharply criticized in the Soviet Union. See L. A. Leontiev and others, “Political Economy in the Soviet Union,” SCIENCE AND SOCIETY, VIII (1944), p. 115 f. An attempt to recast Morgan's general evolutionary stages has been made by C. P. Tolstoi, “On the Question of the Periodization of the History of Primitive Society,” Sovetskaia Etnografia, I (1946), p. 25 f. Marx' original notes on Morgan's Ancient Society which, Engels asserts, stimulated him to prepare the Origin of the Family have recently been published in his Collected Works in Russian.

  11. Engels, op. cit., p. 40.

  12. Ibid., p. 37 f.

  13. The letters of Lorimer Fison and A. W. Howitt to Lewis Henry Morgan throw light on this controversy. See “Selections from the Letters of Lorimer Fison and A. W. Howitt to Lewis H. Morgan,” edited by Bernhard J. Stern, American Anthropologist, XXXII (1930), p. 257-79 and 419-53. See also Stern, Lewis Henry Morgan: Social Evolutionist, p. 158-69.

  14. Engels, op. cit., p. 39.

  15. Die neue Zeit, XI (1892), p. 373-75. This article has been translated and published as an Appendix to Engels, op. cit., p. 164-67.

  16. Engels, ibid., p. 165.

  17. See below, p. 53.

  18. See Julian H. Steward, “The Economic and Social Basis of Primitive Bands,” in Essays in Anthropology Presented to A. L. Kroeber (Berkeley, Cal., 1936), p. 331-47.

  19. Engels, op. cit., p. 42.

  20. Ruth Benedict, “Marital Property Rights in Bilateral Society,” American Anthropologist, XXXVIII (1936), p. 368-73.

  21. Engels, op. cit., p. 16.

  22. V. Gordon Childe, What Happened in History (New York, 1946), p. 58 f.

  23. J. R. Swanton, “A Reconstruction of the Theory of Social Organization,” Boas Anniversary Volume (New York, 1906), p. 166-178; also his “The Social Organization of American Tribes,” American Anthropologist, n.s., VII (1905), p. 663-73.

  24. R. H. Lowie, “Social Organization,” American Journal of Sociology XX (1914), p. 72 f.; Primitive Society (New York, 1920), p. 148-58, 177, 182. In the latter work Lowie declared: “I am not aware of a single student in this field who has failed to accept his [Swanton's] position” (p. 150).

  25. Alfred Kroeber, Anthropology (New York, 1923), p. 355-57.

  26. George Peter Murdock, “Correlations of Matrilineal and Patrilineal Institutions,” Studies in the Science of Society (New Haven, 1937), p. 445-70. This has been substantiated by the studies in comparative cultures made by Leo W. Simmons, The Role of the Aged in Primitive Society (New Haven, 1945), p. 207-16.

  27. Murdock, loc. cit., p. 468 f.

  28. Ralph Linton, The Study of Man (New York, 1936), p. 169.

  29. There has been considerable literature on the effects of these changes in England. See, for example, Ivy Pinchbeck, Women Workers and the Industrial Revolution (London, 1930); J. B. and Barbara Hammond, The Rise of Modern Industry (London, 1926), and The Town Laborer 1760-1832 (London, 1925); E. Lipson, The History of the Woolen and Worsted Industries (London, 1921); G. W. Morris and L. S. Wood, The Golden Fleece (Oxford, 1922); Paul Mantoux, The Industrial Revolution in the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1927). Comparable effects in the United States are discussed in selections by Arthur W. Calhoun, Willystine Goodsell, Katherine D. Lumpkin and Dorothy W. Douglas, William F. Ogburn and Lawrence K. Frank published in Bernhard J. Stern, The Family: Past and Present (New York, 1938), p. 212-29 and 243-55, and in Andrew G. Truxal and Francis E. Merrill, The Family in American Culture (New York, 1947), p. 325-47. For China see Olga Lang, Chinese Family and Society (New Haven, 1946), p. 102-17, 333-41.

  30. These are discussed in Wanda F. Neff, Victorian Working Women (New York, 1929).

  31. Engels says of the philanthropic Tories who had constituted themselves a group called “Young England”: “The hope of Young England is the restoration of the old ‘Merry England’ with its brilliant features and romantic feudalism. This hope is of course unattainable and ridiculous, a satire upon all historic development; but the good intention, the courage to resist the existing state of things and prevalent prejudices, and to recognize the vileness of our present condition, is worth something anyhow.” See Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, p. 294, footnote. Marx later wrote: “There is an old English proverb to the effect that when thieves fall out, honest men come to their own. In actual fact, the clamorous and passionate dispute between the two sections of the ruling classes as to which of them was exploiting the workers most shamefully, helped on either side, to bring the truth to light, Lord Shaftesbury, at that time Lord Ashely, was commander-in-chief in the aristocratic campaign against the factory owners,” Capital, translated from the 4th ed. by Eden and Cedar Paul (New York, 1929), p. 747. The role of Lord Shaftesbury as a reformer is described in J. L. and Barbara Hammond, Lord Shaftesbury (London, 1932).

  32. See especially the Reports of the Inspectors of Factories, and data in Great Britain, Commissioners for Inquiring into the State of Large Towns and Populous Districts (London, 1844-45). A summary of official records is given in Charles Wing, Evils of the Factory System Demonstrated by Parliamentary Evidence (London, 1837).

  33. Engels, Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, p. 144.

  34. Ibid., p. 147.

  35. John Ise, for example, took a passage of the Manifesto out of context and declared that “his (Marx's) discussion of the beauties of medieval religion, family and chivalry verges on utopian sentimentalism,” American Economic Review, XXVIII (1938), p. 19.

  36. Engels, op. cit., p. 146.

  37. Engels in 1892 indicated that he was aware of the limitations of many of the interpretations of this early work. He wrote in the preface to the British publication of the English edition: “It will be hardly necessary to point out that the general theoretical standpoint of the book—philosophical, economical, and political—does not exactly coincide with my standpoint today.” Engels, Condition of the Working Class, p. X.

  38. Karl Marx, Capital, Paul transl., p. 528 f.

  39. See especially Engels, Origin of the Family, p. 148.

  40. Bernhard J. Stern, “Women: Position in Society,” Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences (New York, 1930-35) XV, p. 442-46; idem, “The Family and Cultural Change,” American Sociological Review, IV (1939), p. 199-208.

  41. Alfred Meusel, “National Socialism and the Family,” British Sociological Review, XXVIII (1936), p. 182-84, 389-99.

  42. For the advances in women's status in Germany prior to the advent of Hitler, see H. W. Puckett, Germany's Women Go Forward (New York, 1930).

  43. C. C. Zimmerman and M. E. Frampton, Family and Society (New York, 1935).

  44. C. C. Zimmerman, Family and Civilization (New York, 1947), p. 808 f.

  45. Ferdinand Lundberg and M. F. Farnham, Modern Women: The Lost Sex (New York, 1947). That this position is not that of progressive analysts is well shown in Judson T. Stone, “The Theory and Practice of Psychoanalysis” science and society, X (1946), p. 54-79. The fallacies of the book have been ably exposed by Mildred Burgum, ibid., XI (1947), p. 382-88.

  46. U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Employment of Women in the Early Post War Period (Washington, 1946), p. 2, Table 1.

  47. U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Facts on Women Workers, August 31, 1947.

  48. U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Facts on Women Workers, Jan. 31, 1947.

  49. U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Employment of Women in the Early Postwar Period, p. 11, Table 7, Facts on Women Workers, Aug. 31, 1947, p. 2.

  50. U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Information Bulletin, June 1947.

  51. U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, Facts on Women Workers, June 30, 1947.

  52. U.S. Department of Labor, Labor Information Bulletin, June 1947.

  53. U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, The Legal Status of Women in the United States of America (Washington, 1941).

  54. Engels, Origin of the Family, p. 56.

  55. Lenin, in the tradition of Marx and Engels, declared in 1919 that “Not a single democratic party in the world, not even in any of the most advanced bourgeois republics, has done in this sphere [abolition of restrictions against the rights of women] in ten years a hundredth part of what we did in the very first year we [the Soviets] were in power,” and went on to say: “Notwithstanding all the liberating laws that have been passed, woman continues to be a domestic slave, because petty housework crushes, strangles, stultifies and degrades her, chains her to the kitchen and to the nursery, and wastes her labor on barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve-racking, stultifying and crushing drudgery. … Public dining rooms, crêches, kindergartens—there are examples of the shoots, the simple everyday means, which assume nothing pompous, grandiloquent or solemn, but which can in fact emancipate women, which can in fact lessen and abolish their inferiority to men in regard to their role in social production and in social life.” V. I. Lenin, Women and Society (New York, 1938), p. 13 f. For the methods by which this principle was implemented under the socialist society in the Soviet Union, see Susan M. Kingsbury and Mildred Fairchild, Factory, Family and Women in the Soviet Union (New York, 1935). Discussions of the Soviet family and women by Beatrice King and Ralph Parker, and Soviet laws for the protection of women are published in Bernhard J. Stern and Samuel Smith, Understanding the Russians (New York, 1946), p. 151-58 and 235-38.

Donald Clark Hodges (essay date 1965)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6269

SOURCE: “Engels' Contribution to Marxism,” in The Socialist Register 1965, edited by Ralph Miliband and John Saville, Monthly Review Press, 1965, pp. 297-310.

[In the following essay, Hodges investigates the nature and extent of Engels' contribution to Marxist social theory and concludes, among other things, that there are significant differences between the dialectical methods of Marx and Engels and that Engels “did a disservice” to Marx's “analytical and critical method” when he attempted to make Marx's methodology “universal in scope.”]

Now that knowledge of Marxism has become a respected path to academic advancement, scholars have increasingly occupied themselves with minute analyses of the differences between Marx's and Engels' writings, and with Engels' role as the foremost interpreter and disseminator of Marxism as a social and philosophical system. A survey of current writing on Marx and Engels in the English language shows two major efforts of scholarship: the reinterpretation of Marx's later thought in terms of his early humanism and the attribution to Marx of a scientific world-view based upon the work of Engels. Because of the association of the one Marxism with liberal values and of the other with the philosophy and scientific outlook of dialectical materialism, the young Marx has become the hero of Marx scholarship and the late Engels its villain. Engels is portrayed as the foremost systematizer and disseminator of Marx's thought, and also as the first and most influential revisionist.1 Although the differences in their thinking have been occasionally exaggerated in an indirect political effort to dissociate Marx's views from the dialectical outlook culminating in Soviet philosophy, by and large the critics are right in arguing that Engels was not only Marx's mouthpiece, but that he also had a mind of his own.

At least two questions have been posed by the current debate concerning Engels' relation to Marx. What is the extent of his philosophical contribution, the scientific status, if any, of his ontological assertions about the dialectical process and the laws of nature? Since the critics argue that Engels substituted for Marx's critical method a dogmatic and scholastic metaphysics, we shall have to assess the evidence for this interpretation. There is also the question of the theoretical and practical relevance of Engels' philosophical works to modern socialism and to the labour movement in particular. To what extent, in other words, is Engels' philosophy of nature relevant or irrelevant as a theoretical basis for Marxist social theory and the formulation of socialist policy?

The purpose of this essay is to extend the current criticism of Engels into those aspects of his thought that have hitherto been only barely touched upon. First, I hope to show that his efforts to make Marxism meaningful to scientists led him to the formulation of a metascience, partly philosophical and partly scientific, that was intended to be more immediately useful to scientific intellectuals than to socialists. Second, I shall argue that the differences between Marx's and Engels' formulations of their dialectical method were real and not just verbal. Third, I hope to delineate significant differences between their respective interpretations and forecasts of the withering away of philosophy. And, finally, I intend to show that Engels did a disservice to the analytical and critical method of Marx in a misguided effort to make it universal in scope. I take this opportunity to join with the critics in showing still further how the traditional assumption propagated by Engels concerning the indissoluble unity of his and Marx's thinking has been put to the test and found wanting.


Let us consider, first, Engels' theoretical efforts to make Marxism meaningful to scientists. Although the critics have suggested that the difference between his and Marx's views can be traced as far back as 1844 or at least to 1847,2 it is only with the publication of Anti-Duhring (1878) that Engels can be shown definitely to have begun the process of generalizing Marxism by raising it to the status both of an interdisciplinary science and a scientific world-view. In this book Engels attempted for the first time to develop a philosophy congenial to a scientific intelligentsia. On the one hand, Anti-Duhring contains a scientific formulation of Marx's materialistic-critical socialism that is of interest both to scientific intellectuals and to the labour movement. On the other hand, it outlines a scientific philosophy, a philosophy of nature as well as history, that we have come to associate with dialectical materialism.3

Beginning with Anti-Duhring, Engels began to address himself to scientific workers and to scientific circles as well as to educated labourers. Considering his efforts to develop both the interdisciplinary sciences and a philosophical metascience, the scientific and technical intelligentsia had become for him either a part of the main forces of socialism or at least its most influential secondary reserve. In effect, he substituted the co-operation of scientists and workers for the young Marx's alliance of philosophers and proletarians. As he might have interpolated a statement by the young Marx, science cannot be made a reality without the assistance of the proletariat, and the proletariat cannot be assisted without science being made a reality.4 Science, he declared, was no less a revolutionary force than the modern labour movement. The more ruthlessly it advances, “the more it finds itself in harmony with the interests and aspirations of the workers.”5 Without the continuing co-operation of science and socialism, there could, indeed, be little hope in progress. Just as science is necessary to the planned organization of social production and distribution, so these in turn are necessary to the advancement of science.

From Engels we first hear of scientific socialism, a comprehensive theory including the materialistic conception of history and the Marxian theory of surplus value. The posthumously published Dialectics of Nature, the bulk of which was written between 1872 and 1882, contains a full-fledged philosophical system that has almost nothing in common with the practical-critical emphasis of Marx's early work and the materialistic-critical approach of his later writings.6 As a philosophical theory, Marxism came into being in the years following the publication of Anti-Duhring when Engels became increasingly active as a writer and publisher, while Marx's illness prevented him from publishing anything of note. (Marx, it may be remembered, died in 1883, only a few years after Engels first announced that socialism had become a science.) In addition to Anti-Duhring, the principal works that helped to shape Marxism as a world-view and as an interdisciplinary science of nature and history were Engels' Ludwig Feuerbach (1888) and his essay on historical materialism written in introduction to the English edition of Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1892). On the one hand, his work on Feuerbach further clarified the dialectical philosophy first presented in Anti-Duhring and in the posthumously published Dialectics of Nature. On the other hand, his writings on anthropology, classical civilization, and his later essay on the history of early Christianity (1894-95) illustrated and applied the principles of scientific historiography outlined in Anti-Duhring.

In Engels' first systematic statement of Marxism, scientific socialism is presented as a theoretical response to two different kinds of social problem: the class antagonisms between capitalists and wage workers; and the anarchy and irrationality inherent in the capitalistic mode of production.7 Socialism expresses, first, the interests of wage earners intent on alleviating the general misery caused by industrial revolution; and, second, the interests of scientific workers scandalized by the planlessness and waste resulting from periodic economic crises.8 Since capitalism is noxious on both counts, Engels believed that the economic interests of scientific workers tend to coincide with those of organized labour. Economic crises indicate the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to manage its own system of production. Since the economic functions of the capitalist are increasingly performed by salaried employees, the owners of capital are, furthermore, superfluous even when they are not actually harmful to the development of the productive forces. In their unfitness to rule, the bourgeoisie are condemned by the standards of modern technology as well as by the subjective needs of the proletariat. Scientific workers are called upon not only to assist the modern labour movement in its efforts to comprehend the historical and economic conditions of its emancipation, but also to manage the industrial system according to their own specialties. The very term scientific socialism suggests an alliance of scientific workers and revolutionary activists from the ranks of labour. Although scientific and technical workers employed by capital may find it necessary to sacrifice truth and efficiency to preserve their jobs under capitalism, their enduring professional interests are represented by socialism.

In his effort to transform Marxism into a coherent body of doctrine, Engels can be seen groping towards a general scientific world outlook that includes the revolutionary theory of the proletariat. Despite his contempt for Duhring's efforts to build a complete system of natural philosophy as the basis of a socialist weltanschauung, he found himself constructing a scientific world-view in the very process of criticizing Duhring. Although the organization of Anti-Duhring follows the outlines of Duhring's own positive science of socialism, it also served Engels as the basis of a reinterpretation of Marxism that went beyond an express commitment to the labour movement. Instead of confining himself to a negative critique of Duhring's attempt to present socialism as the practical fruit of a philosophical system, he took the opportunity of setting forth in a positive form his own views on the general scientific issues of the day.9 While denying that his work aimed at presenting another system of philosophy, he formulated the rudiments of one in working out the interconnections between the various fields of knowledge.10 As he described the results of following Duhring across the boundaries of several philosophic and scientific disciplines, “the polemic was transformed into a more or less connected exposition of the dialectical method and of the communist world outlook. …”11

Engels' philosophical efforts were also prompted by the rapid advancement of natural science, which could “no longer escape dialectical generalization.”12 The old natural philosophy, metaphysical as it was, had never fully satisfied either himself or Marx. Here was the opportunity to apply dialectics systematically to the natural sciences, instead of only piecemeal, intermittently and sporadically. As Engels notes, “the same dialectical laws of motion force their way through [nature] as those which in history govern the apparent fortuitousness of events; the same laws as those which similarly form the thread running through the history of the development of human thought. …”13

Like scientific socialism and its associated sciences of historiography and political economy, the scientific world outlook developed by Engels was expected to find recognition and support in every country sufficiently advanced economically to contain “on the one hand proletarians and on the other undaunted scientific theoreticians.”14 Interpolating Marx's materialist historiography which was tied to the interests of the labour movement, Engels was the first to claim that historical materialism might be of advantage even to British respectability.15 His letters on historical materialism (1890-94) were designed to clarify the philosophical and scientific character of Marxist historiography, thereby making it acceptable to the scientific intellectual.16 Both Marx and Engels challenged the traditional role of philosophy as queen of the sciences. However, Engels replaced traditional philosophy with a new scientifically oriented one, whereas Marx subordinated both science and philosophy to his radical critique of bourgeois society.

In Engels' hands historical materialism became a general method of historical interpretation. The theory of the historical origin of surplus value is one of the few applications of the historical materialist method that Engels mentions as immediately relevant to the revolutionary struggle for socialism. Although his own works of historical research are indirectly concerned with questions of socialist strategy and tactics, his interest in the method of historical materialism did not simply reflect his socialist commitments. In contrast, Marx's historical research concentrated almost entirely upon the present as history, a matter of direct concern to the labour movement.

By raising Marx's theoretical contributions to the status of a scientific world-view, Engels changed the order of precedence assigned by Marx to social theories and to theories of the physical universe. Although as early as his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 Marx states that human history is a part of natural history, he believed that eventually the science of man would subsume under itself natural science.17 There will be one science of the social development of nature and of the natural origins of man: “The [science of the] social reality of nature, and … the natural science about man, are identical terms.”18 Actually, the principal task Marx set for himself was not to construct a social science upon naturalistic foundations, but to criticize the pretensions to an objective science of society by bourgeois historiography and political economy.

Going beyond Marx, Engels found in natural-scientific materialism the foundation of the edifice of human knowledge. Herein lay the significance of Engels' research in the natural sciences. It was a question “of bringing the science of society (i.e. the sum total of the so-called historical and philosophical sciences) into harmony with the materialist foundation, and of reconstructing it thereupon.”19 Marx hoped to show how science was a valuable ally of the labour movement and how independent developments within the natural and life sciences provided theoretical support for his historical and economic theories. Engels was more ambitious in arguing that the world-view or philosophy implicit in modern science provides support for modern socialism, and that a socialist science of society in turn contributes to a scientific world-view.

This project of Engels shows some striking similarities to the work of Comte. Although Engels was scarcely more impressed than Marx by the Comtean synthesis and classification of human knowledge, he seems to have been more aware of the need for a scientific world-view to help free scientists themselves from the remnants of the metaphysical tradition in science and philosophy.20 In the first place, Engels, like Comte, hoped to find allies for the revolution in science within the ranks of the modern labour movement.21 Secondly, he aimed at elucidating the unity of science, its internal connections and hierarchical relations in the form of a philosophical science of the general laws of motion common to nature, society and human thought.22 And, thirdly, without agreeing with Comte that a science of human society presupposes the prior development of the physical and biological sciences, he was concerned with completing the hierarchy of knowledge by including within it Marx's own contributions to the historical sciences.23 As a matter of fact, he regarded the social science of the bourgeoisie as the outmoded theoretical expression of a social system that was in process of being superseded by the political economy of labour.24 Like Comte, he associated higher forms of knowledge with higher forms of production and corresponding political organizations. Consequently, Marxian social theory was judged to be scientifically superior and not just complementary to the works of bourgeois social scientists, although it is not at all clear whether Marx had the same exalted opinion of its worth.

Concerning his own distinctive contribution to Marxism, Engels said that before and during his forty years' collaboration with Marx he had a certain “independent share in laying the foundations, and more particularly in elaborating the theory.”25 However, this statement is rather less helpful than it appears. For what in fact was Engels's independent contribution to the foundations if not his philosophy of dialectical materialism? Since he grants that Marx's contribution lay in the realm of economics and history, what remains except Engels's alleged foundation and elaboration of historical materialism in terms of a scientific philosophy of nature? Although it may have been partly his interest in science that led him to subordinate Marx's social theory to a scientific world outlook, his purpose was to make Marxism respectable in scientific circles, to enlist the support of scientific workers on behalf of socialism, and to buttress Marx's social critique with the entire weight and authority of modern science.26


Nowhere are the differences between Marx's and Engels's views clearer than in their respective interpretations of dialectics. By interpreting the dialectic as the method peculiar to philosophical or interdisciplinary science, Engels gave it precedence over his radical critique of society. Secondly, he extended its application to natural phenomena and the processes of abstract thought, thereby distinguishing it from Marx's historical method. As interpreted by Engels, dialectics is the science of the general laws of motion and development of human thought, nature and society, comprehending things and their representations in their interconnections, origins and endings.27 To him we owe the Soviet identification of Marxism with a scientific world outlook, and the current tripartite division of Marxist theory into materialist or abstract dialectics (general laws of thought), the dialectics of nature (general laws of the physical universe), and historical dialectics (general laws of history). As a philosophical theory concerned with the development of a unified science rather than with solving problems of special or unique significance to the labour movement, dialectics includes the comprehensive treatment and rational ordering of human knowledge, the classification of the sciences, and their cross-fertilization.28

In contrast to this interpretation, let us consider briefly Marx's own formulation of his method. The most complete statement of it is contained in his preface to the second edition of Capital (1873): “it (the dialectical method) includes in its comprehension an affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; … it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; … [and] it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.”29 Here Marx identifies the dialectical method with a philosophical or comprehensive vision of the historical process, with a scientific method of inquiry that lays bare the economic laws of motion of society at different stages of historical development, and with a political critique of bourgeois society expressing the interests of a revolutionary class.

Since he did not always distinguish in practice between his several uses of dialectics, it is sometimes extremely difficult to determine where one method begins and another ends. In Capital his several methods so blend into one another that it is almost impossible to separate his economic philosophy from his specialized contributions to economic science and from his critique of bourgeois economics. Capital was designed to develop a comprehensive and interdisciplinary theory of political economy and of the general law of motion of capitalist production in general. It also aims to investigate the underlying dynamics of surplus value and capital accumulation by means of a theory of economic conflict that explains periodic crises and the business cycle. Moreover, its entire framework is partisan in adapting the classical labour theory of value and Marx's corresponding theory of surplus value to a critique of bourgeois society. Since these three efforts occur in conjunction with instead of isolation from each other, Capital presents a complicated texture of meanings that requires considerable patience to unravel.

In general, one can say that of the several functions of the dialectic the most important to Marx was its power to disclose the oppressive character of social facts.30 Dialectics breaks the hold of common sense, the conformist power of facts and corresponding ideological glorification of actuality by special interests hostile to the workers. Its critique of ideology follows from its practical purpose of unmasking human oppression and alienation. As a radicalism of disclosure it focuses upon the antagonisms dissolving the present, upon the transitory character and movement of events, upon elements of the future, upon potentialities instead of actualities, change instead of permanence, crises instead of equilibrium, disintegration instead of harmony.31 If the dialectic could also make a claim to seeing things whole in their varied interconnections, it is largely because the power of negative thinking is a necessary complement of modern science in building a philosophic or comprehensive vision of social reality.

In what respects did Engels bring about a change in Marx's conception and application of dialectics? In place of Marx's threefold function of dialectics as revolutionary critique, disequilibrium analysis and comprehensive vision—in that order of importance—Engels substituted his so-called laws of dialectics.32 The most important of these general laws of motion for Engels is the law of the interpenetration of opposites, which in the realm of thought gives us the rich and many-sided knowledge required for comprehensive vision. His other two laws, the transformation of quantity into quality and the negation of the negation, have a bearing upon Marx's critique of social statics and the social criticism of industrial capitalism. However, Marx's dialectic becomes for Engels merely an extension of the laws of nature to the investigation of human societies. Furthermore, since Engels's philosophical science attaches supreme importance to the interconnections uniting the several branches of knowledge, it invariably stresses the importance of comprehensive vision and scientific method over the critical uses of the dialectic.

Engels notes that dialectical philosophy stresses the transitory character of everything, dissolving in practice all categories of permanence, all stable time-honoured institutions including all conceptions of final, absolute truth and of ideal states of humanity corresponding to it.33 This is the extent of its revolutionary criticism of reality. Although whatever exists within the sphere of human history tends to pass away with time, it perishes only in so far as it becomes irrational or incompatible with a new viable order of society—the principal reason Engels gives for condemning it.34 Unlike Marx's dialectic which was concerned chiefly with revolutionizing practice, Engels' dialectic was directed to the revolutionary criticism of theory. In effect, Engels became interested in interpreting the world, when Marx's whole point was to change it.35


In comparing the thought of Marx and Engels, the most salient differences are linguistic in character. None the less, their different usage of key terms suggests a difference in intellectual content. What, for example, did Marx and Engels mean by their several references to the end or withering away of philosophy? As we shall see, Engels did not envisage a total eclipse of philosophy by science, but introduced at least three important qualifications: that philosophy is finished only in the hitherto accepted sense of the word; that it has been expelled chiefly from the areas covered by the natural and social sciences; and that there still remains to it the realm of pure thought, the theory of the laws of the thought process, formal logic and pure dialectics.36 Furthermore, philosophy is used in still another sense as synonymous with world outlook.37 And in this respect it is synonymous with dialectics itself as the sum total of the interdisciplinary sciences of nature, society and human thought.

There is little evidence that Marx ever changed his opinion about philosophy as defined by him in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, notably, that “philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thoughts and unthinkingly expounded. …”38 Consequently, he proposes that we condemn philosophy, like religion, as another form of man's self-alienation.39 Another objection to philosophy is its contemplative and purely intellectual character, its divorce from human practice. It is not a revolutionary or practical-critical activity; the contemplative attitude and scholastic inquiries promoted by philosophy are in fact inimical to most efforts at changing the world.40 Logic is no more part of philosophy for Marx than are the special sciences of nature and history. It belongs rather to the organon of modern science. Similarly, dialectics is not a branch of philosophy for Marx, but belongs with logic to the methodology of the sciences and to the social sciences in particular.

How did Engels's treatment of philosophy differ from that of Marx? It is noteworthy that Engels proposed to salvage philosophy by changing its traditional function. While disclaiming any need for that sort of philosophy which traditionally aspired to a knowledge of the totality of things, he does not turn his back upon philosophy altogether. On the contrary, he notes that formal logic and dialectics not only played an important part in all earlier philosophy, but also continue to be of service to science and the world.41 Natural scientists, he argues, cannot afford to do without philosophy in this special sense. Philosophy is needed to free science from traditional philosophical notions that cannot withstand logical and dialectical scrutiny.42 Furthermore, science stands in need of interdisciplinary investigations that transcend the narrow jurisdictional claims of any one science.43

The difference in intellectual content underlying Marx's and Engels' different formulations is evident not only in their choice of language, but also in their honorific use of special terms to designate the principal tasks they set for themselves. Thus Marx's major concern to demolish the authority and intellectual pretensions of bourgeois political science, law, jurisprudence, political economy and ethics was honoured by the names “critique” and “criticism.” Not only are most of his works critiques of one kind or another, such as his several works on political economy, but his early writings indicate almost an obsession with the word criticism.44 Whether we call his method positive criticism, humanistic criticism, scientific criticism, naturalistic criticism, practical criticism, or materialistic criticism, we are in any case employing terms that Marx himself used to distinguish his work from the critical criticism, and pre-eminently theological criticism of the bourgeois radicals of his day. Although Engels, too, wrote a number of critical works, his later writings, like his fierce polemic against Duhring's alleged revolution in science, suggest an increasing concern with scientific criticism, especially of the interdisciplinary variety. The honorific term par excellence in Engels' writings is not “critique” but “dialectic,” itself a term for interdisciplinary science. Although Marx also used the term “dialectics” in a similar sense, for him it was chiefly a method applicable within the special sciences, and, furthermore, a method of social criticism in particular.

For Marx the withering away of traditional philosophy went hand in hand with what today we would call the rise of philosophy of science, or what he preferred to call a dialectical critique of science. Of course, a major difference between Marx's philosophy of science and the philosophy of science as currently taught in our universities is that materialist dialectics is essentially critical and revolutionary. Dialectical criticism employs not only the skills of epistemology and scientific method, but also those of the sociology of knowledge. Science is criticized for the values it presupposes and the interests it serves as well as for its lack of theoretical completeness and comparative neglect of conflict theory and social dynamics. Above all, Marx's philosophy of science did not pretend to be politically neutral.

The end of philosophy in the hitherto accepted sense of the word meant for Engels abandoning the quest for certainty for the sake of specialized scientific investigations and the “summation of their results by means of dialectical thinking.”45 Here the stress is upon the development of a general science, interdisciplinary in nature, which has to be confirmed and validated not in a science of sciences standing apart, but in the positive sciences.46 Thus dialectics is equated with a philosophical science in a new sense distinct from both traditional metaphysics and modern methodologies of science. Dialectics becomes with Engels the science of metaconnections; the queen of the sciences is not philosophy of science but philosophical science.47 Here lies the crucial difference in emphasis and approach in Marx's and Engels' different uses of “dialectics.” It is the difference between a generalized scientific reinterpretation of philosophy and a critical-economic one tied directly to the interests of modern wage-earners.

Superficially, Engels' reinterpretation of the task of the scientific philosopher was more all-embracing than that of Marx. He did not limit himself to Marx's job of criticizing bourgeois science and social science in particular, but went further in the effort to formulate a scientific world-view and general theory of society. However, in extending the meaning of dialectics he increasingly substituted the interdisciplinary-scientific for the critical-revolutionary approach to human knowledge. Although his dialectics of society as a science of socialism is directly partisan to the interests of labour, his dialectics of nature is not. Furthermore, in his preoccupation with the need for a unified social science he claims much more for Marx's contributions to it than is actually warranted. At least Marx did not presume to be developing a philosophical science of society that would omit nothing of importance in the social sciences, not to mention matters of special interest to other classes besides the proletariat.

Clearly, Marx abandoned philosophy in turning most of his theoretical energies to political economy and historiography. Although political economy, or what today goes under the name of economic sociology, can now claim to constitute an interdisciplinary science, in Marx's day it had yet to become a separate discipline from economics. In any case, it was left for Engels to popularize it and to provide a general philosophical over-view of Marx's specialized researches.


What, then, is our assessment of Engels's contribution to the corpus of Marxist theory? Here it may be of interest to contrast Engels's interpretation of Marxism with Lenin's elucidation of it. For Engels the basis of Marxism is the materialist conception of nature rather than of history. Evidence for the interrelation between the various spheres of investigation in the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, biology, etc.) has called for a science of sciences capable of integrating our interdisciplinary knowledge in this area into a natural scientific world-view.48 In one sense, materialism is no longer a philosophy at all, but simply a world outlook predicated upon the natural sciences.49 Traditional materialism is “overcome as regards its form [metaphysics], and preserved as regards its real content [science].”50 The question is whether or not Engels was warranted in believing that his dialectics of nature was in fact a science of sciences rather than a philosophy in the traditional sense.

Aside from the question whether it is theoretically possible to provide Marxism with a foundation in the natural sciences, Engels tends to confuse the foundation with the structure itself. More important than the foundation for Marx are the special sciences dealing directly with man and his problems. Moreover, the general laws of connection, concatenation, motion, development, origins and endings in nature, which are applicable to human society and thought, are far too general in scope to be regarded as experimental or strictly scientific. Engels's laws of the transformation of quantity into quality, the interpenetration of opposites, and the negation of the negation51 are susceptible to verification only inasmuch as they are not universal. A science of sciences is one thing; a philosophical science universal in scope is, however, a contradiction in terms. Despite Engels's attack upon the metaphysical tradition for its timeless and static character, his own generalizations concerning motion are no less abstract and universal than those of traditional metaphysics. And, to that extent, they are just as vacuous.

Considerably closer to Marx's own views was Lenin's identification of dialectics with “living, many-sided knowledge … with an infinite number of shadings of every sort of approach and approximation to reality (with a philosophical system growing into a whole out of each shade) … an immeasurably rich content as compared with ‘metaphysical’ materialism, the fundamental misfortune of which is its inability to apply dialectics to … the process and development of knowledge.”52 In this light, the contribution of dialectics is not the formulation of the most general interconnections in nature, society and human thought, but rather the use of these formulas as guides towards further specialized investigations within these areas. Dialectics is less of a philosophical science for Lenin than a propædeutic to the special sciences. Furthermore, it is only the theory of knowledge of Marxism and, to that extent, only a very small part of Marx's theory as a whole.53 That theory is in its essence critical and revolutionary rather than dialectical in Engels's sense of the term. What is unique about Marxism is that “this theory directly sets out to disclose all the forms of antagonism and exploitation in modern society, to trace their evolution, demonstrate their transient character, the inevitability of their transformation into a different form, and thus help the proletariat as quickly and easily as possible to put an end to all exploitation …, indeed, the purpose of theory, the aim of science, as directly laid down here, is to assist the oppressed class in its actual economic struggle.”54 Unlike Engels's interpretation that goes beyond Marx, Lenin's comments indicate a return to the original content of Marx's thought.

Here we may agree with Engels's critics that the dialectic has in some instances been degraded from a theory of the inner dynamics of history to a subspecies of formal logic and elementary scholasticism. In abstraction from the theory of history and politics, philosophy becomes metaphysics, whereas the great achievement of Marxism in the history of modern thought is the concrete historicization and politicization of philosophy.55 Marx's achievement should not be confused with Engels' efforts to illustrate historically the general laws of dialectics. The mere effort to illustrate them presupposes that the laws of dialectics are first abstracted from the history of nature and human society and presented in the form of general categories and conclusions. This transformation of dialectics into a universal scientific world outlook and the subsequent application of its most general laws to the study of history would have been pointless to Marx. In the first place, these laws are nothing but empty shells until they are historically illustrated. Furthermore, the attempt to illustrate them historically is distinct from Marx's own method of historical criticism, which consists not in the application of abstract categories to the passage of events, not in a comparison of facts with ideas, but rather with other facts.56


  1. For recent estimates of Engels as a “revisionist” of Marxism see Herbert Marcuse, Soviet Marxism (New York, 1958), pp. 137-8, 142-5; Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la Raison Dialectique (Paris, 1960), pp. 121-35; Robert Tucker, Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx (London, 1961), p. 184; George Lichtheim, Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study (New York, 1961), pp. 58-61, 234-58; and Leopold Labedz, ed., Revisionism: Essays on the History of Marxist Ideas (New York, 1962), pp. 179-87, 344-6, 349 n. Historically, this criticism of Engels stems largely from Karl Korsch's Marxismus und Philosophie (Leipzig, 1930). For a brief English introduction to Korsch's work see Paul Mattick, “Karl Korsch: His Contribution to Revolutionary Marxism,” Controversy (Autumn, 1962), Vol. I, No. 1, pp. 11-21. For a conventional Marxist defence of Engels see the all too brief criticism of Leszek Kolakowski by Adam Schaff, “Studies of the Young Marx: A Rejoinder,” in the Labedz volume, pp. 188-94.

  2. See Lichtheim, op. cit., pp. 60-1; and Iring Fetscher's essay, “Germany: Marxismus-Studien,” in the Labedz volume, p. 344.

  3. Anti-Duhring, 2nd ed. (Moscow, 1959), pp. 16-22, 122-5.

  4. See Marx's essay, “Toward the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right” in Lewis Feuer, Marx & Engels: Basic Writings on Politics & Philosophy (Garden City, 1959), p. 266.

  5. Ludwig Feuerbach (New York, 1941), p. 61.

  6. For the practical-critical emphasis of Marx's early works see especially his Theses on Feuerbach (1845). For Marx's later designation of his socialism as materialistic-critical see his letter to Sorge, London, October 19, 1877, Selected Works (New York, 1933), Vol. II, p. 625.

  7. Anti-Duhring, p. 27.

  8. Ibid, pp. 379-82.

  9. Ibid, p. 10.

  10. Ibid. See also the discarded preface to Anti-Duhring, pp. 454-5.

  11. Ibid., pp. 13-14.

  12. Ibid., p. 21.

  13. Ibid., p. 17.

  14. Ibid., p. 14; see also p. 23.

  15. “On Historical Materialism” in Feuer, op. cit., p. 54; cf. also pp. 65-6.

  16. “Letters on Historical Materialism” in Feuer, op. cit., pp. 395-412.

  17. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Moscow, 1956), p. 111; italics deleted.

  18. Ibid., italics deleted.

  19. Ludwig Feuerbach, p. 29.

  20. Ibid., p. 279.

  21. See Engels's letter to H. Starkenburg, London, January 25, 1894, Selected Correspondence (Moscow, 1953), pp. 548-9; and Ludwig Feuerbach, pp. 60-1.

  22. Ibid., pp. 44-7; Anti-Duhring, pp. 122-5; and Engels's letter to Marx, London, May 30, 1873, Selected Correspondence, pp. 342-3.

  23. Anti-Duhring, pp. 43, 124 f.

  24. Dialectics of Nature (Moscow, 1954), p. 245.

  25. Ludwig Feuerbach, p. 42 n.

  26. In the Introduction to Dialectics of Nature Engels addresses himself directly to scientific workers and their professional interests: “we have subdued the forces of nature and pressed them into the service of mankind; we have thereby infinitely multiplied production, so that a child now produces more than a hundred adults previously did [italics mine].” Who is this “we” if not the scientific community, the “undaunted scientific theoreticians” and “scientific circles” to whom he likewise addressed himself in the prefaces to Anti-Duhring?

  27. Anti-Duhring, pp. 36, 194, 455 f.; and Dialectics of Nature, pp. 27, 58 f., 82.

  28. Ibid., pp. 58-68, 83.

  29. Preface to the 2nd ed. of Capital (Chicago, 1906), Vol. I, p. 26.

  30. Ibid., pp. 20, 26; and “Toward the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right,” op. cit., p. 263. For an interpretation of the dialectic as a method of historical criticism, see Antonio Gramsci, The Modern Prince and Other Writings (London, 1957), pp. 96-7, 99-100; and Herbert Marcuse, Reason and Revolution: Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory (Boston, 1960), pp. vii-xii, 314-16. For an interpretation of “Marxism” in similar terms see Mattick, op. cit., pp. 13-14; and Irving Louis Horowitz, “Social Science Objectivity and Value Neutrality: Historical Problems and Projections,” Diogenes 39, pp. 21-5.

  31. Capital, Vol. I, pp. 22-5.

  32. Dialectics of Nature, p. 83.

  33. Ludwig Feuerbach, p. 12.

  34. Ibid., p. 11.

  35. “Theses on Feuerbach” in Feuer, op. cit., p. 245.

  36. Ludwig Feuerbach, pp. 15, 59. See also Anti-Duhring, pp. 40, 59; and Dialectics of Nature, pp. 62, 279-80.

  37. Anti-Duhring, pp. 190-1, 457-8.

  38. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, p. 145.

  39. Ibid.

  40. “Theses on Feuerbach,” op. cit., pp. 243-5.

  41. Anti-Duhring, p. 40.

  42. Dialectics of Nature, p. 279.

  43. Anti-Duhring, p. 455.

  44. See, for example, his Preface to the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts.

  45. Ludwig Feuerbach, p. 15; see also p. 59.

  46. Anti-Duhring, p. 191.

  47. Dialectics of Nature, pp. 27, 82.

  48. An omitted fragment from Ludwig Feuerbach, p. 65.

  49. Anti-Duhring, p. 191.

  50. Ibid.

  51. Dialectics of Nature, p. 83.

  52. Lenin, “On Dialectics,” Marx, Engels, Marxism, 5th English edition (Moscow, 1959), pp. 369-70.

  53. Ibid., p. 369.

  54. Lenin, “What the ‘Friends of the People’ are and how they fight the Social-Democrats,” ibid., p. 118.

  55. Gramsci, op. cit., pp. 99-100.

  56. Capital, Vol. I, p. 23.

I. Kuzminov (essay date 1970)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5087

SOURCE: “Frederick Engels and the Economic Theory of Socialism,” in International Affairs, Nov., 1970, pp. 26-32.

[In the following essay, Kuzminov maintains that Engels and Marx formulated a theory of the basic principles pertaining to the political economy of communism. Kuzminov studies these principles as developed by Engels and comments on the experience of the Soviet Union in the application of Marx's and Engels' principles.]

The theory of scientific socialism is rightly considered the product of two brilliant minds—Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Paul Lafargue, noted figure in the international working-class movement and talented populariser of the ideas of Marxism, writes in his reminiscences that it is impossible to think of Engels without recalling Marx. This was also emphasised by Lenin. “From the time that fate brought Karl Marx and Frederick Engels together the two friends devoted their life work to a common cause,” Lenin wrote. Many fundamental works were produced by them jointly. The ideas elaborated by these two great minds in their own individual writings were repeatedly and thoroughly discussed both during personal meetings and by correspondence. Lenin specially mentions as a truly scientific exploit the work accomplished by Engels in preparing the second and third volumes of Capital for publication.


Engels made a substantial and comprehensive contribution to the theory of scientific socialism. Marx, according to Lafargue, never stopped wondering at the universality of Engels's knowledge, the subtlety of this mind. Engels's sphere of scientific interests encompassed philosophy, political economy, history, philology and military matters. In all spheres studied by Engels he proved himself to be an inquisitive analyst who delved deep into the heart of the matter. Lenin characterised as follows the importance of Engels's works for Marxism: “It is impossible to understand Marxism and to propound it fully without taking into account all the works of Engels.”1

As ideologists of the working class, Marx and Engels saw their primary task in analysing scientifically the capitalist mode of production from the viewpoint of the class interests of the proletariat, in ascertaining its historic mission, the mission of grave-digger of capitalism and builder of the new, communist society. This task was splendidly accomplished in the monumental Capital and in a number of works by Engels; for example, The Condition of the Working Class in England, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, and Anti-Dühring. Concerning the first of these works Lenin wrote: “Engels was the first to say that the proletariat is not only a suffering class; that it is, in fact, the disgraceful economic condition of the proletariat that drives it irresistibly forward and compels it to fight for its ultimate emancipation.”2

In analysing the capitalist mode of production, Marx and Engels not only arrived at their conclusion about the necessity and inevitability of capitalism's fall and the socialist revolution, but also revealed the content of the transitional period from capitalism to communism, and delineated the main contours of the future society. In other words, creating the political economy of capitalism, Marx and Engels also formulated the basic principles of the political economy of the communist formation.

Moreover, their conception of the future society, of the process of transition to communism, was based on a strictly scientific analysis of the economic regularities and facts. In a letter to Edward Pease, one of the founders of the Fabian Society, Engels specially drew attention to this point: “Our views of the features which distinguish the future non-capitalist society from the contemporary society are precise conclusions from the historical facts and the processes of development,” he wrote.

But is it possible in principle to speak of the political economy of the communist formation? This question was raised already during the lifetime of Marx and Engels, and it was raised again after the Great October Revolution in Soviet political literature. A group of economists influential at that time headed by Bukharin, expounded the view that political economy examines only the commodity capitalist economy in the system of which the relations among people are concealed as it were by relations among things. Under socialism, however, the Bukharinites argued, where relations among people are clear, or “transparent”, no theoretical analysis is needed, and therefore political economy is also unnecessary. The end of capitalism, according to Bukharin, would also spell the end of political economy. But Engels long ago furnished an exhaustive answer to this question. In his Anti-Dühring, he differentiates between political economy in the narrow sense of the word, namely, one that studies the capitalist mode of production, and political economy in the broad sense, which encompasses all socio-economic formations, including the communist. Moreover, Engels added that “political economy in this wider sense has still to be brought into being”.3 Lenin, in his remarks on Bukharin's book The Economy of the Transition Period, in which the latter tried to prove that political economy was unnecessary after the socialist revolution, noted that Bukharin's position was nothing but a “step back from Engels”. The subsequent development of the socialist economy has demonstrated that, although production relations under socialism are indeed free of the shell of fetishism they are by no means simpler, or more primitive: on the contrary, in structural nature they are finer, more complex than the relations in all the preceding formations, and their analysis is very important and complicated.


Engels, like Marx, paid great attention to the problem of the transitional period from capitalism to communism, to the forms and tasks of transforming a capitalist into a communist society. Both thinkers regarded political power, the dictatorship of the proletariat, as the instrument of this transformation. Engels wrote that he and Marx had both always considered that for the achievement of its aims in the revolution “the proletarian class will first have to possess itself of the organised political force of the State, and with this aid stamp out the resistance of the Capitalist class and reorganise society”.4

At the same time, Marx and Engels emphasised the importance of such a force as the party of the proletariat, which becomes aware of itself as a class party. In a letter to Jerson Trier, a Danish Social Democrat, Engels wrote: “For the proletariat to be sufficiently strong and to be able to win at the decisive moment, it is necessary—Marx and I have been upholding this position since 1847—that it form a special party, separate from all others and opposed to them which considers itself a class party.” Lenin, following this legacy of the founders or Marxism, built up a mighty party of the working class, and the historical experience of the Soviet Union has confirmed the exceptional significance of such a party for the victory of the proletariat in the socialist revolution and its tremendous constructive role in building the new, communist society.

In the Principles of Communism, a work presenting a draft programme of the Communist League, prepared on the instructions of the League and later utilised in the drawing up of the Communist Manifesto, Engels pointed out that the immediate abolition of private property and the growth of the productive forces on the necessary scale, was impossible. “Therefore,” he stressed, “the revolution of the proletariat which is oncoming, according to all signs, will be able to transform the present society only gradually …”. The Principles also outline such basic measures of the transition period as the gradual expropriation of landed property, large-scale industry, the transport system and the banks; the introduction of the universal obligation to work; the development of the social economy, etc. These measures were subsequently incorporated in the text of the Communist Manifesto. The leading force in the reconstruction of society is the proletariat, which takes political power in order, as pointed out in the Manifesto, “to wrest, by degrees, all capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralise all instruments of production in the hands of the State, i.e., of the proletariat organised as the ruling class”.5

These thoughts were subsequently developed by Engels in other works: for example, in Anti-Dühring he thoroughly substantiates this proposition. “The proletariat,” he emphasises, “seizes political power and turns the means of production in the first instance into state property.”6 Thereby the proletariat abolishes class antagonisms and then, gradually, all class differences.

Engels points out that the capitalist mode of production itself indicates the way to this revolution. The productive forces increasingly acquire a social nature, whereas appropriation remains private. Hence, between the social nature of the contemporary productive forces and their private capitalist shell there is a conflict, which is expressed most sharply in economic crises and also in other forms of mass destruction of the productive forces; for example in wars or in the militarisation of the economy.

The need to recognise the social nature of the productive forces already asserts itself within the bounds of capitalism, assuming the form of joint-stock companies and state property. The capitalist state is compelled to assume management first and foremost of such sectors as communications, railway transport, electric power, and so on. But Engels warns us that the conversion of the means of production into state property does not signify a transformation of capitalism, does not resolve the conflict, but merely contains the “formal means, the possibility of resolving it”, that is, indicates to the proletariat the way of actually resolving it in the course of the socialist revolution.

Under capitalism, however, the conversion of the means of production into state property “does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces”, because the capitalist state is “only the organisation that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the general external conditions of the capitalist mode of production”, a “capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital”.7

In this connection Engels caustically derides “spurious socialism …, degenerating now and again, into something of flunkeyism, that without more ado declares all state ownership even of the Bismarckian sort, to be socialistic. Certainly, if the taking over, by the state of the tobacco industry is socialistic, then Napoleon and Metternich must be numbered among the founders of socialism”. The turning of the means of production into state property, according to Engels, is “in no sense, a socialistic measure, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously. Otherwise, the Royal Maritime Company, the Royal porcelain manufacture, and even the regimental tailor of the army would also be socialistic institutions”.8

So far from losing its significance, this remark of Engels on the contrary acquires special weight under the conditions of the development of state-monopoly capitalism and the practice of bourgeois nationalisation. It is also sharply relevant to the fraudulent socialism of present-day revisionists who picture the imperialist state as a national agency concerned with the welfare of the people as a whole and who claim that every step of this state in assuming control over production is a step towards socialism.

The winning over of the working peasantry to the side of socialism and the means for the socialist reorganisation of small peasant farming, were one of the most important and difficult questions in the transformation of society. Putting forward the programme for nationalising large-scale capitalist property, the classics of Marxism at the same time set the task of gradually redirecting the peasantry on to the road of socialism and discovered the form for this transition, namely, the cooperatives. Engels wrote: “That during the transition to a complete communist economy, we will have to employ on a large-scale cooperative production as an intermediate link—of this Marx and I never had any doubt.”

Cooperatives as a means of transition to socialism are most suitable for the socialist reorganisation of peasant farming. Marx and Engels stressed the need for winning over the working peasantry to the side of the proletariat, attentively considering its distinctive features and rendering it the necessary support in the organisation of cooperatives. Engels wrote: “We shall do everything at all permissible to make his [the peasant's] lot more bearable, to facilitate his transition to the cooperative should he decide to do so, and even to make it possible for him to remain on his small holding for a protracted length of time to think the matter over, should he still be unable to bring himself to this decision.”9

These ideas of Marx and Engels were taken up by Lenin and by our Party and further developed in Lenin's plan for cooperative production and in his teaching of the alliance of the working class and peasantry.

The importance Engels attached to the elaboration of the question of the transitional period and the thoroughness he demanded in this matter are illustrated by his letter to Konrad Schmidt, who planned to write a special study on the subject. Engels wrote: “Your second plan—transitional stages to communist society—is worth pondering over, but I would advise you nonum prematur in annum; this is the most difficult of all the existing questions, because the conditions are constantly changed.”


In one of his early statements, in the Elberfeld Speeches, written in February 1845, Engels expounded the idea of collectivity as the underlying foundation of the new society. In contrast to the fragmented economy, the mutual struggle of producers, the conflicting interests and the struggle of exploiters and exploited under capitalism Marx and Engels propose the single social economy, unity in management, the collective nature of production under communism, and depicts the tremendous advantages of this new organisation of production.

Competition and anarchy in production, together with the exploitation of wage-earners, result in a tremendous waste of productive forces owing to haphazard and uncontrolled production, economic crises, unemployment, superfluous middlemen in trade, wanton luxury among the ruling classes, and so forth. The organisation of production on a collective basis makes it possible to avoid all these losses. “But,” Engels writes, “the advantages afforded by the communist organisation as a result of utilising the now wasted labour powers is still not the most important thing . The biggest saving of labour power is contained in combining the separate labour powers into a collective power and in such a system which is based on the concentration of the powers which until now stood opposed to each other.”

Here Engels described the profound underlying reasons for the advantages of the economy of the new formation as compared with the capitalist formation. In actual fact, economic development under capitalism is a result of adding the losses and gains of opposing forces, while under socialism it is a result of multiplying the forces concentrated on the achievement of a single goal. A new productive force arises unknown under capitalism, the collective organisation of social production.

In modern times, as in the days of Marx and Engels, attempts have been made, and still are being made, to picture the relations of collectivity as common to all formations, including the exploiting systems. According to this view, slave and the slave-owner, capitalist and worker, are simply equal members or equal partners in a single production collective. Marx and Engels vigorously opposed these concepts which pervert the real state of affairs. The joint labour of many people (or labour cooperation) has of course existed in various socio-economic conditions, while under capitalism labour cooperation becomes a permanent form of production. Under exploiting formations, however, the joint labour of many people, like other combinations, is not under any circumstances collective, but represents, according to the expression of Marx and Engels, “sham collectivity” or “illusory collectivity”, and is utilised by the exploiters as a means of exploitation. “Sham collectivity in which individuals united until now always counterposed itself to them as something independent; and since it was an association of one class against another, it represented for the subordinate class not only absolutely illusory collectivity, but also new fetters.”

A genuine community presupposes the economic equality of individuals, their emancipation from exploitation, the existence of a single, common, material interest. In contrast to the illusory, false community, Marx and Engels propose genuine collectivity. “The very opposite takes place under the collectivity of revolutionary proletarians who place under their control both the conditions of their existence and the conditions of the existence of all members of society: in this collectivity individuals participate as individuals. … In conditions of genuine collectivity, individuals acquire freedom in their association and through it.”

Speaking of collectivity as the foundation of production, Marx and Engels regarded all society as a single producer, as an association of producers within the bounds of the entire national economy, and energetically opposed the various petty-bourgeois, syndicalist tendencies. Emphasising the importance of cooperative production in redirecting the peasant along the road to socialism, Engels indicated the need for ensuring conditions under which the “particular interest of the cooperative could not prevail over the interests of society as a whole”.

The existence of a single production aim uniting the efforts of all the producers on a national economy scale is a distinguishing feature of the collective organisation of social production. In a number of his works, Engels not only emphasises the importance of a single production aim under the conditions of the new society, but also reveals its content. Thus, in the Principles of Communism Engels points out that in future society the possibility of unlimited and expanding production will help to ensure the free development and application of the energies and capabilities of every member and that production will develop “in accordance with the needs of all members of society”. Developing this thought in Anti-Dühring, Engels writes that in future society the development of production will be subordinated to the task of ensuring for “all members of society the means of existence and of the free development of their capacities, and indeed in constantly increasing measure”.10

The revolutionary movement of the working class follows this major postulate of Engels'. When the first programme of the party was drawn up, Lenin energetically objected to Plekhanov's formula of the aim of production, which read: “The planned organisation of the social productive process for satisfying the needs of society as a whole and also its separate members.” Lenin pointed out the haziness and imprecision of this formula. “Such ‘satisfaction’ is ‘given’ by capitalism as well, but not to all members of society and not in equal degree.11 On Lenin's insistence, Plekhanov's suggested formula was replaced in the programme by the following: “To ensure the well-being and the many-sided development of all members of society.” This formula, which stems from the propositions of Marx and Engels, was retained by Lenin in the Programme of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) as approved by the Eighth Congress of the Party.12

In recent years, the advocates of all kinds of “new models of socialism of the O. Šik type have exerted much effort to prove that the social and material interests (incentives) of the people as a whole are an empty abstraction, a fabrication for prettifying reality under socialism, whereas the only real incentive lies in personal and group interests. Yet a single economy, a single goal of production common to all, determines the material interests (or incentives), not substituting for the other interests, but acquiring a leading significance of their own. The tremendous role of this stimulus has been proved by the entire history of socialist construction in our country.

Now if all producers are united by a single aim and common interests, and if they work on communal means of production, relations between them can be neither relations of exploitation nor relations of competition; they can only be relations of comrades with equal rights working for the common cause or, to put it another way, relations of comradely cooperation and allround mutual assistance. These new relations of people engaged in the process of production also affect their relations in the suprastructural sphere: relations between classes, between social groups, between nations within a country, and finally, between states within the framework of the world socialist system.

The experience of the Soviet Union and other socialist countries has visibly confirmed the prediction of Marx and Engels that the abolition of exploitation of one man by another will also abolish the exploitation of one nation by another, and that, as class antagonism disappears, hostile relations between nations will also vanish of their own accord. The new principles, both in the home and foreign policy of the socialist states, are deeply rooted in the economic nature of the new society.

The efforts of millions of producers who pursue a single aim according to the laws of phenomena in the social, economic and psychological spheres, must be coordinated. Marx and Engels, characterising the economy of the new society in relation to this law, always pointed to systematised planning as its intrinsic feature. In the Principles of Communism, Engels writes that under socialism “all sections of production will be managed by entire society, i.e., will be operated in the social interest, according to a social plan, and with the participation of all members of society. Thus, this new social system will abolish competition and put association in its place.”

Association or, to put it another way, the collectivity of production, was countered by Engels to competition; systematised planning as an organic feature of association was contraposed to the anarchy of production organically linked with competition.

In Anti-Dühring Engels characterised the new society as “organised for cooperative work on a planned basis”.13 “With this recognition, at last, of the real nature of the productive forces of today,” Engels writes, “the social anarchy of production gives place to a social regulation of production upon a definite plan, according to the needs of the community and of each individual.”14 These ideas of Engels' were subsequently developed by Lenin and our Party on a basis of generalising from the experience gained in building socialism and became the cornerstone of the theory and practice of socialist planning.

Engels, like Marx, paid much attention to questions of distribution, examining them in close connection with the development of production. On the one hand, Engels stressed that “distribution in so far as it is governed by purely economic considerations, will be regulated by the interests of production, and that production is most encouraged by a mode of distribution which allows all members of society to develop, maintain and exercise their capacities with maximum universality”.15 Engels here links up the aim of production in the new society with the form (system) of distribution. On the other hand, Engels emphasises that the method of distribution, apart from the decisive influence of the given social form, is also affected by the level of production development, by the quantity of products subject to distribution. This methodological proposition of Engels' gives a deeper understanding of the characteristics of distribution in the first and second phases of communism.

Indicating the common features of the communist formation as a whole (the absence of exploitation, the collective nature of production, a common goal of production, planned economy, etc.), Marx and Engels simultaneously drew attention to the need for examining this formation in its dialectical development, in motion. Engels stressed: “The so-called ‘socialist society’ in my opinion is not something given once for all and, like any other social system, it has to be regarded as subject to constant change and transformation.” This idea was further developed and perfected in those works of Marx and Engels which specifically expounded the theory of the two phases of communism; the first, lower phase (socialism), and the second, higher phase (communism). In the writings devoted to this question, the classics of Marxism also analysed certain characteristics of each phase, particularly the first, which are determined by the insufficient development of the productive forces. One of these distinctions, analysed by Marx in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, is distribution according to quantity and quality of work.

At the same time, the classics of Marxism did not think that they could foresee all the possible concrete forms of the future society's development and they did not set themselves such a task; but they elaborated and formulated the initial methodological postulates of the scientific communism which revolutionary parties of the proletariat could utilise for the solution of all the main historical problems facing them; thus, Marx and Engels laid the cornerstone of the theory of building a new society which was subsequently developed, gaining from the experience of socialist construction in the USSR and later in other countries.


Engels called the transition from capitalism to communism the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom. This proposition does not mean that under communism economic laws lose their objective nature and economic necessity vanishes. Economic laws, both in the first and in the second phase of communist formation, are objective laws which have to be taken into account. But while it is inherent in capitalism to obey laws of the scattered actions of private individuals, of producers acting in opposition to each other, of mutual struggle and the oppression of the weak by the strong, the economic laws of socialism are collective production, the united actions of people, their all-embracing cooperation in achieving a common aim. But this means that under capitalism, even if people are aware to this or that degree of the laws of social evolution, they nevertheless remain slaves of their own dissociated actions. Under communism, however, since the producers act as a single entity and strive for a single aim, they rise above nature and the uncontrolled forces of society and place the social forces under collective control; and so the result of their united actions increasingly coincides with their hypotheses and aims. “The whole sphere of the conditions of life which environ man, and which have hitherto ruled man, now comes under the dominion and control of man, who for the first time becomes the real, conscious lord of nature, because he has now become master of his own social organisation. The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face to face with man as laws of nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him.”16

The experience of building the new society in the Soviet Union and in other socialist countries has corroborated this prediction by Engels. It has been proved that the efficiency of the collective labour of the producers is directly dependent on the degree of comprehension of economic laws and on thorough penetration into the inner workings of their mechanism. A profound understanding of socialism's economic laws is the principle task of the builders of the new society.

But comprehension of laws is only a necessary prerequisite for raising the efficiency of human action. Engels emphasised this thought as applied to the conditions of capitalism: “Mere knowledge, even if it went much further and deeper than that of bourgeois economic science, is not enough to bring social forces under the domination of society. What is above all necessary for this, is a social act.”17 In this context, a “social act” means the socialist revolution. But Engels's thought in a definite sense is also applicable to socialism, namely, here it is not enough to understand a law; it is necessary to be able to make use of it. But for this purpose “social act” is needed in the sense of properly organising the collective efforts of millions of producers equipped with knowledge and inspired with the ideas of communism.

Engels voiced the profound thought that economic laws are laws of action of social forces in the sphere of production. Just as the laws of natural science are laws of action or interaction of various forces of nature, the laws of political economy are laws of action or interaction of the social forces of production. This means that economic laws include not only the objective necessity but also the objective possibility which can be utilised to greater or smaller effect, and it is on our knowledge and on our ability to use this opportunity, that the success of all our activity largely depends. “Active social forces”, Engels wrote, “work exactly like natural forces: blindly, forcibly, destructively, so long as we do not understand, and reckon with them. But when once we understand them, when once we grasp their action, their direction, their effects, it depends only upon ourselves to subject them more and more to our own will and by means of them to reach our own ends.”18

This proposition has truly universal significance, and is fully applicable to the economic laws operating in socialist society. Let us take, for example, the law of distribution according to work done. It reflects the existence of a mighty social force, new for its nature, the material interest of the workers in the development of social production. If we do not consider this force in every sector of economic activity, then we are faced with processes like fast personnel turnover and a slowing down or even a decline in labour productivity. Conversely, due consideration for this same force is a powerful asset for increasing labour productivity and the efficiency of social production.

An approach to economic laws as laws of the action and interaction of diverse social forces enables us to deduce that they can be measured, can be expressed in qualitative relationships. By this means, the possibility is opened for applying mathematical methods to economic theory and practice, thus creating a basis for the application of progressive methods (electronic computer techniques) in planning and managing the national economy.

The immense theoretical legacy left by Marx and Engels was taken over by Lenin and by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and further developed on the basis of the experience of the Great October Revolution and socialist construction. This legacy has served and continues to serve, the international communist and working-class movement.


  1. V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 21, p. 91.

  2. V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 2, p. 22.

  3. Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow, 1962, p. 207.

  4. K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Correspondence, Moscow, p. 437.

  5. K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1958, p. 53.

  6. F. Engels, Anti-Dühring, Moscow, 1962, p. 384.

  7. Ibid., p. 382.

  8. Ibid., p. 381.

  9. K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. II, p. 435.

  10. Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 208.

  11. V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 6, p. 68.

  12. See V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 9, p. 121.

  13. Frederick Engels, Op. cit., p. 208.

  14. Ibid., p. 383.

  15. Ibid., p. 276.

  16. Frederick Engels, Op. cit., p. 388.

  17. Ibid., p. 434.

  18. Ibid., p. 383.

B. M. Kedrov (essay date 1970)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8169

SOURCE: “Science and Nature,” in Soviet Studies in Philosophy, Vol. X, No. 1, Summer, 1971, pp. 3-26.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1970, Kedrov explores Engels' aims and achievements in the writing of Dialectics of Nature, arguing that Engels strove to use materialist dialectics to “synthesize the findings of natural science in his day.”]

Philosophers and natural scientists are both familiar with the fact that, nearly a century ago, Engels undertook to synthesize the findings of natural science in his day from the standpoint of materialist dialectics. But few know the price Engels paid, how many times the work approached completion but was, for various reasons, postponed again and again until his death. In his mind, what place was his Dialectics of Nature to have occupied in the overall system of Marxist theory? This is the question to which I devote the present article. But before offering an answer, it is necessary to trace, albeit briefly, the history of this book—how it was conceived by Engels, how work on it progressed, how it was broken off, and how the incomplete manuscript came down to us.


Engels began to interest himself in matters of natural science as early as the 1840s. At the outset, however, this was merely a secondary interest associated chiefly with his work in political economy and also with his analysis of the situation of England in the eighteenth century. At the beginning of the 1850s he began to study physiology when, living in Manchester, he was compelled to engage in the most boring kind of work in a business office. At the end of the 1850s, after having familiarized himself with the first two great discoveries in natural science made in the 1830s and 1840s (the discovery of the cell and of the transformation of energy), Engels already undertook to interpret them philosophically from the standpoint of dialectics. On July 14, 1858, he asked Marx to send him Hegel's Naturphilosophie in order to compare what the “old man” (Hegel) had written with the latest achievements of natural science.

The year 1859 saw the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, which Marx and Engels read and discussed, first between themselves and then with other scholars and public and political figures. This is how the third great discovery of natural science of their time came within their purview.

A young communist chemist, K. Schorlemmer, turned up in the 1860s in Manchester, where Engels was living. Engels immediately became close to him and regularly discussed problems of natural science and its history with him. As a result, chemical atomistics entered the range of Engels' interest, as did questions on the borderline between chemistry and biology.

The 1870s began. Engels moved to London, liquidated his business interests, and threw himself headlong into the field of philosophical problems of natural science, which interested him. This was the period when all kinds of discards of earlier philosophical systems gained wide dissemination in Germany.

Apparently, at the beginning of February 1873, Engels began to incline toward the idea of writing something like an “Anti-Büchner” and made the first notes for such a work. Its core was to have been a counterposing of dialectics to metaphysics. The natural science of Engels' day had already demonstrated the presence of dialectics in nature by all its discoveries, great and small. The cell theory had demonstrated the unity of the structure and origin of the entire organic world—protista, vegetation, and animals; Darwinism provided a genetic connection among all organic species; the theory of the transformation of energy came to embrace all branches of inorganic natural science studying the forms of motion dominant in the sphere of inanimate nature. Thus, the ties among the forms of energy in inanimate nature were established, as were, quite separately, those among the forms of the organic world in animate nature. However, the sequential connection between the two principal fields of nature—the animate and inanimate—had not yet been grasped by scientists. Engels made an outstanding discovery: he found the key to eliminating the previously existing discontinuity between animate and inanimate nature. The general idea of development provided this key. In the individual branches of natural science—astronomy, physics, chemistry, geology, biology—it had already won a firm place for itself by that date. But with respect to natural science as a whole and, in particular, the point of contact between inorganic natural science and organic, a unified, all-embracing picture of the development of nature had not yet emerged at that time, so that in this regard there was still an unfilled lacuna, even a clear break. By his discovery Engels filled this lacuna, and thanks to this the gap at the most critical point of natural science as a whole was abolished, at least as regards basic principle.

Next, the need arose to express this discovery in conceptual form. In this connection, Engels introduced a broader notion than that with which natural scientists had operated hitherto—the notion of the “form of motion,” including both that of forms of energy (mechanical, physical, and chemical) and that of the biological process. With its assistance, Engels posed the task of tracing not only how mechanical, physical, and chemical forms of motion converted into each other, but also how the chemical form of motion converts to the biological out of a given level of development of nature, i.e., gives rise to life.

The discovery went far beyond the narrow confines of the “Anti-Büchner” envisaged. It took on an independent significance and pointed the way to treatment of fundamental problems in the dialectics of nature. In this major investigation, a critique of Büchner could occupy only a rather modest place. For all practical purposes, it was from this time that Engels' work on the Dialectics of Nature began. He immediately informed Marx of this, and Marx informed Schorlemmer.

Events subsequently developed as follows: from May 1873 to May 1876, Engels worked on the Dialectics of Nature, assembling data for it and beginning to write its first chapter (“A Historical Introduction”); from May 1876 to June 1878, he devoted his energies entirely to writing Anti-Dühring, interrupting his work on the Dialectics of Nature for two full years; from June 1878 to March 1883, Engels was again occupied with the Dialectics of Nature, right up to the death of Marx, subsequent to which he did no more systematic work on the book but gave all his strength and time to work on the completion of the second and third volumes of Capital, which Marx had left incomplete.

However, even after March 1883, Engels turned to his book from time to time. At that point, though, he no longer wrote new chapters, fragments, and notes for it but began to append to it unpublished things from other writings. Thus, he included in it an old preface to Anti-Dühring, written in 1878, and then what had been omitted from his book Ludwig Feuerbach, as well as other things. Clearly, Engels had not lost hope that, after completing work on the second and third volumes of Capital, he would be able to return to his book and carry it to completion—making use, toward that end, of fragments of his other works that had not been published.

Somewhere in the 1890s, when the work on the third volume of Capital was nearing completion, Engels apparently undertook to launch the final work on his manuscripts for the Dialectics of Nature. He separated the more or less finished materials from those that were clearly incomplete, that had been written in fragmentary fashion, and from minor scattered comments—the number of which came to nearly two hundred. Engels divided all these materials into four groups and made a separate bundle of each. This testifies that he had clearly prepared to continue his work on the Dialectics of Nature. His death on August 5, 1895, interfered with the realization of this intention.


Today, of course, it is very difficult to form a judgment as to the final form in which Engels' book would have seen the light if it had been completed by its own author. However, one thing may be said with certainty: it would have been a book on the dialectics of natural science, central to which would have been a theory of the forms of motion of matter and their material carriers (their substrate).

But what would have been the range of branches of science encompassed by this research? This is a question of no small importance and, as we shall see, the clarification and understanding of Engels' primary intent is associated with it. One can answer this if one traces the content of the notes Engels made for the Dialectics of Nature as well as his letters on this question.

His letter to Marx of May 30, 1873, already indicated that at the outset, despite the discovery he had made, Engels had not yet thought of writing on the dialectics of living nature. The most he could then do was to pose for himself the task of uncovering the dialectics of forms of motion ruling inanimate nature, whose constantly increasing complexity and development culminated in a leaping transition from chemistry to life. This is why Engels concluded his letter with the admission: “Organism. Here I will not embark on any dialectics for the time being.” Schorlemmer agreed: “Neither will I” [English from The Correspondence of Marx and Engels, International Publishers, New York, 1934, p. 323—Translator].

Thus, having made his discovery and outlined a general direction for further investigation, Engels confined it within the limits of the forms of motion studied by mechanics, physics, and chemistry—but not biology. This, as we shall see later, was the basis of the first brief outline for the book-to-be. This limitation upon the subject matter was reflected in later notes by Engels. Thus, in the note “Dialectics of Natural Science,” written simultaneously with his letter to Marx of May 30, 1873, the final point, “Organic Nature,” was left undeveloped, as in the letter itself. Later, in a note “Reciprocal Action” (1874), he expressed himself in approximately the same fashion: “We see a series of forms of motion—mechanical motion, heat, light, electricity, magnetism, chemical union and decomposition, transitions of states of aggregation, organic life—all of which, if at present we still make an exception of organic life, pass into one another, mutually determine one another …” 1 [English from Engels, Dialectics of Nature, International Publishers, New York, 1940, p. 173—Translator].

On May 28, 1876, Engels wrote Marx that the end of the entire work was beginning to come into sight. It is quite clear that he was able to begin to see the end at this moment only because he continued for the time being to exclude organic nature from the dialectical treatment of natural science in his day.

Immediately after completing the work on Anti-Dühring, Engels sat down to the Dialectics of Nature. But here other questions arose, which he dealt with in a manner parallel to that book. Specifically, Engels undertook to make a special criticism of sallies against socialism by Darwinists, with reference to a paper by a German zoologist, O. Schmidt, “On the Relation of Darwinism to Social-Democracy,” and to Ernst Haeckel's pamphlet Free Science and Free Teaching. In his letters to O. Schmidt of July 19 and to P. L. Lavrov of August 10, 1878, Engels expressed his intention to respond to these statements.2 But this was still outside the framework of the Dialectics of Nature. In exactly the same way, the article “The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man” was written by him as early as 1876 as an undertaking separate from the Dialectics of Nature.

In the years that followed, Engels wrote a number of chapters for the Dialectics of Nature and continued to collect material in the form of separate notes and comments, in which the previous limited approach to the subject matter of the book was adhered to, wherein he did not venture outside the sphere of inanimate nature. Thus, in 1879, he wrote an article “Dialectics” in which he twice emphasized the thought that it is necessary to confine oneself solely to the field of inanimate nature and not to touch upon animate: “We are concerned here, in the first place, with nonliving bodies; the same law holds for living bodies, but it operates under very complex conditions and at present quantitative measurement is still often impossible for us” (Dialectics of Nature, p. 28; Russian source, p. 386). And at the end of the article: “In biology, as in the history of human society, the same law holds good at every step, but we prefer to dwell here on examples from the exact sciences, since here the quantities are accurately measurable and traceable” (English, p. 33; Russian, p. 389).

The matter under discussion was the law of transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. In subsequent articles (1880-1881) Engels explained why, in his day, it was altogether impossible as yet to undertake to find the dialectics of animate nature. In his article “The Basic Forms of Motion,” he wrote that explanations of the phenomena of life advanced in proportion to the progress of mechanics, physics, and chemistry. However, the explanation in terms of physics and chemistry “of the other phenomena of life is still pretty much at the beginning of its course. Hence, in investigating here the nature of motion, we are compelled to leave the organic forms of motion out of account. We are compelled to restrict ourselves—in accordance with the state of science—to the forms of motion of nonliving nature” (English, pp. 35-36; Russian, p. 391).

Thus, year after year, letter after letter, note after note, and in chapter after chapter, Engels persistently emphasized the idea that, in working out the Dialectics of Nature, he had to confine himself to inanimate nature and for the time being (while the book was in preparation) exclude animate nature.

It was in connection with this point of departure that Engels wrote the first brief outline of his book, which began with point “1. Motion in general,” followed by point “2. Attraction and repulsion. Transference of motion,” and then point “3. Application here of the [law] of conservation of energy,” etc. These were followed by three points devoted to mechanics (celestial and terrestrial), physics, and chemistry. At the end came “7. Resumé” (Russian, p. 344).

This plan was adhered to rigorously until the beginning of 1883. As a consequence there developed that very small Dialectics of Nature, whose end Engels started to trace as early as 1876. In 1882, he completed the chapter on physics—“Heat” and “Electricity”—and only chemistry and the resumé remained. This is why he was able to write with confidence in his letter to Marx of November 23, 1882: “Now, however, it is necessary to finish the dialectics of nature as soon as possible.” If Engels had then also set the objective of treating the dialectics of living nature, he could not have written to Marx in those words. Only on the condition that the theme of the book continued to be limited, as before, could a hope of completing the entire book in the near future have arisen at the end of 1882.

The fact that in 1882, as previously, Engels continued to exclude animate nature is evident, for example, from a fragment closing with the words: “Unfortunately, the matter will lag with respect to the form of motion characteristic of protein, alias with respect to life, until we are able to make protein” (Russian, p. 540).

This is the way things stood with regard to the writing of the Dialectics of Nature in accordance with the brief outline to which Engels adhered until 1883.


After Marx's death, Engels worked for two years on the second volume of Capital, which he completed in May 1885. Concurrently with this, he worked on the second edition of Anti-Dühring, which he completed in September of that same year 1885. In a preface to it he wrote: “At present I am compelled to confine myself to the rough notes contained in the work presented herewith, and await a future opportunity enabling me to collect and publish the results obtained … ” (pp. 12-13).

This means that Engels had not, at that time, abandoned hopes of completing and publishing the Dialectics of Nature, and that he therefore continued to think about it and collect materials for it. But inasmuch as he had no time to work on it at that point, he began to pick out of his other works everything that might be suitable for the Dialectics of Nature. Thus, he prepared three footnotes to various passages in Part I of Anti-Dühring pertaining to philosophical problems in natural science and mathematics and then changed his mind and attached them to the manuscript of Dialectics of Nature. What was the reason for this? The fact that Engels did not have the time to polish these three footnotes, or that their content fitted the Dialectics of Nature better than Anti-Dühring and Engels therefore decided (as he thought of continuing his work on the Dialectics of Nature) that it was better to take them out of Anti-Dühring and transfer them to the Dialectics of Nature? It seems to me that the second answer is the more likely.

For one reason or another, the Dialectics of Nature came to include three fragments that now were no longer destined for Anti-Dühring but for a future book, not yet brought to completion. Where should they be put in it? It is obvious that first of all it was necessary to attempt to incorporate them in the brief outline of the book—that is, to find a place for them in the book within this first and as yet only outline. Engels proceeded in that fashion. The first footnote had to do with mathematics. In the manuscript it was titled, “To pp. 17-18: Harmony between thought and existence—Infinity in mathematics” (Russian, p. 581). But if the brief outline were adhered to, there would be no place for such a fragment. Engels therefore began to correct and supplement that plan. At the bottom, under the text of the plan, he wrote (with regard to point 4 of the outline): “a) Ahead of 4: Mathematics. An infinite line. + and - are equal.” Then, dealing with point 4 as such, Engels made yet another addition: “b) In dealing with astronomy: work done by the wave of an incoming tide” (Russian, p. 344). Here the matter at issue is inclusion in the Dialectics of Nature of the article “Tidal Friction, Kant and Thomson-Tait,” written at the beginning of the 1880s.

This is the manner in which abandonment of the brief outline began. But whereas it still proved possible to find space in the book for mathematics by introducing amendments to the brief outline, with respect to the other two footnotes this was impossible without destroying the very basis of the brief outline. This was also true of the article “The Role Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man,” and of Engels' intention to subject to criticism the Darwinists' writings on social and political subjects. But Engels was incapable of omitting these materials from his book-to-be, for under these conditions this was his only means of continuing in some way to think about it and to prepare for the possibility that he might again really get down to it some day.

Thus, the incorporation of the new material in the Dialectics of Nature demanded the writing of a new and, this time, expanded outline of the book, which Engels apparently undertook at approximately this time (or somewhat later). The new outline (see Russian, p. 343), contained (in different formulations, it is true) all that Engels had written in accordance with the first brief outline, including what Engels had added to that outline when he provided for the incorporation of mathematics and tidal friction. In the new outline, the point about mathematics was more comprehensive than before: “Mathematics: dialectical auxiliary means and techniques.—The mathematical infinity has a place in reality.”

The second note to Anti-Dühring finds a place in the new enlarged outline as point “7. The mechanistic theory—Haeckel.” In the manuscript it was headed as follows: “Note 2. To p. 46: Different forms of motion and the sciences that study them” (Russian, p. 566). Now this note constituted an entire section or part of one of the future chapters of the book as a whole.

The third note is not referred exactly to a specified page in Anti-Dühring (it may be presumed that it pertained to the passage in Anti-Dühring [Chapter IX, Section I] that speaks of infinity). It was titled, “Nägeli, pp. 12-13.” It offers a critical analysis of a paper by K. Nägeli, Über die Schranken der naturwissenschaftlichen Erkenntnis. Accordingly, the special point of the expanded outline read: “6. The limits of knowledge. Dubois-Reymond and Nägeli—Helmholtz, Kant, Hume” (English, p. 269; Russian, p. 343). This means that Engels proposed to add to this note a critique of other representatives of agnostic currents in natural science. Moreover, Engels proposed to criticize a number of additional notions and those who concretely propagandized them (Haeckel, Nägeli, and particularly Virchow), but this intention was not realized. What Engels had conceived in July and August 1878 as an independent work of criticism, distinct from the Dialectics of Nature, was at the end of the outline, as its final (11th) point. Now he included it all in the book-to-be in this form: “11. Darwinian politics and theory of society—Haeckel and Schmidt” (ibid.). Following this there was to be a presentation of the labor theory of anthropogenesis: “Differentiation of human beings through labor.

But here a question arose: would it be possible, given such an enlargement of the plan of the entire book, to continue, as before, to confine oneself solely to inanimate nature and to exclude animate nature from the book for the time being? Obviously it would not be.

In the first place, consideration of social Darwinism obliged the author to examine Darwinism first of all as a biological theory of development, as a theory of the evolution specifically of animate nature. Without this it was impossible even to think of a critique of the social Darwinists. This is why it is pertinent to state that, in 1878, Engels, when he held strictly to his initial brief outline from which biology was excluded, intended to present a critique of social Darwinism independent of the Dialectics of Nature. Now, however, the incorporation of this critique in the book in question logically required that it be prefaced by a positive philosophical analysis of Darwinism itself as the central theory of biology.

In the second place, the circumstance that the article “The Role Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man” now proved to be incorporated in the Dialectics of Nature also required the author to examine that realm of nature from which man had come, differentiating himself from it by means of his work activity. And this was, again, the highest level of development of living nature, the level at which our remote apelike ancestors stood. This means that from this point of view as well, the very material which was to be incorporated into the book demanded that between inanimate nature (mechanics, physics, and chemistry), on the one hand, and anthropogenesis—i.e., the completion of the development of living nature—on the other hand, there stood the dialectical analysis of organic nature, which until then Engels had for the time being excluded from his investigation.

As a consequence, the following point was added to the four previous ones (in which we now include mathematics): “5) Biology. Darwinism, necessity and chance” (ibid.). This point connected the beginning and middle of the book with its end. Thus, in my opinion—and here I am expressing only my own opinion—the expanded plan of Dialectics of Nature came into being.

It concluded with a formulation that, in the outline, followed immediately upon the reference to the labor theory of anthropogenesis: “Application of economics to natural science. Helmholtz's ‘Work’ (Popular Lectures II)” (ibid.).

We shall discuss this memorandum later, when we deal with Engels' new concept, even more remarkable than his original intention for the book. Here, however, let us direct our attention to the fact that now, apparently after drafting the enlarged outline, Engels shifted to his future book a large fragment on the three great discoveries that he had initially written in 1886 for his book Ludwig Feuerbach, and which he had then lifted from that and replaced with a brief presentation of the same question (see Russian, pp. 510-515). It may be presumed that the reason for this transfer was the same as in analogous cases in which notes were shifted from Anti-Dühring to the Dialectics of Nature. It is perhaps even at a later date, or perhaps at about the same time, that Engels added to the materials for his future work yet another major article that he wrote in 1878, “Natural Science and the Spirit World.”

At this point the materials reached the volume and scope in which they have come down to us. But, as we have already seen, it was approximately in the 1890s that Engels, in the belief that the long-awaited moment was finally approaching when he could again sit down to work on the Dialectics of Nature, arranged all the materials he had assembled into four sheafs so as to make it easier for him to undertake their elaboration. We are presently interested primarily in the two middle bundles (the second and third, for it was here that all the best-processed and most complete materials were assembled). The second bundle contained primarily articles written for other works: the three notes and the old preface to Anti-Dühring omitted from Feuerbach; “The Role Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man”; and “Natural Science and the Spirit World.” Subsequently, for some reason, Engels shifted the last of these from the second bundle to the third. The third packet contained articles written for the Dialectics of Nature under the brief outline for it, with the old introduction to the book and the article “Natural Science and the Spirit World” shifted to it.

It is at this point that Engels' work on the Dialectics of Nature broke off. What was the new intent that Engels developed in drawing up the expanded outline, and in what manner could this new intention be judged from the manuscript of the Dialectics itself? This is the central question posed by the present article.


In analyzing the materials corresponding to the added points appearing in the enlarged outline, as distinct from the original brief one, the following intention on Engels' part is revealed: to write the Dialectics of Nature so that it would bring the line of objective dialectical development of nature close to the economic development of human society as its basis. But inasmuch as that basis is studied on the theoretical plane by political economy, and inasmuch as the Marxist critical analysis of the genesis, essence, and prospects of the further motion of capitalist society of Engels' day was provided in Marx's economic writings, in his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, and particularly in Capital, Engels' intent took on more concrete form. It consisted of writing something in the nature of a “pre-Capital”—i.e., a kind of prehistory of human society—and of disclosing the dialectics of the development of nature, showing that the objective process of development, by its own laws, leads to its emergence from the confines of nature as such and to the sphere of the history of human society.

In the light of this grandiose intention—one of the same order of magnitude as that which underlay Marx's Capital—exceptional importance attaches to the 11th point in the enlarged plan for the book and to the material pertaining to it that Engels had written by that time—“The Role Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man” with the attached notes. All this material, which was originally the closing section of the Dialectics of Nature, now became the connecting link between the Dialectics of Nature and Capital, a bridge, as it were, between these two fundamental works of Marxism, one of which, Capital, was brought to completion by Engels, while the other, Dialectics of Nature, was thus far not complete, but imperatively demanded completion precisely because the completion of the two volumes of Capital mentioned above had been accomplished.

This means that the concluding material in the Dialectics of Nature should have preceded Capital. It should, by all the logic of presentation and analysis, have led to a systematic presentation of Capital and of Marx's A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.3

That being the case, the Dialectics of Nature would have had to be just as acutely critical and to have presented just as thorough an exposure of the methodological, logical, and epistemological—in a word, the philosophical—shortcomings of the views of bourgeois natural scientists as Marx presented in Capital with respect to bourgeois economists. Dialectics of Nature was therefore not to have been different even in style and form from Capital—which, as we know, is subtitled “A Critique of Political Economy.” It is perhaps precisely this intention that explains the appearance in the enlarged plan of a special polemical section anticipating the critique of social Darwinism and devoted to a critique of agnosticism and mechanicism, in which, according to our hypothesis, there would necessarily also have been incorporated a critique of two-dimensional materialism, of gross empiricism (“anti-theoreticism”), and of the infatuation with spiritualism that grew out of the foregoing. The last of these, of course, also had its social, class roots, representing the bourgeois ideological reaction to materialism and dialectics that set in immediately after the Paris Commune, during the 1870s.

Finally, in the Dialectics of Nature just as in Capital, there was to have been realized that very unity, or concrete identity, of dialectics, logic, and the materialist theory of knowledge that, according to Lenin's testimony in his Philosophical Notebooks, underlay Capital and was applied by Marx concretely to one science—political economy. In entirely analogous fashion, Engels made use of the unity or concrete identity of dialectics, logic, and materialist epistemology in a single branch of science—in this case natural science.

Usually Engels' work in bringing to completion the last two volumes of Capital is regarded as entirely distinct from his work on the Dialectics of Nature. According to this view, as a result of turning to the completion of Capital Engels was compelled to break off his work on the Dialectics of Nature, which meant sacrificing his personal interests for the sake of Marx's work. Now, however, all this appears in a different light. By working to complete Capital, Engels in the final analysis carried out that self-same overall intention of creating a unitary, integral work of Marxism (“pre-Capital” and Capital) that had been the cause of the conception and writing of the Dialectics of Nature. Had Capital gone uncompleted, it would in considerable measure have rendered worthless the work on the introduction to it in the sphere of natural science. The first job to be done was to complete that for which an introductory work (i.e., Dialectics of Nature) had been envisaged, and only then was that introduction to be finished, as a “pre-Capital” (unfortunately, it was impossible to carry out the two tasks simultaneously).

One can imagine how many times Engels turned to the thought of writing this natural-science introduction to Capital during those long months and years when he hastened to prepare the two latter volumes of Capital for the press!

The result of the fulfillment of these two tasks—the completion of Capital and of the Dialectics of Nature—was to be the production of a sort of encyclopedia of Marxism. For in fact the total scope of human knowledge breaks down into three major spheres—nature, society, and thought—so that the fundamental laws of materialist dialectics are formulated, according to Engels, as the most general laws of development of nature, society, and thought.

Had the Dialectics of Nature been completed, the notion would have been implemented of providing a systematic and comprehensive presentation of the entire principal range of problems, embodying: the science of nature with its laws (natural science, philosophically synthesized in the Dialectics of Nature); the science of the principles of life and development of society (Marxist political economy, set forth in Capital); and the science of thought, represented in two other works of Marx and Engels by the method employed in them—dialectics, with its fundamental logical, epistemological, and methodological functions (testifying to its coincidence with the logic and theory of knowledge of materialism). Thereby the writing of “pre-Capital” and Capital would have resolved the problem of a finished presentation of Marxist teaching as a whole on that level of sociohistorical and scientific development that had been attained by the middle 1890s—i.e., on the very eve of the transition from capitalism to the stage of imperialism.

Anti-Dühring was already a sort of encyclopedia of Marxism. But it was, so to speak, a condensed encyclopedia by comparison with what the Dialectics of Nature and Capital were to have comprised. Anti-Dühring embraced all three component parts of Marxism—philosophy, political economy, and socialism—and at the same time the three theoretical sources out of which Marxism arose historically. Lenin demonstrated this in his article “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism.”

Engels himself characterized his work precisely in terms of its encyclopedic quality. Sitting down to prepare the second edition of Anti-Dühring, he wrote on April 11, 1884: “Despite the inevitably boring character of a polemic with an insignificant opponent, this attempt to provide an encyclopedic overview of our understanding of problems in philosophy, natural science, and history did have influence.”4

It is this aspect that has to be emphasized above all, regardless of such a transient factor as the specific criticism of so unimportant an opponent as Dühring was and remained.

In an obituary of Engels, Lenin wrote of Anti-Dühring: “Here the very greatest problems in philosophy and the natural and social sciences were analyzed.” 5 So Lenin, too, took note of the encyclopedic character of this work. Lenin also detected this emphasis in Engels' letter to Marx of May 30, 1873, in which he set forth the first concept of the Dialectics of Nature, when Lenin observed that this was something on the order of a draft of Anti-Dühring.

All the foregoing means that Engels did not conceive of writing a book on the dialectics of natural science in the fashion in which poor textbooks and materials for courses in philosophy are sometimes written, whereby some philosophical postulate is first formulated—for example, a law or principle of dialectics or some category of dialectical logic—subsequent to which a certain number of examples and illustrations are selected to illustrate these postulates, laws, principles, or categories. This approach assumes that the question is presented in its essentials, so that the student or reader has only to memorize the chosen examples and whatever they are specifically called upon to illustrate, and that takes care of the matter.

Of course, in Anti-Dühring, because of the nature of this work, Engels was compelled to adduce samples of dialectics, but this was only for purposes of popular exposition, and not to reduce dialectics to a set of examples. Lenin, in his Philosophical Notebooks, objecting to the reduction of dialectics to a set of examples, also observes that in Plekhanov “the identity of opposites is treated as a sum of examples (‘for example, grain’; ‘for example, primitive communism’). In Engels too. But this is ‘for the sake of popular presentation.’ ” 6 In the Dialectics of Nature, Engels himself emphasizes that even the question of the interconnection of the principal laws of dialectics is not dealt with, for the following reason: “We are not undertaking here to write a handbook of dialectics but wish only to demonstrate that dialectical laws are real laws of the development of nature, and this means they also apply to theoretical natural science” (Russian, p. 385).

This is why in Engels' book the categories of dialectics and dialectical logic figure, not as postulates for which it is necessary to choose examples from various branches of science, but as logical “instruments” for theoretical research, which are capable of “working” concretely in one or another field of knowledge and which “work” precisely because they depict particular aspects of actual reality itself. For example, the categories of accident and necessity appear, in Engels, not at all as postulates requiring the application of various examples to them, but as theoretical instruments “that work” in the fields of physics, astronomy, and biology (not to mention historiography), as was demonstrated for the last of these natural sciences in the expanded outline of the Dialectics of Nature (point 5, subpoint 5). Without this understanding of the goals in the writing of the Dialectics of Nature, that book could in no way have laid claim to comprising, together with Capital, a single internally integrated systematic presentation of Marxist theory.

This notion of writing an extended encyclopedia of Marxism by appending to Capital its “pre-Capital” (i.e., Dialectics of Nature) apparently arose after the death of Marx, and its fulfillment would have been no less grand a monument to Marx than the completion of Capital.

What, in Engels' eyes, was to have served as the principal link in implementing this stupendous idea?


We refer here to the concept of “work” (“Arbeit”), or “labor” if one speaks of the purposeful practical activity of human beings. Therefore, it is necessary to see at once what attention Engels paid to the analysis of this notion.

First, let us turn to the content of the labor theory of anthropogenesis founded by Engels. Darwin, proceeding from purely biological considerations (the data of comparative anatomy and the entire theory of evolution as applied to living nature, the data of embryology and paleontology), came to the conclusion that man had developed from animals, but he was unable to identify the reasons why a higher mammal—our anthropoid ancestor—underwent transformation into man. A naturalistic, purely biological approach did not offer any possibility of answering this question.

Engels, however, saw the social factors in anthropogenesis, which could not be grasped even by the greatest and most perceptive natural scientists, not even by Darwin himself. The principal social factor, Engels showed, was labor, the activity of work. Work created man and all human society. “Labor is the source of all wealth, the economists assert.” It is with these words that Engels' “The Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man” begins. “It is this [labor], along with nature, which supplies the material that is converted into wealth. But it [labor] is also infinitely more than this. It is the primary basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labor created man himself” (English, p. 279; Russian, p. 486).

Later, Engels shows how the hand of what was to become man became perfected under the influence of work activity, and how his brain developed along with that, and how the thought and language of man, which are related to work activity, developed. “Thus the hand is not only the organ of labor, it is also the product of labor” (English, p. 281, Russian, p. 488). At the same time the hand is both servant and teacher of the brain. This means that the conscious activity of man—the capacity to understand, sketch out, and plan its activities—also, in the final analysis, has its origin in the practical work activity of human beings.

According to Engels, labor is the decisive factor, but now not of a biological, but of social character, thanks to which the development of nature took a gigantic leap, going beyond the limits of nature itself and entering a sphere above labor—the sphere of human society and its history.

This is the manner in which the process of natural development culminates and in which all of natural science finds its rational limits. With what, however, does the economic development of the society of Marx's and Engels' day begin? Where are its sources, its genesis? In that same work activity of social man, that same labor that at one time created man himself, and society.

As we know, Capital begins with analysis of the commodity, that “cell” of all commercial and, consequently, capitalist production. Marx demonstrates in his further analysis how from this “cell” grow all the contradictions involved in this process and inherent in the capitalist mode of production, to which all of Capital is devoted. But what is a “commodity”? Where does it come from? On what is it based? Marx replies: human labor. This is set forth in detail at the very beginning of such of Marx's works as A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and Capital. The concept of concrete labor and of abstract necessary labor is the basis upon which Marx builds his theory of value. Here we clearly see the direct connection between the end of the Dialectics of Nature and the beginning of Capital, in which this connection is organic, expressing a leap in the development of the world from nature to man that is not inferior in its scale and significance to the leap from inanimate to animate nature.

I shall not set forth in detail what Marx said about labor as the source of all the wealth of human society—this is well known. Here only one thing is important—to demonstrate that labor plays the role of a bridge from nature to man, while the notion of “labor” is transitional from natural science to history and, above all, to political economy. That is why this notion, or that of “work” (“Arbeit”) as synonymous with it, is of necessity also encountered both in the natural sciences (as a physical or physiological category) and in political economy (as an economic category). If such is the case, the danger arises of confusing these two notions, one of which belongs to natural science and the other to economics. Engels rather frequently notes cases of such confusion, pausing to deal with them so as to demonstrate the importance of thinking dialectically and of avoiding the very simplest errors in logic.

It is precisely this question that one finds at the very end of the enlarged plan of the Dialectics of Nature and in the note “Work” (English, pp. 211-213; Russian, p. 422), as well as in Engels' letter to Marx of December 19, 1882, where, in connection with a work by Podolinsky, he examines the question of confusion of the notion of “work” in the physical and physiological sense with that of “work” in the economic sense.

The question of confusion of concepts and the fact that natural scientists apply the yardstick of mechanics or physiology to analysis of the work activity of man as a social being attracted Engels' special attention, and he engaged specifically in examining this in the writings of various natural scientists. If one does not bear this circumstance in mind, it might appear that numerous data deliberately incorporated by Engels in the Dialectics of Nature got there in entirely accidental fashion. It was on the basis of such considerations, for example, that Engels ruled out of the Dialectics of Nature his brief note on the chemist Pauli, with whom he was acquainted: “In my opinion, to define the value of anything solely on the basis of the time expended upon it is an absurdity. So sayeth Philip Pauli.”7 It is clear that here Engels is dealing with the same question: how the natural scientist orients himself in the boundary region between his science and political economy.

Thus, human labor is regarded by Engels from two aspects: first, as a social factor, thanks to which man himself and all of society developed and with which the dialectical process of the development of nature comes to completion, when it ultimately breaks its own bounds; second, as an economic factor, underlying the development of value, which makes it possible to create and develop the labor theory of value—with which the dialectical process of development of the economic basis of human society, which is studied by political economy, begins. Here lies the natural boundary and, at the same time, the juncture between nature and society (its economic basis) and between natural science and the social sciences (political economy, above all).

This is the manner in which the principal link was established connecting Engels' Dialectics of Nature and Marx's Capital into a single chain of fundamental works of Marxism.

Although it may be surmised that the entire intention set forth above took shape in Engels' mind only a little after the death of Marx, the substance of it began to come into being a great deal earlier, most probably when the historical introduction to the Dialectics of Nature was written, i.e., about 1875 or 1876. For in that introduction the process of development of all nature—first inanimate and then animate—is demonstrated as culminating in the dialectical leap from nature to humanity, thanks to the work activity of the latter.

As for Marx, he undoubtedly welcomed Engels' writing of a work capable of serving as a natural-science introduction to Capital. Even in his preparatory writings for Capital in 1863, Marx set forth a very important evaluative notion to the effect that natural science “is the basis of all knowledge” (Chapter XIV). From this thought it follows that for Marxist political economy as well, natural science, philosophically generalized from the standpoint of the Marxist dialectics, could constitute the same kind of foundation.

But the matter at issue is something deeper and more important, which, in Marx's view, organically unites the natural and social sciences, including political economy. We refer to the fact that the criterion for rigorous, exact, objective knowledge, by which natural science has always been characterized, is also entirely applicable to the social sciences, again including political economy. Thus, in the famous Introduction to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), Marx pointed to the “material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science.” Here the expression “with the precision of natural science” specifically testifies to the fact that Marx saw socioeconomic development as containing a rigorous objective regularity such as is revealed by any process of natural development. Essentially, Marx deals with this idea in Capital as well.

In conclusion, we emphasize that Engels' notion has not lost its significance and its attractiveness in our own day, when the question of the unity of all human knowledge, the permeation of all science with dialectics, is even more important than it was a century ago. Whereas Marx and Engels wrote in The German Ideology that there is but a single science, the science of history, today that position gains even greater force, emphasizing the unity of the history of nature, the history of society, and the history of the human spirit, of thought. Today the social sciences have converged with the natural sciences to an incomparably greater degree that at any earlier time. In turn, natural science is converging more and more closely with the social, and specifically the economic, sciences, presenting itself, as Marx put it, as a direct productive force of society and, under the conditions of the contemporary revolution in science and technology, revealing ever more sharply its social character, its genesis, and its final goal, which has its roots in the pressing needs of contemporary sociohistorical development. Engels' remarkable notion was, as it were, a genius' anticipation of this process, in which modern natural science and the contemporary social sciences, including political economy, move unerringly toward each other and which confirms in practice Engels' conception when he thought of writing the Dialectics of Nature as a natural-science introduction to Marx's Capital.

The task facing Marxists today is to implement Engels' notion with respect to modern science and to write a new Dialectics of Nature as a natural-science introduction to a work on the political economy of socialism, which will have the function of doing for today what Marx's Capital did for his day.


  1. K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., Vol. 20, p. 546. Hereafter all references to the Dialectics of Nature will cite only pages in this volume.

  2. See K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., Vol. 34, pp. 259-260 and 262-263.

  3. From this standpoint it will be understood that Engels' book The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State falls entirely within this notion.

  4. K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., Vol. 36, pp. 118-119.

  5. V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. Soch., Vol. 2, p. 11.

  6. V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. Soch., Vol. 29, p. 316.

  7. K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 1st ed., Vol. XIV, pp. 523-524.

A. P. Kazhdan (essay date 1970)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7071

SOURCE: “Origins of Christianity,” in Soviet Studies in Philosophy, Vol. X, No. 1, Summer, 1971, pp. 81-102.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1970, Kazhdan references several writings by Engels on the origins of Christianity in order to explore the parallel Engels saw between the nineteenth-century development of the socialist movement and the founding of Christianity.]

Engels is the author of three articles devoted to the origins of Christianity. In 1882 the magazine Der Sozialdemokrat carried his “Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity,” conceived of as an evaluation of Bauer's contribution to the treatment of this complex problem. The following year, in the English journal Progress, Engels published an article titled “The Book of Revelation,” a characterization of Christianity as it appears according to the Apocalypse of St. John. Finally, in 1894-1895, shortly before his death, Engels published in Die Neue Zeit a studied titled “A Contribution to the History of Early Christianity.”

The interest of Marx's closest co-worker in the problem of the founding of Christianity is explained not only by the fact that the matter at issue is one of the cardinal factors in the destiny of humanity, but also by the circumstance that Engels saw a very definite analogy between the development of the socialist movement in the nineteenth century and the founding of Christianity. He made this analogy as early as in “The Book of Revelation”1, and the article “A Contribution to the History of Early Christianity” begins with a most notable sentence: “In the history of early Christianity, there are points of contact with the present-day movement of the workers that are worthy of attention.”2 Then, in characterizing the practice of the early Christian movement throughout the entire article, Engels constantly returns in thought alternately to the Weitlingian communist communes in Switzerland and to the First International. “What memories of youth arise before me in reading this passage in Lucian!”3 “These appeals” (reference is to certain motifs in the epistles of Paul—A. K.) “could have been written with equal success by some prophetically minded enthusiast from the International.”4 This was the mood of the great revolutionary—very personal and human—when he spoke of early Christianity.

Of course, it is not an identity he refers to, but only an analogy—parallels—a more or less external similarity of the atmosphere of the culture and the daily round. Nevertheless, the analogies and parallels adduced by Engels remind one over and over again that to him Christianity was a very serious phenomenon in the history of the human mind.

The article “Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity” falls into two parts. One of them deals directly with Bauer's heritage—his achievements and his mistakes. The second comprises Engels' own view of the treatment of the problem. About this part, Engels says specifically: “Our understanding of this problem is based not only on the works of Bauer, but on our own research.”5 The manner in which Engels applies the basic principle of historical materialism to the problem of the origin of Christianity deserves attention.

“The Roman conquest,” he begins his analysis, “destroyed first and foremost the former political order in all the conquered countries and then, indirectly, the old social conditions of life.”6 A vulgar materialist, holding the economic factor to be the sole determining one, would, naturally, have started with something else—with trade, with grain prices (had those of Roman times come down to us), or with production (say, with the squeezing out of slave labor by the colonist), or with the level of the productive forces—say, with their stagnation or, conversely, with the fact that they were advancing at a slow rate.7 But all the evidence indicated that change in forms of exploitation did not have a direct influence on the appearance of Christianity. In any case, its social principles could justify both Greco-Roman slavery and medieval serfdom: in other words, this religion lived alongside differing socioeconomic systems. The theory fashionable in our literature at one time, which associated the rise of Christianity with a so-called “revolution of the slaves”8, has no serious grounds whatever, the more so as that very “slave revolution” proved upon verification to have been a fiction in the writing of history or even in simple fact.

But let us return to the course of Engels' thinking. In what does he see the influence of the Roman conquest upon society in the Mediterranean—an influence that led to the development of a world religion? In the first place, Engels emphasized that the enormous leveling force of the Roman Empire, which crushed the distinctive political and social features of the oppressed peoples, “also condemned their particular religions to downfall.”9 Later, Engels wrote of the “iron leveling fist of the Roman conqueror” that destroyed the traditional social conditions existing in the former polis and clan communes.10 In other words, the Roman conquest (whose ultimate cause lay in economic factors) led to the establishment of a vacuum in the realm of social structure and ideas, i.e., to a societal atmosphere that was particularly favorable to a rise in religious belief. As the young Marx had written, “Religion is the consciousness of self and the feelings about self on the part of one who has either not yet gained control of himself or who has lost himself again.”11 As a result of the Roman conquest (which, in a certain sense, was the high point of Greco-Roman history), Mediterranean man “lost himself,” i.e., lost the usual conditions of his social being and the forms of “consciousness of self and feelings about self” that corresponded to his previous way of life.

The social situation that came into being in the Mediterranean basin in the first centuries of our era had another aspect—a positive one, if one may so put it. Not only were the old social conditions destroyed and traditional beliefs shaken, but the Roman Empire came into being—a political organism differing fundamentally from the former states around the Mediterranean (although we can, of course, detect its roots in the Hellenistic monarchies). Engels analyzes in the most painstaking fashion the social and ideological environment distinguishing the Roman Empire, and it is worth thinking about his characterization of that environment. A strengthening of the state machinery is what he notes above all. The population had fallen into three classes (the rich, the free unpropertied, and the slaves). “In relation to the state, i.e., to the emperor, both of the first two classes were nearly as lacking in rights as were the slaves in relation to their masters.” Engels stresses the fact that the material base of support of the government consisted of troops resembling an army of lansquenets, while its moral buttress was “the universal conviction that there was no way out of that situation, that if one had not this or that particular emperor, still, imperial power founded on military rule was an irreversible necessity.” Further, Engels says: “Corresponding to the universal lack of rights and loss of hope for the possibility of a better order was a universal apathy and demoralization,” and it is specifically from these features of the societal relationships in imperial Rome that he derives “the character of the ideologists of that day.”12

Today we have a better knowledge than in the past century of the economic history of the Roman Empire and are in a position to emphasize a remarkable paradox: the social vacuum and shabby morality, the fundamental traits of which were so brilliantly drawn by Engels, came into being under conditions of relative progress in material things. In the first centuries of the Christian era, Romans lived, generally speaking, better than before: they built better homes, ate better, and perhaps even obtained a better education on the average. By all the evidence, the improvement in daily life also affected the slaves, not to speak of those who were manumitted. It is important to emphasize this because the critique “of the hypertrophy of the material,” criticism of the chase after the good things of this world, comprised one of the most important factors in the social program of early Christianity.

Christianity was not only a mass movement. By Engels' definition, it served as a revolutionary element, “ein revolutionäres Element.”13 We must adopt a very attentive attitude toward these thoughts of Engels in order to avoid the vulgar tendency to depict Christianity in general, regardless of history, as a religion of the exploiters. The social role of religion is not so simple a matter as is sometimes imagined. “The squalor of religion,” wrote Marx, “is at one and the same time an expression of the squalor of reality and a protest against that real squalor.”14 As we disseminate Marx's view of early Christianity, it is incumbent upon us to say that it was not only an expression of the atmosphere of social vacuum and apathy of ideas characteristic of the Roman Empire, but also a protest against that vacuum and apathy. This is why Engels called Christianity a revolutionary element.

Christianity was that, not only because its adherents were recruited “primarily from among the ‘suffering and disinherited’ in the lower strata of the people”15, and not only because early Christianity may be termed “the religion of the slaves and the oppressed.”16 Christianity, says Engels, “took a stand in sharp contradiction to all hitherto existing religions.”17

It is worth pausing to consider this position of Engels'. The point is not that Christianity was a unique religion. The notion that Christianity was unique is in such conflict with the totality of known facts that it is adhered to in pure form only by the most orthodox of theologians. Under the conditions of the ecumenical movement, the most flexible theologians, taking a careful attitude toward the needs of the time, more and more often find what they call elements of divine revelation in pre-Christian religions. In that same article “Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity,” from which the above quotation is taken, Engels traces how the philosophy of Philo and Seneca prepared the way for the basic notions of Christianity. “As we see,” Engels summarizes, “all that is lacking is the capstone, for Christianity in its basic outlines to have been ready.”18 Moreover, Engels particularly insists upon the circumstance that “Christianity came out of popularized notions of Philo, and not directly from Philo's writings.”19

Today the ideological sources of primitive Christianity can be shown to have been more diverse than Bruno Bauer and Engels could have known. Now it is possible to take note of other social and ideological movements whose influence on early Christianity was, to the best of our knowledge, no smaller than that of the Alexandrian Platonist Philo and the Roman Stoic Seneca. Chief among these were the Palestinean Essenes, interest in whom was stimulated by the sensational discoveries at Qumran and neighboring localities and whose relationship to Christianity has been repeatedly dealt with by Soviet scholars.20 Another ideological source of Christianity was gnosis, to which our literature has also given some attention.21 Whereas in the nineteenth century only late gnosis was known, and usually treated as a heresy within Christianity, today it is possible to speak of pre-Christian gnosis. Consequently, its relationship to Christianity acquires a converse character: it is not gnosis that arose as a branching off from Christianity, but primitive Christianity that made use of the gnostic mythology and ethics, which it amended or rejected.

In his polemic against Bauer, Engels, as we have seen, emphasized the fact that Christianity was influenced not by the philosophy of the scholar's study, not by pupils of Philo and Seneca, but by vulgarized and popularized Philonist and Stoic notions. He had no way of knowing the role played by the communes of Qumran and by pre-Christian gnosis in shaping Christian ideology and mythology. He took the general principle as his point of departure. “Religions are created,” wrote Engels, “by people who themselves perceive a need for it and understand the religious needs of the masses, and it is precisely this that is usually not the case with representatives of schools of philosophy.”22 The further accumulation of knowledge demonstrated the justice both of the general principle advanced by Engels and of the concrete conclusion drawn on the basis thereof that Christianity developed not so much on the basis of the philosophical speculations of Philo and the Stoics as under the influence of vulgarized religious-philosophical currents of the type of gnosis and Essenism.

In point of fact, we find as early as in the Essenean preachings the exaltation of poverty and condemnation of wealth, messianism—the expectation of the Lord's Anointed and the ceremony of ritual ablution, which was Christian baptism in embryo. The very phraseology of the New Testament is reminiscent of the language of the Essenes. The gnostic myth of Ennoia, the mother of God who materialized in human form and underwent every conceivable degradation on earth, reveals an indubitable similarity with the later Christian legend of God's son taking on human form. The Christian passion for miracles also corresponded to the folk belief in sorcery, widespread in the Roman Empire during the first centuries; and the Hellenistic mysteries, with their belief in the revival of man beyond the grave, all contributed their share to the shaping of the Christian ideology. In brief, the ideological sources of Christianity stem to a very great degree from the religious mass movement of the period between the first century B.C. through the first century A.D. The creators of Christianity, whoever they may have been, did not begin with a blank sheet of paper.

And so Engels does not at all deny the syncretism of early Christianity, nor the adoption by Christianity of elements already existing (in ideologies preceding and contemporary with it). But at the same time he is foreign to that simplified approach that reduces Christianity entirely to syncretism and sees nothing at all new in it. Christianity, according to Engels, is a revolutionary element, a religion standing in a fundamental contradiction to all prior religions.

Engels identifies the new features to be seen in the ideology of the Christians. And it is exceedingly important that he does not “secularize” Christianity, does not make of it either a social program or a philosophical system. Naturally, Christianity included both a social program and views on philosophy, if not a philosophical system. Its social program consisted, above all, of rejection of that chase after the material, of earthly goods, that distinguished Roman society. This was not a rejection of “the world,” because the world was thought of as a divine creation, and not one of Satan, as among consistent dualists, but a rejection of his “enslavement of the world.” A Christian, rendering to Caesar that which was Caesar's, counted on liberation from the Empire, which in fact was liberation “in Christ,” in spirit, outside the realm of the relationships existing in real life.23 The philosophical views of the Christians were determined to a very great degree by a new concept of time and the future. Time, in the Greco-Roman understanding, was enclosed, limited, at best repetitive, as in Polybius' philosophy of history, according to which each society experiences youth, maturity, and old age. The Christian, on the other hand, lives sub specie aeternitatis; his consciousness of self is distinguished “by being radically open to the future,” as R. Bultmann put it.24 Therefore, to a Christian, the development of history appears linear and infinite, with ends not yet accomplished.

A social program and philosophical views were doubtless present in the teachings of the early Christians. But Christianity was, above all, a religion, i.e., an aspect of world view that touched upon man's notions of his relationship to the Absolute, to God. Religious images were, of course, duplicates of the real world, “a fantastic reflection (in Engels' well-known formulation) in the heads of human beings of those external forces that dominate them in their everyday lives—a reflection in which terrestrial forces take on the form of nonearthly ones.”25 But it would naturally be a vulgarization if, in studying the history of religion, we undertook to replace examination of religious images, rituals, and institutions themselves with analysis of the earthly forces that called them into life. One cannot satisfy oneself solely by stating that Christianity expressed the despair of the dispossessed, for that despair expressed itself in diverse forms. That which is distinctive of early Christianity must be sought, above all, in the specific features of its religious notions.

Engels begins his analysis with an examination of the denial of ritual characteristic of early Christianity. From this observation he draws a conclusion having both social and political importance: “By thus denying all national religions and the rituality they had in common, and by turning to all peoples without distinction, Christianity itself becomes the first possible world religion.26

Further, Engels regards as a special feature of Christianity the notion of “the embodiment of the Logos established by man in a specified person and his redemptive sacrifice on the cross to save sinning humanity.”27 It thus touches upon the central mythologema of Christianity and once again, as in the matter of rituality, is not confined to affirming the dogmatic novelty of this proposition but clarifies its functional novelty. “The Christian consciousness of sinfulness,” explains Engels, called to life the notion of the personal responsibility of each individual for the tainted state of the world. “You individually are guilty of the tainted state of the world, all of you are guilty, your individual and your collective own internal tainted state.” And the acceptance of this notion, Engels continues, “has now become the prerequisite for salvation of the spirit which Christianity simultaneously proclaimed.”28 Following this, unfortunately, the Russian translation contains a regrettable lack of precision that introduces a false nuance, as a consequence of which I permit myself recourse to the German original. “And that spiritual salvation was carried out in such fashion” (war so eingerichtet, rendered in the Russian translation as “bylo pridumano takim obrazom”—“was preconceived in such fashion”—but einrichten does not have the nuance of contempt present in the Russian “pridumyvat’”: the matter at issue is not that someone subjectively “preconceived” salvation, but that in the Christian concept salvation was “organized” or “arranged”) as to be readily understood by an individual member (Genosse) of any preexisting religious community (Religionsgemeinschaft) (the Russian translation has it: “chlen liuboi staroi religioznoi obshchiny”—“member of any preexisting religious congregation”; the translator apparently confused the German Gemeinde—“congregation”—with Gemeinschaft—“community”; Engels' point being, of course, adherence to a religion and not to a congregation). All the old religions had the notion of penitential sacrifice, and this archaic idea (which we now know to have totemist roots) served as favorable soil for assimilation of the idea of the mediator voluntarily offering himself as sacrifice. Engels sums up: “Thus, the broadly disseminated” (allgemein verbreitete, which the Russian translation renders as obscherasprostranennomu, “generally current” which has a different nuance, for the discussion is not of a banal, generally current idea, but of an idea that at that time attained broad dissemination) “feeling that people are themselves guilty of the universal taintedness was given clear expression by Christianity in consciousness of the sinfulness of each individual person; at the same time, in the sacrificial death of its founder, Christianity created a readily understandable form of internal salvation from a corrupt world.”29

This is the conception of the origin of Christianity developed by Engels—a conception that was consistently materialist but at the same time one that gave a significant place to that form of social creation which in its specific ideal or (more narrowly) religious shell is of profound interest as an expression of the self-consciousness of society.

Aside from the positive presentation of his own concept, Engels' works contain, as has already been stated, an analysis of the views of Bruno Bauer. The present article does not undertake an analysis of the Young Hegelian critique of the bible. That is a subject all its own. However, it would be quite significant to make clear precisely what it was that Engels considered debatable and dubious in Bauer's critical theory, which, according to Engels' judgment, “went too far in many respects.”30 Some polemical comments are already present in the first of the three articles, “Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity,” but it may perhaps be more fitting to turn to the last of the writings in question, “A Contribution to the History of Early Christianity,” in which Engels brings together his judgments on Bauer.

Bauer's service, writes Engels, consists in his merciless criticism of the gospels and the epistles of the apostles and also in his being the first to make a serious investigation, not only of Judaic and Hellenistic, but also of the Greco-Roman elements, “which opened the road for the transformation of Christianity into a worldwide religion.”31 Bauer proved, Engels continues, that “Christianity was not introduced from without, from Judea, and imposed upon the Greco-Roman world, but that—at least in the form in which it became a world religion—it is a most highly characteristic product of that world.”32

That was Bauer's service, but wherein did he “go too far”?

Engels provides a specific formulation of his differences with Bauer.

In the first place, “Bauer had to shift the origin of the new religion to a date half a century later.” He needed this in order “to present the writers of the New Testament as direct plagiarists” of Philo and Seneca. In order to validate his dating, Bauer had to “discard the information provided by Roman historians conflicting with this, and in general to permit himself a very free presentation of history.”

In the second place, “In Bauer, all historical grounds for the tales (Erzählungen) in the New Testament about Jesus and his pupils disappear; these tales are transformed into legends (in Sagen), in which the phases of the internal development of the first congregations and the intellectual struggle within these congregations are made the doings of more or less invented personalities.”

In the third place, “according to Bauer, the places where the new religion was born were not Galilee and Jerusalem, but Alexandria and Rome.”

On all these points, Engels sums up, “the real truth” lies somewhere between the conclusions of the Tübingen school and Bauer's critique. “New finds, particularly in Rome, in the East, and above all in Egypt will provide a great deal more help in solving this question than any critique whatever.”33

It seems to me that our literature has not given these ideas of Engels the attention they deserve.34 Therefore, let us make a detailed examination of each of the points noted by Engels.

Engels engages in a polemic with Bauer, who asserted that Christianity arose, not in Jerusalem and Galilee, but in the Hellenistic world and the Roman Empire. Engels formulates his attitude toward the place of origin of the new religion even more sharply in his article “The Book of Revelation”: “Christianity, like every other major revolutionary movement, was created by the masses. It arose in Palestine.”35

At first glance, this notion is in conflict with Engels' words, cited more than once in our literature, from his article, “A Contribution to the History of Early Christianity”: “This was the state of Christianity, according to the best knowledge available to us, created in Asia Minor, as it existed in its principal center in about the year 68” (Takovo bylo khristianstvo, naskol'ko ono nam izvestno, sozdannoe v Maloi Azii, v ego glavnoi rezidentsii okolo 68 goda).36 Fortunately, however, we are dealing, not with a contradiction in Engels, but with a translator's error, an error that immediately strikes an unprejudiced individual even without knowledge of German, for, in point of fact, how could Christianity have arisen in its principal center? In order to have a principal center, it had to have a certain history behind it.

But why bother with such ratiocinations when one can turn to the original: Solcher Art war das Christentum be-schaffen in Kleinasien, seinem Hauptsitz um das Jahr 68, soweit wir es kennen.37 The translator apparently confused the word beschaffen with the more common geschaffen, which actually does mean “created.” As far as the term, beschaffen, which Engels did employ, is concerned, it means “possessing a certain character,” and the phrase as a whole should be translated: “This was the character, so far as we know it, of Christianity in Asia Minor, its principal center in about the year 68.”38 Thus, Engels was a proponent of the theory that Christianity arose in Palestine, and not in Asia Minor.

Further, we recall that Engels criticizes Bauer for his late dating of the beginning of Christianity. Bauer placed this event in the time of the Flavian emperors, which in Engels' opinion was about half a century later than in actual fact. The Flavian dynasty held the throne from 69 to 96 A.D. Simple arithmetic persuades one that Engels dated the birth of Christianity to approximately the second quarter of the first century A.D. It is with this review of the dates that there is associated the criticism of Bauer to the effect that this critic of Christianity discarded information provided by Roman historians that did not accord with his conception. Engels is most probably thinking of Tacitus' recitation of the persecution of the Christians under Nero.

The question of the time when the literature comprising the New Testament was written is intimately interwoven with the problem of the dating of the origin of Christianity. In criticism of Bauer, Engels wrote: “In his opinion, Christianity as such arose only under the emperors of the Flavian dynasty, while the literature comprising the New Testament was not written until the times of Adrian, Antonius, and Marcus Aurelius.”39 A similar hypercritical point of view, postponing the appearance of the gospels and epistles to the middle and even the third quarter of the second century A.D., is also represented in the Soviet literature, primarily in the writings of R. Iu. Vipper.40 However, it is in poor agreement with the facts. As we know, Papias of Hierapolis, a Christian writer of the first half of the second century, knew the Gospels according to Mark and Matthew. Papias held that Mark was Peter's translator and wrote from his words, while Matthew wrote his Gospel “in a Hebrew dialect,” i.e., in Aramaic. True, the testimony of Papias can in no way be referred to the Gospel according to Matthew in its present form. It is recognized that the Gospel according to Matthew not only was not written in Aramaic, but altogether represents in very considerable measure a reworking of the Greek Gospel according to Mark.

Perhaps the finds of second century Egyptian papyruses, with fragments of New Testament texts, are more significant. In this category are the Manchester fragment of the Gospel according to John, dated in the first quarter of the second century; the three Oxford fragments of the twenty-sixth chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew (end of the second century); the full text of the Gospel according to John, rewritten prior to 200 A.D. (the so-called Papyrus Bodmer II); fragments of a papyrus containing the Gospel according to Luke and John, dated at the end of the second century (Papyrus Bodmer XIV-XV).41 These finds, which were made available to the scientific community between 1935 and 1961, testify to the fact that gospel texts were well known in Egypt as early as the second century, and this makes the hypercritical dating by Bauer and Vipper highly doubtful.

The foresight of Engels, who anticipated decisive information precisely from such new Egyptian finds that would be more significant than any critique whatever, has been entirely confirmed.

Finally, Engels criticizes Bauer for the fact that the historical foundation upon which the stories (in the original, Erzählungen, which the translator rendered, not by the natural rasskazy, but by skazaniia, containing a nuance of invention and lack of authenticity) in the New Testament about Jesus and his pupils, later called apostles, rests, disappears in Bauer's presentation. In other words, unlike Bauer, Engels does not hold these stories to be utterly legendary (Sagen). He recognizes that the information with regard to the Palestinian period of the history of Christianity is not reliable42 but nonetheless holds that a certain historical basis is concealed beneath the unreliable “tales” of the New Testament.

Thus, Engels touches on the question of whether Jesus was a historical figure. He does this very cautiously indeed, but from his comments one sees that Bauer also went too far in denying the historical existence of the Palestinian “prophet” who founded the Christian sect.

One of the most consistent proponents of the mythological school, I. A. Kryvelev, recently wrote with complete justice that to accept the notion that the man Jesus was a historical figure does not in itself contradict materialism and atheism.43 Contemporary theologians have also been compelled to grant that denial of the historical existence of Jesus does not represent taking a stand on matters of philosophy and that one can continue to be a Christian without granting to Jesus significance in the shaping of the preachings of Christianity, or what is called kerygma.44 Thus, both sides strongly affirm that the problem of the historical existence of Jesus is not at all of primary importance to them, but they nonetheless continue to discuss it, with even greater passion.

This is not the place to return to that sensitive subject. I wish only to note that Engels did not accept Bauer's hypercritical construction, which rejected both the Palestinian period and the personality of Jesus. Bauer's theory was a typical product of the ideological searchings of the first half of the nineteenth century, when the law-governed nature of the historical process was ontologized, as it were, under the influence of Hegelian philosophy, and the course of history was merged with the spirit and separated from its real carrier: man. There was no place left for Jesus in history, just as none remained for Homer in the history of culture. Both Christianity and Homer's poems were regarded as having come into being of themselves, in the course of the appearance of the spirit. The Judaic prophet from Nazareth and the blind creator of the Iliad were compelled to leave the stage of history. It would appear that precisely this is what liberated critical reason would have us regard as its accomplishment.

Criticizing Bauer in this regard, Engels, as we remember, commented that mythologizing the images of Jesus and the apostles, and conversion of the stories about them into legends, has the consequence that the researcher loses sight of “the phase of internal development of the first congregations.” Engels himself, on the contrary, tries to distinguish between these phases.

In point of fact, his critique of Bauer contains a certain system. In Engels' opinion, the period in which Christianity began to undergo transformation (under the influence of the social conditions of the Roman Empire and under the influence of the Greco-Roman movement in ideas) into a world religion was preceded by another phase—one of birth, origin, formulation. Christianity arose, in Engels' opinion, in Palestine approximately in the first quarter of the first century A.D., with the participation of those persons whose activity was reflected in mythologized form in the gospels, i.e., Jesus and his pupils (naturally, Engels was far from weaving some novel about Jesus the rebel out of the cloudy testimony in the sources, as was later written by many, including Kautsky and Robertson).45 He attempted to understand what it was during its early stages with the aid of the Book of Revelation which dates, according to Ferdinand Benari, from about 68 A.D.46 He emphasizes that at that time “new sects, new religions, and new prophets appeared by the hundreds.” “In point of fact,” Engels continues, “Christianity took shape spontaneously, as something of a mean resulting from the mutual effects of the most developed of these sects, and later (my emphasis—A.K.) took shape as a teaching due to the addition of the propositions of the Alexandrian Jew Philo, and still later by extensive penetration of the ideas of the Stoics.”47

The Christianity of the third quarter of the first century A.D. (according to the Book of Revelation) is still one of the Judaic sects, and its author “did not have the remotest notion that he was a spokesman for a new phase in the development of religion, a phase that was destined to become one of the greatest elements in the revolution.”48 Christianity in the period of the writing of the Book of Revelation, says Engels in another work, “not yet aware of itself, differed as does heaven from earth, from the later world religion given fixed form in dogma.”49

Thus, Engels recognizes the existence of two phases in the history of early Christianity. The first might be termed that of Palestine and Asia Minor. During that period, the followers of a little-known Jewish prophet, Jesus, had not emerged beyond the limits of Judaic sectarianism. The second phase was the period of transformation of the Judaic sects into a world religion. Christianity closed ranks and, from having been a grouping of sects, became a unified church. It began to develop dogmas binding upon all and, by all the evidence, mythologized the stories about the founder of the new religion.

These were Engels' views on primitive Christianity. They have long been known to Soviet scholars concerned with this problem, although, as we have seen, the old translation left a good deal to be desired and the new one too has preserved a certain degree of imprecision. Nevertheless, Engels' ideas have not been fully utilized in our historiography. Paradoxical as this may be, we tended rather to follow in the footsteps of Bruno Bauer and the mythological school of the turn of the present century than in those of Engels (all this is also applicable to my own early writings). A. B. Ranovich, too, essentially criticized Engels from the standpoint of the mythological school.50 It became the practice to keep silent about Engels' late criticisms directed at Bauer, and attempts were even made, as we have seen, to transform Engels into an opponent of the theory of the Palestinian origin of Christianity. To the idealist views of Bauer and the mythological school we often appended vulgar economic explanations of the roots of Christianity, regarding this religion as the direct result of the defeat of a revolution (or uprisings) by the slaves.

The beginning of a reexamination of the tradition thus established was provided by a work by S. I. Kovalev published in 1958.51 A profound study of the facts, primarily by scholars of the middle and younger generations (E. M. Shtaerman, M. M. Kublanov, I. S. Sventsitskaia, M. K. Trofimova, and S. S. Averintsev) made it possible to discard a number of the hypercritical positions. This zigzag movement of scholarship should not be regarded as amazing or, even less, anything to be ashamed of: it was not hard to go beyond the limits of reason in the struggle against orthodox confessionalism. Study of the heritage of Engels, whose views with respect to matters of the greatest significance are splendidly confirmed by new finds, will facilitate the development of our studies of early Christianity.


  1. See K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., Vol. 21, p. 8.

  2. Ibid., Vol. 22, p. 467.

  3. Ibid., p. 470.

  4. Ibid., p. 481.

  5. Ibid., Vol. 19, p. 310.

  6. Ibid.

  7. This type of approach is particularly characteristic of popular pamphlets on early Christianity, in which the new religion is derived more or less directly from the contradictions of the slaveholding mode of production (see, for example, V. R. Tarasenko, Proiskhozhdenie i sushchnost' khristianstva, Minsk, 1958, pp. 10-15) without considering the fact that slaveholding society existed for centuries before Christianity came into being.

  8. See, for example, V. I. Nedel'skii, Revoliutsiia rabov i proiskhozhdenie khristianstva, Moscow and Leningrad, 1936. “Christianity was created,” wrote Nedel'skii, “precisely as an expression of the despair and sense of hopelessness that embraced the lower depths of Roman society as the result of the defeat of the revolution” (p. 66). Compare S. Enshlen, Proiskhozhdenie religii, Moscow, 1954, p. 118.

  9. Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 19, p. 312.

  10. Ibid., Vol. 22, p. 482.

  11. Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 414.

  12. Ibid., Vol. 19, pp. 310 ff.

  13. The German original is cited in K. Marx and F. Engels, Werke, Vol. 22, p. 463. See Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 22, p. 482. In “The Book of Revelation,” too, Engels calls Christianity “a major revolutionary movement” (ibid., Vol. 21, p. 8).

  14. Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 1, p. 415.

  15. Ibid., Vol. 22, p. 482.

  16. Ibid., Vol. 20, p. 105. At the same time, Engels comments that “in all classes there had to be a certain number of people” seeking a new religion (ibid., Vol. 19, p. 312).

  17. Ibid., Vol. 19, p. 313.

  18. Ibid., p. 308.

  19. Ibid., p. 309.

  20. See I. D. Amusin, Rukopisi Mertvogo moria, Moscow, 1961, pp. 217-258; G. M. Livshits, Proiskhozhdenie khristianstva v svete rukopisei Mertvogo moria, Minsk, 1967.

  21. With respect to Gnosis, see J. Leipoldt and W. Grundmann, Umwelt des Urchristentums, Vol. I, Berlin, 1965, pp. 371-414. In the Soviet literature, see I. S. Sventsitskaia, Zapreshchennye evangeliia, Moscow, 1965, pp. 88-96. On the Gnostic Acts of Thomas, see M. K. Trofimova, “Iz istorii ideologii II veka n.e.,” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1962, No. 4, pp. 67-90; “K metodike izucheniia istochnikov po istorii rannego khristianstva,” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1970, No. 1, pp. 142-150.

  22. Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 19, p. 308.

  23. On certain features of the social program of early Christianity, see E. M. Shtaerman, Moral' i religiia ugnetennykh klassov Rimskoi imperii, Moscow, 1961, pp. 102-104, 139-141.

  24. R. Bultmann, Das Urchristentum im Rahmen der antiken Religionen, Zurich and Stuttgart, 1963, p. 200. On Bultmann's views, see Trofimova, “Filosofiia ekzistentializma i problemy istorii rannego khristianstva,” Vestnik drevnei istorii, 1967, No. 2, pp. 283-294.

  25. Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 20, p. 328.

  26. Ibid., Vol. 19, p. 313.

  27. Ibid., p. 308.

  28. Ibid., p. 314.

  29. Marx and Engels, Werke, Vol. 19, p. 304. See Marx and Engels, Soch, Vol. 19, p. 314. In the translation provided in Soch., there is an entirely proper correction of an error in the old translation, in which the word Stifter (“founder”) was for some reason rendered as “judge” (sudiia) (see Marx and Engels, O religii, Moscow, 1955, p. 158).

  30. Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 22, p. 474.

  31. Ibid., p. 473.

  32. Ibid., p. 474.

  33. Marx and Engels, Werke, Vol. 22, p. 456. Compare Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 22, p. 474. This last sentence evidently is not translated with perfect accuracy: namentlich in Rom, in [sic] Orient, vor allem in Egypten would have been better rendered as “a imenno v Rime, no Vostoke i prezhde vsego v Egipte.” In my view, the setting off of “v osobennosti” [particularly] and “prezhde vsego” [above all] makes no sense.

  34. I. A. Kryvelev, in the book Marks i Engel's o religii (Moscow, 1964), in which there is a special subchapter, “Engel's o znachenii rabot burzhuazno-liberal'nykh istorikov khristianstva” (pp. 87-89), makes only a general reference to “a number of forced interpretations” by Bauer “in presenting the factual aspect of history” (only there?—A.K.), but does not indicate what Engels regarded these forced interpretations as being. G. M. Livshits in his historiographic work, Ocherki istoriografii Biblii i rannego khristianstva (Minsk, 1970, p. 139) justly mentions Engels' criticism of Bauer's idealism but touches upon the actual criticisms themselves only in passing (compare ibid., p. 187).

  35. Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 21, p. 8.

  36. I cite the old translation: Marx and Engels, O religii, p. 262. In defending the notion of the extra-Palestinian origin of Christianity, Livshits (Proiskhozhdenie khristianstva, p. 151) continued in 1967 to cite the old translation, despite the fact that this passage had been corrected in Vol. 22 of Soch., published in 1962.

  37. Marx and Engels, Werke, Vol. 22, p. 470.

  38. That is the new translation: Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 22, p. 489. However, the rendering of Hauptsitz as “rezidentsiia” seems to me inexact: “glavnyi tsentr” would have been better. Livshits in Proiskhozhdenie khristianstva (p. 151) cites not only this sentence, but also Engels' words to the effect that Bauer “laid the foundation of the proof that Christianity was not imported from without, from Judea” but does not note the important qualification: “at least in the form in which it became a world religion” (Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 22, p. 474). This qualification reduces to nought the entire argument of the scholar from Minsk.

  39. Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 22, p. 474.

  40. R. Iu. Vipper, Vozniknovenie khristianskoi literatury, Moscow and Leningrad, 1946; same author, Rim i rannee khristianstvo, Moscow, 1954. The evolution of Lentsman's thinking in this regard is curious. In 1958 he wrote: “The Gospels could not have been written earlier than the middle of the second century” (Ia. A. Lentsman, Proiskhozhdenie khristianstva, Moscow, 1958, p. 33). In a book he wrote shortly before he died, the formulation is more cautious: “By no later than about 125 A.D., certain of the gospels of the New Testament, apparently in a form that has not come down to us, were already in circulation among the faithful” (same author, Sravnivaia evangeliia, Moscow, 1967, p. 23 ff.). At one time I too adhered to the late dating of the literature in the New Testament, following in the wake of Vipper and Lentsman.

  41. P. Feine, J. Behm, and W. G. Kümmel, Einleitung in das Neue Testament, Berlin, 1965, pp. 380 ff.

  42. See Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 21, pp. 8 ff.

  43. I. A. Kryvelev, Chto znaet istoriia ob Iisuse Khriste?, Moscow, 1969, p. 192.

  44. Compare, for example, J. Jeremias, “Der gegenwärtige Stand der Debatte um Problem [sic] des historischen Jesus,” in Der historische Jesus und der kerygmatische Christus, Berlin, 1964, p. 12.

  45. K. Kautsky, Proiskhozhdenie khristianstva, 5th ed., Moscow and Leningrad, 1930; A. Robertson, Proiskhozhdenie khristianstva, 2nd ed., Moscow, 1959.

  46. Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 21, pp. 10-13. Compare ibid., Vol. 22, pp. 486-489. For that matter, Benari's dating cannot be regarded as beyond dispute. Irinei dated the vision of St. John to the end of the rule of Domitian (81-96 A.D.), while in actuality the Revelation contains hints with respect to events that most probably occurred during that reign (see P. Feine, J. Behm, and W. G. Kümmel, op. cit., pp. 341-344). At one time, A. B. Ranovich expressed doubts about the tenability of Benari's dating (see O rannem khristianstve, Moscow, 1959, p. 45), but later, however, he returned to the date proposed by Benari (ibid., p. 74). Kryvelev (see Marks i Engel's o religii, p. 91) holds that the major portion of the Revelation dates to about 68 A.D. and that the text was later supplemented by various insertions.

  47. Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 21, p. 9.

  48. Ibid., p. 10. The Judaic character of the Revelation, was also emphasized by Engels in another work (ibid., Vol. 22, p. 486).

  49. Marx and Engels, Soch., Vol. 22, p. 478.

  50. See A. B. Ranovich, O rannem khristianstve, p. 46.

  51. S. I. Kovalev, Osnovnye voprosy proiskhozhdeniia khristianstva, Moscow and Leningrad, 1964, pp. 21-48.

W. O. Henderson (essay date 1976)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10110

SOURCE: “Engels and Das Kapital,” in his The Life of Friedrich Engels, Vol. II, Frank Cass, 1976, pp. 391-413.

[In the following essay, Henderson examines Engels' contribution to Marx's Das Kapital, demonstrating that Engels was involved throughout all stages of the book's production and that he provided input on economics and helped to publicize the work.]

In whatever literary projects they were engaged Marx and Engels were accustomed to work in close co-operation. Engels gave his friend every possible assistance when he was writing his major work on the capitalist system.1 Marx often consulted Engels on theoretical and practical problems. Engels had studied economics and had written an essay on “Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy” in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher in 1844.2 His wide reading and practical knowledge of business enabled him to offer valuable comments upon Marx's criticisms of the classical economists as well as upon Marx's own economic doctrines. Engels also gave Marx considerable help by supplying him with information concerning the cotton industry. Marx had no experience of the business world and he relied upon Engels for information concerning the running of an office or a factory. Sometimes Engels passed Marx's queries on to others. On Engels's advice Marx wrote to Henry Ermen for data concerning cotton spinning as practised in the Bridgewater Mill at Pendlebury.3 The information that he received appeared in Marx's discussion of the rate of surplus value in the third part of the first volume of Das Kapital.4

In January 1851 Engels discussed Ricardo's theory of rent with Marx. Ricardo held that farm rents represented the difference between the value of the produce of a piece of land and the costs of production on that land. Rent also represented the difference between the yields of a fertile piece of land and of the least fertile land worth cultivating. Rent could be increased only in conjunction with a rise in the price of the produce of the land. Marx declared that Ricardo's theory was “everywhere contradicted by history”. He argued that if—by scientific farming—the yield of land rose, the general level of rents might rise even if the price of particular products (such as cereals) fell. Engels reminded Marx that in his article of 1844 he had shown that improved agricultural techniques would counteract the decline in the fertility of farm land which had been brought about by excessive cultivation. Engels accepted Marx's theory of rent as “correct in every respect”.5 Eleven years later Marx returned to the problem. In June 1862 he claimed that he had at last solved the problem of the “swindle” of Ricardo's “ground rent shit”.6 On August 2, 1862 he discussed his new theory of rent at some length7 and a few days later he argued that “even if one accepts the possibility of establishing the existence of an ‘absolute’ theory of ground rent, it certainly does not follow that in all circumstances the least fertile land or the least productive mine must pay rent”.8

In February 1851 Marx and Engels examined the theory of the “currency school” that the economy should be protected against inflation (through the overissue of banknotes) by making paper money behave in the same way as a metallic currency. Marx argued that the volume, the expansion, or the contraction of the supply of money—coins or banknotes—were not affected by the import or export of bullion, or by the balance of trade, or by foreign exchange rates. Engels congratulated Marx on having elucidated satisfactorily “the simple, clear, fundamental facts of the mad theory of monetary circulation”.9 Subsequently Marx sent Engels a copy of Proudhon's latest work10 with a vigorous criticism of the writer's views. He asked Engels for his comments. After reading half of the book Engels replied that he agreed with Marx's criticisms.11

In 1853 Marx and Engels corresponded on the question of landownership in the Orient. Engels declared that the absence of landed property there was “the key to whole history” of the region and he argued that this could be explained by such factors as the climate and the poor soil.12 In January 1858 Marx wrote to Engels that his studies had reached a stage at which he wanted some practical information on matters about which the writers of books on the theory of economics were silent. In particular he asked for details of the circulation of capital and its effects upon profits and prices.13 Shortly afterwards Marx asked how often the firm of Ermen & Engels renewed its machinery. He thought that Babbage had been “not quite trustworthy” when he wrote that machinery in Manchester was replaced after five years.14 Engels agreed that Babbage had been “quite wrong”. Lancashire manufacturers generally wrote off 7h per cent of the value of their machinery every year to cover repairs and depreciation. This meant that machinery was expected to last for 13 years and four months. But Engels added that one could find cotton mills in Manchester operating machinery that was twenty—even thirty—years old.15 Marx returned to the problem some years later when he argued that the profits from the sale of goods made by machinery was “a progressive return on fixed capital, enabling a manufacturer to build up what is in effect a fund on which he can draw to replace his machinery when it has worn out.”16

On another occasion Marx asked Engels what proportion of a manufacturer's circulating capital was normally laid out in raw materials and wages and what proportion was kept in a bank. He considered that the theoretical laws on the subject were self-evident “but it is useful to know what happens in practice”.17 In March 1862 Marx asked Engels to let him have a description of “feeders on circular frames” and to suggest a German translation for the word “gigs”.18 He also enquired as to the structure of the labour force employed by the firm of Ermen & Engels. He wanted information concerning the nature of the tasks performed by various types of operatives. “I need an example for my book to show that the division of labour, as described by Adam Smith as the basis of manufacturing (in workshops without power-driven machinery) does not exist (in modern factories). Andrew Ure has already drawn attention to this fact. All I want is an example.”19

In January 1863 Marx asked Engels about self-acting spinning machines. “My question is: What rôle did the so-called spinning operative play in machine spinning before the self-actor was invented? I can understand the self-actor but I cannot understand the situation as it existed before the self-actor was introduced.”20 In 1865 Marx wrote to Engels asking him to obtain from the manufacturer Alfred Knowles some information concerning the wages of cotton spinners in Lancashire and the price of raw cotton and yarn.21

In 1868 when Marx was working on the second volume of Das Kapital he asked Engels to find out from Carl Schorlemmer the title of “the most recent and best German book on agricultural chemistry”. “I should also like to know the present state of the controversy between the supporters of mineral and nitrogen fertilisers.” “And does Schorlemmer know anything about German scholars who have criticised Liebig's theory of the exhaustion of the soil? I must at least know, to some extent, the most recent state of the question when I am working on my chapter on ground rent.”22 In April 1868 Marx asked Engels for his opinion on the theory of the rate of profit that he had worked out. Marx was trying to explain “how it can happen that when the value of money (or gold) declines, the rate of profit rises and vice versa”. Engels replied that Marx's theory was very clear.23 In 1868 Marx asked Engels to describe the financial transactions between the firm of Ermen & Engels and its bankers. He wanted to know “the monetary way of doing things” when buying raw cotton. He also wished to know “your relationship with your customers with regard to bills of exchange”.24

There were occasions when Marx asked for help of a different kind in his researches. In 1858 he needed a copy of J. Maclaren's recently published A Sketch of the History of the Currency which cost 9/6d. This was more money than he had in the house and so he asked Engels to send him a postal order. Engels did so.25 In 1866 Marx wrote: “At this moment I have not got a farthing to spend on books.” So he asked Engels to buy for him a copy of Thorold Rogers's A History of Agriculture.26

Since Engels spent some of the best years of his life in a far from congenial office in Manchester to earn enough money to enable Marx to write his book on the capitalist system it was natural that he should anxiously await the appearance of his friend's major work. Engels believed that it was essential for the future triumph of Marxian socialism that a full account of Marx's doctrines should be written by Marx himself. But Engels had to wait for many years before even the first volume of Das Kapital appeared and his patience was sometimes sorely tried. He repeatedly appealed to Marx to hasten the publication of the results of his researches. Marx, however, refused to be hurried and it took him over twenty years to produce the first volume of Das Kapital.

The saga of the writing of Das Kapital began in 1844 when Marx began to study economics and compiled some notes to form the basis of a draft of a book on Criticism of Politics and National Economy. In the following year Engels urged Marx to produce the book quickly. “Strike while the iron is hot,” he wrote. The situation was favourable since—in his view—communist ideas were spreading rapidly in Germany at that time.27 In August 1846 Marx assured the publisher Leske—who had paid him an advance on royalties—that the first part would be ready in November and the second would follow soon afterwards.28 But at the end of 1846 Marx told Annenkov that he could not publish his book in Germany because of censorship difficulties.29 The book was not published in Marx's lifetime. Eventually some of his notes were published under the title: Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.30

Marx suspended his studies on economics in 1847 to write a pamphlet on Misére de la Philosophie—an attack upon Proudhon—and to engage in political activities which culminated in the production of the Communist Manifesto (1848). Then his editorial work on the Neue Rheinische Zeitung kept him busy in 1848 and the early months of 1849. His only writings on economics in those years were five leading articles on wages and capital which appeared in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in April 1849. Engels declared that these articles were “a clear indication of the social aspects of our policy”.31

In exile in London in 1850, after the failure of the revolution, Marx returned to his researches in economics and embarked upon a study of Ricardo's theory of rent and the doctrine of the “currency school”. In January 1851 Engels congratulated Marx on his new theory of rent and urged him to complete his book on economics as soon as possible.32 Two months passed and then Marx told Engels that he hoped “to finish the whole economic shit” in five weeks.33 Engels replied: “I am delighted that you have at last finished your book on economics. The whole business has taken too long.”34 Another two months passed and then Marx wrote to Weydemeyer: “I am usually at the British Museum from 9 o'clock in the morning to 7 o'clock at night. My subject has so many damned ramifications that I will not be able to finish it for another six to eight weeks, in spite of all my efforts. Then there are always practical interruptions, unavoidable in the miserable conditions under which one vegetates here. Nevertheless the job is rapidly approaching completion. One must break off somewhere or other by main force.”35 In August Marx wrote that his time was fully occupied with his book.36 In October Marx declared that he was still working on his book but that much of his time was taken up with the study of technology and agricultural science.37 Marx's notes and comments upon Richardo's On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, compiled in the spring of 1851, show how conscientiously he was studying the works of the classical economists at this time.38

Marx does not seem to have made much progress with his book on economics in 1852 or in 1853. Much of his time was devoted to writing a pamphlet denouncing the methods used by the Prussian police and judicial authorities to secure the conviction of the German communists who had been brought to trial at Cologne.39 In December 1852 Marx told his friend Adolph Cluss that the Cologne trial had “totally estranged the German booksellers with whom I had hoped to sign a contract for my Political Economy40 Nearly a year later, in a letter to Cluss, Marx confidently predicted that there would be a commercial crisis in the following spring. “I still hope that—before this occurs—I shall be able to retire quietly for a few months to finish my Political Economy. But I doubt if I shall be able to manage it.”41 For the next four years Marx appears to have done little work on his collection of notebooks on economics. He was too busy writing articles for the press and composing a brilliant denunciation of Louis Napoleon's coup d'état of December 2, 1851,42 which Engels described as “a work of genius”.43

It was only towards the end of 1857 that Karl Marx resumed his researches on economics. He told Lassalle that he had been “spurred on by the present commercial crisis to turn again seriously to my work on the Principles of Economics”. “I have to work throughout the day to earn a living and so only the nights are left for real work. And I am also delayed by illness.”44 To Engels he wrote that he was working until four in the morning—and consuming “an immense quantity of tobacco”—on two projects. The first was his Principles of Economics and the second was a pamphlet on the commercial crisis of 1857.45 The pamphlet was never written. In February 1858 Marx informed Lassalle that he had been working for several months on the “final version” of his book on economics.46 He explained that he planned to write six volumes on (1) capital, (2) landed property, (3) wage labour, (4) the state, (5) international trade, and (6) the world market.47 By this time Marx had written a rough draft (Rohentwurf) of the first of his six volumes. This consisted of two long chapters on money and capital. The second was divided into three sections: (i) how capital is formed, (ii) how capital circulates, and (iii) how surplus value is turned into profit. This first draft of what eventually became the first volume of Das Kapital was published in Russia in 1939-41 and in Germany in 1953.48 Marx described this “rough draft” as a series of monographs written for “self-understanding” and not for publication.49

Marx now decided to rewrite the “rough draft” and to publish it in parts. Lassalle found a publisher for him—F. G. Duncker of Berlin—who agreed that the book should appear in serial form. In March 1858 Lassalle urged Marx to let Duncker have the first part as soon as possible.50 But in April Marx told Engels that his liver complaint made it impossible for him to start on the manuscript.51 And it was not until September that he wrote to Engels that the manuscript would be ready in a fortnight.52 But two months later Jenny Marx was still making a fair copy of the manuscript.53 Marx told Lassalle that the delay had been caused because of his determination to improve his style. “I owe it to the Party that my book should not be spoiled by being written in a stolid, wooden style and that is how I write when my liver is out of order.”54

On January 21, 1859 Marx was at last able to report to Engels that “the wretched manuscript is ready but I cannot post it as I have not got a farthing for postage or insurance”.55 So Engels sent Marx £2 and the manuscript was sent to Duncker on January 25.56 The preface followed on February 23. Published as Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie the little book consisted of two thirds of the first part of Volume I of the six volumes that Marx had hoped to write. It was only a fragment of a vast project which was never realised. By the middle of 1862 Marx had abandoned his grandiose plan. What was originally planned to be the third chapter of Part I of Volume I of Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie eventually became the book on capital which made Marx famous.

In January 1860 Engels urged Marx to complete the third chapter of Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie—the one on capital—without delay. He wrote: “I do wish that at long last you would be a little less conscientious in passing judgment upon your own work. What you write is far too good for the lousy public anyhow. What really matters is that your work should be written and published. The silly asses will not tumble to the weaknesses in it that you can see. And suppose that the revolution breaks out. How would you feel then if you had allowed your researches to be interrupted and if you had not even published the chapter on ‘capital in general’?” Engels warned Marx not to be deflected from writing his chapter on capital by his natural anger at Karl Vogt's recent pamphlet attacking him.57 But Engels's appeal fell upon deaf ears. Marx was determined that Vogt should not be allowed to get away with allegations that he was living on the fat of the land at the expense of the workers. He believed—and he was later proved to be correct—that Vogt, once a member of the Frankfurt Parliament, was now a paid agent of Napoleon III. So Marx laid aside his work on economics to write a lengthy and abusive pamphlet attacking Karl Vogt.58

Marx resumed work on his chapter on capital in the autumn of 1860. In September he told Lassalle that he hoped to let Duncker have the manuscript by Easter 1861.59 But eighteen months passed and still the chapter had not been completed. By June 1862 what had been planned as a “chapter” had grown into a “book”. Marx wrote to Engels: “Despite all the miseries with which I am afflicted my brain box is working better than it has done for years.” He claimed that he was working hard and explained that he was writing at greater length on capital than he had originally planned “because the German dogs judge a book by its weight”.60 Six months later—at the end of 1862—Marx reverted for a moment to his original plan. He told Dr Kugelmann that his chapter on capital was finished “apart from making a fair copy and giving it a final polish for the press.” He proposed to find a new publisher since Duncker had taken too long to get Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie into print. Marx explained to Dr Kugelmann that his new chapter covered what was known in England as “the principles of political economy”.61

In 1862 and in the first half of 1863 Marx worked on his theory of surplus value. But he failed to rewrite his notes in a form suitable for publication. After Marx's death—when Engels had brought out the second and third volumes of Das Kapital—Engels planned to edit Marx's manuscript on surplus value and to publish it as the fourth and final volume of Das Kapital. But Engels did not carry out the project. It was not until 1905-10 that Kautsky edited part of Marx's manuscript of 1862-3 and published it under the title: Theorien über den Mehrwert.62

Marx made only slow progress with Das Kapital in the second half of 1863 and in 1864. The Polish rising of January 1863 fired Marx and Engels with enthusiasm, for they hoped that it would be a signal for revolutions all over the Continent. Marx declared that “the era of revolution is now again fairly opened in Europe”63 and Engels replied that if only the Poles could hold out, the conflagration would soon spread through the length and breadth of Russia.64 In the spring of 1863 and again in the autumn of 1864 Marx turned aside from his studies of economics to plunge into a detailed examination of the history of the Polish question.65

Although Das Kapital was delayed, it was not forgotten. In May 1863 when Engels impatiently declared that it was high time that the book was finished,66 Marx replied: “If only I could retire quietly somewhere I could soon complete the manuscript.”67 Several months passed and in August 1863 Marx assured Engels that Das Kapital was making satisfactory progress.68 In 1864 Marx was busy with private and political affairs. He received two legacies and moved to a new house. In the autumn of that year, when the First International was established, Marx devoted much of his time to the affairs of this organisation. Consequently little work was done on Das Kapital in 1864. In October Marx blamed his boils and carbuncles for his slow progress.69 And then in November he told Dr Kugelmann that his book would be ready for the press in 1865.70

In February 1865 Marx was in touch with a new publisher—Otto Meissner of Hamburg71—who in that year had brought out a pamphlet by Engels on the military controversy in Prussia. In May Marx claimed that he was “working like a horse”.72 In June he interrupted his work on his book so that he could prepare a lecture—an attack upon John Weston—on “Wages, Prices and Profit” for the Central Council of the First International. In July Marx wrote that his book was nearing completion. All that remained to be written were three chapters of “the theoretical part” and the “historical literary section”. “I cannot bring myself to send off any part of the manuscript until the whole of it is ready. Whatever my failings as a writer may be I can claim the merit of producing something which is an artistic unity.” “And this can be achieved only by never letting anything get into print until the entire work has been completed.”73 Marx declared that his “damned book” had been “finished at the end of December (1865)”.74 What Marx meant was that a first draft had been completed. He still had to polish the style, to make some revisions, and to write out a fair copy. What had first been intended to be a chapter and then a book was now being planned as a work in three volumes.75 The first volume would cover “the process of capitalist production” the second would be “the continuation and conclusion of the theories”, and the third would examine “the history of political economy from the middle of the seventeenth century”.76 The original section on rent had been greatly expanded.77 Marx began to make his fair copy on January 1, 1866 “working twelve hours a day”78 but in February he fell ill79 and in April he told Dr Kugelmann that over two months had been lost.80

In the summer of 1866 the completion of Marx's manuscript was delayed not only by illness81 but by his work for the International Working Men's Association—particularly the preparations for its first conference in Geneva and the publication of its journal, The Commonwealth. Marx now decided to issue the first volume of Das Kapital separately and not, as originally planned, at the same time as the second volume. He wrote to Engels that he hoped to complete the first volume by August.82 But in August Engels was told that the manuscript was not yet finished and that Marx had no money with which to buy writing paper.83 In October Marx assured Dr Kugelmann that the manuscript would be sent to Meissner by November.84 This time he kept his word. On November 10 he told Engels that the first pages of the manuscript would go to Meissner “next week”.85 Engels was delighted at this good news which, he declared, had lifted a great weight from his mind.86

In January 1867 Marx told Engels that Meissner had suggested that the first two volumes of Das Kapital should be published together. Marx declared that he could not complete the second volume at the same time as the first. Owing to his poor health he would need to recuperate when the first volume was finished. Moreover Marx proposed to go to the Continent as soon as possible to try to borrow some money.87 In February Marx assured Engels that if only his creditors would leave him alone—his grocer was pestering him for £5—he could soon complete his manuscript.88 In the middle of March Engels enquired if the book was now ready for the printer.89 At last, on March 27, Marx wrote that his first volume was complete and that he would take the manuscript to the publisher himself if Engels would pay his fare.90 Engels was delighted. He wrote: “Hurrah! I could not repress this exclamation when I at last read in black and white that your first volume is finished and that you propose to take it yourself to Hamburg.”91 On April 13, 1867 Marx wrote from Hamburg that the precious manuscript had been deposited in Meissner's safe.92 A few days later Marx wrote from Hanover—where he was the guest of Dr Kugelmann—that Meissner had sent his manuscript to Otto Wigand of Leipzig to be printed.93

On April 30, 1867 Marx wrote to his friend Siegfried Meyer to explain his recent silence. “It is because I have continually had one foot in the grave. I have had to use every minute—when I have been fit to work—to complete the book for which I have sacrificed my health, my fortune, and my family … I laugh at so-called ‘practical’ men and their wisdom. Anyone who wants to behave like an ox can, of course turn his back upon the misfortunes of humanity and look after his own skin. But I would really have regarded myself as ‘impractical’ if I had pegged out before I had at least finished the manuscript of my book.” “In a few weeks the first volume will be published in Hamburg by Otto Meissner.”94

Marx wrote to Engels on May 7 from Hanover: “That damned fellow Wigand did not start to print my book until April 29, so that I did not receive the first proofs until the day before yesterday. …” Meissner had asked for the manuscripts of the second and third volumes by the following spring. Marx thanked Engels for his help. “Without you I could never have finished my book. I assure you that it has lain heavily upon my conscience that your wonderful powers should have gone to rust in the world of business mainly on my account.” “And you have had to share my petites misères into the bargain.”95

In the summer of 1867 Engels helped Marx to correct the proofs of the first volume of Das Kapital. He praised the book, for which he had waited so long, but offered two criticisms. First, Engels thought that, in comparison with Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, the theoretical argument was clearer in Das Kapital but the narrative was not so vivid. Secondly, he urged Marx to insert subheadings to help the reader to follow the more abstract arguments. “The general reader—even the scholarly reader—is no longer accustomed to this type of (dialectical) thinking and it is therefore necessary to help him as much as possible.”96 Marx replied: “Your satisfaction at what you have read so far is more important to me than anything that the rest of the world may say. Anyhow I hope that as long as they live, the bourgeoisie will have cause to remember my carbuncles!”97 Meanwhile Marx and Engels were trying to find translators and publishers for French and English editions of Das Kapital. Marx asked Ludwig Büchner to recommend a French translator.98 Engels persuaded his friend Samuel Moore to undertake the English translation.99 Marx arranged that George Eccarius should approach Harrison & Co who might be prepared to publish an English translation of Das Kapital. If the negotiations were successful Marx promised Engels that “Mrs Lizzy” should have a new “London dress”.100 But Lizzie Burns did not get her dress since twenty years elapsed before the English translation was published.

On August 15, 1867 Engels wrote to Marx that he had finished reading the proofs of the first volume of Das Kapital. “I consider that it is essential to get the second volume out—and the sooner the better.”101 On the following day Marx wrote that he had sent the last of the proofs to Meissner. “I have you—and you alone—to thank that this has been possible. Without your sacrifice on my behalf, I could not possibly have undertaken the immense researches required to write the three volumes. I embrace you, full of thanks. …”102 In his reply Engels again urged Marx to insert more subheadings in his book. The fourth chapter was nearly 200 pages long but had only four subheadings which were difficult to find.103 In September 1867 the first volume of Das Kapital was published. A few weeks earlier Marx had written that he was working on the second volume.104 It was not until many years later—after Marx's death—that Engels discovered that the manuscripts of the second and third volumes had never been prepared for publication. When the manuscripts came into his possession he found that they were “written in a slovenly style”, that the technical expressions were in English or French, and that whole pages were in English. “Marx's thoughts appeared on paper exactly as they had first been formed in his brain.”105

Why did it take Marx so long to write the first volume of Das Kapital and why did he never publish the later volumes? Marx gave various explanations for this which, however, did not tell the whole story. His main excuse was that long periods of ill health prevented him from writing. It is true that for many weeks at a time Marx was incapacitated by carbuncles, boils and digestive troubles. Moreover his illness was aggravated by nervous strain brought about by continual financial worries. But it is also true that Marx brought ill health upon himself. There were times when he worked for ridiculously long hours. Engels declared in 1866 that “the book has been largely responsible for your poor health”.106 Moreover Marx frequently ignored his doctor's advice to reduce smoking and to eat less highly spiced foods.

Another reason advanced by Marx for his slow progress was that—to earn his living—he had to devote much of his time to journalism. Marx spent many hours preparing and writing a single article. He would sometimes go to the reading room of the British Museum for several days to gather material for a single article. “To write continually for a newspaper, tires me out,” he complained in 1853.107 Marx was a compulsive reader. He studied subjects which lay only on the fringe of his main theme. He once complained to Weydemeyer that his subject had “so many damned ramifications”.108 He admitted that his researches had led him to investigate “apparently quite remote disciplines.”109 In 1851 Engels wrote to Marx: “The trouble with you is that you will not get down to writing anything so long as there is a single important book on the subject that you have not read.”110 And a few months later he reminded Marx that their first book—The Holy Family—had been planned as a pamphlet but had ended up as a book.111

These were by no means the only reasons for Marx's failure to finish Das Kapital more quickly. His study of economics was supposed to be his main work since his elucidation of the nature of capital was intended to pave the way for the triumph of socialism. But he allowed himself to be diverted from his main task by his political activities. Much time was taken up by writing pamphlets attacking his enemies—such as Proudhon, Karl Vogt, Louis Napoleon and the Prussian government. And when the First International was founded in 1864 Marx plunged into active political propaganda again. All these activities took up time which might have been devoted to writing Das Kapital.

Perhaps none of these explanations really account for Marx's inability to finish his life's work. It has been argued that he was incapable of finishing the task which he had undertaken. In his imagination Marx saw the six volumes which he had planned in 1858 as something much more than a standard work on economics. They were to give the world a new materialist philosophy which would inspire the communist social and political order of the future. The ideal work which Marx planned would be more accurate and more comprehensive than any ordinary book on economics. It has been argued that Marx never finished Das Kapital because he was always searching for new facts to confirm his theories. Twelve years after the appearance of the first volume of Das Kapital Marx told Danielson that he could not complete the second volume because he was studying “the bulk of materials I have had not only from Russia but from the United States etc”. Moreover he considered that it was essential for him to await the outcome of “the present English industrial crisis”.112

Another possible reason for the slow progress of Das Kapital was the fact that Marx's methods of research were, in certain respects, different from those of other scholars. Research normally involves posing a problem, ascertaining the facts, and then propounding a solution. Marx, however, began by propounding a solution to a problem and then proceeded to find facts which would support his conclusion. He claimed that his theories were revealed to him in a flash of inspiration. He subsequently devoted years of research to proving that he was right. Treitschke wrote that “Marx completely lacked a scholar's conscience which is the hallmark of a genuine man of learning. In his works there is no trace of the humility of the true researcher who, aware of his own ignorance, approaches his material with an open mind in order to learn. For Marx what has to be proved is known before the research starts.”113 And it has been argued that Marx dared not complete his great work in case the day after publication some new book might appear containing facts that did not accord with Marx's grand design.

Arnold Künzli argues that Marx was “a master of non-fulfilment”. “There is hardly any other thinker in his class who has been so incapable of moulding his life's work into a proper form”. “The whole of Marx's work is a single fragment. Or rather it is largely a collection of fragments many of which have been put together with great difficulty after his death. It is a Greek torso without arms or legs stuck together by more or less skilled disciples and researchers.”114

Marx was a perfectionist. Paul Lafargue wrote that he was never satisfied with what he wrote. “He was always making some improvements and he always found his rendering inferior to the idea he wished to convey.”115 Engels complained that Marx was too conscientious in passing judgment on his own writings. And so the philosopher, who hoped to influence mankind for hundreds of years to come, published only a fragment of his main work.

In 1867, when the first volume of Das Kapital appeared, Engels—though anxious that the completion of the later volumes should not be delayed—was more concerned that the first volume should be adequately publicised. Some years previously Marx had complained to Dr Kugelmann about “the conspiracy of silence with which I am honoured by the German literary rogues”.116 Now he dreaded “the conspiracy of silence of the experts that newspaper crowd”.117 In November 1867 Marx declared that the lack of reviews of his book was making him feel “fidgety”118 while Engels wrote to Dr Kugelmann that “the German press is still silent about Das Kapital.119 And the year after Marx's death Engels complained that the first volume of Das Kapital had been for many years “both zealously plagiarised and obstinately hushed up by official German economists.”120

Engels was determined to make the first volume of Das Kapital known in Germany and elsewhere. To do this he resorted to an unscrupulous strategem. Through his German friends—Siebel, Kugelmann, and Liebknecht—he foisted ten reviews of his own upon the unsuspecting editors of various newspapers and periodicals. He skilfully changed his style of writing and his attitude towards the book to suit the different types of readers of the journals whose editors he deceived. The review written for the Barmen-Zeitung in his home town (a paper with middle class readers) was couched in very different language from the article written for the Demokratisches Wochenblatt (which was read mainly by workers). On one occasion Marx gave Engels detailed instructions on how to write an article on Das Kapital for the Beobachter.121 A book is normally reviewed by an impartial writer who is not connected with the author. But Engels's articles on Das Kapital came from the pen of Marx's closest friend and this was not known either by the editors of the periodicals and newspapers or by their readers.

In September 1867 Engels asked Marx if he should plant an article on Das Kapital in a German paper—through Meissner or Siebel—“attacking the book from a middle class point of view”. This would help to bring Marx's work to the attention of the public.122 Marx agreed that “the best way to wage war would be to attack the book from a bourgeois standpoint”. And Dr Kugelmann should be told how to write some reviews himself.123 In October Engels—at Marx's urgent request124—sent some articles to Dr Kugelmann and to Siebel.125 On October 18 he appealed to Siegfried Meyer to do everything in his power to publicise Marx's book in the German-American press.126 On the same day Engels wrote to Marx: “I can write four or five articles about your book from different points of view but I do not know where to send them”.127 Marx replied: “Send me your reviews for German papers and I will have them copied and sent to the most suitable papers.” He also asked Engels to write an article on Das Kapital for the Fortnightly Review. Professor Beesly would get it published.128 Engels wrote that he was preparing two articles for Siebel who had promised to place them in German journals.129 On November 8 Engels reported that Siebel, whom he had met in Liverpool, had promised to place three more of Engels's articles in German papers.130

By January 1868 Marx was able to tell Dr Kugelmann: “You probably know that Engels and Siebel have got articles about my book published in the Barmen-Zeitung, the Elberfelder-Zeitung, the Frankfurter Börsen-Zeitung and … in the Düsseldorfer-Zeitung”.131 In that year Engels wrote two articles on Das Kapital which were submitted to the Fortnightly Review but—despite Beesly's efforts to get them accepted—they were rejected by the editor John Morley.132 Engels declared that Morley was a bourgeois who had “every reason in the world to stop your ideas from getting any publicity”.133 Marx subsequently discussed the matter with Beesly who said that Engels's articles were “too dry”.134

Even to some of his own friends Marx kept silent about the true authorship of the articles on his book written by Engels. In July 1868, for example, he wrote to Siegfried Meyer that several favourable reviews of Das Kapital had appeared in the German press but he failed to mention that some of them had been written by Engels.135

Among Marx's disciples few did more than Wilhelm Liebknecht to make Das Kapital known in Germany. He told Engels in January 1868 that he had reprinted Marx's introduction to Das Kapital in the Leipzig Demokratisches Wochenblatt (which he edited) and had sent copies of the introduction to several papers in Switzerland. He had written to many “influential people” about Das Kapital. He had “bombarded” the Vienna Presse and the Berlin Volkszeitung with information about the book. And he had spoken about Das Kapital in his recent speeches to working class audiences.136 In March 1868 Liebknecht thanked Engels for an article on Das Kapital suitable for publication in the Demokratisches Wochenblatt and other papers. He mentioned that Marx's book was selling well in Germany and declared that the best way to publicise it would be to refer to it in a speech in the North German Reichstag. “I will certainly do my duty in that respect”.137

In two articles on Das Kapital which appeared in Liebknecht's Demokratisches Wochenblatt138 Engels declared that “as long as capitalists and workers have existed no book has appeared which is of such importance for the workers as Das Kapital. The relation between capital and labour, the hinge on which our entire present system of society turns, is here treated scientifically for the first time and with a thoroughness and acuteness of which only a German is capable.” Engels summarised Marx's doctrine of “surplus value”. According to Marx “every worker employed by the capitalist performs a two-fold labour”. “During one part of his working time he replaces the wages advanced to him by the capitalist. This part of his labour Marx calls ‘necessary labour’. But afterwards the worker has to go on working and during that time he produces ‘surplus labour’ for the capitalist, a significant portion of which constitutes profit.” Engels explained that the longer the working day the greater was the “surplus value” pocketed by the capitalist. Hence it was in the interest of the workers to reduce the length of the working day. In England the factory workers had secured a ten-hour day. Legal restrictions on the length of the working day applied only to women, children and young persons but—in practice—the men also enjoyed the benefits of the law. “The English factory workers have won this law after years of endurance and after a long stubborn struggle with the factory owners.” Engels observed that by 1867 the law had been extended to nearly all branches of industry in which women and children were employed. He urged his German readers to press for similar legislation in the North German Federation when the Reichstag met. “We hope that none of the deputies elected by German workers will discuss this bill without previously making themselves thoroughly conversant with Marx's book.” “Marx's book gives the representatives of the workers in ready form all the material that they require.” Engels concluded his review by asserting that capital “is continually increased and multiplied”. “And the power of capital over the workers who own no property is also continually increased. Just as capital itself is reproduced on an ever greater scale so the modern capitalist method reproduces the class of workers (who own no property) on an ever increasing scale.” Engels believed that Marx had scientifically proved “the main laws of the modern capitalist social system and the official economists have been careful not even to attempt to refute them.” Marx had shown that capitalism creates not only wealth but also “the social class of oppressed workers which is more and more compelled to claim the utilisation of this wealth and productive forces for the whole of society.” Engels's “little manoeuvres” to publicise the first volume of Das Kapital were not very successful. There was no quick sale for the book. It was not until 1872 that the first edition was sold out—earning a mere £60 for the author in royalties. But Marx's book was by that time at last becoming more widely known. Not only was a new German edition published in 1872 but French and Russian translations also appeared.

In September 1868 Engels proposed to Marx that a short popular version of Das Kapital should be prepared for the workers.139 Marx agreed and suggested that Engels should write a pamphlet summarising the main points of Das Kapital.140 Engels prepared a brief conspectus of Das Kapital141 but it was not published. It was not until the 1880s that a pamphlet by Engels entitled Socialism—Utopian and Scientific142—three chapters from his Anti-Dühring—served as a popular introduction to Marx's doctrines and achieved a wide circulation among the workers in many countries.


  1. The correspondence between Marx and Engels on Das Kapital has been printed in Marx-Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954). See also L. E. Mins (ed.), Engels on “Capital” (1937).

  2. English translation in W. O. Henderson (ed.), Engels: Selected Writings (Penguin Books, 1967), pp. 148-77.

  3. F. Engels to Karl Marx, May 10, 1868 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 4, p. 53.

  4. Karl Marx, Capital (English translation by Eden and Cedar Paul, Everyman Edition, 1930), Vol. 1, pp. 216-17.

  5. Karl Marx to F. Engels, January 7 and February 3, 1851 and F. Engels to Karl Marx, January 29, 1851 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, pp. 124-36.

  6. Karl Marx to F. Engels, June 18, 1862 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 77.

  7. Karl Marx to F. Engels, August 2, 1862 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 86-91.

  8. Karl Marx to F. Engels, August 9, 1862 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 94-5.

  9. Karl Marx to F. Engels, February 3, 1851 and F. Engels to Karl Marx, February 25, 1851 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, pp. 136-40.

  10. P. J. Proudhon, Idée générale de la révolution au dix-neuvième siècle (1851).

  11. Karl Marx to F. Engels, August 14 and October 13, 1851 and F. Engels to Karl Marx, August 21, 1851 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, pp. 239-44 and p. 275.

  12. F. Engels to Karl Marx, June 6, 1853 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, pp. 480-2.

  13. Karl Marx to F. Engels, January 29, 1858 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, p. 280.

  14. Karl Marx to F. Engels, March 2, 1858 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, p. 295.

  15. F. Engels to Karl Marx, March 4, 1858 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, pp. 295-9.

  16. Karl Marx to F. Engels, August 20, 1862 and August 24, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 98-9 and p. 410. In letters of August 26 and 27, 1867 (ibid., pp. 411-14) Engels stated that machinery was written off at 7h per cent (depreciation only) or at 10 per cent (depreciation and repairs). In 1868 Engels wrote to Marx that he (Marx) had been misled by Henry Ermen concerning the depreciation of steam engines in cotton mills (ibid., Vol. 4, p. 54).

  17. Karl Marx to F. Engels, March 5, 1858 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, pp. 297-300.

  18. On July 7, 1866 Marx asked Engels how to translate “put stretches upon the mule”, “picks” (in weaving), and “flyer” on a spinning mule (Karl Marx to F. Engels, July 7, 1866 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 343).

  19. Karl Marx to F. Engels, March 6, 1862 (postscript) in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 61. In Das Kapital Marx quoted in a footnote the following sentence from Andrew Ure, Philosophy of Manufacture (1835), p. 20: “The principle of the factory system, then, is to substitute … the partition of a process into its essential constituents, for the division or gradation of labour among many artisans.” See Karl Marx, Capital (Everyman Edition, 1930), Vol. 1, p. 402.

  20. Karl Marx to F. Engels, January 28, 1863 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 123. See also his previous letter of January 24 (ibid., p. 120). The self-actor, invented by Richard Roberts, was a spinning machine which made the mules run in and out at the proper speed by means of an automatic device.

  21. Karl Marx to F. Engels, November 20, 1865 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 287. Alfred Knowles (of H. Knowles & Sons) was a cotton spinner. His address in 1869 was 53 Hyde Grove, Plymouth Grove, Manchester.

  22. Karl Marx to F. Engels, January 3, 1868 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 4, p. 2.

  23. Karl Marx to F. Engels, April 22, 26 and 30, 1868 and F. Engels to Karl Marx, April 26 and May 6, 1868 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 4, pp. 41-51.

  24. Karl Marx to F. Engels, November 14, 1868 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 4, p. 125 (second letter of that date).

  25. Karl Marx to F. Engels, May 31 and June 7, 1858 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, pp. 320-1.

  26. Karl Marx to F. Engels, December 17, 1866 and January 19, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 370 and p. 374.

  27. F. Engels to Karl Marx, January 20, 1845 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, p. 10.

  28. Karl Marx to K. W. Leske, August 1, 1846 in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), pp. 13-15.

  29. Karl Marx to P. W. Annenhow, December 28, 1846 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), p. 27.

  30. Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow, 1961): first published in Russia in 1927 and in Germany in 1932.

  31. F. Engels, “Marx und die Neue Rheinische Zeitung” in the Sozialdemokrat, March 13, 1884: reprinted in Karl Marx—Friedrich Engels, Die Revolution von 1848 … (1955), p. 37.

  32. F. Engels to Karl Marx, January 29, 1851 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, p. 135.

  33. Karl Marx to F. Engels, April 2, 1851 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, p. 180.

  34. F. Engels to Karl Marx, April 3, 1851 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, p. 184.

  35. Karl Marx to J. Weydemeyer, June 27, 1851 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Letters to Americans 1848-95 (1963), p. 23.

  36. Karl Marx to F. Engels, August 14, 1851 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, p. 241.

  37. Karl Marx to F. Engels, October 15, 1851 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, p. 275.

  38. See appendix to Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Rohentwurf) (1857-8) (Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1953), pp. 781-839.

  39. Karl Marx, Enthüllungen über den Kommunisten-Prozess zu Köln (1852: new edition with introduction by F. Engels, 1885). The first edition, printed in Switzerland, was seized by the German police. The pamphlet then appeared in the New England Zeitung (Boston) and 440 offprints were purchased by Engels for distribution in Germany.

  40. Karl Marx to Adolph Cluss, December 7, 1852 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Letters to Americans 1848-95 (1963), p. 51.

  41. Karl Marx to Adolph Cluss, September 15, 1853 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), p. 67.

  42. Karl Marx, Der 18te Brumaire des Louis Napoleon (1852). The first edition was published in New York by J. Weydemeyer in the journal Die Revolution (eine Zeitschrift in zwanglosen Heften). The second edition was printed in Hamburg in 1869; the third in 1885).

  43. F. Engels's preface to the third edition of Karl Marx, Der 18te Brumaire des Louis Napoleon (1885): English translation—Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow).

  44. Karl Marx to F. Lassalle, December 21, 1857 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), p. 78.

  45. Karl Marx to F. Engels, December 18, 1857 and January 14, 1858 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, p. 258 and p. 274.

  46. Karl Marx to F. Lassalle, February 22, 1858 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), pp. 80-1. See also Karl Marx to F. Engels, April 2, 1858 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, pp. 307-12 and Karl Marx to J. Weydemeyer, February 1, 1859 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Letters to Americans 1848-95 (1963), pp. 60-2.

  47. 47 Plan of Karl Marx's book in six volumes (1858-62): Volume I On Capital

    1. Capital in general (a) How money becomes capital
    (a) Goods (b) Absolute surplus value
    (b) Money (i) How capital is produced (c) Relative surplus value
    (c) Capital (ii) How capital circulates (d) Combination of absolute and relative surplus value
    (iii) Capital, profit, and interest (e) Theories of surplus value
    2. Competition
    3. Credit

    Volume II Ownership of Land

    Volume III Wage-Labour

    Volume IV The State

    Volume V Foreign Trade

    Volume VI The World Market

  48. Karl Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (Rohentwurf) (Europäische Verlagsanstalt, 1953): for an abridged English translation see D. McLellan (ed.), Marx's Grundrisse (1971).

  49. Introduction to Karl Marx, Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1859).

  50. F. Lassalle to Karl Marx, March 26, 1858 in A. Künzli, Karl Marx (1966), p. 271.

  51. F. Engels to Karl Marx, April 2, 1858 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, p. 308. Jenny Marx wrote to Lassalle at this time to explain that her husband's illness would delay the completion of the manuscript (A. Künzli, Karl Marx (1966), p. 271).

  52. Karl Marx to F. Engels, September 21, 1858 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, p. 338.

  53. Karl Marx to F. Engels, November 29, 1858 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, p. 349.

  54. Karl Marx to F. Lassalle, November 12, 1858 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), p. 93.

  55. Karl Marx to F. Engels, January 21, 1859 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, p. 357.

  56. Karl Marx to F. Engels, January 26, 1859 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, p. 358. Marx was mistaken when he told Dr Kugelmann that he had sent the manuscript to Duncker in December 1858 (see Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, p. 24).

  57. F. Engels to Karl Marx, January 31, 1860 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 2, p. 459.

  58. Karl Marx, Herr Vogt (London, 1860: new edition Berlin, 1953).

  59. Karl Marx to F. Lassalle, September 15, 1860 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), p. 102.

  60. Karl Marx to F. Engels, June 18, 1862 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 77.

  61. Karl Marx to L. Kugelmann, December 28, 1862 in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, p. 23.

  62. A new and better edition of Karl Marx's manuscript of 1862-3 on surplus value was published in 1965 as Volume 26 of Karl Marx—F. Engels Werke.

  63. Karl Marx to F. Engels, February 13, 1863 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 126.

  64. F. Engels to Karl Marx, February 17, 1863 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 128.

  65. Karl Marx, Manuskripte über die polnische Frage, 1863-4 (The Hague, 1961: edited by Werner Conze and D. Hertz-Eichenrode). In 1863 the Workers Educational Society in London passed a resolution (inspired by Marx) supporting the Poles in their struggle for freedom. See F. Lassalle, Gesammelte Reden und Schriften, Vol. 4 (1919), pp. 304-5.

  66. F. Engels to Karl Marx, May 20, 1863 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 140.

  67. Karl Marx to F. Engels, May 29, 1863 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 141.

  68. Karl Marx to F. Engels, August 15, 1863 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 152.

  69. Karl Marx to Karl Klings, October 4, 1864 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), p. 124.

  70. Karl Marx to L. Kugelmann, November 29, 1864 in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, p. 26.

  71. F. Engels to Karl Marx, February 5, 1865 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 225.

  72. Karl Marx to F. Engels, May 20, 1865 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 272.

  73. Karl Marx to F. Engels, July 31, 1865 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 279.

  74. Karl Marx to F. Engels, February 13, 1866 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 308.

  75. Karl Marx to L. Kugelmann, October 13, 1866 in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, p. 43.

  76. Karl Marx to S. Meyer, April 30, 1867 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Letters to Americans 1848-95 (1963), p. 73. See also Karl Marx to L. Kugelmann, October 13, 1866 in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, pp. 42-3.

  77. Karl Marx to F. Engels, February 13, 1866 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 308.

  78. Karl Marx to L. Kugelmann, January 15, 1866 in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, p. 33.

  79. Karl Marx to F. Engels, February 10, 1866 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 305.

  80. Karl Marx to L. Kugelmann, April 6, 1866 in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, p. 35.

  81. Karl Marx to F. Engels, June 9, 1866 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 338.

  82. Karl Marx to F. Engels, July 7 and 21, 1866 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 343 and p. 348.

  83. Karl Marx to F. Engels, August 7, 1866 and F. Engels to Karl Marx, August 10, 1866 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 354 and p. 356.

  84. Karl Marx to L. Kugelmann, October 13, 1866 in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, p. 42.

  85. Karl Marx to F. Engels, November 10, 1866 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 365.

  86. F. Engels to Karl Marx, November 11, 1866 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 366.

  87. Karl Marx to F. Engels, January 19, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 373.

  88. Karl Marx to F. Engels, February 21, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 375.

  89. F. Engels to Karl Marx, March 13, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 376.

  90. Karl Marx to F. Engels, March 27, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 378.

  91. F. Engels to Karl Marx, April 4, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 379.

  92. Karl Marx to F. Engels, April 13, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 380-2.

  93. Karl Marx to F. Engels, April 24, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 382-3.

  94. Karl Marx to Siegfried Meyer, April 30, 1867 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), p. 133. English translation in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Letters to Americans 1848-95 (1963), pp. 73-4. Siegfried Meyer, a mining engineer, emigrated to the United States in 1867 and was one of the founders of the New York branch of the First International.

  95. Karl Marx to F. Engels, May 7, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 388-9.

  96. F. Engels to Karl Marx, June 16, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 393.

  97. Karl Marx to F. Engels, June 22, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 395.

  98. Karl Marx to L. Büchner, May 1, 1867 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), pp. 134-5.

  99. F. Engels to Karl Marx, June 24, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 397.

  100. Karl Marx to F. Engels, June 27, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 402. On October 15, 1867 Marx wrote to Dr Kugelmann that “a certain Natzmer in New York has offered himself as English translator. Quod non” (Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, p. 53).

  101. F. Engels to Karl Marx, August 15, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 407.

  102. Karl Marx to F. Engels, August 16, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 408.

  103. F. Engels to Karl Marx, August 23, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 408.

  104. Karl Marx to F. Engels, August 24, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 409-11.

  105. Engels's introduction of 1893 to Karl Marx, Das Kapital, Vol. II (edition of 1957), p. 3.

  106. F. Engels to Karl Marx, November 11, 1866 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 365.

  107. Karl Marx to Adolph Cluss, September 15, 1853 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), p. 67.

  108. Karl Marx to J. Weydemeyer, June 27, 1851 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Letters to Americans 1848-95 (1963), p. 23.

  109. Introduction to Karl Marx, Zur Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1859).

  110. F. Engels to Karl Marx, April 3, 1851 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, p. 184.

  111. F. Engels to Karl Marx, November 27, 1851 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 1, p. 289.

  112. Karl Marx to N. F. Danielson, April 10, 1879 in Karl Marx—F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), pp. 241-3. Marx's correspondence with Danielson is held in the Department of Manuscripts (add. Mss. 38075) of the British Museum.

  113. Quoted in Hans Blum, Das Deutsche Reich zur Zeit Bismarcks (1893), p. 253.

  114. Arnold Künzli, Karl Marx (1966), p. 282.

  115. Paul Lafargue in Reminiscences of Marx and Engels (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow), p. 78.

  116. Karl Marx to Dr Kugelmann, December 28, 1862 in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, p. 23.

  117. Karl Marx to Dr Kugelmann, December 7, 1867 in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, p. 55.

  118. Karl Marx to F. Engels, November 2, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 440.

  119. F. Engels to Dr Kugelmann, 8(-20) November, 1867 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), p. 151.

  120. Engels's introduction to the first edition of Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigentums und des Staates (Hottingen-Zürich, 1884) (edition of 1952), p. 7. English translation: The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow).

  121. Karl Marx to F. Engels, December 7, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 459-61. An article by Engels, written on the lines suggested by Marx appeared in the Beobachter on December 27, 1867.

  122. F. Engels to Karl Marx, September 11, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 422.

  123. Karl Marx to F. Engels, September 12, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 423.

  124. Karl Marx to F. Engels, October 10, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 431.

  125. F. Engels to Karl Marx, October 11, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 431.

  126. F. Engels to S. Meyer, October 18, 1867 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Briefe über “Das Kapital” (1954), p. 151.

  127. F. Engels to Karl Marx, October 18, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 435.

  128. Karl Marx to F. Engels, October 19, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 437.

  129. F. Engels to Karl Marx, October 22, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, p. 438.

  130. F. Engels to Karl Marx, November 8, 1867 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 3, pp. 445-6.

  131. Karl Marx to Dr Kugelmann, January 30, 1868 in Karl Marx, Letters to Dr Kugelmann, pp. 60-1. Articles written (or inspired) by Engels on Das Kapital appeared in the following German papers: Die Zukunft (Berlin), Rheinische Zeitung (Düsseldorf: edited by Heinrich Bürgers), Düsseldorfer Zeitung (reprinted in H. Hirsch (ed.), Friedrich Engels: Profile (1970), pp. 171-2), Der Beobachter (Stuttgart: edited by Karl Mayer), Staats-Anzeiger für Württemberg, Neue Badische Landeszeitung, Demokratisches Wochenblatt (Leipzig: edited by W. Liebknecht). The articles are printed in Marx-Engels Werke, Vol. 16, pp. 207-35.

  132. Karl Marx to F. Engels, August 10, 1868 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 4, p. 82. The articles are printed in Marx-Engels Werke, Vol. XVI, p. 288.

  133. F. Engels to Karl Marx, August 12, 1868 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 4, pp. 82-83.

  134. Karl Marx to F. Engels, October 15, 1868 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 4, p. 113.

  135. Karl Marx to S. Meyer, July 4, 1868 in Karl Marx and F. Engels, Letters to Americans 1848-95 (1963), pp. 74-5.

  136. Wilhelm Liebknecht to F. Engels, January 20, 1868 in Wilhelm Liebknecht, Briefwechsel mit Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels (edited by G. Eckert, The Hague, 1963), p. 88.

  137. Wilhelm Liebknecht to F. Engels, March 29, 1868 in Wilhelm Liebknecht, Briefwechsel mit Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels (edited by G. Eckert, The Hague, 1963), p. 90.

  138. Demokratisches Wochenblatt (Leipzig), March 21 and 28, 1868: English translation in W. O. Henderson (ed.), Engels: Selected Writings (Penguin Books, 1967), pp. 177-84.

  139. F. Engels to Karl Marx, September 16, 1868 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 4, p. 90.

  140. Karl Marx to F. Engels, September 16, 1868 in Gesamtausgabe, Part III, Vol. 4, pp. 92-3.

  141. F. Engels, “Konspekt über ‘Das Kapital’ von Karl Marx. Erster Band” in Marx-Engels Werke, Vol. 16.

  142. French edition 1880, German edition 1882, English edition 1892.

George G. Brenkert (essay date 1977)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9890

SOURCE: “Marx, Engels, and the Relativity of Morals,” in Studies in Soviet Thought, Vol. 17, No. 3, October, 1977, pp. 201-224.

[In the following essay, Brenkert assesses apparently contradictory statements Marx and Engels make concerning the relativity of morality. Brenkert contends that it is possible to determine the position of Marx and Engels on this issue but that their views are somewhat complicated. Brenkert concludes that Marx and Engels are not “normative relativists” but may be characterized as “descriptive relativists, though of a modified sort,” as well as “meta-ethical relativists.”]

1. It is often claimed that Marx and Engels are moral relativists.1 Engels does say that on the materialist approach “the demand for final solutions and eternal truths ceases once for all”.2 Marx speaks of the marriage between brother and sister as being moral in the primitive gens.3 Still, both Marx and Engels seem to speak quite differently on other occasions. For example, Marx speaks of man becoming ‘fully human’ and Engels speaks of the progress of man, society, and morality4—statements which would seem to imply a universal, if not an absolute, standard. Hence, others claim that Marx and Engels are not moral relativists.5

Current discussion, then, seems to present us with a rather unsavory choice between seemingly contradictory statements of Marx and Engels. Now it would be surprising (and I do not claim) that Marx and Engels did not, at times, say things which were conflicting and inconsistent not only with each other's pronouncements but also with their own. After all, the period over which they wrote extensively was approximately fifty years each, their own views modified and developed in various respects during this period, they wrote in a variety of formats—technical treatises, personal and official letters, manifestos, newspaper articles, polemical tracts—and they were not, it has been argued, wholly opposed to stating their views in light of expected tactical and political advantages which they might acquire.6 Thus, it would seem unreasonable at the outset to expect that one might harmonize all their claims and arguments.

It is, then, through this maze of difficulties that one must seek to determine what may plausibly be said to be Marx's and Engels' view on relativism—or at least the view to which in all clarity they appear to be committed. That it is reasonable to believe a coherent position on ethical relativism can be constructed out of their most central, most fundamental views is, accordingly, one thesis this paper seeks to establish. As opposed to Nietzsche and others, Marx and Engels were at pains to emphasize the ‘scientific’ character of their endeavors; they sought a comprehensive and systematic understanding of man. Thus, to point out, to eliminate, those inconsistencies which might appear in their writings, to seek the underlying coherent view (allowing that there might not be such) would seem to be fully in the spirit of their efforts. It would not, in any case, run counter to their views in the way it would with one such as Nietzsche who rails against systematization.

Finally, an additional objectionable characteristic of current discussions of Marx's and Engels' views on relativism may also be noted. This is the tendency of such discussions to treat the question of relativism as one to which a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No” can be given. For example, H. B. Mayo claims, with little elaboration, that “Marx's theory clearly … involves the relativity of all morals”.7 And even H. B. Acton says, much too simply, that it is tempting to conclude that Marx and Engels argued for “what is called a relativist view of morality, i.e. a view according to which there are many different groupings of men each with its own standards of moral conduct, but that there is no universal standard of moral conduct in terms of which the manifold particular codes can be rationally assessed”.8 Such a statement, however, conflates a number of different kinds of relativism. One cannot simply agree or disagree with it. The question of Marx's and Engels' relativism is more complex, as we shall see.

2. Let us begin with a point for which general agreement may be claimed, viz., that according to Marx and Engels moralities depend on the material conditions which obtain at that time. Now the notion of ‘dependency’ in this view, which we may call ‘the dependency thesis’, is notoriously difficult to explicate.9 However, suffice it to say for present purposes (a) that it involves causal and conceptual relationships between the material base and the moral system, (b) that the economic structure is supposedly ‘ultimately decisive’ of the morality which obtains in any society, (c) that moral ideas may have some effect on the material basis, (d) that Marx and Engels are willing to abstract to the point of identifying certain kinds of material conditions which produce certain kinds of morality, and (e) that the morality produced can be said to ‘express’, ‘reflect’, ‘correspond to’ the material conditions in which it is situated.

Now given this rather vague, and still largely intuitive, understanding of the dependency thesis, there are at least two criticisms which Marx and Engels can make of any purported moral claim. First, the dependency thesis concerns the relationship(s) which obtain(s) between the various modes of production and “definite forms of social consciousness.”10 Morality, or a morality, then, as one such ideological form, is an inherently social phenomenon. Thus, Marx and Engels speak of the moralities of nations, societies, classes, and professions, as well as of human morality. They do not, that is, speak of the morality of particular individuals in the sense that they might be said to have their own private morality. Thus, a purported moral claim may be rejected as falling within the domain of the moral if it were simply what an individual independently of others considered to be overriding, supremely important.11 This is not to say that on this basis Marx and Engels exclude the normative view that one ought to do what one feels or believes is best for oneself as a possible moral view, since they allow that such a principle might be the basic moral principle of a group of people. Indeed, Marx and Engels suppose some such principle to underlie bourgeois society with its notions of individualism and laissez faire. Rather, it is to say that they reject the view that a claim may be a moral claim if it is simply one which an individual considers to be authoritative.

Secondly, suppose a claim to be a moral claim, i.e., to fall within the domain of morality, and to be made within some group. Now whether the group be simple, i.e., classless, or complex, a class society, the justification of this claim is a matter of the rules and principles which obtain in such a group, which are in turn a matter of the dominant material relationships within that society. That is, Marx and Engels hold that those moral principles (and hence the judgments which fall under them) are valid or justified which accurately reflect, express, the present material condition. This I take to mean that such moral principles are necessitated by that situation; which, in turn, can be taken to mean that they fulfill the needs and interests of some class or group within the present mode of production.12 This is not to say, however, that this is necessarily (or even probably) the justification which will be given by the class or group in question. The particular class may hold that such principles are justified on any one of a number of grounds—e.g., divine commandment, natural law, etc. Still, whatever justification the group claims for its moral principles, the basis upon which those moral principles are valid and remain justified is that they fulfill the needs and interests of the group.

Now, given this view of the justification of moral principles and judgments, there may be, in a complex society, classes which have differing moralities. But these must be viewed only as subordinate moralities, since “the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas”.13 That is, in the end, the morality of the ruling class determines what is moral in a society, for the ruling class holds control over the means of mental production, and its ideas and views are “the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance”.14

Thus, there is a means whereby moral conflicts can be adjudicated within a particular society or class; there are certain objective procedures for ascertaining what the morality is and thence for settling the moral disputes which crop up within that moral system. When conflicting moral claims arise, the problem is to determine which moral principle or claim reflects the existing material conditions. These conditions may not be recognized by the participants of the dispute, but it is ultimately on their basis that the dispute is to be resolved.

It should be noted that this is not to say that Marx and Engels maintain the rather common normative relativistic view that one ought to do what one's society says one ought to do. That they do not hold this view is clear since it is possible on their view that what the society says one ought to do may actually be out of step with the present material conditions. Thus, Engels remarks that “the growing realisation that existing social institutions are irrational and unjust … is only a sign that changes have been taking place quietly in the methods of production”.15 Rather, the view noted above is that what one ought to do is based on the actual, current, material conditions. And these may change without the social order recognizing it and taking this into account in its morality.16

3. Though purported moral claims are susceptible to these two kinds of criticism, the preceding is unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, it only treats moral conflicts in one society whereas the usual locus of talk of moral relativity concerns the relation of moralities held by different societies. Secondly, the preceding does not mention or take into account Marx's and Engels' talk of man's nature, of his becoming fully human. If the latter can be appealed to, it would seem that there might be common features about man to which individuals in various cultures might appeal to resolve their moral disputes in a non-relativistic way.

Now cross-culturally and cross-historically there have been similarities between different societies and the individuals within them. Scarcity, the presence of classes, exploitation, etc., have all worked their effect on the moralities of ancient, feudal, and bourgeois society such that their moralities have shared certain commonalities. The Communist Manifesto makes note of this:

But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms.17

This commonality amongst cultures carries a number of implications. First, it suggests that Marx and Engels allow that within recorded history there have been certain pan-cultural universals and that any descriptive relativism18 to which they adhere must be said to be a modified one. Secondly, such a view would seem to enhance the possibility of adjudicating moral disputes cross-culturally and cross-historically—i.e., to the extent that different societies shared the same moral principles adjudications could be made.

Nevertheless, Marx and Engels do not allow that the basic moral principles for all societies have been and are the same. Engels argues, for example, that if there were not a diversity of basic moral principles, “… there would certainly be no dispute at all over good and bad, everyone would know what was good and what was bad”.19 And, since the latter is obviously false, there must be some basic moral diversity. A more plausible basis, perhaps, for their view is the contention that our moral ideas, such as equality, are historical products, “the creation of which required definite historical conditions which in turn themselves presuppose a long previous historical development”.20 Hence, Engels' claims that “it would necessarily have seemed idiotic to the ancients that Greeks and barbarians, freemen and slaves, citizens and dependents, Roman citizens and Roman subjects (to use a comprehensive term) should have a claim to equal political status”.21 Finally, closely related to this contention, is Marx's and Engels' underlying view that the morality of a society depends on and arises from the material conditions of that society and that those conditions have significantly differed historically. Accordingly, inasmuch as the primitive gens was classless,22 the morality of such early societies was not subjected to a crucial and basic influence to which the moralities of subsequent societies have responded. Similarly, supposedly the basic ethical beliefs under Communism will be significantly different from bourgeois ethical beliefs inasmuch as Communist society will also be classless.

Thus, though there are commonalities amongst societies, Marx and Engels also insist that there has been some basic diversity in the moral codes of different societies. Hence, inasmuch as they accept this diversity thesis and the previous dependency thesis, they can rightly be said to be descriptive relativists—that is, they hold that the moral codes of different societies depend on certain material conditions and vary basically from culture to culture (though they hold this in the modified form noted above).

However, in a sense, the most important questions of moral relativism have yet to be raised. It does not follow, from the fact that different cultures have believed in different basic moral views, that Marx and Engels hold that what is right in one culture may not be right in another culture even if the situations are similar (i.e., normative relativism), or that there are no objective, rational means to adjudicate moral disputes between cultures (i.e., meta-ethical relativism).

4. It must be admitted that Marx and Engels also seem to be normative relativists. They do maintain that there are (and can be) no moral principles which hold, which are valid and justified, for all times and all places. But it is crucial to see what they mean by this and why they hold the view they do. As I noted above … they hold that the justification, the validity, of a moral principle rests upon its necessitation by the time and place in which it is applicable. Engels says:

And what holds good for the realm of philosophical knowledge holds good also for that of every other kind of knowledge and also for practical action. Just as knowledge is unable to reach a complete conclusion in a perfect, ideal condition of humanity, so is history unable to do so … Each stage is necessary, and therefore justified for the time and conditions to which it owes its origin … [Thus] for … (dialectical philosophy) nothing is final, absolute, sacred. It reveals the transitory character of everything and in everything … it recognizes that definite stages of knowledge and society are justified for their time and circumstances; but only so far.23

Since the conditions of societies vary, so too will the moral principles which can be said to be justified. Conversely, the general normative principles which have been advocated as applying to all places and all times presuppose the presence of certain necessary conditions which are not in fact met with (at least not yet) in world history; thus such principles are inapplicable and of little practical interest.

It is clear from this that Marx and Engels reject the view that there are overarching, cross-cultural and cross-historical moral laws which hold for all times and places. Such principles would have to be abstracted from concrete historical periods and situations; such abstractions would render them useless due to the neglect of the necessary conditions for their application. However, what must now be noted is that, though it is true that if material conditions differ the moral principles that apply will differ, on the other hand, insofar as the material conditions are similar, the same moral principles will be necessitated, and hence justified. As Engels says, “In similar or approximately similar stages of economic development moral theories must of necessity be more or less in agreement”.24

This is significant for it means that there are certain invariant relations between particular material conditions and various moral principles: given X material conditions, then, one can only get Z moral principles. The implication of this is that when we find societies with different moral principles, we must therefore conclude that their material conditions are not similar. Now the normative relativist holds that “what is right or good for one individual or society is not right or good for another, even if the situations involved are similar”.25 And indeed the threat (or at least one of the threats) of normative relativism would seem to be that, since the conditions of different societies are supposed to be sufficiently and relevantly similar, except for our morality (and perhaps our habituation to it) we too could be, might be, doing the very things we now find immoral, repulsive, and which are, in fact, done by people in other societies. However, according to Marx and Engels we could not (and should not) be doing what such other people do, since the conditions in our society are relevantly different. That such conditions do differ in morally relevant ways has not been seen by previous ethicists since they have inappropriately abstracted man from the material milieu in which he is formed and forms himself. Thus, Marx and Engels are not normative relativists, for when conditions are similar they claim that the same moral principles hold, and when conditions differ they claim that different principles hold.

This point can be developed in another way. Man and society go through various developmental stages: tribal, ancient, feudal, modern (bourgeois). Two aspects of this view are crucial for the present problem. First, each successive stage is seen as more mature, more developed, than its antecedent. Hence, the ancient Greeks are viewed by Marx as children in comparison with bourgeois man. Now just as one does not expect and cannot expect a child to partake of the same moral activities, responsibilities, as an adult, so too Marx and Engels are saying that one cannot hold members of ancient societies to the same moral standards that apply to us. And as in the former case we do not speak of normative relativism, so too we should not, cannot, speak of normative relativism in the latter case.

Secondly, within each of these stages the way in which one views oneself and the world are historically, materially, determined. Thus, one living in Greek times would hold a particular kind of morality inasmuch as one saw, viewed, the world in a certain way. One living today would hold another morality since, due to different material conditions, one would view the world differently. That is, many of the ‘same’ activities mean different things for people within different cultural periods. Thus, for example, Marx says of eating and hunger:

Production also gives consumption its specificity, its character, its finish. Just as consumption gave the product its finish as product, so does production give finish to consumption. Firstly, the object is not an object in general, but a specific object which must be consumed in a specific manner, to be mediated in its turn by production itself. Hunger is hunger, but the hunger gratified by cooked meat eaten with a knife and fork is a different hunger from that which bolts down raw meat with the aid of hand, nail, and tooth. Production thus produces not only the object but also the manner of consumption, not only objectively but also subjectively.26

Thus, hunger to the bourgeois is not the same hunger as it is to the barbarian. Engels makes similar points with regard to sex.27 Now this means that the moral principles which develop and which seem to contradict each other are actually moral principles relating to different situations in at least two senses: not only are the situations significantly, morally, different (different production relations, forces), but also (and as a consequence) the way in which certain ordinary activities are viewed is different. Thus, that which seems at a first and abstract glance to be the same act for us and for the barbarian, or Greeks, may be quite dissimilar in fact and hence it may be inappropriate to say that the same situation has been evaluated. Once again, it seems incorrect to say that Marx and Engels are normative relativists.

It may be granted that on this view there are no moral principles which apply at all times and places, but the reason is that the situations are sufficiently divergent that the same principles could not apply. That is, Marx and Engels merely maintain that what is right or good for one individual or society is not right or good for another in different historical and material conditions. There is, however, nothing particularly exceptional about this claim. As J. Ladd has noted, “it is generally agreed by moral philosophers of every school that circumstances require us to apply moral principles differently to different cases”.28 Correspondingly, Marx and Engels also allow for the ‘applicational relativity’ of moral principles. But this is a far cry from normative relativism.

5. Now if the preceding is indeed their view, it is plain that Marx and Engels could not simply say that 18th century morality is higher than that of the Greeks and hence that the infanticide of the Greeks was wrong, while the 18th century care of children was actually the morally right way to treat children. However, if they cannot legitimately make this straightforward appraisal of other moralities, how are we to interpret their comments on progress, on the development of man, morality, and society through the ages? What are we to say of Engels' oft-noted claim that “in this process [of class conflict and revolution] there has on the whole been progress in morality, as in all other branches of human knowledge, cannot be doubted?”29 Or, again, Marx's statement that under capitalism

the very things which till then had been communicated, but never exchanged; given, but never sold; acquired, but never bought—virtue, love, conviction, knowledge, conscience, etc.—when everything, in short, passed into commerce. It is the time of general corruption, of universal venality, or, to speak in terms of political economy, the time when everything, moral or physical, having become a marketable value, is brought to the market to be assessed at its truest value?30

Do these remarks not imply some cross-cultural moral standard? For example, if we can say, as Engels suggests, that one morality is higher than another, would this not entitle us to say that moral judgments in the former are to take precedence over those in the latter? Would it not follow, then, that they do hold some sort of universal morality?

Now some of the moral criticisms Marx and Engels make of pre-Communist societies can be understood without extension of the foregoing analysis. Specifically, their criticisms of capitalist society need not imply that they possess a cross-cultural or cross-historical moral standard. On a variety of occasions Marx and Engels stated their view that the underlying material conditions of production were already sufficiently advanced for Communism. Engels says, for example, that

the possibility of securing for every member of society, through social production, an existence which is not only fully sufficient from a material standpoint and becoming richer from day to day, but also guarantees to them the completely unrestricted development and exercise of their physical and mental faculties—this possibility now exists for the first time, but it does exist.31

Hence, to criticize capitalism morally is not to apply to it moral principles which are without foundation or which require universal moral standards. The (material) bases for such criticisms are now present.

Nevertheless, the preceding suggestion cannot account for all comments Marx and Engels made on man and society which have seemed to many to require their adherence to universal moral standards. With regard to this remainder, I suggest that there is indeed a cross-cultural standard which Marx and Engels apply. This standard involves, but is not the same as, the law of development of man and society which Marx and Engels claimed to have discovered and which supposedly shows that society must develop through certain stages: i.e., tribal, ancient, feudal, capitalist, Communist. Each of these periods of history is a period through which mankind must go. We may determine the (cross-cultural) standard Marx and Engels are using in statements of the kind noted above, if we ask why each succeeding historical stage is considered to be ‘higher’ than, rather than simply different from, the preceding stages? Why speak of ‘progress’ here?

The answer has to do with the control which man may exercise over his own activities and relations as well as external nature. In Marx's and Engels' view of this historical progression, the productive forces of mankind (and hence man's control over external nature) have increased manyfold. However, in his relations of production, man has lost more and more control over his activities and relations. Still, with but one further stage in the development of the productive forces (if this has not already happened), the relations of production can be and will be modified by the proletariat such that man will have a full and conscious mastery over not only external nature but also his own relations and activities.

Now what is the nature and basis of this standard of control? It may be admitted straight off that control is at the crux of Marx's and Engels' view of freedom. For example, Engels says that freedom “consists in the control over ourselves and over external nature which is founded on knowledge of natural necessity”.32 But if that is so, is the standard, this cross-cultural standard, not a universal moral standard after all? The answer is complex, but (in a word) ‘no’.

To begin with, the basis for this standard changes during the course of their writings.33 In Marx's early writings of 1843-1844 it is founded upon his Feuerbachian notion of man as a species-being. As a species-being, man is a free being, a universal being. This universality of man is manifested in man's control of nature (nature is “the instrument of his life-activity”34) and of his own relations. It is certainly arguable that the basis of this view lies in an implicit and universal moral theory. However, I will not now so argue since this kind of appeal (i.e., to a universal moral theory) is rejected by Marx in his ‘Theses on Feuerbach’ and subsequent writings—though it is possible to find instances of an appeal to a modified notion of species-being later in both Engels and Marx.35 Still, Marx's view after 1845 is founded on his historical materialism and his views of the basic role that needs and wants play. Indeed, the basis of all history is that of fulfilling man's needs. As Engels noted,

Just as Darwin discovered the law of development of organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politics, science, art, religion, etc.; that therefore the production of the immediate material means of subsistence and consequently the degree of economic development attained by a given people or during a given epoch form the foundation upon which the state institutions, the legal conceptions, art, and even the ideas on religion, of the people concerned have been evolved, and in the light of which they must, therefore, be explained, instead of vice versa, as had hitherto been the case.36

Accordingly, in Marx's view, man forms plans, projects, to transform natural conditions so that they better conform to his needs.37 His natural science as well as, more generally, thinking and knowing are practical activities for controlling nature.38 Indeed, language and consciousness themselves “only arise from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men”39 for the fulfillment of their various needs and wants. And finally, consciousness is said to receive “its further development and extension through increased productivity, the increase of needs …” 40 Now given the fundamental importance of man's needs and wants, i.e., a practical basis, development occurs when man has greater control over nature and his social relations, for then his needs and wants may be more fully satisfied.

On the whole, Marx and Engels maintain, there has been progress in man's control over nature, in the productive forces of man, since to the extent that succeeding cultures have greater productive forces they are more able (which is not to say they do it—due to the state of the relations of production) to fulfill man's needs. Bourgeois productive forces simply are vastly greater than feudal productive forces. As they say in the Communist Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together”.41 Thus, bourgeois society is ‘higher’ than feudal society; its productive forces offer greater control over nature. This is a developmental process which can be objectively traced in history, from man's tribal stage until his present capitalistic stage. It must be admitted that each stage may not (does not) as a matter of fact fulfill man's needs fully. Still each stage is a necessary stage in the historical process which leads to the fulfillment of man's needs and wants. Thus, Engels claims that it is only in Communism that all anxiety over the means of subsistence will be overcome. Hence, in a practical sense succeeding cultures are higher than previous ones.

There has been progress with regard to man too, since the productive forces available in a society are viewed as part and parcel of the development of man. As Marx notes, “as individuals express their life, so they are”,42 and the way in which they express their life is dependent upon the available productive forces. Indeed, Marx and Engels speak of the development of the productive forces as being at one and the same time the development of the forces of the individuals themselves.43 This means that there has historically been a development of man's capacities and talents as well.44

It is, then, through this development of human control that Marx and Engels see a progressive series of quantitative changes occurring which will eventually allow for the appearance of Communism. This qualitative change will constitute “humanity's leap from the realm of necessity into the realm of freedom”.45 Only upon this developed basis will Communism and its morality be possible or intelligible.

Accordingly, when Marx and Engels speak of the development of man and society, when they use the notions of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’, they refer to measurements—indeed cross-cultural measurements—of the degree to which men, in their effort to fulfill their needs and interests, possess control of nature through their productive forces. There is development here, once again, inasmuch as “the first premise of all human existence and, therefore, of all history [is] … that men must be in a position to live in order to be able to ‘make history’ ”.46 Thus, the sense of ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ would seem to be a technological or a practical one, rather than a moral one.

6. However, there is a second dimension to the present discussion which must now be noted. As has been suggested above, to the extent that history is a process of man's increasing control over himself and nature, it is also a process whereby man becomes increasingly free—though not free from necessity. Now there are two different aspects of the notion of freedom at stake here. First, the freedom embodied in the development of human control, capacities, and talents is (in part, anyway) Marx's and Engels' response to the problem of the freedom of the will. It is an acknowledgement of one of the bases upon which any morality is possible—that man can be said to have (at least some) control over his affairs—and, at the same time, a recognition that the extent of such control may vary from culture to culture, and period to period. Such freedom is not, then, itself a moral principle by which they measure different societies.

However, the use Marx and Engels make of the notion of freedom is clearly not limited to being a notion which simply contrasts with necessity or determinism. In the full and rich sense which they attribute to ‘freedom’, of man fully and consciously controlling his activities and nature, it is a moral term. This is how man as man ought to live and act. However, freedom in this sense is not applied and cannot be applied universally since the conditions for its application are not present. Marx and Engels are clear on this. They note, for example, that “It is just this combination of individuals [they refer to ‘the community of revolutionary proletarians’] (assuming the advanced stage of modern productive forces, of course) which puts the conditions of the free development and movement of individuals under their control”.47

Consequently, they cannot and do not use this standard to morally blame or praise other cultures, or to assign them responsibility or obligation for the actions of their members or the institutions they maintained. This would only be possible using this standard of freedom were their productive forces fully developed—as they are not, ex hypothesi .

Nevertheless, possessing such a moral standard (and theory) as well as their theory of historical development, Marx and Engels can characterise the conditions in previous societies in various ways. Thus, Marx refers to man in tribal societies as immature; they can speak of earlier societies as undeveloped. Furthermore, they may even claim that such societies possess an illusory sense of community as opposed to any real community, and that individuals in those communities have only an imaginary freedom not a real freedom. For instance, they claim that personal freedom seems greater in bourgeois society because the conditions of individual life are accidental. In reality, man is less free under capitalism.

Now these comments are not moral appraisals. Rather, they are comparisons with earlier societies and their individuals from the viewpoint, the perspective, of Communist society, with its moral theory and theory of historical development. Such individuals are less free because they possess less control over their life-activities than the members of some more fully, or fully developed society. But this is not morally to appraise them since they could do no other.

If this seems problematic, consider the analogy of the child used above. It is a fruitful—though not exact—analogy to employ here. We know that children develop and mature in certain ways. This involves, among other things, acquiring more control over their own bodies, relations with others, and their environment. In this way, quite simply they are enabled to survive. Thus, in a very practical sense the child may be said to be undeveloped, immature. Further, as noted above, such a child due to its immaturity cannot participate in various moral relationships in which adults participate. Accordingly, we cannot morally praise or blame them for failing to do so, or assign them moral responsibility or obligation for doing so. Still, given our morality and theory of child development, we may say that some of their relationships and activities are not what the child takes them to be, are not ‘real’ or ‘true’ relationships—though this implies no moral censure. For example, imagine a young boy and girl who claim they are very much in love. Perhaps they want to run off together. Now it would not be unusual or mistaken for their relationship to be characterised as not ‘real’ or ‘true’ love. This would not be because the feelings involved are not strong, or the anguish at being prevented from running off is slight. Rather, it is because we hold that given their level of maturity, they cannot be said to be capable of the responsibilities, obligations, and commitments which ‘true’ or ‘real’ love requires. Thus, we might say that their love is illusory, not real; and indeed such love is sometimes referred to as ‘puppy love’. But this is not to morally condemn it or to hold them irresponsible in it. We are not saying that they ought, as such, as the individuals they presently are, to love in some other, more complete fashion, since they simply are not capable of this.

It might be objected that such an example simply reinforces those who maintain that Marx and Engels have a universal morality, since we would not claim that a morality was not universal since it did not apply (fully) to the children of each society. That is, a morality can be said to be universal, not if in fact it applies to everyone, but only if it applies to everyone who fulfills certain necessary conditions. Thus, children throughout the world may not fulfill the necessary conditions, while their parents might. In such a case, such a morality would still be a universal morality.

This objection is correct in what it asserts but is wide of the mark. To begin with, it was noted above that the child analogy is not exact. Specifically, it is inexact in that a particular child can be expected to mature into an adult and hence come under the full force of morality. However, those societies and the people in the societies, which Marx and Engels characterized as child-like could not mature into Communists or Communist societies. Tribal societies, ancient and feudal societies, and the people in them, have died off; there can be no expectation that the societies and their individuals themselves will mature into fully developed individuals and societies. Hence, though Communist morality might be said to be universal in the sense that it applies to anyone who fulfills certain conditions, it is simply a matter of fact that such a morality has not and cannot be applied to all preceding societies and people since they have not and cannot fulfill the requisite conditions. And if such is the case, then surely it is misleading at best to continue referring to Marx and Engels as advocating a universal morality.

7. It follows, then, inasmuch as Marx and Engels do not hold a universal morality, that it is mistaken to claim, as Kamenka and others do, that “Marxists, including Marx himself … have been committed to the moral superiority of socialism over preceding systems”.48 He and they are overly influenced by Engels' references to “progress in morality”49 as well as the claims Marx makes in his Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. Now it must be admitted that such statements by Engels which speak of ‘moral progress’, or ‘moral advances’, if taken straightforwardly and literally, are inconsistent with the position developed here. I would further agree with Kamenka that Engels (as well as Marx) was by no means incapable of inconsistencies. But before we simply conclude, on the basis of such statements, that both Marx and Engels shared a universal morality, and hence committed a fundamental inconsistency in their ethical views, we should consider and recall these points. First, the view that Marx and Engels hold a universal morality is itself inconsistent with many other statements they made, as well as with their views (as developed above) on the relation of moralities to the material conditions of the time, and the various divisions of history through which man must go. Secondly, so far as I know, Marx himself does not speak of ‘progress in morality’, or ‘moral advances’ as Engels does. Marx speaks instead of progress in machinery, in the division of labor.50 When he does discuss a moral notion such as equality, Marx explicitly rejects the view that all centuries have been working towards a greater equality.51 Thirdly, when Engels speaks of the ‘progress in morality’ in Anti-Dühring he notoriously does not suggest any kind of standard by which such progress might be measured.52 That is, he does not suggest any particular or general moral standard at that point. Kamenka's point is that it is implicit. Perhaps. However, there is another way in which such statements might be understood which would remove the inconsistency with the theory expounded above. Accordingly, when Engels speaks of moral advances, or progress in morality, he might be understood to mean that, since one morality may correspond to a stage of productive forces which is higher (and this is measured by the non-moral standard of control indicated above) than the productive forces of some other stage with its own morality, the former morality may be said to be higher53 than the latter morality. This sense of ‘higher’ would be parasitic on the sense of ‘higher’ embodied in the standard of control. It would not be a genuine sense of ‘higher’.

There is textual evidence that Engels had something of this in mind. For example, in speaking of Rousseau's theory of equality, Engels speaks of the original equality that men shared, the “natural equality of speechless primeval man”,54 the equality they shared with the animals. However, he claims that through man's capacity to develop—which is spelled out in terms of “the working of metals and agriculture”, “iron and corn”, and the class struggle—man arrives at “the higher equality of the social contract”.55 The point here is not to cast Engels as a Rousseauean, or to suggest he subscribes to Rousseau's social contract. Rather it is to note that Engels speaks of equality as being ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ and does this by reference to the developmental stages of man's productive forces. “In the state of nature and savagery men were equal”56; so too later in history after the despot is overthrown and the social contract established men are equal. But this is a ‘higher equality’ just because of the development through which the productive forces have gone—not because there is some sense of ‘equality’, a standard of equality, by which we can appraise different cultures and towards which previous cultures have directed themselves.

Finally, an analogy which might be drawn with Marx's theory of commodities may be helpful. There is no way of directly comparing various different items such as hats and coats. Each is distinct, each has its own qualities. However, they are in fact brought into relation with each other through their mediation in and by the amount of labor time required to produce each of them. In a practical sense, this is captured for us in the amount of money each is said to cost. Given this basis we compare hats and coats; perhaps we even say that a coat is of greater, of higher, value, than a hat. But we are not thereby directly comparing the coat and the hat; rather we are comparing the amount of labor (or money—labor's ‘incarnation’) that goes into one as opposed to the other. In somewhat the same way, I am suggesting, different moralities also are morally incomparable for Marx and Engels given their different material bases. However, given that their material bases involve various kinds or levels of productive forces which may be compared in terms of the control they give man over nature and his own relations, then the moralities may be compared though in an indirect fashion—as are hats and coats!

Now given Marx's and Engels' overall view which denies universal moral standards such indirect comparisons may well be misleading. It might even have been better to have foregone them. Nevertheless, my argument has been that the statements made by Engels regarding progress in morality, and by Marx and Engels with regard to the progress of man and society, do not require that they hold universal moral standards. Indeed, I have argued they do not hold such moral standards. Hence, their moral views are not inconsistent in the way many have claimed them to be. Furthermore, even though they do not hold universal moral standards, it should also be recalled that the reason for this was their claim that the material conditions of different cultures and periods have differed significantly. Consequently, it also does not follow that they are normative relativists.

8. On the view presently attributed to Marx and Engels one cannot condemn, for example, the actions of the early Greeks when they practised infanticide. One cannot say that what they did was morally wrong since the moralities involved are incompatible—one could not act in one stage on the morality of the other stage. It is senseless to condemn the actions of people in the other stage using one's own morality. This, however, raises a question about another kind of relativism which must be considered. For if it is senseless to condemn the actions of people in other societies, there would then seem to be no method, no cross-cultural objective means, whereby we can settle our moral disputes. And if this is true, are not we confronted with meta-ethical relativism?

Within each morality, it has already been indicated, there are objective conditions and measures to adjudicate moral disputes. And between moralities of the same stage this is also possible. But what about between moralities of different stages? There is certainly a prima facie case, at least, to maintain that Marx and Engels are not meta-ethical relativists in this sphere either. Specifically, the meta-ethical method of justification—necessitation by the material conditions—is the same for any society regardless of its stage of development. Thus, they seem to hold that there is a “uniform, cross-cultural method for gaining moral knowledge”57—a conclusion at odds with meta-ethical relativism. Furthermore, consider the views of Marx and Engels when the primitive gens came into conflict with tribal or feudal society,58 or the situation when Britain conquered India and destroyed a great deal of Indian society.59 Marx and Engels do not withhold judgment in these cases or suggest that the dispute cannot be settled by objective means. On the contrary, they defend the ascendance of the tribal or feudal society over the gens, and the actions of the British in India.

However, though the preceding is correct, the position of Marx and Engels in these matters must be more closely considered. To begin with, they do not conclude, as a meta-ethical non-relativist would, that the actions of the British were morally right, or that tribal society is morally to be preferred to the primitive gens. The method they employ does not tell them which of two principles or actions that conflict from different societies at different stages are morally correct. Rather, their methodology tells them which set of material conditions is practically higher than another. It is the moral principles which attach to these conditions which are then supported by Marx and Engels. Thus, there is an objective appeal in such cases of inter-cultural conflict. But the appeal is to the practical development of man and society. As such, the problem is not morally resolved, since the moral positions are incomparable. Hence, the same method of justification is applicable to different societies. And to this extent, it seems plausible to maintain that meta-ethically Marx and Engels are relativists.

9. It might be objected that the preceding does not perceive the truly radical view which Marx and Engels have. Specifically, the preceding has allowed that they can be said to have a moral philosophy and hence that with the full development of productive forces Communism will also have a morality. Admittedly, the preceding has not maintained that Marx and Engels claim that this morality can be imposed on or applied to other times and places; further it has not maintained that there is a meta-ethical methodology available whereby moral conflicts between different times and cultures can be resolved. Still, it might be claimed that their position is even more radical and relativistic inasmuch as under Communism there will be no morality at all. We will be beyond morality. Hence, are we not actually confronted by an even more serious kind of relativism than we have hitherto acknowledged?

There are a number of reasons why this objection is said to be plausible. To begin with, morality is supposedly part of the superstructure, one of the ideological systems, which are dependent on the base. As such, morality is one kind of false consciousness which it is at the heart of Communism to transcend. Just as the state and religion will wither away, so too morality will wither away; this will (in part) be manifested by the desuetude of moral terms. Secondly, this view seems to cohere with their view of morality as one of the means whereby the ruling class keeps subordinate classes in line. With the end of class society, there will no longer be the need to subordinate classes or people; morality, again, will cease. Finally, there are various things Marx and Engels say which seem to support the present objection. For example, their following well-known statement is surely relevant here:

Communists do not preach morality at all. They do not put to people the moral demand: love one another, do not be egoists, etc.: on the contrary, they are very well aware that egoism, just as much as self-sacrifice, is in definite circumstances a necessary form of the self-assertion of individuals. Hence the communists by no means want … to do away with the ‘private individual’ for the sake of the ‘general’, self-sacrificing man …60

What is to be made of such statements and claims? Do they establish the present objection?

Certainly these comments and claims are striking. But they do not show that morality will cease to exist, wither away, under Communism. To begin with, Engels and Marx themselves on many occasions speak of “a really human morality”61 which will exist in Communist society. Their attacks on morality, then, as above represented, are attacks on preaching morality, on the attempt to change human relations by simply invoking certain moral categories without realising that there are fundamental material conditions which must also change or be changed in order for people to act differently.

Secondly, it may be admitted that Communist society will be significantly different from preceding societies. The disappearance of classes and class rule will constitute part of this difference. But it does not follow for Marx and Engels, as it was objected above, that morality will be eliminated, or must be eliminated, with the elimination of classes. For example, they speak of the primitive gens, which was classless, as having a morality. This morality is said to include the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Further, they speak of morality in the gens even though there was no distinction of rights and duties. Indeed, the question of whether public activities are a duty or a right would be an absurd question to the gens member—something on the order of asking him whether sleeping or eating was a right or a duty.62

Thirdly, the claim that Communism will occasion the desuetude of moral terms is also dubious.63 Obviously if new human relationships replace present ones, certain terms will decline in use or cease being used altogether. Certainly in modern times there has occurred a decline in use of terms connected with chivalry, knighthood, and the like. Similarly, if there is to be no nuclear family, no punishment, then the terms we have and use in these contexts will cease being useful. However, it is illegitimate to infer from these truths the claim (which is false) that under Communism there will be a cessation of moral discourse. Such a claim seemingly assumes that there is a (if not ‘the’) language of morals such that if this language is no longer used moral discourse ends. This is an unwarranted assumption. Surely Marx and Engels are closer to holding that there is no special moral language, though there are ways to use language morally as well as non-morally. Testimony to this are the variety of occasions on which they speak of the freedom man will enjoy under Communism and their suggestion that with Communism a revival, a regeneration, will occur in such notions as liberty, equality, fraternity, and community.64 Thus, it does not follow from the desuetude of certain moral terms that all moral uses of language will cease, or that all moral practices will come to an end.

Finally, Marx and Engels seem willing to speak of principles and rules still existing and applying under Communism. Accordingly, Marx speaks of Communism as it will come “in which the full and free development of every individual is the ruling principle”.65 And in his ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’, Marx refers to another, though similar, principle: “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”.66 Though Marx invokes this principle only a few times in his writings, this should not be seen as problematic, since it is similar to the preceding principle to which he does refer many times. Furthermore, Engels also refers to the basic nature of needs in many locations.67 Thus, there is reason to view classless society, Communist society, as still possessing morality. Consequently, the kind of relativism to which Marx and Engels may be said to be committed does not seem to be any more radical than that which has been already laid out in the preceding pages.

10. In conclusion, it has been argued that the contradictory statements which Marx and Engels seem to make can be (in large part) reconciled and that doing so provides us with a clearer view of their position on the relativity of morals. Further, the tendency of current discussions simply to claim that either they are or are not moral relativists should now be seen to be rather inadequate. The present paper has tried to offer a more detailed account of just what kind of relativity of morals they do in fact accept. Thus, it has been argued that (a) they are descriptive relativists, though of a modified sort, (b) that they are not normative relativists, and (c) that they are meta-ethical relativists.68


  1. H. B. Màyo, Introduction to Marxist Theory (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960). M. M. Bober, Karl Marx's Interpretation of History (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1965).

  2. Frederick Engels, ‘Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy’, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1968), p. 620.

  3. Frederick Engels, ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1968), p. 480.

  4. Karl Marx, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (New York: International Publishers, 1969). Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring (New York: International Publishers, 1939), p. 105.

  5. H. B. Acton, The Illusion of the Epoch (Boston: Beacon Press, 1957). E. Kamenka, Marxism and Ethics (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1969). Which kind of non-relativistic moral theory they might share is variously characterised in the literature.

  6. Oscar J. Hammen, ‘The Young Marx, Reconsidered’, Journal of the History of Ideas XXXI (1970).

  7. Mayo, p. 241.

  8. Acton, p. 194.

  9. Some of the difficulties in explicating this notion of dependency may be found in Acton, Part II, Chapter I.

  10. Karl Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (New York: International Publishers, 1970), p. 20. I take it that these “definite forms of social consciousness” amount to various systems of ideas such as might be found in a morality, a religion, etc.

  11. D. H. Monro is one who maintains that morality is to be characterised in terms of its “over-ridingness’. Questions of morality are questions of ‘what I most want’. Cf. Empiricism and Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1967).

  12. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by Robert C. Tucker (new York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1972), p. 136.

  13. Ibid.

  14. Ibid.

  15. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 292.

  16. Frederick Engels, ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Works (New York: International Publishers, 1968), p. 417.

  17. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, ‘The Communist Manifesto’, in The Marx-Engel Reader, ed. by Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1972), p. 351.

  18. By ‘descriptive relativism’ I refer to the view that the basic moral values or beliefs differ from society to society and that these values depend (in some sense) on the particular conditions which obtain in those societies.

  19. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 103.

  20. Ibid., p. 118.

  21. Ibid., p. 114.

  22. Engels, ‘The Origin of the Family …’, p. 576.

  23. Engels, ‘Ludwig Feuerbach …’, p. 598.

  24. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 104.

  25. William K. Frankena, Ethics (2d ed.; Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1973), p. 109.

  26. Karl Marx, Grundrisse (New York: Vintage Books, 1973), p. 92.

  27. Engels, ‘The Origin of the Family …’, pp. 478-9, 512-4.

  28. John Ladd, Ethical Relativism (Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1973), p. 110.

  29. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 105.

  30. Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, (New York: International Publishers, 1963), p. 34. My emphasis.

  31. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 309.

  32. Ibid., p. 125.

  33. In Marx's earliest writings (1837-1842) this standard is not particularly to be found. However, these writings do seem to assume some kind of ethical universalism if not absolutism.

  34. Karl Marx, ‘Estranged Labor’, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1972), p. 61.

  35. Engels, Anti-Dühring, pp. 125, 295.

  36. Frederick Engels, ‘Speech at the Graveside of Karl Marx’ in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1972), p. 603.

  37. Iring Fetscher, ‘Marx on Human Nature’, Social Research 40 (1973), 445.

  38. Mayo, p. 132. Acton, pp. 173, 186-8.

  39. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, p. 122.

  40. Ibid.

  41. Marx and Engels, ‘The Communist Manifesto’, p. 339.

  42. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, p. 114.

  43. Ibid., p. 159.

  44. Ibid., p. 155.

  45. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 310.

  46. Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, pp. 119-120.

  47. Ibid., p. 162. My emphasis.

  48. Eugene Kamenka, Marxism and Ethics, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1969), p. 5.

  49. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 105.

  50. Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, pp. 138, 139.

  51. Ibid., pp. 118-9.

  52. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 105.

  53. This should properly be in quote marks, as it is in the following sentences.

  54. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 153.

  55. Ibid., pp. 152-3.

  56. Ibid., p. 152.

  57. Paul W. Taylor, Principles of Ethics (Belmont, California: Dickenson Publishing Co., 1975), p. 25.

  58. Engels, ‘The Origin of the Family …’, pp. 528-30.

  59. Karl Marx, ‘On Imperialism in India’, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1972), pp. 577-587.

  60. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The German Ideology, ed. by C.J. Arthur (New York: International Publishers, 1970), pp. 104-5. Cf. also Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, pp. 114, 124, 125.

  61. Engels, Anti-Dühring, p. 105.

  62. Engels, “The Origin of the Family …’, p. 576.

  63. This objection was suggested to me by William L. McBride.

  64. Cf. Engels' approving quotation of L. Morgan's statement as recorded in ‘The Origin of the Family …’, p. 593. Also, Marx and Engels, ‘The German Ideology’, in The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 161-3.

  65. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I: The Process of Capitalist Production (New York: International Publishers, 1967), p. 592.

  66. Karl Marx, ‘Critique of the Gotha Program’, in The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. by Robert C. Tucker (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1972), p. 388.

  67. Engels, Anti-Dühring, pp. 305-6.

  68. I would like to thank Glenn Graber, John Lachs, and Robert Sessions for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. Research for this paper was supported by a summer grant from the Faculty Research Fund, University of Tennessee.

Howard L. Parsons (essay date 1977)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4901

SOURCE: “Engels' Development from Christianity to Communism,” in Revolutionary World: An International Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 23/25, 1977, pp. 180-90.

[In the following essay, Parsons analyzes the progress of Engels' beliefs from his Christian upbringing to his espousal of communism. In particular, Parsons discusses the influence on Engels of Christian Pietism and Hegelianism.]

The life of Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) spanned the greater part of the 19th century—a period which in many parts of the western world saw both the ripening and the rottening of capitalism and its ideological ally, Christianity. From childhood through adulthood Engels was so situated that he could easily observe and reflect upon these processes in capitalism and Christianity. In the second half of the 18th century Engels' great-grandfather founded a thriving textile business in Barmen, a major industrial center of Germany. It is significant that, swayed by the humanistic promptings of Christianity, he supplied houses and ground for those many factory workers who wandered homeless about the countryside—deducting an appropriate amount, of course, from their weekly paycheck. Such concern for the workers was good business, as Robert Owen realized and demonstrated. But it showed that capitalists were still influenced by an ideology which, while in the main devoted to ideologically justifying the enormities of wage slavery and colonialism, could in its humanistic aspirations be antagonistic to the dehumanization of capitalism. As a child Engels felt this humanistic side of Christianity and its implicit incompatibility with the miseries of the factory system that he beheld with his own child's eyes. As a youth he began to understand that Christianity, while in one respect alienated from capitalism, was itself a reflection and form of capitalism's pervasive economic alienation; and that the humanistic philosophy and program that would lead the great masses of workers out of their misery had to be—not an outworn Christian ideology tied to slave, feudal, and capitalist societies—but a new humanism based on the needs and human relations and daily productive activities of the workers themselves. Thus while Engels witnessed first-hand the ripening and rottening of capitalism and Christianity, he saw also within these processes the seeds of a new economic order and a new humanism. He saw the transition of history, and he spent his life in the struggle to enlighten and guide that transition.

The boy Engels was deeply rooted in Christian Pietism. Influenced by mystics like Jacob Boehme and initiated by men like Philipp Spener and August Francke in Germany in the second half of the 17th century, Pietism was one of those many unorthodox movements in Christianity which originally aimed at vitality in the midst of dead and dying institutions. In its verbal and moral expressions, early Pietism was a revolt against the stiff sacramentalism and doctrine of Lutheranism, the legalism of Calvinism, and the empty creedalism and sterile intellectualism of Christianity in general. It was an evangelical call for a purification of the Christian life. Spener appealed for a return to Bible study in informal groups; the priesthood of all believers; practical everyday Christianity; love in dealing with unbelievers; vital, personal, heartfelt religion in theological education; and deeper spirituality in preaching, simplicity, and sincerity. Economically and socially, the Pietistic movement was a reaction to the personal suffering and social chaos of the Thirty Years' War and to the irrelevancy of the Protestant forms in dealing with those problems. Originally Pietism was a protest of the small bourgeoisie against the restrictive production and commerce of a decadent feudal system. It was an echo, an after-tremor, of the great Reformation earthquakes of the 16th century in Germany. Pietism was an abortive ideological revolution. For economic movement toward change in Germany had been abortive. Like the great Reformation earthquakes, the social unrest that gave rise to Pietism revealed the incompetence1 of the German bourgeoisie in creating a new and revolutionary commerce. The result: German states languished in economic and social backwardness—while other European countries, like the Netherlands and England and France, advanced in industrialization and made their own bourgeois revolutions. Pietism evinced a certain humanistic purity; and while it generated attraction for feudal and bourgeois classes, it was essentially a flight into the inner world of self and feeling. But in its ambiguity it helped to shape the most productive period of German philosophy through men like Herder, Kant, Schleiermacher—and Engels.

Engels, however, got his Pietism first with his mother's milk. She came of a pious, scholarly, and poor family, though her religion did not dampen her capacity for laughter. Engels' father was a practical and successful businessman who believed in the verbal inspiration of the Bible. The young Engels appears to have reacted to the Pietism of his youth in a negative way. The oldest of eight children, he carried a special burden of family expectation and hope: like all eldest sons of the bourgeoisie, he was to become the perpetuator of the family name, business, and style of life. From October, 1834 to September, 1837 Friedrich attended the Gymnasium at Elberfeld. In a letter of his father, written to his mother August 27, 1835, we have evidence that the seventeen-year old was resisting the strict discipline of his father. The father complained that Friedrich received “middling reports” and that “in spite of severe punishment in the past” he was not learning obedience. His father recorded his vexation at “finding in his desk a dirty book from a lending library, a romance of the thirteenth century.”2

Engels' father removed him from the Gymnasium in September, 1837, a year before finishing. It is not completely clear why this was done. In his final report the headmaster said that Friedrich “believed himself inclined” to adopt business as his career, “in spite of his earlier plans for going to the University.”3 It may be that Engels' father forced him to leave school; or, what seems more likely, it may be that Engels, having decided that ultimately he would have a business career, saw that he would get to that eventually whether he went to the University or not, and elected to take his freedom away from home at age 17 instead of waiting another year for it. For years the mature Engels combined business with a life of personal, literary, and political freedom, so it is probable that this career is what he chose—or did not resist—in 1837.

Friedrich was sent to work as a clerk in a firm of his father's in Barmen. He remained there until July, 1838, when he was sent to Bremen for his commercial training in a large trading firm. He remained in Bremen until March, 1841—a period of almost two years. It was in Bremen that the first steps in Engels’ shift from Pietism to communism occurred.

The young Engels in Bremen, though ostensibly being schooled to take over his father's business, showed more interest in beer-drinking, the reading of poems, singing in the local choral society, writing, fencing, swimming, conversing with other apprentice youths, observing the teeming life of the harbor city, learning the score of languages spoken there, reading the English and Scandinavian newspapers, and enjoying and educating himself. Bremen at this time was the leading port of the German states, serving Baltic grain ships and sending out German ships as far as Brazil for sugar and coffee. Ships brought raw cotton from the slave plantations of the United States to supply the expanding textile mills like those of Engels' father in Barmen. Bremerhaven had been constructed in 1827 and Bremen was the chief port of embarkation in Germany from which emigrants sailed for the new world. This was a new world for the youth—the global world of navigation, commerce, nationalities, languages, political conflicts. For a land-locked, narrowly religious, and business-oriented youth, who was already rebellious and seeking change, the experience in this city open to currents of a world in transition was profoundly moving. His observations of social conditions, and the ideas which he eagerly seized upon, began to work a transformation in his previous ideas about society and religion, dominated by the ideology of Pietism.

At an early age Engels had been exposed to the harsh conditions inflicted by capitalism on workers and their families. For three centuries, up to 1810, Barmen and Elberfeld held the monopoly on yarn bleaching for the Bergisches Land. After the introduction of silk weaving in 1760 and red dyeing in 1785 Barmen textiles became famous, and the Engels family for several generations, riding this current, took the tide at its flood and advanced their fortunes. The price on the other side was massive human misery. At a young age the boy Friedrich walked to school past factories filled with dust and smoke, where children as young as six years worked. He observed artisans doing back-breaking work in their homes from sunrise to sunset and later. He could see the homeless laborers, drunkenly reeling in the streets, or flopping down in a stupor in empty stables.4 Such conditions would have touched the heart of any sensitive person, but ultimately Engels came to evaluate them critically through the ideology which had risen in their defense—the ideology of Christian Pietism.

The first and unmistakable signs of this criticism in Engels appeared in March and April, 1839, in a series of newspaper articles in Telegraf für Deutschland, edited by the young writer Karl Gutzkow. In 1835 Gutzkow had written Wally, die Zweiflerin (Wally, the Skeptic), an attack on marriage and a bugle call for freedom of the flesh, which awakened the revolt of Young Germany against romanticism. Engels' articles were called “Briefe aus dem Wuppertal” and were signed by “Friedrich Oswald”; the real identity of the writer was never guessed by the readers among whom Engels had created a sensation.5 Engels pitilessly exposed the unbridled zeal, self-righteous intolerance, effete mysticism, and mind-deadening Pietism of the area of Wuppertal. He described the heresy-hunting inquisitions, the mysticism among craftsmen, the damnation of even close friends. Engels' attack centered on Friedrich Adolf Krummacher, the leading minister of the region. Recognizing his homiletical and poetic talents, Engels decried his zealotry, fanaticism, and pathos. Krummacher threw away reason and planted himself absolutely on the Bible, which he believed to be literally inspired by God. The young listener considered Krummacher's performances affected and absurd, and he did not know whether to call those dark portrayals of hell nonsense or blasphemy.

The Hamburg censors at first refused permission to print the Letters, but later relinquished. The editor of the Elberfeld newspaper took the articles as calumny, called the author a “Jungdeutscher”, and denied that the author could have obtained his data in Elberfeld. The young Engels, showing his fighting spirit, replied and asked why no evidence was given for these allegations. Since leaving Barmen, Engels had had a limited connection with the Young Germans, though Gutzkow's journal had provided a forum for them. And their ideas blew like fresh winds through the edifices of dogmatic assumptions in which the businessmen and church-goers of Wuppertal had immured themselves.

Ironically, however, the Young Germany movement had had an earlier liberating effect on the young Engels. In December, 1835 the Bundestag forbade certain literature, such as anti-Christian writings. Included in the ban were works of Heinrich Heine and Karl Gutzkow, whose Wally, die Zweiflerin was a mixture of Voltaire, German rationalism, and Hegel's Weltgeist. Gutzkow scoffed at religion as a fairy tale and a voice of despair.

The encounter of the young Engels with this novel was crucial. So far as we know, it was the first acquaintance of the teen-ager (he was 15 when the novel was published) with the critics of his religious tradition. He went on to read Ludwig Börne, the major influence on Gutzkow, as well as Gustave Kühne, a Magdeburg satellite of the Jungdeutscher. From Kühne's “Weiblichen und männlichen Charakteren” Engels took most of the “characteristic” for his “Briefe”.

During his period in Barmen Engels was passing through a crisis of belief. He said that at this time he was a very liberal supernaturalist critical of rationalism. The doubts and conflicts raised in his mind by his new social horizons in Bremen and his heretical reading disposed him to return to the halcyon days of childhood—“a happy time when one could still childishly believe in teachings whose contradictions one could count on one's fingers, when one glowed from holy zeal against religious enlightenment—over which one now laughs or blushes.” Engels had put aside Gutzkow's Wally as a “harmless” book and judged that his own religion was “calm, blessed peace … which I have no reason to believe God will ever take from me.” But he was quite aware of the contradiction between Pietist orthodoxy and the “terrible poverty among the lower classes, especially among the factory workers in Wuppertal.”6 He wrote in Briefe aus dem Wuppertal: “In Elberfeld alone, of 2,500 children of school age 1,200 are denied education and grow up in the factories, so that the factory owner does not have to pay adults double the wage he pays the child. The rich factory owners have an elastic conscience, and to let one child more or less go to ruin will send no Pietist's soul to hell, especially if he goes to church twice each Sunday.”7 The Pietists moved freely among the manufacturers and lent their weight to the oppression of wage labor, particularly as the charities of the Church proved incapable of coping with growing unrest and poverty. They were “long-haired preachers” (of whom Joe Hill later wrote in the U.S.)—promising that the hungry will “eat by and by, in that glorious land above the sky.”

As Karl Kuppisch has observed, Engels' rejection of Christianity cannot be explained by the simple thesis that Engels examined its dogmas, found them wanting from the point of view of reason, and at the same time took up the standpoint of rationalism.8 He was dissatisfied with “rationalism” and “liberalism” as well as with “pietism” and “orthodoxy.” To the young Christian Engels, Krummacher, the spellbinder who played on the fears and hopes of poor and ignorant people, was at least attractive and original. The eighteen-year old Engels had an ideology, a world-view, and he was not going to give it up easily. His instinct revolted against Krummacher's claims and techniques; yet he was not on that account ready to reject his life-long orientation merely because of a hypnotic preacher.

What bothered Engels about his faith, and about Krummacher and the other preachers—though it was only half-conscious at this time—was their social relations and effects. The revived Pietistic movement, and its alliance with Orthodoxy, was a response to the conditions of economic restoration in the area. It served, as we have seen, as a cover and justification for the manufacturers and as an individualistic, emotional outlet and diversion for the mass of industrial workers. In 1828 Krummacher had written Blicke ins Reich der Gnade (A look into the Kingdom of Mercy). About this work Goethe had some penetrating things to say. Krummacher's public, he said, consists of manufacturers, retail dealers, and workers, for whom the weaving of textiles is the chief thing in life; they live in narrow confines as moral men; they let nothing eccentric take place; the preacher complains of their unmet needs and presents a hope for a future good. “Man könnte deshalb,” wrote Goethe, “die Vorträge narkotische Predigten nennen.” (“One can therefore call these discourses narcotic sermons.”)

Krummacher called his view “Biblical realism,” contrasting it with false modern theology. He attacked the critics who were then subjecting the Bible to historical examination. The foremost of these was David Friedrich Strauss, whose work Leben Jesu (Life of Jesus) in 1835 evoked bitterly hostile criticism and ruined his academic career. A follower of Hegel, Strauss argued that the fundamental idea (Begriff) of religion was not contained in the Gospels; rather, what appeared there was the temporary Vorstellung (image, representation) not essential to faith. This representation consisted of poetry and “myths” based on Old Testament models like that of the Jewish expectation of the coming of the Messiah, and on the disciples' own responses to Jesus. Strauss shook the long standing assumption that a necessary relation obtained between acceptance of the Gospels and the Christian faith, i.e., he challenged the dogma of literal scriptural inspiration. In doing so he also raised the whole question of the ground for any religious faith whatsoever. Hegel had argued that that ground had to be Reason, and it was in the direction of Hegel that the young Engels increasingly turned his attention.

The followers of Hegel, whose thought dominated German philosophy, split sharply down the middle. The Rightists upheld the compatibility of Christian dogma and Hegelian metaphysics. The Leftists, however, followed the logic of Strauss' critical analysis. The more moderate Leftists, including Strauss himself, became pantheists: religious symbols signify a God identical with all of nature. At first the young Engels sided with this group. The more radical Leftists took their lead from Ludwig Feuerbach, who argued in 1841 that religious symbols are nothing more than projections of human aspirations, symbols whose true reference is mistaken. But the radical Leftists, whom Engels later joined, did not become a coherent group until the appearance of Feuerbach's Das wesen des Christentums in 1841.

Engels wrote to his friend Wilhelm Graeber on October 8, 1839, “If you could refute Strauss—fine, then I'd become a Pietist again.”9 He confessed himself to be a “Straussist” and a “first-class mystic.” Strauss did not resolve his religious questioning. On the contrary, Strauss' criticisms of Christian dogmas only deepened his devotee's doubts. To Engels, who was familiar with Strauss, the rationalists, and the strict orthodoxy of the Evangelische Kirchenzeitung of E.W. Hengstenberg, it was incredible that one could not doubt the beliefs of orthodoxy, given its many contradictory claims. The only alternative was not to think as one read. “Where does an apostle say that everything he says is literal inspiration?” To argue so is “the murder of the godly in men, in order to replace it with dead letters.” At this time Engels averred he was still a supernaturalist—without orthodoxy. He would accept only a religion that did not contradict reason.

An influence that during this period advanced him along the road of spiritual liberation was the thought of Friedrich E. D. Schleiermacher. Taking off from Hegel, Schleiermacher stressed the human, subjective base of religion in man's feelings, particularly his feelings of unity with others and with nature. This influence shows itself in Engels' letters, as when he describes religious conviction as a matter of the heart, having to do with dogma insofar as men of feeling are contradicted. “It is quite possible that the spirit of God may give you evidence through your feeling that you are a child of God.” He accepts Schleiermacher's view that religion is rooted in the heart and not in the reason:

Religion is a thing of the heart, and whoever has a heart can be devout; but he whose devoutness has its roots in understanding or also in reason has none at all. Out of the heart sprouts the tree of religion and it overshadows the whole man and takes in its nourishment from the air of reason; but its fruits, which carry the noblest heart's blood in them, are dogma; whatsoever is more comes from evil. That is Schleiermacher's teaching, and I stand by it.10

All the while the young Engels was undergoing a struggle which engaged him in daily prayers, doubts, and tears. “I pray daily for the truth,” he wrote, “yes, almost the whole day. I have done so from the moment I began to doubt, and yet I don't find my way back to your beliefs. … Tears come to my eyes as I write this, I am moved through and through, but I feel I will not go astray, I will come to God, for whom my whole heart yearns.” He ridiculed the complacency of his orthodox friends: “You lie freely and comfortably in your beliefs as in a warm bed and cannot know the struggle which we have to go through.” But he was determined to endure: “I search for the truth wherever I hope to find only a shadow of it from you; and still I cannot recognize your truth as eternal.”11

The underlying conflict in Engels was that between arrest and growth, between confinement and expansion, between complacent and thoughtless acceptance of tradition and a surmounting of it to something better. The youth felt challenged, oppressed, smothered by the whole weight of the past which had suddenly loomed over him—not merely his own personal and family past but also the past of society insofar as he understood it. Feudalism, absolutism, hierarchy, and pietism, he wrote, struggle to drive honor and free thought from the field; one must hack away the thick forest in which the place stands where king's daughter sleeps, if one is to be worthy of her kingdom. The alternative is to become a country minister, salesman, assistant judge, or a husband and father of a family; but the century will not recognize him as its son. “Only inspiration is true, which, like an eagle that disturbs the cloud of speculation, streamlined, purifies the air, not afraid of the upper region of abstraction when it is worthy to fly toward the sun of truth.”12 These extravagant metaphors tell us about a deep ambition rising in the young Engels—rising like a young knight who will rescue beauty from the tyranny of a feudal lord of the past, and who will do it for love; rising like an eagle toward the lofty regions of a universal comprehension of things. These two metaphors signify the basic lines of action and thought that Engels' lifetime would follow—the revolutionary storming the gates of past power and privilege, and the philosopher who ever strove, in the fashion of Hegel, to fulfill the passion to understand the whole of nature and history.

Meanwhile, Engels' political interest grew as his disillusionment with religion increased. In society the political and religious institutions and thought were closely related, as they had indeed been for centuries under the Holy Roman Empire and even after the Reformation. From the time of Metternich's Carlsbad decrees in 1819 to the revolution of 1848, the German states had fallen under the control of Austrian reaction and had been police states. Censorship of the press and education was strictly enforced. Only a few voiced the ideals of national unity and democracy and dared to raise the tattered standards of the French Revolution.

Among these were those who called themselves Young Germany—a group of writers who were resolved to resist, in a literary way, the entrenched Bourbon reaction. This resistance was only indirectly political, but it introduced to Engels the adherents of the utopian “Christian” socialism of Saint-Simon. In his writings from 1839 to 1842 Engels hailed their hero, Ludwig Börne, a political journalist, as a “fighter for Freedom and Justice.” Calling him “the man of political practice,” he held him in the same esteem as Hegel, “the man of thought.” During this period Shelley, with his dreams of universal equality, freedom, brotherhood, and prosperity, inspired him, and in 1840 he expressed his romantic vision in his poetic cycle, An Evening. The young Engels, like the young Shelley, was opposed to monarchy, aristocracy, and clergy. He had passed vicariously through the French Revolution; he was living through an Industrial Revolution though he was not yet fully aware of it; and he was preparing himself for a still more momentous Political Revolution. At this time “God” for Engels probably meant no more than the universal and unified yearning of men for liberty, equality and fraternity. His transition to a new philosophical world-view was already well on its way.

In the spring of 1841 Engels left Bremen to return to Barmen, and the fall found him in military uniform in Berlin, where he elected to do his one-year service and to attend lectures at the University of Berlin as a non-registered student. There he made direct contact with the Young Hegelians—Bruno and Edgar Bauer, Karl Friedrich Köppen and others. Hegel, who then dominated the German cultural scene, had taught that the divine World-Spirit of Reason was driving toward its own completion in nature and particularly in history and in man's self-consciousness or freedom. But whereas Hegel had used his own reason to enshrine the Prussian state and the Christian religion as final and authoritative—he knew which side his bread was buttered on—the left-wing Young Hegelians undertook to extract the radical kernel from this reactionary husk. They showed that the dynamic method of dialectic, which seeks conflict and struggle in all things, proved that state and religion are only transitory phenomena. They showed that the Dialectic of Reason is man's work and not God's. They showed—to the consternation of the establishment's hireling Hegelians—that Hegel was in fact an atheist. “The question is posed,” wrote the young Engels, “What is God? And German philosophy answered: It is man.”

Moreover, in 1841 Ludwig Feuerbach's Das Wesen des Christentums burst like a bomb upon the scene. Feuerbach was a frank materialist and stressed sensuous perception as the test of all knowledge. God, he argued, is not observable; and the attributes ascribed to God are nothing more than the highest attributes of man unconsciously projected as ideals. God is alienated man: it was this Feuerbachian claim which, with its materialist underpinning, enabled the radical Young Hegelians to answer Hegel's claim that nature is alienated from the absolute idea of God.

To curb the dissidence and control the intellectuals, Friedrich Wilhelm IV appointed Schelling, an anti-Hegelian, as well as other conservatives, to important posts at the University. Thus the young Engels in 1842 took up the gauntlet in two pamphlets against Schelling—Schelling und Offenbarung, and Schelling, der Philosoph in Christo, oder der Verklärung der Weltweisheit zur Gottesweisheit . In the former Engels argued that Schelling failed to comprehend God as Hegel did, that is, as a process developing in man. At this stage the young Engels had relinquished religion entirely; his reading of Feuerbach, whose combined materialism and romantic apotheosis of “love” created such enthusiasm among the radical Young Hegelians, was the critical turning point. Moreover, Feuerbach's views helped Engels to free the Hegelian dialectic from an idealistic and poetic theory to a practical method for changing history. Engels' own observations on the factory system had started him on that path. But the practical method did not begin to take definite form until he went to Manchester as a young worker in his father's cotton mills of Ermen. Engels in late 1842 and for more than a year and a half there observed the massive miseries of the English working class. It is true that before going Engels had studied the work of the communist Moses Hess and had in 1843 written favorably of communism and of Hess in the Rheinische Zeitung. But it was his face-to-face contacts with the Chartists and the members of the League of the Just in England, and their struggles against brutalization and squalor, that firmly riveted Engels to a radical foundation and set him on a life-long career toward revolution and communism. The Pietist God of his childhood had been put behind; the goal of a communist society had become his single passion and his driving idea.

It should be noted that in this process of change from Pietism to communism Engels did not and could not put aside completely his early religious feelings and ideas and ideals. Rather, those religious elements were transformed or, in Hegel's concept aufgehoben—negated, preserved, and lifted up into a new synthesis. Engels like Marx rejected the alien and dehumanizing elements in his Christian upbringing, retained and affirmed the humanistic core, and added to this core his own observations and reflections about the state of affairs in the factory system. For both Engels and Marx, this process of transformation was greatly accelerated through their encounter with the thought of Hegel and Feuerbach. Facing the problems and Zeitgeist of the industrial and scientific revolution of their day, both Hegel and Feuerbach sought to reformulate the meaning of Christianity in a new way with a new world view that separated itself from feudal supernaturalism—Hegel with dynamic objective idealism, Feuerbach with sensuous materialism. Both took as axiomatic certain human values implicit in Christianity—love, truth, mutual aid. But as Feuerbach went one step beyond Hegel to the material world, so Engels and Marx went beyond Feuerbach to “socialized man” who must realize these values through dialectical, collective, political activity. For Engels not only Christianity but also Hegel's and Feuerbach's secular versions of it were abstract, alienated, inadequate ways to guide requisite social action. Yet he and Marx took something from all three and fashioned a new, world-wide, world-shaking philosophy.


  1. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Werke, Band 18. Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1969, pp. 590 ff.

  2. Gustav Mayer, Friedrich Engels. A Biography. New York: Howard Fertig, 1969, p. 5.

  3. Ibid., p. 8.

  4. Ibid., p. 7.

  5. See Karl Kuppisch, Vom Pietismus zum Kommunismus. Berlin: Lettner-Verlag, 1953. I am indebted to Margaret Parsons Meyers' translation of portions of this work.

  6. To Friedrich Graeber, Werke, Band 1. Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1970, p. 418.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Karl Kuppisch, op. cit., p. 47.

  9. Werke, Ergänzungsband. Schriften, Manuskripte, Briefe bis 1844. Zweiter Teil. Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1967, p. 419.

  10. Ibid., p. 409. To Friedrich Graeber, July 27, 1839.

  11. To Friedrich Graeber, July 26-27, 1839, in ibid., pp. 407-408.

  12. Cited by Karl Kuppisch, op. cit., p. 54.

Martin Berger (essay date 1977)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12422

SOURCE: “Engels' Military Studies and Their Revolutionary Purposes,” in his Engels, Armies, and Revolution, Archon Books, 1977, pp. 39-63.

[In the following essay, Berger surveys Engels' military writings, arguing that Engels' interest in this area was driven by his desire to help the revolutionary cause. Berger assesses Engels' military writings as “good, but rather conventional.”]

Since Engels' early career reveals no sign of an obsession with war and armies, how are we to explain the diligent study of military science which he began in the 1850s? The answer lies in Engels' willingness to do whatever he could to help the revolutionary cause. Military studies surely required less self-sacrifice than working as a capitalist exploiter in the offices of Ermen and Engels, but they were undertaken in the same spirit of service to the revolution that sent Engels to his hated desk each day for twenty years, in order that Marx might eat and work.

The most immediate and compelling reasons for Engels' military studies were generated by the relations between Marx and Engels and their fellow émigrés. Twenty years afterward, Engels distilled his recollections of 1850s into a law of émigré relations: “after every unsuccessful revolution or counterrevolution,” he wrote,

there develops a feverish activity among the fugitives abroad. The various factions assemble, charge one another with having wrecked the cause, and accuse one another of treason and all other possible deadly sins. Meanwhile they remain in fevered communication with the homeland, organize, conspire, print leaflets and papers, and swear that in twenty-four hours it will break out again, that victory is certain; and in expectation thereof they divide up the offices. Naturally disappointment follows on disappointment, and since they attribute these not to inevitable historical conditions, which they do not wish to understand, but to particular errors of individuals, mutual accusations accumulate, and the whole thing culminates in a general brawl. That is the story of all exile groups from the royalists of 1792 down to the present day; and whoever among the refugees has good sense and judgment withdraws from the useless wrangling as soon as propriety will permit, and finds something better to do.1

This was a fair description of the activities of the revolutionary refugees of the 1850s, though it was only after considerable expenditure of time and energy that Marx and Engels withdrew from the émigré brawls.

Refugee politics were fairly congenial at first, as Marx and Engels cooperated with other exiles of various political shades in raising money for their neediest comrades. But in September, 1850, the Communist League was destroyed by a split between the factions surrounding Marx on the one hand, and Engels' former commander August Willich on the other. After the split, one of Marx's partisans was wounded in a duel with Willich, and in February, 1851, two supporters of Marx were expelled bodily from a Willich meeting, amid shouts of “Spy! Spy!” and “Haynau! Haynau!”2 (Haynau's name was synonymous with brutality as a result of his role in suppressing the revolutions in Italy and Hungary.)

The verbal combat was even fiercer than the physical clashes, and Marx's and Engels' assaults on their rivals show them at their most petty and disagreeable;3 but personal qualities of Marx and Engels, such as a propensity to invective and a will to dominate, were not the cause of the dispute. The Marx and Willich factions disagreed on the nature of revolution and the way to bring it about.

Unlike the Marxist “party of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung,” the “Willich-Schapper faction” remained an action party, believing that the imposition of the Seventeen Demands would effect the transition to Communism immediately in the next revolution. Though neither faction defined its version of Communism very explicitly, Marx's conception was clearly more sweeping and less subject to prompt realization. The immediate cause of the disagreement, however, centered more on the means of revolution than the ends. Marx believed that the revolution would be brought about by the force of circumstances, Willich by force of arms.4

Willich, who lived with his fellow soldiers in an improvised barracks in London, hoped to assemble a company of heroes whose valor and military skill would revive the German revolution.5 Marx and Engels considered such an enterprise frivolous and foolish, and they opposed it as injurious to the revolutionary cause. In their view, revolution was not purely or even primarily a military phenomenon; the avoidance of military blunders might be useful to the survival of a revolution once begun, but courage and training alone could not create a revolution.

Thus, although Marx's disgust at the successful money-raising tours of Willich's ally, the poet Gottfried Kinkel, doubtless contained a note of pecuniary envy, he and Engels were offended by the basic premise of Kinkel's “revolutionary loan”—the idea that a revolution could be made by “a small, well-armed band, amply supplied with money.” Such a view demonstrated the military clique's arrogant refusal to let matters develop without their intervention; they had, Marx wrote at one point, “decided to suspend world history till Kossuth's return.” Already in 1850 Marx and Engels announced: “A new revolution is possible only as a consequence of a new crisis. It is, however, just as inevitable as this.” A revolutionary attempt before the crisis would be foolish, and would succeed only in getting people shot.6

In the Marxist view, the timing of the revolution would depend on objective economic conditions, not on the revolutionaries' will power. The contrary view that revolution could be brought about by the resolution and conspiratorial organization of the revolutionaries is usually identified with the name of its most illustrious exponent, Auguste Blanqui; therefore the relations among the revolutionary émigrés in 1850, when Marx and Engels first cooperated with putschist elements in the Communist League and then split away from them, are generally discussed in terms of a brief Blanquist period in the development of Marxism.

Marx, it is said, was misled as to the imminence of a revolutionary resurgence, so until his studies in the British Museum persuaded him to revise his timetable of expectations, he and Engels associated themselves with the Blanquist conspirators.7 Thus in the discussion of the disagreements between Marx and Engels and their conspiracy-oriented comrades, Willich and his military revolutionist group appear as a minor subspecies of Blanquist. The general emphasis on Blanqui is understandable, for he was undeniably a more important figure than Willich. But although Marx and Engels repudiated an approach to revolution which Blanqui and Willich shared, they attacked Willich fiercely and frequently, and Blanqui hardly at all.

Despite their tactical differences with him. Marx and Engels repeatedly expressed respect for Blanqui. In 1869 Marx was delighted to learn that Blanqui admired him and liked his Poverty of Philosophy, and he defended Blanqui against Professor Beesly's vague suspicion that the great conspirator was not an “honorable man.” One of the several things wrong with the revolutionary outlook in Paris in 1870, according to Marx, was that “Blanqui appear[ed] entirely forgotten.” And even when Engels dismissed Blanqui as a “revolutionary of a bygone generation” in his reliance on the well-organized minority, he concentrated on attacking Blanqui's disciples as lacking their master's forcefulness, thus implicitly praising Blanqui's revolutionary spirit.8

Why this double standard? Why attack Willich and not Blanqui? Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen suggest that Marx and Engels tolerated the Blanquists because in France “conspiracy had become an essential part of the revolutionary movement and had to be reckoned with.”9 Perhaps, then, Germany's less hallowed revolutionary traditions permitted more forthright attacks on conspiratorial projects proposed by a German Blanquist like Willich. Perhaps more important, the different revolutionary traditions of France and Germany meant that Marx had little immediate chance of challenging Blanqui's leadership of the French movement, while Willich threatened Marx where his influence was greatest. The fact that Willich was conspicuously present in London while Blanqui was shut up in the prison at Belle Isle must also help to explain Marx's and Engels' concentration on the lesser figure.

Besides, Blanqui seemed a more thoroughgoing revolutionary than Willich, and Marx and Engels preferred Blanqui's vehement putschism to Willich's relatively tepid putschism. When Blanqui damned the revolutionary leaders of 1848 for hesitation and undue moderation, Marx and Engels were wholeheartedly on his side.10 Blanqui was an ally of sorts against the “democratic lieutenants” who surrounded Willich.

Something in the military emphasis of Willich and his associates was inherently offensive to Marx and Engels. Marx had condemned the civilian “professional revolutionary” of the French conspiratorial type as useless except to the police, but Willich and company were attacked more often, and attacked not just as putschists and fools, but as soldiers. According to Gustav Adolf Techow, Marx declared while drunk that officers were “always the most dangerous in a revolution,” seeking constantly to take over. “One must keep dagger and poison ready for them,” Marx allegedly declared.11

Despite his years in the Prussian Army, Willich was anything but an orthodox martinet; he had distinguished himself in Baden leading a Freikorps, not a regular army unit, and later, after service in the American Civil War, he delivered himself of the remarkable opinion that the Union's war effort had suffered mainly from an excess of military professionalism. He recommended an extreme form of militia system with no peacetime army at all, and amateur officers.12 Nonetheless, to Marx and Engels he represented an approach to revolution that concentrated on the narrowly tactical aspects of insurrection, overlooking the great economic and social tides that would be necessary to create revolutionary conditions.

Willich's side of the controversy is not fairly represented in the surviving documents, but there is some evidence that the image of him as a contriver of far-fetched revolutionary plots is not entirely inaccurate. Engels' contemptuous reference to a Willich scheme to “revolutionize the world with the Prussian Landwehr” bears a certain resemblance to the project described by someone who was persuaded to talk to the Prussian police, and who had no particular reason to malign Willich. Line and Landwehr companies were to be assembled and revolutionary committees elected in them, whereupon Willich would appear in person, chase Napoleon III from France, and march with the triumphant French revolutionary forces into Germany, proclaiming a republic.13

One of Willich's proposals included a generous promise to summon Marx to Cologne within forty-eight hours of the takeover; Marx was to be in charge of finances and social reform, furnished with a bodyguard, and empowered to issue orders enforceable on pain of death. But Willich's generosity was beside the point. Marx and Engels objected to the whole idea of conspiracies, not to being left out of them. In trying to conjure up a revolution through his own efforts, instead of working to predict and prepare for the inevitable crucial moment, “friend Willich” mistook “pure laziness for pure act.”14 The activist, do-it-yourself approach to revolution left no middle ground between Willich's ambition to be Moses and Joshua in one and “conquer the communist Canaan with 5000 picked men” and total inaction. Impatience made Willich a “pure dreamer”; as Marx summed up the putschist outlook, unless the Willich group could come immediately to power, they might as well go to sleep. Marx, in contrast, insisted that the workers would have to endure “fifteen, twenty, fifty years of civil war” before conditions and the workers themselves would be ready.15

A revolutionary military dictatorship, as proposed by Techow, could not exercise the iron discipline necessary; “only the terror, the civil power” could manage it, in Engels' view; certainly Willich, “the perfect capitaine d'armes and Feldwebel,” was not the man to run the revolution.16 The purely tactical side of a revolution was a secondary consideration. When in 1853 Kossuth and Mazzini inspired an abortive uprising in Milan, Engels assessed the situation: the city's narrow streets, thick walls, and barred windows were ideal for street fighting, but the attempt was hopeless from the start for political and social reasons. There was no prospect of mutiny in the Austrian garrisons, and the peasants were at best neutral toward the high-born revolutionaries. The only advantage to a revolt launched in such inauspicious circumstances was that its failure created dissension among the revolution-makers, and might put an end to such futile adventures.17

After the split with Willich, Marx and Engels had consoled themselves with the fact that they were no longer bound up with useless organizations, and could pursue their work without the hindrance of imbecile associates. What need had they of a party—“that is, a bunch of asses who pledge themselves to us because they think we are like them?” Once the conditions were right, they promised, the soldiers would “find themselves.” But the soldiers had found themselves too soon, and as the military leaders of the revolution gathered around Willich, Marx and Engels ceased to revel in their freedom from party entanglement. Willich threatened to capture the leadership of the German revolutionary movement; his victory would mean the triumph of the narrow, impatient military-putschist concept of revolution. Willich was not only wrong, but dangerous; it was necessary to oppose him by all available means.18

Engels made light of his earlier praise for Willich's conduct in the Palatinate and Baden:

To say that Mr. Willich could lead 700 men more capably than the first student, subaltern, schoolmaster, or shoemaker to come along is indeed “high recognition” of a Prussian lieutenant who has had twenty years' preparation! Dans le royaume des aveugles le borgne est roi!19

He wrote to Weydemeyer that he had never heard Willich speak an honest word, and joined Marx in gloating over Willich's involvement in a scandal.20 He also supplied Marx with information for use in the anti-Willich pamphlet Der Ritter vom edelmüthigen Bewusstsein (The Knight of the High-Souled Conscience).21 Another scurrilous booklet, this one attacking others in addition to Willich, was prepared for the police spy Bangya.22

But simply maligning Willich and the other supporters of the military-revolutionist view was not enough to eliminate their influence. The officers might plausibly claim that their military training qualified them to direct revolutions; even if one did not agree that revolution was merely a subspecies of war, violence was commonly involved in revolutions, and the officers were trained in the manipulation of violence. Their professional credentials gave their opinions an air of authority, not easily challenged by journalists. It appeared that the intellectual battle between the Marxist and military concepts of revolution would have to be fought, in part, on the officers' own ground, and Engels vowed to equip himself with the necessary theoretical weapons.

We shall show these gentlemen what “das Zivil” means. All this business convinces me that I can do nothing more worthwhile than to advance my military studies, so that at least one “civilian” will be able to compete in matters of theory. At any rate I'll get far enough that such asses will not be able to look down on me.

Marx replied that all the officers were terrified at the prospect of Engels' competition, and that Engels would surely soon justify their apprehensions. In the summer of 1852, Engels predicted that when he had studied militaria for another year the “democratic lieutenants” would be thunderstruck. He would soon be “far enough along to venture before the public with independent military judgment.”23

To acquire the military expertise that he needed to defend the revolutionary cause against Marxism's rivals, Engels began a reading program guided by Joseph Weydemeyer, an experienced officer untainted by association with Willich. Self-instruction, Engels declared, was nonsense, and could produce no coherent grasp of a subject.24 (In 1842 he had written apologetically to Arnold Ruge that he was “merely autodidact in philosophy”; presumably Weydemeyer's tutelage would make his studies in this new field systematic and respectable.) Engels reminded Weydemeyer that he had never advanced past the rank of Bombardier, and asked for basic, lieutenant's-examination books. He had forgotten much, even in his own service, the artillery, and there was much more that he had never known; he needed maps; he inquired whether Clausewitz was worth the trouble, and whether Jomini was any good.25

At this point Engels had already read Carl von Decker's popular text on secondary operations, which he had used while writing his memoir of the Baden campaign,26 and he had read Napier's History of the War in the Peninsula, which he praised as “by far the best piece of military history I have yet seen.”27 This praise of Napier was the only expression of opinion in Engels' initial, very humble, letter to Weydemeyer. Engels had already sent Marx an assessment of Wellington's generalship, based on Napier,28 but Weydemeyer must have seemed a more exacting audience. Engels maintained the modest tone of a seeker of wisdom.

Again in August, 1851, Engels asked Weydemeyer to recommend the “dullest and most ordinary” elementary works,29 but by January, 1852, he ventured to send Weydemeyer a four-part article on the prospects of a French invasion of England. (Louis Napoleon had recently seized power, and was widely expected to attack his neighbors.) Discounting the significance of his study, Engels presented it “as a military problem, which one attempts to understand and solve just as one does a problem in geometry.” He demonstrated his new skills in estimating the forces that the French would need, and assessing the strength of England's defenses.30 He went into greater detail in a letter, presenting his conclusions—“much too technical for the paper”—to Weydemeyer “as a professional man.”31

Engels' mentor must have approved of the article. The paper for which it had been written collapsed, but in November, 1852, Weydemeyer published the surviving installments in another paper, over Engels' protests that the piece had become dated and irrelevant.32

Engels' military studies continued through 1852. Books arrived from Germany; a man who wanted Engels to get him a position with the family firm bought a Prussian artillery officer's library in Cologne and sent it to Engels in Manchester.33 A work on fortifications drew praise as “more historical and materialistic” than any military work Engels had seen; and a large theoretical work by Willisen, who had commanded the Schleswig-Holstein forces in 1848, provided the encouragement that a student draws from bad books, to which he can feel superior. “What can one say,” Engels asked,

of a work on military science that begins with the concept of Art in general, says that cooking is likewise an art, expands on the relationship between Art and Science, and finally resolves all the rules, relationships, possibilities, etc., of the Art of War into the single absolute formula that the stronger must inevitably defeat the weaker!

By April, 1853, Engels was sufficiently fortified by his studies to write to Weydemeyer as an equal. He had “significantly improved” his understanding of military affairs over the winter, and he laid down some conclusions: virtually all German military literature written since 1822 was pretentious rubbish; Sir Charles Napier was the greatest living general; Jomini's account of Napoleon's campaigns was on the whole sounder than Clausewitz's. One of the most remarkable aspects of the 1848-49 campaigns, he observed, was the widespread reverence for lines and positions hallowed by Napoleon: “Charles Albert believed no more deeply in the virginity of Mary, than in the magical power of the plateau of Rivoli.” Engels asked no questions, humble or otherwise.34

Engels hoped to supplement his reading program by writing a military history of the Hungarian campaigns of 1848-49. The project would allow him to practice his skills, and might help to finance his military education. The writing would take ten to twelve weeks, even if Engels had the Austrian and Hungarian sources at hand; Engels insisted that he could not dash it off for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung's reincarnation as a journal.

There is nothing like military history for blundering, when one speculates without having available all the data on strengths, provisioning, munitions, etc. All that is fine for a newspaper, when all the papers are equally in the dark and it is a matter of drawing the right conclusion from the couple of facts that one has. But to be able to say, post festum, in all the decisive instances, here this should have been done, and this was done right although the outcome seems to argue against it—for this, I think, the material on the Hungarian war is not yet sufficiently available.

Perhaps, though, some publisher could be persuaded to pay for the necessary books and maps, debiting their cost against expected royalties.35 Engels considered the project again in 1852, a year later, when the Hungarian leader Görgey's memoirs appeared. He congratulated himself on having guessed the course of events rather well from the fragmentary sources available for his Neue Rheinische Zeitung articles in 1848-49, but he never got round to the book.36 Probably the troubles in the Crimea provided too much immediate occupation for his talents.

By September, 1853, as Russo-Turkish relations moved toward open war, Engels had spent two years reading military science. The Crimean War gave him his first real chance to practice military journalism, and the way in which Engels and Marx approached the war illuminates the relationship between the partners. Much of Marx's scanty livelihood came from the articles which he wrote, often with Engels' assistance, for the New York Tribune. If military movements occurred in Turkey, said Marx, he would “rely on immediate instructions from the war-ministry in Manchester.”37 Soon Engels received an urgent request for “at least a couple of pages” on the Turks' alleged crossing of the Danube, which Marx could not ignore in his Tribune correspondence, and which he feared to interpret on the basis of mere layman's common sense.

Marx had previously dismissed the Eastern Question as “primarily military and geographical, and thus not in my department,” and though he discovered a positive enthusiasm for international relations, he continued to leave the military side to Engels.38 Military dispatches were a trump card to be played against Marx's rival A.P.C., who also sent European correspondence to the Tribune; Marx demanded military commentary immediately, lest A.P.C. gain on him by plagiarizing an article from the London Times and sending it to New York.39 Marx asked Charles Dana of the Tribune to cease annexing the military pieces as unsigned leading articles, or to leave Marx's byline off all articles, “since I do not wish my name to appear only under indifferent stuff.” Now was the time “to show [Dana] through the militaria that he can't do without me.”40

Marx did succeed in extracting a higher rate of pay from Dana, and General J. Watson Webb's New York Courier and Enquirer praised Engels' “well-written article upon the Russian plan of operations,” though Webb doubted “whether either belligerent—Omar Pascha or Gortschakoff will conduct operations on anything like the plan our Phalanstrian neighbor [the Tribune] suggests.” The Tribune bragged that one of Engels' articles had been lifted by the London Daily News, then stolen from the Daily News by a New York German paper. “While we protest at its dishonesty,” said the Tribune, “we record the compliment thus paid to American journalism.” Dana reported the rumor that Winfield Scott was writing the Tribune's war commentaries, and although during the Civil War Engels and Marx denounced Scott as a senile fool, in 1854 the general was only sixty-eight, and Marx considered the attribution a compliment to Engels' skill.41

Marx encouraged Engels' military studies and praised his accomplishments—“mes remerciements pour le beautiful article,” he wrote on receipt of one of Engels' Tribune pieces—and he generally refrained from trespassing on Engels' specialty. Marx used military imagery in discussing class warfare, the reserve army of the unemployed, and the like, and he sometimes drew upon military analogies for facetious effect (comparing the Russians' problems at Sevastopol with his own financial conflict with his landlord, for instance),42 but he had little interest in war. When Engels went off to see the fighting in 1849, Marx did not accompany him.

In a history of the nineteenth century compiled by a truly single-minded military buff, Marx would figure only as Engels' research assistant. He sent Engels a list of military works he had come across in the British Museum, and Engels asked him to check that library's holding of military journals. He provided information on the Spanish artillery and the Neapolitan army for Engels' series, “The Armies of Europe,” in Putnam's Magazine,43 and he furnished Engels with many curiosities that he thought Engels should find interesting: the organization of the Grand Mogul's army, a mythical contraption for projecting fire under the sea (said to have demolished the Turkish fleet at Sinope), Carthaginian mercenaries, Machiavelli's account of condottieri tactics,44 and the like. Marx also endeavored to supply Engels with information in the form of refugee Hungarians, such as the Baroness von Beck, who as “Kossuth's spy” was privy to inside information on the Hungarian campaigns of 1848-49, and was “too dumb to conceal the truth.”45

In addition to encouraging and assisting Engels' military researches, Marx did some independent reading in the field. He had borrowed Engels' copy of the Decker text on secondary operations in 1851, probably to use while composing anti-Willich pamphlets, and he borrowed it again in 1855.46 He may have read Clausewitz on Napoleon's Italian campaigns, unless two articles that the Werke attributes to him were written by Engels; he took careful notes on Spanish guerrilla activity during the Peninsular War, and used his observations in his studies of the revolution in Spain in the 1850s.47

He also read the Napier work on the Peninsular War. When Dana sent Marx (who, he assumed, had written the military articles published under his name) a review copy of a book on the Mexican-American War, Marx read it instead of forwarding it to Engels. “Ripley seems to me—thus purely a layman's opinion—to have modeled himself as a military historian plus ou moins on Napier,” Marx concluded. He reiterated his opinions in two more letters, but Engels does not appear to have commented on Marx's comments.48

Marx occasionally ventured a suggestion—surely it was clear that the inconclusive slaughter around Sevastopol indicated leadership of less than Napoleonic caliber; or was it perhaps that great fortifications were the antidote to decisive, Napoleonic warfare? (Engels thought not.)49 But in general, Marx approached military subjects in a spirit of reluctance and trepidation.50 His handling of an analysis of British troop movements in the Crimea that Ferdinand Lassalle produced in 1854 was typical. Engels told Marx what was wrong with Lassalle's effort, and Marx wrote to Lassalle using Engels' letter almost verbatim, only deleting the uncomplimentary references to Lassalle.51

Marx was not the only admirer of Engels' military writings. Engels' career as a military journalist was distinguished; he was respected in bourgeois and aristocratic military circles. Indeed, in 1854 he considered becoming a full-time military writer. With Marx's encouragement, he applied to the London Daily News, promising to omit politics from his articles. Military science, he said, was like mathematics and geography in its freedom from political coloration. Marx's hopes were high; he parodied Lord John Russell's oratory—“I hope, Sir, you will leave Manchester, Sir, for ever, Sir”;52 but the Daily News declined Engels' first article, allegedly after it had already been set in type. Someone must have told the editor that Engels had been only a one-year volunteer (he had described himself as educated in the Prussian artillery) and was a communist. Marx suspected Russian agents.53

Engels' hopes died hard,54 but he found no position as a full-time military correspondent to deliver him from his detested desk at the Manchester mill.55 His next approach to the military establishment was conducted much more skillfully than his overture to the Daily News. His 1859 strategic pamphlet Po und Rhein was published anonymously, so that it could be acclaimed in circles that might have been put off by Engels' political orientation, and Savoyen, Nizza und der Rhein was signed “by the author of Po und Rhein” in order to establish that writer in a solid position “before he appears to the Lieutenants officially (i.e., on the title-page) as a civilian.”

The strategy worked nicely; when Marx visited Germany in the spring of 1861, he reported that Po und Rhein was much discussed in both Prussian and Austrian military circles, and widely attributed to some Prussian general.56Po und Rhein and the 1865 pamphlet Die preussische Militärfrage und die deutsche Arbeiterpartei were favorably reviewed in the Allgemeine Militär-Zeitung.57

Engels used the pamphlets to establish a connection with the Allgemeine Militär-Zeitung. When he submitted an article on the English Volunteer Riflemen, he identified himself as the author of Po und Rhein and Savoyen, Nizza und der Rhein, using the pamphlets to offset the admitted slightness of his formal military training. As he wrote to Marx (whom he informed of the project only after the Militär-Zeitung had printed his article), “I don't dare sail under false colors among these official military people.”

Once the Militär-Zeitung had used the article, Engels translated it into English and placed it in the Volunteer Journal for Lancashire and Cheshire.58 Thus he had approached the German journal as a source of information on an English topic, and then, on the strength of his German publication, approached the English journal as a foreign observer with publications in the field—all without misrepresenting his credentials. This first Volunteer Journal piece was widely discussed in London and Manchester papers, to Marx's astonished delight; Engels had sent copies to the papers, describing the article in an anonymous covering letter as “the first professional opinion of a foreign military paper on the voluntary movement.” The Volunteer Journal connection, which Engels considered “worth a lot to me in military affairs,”59 produced several more articles in the next two years. Some of them were collected in a pamphlet, Essays Addressed to Volunteers, in 1861, and the United Services Gazette gave the collection a good review.60

Engels published many more military commentaries, in such periodicals as the Manchester Guardian, the Pall Mall Gazette, and the Tribune, as well as German socialist papers. His Pall Mall Gazette series on the Franco-Prussian War was a major triumph, and “the General,” as Marx's daughter Jenny named him, achieved considerable acceptance in military circles. On the eve of his first visit to England in 1894, Hellmut von Gerlach discussed travel plans with his circle of reactionary notables, and was astonished to hear Major Otto Wachs of the German Great General Staff, “then the strategic authority for the whole right-wing press,” declare that Gerlach must “look up my friend Friedrich Engels.” Wachs considered Engels unexcelled among contemporary military writers in knowledge, objectivity [Sachlichkeit] and clearness of judgment.61

As a military writer, Engels had made it. But was success as a military publicist what he wanted—or did he entertain more active ambitions, which he did not fulfill?

Engels' initial approach to his military tutor Weydemeyer, in 1851, presented his interest in military science as a theoretical matter. Poor eyesight made him unfit for active service, he said; he wished to go “into detail only insofar as it is necessary in order to understand and correctly assess historical events of a military nature.” He sought polemical weapons for use against the Willich group:

The great importance of the partie militaire in the next outbreak, an old inclination, my Hungarian war-articles in the paper, and finally my glorious adventure in Baden—all these have driven me to it, and I want to bring myself at least to the point where I shall be able to enter into theoretical discussions to some extent, without making a fool of myself.62

But these indications that Engels envisioned himself as a military publicist do not rule out the possibility of more active ambitions. He was surely somewhat diffident in approaching Weydemeyer, and may therefore have concealed the full extent of his intentions.

The Marxists would, after all, have to replace Willich and the rest of the military-putschist faction, as well as discredit them. Those revolutionary officers who had not shown themselves thoroughly incompetent in 1848-49 now appeared politically irresponsible, besides being hopelessly alienated from Marx and Engels by their ferocious disputes. The military side of the next revolution was too important to be left to the generals on hand, but generals would nevertheless be required.

At times Engels seemed to envision himself in very active service. When an outbreak seemed imminent in November, 1857, he wrote to Marx that his studies would immediately take a more practical turn. He would throw himself into the organization and basic tactics of the Prussian, Austrian, and Bavarian armies—and in addition practice “riding, i.e., fox-hunting, which is the real school.”

He reported enthusiastically on his cavalry studies. After seven enjoyable hours in the saddle, he had seen only two in the whole field who rode better than he, “but they had better horses.” Twenty people had fallen, two horses had been ruined and one fox killed; Engels was at the death. Again in February, 1859, he spent seven hours on horseback, jumping five-foot hedges. He was learning to surmount the problems of rough terrain, and would give the Prussian cavalry a real contest.63 Marx did not share Engels' enthusiasm:

I congratulate you on your equestrian performances. But don't break your neck jumping, for soon you will have more important opportunities to risk your neck. You seem to ride this hobby rather hard. In any case, I doubt that the cavalry is the specialty in which you are most necessary to Germany.64

“Anyway, sois tranquille,” Engels replied; “my neck will be broken in some other way than falling off a horse.” Hunting was “au fond the material basis of all [his] war-studies,” and “Louse-Bonaparte” had risen to his undeserved eminence mainly because he sat a horse well. (In fact Engels did have a fall, but he did not complain of its results till 1892, almost a quarter of a century later.)65 He ceased reporting his equestrian exploits to Marx—who arrived in Manchester for a visit in 1865 to find his host absent on a hunt—but he kept up his riding.

When revolution appeared imminent in 1859, Engels expressed his hopes thus: “Who knows what sort of foxes I'll hunt next season!” As his prospects of active service declined with age, riding remained an aid to physical fitness, and at the age of sixty-four, he discussed his health in terms of readiness for duty on horseback.66

Mounted or not, Engels had some sort of practical role in mind for himself in 1853, when he considered it highly important that he work through at least the Hungarian and Italian campaigns of 1848-49 before the next revolutionary outbreak. He asked Weydemeyer for sketches of the Prussian forts, and discussed the relevance of Napoleon's Russian campaign to the problems that any revolution would inevitably face in defeating Russia. Perhaps he hoped to be one of those supreme commanders, directing field commanders by telegraph, that he expected modern warfare to produce;67 in any case, whatever ambitions he had toward personal command went unrealized, and his self-denial (he was leading a “very sober life” in 1856, anticipating approaching campaigns) went unrewarded.68

Engels passed up an invitation from Paul Lafargue to go to Paris and assist the Commune,69 and his closest approach to military policy-making was the suggestions for the defense of Paris that he had already sent to the Government of National Defense. Despite the weighty opinion of Hans Delbrück that Engels had the makings of a great Feldherr,70 it may have been just as well for Engels that he did not have the chance to serve as a general of the revolution.

As Engels observed repeatedly, revolutions tend to disorganize armies, and Engels had a low tolerance for disorder. He was almost compulsively neat in his person and his working area, and his polemics against anarchist antiauthoritarian rhetoric ring with the conviction that no one can run a railroad, a cotton mill, or anything of much complexity, without some sort of order.71 Engels could not control people by sheer force of personality; when the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was left under Engels' command for a time, Marx returned to find the staff on the verge of duels. Entrusted with an army that would inevitably have been disorderly and prone to talk back, Engels would probably have suffered the frustrations of the Commune's third military chief, the excellent soldier Rossel.72

Engels' aspiration to participate personally in the revolution's military struggles and his aspiration to perfect himself as a military publicist are not necessarily in conflict. Both efforts grew out of the conflict between the Marxist and military-putschist schools of revolution in the 1850s. That conflict receded into insignificance as the military approach, failing to produce the immediate success that it demanded, declined into “pure laziness.” By 1860 Marx, while assailing a new foe, could say kind things about Willich's character; in 1864 Engels could remark that Willich had made a better showing in the American Civil War than had any of his fellow Forty-Eighters; and in 1875 Marx attributed the Flüchtlingszeit squabbles to the frustrations of exile, which could lead astray even so sound a man as Willich, who had proved himself “more than a phantast” by his exploits in the American Civil War.73

Even the military-revolutionist approach that Willich had personified lost its menacing aspect. Engels praised Garibaldi's successes in 1860 and 1861 with wholehearted enthusiasm; it did not occur to him to worry over Garibaldi's demonstration that in some circumstances a revolutionary legion of five thousand men might invade a country to great effect.74 And in 1863, Marx eagerly advocated the formation of a German legion to aid the Polish insurrection.75 With the Willich faction only a fading memory, the concept of the revolutionary legion ceased to be anathema.

As the struggle against the Willich group died away, Engels' interest in military science developed a momentum of its own. His military articles helped to buy Marx's bread, rendering the revolutionary cause an indispensable immediate service;76 and even when his martial studies vanquished neither putschist delusions nor reactionary armies, they served as a tool for analyzing capitalist society. He continued to read and write on military questions (he discovered Clausewitz's theoretical work only in 185877), and until his death in 1895 he was the principal military advisor of the revolutionary movement. Since he had no opportunity to try the role of revolutionary general, his military writings would have to stand alone as the product of his years of studying military science.

But what was the relevance of Engels' military writings to the problems of revolution? His considerations of the practical military problems of the revolutionary are few in number and never programmatic. He produced a splendid paragraph on the rules of insurrection, but it was more exhortation than instruction:

Now, insurrection is an art quite as much as war or any other, and subject to certain rules of proceeding, which, when neglected, will produce the ruin of the party neglecting them. Those rules, logical deductions from the nature of the parties and the circumstances one has to deal with in such a case, are so plain and simple that the short experience of 1848 had made the Germans pretty well acquainted with them. Firstly, never play with insurrection unless you are fully prepared to face the consequences of your play. Insurrection is a calculus with very indefinite magnitudes the value of which may change every day; the forces against you have all the advantage of organisation, discipline, and habitual authority; unless you bring strong odds against them you are defeated and ruined. Secondly, the insurrectionary career once entered upon, act with the greatest determination, and on the offensive. The defensive is the death of every armed rising; it is lost before it measures itself with its enemies. Surprise your antagonists while their forces are scattering, prepare new successes, however small, but daily; keep up the moral ascendancy which the first successful rising has giving to you; rally those vacillating elements to you which always follow the strongest impulse, and which always look out for the safer side; force your enemies to retreat before they can collect their strength against you; in the words of Danton, de l'audace, de l'audace, encore de l'audace!

And in the same series of articles, he laid down some revolutionary and military laws. “In war, and particularly in revolutionary war, rapidity of action until some decided advantage is gained is the first rule,” he declared; so he had “no hesitation in saying that upon merely military grounds” the Hungarians ought to have rescued Vienna from the Habsburg forces. His other dicta also stressed resolution and decisiveness: “In revolution, as in war,” he declared, “it is always necessary to show a strong front, and he who attacks is in the advantage; and in revolution, as in war, it is of the highest necessity to stake everything on the decisive moment, whatever the odds may be.” Similarly, “in a revolution he who commands a decisive position and surrenders it, instead of forcing the enemy to try his hand at an assault, invariably deserves to be treated as a traitor.” Even a “well-contested defeat” was as useful as an easy victory, since defeats produced “a wish for revenge, which in revolutionary times is one of the highest incentives to energetic and passionate action.”78

Despite their tone of assurance, these confident generalizations were not the ripe fruit of Engels' military learning, but were written in 1851 and 1852, as he began his studies in military science. And they were not a revolutionary textbook; they were parcelled out through a narrative that concentrated on the political and social aspects of the German revolutions of 1848-49.

Later, in a Tribune article of 1860, Engels hinted at a peculiarly revolutionary mode of warfare. He praised Garibaldi's insistence on seeking a victory to encourage his raw troops; a lesser and more conventional leader would have sought minor engagements to school his forces, but Garibaldi correctly saw the morale of his and the enemy's troops as the overriding concern. An audacious offensive was the only proper procedure in insurrectionary war.79 But this only repeats some of the injunctions of 1851-52. These scattered quotations, and all the others that can be assembled, do not constitute a recipe for revolutionary success. Engels' instructions are simple and general: revolutions should not be begun unless they have a chance of succeeding; their leaders should proceed with vigor, and be neither traitors nor fools.

Much of the apparent irrelevance of Engels' military writings to the immediate, practical problems of revolutionary procedure can be laid to the market for which he wrote. Much of his writing was intended to earn money in the bourgeois press, or to impress the military establishment, and it would have been imprudent to fill the pages of the Pall Mall Gazette or Manchester Guardian with revolutionary training manuals.

Nevertheless, he could surely have written training manuals while he was not busy with the bourgeois press, and he did not. August Happich contends that Engels must have wished to channel his military expertise into useful handbooks, but refrained lest he be expelled from England. Certainly, Engels and Marx were convinced that their correspondence was being pried into, and that they were surrounded by spies; so fear of expulsion may have deterred them from practical revolutionary activity.80

Happich's assertion that Engels wanted to compose practical manuals is based, however, not on any of Engels' statements, but simply on the assumption that any revolutionary must want to do something practical and immediate toward accomplishing his revolutionary aims. It may be that when Marx and Engels ridiculed Franz Sigel for writing a revolutionary soldiers' handbook, they objected to Sigel's absurdly detailed and impractical text, and not to handbooks in general; and it may be that when they mocked the drilling of troops by Kossuth, Kinkel, and Garibaldi, they objected to the prospect that the troops so drilled would be squandered in a futile putsch, and not to the concept of preparatory training. However, despite his assertion that “insurrection is an art,” Engels' general tendency is to derogate the importance of insurrectionary technique.81

Purely military factors were never really crucial; Milan's virtues as a scene for street fighting were irrelevant in 1853, and in 1857 Engels declared that the excellent guerrilla terrain in Berg and Mark was much less important than the stolidity of the population. He and Marx remarked that in demonstrations that remained short of open armed conflict, the masses seemed to improvise the right tactics, and Marx's suggestion that demonstrations would go better if crowds would make proper use of railings was perhaps the only case where he or Engels offered any concrete tactical advice.82

When Engels did discuss the methods of insurrection, his assessment of the purely military chances of revolution was almost always discouraging. Though in 1847, before he had studied military science or seen a revolution at first hand, he imagined barricades springing up spontaneously and irresistibly all over Paris, his judgments on the effectiveness of barricades in later years ranged from sober to dismal.83

In 1854 Engels reported that barricades had been successful in Spain, and that the successful employment of this revolutionary weapon, which had been considered obsolete after 1848, opened the prospect of a new era of European revolution. The troops of official Europe had been beaten by a popular rising just as they demonstrated their incompetence in the Crimea. But even in this cheery assessment there was a note of caution: barricades had succeeded only against the Spanish army, which was not much of an army. It might be, then, that the insurgents' success was a local phenomenon, rather than a turn in the tactical balance between rebellion and order. Two years later, commenting on the lessons of the Spanish revolution and its defeat, Engels (or Marx) pointed out some novelties in the street fighting in Madrid. Revolutionaries had allegedly assailed attacking columns with the bayonet; barricades had been used sparingly, at major intersections only; and houses had been used as strongholds of resistance. Whatever the workers had learned from Dresden and Paris in 1848, the soldiers had learned more, using artillery to crumble houses and flanking fire to replace headlong assaults. In a conflict between revolutionaries and a regular army, the odds continued to favor the army.84

Insofar as Engels' military studies produced practical advice, then, the advice consisted of warnings against foolishness. In this field as in others, the founders of Marxism took a morbid delight in dispelling illusions. Wishful thinking that might mislead the movement was to be discouraged, and any tendency to overrate the effectiveness of guerrilla warfare seemed to Engels a delusion. There is in Engels' work no trace of the modern school of revolutionary thought (Regis Debray, et al.) which makes the heroic guerrilla the originator and carrier of revolution.85 For Engels, guerrilla war was simply a species of warfare, and not a particularly effective one.

His readings had taught him that guerrilla activity was no substitute for a regular army. Early in his studies, he had read Carl von Decker's text on secondary operations, which insisted that irregular campaigns must always be ancillary to the operations of a regular force. Napier's Peninsular War book, which Engels so admired, treated the Spanish irregulars as mendacious and unreliable, neglecting “the thousand narrow winding currents of Spanish warfare to follow that mighty English stream of battle, which burst the barriers of the Pyrenees, and left deep traces of its fury in the soil of France.” Engels' own experience in Baden probably supported his skeptical attitude toward the effectiveness of improvised forces, and he never repudiated Decker's belief that irregulars could amount to nothing on their own.86

“The support of a regular army,” Engels wrote in 1853, “is now-a-days necessary to the progress of all insurrectionary or irregular warfare against a powerful regular army.” In 1852 he suggested that, contrary to precedent, guerrilla tactics might be used to good effect in densely settled country, but despite the prevalence of poachers as a pool of guerrilla talent, he did not suppose that partisan warfare alone would suffice to defeat a French invasion of England.87

Though Engels was intensely interested in the appearance or non-appearance of partisan war in the American Civil War, he considered it mainly as a gauge of the morale and determination of the belligerent parties. He complained that the civilian population took less part in the war than the Russians in 1812 or the French in 1814. But a “white trash” partisan campaign would only have the effect of making plantation owners appeal to the Union forces to keep order. Anticipating that Beauregard's army at Corinth would dissolve into guerrilla bands, he resolved to examine the odds of an irregular campaign; but he found them unpromising for the guerrillas, since his comments in late 1864 and 1865 foresaw only a militarily insignificant fading echo of the regular war.88 Engels' considerations of Southern partisan war against the Union underline his view that there was nothing inherently revolutionary about irregular activity. Reactionaries could use it as well, or as poorly, as revolutionaries.

The dispersal of the Sepoy rebels' field forces in 1858 indicated that the war was “gradually passing into that stage of desultory warfare, to which, more than once, we have pointed as its next impending and most dangerous phase of development”; but though this change in the character of the war threatened the British, Engels concluded that “by this change, the war loses much of its interest.” The impression that Engels considered guerrilla warfare an inferior form of military activity is further supported by his comments on Garibaldi's capture of Palermo, which proved that Garibaldi was more than just a clever partisan leader—he had real strategic gifts and was capable of directing serious military operations. Garibaldi had raised himself to a higher plane.89

Engels' concentration on the conventional warfare of his day was entirely consistent with his devotion to the revolutionary cause. Since he could see no effective military shortcut to revolution, he restricted his practical advice to warnings against rashness and concentrated on analysis of the military activities of bourgeois society. Not only was this attitude consistent with Marx's predilection for studying phenomena that existed, instead of those that one might wish to exist (writing much more about capitalism than about socialism, for instance90), but it was the most useful way in which Engels' military studies could serve the revolution.

Military cleverness could not make a revolution; that had been the error of Willich and the military-putschist group. (Engels did develop what is discussed as the Theory of the Vanishing Army, Chapter Nine, but that was a means of predicting the revolution, not producing it.) Military skill would be useful not in making the revolution, but in defending it from hostile neighbors once it was made, and the defense would have to be carried on by conventional means.

Engels' 1851 essay on the defense of a revolutionized France predicted that eventually the proletarian revolution would change the very nature of war in unpredictable ways, since the greater productivity of the new society would provide commanders with unprecedented masses of unprecedented mobility. Nevertheless, on the morrow of the revolution, the revolutionaries would have to fight “with the methods and means of modern warfare in general.” When Engels believed a crisis was imminent in 1857, and turned his studies to more “practical” channels, he concentrated on the organization and tactics of the existing European armies, which the revolution would have to face.91

Engels' ideas on these existing methods and means of contemporary war were in no way remarkable. He had no dogmatic preference for line or column formation, and although he criticized undue reliance on skirmishing tactics, he recognized that the introduction of the breech-loading rifle had increased the rate of infantry fire and necessitated an open order of attack. Operations on converging lines of operation, such as Moltke's novel maneuvers in 1866, violated the traditional Jomini-influenced reliance on interior lines and made Engels nervous.92 Engels was a good, but rather conventional, military writer.

What does make his military thought remarkable is its integration into the vision of revolution that he and Marx developed. Engels' military studies were not a hobby or a diversion from his revolutionary mission;93 they were central to the development of Marxist revolutionary thought. Engels and Marx were engaged in a continuing effort to understand the operation of bourgeois society and the forces that would, in due course, prepare that society's collapse. Engels' analyses of wars and their likely results shaped the Marxist outlook on the vital question of when European capitalism would break down; his views on the nature of armies showed how revolution could and could not be carried out, and furnished classical Marxism with its formulas for revolutionary tactics. …


  1. “Programm der blanquistischen Kommuneflüchtlinge,” Volksstaat, June 26, 1874, MEW, 18, 528.

  2. Fund appeals, etc., 7, 545-60; Marx, Herr Vogt, MEW, 14, 394, 440, 443-45; Marx to Engels, Feb. 24, 1851, 27, 198-99.

  3. As Leopold Schwartzschild points out. Karl Marx: The Red Prussian (New York: Scribner's, 1947), 217-30, 243-47.

  4. For the Demands, see MEW, 5, 3-5; good commentaries on the state of the League and its factions are Shlomo Na'aman, “Zur Geschichte des Bundes der Kommunisten in Deutschland in der zweiten Phase seines Bestehens,” Archiv für Sozialgeschichte, 5 (1965), 5-82, esp. 72-73, and Werner Blumenberg, “Zur Geschichte des Bundes der Kommunisten. Die Aussagen des Peter Gerhardt Röser,” IRSH, 9 (1964), 99, 115-16.

  5. G. A. Techow to A. Schimmelpfening, Aug.-Sept. 1850, in Carl Vogt, Mein Prozess gegen die Allgemeine Zeitung (Geneva: the author, 1859), 158; Na'aman, 58.

  6. 6 Marx, Herr Vogt, MEW, 14, 668; to Engels, May 6, 1851, 28, 68; to Engels, Dec. 9, 1851, 27, 383; “Revue,” NRZ-Revue, May-Oct. 1850, MEW, 7, 440; to Weydemeyer, Dec. 19, 1849, 27, 516; Engels to Marx, May 7, 1852, 28, 68. Engels' business contacts also expected a crash: “Peter Ermen shits his pants whenever he thinks about it, and he's an excellent barometer.” Engels to Marx, July 30, 1851, 27, 290.

  7. Boris Nicolaievsky and Otto Maenchen-Helfen, Karl Marx, Man and Fighter (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1936), 206-18. For the Central Committee's June 1850 statement avowing connections with Blanquist groups, see MEW, 7, 306-12. For the fullest treatment of the Blanquist problem in Marxism, see Richard N. Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels, 1: Marxism and Totalitarian Democracy (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1974), 132-258.

  8. Marx to Engels, Mar. 1, 1869, 32, 264; to Paul and Laura Lafargue, Feb. 15, 1869, 32, 592; to Jenny Marx, Aug. 15, 1870, 33, 137; Engels, “Programm der blanquistischen Kommuneflüchtlinge,” Volksstaat, June 26, 1874, MEW, 18, 529-30. On Blanqui's popularity on the Marx household, see Werner Blumenberg, “Ein unbekanntes Kapitel aus Marx' Leben,” IRSH, 1 (1956), 95.

  9. Nicolaievsky and Maenchen-Helfen, 214.

  10. Blanqui sent a toast to a revolutionary banquet which featured an address by Louis Blanc, whom Blanqui considered a traitor. Blanqui's toast was not read, but Marx and Engels published it as a pamphlet. MEW, 7, 568-70. Blanqui's assertion that he who has iron has bread bore a remarkable resemblance to the force theory that Engels later assailed in the Anti-Dühring. On this incident see W.I. Fishman, The Insurrectionists (London: Methuen, 1970), 71.

  11. Review of works by A. Chenu and L. de la Hodde, NRZ-Revue, April 1850, MEW, 7, 267-68, 271-80; Vogt, 153-54.

  12. The Army, Standing Army or National Army? An Essay (Cincinnati: A. Frey, 1866) esp. 3, 12-13, 21-23.

  13. Engels to Ernst Dronke, July 9, 1851, 27, 561; to Marx, Sept. 23, 1851, 27, 343; Blumenberg, “Röser,” 109-110. For other similar schemes, not invented by Willich, see Wolfgang Schieder, “Der Bund der Kommunisten im Sommer 1850. Drei Dokumente aus dem Marx-Engels Nachlass,” IRSH, 13 (1968), 43-45, 49-50.

  14. Engels to Marx, Mar. 19, 1851, 27, 223; Marx to Engels, Oct. 28, 1852, 28, 170; Engels to Marx, Nov. 23, 1853, quoted in Marx, Der Ritter vom edelmüthigen Bewusstsein, MEW, 9, 498. Cf. Marx, Enthüllungen über den Kommunisten-Prozess zu Köln, MEW, 8, 413.

  15. Engels to Marx, Sept. 23, 1851, 27, 343; Marx to Engels, July 13, 1851, 27, 279; Marx, Enthüllungen, MEW, 8, 412; Central Committee minutes, Sept. 15, 1860, MEW, 8, 598.

  16. Techow's views were summarized by Marx, to Engels, Sept. 23, 1851, 27, 347-49. Cf. D. Riazonov, introduction to Engels, “Die Möglichkeiten und Voraussetzungen eines Krieges der heiligen Allianz gegen Frankreich im Jahre 1852,” Neue Zeit, 33 (1914-15), 266. Engels to Marx, Sept. 26, 1851, 27, 353; to Marx, Mar. 19, 1851, 27, 222. Engels expressed some disillusionment with the Terror (to Marx, Sept. 4, 1870, 33, 53) but later accorded it some value (to Kautsky, Feb. 20, 1889, 37, 155).

  17. To Marx, Feb. 11, 1853, 28, 212-13; Marx to Engels, Feb. 23, 1853, 28, 214-16. Cf. Marx, Tribune, Mar. 8, 1853, MEW, 8, 527, Engels to Marx, Mar. 9, 1853, 28, 217.

  18. Engels to Marx, Feb. 13, 1851, 28, 190; July 20, 1851, 28, 288-89; Marx to Hermann Becker, Feb. 28, 1851, 28, 546-47; to Weydemeyer, Jan. 23, 1852, 28, 478.

  19. To Marx, Nov. 23, 1853, reprinted by Marx in the Ritter, MEW, 9, 500. Engels' “Reichsverfassungskampagne” had painted Willich as almost the only competent officer on the revolutionary side (MS, 1, 97), and it was remarked that Engels saw Willich and himself as the only useful people in the campaign. Schieder, 52.

  20. To Weydemeyer, Aug. 7, 1851, 27, 569; on the scandal, wherein Willich was alleged to have been thrown out of Baroness von Brünigk's house after trying to rape his hostess, Marx to Engels, May 22, 1852, 28, 78; Engels to Marx, May 24, 1852, 28, 79; Marx to Engels, July 3, 1852, 28, 81-82; Marx to Adolf Cluss, Oct. 8, 1852, 28, 552-53. Engels said that the affair was surprising, since Willich usually evidenced “more enthusiasm for young blond cobblers'-apprentices than for fair ladies.” To Weydemeyer, June 11, 1852, 28, 532.

  21. So translated by Edward Fitzgerald, in Franz Mehring, Karl Marx: The Story of His Life (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1962), 223. The title was intended to convey a sense of self-righteousness. Marx asked Engels for material in letters of Apr. 30 and May 6, 1852, 28, 62 and 69.

  22. Engels thought that the £25 offered by Bangya “valent bien un peu de scandale” (May 1, 1852, 28, 64-65), but Bangya never paid. Engels, more worldly than Marx, was first to suspect Bangya. For the booklet, Die Grossen Männer des Exils, see MEW, 8, 233-335. On Bangya, see R. Rosdolsky, “Karl Marx und der Polizeispitzel Bangya,” IRSH, 2 (1937), 229-45.

  23. To Marx, May 23, 1851, 27, 266; Marx to Engels, Apr. 30, 1852, 28, 61; Engels to Marx, July 15, 1852, 28, 91. Happich, p. 43, considers that this last statement proves that Engels' studies were directed “toward the decisive revolutionary moment,” not “merely intended as the basis for journalistic endeavors.” It seems not to prove quite that. “Lieutenant” was used as a term of mild derision, owing to the combination of authority and inexperience sometimes present in new officers. See Engels to Marx, Sept. 23, 1852, 28, 138; Engels, “The Armies of Europe,” Putnam's 6 (1855), 309.

  24. To Weydemeyer, June 19, 1851, 27, 553. Engels had asked Marx for Weydemeyer's address on Apr. 3, 1851, 27, 234; Weydemeyer was defending the Marxist position in the United States. On his career, which included service in the Civil War and the posthumous honor of a Liberty Ship named for him, see Karl Obermann, Joseph Weydemeyer, Pioneer of American Socialism (New York: International Publishers, 1947).

  25. To Ruge, July 26, 1842, 27, 408; to Weydemeyer, June 19, 1851, 27, 553-55.

  26. La petite guerre, ou traité des opérations secondaires de la guerre (Brussels: Société de librairie belge, 1838). This work went through three editions between 1822 and 1828. Peter Paret, Yorck and the Era of Prussian Reform, 1807-1815 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966), 176. Engels had used this French edition in Switzerland while writing the Reichsverfassungskampagne. To Weydemeyer, Aug. 7, 1851, 27, 568.

  27. Sir William P. Napier, History of the War in the Peninsula and the South of France, from A.D. 1807 to A.D. 1814 (6 vols., London: Warne, 1850); Engels to Weydemeyer, June 19, 1851, 27, 555. Engels had already praised the Napier work to Marx, and had complained of the difficulty of getting the volumes from his local libraries in proper order. Feb. 26, 1851, 27, 203-04, Mar. 17, 1851, 27, 217. He so admired Napier that when he offered to send some military articles to the London Daily News as a sample of his work, he asked that they be judged by Napier rather than any “lesser martinet.” To H. J. Lincoln, Mar. 30, 1854, 28, 600.

  28. Apr. 11, 1851, 27, 235-36. Wellington, said Engels, had no spark of genius, but excelled at picking defensive positions and withdrawing from them: “tel soldat, tel politique”—the perfect representative of Toryism.

  29. Aug. 27, 1851, 27, 568-69. Weydemeyer was to write to Engels' business address, so that the firm of Ermen and Engels might bear the postage costs of Engels' military education. Cf. similar postal advice, to Weydemeyer, Apr. 16, 1852, 28, 513; to Wilhelm Steffen (who was supposed to send maps), Apr. 15, 1856, 29, 531.

  30. “England,” MEW, 8, 208-18; to Weydemeyer, Feb. 27, 1852, 28, 500-01. Mayer, 2, 35, points out the showing off in the article.

  31. Jan. 23, 1852, 28, 482-83.

  32. To Weydemeyer, Apr. 16, 1852, 28, 514.

  33. Engels to Marx, July 15, 1852, 28, 91; to Weydemeyer, Apr. 12, 1853, 28, 576.

  34. To Marx, May 7, 1852, 28, 71; to Weydemeyer, April 12, 1853, 28, 576-81. Later Engels could disagree openly with Weydemeyer on a military question. Grant's approach to Richmond from the sea side of the city was not dangerous, as Weydemeyer feared, but proper procedure when one controlled the sea. Engels cited Wellington's campaigns in Spain to prove his case. Mar. 10, 1865, 31, 458-59.

  35. To Marx, Apr. 3, 1851, 27, 231-32. Cf. Marx to Engels, Apr. 2, 1851, 27, 228.

  36. To Marx, May 7, 1852, 28, 72; July 6, 1852, 28, 86; Aug. 16, 1852, 28, 111; June 10, 1854, 28, 365-66; Marx to Engels, Dec. 14, 1854, 28, 315. Engels' library contained a copy of another Hungarian campaign memoir, by Friedrich Heller von Hellwald, carefully annotated and compared with Görgey. Bruno Kaiser, Ex libris Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels. Schicksal und Verzeichnis einer Bibliothek (Berlin: Dietz, 1967), 92.

  37. Sept. 30, 1853, 28, 299. Engels lived in Manchester, Marx in London. Therefore their correspondence.

  38. Marx to Engels, Nov. 2, 1853, 28, 306; Mar. 10, 1853, 28, 222. Marx declared that he and Engels had “neglected this subject [international relations] far too long.” Nov. 2, 1853, 28, 307. Marx's curious enthusiasm for the Turcophile “monomaniac” David Urquhart (e.g., Marx to Engels, Feb. 9, 1854, 28, 324-25) cannot be discussed here. More of Marx's requests for comments on military affairs: Nov. 23, 1853, 28, 310; Jan. 18, 1854, 28, 319; Jan. 24, 1854, 28, 321; Apr. 19, 1854, 28, 340; June 21, 1854, 28, 370; July 22, 1854, 28, 377-79; July 17, 1855, 28, 453; etc.

  39. Engels to Marx, Mar. 11, 1853, 28, 226. (A.P.C. was Aurelius Pulszky, a former aide to Kossuth. Engels hoped to demolish him with a display of Allwissenheit in Turkish matters, but A.P.C. was durable.) Marx to Engels, Mar. 11, 1854, 28, 329.

  40. To Engels, Mar. 29, 1854, 28, 334.

  41. Marx to Engels, Dec. 11, 1853, 28, 463; Courier, Oct. 18, 1853; Tribune, Dec. 20, 1853; Marx to Engels, Jan. 5, 1854, 28, 317.

  42. To Engels, Dec. 2, 1853, 28, 311; to Engels, Sept. 11, 1855, 28, 460. Cf. Marx to Engels, Mar. 31, 1851, 27, 226.

  43. Marx to Engels, Aug. 19, 1852, 28, 112-13; Engels to Marx, Aug. 24, 1852, 28, 117; Marx to Engels, June 29, 1855, 28, 450; July 23, 1855, 28, 451. Marx's bibliographic assistance to Engels' military efforts are summarized in A. J. Babin, “Die schöpferische Zusammenarbeit von Marx und Engels auf militärgeschichtlichem Gebiet,” ZfMG, 9 (1970), 420-29.

  44. June 2, 1852, 28, 252-53; Mar. 29, 1854, 28, 334; Sept. 7, 1857, 29, 192-93.

  45. To Engels, Apr. 2, 1851, 27, 229. There was a falling out with the Baroness, for Engels soon referred to her as a whore (to Marx, Sept. 1, 1851, 27, 334), and Marx published a notice disavowing all connection with her. Kölnische Zeitung, Oct. 9, 1851, MEW, 8, 108. For other Hungarians offered Engels, see Marx to Engels, Apr. 5, 1852, 28, 49; May 6, 1852, 28, 68-69; July 13, 1852, 28, 88; Marx to Szemere, Apr. 4, 1860, 30, 520; Marx to Engels, Apr. 5, 1852, 28, 49; May 13, 1852, 28, 73.

  46. Engels to Weydemeyer, Aug. 7, 1851, 27, 568; Marx to Engels, May 16, 1855, 28, 446.

  47. “Quid pro Quo,” Volk, July 30, 1859, MEW, 13, 450; “Truth Testified,” Tribune, Aug. 4, 1859, MEW, 8, 440; Maximilien Rubel, “Les cahiers d'étude de Karl Marx, II. 1853-1856,” IRSH, 5 (1960), 56.

  48. To Engels, Nov. 30, 1854, 28, 413-14; Dec. 2, 1854, 28, 416-17; Dec. 15, 1854, 28, 420-21.

  49. To Engels, Jan. 18, 1854, 28, 319-20; Jan. 25, 1854, 28, 321-22. For Engels' view on the fortifications question, “The Movements of the Armies in Turkey,” Tribune, Nov. 8, 1853, MEW, 9, 438-39; “The Crimean Prospects,” Tribune, Oct. 1, 1855, MEW, 11, 533; “The Siege of Sevastopol,” Tribune, Nov. 15, 1854, MEW, 10, 543, repeated in “Rückblicke,” Neue Oder-Zeitung, Jan. 4, 1855, MEW, 10, 591.

  50. Inter alia: Marx to Engels, Mar. 25, 1856, 29, 32; Apr. 10, 1856, 29, 38; July 14, 1857, 29, 155; Aug. 15, 1857, 29, 160-61; Sept. 17. 1857, 29, 176 (here Marx seems to have done some rather technical reading, but he defers to Engels nevertheless); Sept. 23, 1857, 29, 188; Nov. 13, 1857, 29, 207; Jan. 1, 1858, 29, 246; Feb. 12, 1858, 29, 285; Aug. 8, 1858, 29, 349; Aug. 13, 1858, 29, 352. Marx said that lack of time to master unfamiliar material, rather than any constitutional incapacity, kept him from doing military articles, but they were out of his province anyway. To Engels, Jan. 5, 1858, 29, 247; Aug. 18, 1858, 29, 354.

  51. Engels to Marx, Mar. 23, 1854, 28, 331-32; Marx to Lassalle, Apr. 6, 1854, 28, 604-06.

  52. Marx to Engels, Dec. 14, 1853, 28, 316; Engels to H. J. Lincoln, Mar. 30, 1854, 28, 600-03; Engels to Marx, Apr. 3, 1854, 28, 337; Marx to Engels, Apr. 4, 1854, 28, 338.

  53. To Marx, Apr. 20, 1854, 28, 342; Marx to Engels, Apr. 22, 1854, 28, 347.

  54. To Marx, Apr. 21, 1854, 28, 344-45; Apr. 20, 1854, 28, 343; June 10, 1854, 28, 366.

  55. Carlton (161-62) laments the failure to get the job, under the impression that it would have got Engels away from the malevolent influence of Marx. She confuses the positions of war correspondent (“a civilian who goes to the front”) and military correspondent (“a soldier who stays at home”). Definitions from The Liddell Hart Memoirs (New York: Putnam, 1965), 1, 80. Engels wanted to move to London, not to Sevastopol. When he and Marx proposed to supply the Tribune with on-the-spot reports, the war correspondent recommended was Otto von Mirbach, Engels' old commander in the Elberfeld revolution. Engels to Marx, Dec. 12, 1855, 28, 464. Engels later preferred to report the Franco-Prussian War from England instead of the battlefield, since England provided more chance for objectivity and more security from the Prussian police. Marx to Engels, July 20, 1870, 33, 6; Engels to Marx, July 22, 1870, 33, 9.

  56. Engels to Lassalle, Mar. 15, 1860, 30, 517 (further correspondence on the anonymity of the pamphlets: Marx to Engels, Feb. 25, 1859, 29, 401; Marx to Lassalle, Feb. 25, 1859, 29, 580-81: Engels to Lassalle, March 14, 1859, 29, 582; Marx to Engels, shortly after Jan. 11, 1860, 30, 6; Engels to Marx, Jan. 30, 1860, 30, 14; Engels to Marx, Feb. 4, 1860, 30, 25). Marx's source of military gossip was Countess Hatzfeldt, Lassalle's friend; through her he met General von Pfuel, whom he and Engels had assailed fiercely in 1848-49, and discussed Engels' pamphlet with the General. To Engels, May 7, 1861, 30, 162.

  57. Ernst Drahn, Friedrich Engels als Kriegswissenschaftler (Gautzsch bei Leipzig: Felix Dietrich, 1915), 20. Wolfe's complaint (Marxism, 31-32) that the two strategic pamphlets lack any socialist characteristics misses the point; they were aimed at an audience not noted for socialist sympathies.

  58. The Volunteer Movement was a semiofficial force assembled to repel a possible French invasion, during the war scare that followed the coup of Napoleon III. Engels to editor, AMZ, Sept. 8, 1860, 30, 559-60; to Marx, Sept. 15, 1860, 30, 93. The article appeared in AMZ, Sept. 8, 1860, and is in MEW, 15, 137-43; English version in Volunteer Journal, 1 (Sept. 14, 1860) and is in EMC, 1-8.

  59. Marx to Engels, Oct. 2, 1860, 30, 102; Marx to Lassalle, Oct. 2, 1860, 30, 568; Engels to Marx, Oct. 5, 1860, 30, 104; Sept. 15, 1860, 30, 93.

  60. The pamphlet's component articles are in EMC, somewhat rearranged. For the United Services Gazette review, see EMC, xvi. The pamphlet was said to be “modestly and carefully written,” though Engels was “to a considerable extent bitten with that new-fangled admiration for French soldiering which we, after long and intimate knowledge, hold to be an utter delusion.” The history of the rifle was particularly praised; later Gordon Craig used it as a handy and accurate summary of the subject. The Battle of Königgrätz: Prussia's Victory over Austria, 1866 (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1964), 20.

  61. Gerlach, who had never before seen a socialist, was received with great cordiality and attended one of the drinking parties that Engels held to celebrate election victories by the German Social Democrats. Von Rechts nach Links (Zürich: Europa Verlag, 1937), 138. Engels' correspondence with Wachs had begun in 1893, when he noticed Wachs' name in the Military Commission and asked August Bebel to find out whether it was the same Wachs whom Engels had met 25 years before in Manchester. Wachs, a cousin of Engels' friend Eduard Gumpert, had then just joined the Prussian Army, and was depressed to find there the same barrack spirit that he had thought to leave behind in Electoral Hesse. Engels advised him to stick it out. Engels to Bebel, Feb. 9, 1893, 39, 27-28.

  62. June 19, 1851, 27, 553.

  63. Nov. 15, 1857, 29, 212; Dec. 31, 1857, 29, 245; Feb. 11, 1858, 29, 278.

  64. Feb. 14, 1858, 29, 280. Paul Lafargue reports Marx's fear that Engels would kill himself while hunting. “Persönliche Erinnerungen an Friedrich Engels,” Neue Zeit, 23 (1905), 556. Marx himself could barely ride (Wilhelm Liebknecht, Karl Marx: Biographical Memoirs [Chicago: Kerr, 1901], 129); his “horse exercise” probably involved a wooden contraption. Engels to Jenny Marx, May 11, 1858, 29, 558; Marx to Engels, Sept. 21, 1858, 29, 355. No doubt Marx also resented Engels' supporting a horse (a Christmas present from his father, 1856) while the Marxes were particularly hungry. Engels to Marx, Jan. 22, 1857, 29, 100; Aug. 1, 1862, 30, 261.

  65. Feb. 18, 1858, 29, 282-83; Engels to Victor Adler, Sept. 25, 1892, 38, 473. Cf. Mayer, 2, 173.

  66. Marx to his daughter Jenny, Jan. 11, 1865, 31, 442; Engels to Marx, Apr. 11, 1859, 29, 417; to Kugelmann, Nov. 8 and 20, 1867, 31, 569 (Engels insisted that Kugelmann, a gynecologist, owed some horsemanship to his profession, which concerned “riding and being ridden”); to J. P. Becker, Oct. 15, 1884, 36, 218; Apr. 2, 1885, 36, 290; June 15, 1885, 36, 328.

  67. To Weydemeyer, Apr. 12, 1853, 28, 581-82, 577; “Betrachtungen und Aussichten eines Krieges der Heiligen Allianz gegen ein revolutionäres Frankreich im Jahre 1852,” MS, 1, 220. This essay was first published in Neue Zeit, 33 (1914/15) and is in MEW, 7, 468-93, under a somewhat different title. It is cited below as “Holy Alliance vs. France,” from the MS.

  68. To Marx, Feb. 7, 1856, 29, 10.

  69. Lafargue to Marx, Apr. 28, 1871, quoted in Celina Bobinska, Marx und Engels über polnische Probleme (Berlin: Dietz, 1958), 278.

  70. On Engels' plan, below, pp. 123-24. Delbrück's opinion was expressed to Gustav Mayer, who reports it in his Erinnerungen: vom Journalisten zum Historiker der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung (Munich: Verlag der Zwölf, 1949), 357. On Delbrück, see Franz Mehring, “Eine Geschichte der Kriegskunst,” Neue Zeit, Erg. 4 (Oct. 16, 1908), 1-2; Gordon A. Craig, “Delbruck: The Military Historian,” Makers of Modern Strategy, 280-83. Delbrück's praise of Engels' military qualities is thus more of an expert judgment than Liebknecht's (“Friedrich Engels,” 423).

  71. Lafargue, “Persönliche Erinnerungen,” 560-61; Engels to Lafargue, Dec. 30, 1871, 33, 365-66; to Carlo Terzaghi, Jan. 6, Jan. 14-15, 1872, 33, 372-75; to Theodor Cuno, Jan. 24, 1872, 33, 389; “Aus der Internationale,” Volksstaat, July 2, 1873, MEW, 18, 475; article on authority, Almonacco Republicano per l'anno 1874, MEW, 18, 306-07. See also Hans-Jürgen Usczek, “Friedrich Engels zum Volkskrieg in Frankreich,” ZfMG, 9(1970), 517-20.

  72. Lafargue, “Persönliche Erinnerungen,” 557; Frank Jellinek, The Paris Commune of 1871 (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1965), 241-63.

  73. Herr Vogt, MEW, 14, 441; Engels to Weydemeyer, Nov. 24, 1864, 31, 425; Marx, introduction to a new edition of the Enthullungen uber den Kommunisten-Prozess zu Köln, MEW, 18, 569.

  74. Tribune, June 22 and Sept. 24, MEW, 15, 60-64, 155-58. Marx did point out that a revolution of sorts was already under way when Garibaldi landed, but he did not attempt to make such developments a precondition for revolutionary invasion. Tribune, June 4, Aug. 8, 1860, MEW, 15, 55, 92. Cf. Marx to Hermann Ebner, Dec. 2, 1851, 27, 597.

  75. To Engels, Sept. 12, 1863, 30, 372. Marx thought that such a legion would either encourage a German rising, or embarrass the German democrats. According to the prospective leader, Colonel Lapinski, Marx himself suggested the idea. Adam Ciolkosz, “Karl Marx and the Polish Insurrection of 1863,” Polish Review, 10 (1965), 22-23. Engels apparently made no comment on the project.

  76. He later described his articles, mostly on military topics, for Dana's New American Cyclopedia as “strictly business.” To Hermann Schlüter, Jan. 29, 1891, 38, 16.

  77. To Marx, Jan. 7, 1858, 29, 252. He had previously encountered the historical works of Clausewitz, whom he called “as much a standard author in his line, all over the world, as Jomini” in 1855. Putnam's, 6 (Sept. 1855), 309.

  78. Germany: Revolution and Counterrevolution (originally articles in Tribune, 1851-52), German Revolutions, 227-28, 198, 206-207.

  79. “Garibaldi in Sicily,” June 14, 1860, MEW, 15, 62.

  80. Happich, 38, 47; the Marx-Engels correspondence contains too many references to suspicion of the mails to enumerate. Wolfe (114) is oddly indignant that Engels and Marx should so suspect the British Government; as Marx pointed out, violation of the privacy of the mails had been admitted in Parliament. To Engels, Mar. 2, 1852, 28, 34. Marx said at one point that an Alien Bill would be a good thing, as it would keep the émigrés stirred up, but actual expulsion would have been a great inconvenience. To Engels, Mar. 1, 1851, 27, 213.

  81. Grosse Männer, MEW, 8, 315-16; Engels to Marx, Aug. 16, 1852, 28, 111; Sept. 24, 1852, 28, 146. Engels' general assertion that insurrection is an art with (mostly unspecified) rules of its own inspires this tribute from Stepanova (113): “This Marxist teaching on armed insurrection was developed on the basis of the subsequent class struggles of the proletariat and especially of the Moscow rising in December 1905. In the decisive days of October, 1917, the Bolshevik Party gave a classic example of how to prepare and carry out a successful armed revolution.”

  82. Engels to Marx, Feb. 11, 1853, 28, 212-13; Oct. 9, 1857, 29, 195; “Konflikte zwischen Polizei und Volk,” Neue Oder-Zeitung, July 9, 1855, MEW, 11, 345; Marx to Engels, July 27, 1866, 31, 243.

  83. “The Reform Movement in France,” Northern Star, Nov. 20, 1847, MEGA, 1, 6, 356; to Kautsky, Nov. 3, 1893, 39, 161; preface (1895) to Marx's Klassenkämpfe in Frankreich, MS, 2, 689-90.

  84. Engels and Marx, “That Bore of a War,” Tribune, Aug. 17, MEW, 10, 380-81; Marx, “Revolution in Spain,” Tribune, Aug. 18, 1856, MEW, 12, 45. The Werke attributes this article to Marx, who indeed wrote most of the Spanish pieces, but it seems unlikely that he would have commented upon the tactical aspects of the revolution without consulting Engels.

  85. Debray, Revolution in the Revolution? (New York: Grove Press, 1967) is the most forceful advocate of this theory. On the guerrillist school of thought in general, see Theodor Arnold, Der revolutionäre Krieg (Pfaffenhofen/Ilm: Ilmgau Verlag, 1967).

  86. Decker, 30; Napier, 1, iv, also 120-21, 42-43. Napier disapproved of armed peasants and considered regular army support essential to any successful insurrection.

  87. “The Holy War,” Tribune, Nov. 15, 1853, MEW, 9, 156; “England,” article sent to Weydemeyer in 1851, MEW, 8, 213-14.

  88. Engels and Marx, “Die Lage auf den amerikanischen Kriegsschauplätze,” Presse, May 30, 1862, MEW, 15, 507 (this article follows closely Engels' letter to Marx, May 23, 1862, 30, 240-41); Engels to Marx, July 30, 1862, 30, 255; May 23, 1862, 30, 240; May 29, 1862, 30, 244; to Hermann Engels, Nov. 2, 1864, 31, 421; to Weydemer, Nov. 24, 1864, 31, 424; to Marx, Sept. 4, 1864, 30, 430; to Rudolf Engels, Jan. 10, 1865, 31, 440; to Marx, Feb. 7, 1865, 31, 62.

  89. “The Indian Army,” Tribune, July 21, 1858, FIWI, 175-76; “Garibaldi in Sicily,” Tribune, June 22, 1860, MEW, 15, 62-64. Cf. “Garibaldi in Calabria,” Tribune, Sept. 24, 1860, MEW, 15, 155.

  90. Reinhard Höhn, Sozialismus und Heer, 1, 65, suggests that this concentration on real rather than on desirable conditions was somehow derived from Scharnhorst.

  91. “Holy Alliance vs. France,” MS, 1, 218-21; to Marx, Nov. 15, 1857, 29, 212.

  92. “Kinglake über die Schlacht an der Alma,” ms. probably begun for the Allgemeine Militär-Zeitung in 1864, MEW, 15, 589-91; to Marx, Oct. 6, 1857, 29, 195 (Engels translated for the Volunteer Journal, Feb. 9-Mar. 2, 1861, a lecture in which Marshal Bugeaud disapproved of skirmishing, MEW, 15, 248-50); “Taktik der Infanterie aus den materiellen Ursachen abgeleitet, 1700-1870,” note intended for the Anti-Dühring, MS, 2, 623-24; “Notes on the War, No. IV,” Manchester Guardian, July 3, 1866, EMC, 133-34.

  93. Lafargue, “Persönliche Erinnerungen,” 560, reports that Marx accused Engels of studying things just for the fun of it, but these objections probably were aimed at Engels' philological studies; Marx always encouraged the military researches. Heinz Helmert uses Engels' militaria as a model for the Marxist military historian, and reasonably; but Engels did not occupy himself with military science in order to inspire future scholars. “Friedrich Engels und die Aufgaben der marxistischen Militärgeschichtsschreibung,” ZfMG, 5 (1966), 72-84.

A Note on Documentation

The multiplicity of collections and editions available to the student of Marxism creates certain problems for both reader and writer. If a note documents some statement of Engels or Marx by referring the reader to some page of some collection, the reader is lost unless he happens to have that particular collection at hand; in addition, the status of preferred editions changes constantly.

While the research for this book was being done, the handiest and most nearly complete edition was the MEW (Karl Marx-Friedrich Engels Werke [Berlin: Dietz, 1960-74], 41 vols. plus supplementary volumes). Therefore most of my primary citations refer to the MEW; but it is being superseded both by an all-original-language Gesamtausgabe and an all-English Collected Works. Future scholars will not have to seek out articles that Engels wrote in English in their original newspapers and magazines if they wish to avoid retranslating from the MEW's German.

Since anyone now writing on classical Marxism will soon find his documentation obsolete, I have used the most convenient editions, and have tried consistently to specify both where I found the cited statement, and what letter, book, or article contained it originally. Thus the notes may be pursued by the reader in whatever collection he has on hand.

Since all of Engels' and Marx's letters are cited from the MEW, I have attempted to lighten the typographical burden of the notes by omitting repetition of MEW when citing letters of Engels or Marx; letters are identified by date, recipient, and the volume and page numbers from the MEW.

Abbreviations Used in the Notes

AMZ: Allgemeine Militär-Zeitung

EMC: Engels as Military Critic

FIWI: The First Indian War of Independence

IWK: Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung

MEGA, 1: Marx-Engels Gesamtausgabe. Series 1 (works) (Moscow: Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute, 1927-1935), 7 vols.

MEW: Karl Marx-Friedrich Engels Werke

MS: Engels' Ausgewählte militärische Schriften

NRZ: Neue Rheinische Zeitung

NRZ-Revue: Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Politisch-ökonomische Revue

PMG: Pall Mall Gazette

ZfMG: Zeitschrift für Militärgeschichte

Richard J. Wiltgen (essay date 1979)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 9822

SOURCE: “Engels' Origin of the Family as a Contribution to Marx's Social Economy,” in Review of Social Economy, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, December, 1979, pp. 345-369.

[In the following essay, Wiltgen provides an interpretation of Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, and maintains that through such anthropological studies, Engels succeeded in offering “a detailed exposition of the socioeconomic development of pre-capitalist societies.”]

Marx's method was largely historical. As a consequence, a proper understanding of Marx's social economy requires a good grasp of what he termed “the materialist conception of history.” Marx's and Engels' most extensive treatment of their approach to history was in their German Ideology, an unpublished manuscript which they completed in 1846 and “abandoned to the gnawing criticism of the mice” after failing to secure a publisher for it. [Marx, 1970, p. 22] Nonetheless, Marx's preface to his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859) is most frequently cited as the definitive statement of the Marxian interpretation of historical processes. In the latter work, Marx stated:

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite state of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political, and intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come in conflict with the existing relations of production, or—what is but a legal expression for the same thing—with the property relations within which they have been at work hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an epoch of social revolution. [Marx, 1970, pp. 20-21]

Since it was the first clear, yet concise, statement of the materialist conception of history to be published by either Marx or Engels,1 it is not surprising that it has also become the most widely quoted. What is more important, however, is that it is the most explicit expression of the importance Marx attached to economics in his study of history. In fact, on the basis of this preface Marx's ideas have been frequently characterized as exemplifying “the economic interpretation of history.” His statement certainly lends itself to this interpretation. To the extent that this view of Marx accurately reflects his notion of historical development, it leaves his economics with a limited and very rigid structure which fails to sufficiently account for the complexities of social change. Such is the case even though in Marx's conception of history, the prime mover, man the producer, is constantly acting on his environment, thereby changing the circumstances of his existence and his own nature.

Nevertheless, without engaging in an extended discussion of the relative importance of the base and superstructure in Marx's analysis,2 it is possible to partly remedy this deficiency by developing a latent aspect of his and Engels' conception of history which has received little attention. Only once during their lifetime did Marx or Engels publish a statement of this feature of their approach to history. The occasion was in 1884, the year following Marx's death, when Engels published his Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. In the preface to the first edition of this work Engels described production as having a dual dimension. His statement dealing with this matter is so important that it is worth quoting in its entirety:

According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of immediate life. This, again, is of a twofold character: on the one side, the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. The social organization under which the people of a particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labor on the one hand and of the family on the other.3 [Engels, 1942, p. 5]

In summary, Engels not only found there to be a “twofold character” to production, but he also laid considerable stress on the role of population as a determinant of social development.

Most Marxists have either ignored this passage or referred to it as a “misstatement.” [Leacock, “Introduction” to Engels, 1973, p. 28] The posture adopted by the Soviets is exemplary of this general attitude. They contend that Engels was

guilty of inexactitude by citing the propagation of the species alongside the production of the means of subsistence as causes determining the development of society and of social institutions. In the text proper of The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Engels himself demonstrated by an analysis of concrete material that the mode of material production is the principal factor conditioning the development of society and social institutions.4 [Cited in Petrović, 1967, pp. 96-97]

The use of the term “inexactitude” is peculiar, and the argument itself appears to be ill-founded. The primary inspiration for Engels' study, which he termed “the execution of a bequest” for Marx5 [p. 5], was Lewis Morgan's Ancient Society, or Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery, Through Barbarism to Civilization. Marx's notes, which Engels employed in writing The Origin of the Family, revolved around Morgan's work;6 indeed, Engels' entire book is also centered upon Morgan.7 The two aspects of Morgan's book which apparently concerned them most were: (a) Morgan's “rediscovery of the primitive matriarchal gens as the earlier stage of patriarchal gens of the civilized peoples,” which in Engels' opinion had “the same importance for anthropology as Darwin's theory of evolution has for biology and Marx's theory of surplus value for political economy;” and (b) that this rediscovery “enabled Morgan to outline for the first time a history of the family in which … the classic stages of development in their main outlines are … determined.” [p. 16] According to Engels, “Marx had made it one of his future tasks to present the results of Morgan's researches in the light of the conclusions of his own—within certain limits, I may say our—materialistic conception of history and thus make clear their full significance” (my emphasis). [p. 5] The essential purpose of Engels' research was thus reasonably well defined, and he appears to have had adequate background and information to carry it out. Engels obviously did not view his conclusions as diverging from those of Marx.

Furthermore, Marx's and Engels' other writings seem to be consistent with The Origin of the Family. In early 1857, when Marx was writing about pre-capitalist economic formations in the fifth notebook of his Grundrisse, he reached the following conclusion:

The survival of the commune as such in the old mode requires the reproduction of its members in the presupposed objective conditions. Production itself, the advance of population (this too belongs with production), necessarily suspends these conditions little by little; destroys them instead of reproducing them …, and with that, the communal system declines and falls together with the property relations on which it is based. [Marx, 1973, p. 486]

More than a decade earlier, Marx and Engels, in their first truly joint work, clearly stated that a

circumstance which, from the very first, enters into historical development is that men, who daily remake their own life, begin to make other men, to propagate their kind: the relation between men and wife, parents and children, the FAMILY. The family which to begin with is the only social relationship, becomes later, when increased needs create new social relations and the increased population new needs, a subordinate one …, and must then be treated and analyzed according to the existing empirical data, not according to “the concept of the family” …

The production of life, both of one's own in labor and of fresh life in procreation … appears as a double relationship: on the one hand as a natural, on the other as a social relationship … It follows from this that a certain mode of production, or industrial stage, is always combined with a certain mode of cooperation, or social stage, and this mode of cooperation is itself a productive force.8 [Marx and Engels, 1947, pp. 17-18]

Immediately following his controversial comment in The Origin of the Family, Engels reiterated this same basic argument:

The lower the development of labor and the more limited the amount of the products, and consequently, the more limited also the wealth of the society, the more the social order is found to be dominated by kinship groups. However, within this structure of society based on kinship groups the productivity of labor increasingly develops, and with it private property and exchange, differences in wealth, the possibility of utilizing the labor powers of others, and hence the basis of class antagonisms: new social elements, which in the course of generations strive to adapt the old order to the new conditions, until at least their incompatibility brings about a complete upheaval. In the collision of the newly-developed social classes, the old society founded on kinship groups is broken up; in its place appears a new society, with its control centered in the state, the subordinate units of which are no longer kinship associations, but local associations; a society in which the family is completely dominated by the system of private property, and in which there now freely develop those class antagonisms and class struggles that have hitherto formed the content of all written history.9 [Engels, 1942, pp. 5-6]

This passage is important for three reasons: first, it shows a consistency between the earlier and later writings of Marx and Engels; secondly, it explains the role that Engels envisioned the propagation of the species to play in historical development; finally, the fact that it represents an attempt on the part of Engels to summarize the results of his entire study, seems to indicate that there is no contradiction between the preface of the first edition and subsequent material in the book.10 Engels therefore apparently grasped the essence of the Marxian relationship between demographic and social developments.

Marx's Paris manuscripts of 1844 marked an attempt to develop what one might call a philosophical anthropology. [Cf. Marx, 1974a, pp. 97-98] It was nonetheless Engels rather than Marx who developed the anthropological-demographic facet of their materialist conception of history. In his analysis of early demographic development in The Origin of the Family Engels made use of the categories formulated by Morgan and thus did not follow closely the perspective which he and Marx had devised for the study of political-economic development.11 Yet there appeared a substantial correspondence and interdependence between the two approaches. The movement from primitive communism via slave economy to feudalism according to Marx-Engels, and the movement from savagery via barbarism to civilization à la Morgan, as interpreted by Engels, both explained the rise of class conflict and exploitation in the context of increasing division of labor and growing commodity production. The former was expressed in political-economic and the latter in anthropological-demographic dimension.

The confusion pertaining to Engels' preface to the first edition of The Origin of the Family would not exist had he developed greater continuity between it and the text proper. The connection becomes much more apparent, however, when one interprets the entire work within the context of two unfinished manuscripts which were included as part of his Dialectics of Nature. The first of these, “The Part Played by Labor in the Transition of Ape to Man,” [Engels, 1964, pp. 172-186] details Engels' conception of the gradual evolution of the society of hominids to that of Homo sapiens. The second is a fragmentary note in which Engels presents a critique of Darwin.12 [Engels, 1964, pp. 310-314] In the latter piece Engels contended that

Darwin's mistake lies precisely in lumping together in “natural selection: or the “survival of the fittest” two absolutely separate things:

1. Selection by the pressure of overpopulation, where the strongest survive in the first place, but can also be the weakest in many respects.

2. Selection by greater capacity of adaption to altered circumstances, where the survivors are better suited to these circumstances, but where this adaption as a whole can mean progress …

The main thing: that each advance in organic evolution is at the same time a regression, fixing one-sided evolution and excluding the possibility of evolution in many other directions. [Engels, 1964, p. 312]

This critique allows one to draw some interesting inferences pertaining to Marxian demography.13 But what is important for the present argument is that these two manuscripts provide one with the necessary evolutionary perspective to interpret Engels' Origin of the Family. In what follows I have adopted this approach as the basis for explaining Engels' stages of anthropological development in conjunction with their economic, demographic and social features. The only deviation from the Engels-Morgan format is a discussion of the evolution of man as a species where it will become apparent that there is indeed a close correspondence between Engels' preface and the remainder of his work.


In Marx's and Engels' conception of history, man's development proceeds in two basic stages: (a) the transition from ape to the attainment of basic human faculties, and (b) man's attempts to realize the full potential of his nature. From a purely theoretical standpoint, the specific characteristics of each stage are well defined and easily separated, but in empirical investigations—such as Engels' Origin of the Family—they may overlap to a considerable extent and may be difficult to distinguish.

The “decisive step in the transition from ape to man,” stated Engels, was when apes no longer relied on their hands while walking across level terrain. [Engels, 1964, p. 172] After the hand became free to be utilized for other tasks, the prospect of a laboring animal became a reality. The increased use of the hand added to the dexterity of these uses. “Thus the hand is not only the organ of labor, it is also the product of labor.” [Engels, 1964, p. 174] Apes, however, were unable to manipulate nature.

the ape herd was satisfied to browse over the feeding area determined for it by geographical conditions or the resistance of neighboring herds; it undertook migrations and struggles to win new feeding grounds, but it was incapable of extracting from them more than they offered in their natural state, except that it unconsciously fertilized the soil with its own excrement. As soon as all possible feeding grounds were occupied, there could be no further increase in the ape population; the number of animals could at best remain stationary. [Engels, 1974, p. 177]

It was these developments which Engels, in his discussion of Darwin, subsumed under the categories “selection by pressure of overpopulation” and “selection by greater capacity of adaption to altered circumstances.”

Man, because of his ability to labor, has the capacity to deal with such circumstances, for this unique ability allows him to work toward a mastery over nature.14 Even though in the earlier stages of his development man largely lacked control over the results of his activity, he still made significant advances beyond those of the apes. This progress included a certain amount of manipulation of the propagation of his own kind (the emergence of advanced familial institutions) [Engels, 1942, pp. 30-31], and the conditions of his existence (the development of hunting and fishing instruments, building and altering shelters to accommodate different climates, etc.). [Engels, 1964, pp. 177-179]

But man in the making did not escape the processes of selection by overpopulation or selection by adaption. It was only when he became species man that he could approach these phenomena in a meaningful manner, and even then, as Engels pointed out in The Origin of the Family, man was plagued by analogous conditions.


Following Morgan, The Origin of the Family divided human history into three basic epochs: savagery, barbarism and civilization. Savagery Engels defined as “the period in which man's appropriation of products in their natural state predominates; the products of human art are chiefly instruments which assist this appropriation.” [Engels, 1942, p. 24] In its earlier time period savagery was characterized by tree dwelling and the consumption of fruit, nuts and roots. Although Engels conceded that “we have no direct evidence to prove its existence,” he concluded that “once the evolution of man from the animal kingdom is admitted, such a transitional stage must necessarily be assumed.” [p. 19] As savage society developed, man was able to use fish as a source of food and fire as a means of cooking. The discovery and utilization of fire gave him a certain degree of independence from the climate and other regional factors which previously impaired his mobility. In addition to man's discovery of new roots and other like sources of food, his invention of the club and the spear enabled him to hunt for game. [p. 20] However, “owing to the continual uncertainty of food supplies, cannibalism seems to have arisen, and was practiced from now onwards for a long time.” [p. 20]

Engels identified the most mature or “upper stage” of savagery with the invention of the bow and arrow, which allowed the regularization of game as a source of food. According to Engels, the complexity of the bow and arrow seemed to indicate man's familiarity with other items of similar significance. [p. 20] It was for this reason that he concluded that under the advanced form of savagery man “gained some control over the production of the means of subsistence.” [p. 20] Citing particular examples, Engels stated:

we find wooden vessels and utensils, finger-weaving (without looms) with the filaments of bark; plaited baskets of baest or osier; sharpened (neolithic) stone tools. With the discovery of fire and the stone ax, dug-out canoes now become common; beams and planks are also sometimes used for building houses. [p. 20]

It may therefore be concluded that Engels' conception of savagery allowed for both selection by overpopulation (as evidenced by his remark pertaining to cannibalism) and selection by adaption (because of the fact that man could not yet deal completely with the multitude of environmental factors confronting him). Nevertheless, historically by far the most important characteristic of savagery was man's general inability to increase the amount of natural products through his activity. This latter fact allows for the possibility that during savagery something other than the production of the means of existence may have been the primary determinant of social organization. The following statement from Capital indicates that Marx clearly saw this as the probable course of events in early human history.

… [A]ncient social organisms of production are, as compared with bourgeois society, extremely simple and transparent. But they are founded either on the immature development of man individually, who has not yet severed the umbilical cord that unites him with his fellow men in a primitive tribal community, or upon direct relations of subjection. They can arise and exist only when the development of the productive power of labor has not risen beyond a low stage, and when, therefore, the social relations within the sphere of material life, between man and man, and between man and Nature, are correspondingly narrow. [Marx, I, 1967, p. 79]

Engels found this determining element to lie in procreation, which was in turn reflected in the state of familial organization. In The Origin of the Family he spoke of the “decisive part played by consanguinity in the social structure of all savage and barbarian peoples,” [Engels, 1942, p. 26] yet he concluded that by itself consanguinity did not explain social change. Instead, to accurately comprehend the dynamics of early societies one had to study the unique manifestation of this activity in family relations. Quoting the following passage from Morgan, Engels explained the essential character of the association between consanguinity and the level of familial development:

The Family represents an active principle. It is never stationary, but advanced from a lower to a higher condition … Systems of consanguinity, on the contrary, are passive; recording the progress made by the family at long intervals apart, and only changing radically when the family has radically changed. [pp. 26-27]

A complete understanding of consanguinity therefore necessitates that it is viewed in the broader context of social evolution.

The relative abundance of land under savagery, combined with man's recently acquired mobility, considerably increased the supply of natural products available to him. Such developments, in addition to his ability to hunt, enabled man to increase his numbers beyond the limitations to which lower forms of life were subjected. Given this state of man's existence, it was probably quite reasonable for Engels to infer that, since man's ability to propagate exceeded his ability to produce the means of subsistence, the production of people must have played an important role in determining social organization. After all, as Engels noted, he and Marx had pointed out in The German Ideology that “The first division of labor is that between man and woman for the propagation of children.” [p. 58] In addition to providing the essential continuity for man's existence (i.e., to ensure the propagation of the species), the family furnished those heading the family household with security. Obviously, however, the extent of human procreation was subject to a minimal ratio of those capable of procuring the means of subsistence to the number of dependents (primarily the very young and the very old).

Although Engels envisioned the size of the family as having been determined basically by the manner in which mankind reproduced, he also considered environmental factors to have been important in establishing locational limits to family size.15 Such parameters in no way impaired the role played by procreation in directing man's appropriation of products through the organization of the primitive household. It was the evolution of sexual relations with its impact on the family which first determined changes in man's manner of allocating natural products.16

Only later, as Engels stated in the preface to the first edition of The Origin of the Family, did man's ability to reproduce himself become subservient to his production of the means of subsistence.17

The dominant form of family under savagery was that of group marriage. Whereas “the higher vertebrates know only two forms of family—polygyny or separate couples,” man is uniquely capable of polyandry. Because of the jealousy of males in subhuman animal life, polyandry as a family form was diametrically opposed to more all-inclusive groups such as the herd. [p. 30] This reasoning was responsible for the following assessment made by Engels:

This alone is sufficient proof that animal families and primitive human society are incompatible, and that when primitive men were working their way up from the animal creation, they either had no family at all or a form that does not occur among animals. In small numbers, an animal so defenseless as evolving man might struggle along even in conditions of isolation, with no higher grouping than the single male and the female pair … For man's development beyond the level of the animals, for the achievement of the greatest advance nature can show, something more was needed: the power of defense lacking to the individual had to be made by the united strength and cooperation of the herd. [p. 30]

Therefore, the fact that the group family was premised on an absence of male jealousy provided the basis for man's collective defense. The stage of human development was then set.

In its earliest stage, human procreation took the form of what Engels somewhat facetiously dubbed “promiscuous sexual intercourse.” As he pointed out, it was promiscuous only “insofar as the restrictions later established by custom did not yet exist.” [p. 32] Engels was nevertheless careful to note that this type of relationship did not preclude “temporary pairings of one man with one woman.” [p. 32]

Familial development under savagery became more refined with the progression of time. Following Morgan, Engels' discussion of this advancement revolved around two family forms. First, there was the consanguine family. It was very similar to the cruder form of family previously described except that it disallowed sexual intercourse between parents and children. [pp. 32-33] Engels conceded that history provided “no demonstrable instance of it.” [p. 33] On the other hand, he stated

… that it must have existed, we are compelled to admit: for the Hawaiian system of consanguinity still prevalent today throughout the whole of Polynesia expresses degrees of consanguinity which could only arise in this form of family; and the whole subsequent development of the family presupposes the existence of the consanguine family as a necessary preparatory stage. [p. 33]

The second stage in the advancement of familial organization which was cited by Morgan was the punaluan family, which excluded brother and sister from sexual intercourse. Because of the greater nearness in age, Engels described this second advancement as “infinitely more important, but also more difficult” than the exclusion of parents and children from participating in relationships with each other. [p. 33] Although it at first banned brothers and sisters of the same mother from engaging in sexual intercourse, it gradually extended to first, second, and third cousins. [pp. 33-34] Concurring with Morgan, Engels quoted the former as concluding that the emergence of the punaluan family was “a good illustration of the operation of the principle of natural selection.” [p. 34] Here we have Engels' Darwinian concept of selection by adaption as applied to the development of mankind.

There can be no question that the tribes among whom inbreeding was restricted by this advance were bound to develop more quickly and more fully than those among whom marriage between brothers and sisters remained the rule and the law. How powerfully the influence of this advance made itself felt is seen in the institution which arose directly out of it and went far beyond it—the gens, which forms the basis of the social order of most, if not all, barbarian peoples of the earth and from which in Greece and Rome we step directly into civilization. [p. 34]

It was Engels' belief that Morgan through no fault of his own had oversimplified his analysis of group marriage. According to Engels, Morgan's work placed an inordinate amount of emphasis on the punaluan family. In reality, Engels claimed, there were other forms of group marriage which had been uncovered by more recent research. The Australian experience showed that group marriage could be based on marriage between groups rather than between individuals as was the case in the punaluan family. More specifically, Australian group marriage allowed members of different groups to engage in sexual intercourse, but it did not allow such relationships within each group. Engels contended that the Australian variant was group marriage in its lower and the punaluan family in its highest stage of development. [pp. 37-40]

Yet Engels found certain elements which were common to both Morgan's work and more current research. Particularly significant was “how the urge toward the prevention of inbreeding asserts itself again and again, feeling the way, however, quite instinctively, without clear consciousness of its aim” [p. 39]—the case of natural selection or selection by adaption. Also of great importance, according to Engels, was the dominance of the mother in determining family lineage. Thus, the female played a prominent role in group marriage. Although he admitted that it did not accurately describe the matter, he termed this role “mother-right.” [p. 36]

To summarize, Engels considered the production of people to have been an important determinant of social organization under savagery. The evolution of this production, as registered in the development and reorganization of the family, was the touchstone to the mobilization of man's material welfare. Engels' reference to the existence of cannibalism, a vent for overpopulation during this period, indicates that he envisioned the state of man's demographic development as suboptimal. Foremost as a manifestation of imperfections in man's procreation, however, was the process of natural selection, which resulted in a narrowing of the family circle. Both natural selection and mother-right were important factors in Engels' explanation of the family structure under savagery.


Barbarism, the second major epoch in human history, was characterized by Engels as “the period during which man learns to breed animals and to practice agriculture, and acquires methods of increasing the supply of natural products by human activity.” [p. 24] In its earliest phase, barbarism was subject to geographical variation in natural endowments.

Now, the Eastern Hemisphere, the so-called Old World, possessed nearly all the animals adaptable to domestication, and all the varieties of cultivable cereals except one; the Western Hemisphere, America, had no animals that could be domesticated except the llama, which, moreover, was only found in one part of South America, and of all the cultivable cereals only one, though that was the best, namely maize. [p. 21]

The “middle stage” of barbarism in the Western Hemisphere began with the development of man's ability to cultivate plants through irrigation as a source of food, and the utilization of adobe bricks and stone for building shelters. The same stage of development in the Eastern Hemisphere commenced “with the domestication of animals providing milk and meat, but horticulture seems to have been unknown far into this period.” [p. 22] This domestication of animals. Engels concluded, was what led to the emergence of pastoral life amongst the Aryans and Semites. Engels further speculated that the much greater availability of meat and milk may have accounted for the superior development of these same peoples relative to their largely vegetarian counterparts in the Western Hemisphere. Nevertheless, Engels held that, because of the increase in the food supply, this middle stage was generally characterized by a marked decline in cannibalism. [pp. 21-22]

Only the Eastern Hemisphere independently experienced the most advanced phase of barbarism.18 This stage, which began with the smelting of iron ore and eventually evolved into civilization “with the invention of alphabetic writing and its use for literary records,” was “richer in advances in production than all the preceding stages together.” [p. 23] Relative to the previous periods, the invention of the iron plow made possible a tremendous expansion in the food supply, thereby allowing vast increases in the size and density of the population. “Prior to field agriculture, conditions must have been very exceptional if they had allowed half a million people to be united under a central planning organization; probably such a thing never occurred.” [p. 23] In other words, with the upper stage of barbarism for the first time came conditions which were conducive to considerable increases in population density and structural changes in the organization of society.

The continuity of demographic developments from savagery to barbarism was evidenced by Engels' citation of certain features which were common to both stages. Quite significant was the dominance of “mother-right” up through the lower stage of barbarism. [p. 36] In fact, this characteristic played an integral part in Engels' discussion of the gens, the family form which he believed “almost certainly existed among all peoples among whom the presence of gentile institutions can be proved—that is, practically all barbarians and civilized peoples.” [p. 37] Assuming a punaluan family with a

line of own and collateral sisters (that is, own sisters' children in the first, second or third degree), together with their children and their own collateral brothers on the mother's side (who, according to our assumption, are not their husbands), we have the exact circle of persons whom we later find as members of a gens, in the original form of that institution. [pp. 36-37]

The most essential characteristic of this group is that it is based on “mother-right”: family lineage or blood relations are determined solely from the mother's side. This, combined with the prohibition of incest between brother and sister, assures that husband and wife cannot be related in terms of blood. Thus, the matriarchal gens, a consanguine group, must exclude husbands from membership.

A second major feature which was common to both savagery and barbarism was natural selection. Indeed, this process was instrumental in the development of the gens:

As soon as the ban had been established on sexual intercourse between all brothers and sisters, including the most remote collateral relatives on the mother's side, this group transformed itself into a gens—that is, it constituted itself a firm circle of blood relations in the female line, between whom marriage was prohibited … [p. 37]

In addition to its role in the emergence of the gens, natural selection was largely responsible for the eventual dissolution of the primitive communistic household, yet another characteristic shared by both stages until late in the middle stage of barbarism.

However, by far the most significant impact of natural selection was that it involved a definite narrowing of the family, resulting in the appearance of the pairing family, the form most characteristic of barbarism. According to Engels, the essentials of the pairing family emerged sometime during the period encompassed by the upper stage of savagery and the lower stage of barbarism. It is this time in human development which signified the termination of natural selection as an important factor; once the family form had been narrowed to the pair, there was no other contribution natural selection could make in this respect. [p. 47]

But the mere existence of the pairing family did not exclude polygamy and “occasional infidelity” on the part of men; on the contrary, this form of family involved very loose relationships. [pp. 41 and 72] This was further evidenced by the fact that the pairing family, “itself too weak and unstable to make an independent household necessary or even desirable, in no way destroys the communistic household inherited from earlier times.” [p. 42]

Particularly important was that the pairing family, historically, was the last family form characterized by mother-right. According to Engels,

The communistic household in which most or all of the women belong to one and the same gens, while the men come from various gentes, is the material foundation of that supremacy of the women which was general in primitive times … [p. 43]

Although Engels acknowledged reports of missionaries and travelers “to the effect that women among savages and barbarians are overburdened with work,” he concluded that such observations were not inconsistent with the existence of female dominance in the communistic household. [p. 43] On the contrary, the distribution of the work load merely indicated that “The division of labor between the two sexes is determined by quite other causes than by the position of women in society.” [p. 43] In other words, Engels was merely restating his more general thesis that, in the infancy of human development, changes in the organization of society were independent of man's activity in producing the means of subsistence; instead, social development was principally a function of the relationship of men and women in procreation. Therefore, even the disproportionate share of the work allocated to women, in addition to the evolution of natural selection with its termination in the pairing family, was not sufficient to impair the dominant position of women within the family circle.

The eventual degradation of the position of women in society, as Engels envisioned it, was due to unprecedented increases in wealth which resulted in totally new social relations. Engels attributed the beginnings of this development to man's ability acquired under barbarism to domesticate animals and breed herds. [p. 47] The separation to pastoral tribes from the remainder of the barbarians was designated by Engels as “the first great social division of labor.” [p. 145] He found that impact of this development on family relations to be comprehensible only when viewed against the emergence of pairing marriage.

Pairing marriage had brought a new element into the family. By the side of the natural mother of the child it placed its natural and attested father, with a better warrant of paternity, probably, than that of many a “father” today. According to the division of labor within the family at that time, it was the man's part to obtain food and the instruments of labor necessary for the purpose. He therefore also owned the instruments of labor, and in the event of husband and wife separating, he took them with him, just as she retained her household goods. Therefore, according to the social custom of the time, the man was also the owner of the new source of subsistence … [p. 48]

Thus, as wealth began to augment, there was a decline in the position of the wife in family relations; those assets over which she could claim ownership diminished in relative importance. As Engels put it,

The division of labor within the family … regulated the division of property between the man and the woman. The division of labor … turned the previous domestic relation upside down, simply because the division of labor outside the family had changed. The same cause which had ensured to the woman her previous supremacy in the house—that her activity was confined to domestic labor—this same cause now ensured the man's supremacy in the house; the domestic labor of the woman no longer counted beside the acquisition of the necessities of life by the man; the latter was everything, the former an unimportant extra. [pp. 147-148]

Engels reasoned that slavery was a conditioning factor which had guaranteed this “world historical defeat of the female sex.” Once barbarism had reached its middle stage, slavery had become profitable, for labor-power produced a surplus over and above the requirements of its own subsistence.19 [pp. 48 and 146-147] Considering the vast improvements in productivity which were cited by Engels, his conclusion seems only logical. More than allowing for the introduction of slavery, the advances in the productive forces of society necessitated that such an institution arise:

The family did not multiply so rapidly as the cattle. More people were needed to look after them; for this purpose use could be made of the enemies captured in war, who could be bred just as easily as the cattle themselves. [p. 48]

In other words, an imbalance (contradiction) had developed between the production of people and the production of things other than people. This, in turn, rendered unavoidable a change in the family, the dominant social structure of the time. Given that slavery further enhanced the expansion of the family's material base, slavery, like any other instrument of labor, passed under the control of the husband and reinforced his position with respect to his wife.20 [pp. 48-49]

Still another factor which strengthened the male's dominance in the family was a complete revision of the system of inheritance. This and similar alterations in the legal structure were necessary if the overthrow of mother-right was to be fully realized. Changes of this sort were obviously incompatible with the matriarchal gens or any other family grouping where descent was based on female lineage. As Engels viewed the matter, a definite inducement to such modifications was a general advancement in familial wealth with its consequent augmentation of the male's relative role in the family. In the following passage, Engels discussed the origin and importance of these changes in the code of law:

A simple decree sufficed that in the future the offspring of the male members should remain within the gens, but that of the female should be excluded by being transferred to the gens of their father … As to how and when this revolution took place among civilized peoples, we have no knowledge. It falls entirely within prehistoric times. But that it did take place is more than sufficiently proved by the abundant traces of mother-right which have been collected … [pp. 49-50]

His statement that only a “simple decree” was necessary to alter the line of descent unequivocally indicates that he did not envision alterations in the order of inheritance or like modifications in the legal structure as playing a determining role in the transition from mother-right to father-right.

Engels' discussion of the degradation of the female in her family and other social relationships also included some mention of the patriarchal family or the patriarchal household community, which he termed a transitional form between the matriarchal family and the single family “among civilized and other peoples of the Old World.” [p. 50] Its most important feature was a quality which it shared with other forms of family that were ruled by the father: “the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children.” [p. 50] That is to say, the female, like any other instrument of production, came under the ownership and control of her husband.

In any case, the patriarchal household community, as was the case with other communal households, was largely broken up by the time mankind had achieved the upper stage of barbarism. Engels attributed the dissolution of household communities during this period to the establishment of the “second great division of labor,” the separation of handicraft production from agriculture. [p. 149] This development, he claimed, gave rise to concentrations of wealth in the hands of heads of family (family is here defined in the narrower sense of the term, i.e., pairing marriage) within the communal household; the end result was that economic power was wrested from the overlord of the larger family community. [p. 149] Pairing marriage was thus developing into a new family form which was to become the economic barbaristic unit of society.

Engels' discussion of demographic developments under barbarism may be summarized in the following fashion. In its earlier phase, social structure was principally determined by procreation. It was during this same time period that natural selection fulfilled most of its role in human history, narrowing the family circle to the point where its basic unit was the married pair. Gradually the production of people (the basis for the first division of labor) became less important as a social determinant. Engels traced the basis for this decline in the significance of procreation to the combined influence of the pairing family and the emergence of a division of labor between pastoral and nonpastoral barbarian tribes, the first major division of labor to arise outside the family. The coexistence of both human and nonhuman production as determining elements resulted in a conflict which could only be resolved through attempts to regulate the growth in population so that it might meet mankind's increased ability to produce (this was evidenced by Engels' argument concerning the emergence of slavery). These developments brought the husband to the forefront in family relations, resulting in the wife merely becoming an object for his exploitation and an instrument for the purpose of propagation. The second major division of labor to emerge outside the sphere of family relations, which involved the distinction between agriculture and handicraft production, was responsible for the dissolution of the communal household. This, in turn, allowed the pairing family to provide the basis of a new economic order. From Engels' argument it may therefore be concluded that, due to mankind's ability to procure the means of existence with its consequent impact on the augmentation of social wealth, there were marked changes under barbarism which sharply distinguished it from the demographic structure which had existed during savagery.


Engels described civilization, the third major epoch in human history, as “the stage of development of society at which the division of labor, the exchange between individuals arising from it, and the commodity production which combines them both, come to their full growth and revolutionize the whole previous society.” [pp. 158-159] That is to say, the surplus produced by labor became so substantial as to allow the existence of a merchant class which concerned itself with the exchange of products. With this development of production for exchange rather than use, the producer lost control of his product. Therefore there exists the basis for capitalist production.

Gradually, man, too, became a commodity. It was not long … before the great “truth” was discovered that man also can be a commodity; that human energy can be exchanged and put to use by making man into a slave. Hardly had men begun to exchange than already they themselves were being exchanged. The active became the passive whether man liked it or not.

With slavery, which attained its fullest development under civilization, came the first great cleavage of society into an exploiting and an exploited class. This cleavage persisted during the whole civilized period. Slavery is the first form of exploitation, the form peculiar to the ancient world; it is succeeded by serfdom in the middle ages, and wage-labor in the more recent period. [p. 160]

Increased population density, which had begun to emerge as an important factor during the upper stage of barbarism, necessitated a governing institution with a broader base than that of the tribe or groups centered on blood relations. This, plus the simultaneous development of class antagonisms, gave rise to the establishment of the state. In this role, the state was an essential instrument of the ruling classes of civilized society in their attempts to preserve their status. [pp. 149 and 155-156]

The form of family characteristic of civilization was monogamy. According to Engels, monogamy, a direct descendant of the pairing family, became especially prominent when Greek society was at its zenith. Although a primary trait of monogamy was male supremacy, it was also distinguished from pairing marriage by the increased inability of the woman to play an active role in the dissolution of the marriage tie. [pp. 54-55] Engels explained how in this respect slavery had an impact on monogamous relationships:

It is the existence of slavery side by side with monogamy, the presence of young beautiful slaves belonging unreservedly to the man, that stamps monogamy from the very beginning with its specific character of monogamy for the woman only, but not for the man. And that is the character it still has today. [p. 56]

Also of related importance was the emergence of prostitution:

With the rise of the inequality of property—already at the upper stage of barbarism, therefore—wage-labor appears sporadically side by side with slave labor, and at the same time, as its necessary correlate, the professional prostitution of free women side by side with the forced surrender of the slave. Thus the heritage which group marriage has bequeathed to civilization is double-edged, double-tongued, divided against itself, contradictory: here monogamy, there hetaerism, its most extreme form, prostitution.21 [p. 59]

Monogamy was marked by a major separation from the basis of all previous forms of marriage. Unlike earlier marriage types, it was premised “not on natural, but on economic relations—on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property.” [p. 57] The Greeks, Engels claimed, were the most explicit about the matter: “the sole exclusive aims of monogamous marriage were to make the man supreme in the family, and to propagate, as the future heirs to his wealth, children indisputably his own.” [pp. 57-58]

The combination of these factors was responsible for the emergence of two primary contradictions in monogamous relationships. First, there existed a “class” conflict between man and woman. Commented Engels,

The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male … [Monogamy] is the cellular form of civilized society, in which the nature of the oppositions and contradictions fully active in that society can be readily studied. [p. 58]

The second major contradiction involved the lack of attention accorded the wife. Engels attributed this to the relative sexual freedom allowed the husband under monogamous marriage, the natural result being wife neglect. [p. 59] Consequently, “With monogamous marriage, two constant social types, unknown hitherto, make their appearance on the scene—the wife's attendant lover and the cuckold husband.” [p. 60]


For Engels, earlier stages of development and capitalism are teeming with contradictions. Most important among these contradictions in early human history was the process of natural selection, which resulted in a narrowing of the family circle. Natural selection, combined with the increased productivity of labor, eventually gave rise to the dissolution of the primitive household, thereby necessitating the establishment of a new institutional system to appropriate the products of nature. Due to the advancement in labor productivity with its consequent augmentation of wealth accumulation, the dominant role in the family shifted from the female to the male. In addition, the purpose of propagation changed from a more natural to an economic orientation as economic factors become more prevalent. Under capitalism, the proletarian family expands to meet the requirements of the industrial system, yet this society is unable to provide for these additions to the labor force, thereby increasing the ranks of the reserve army of the unemployed.22 It is here where Marx commences a detailed analysis of social-economic variables in his Contribution to the Critique of Political and Capital.

It was Marx who developed a mature analysis of the social economy of capitalism. On the other hand, it was Engels, in his anthropological studies, who provided a detailed exposition of the socioeconomic development of pre-capitalist societies. Only by starting with Engels' discussion of the early evolution of man as a species is one able to gain considerable insight into the Marxian conception of history and social economy in what Engels termed “widest sense” (i.e., as a transystemic phenomena). [Engels, 1947, p. 177] Perhaps Marx failed to develop this aspect of their argument because in his later years he was preoccupied with the political- and social-economic critiques of capitalism. In 1890, Engels wrote to Bloch that

Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that younger writers sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasize this main principle in opposition to our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to allow the other elements involved in the interaction to come into their rights. But when it was a case of presenting a section of history, that is, of a practical application, the thing was different and there no error was possible. [Marx and Engels, 1965, p. 418]

Whatever the reason for Marx's neglect, Engels did far more than polemicize their theory of history by introducing the concept of “historical materialism” as has so frequently been alleged.


  1. In a letter to Bloch (1890), Engels referred to Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte as “a most excellent example” of the “application” of the Marxian theory of history. [Marx and Engels, 1965, p. 418] Although Marx wrote The Eighteenth Brumaire seven years prior to the publication of his Critique, the latter work was the first published statement where Marx clearly specified the basic features of the theory itself.

  2. Engels' letter to Bloch is one of the crucial documents in this regard. Also of great importance are Engels' letters to Schmidt (1890) and Starkenburg (1894). [Marx and Engels, 1965, pp. 419-425 and 466-468]

  3. Hereafter, unless otherwise specified, all unidentified page references are drawn from the 1942 International Publishers edition of The Origin of the Family.

  4. The quotation is from the editors of the Soviet edition of Engels' Origin of the Family and is quoted by Gajo Petrović. [Petrović, 1967, pp. 96-97] A similar argument can be found in the now classic Soviet article “Teaching of Economics in the Soviet Union,” American Economic Review, 1944, pp. 505-506. It is interesting to note that the most recent Soviet edition of Engels' Origin of the Family has no editorial preface. [Engels, 1972]

  5. In the preface, Engels also noted that in writing the book he had placed as much emphasis as possible on Marx's notes dealing with the subject. In addition, it is reasonable to infer that he and Marx had discussed the material covered in the book. One therefore would not expect to find marked differences of opinion—especially on such a major issue.

    Furthermore, since The Origin of the Family went through four editions, it is highly unlikely that Engels would not have corrected any really blatant errors in the first edition, given his close relationship with Marx and the fact that he seems to have been the most well versed student of Marxism during his time. Indeed, Engels made the following remark in the preface to the fourth edition:

    Since the appearance of the first edition seven years have elapsed, during which our knowledge of the primitive forms of the family has made important advances. There was, therefore, plenty to do in the way of improvements and additions; all the more so as the proposed stereotyping of the present text will make any further alterations impossible for some time.

    I have accordingly submitted the entire text to a careful revision and made a number of additions … [p. 7]

  6. Marx's ethnological notebooks also had excerpts from Phear, Maine and Lubbock. However, the largest portion of them is devoted to Morgan. [Marx, 1974b]

  7. In fact, Engels subtitled his book In the Light of the Researches of Lewis Morgan.

  8. The capitalization is theirs; all other emphasis is mine. This statement is a good example of what Bertell Ollman was referring to when he commented that “Marx manipulates the size of his factors, alters his classificational boundaries, to suit his changing purposes.” As Ollman observed, no other apparent explanation can be offered for statements of this type, such as when Marx termed the family a “particular” form of production. [Ollman, 1971, p. 10]

    Consistent with Martin Milligan's translation of Marx's Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (the one also used in the present study), Ollman quoted Marx as referring to a “particular mode of production.” [Marx, 1964, p. 156] The term actually used by Marx was the German “Weisen.” [Marx and Engels, 1932, p. 115] In the context in which Marx used the word it is probably best translated as “forms” rather than “modes.” In Marxian terminology the former has a more specific meaning than the latter; consequently, the manner of translation is of considerable importance. Both Marx and Engels, in any case, seem to have felt that the family was far more than just a passive element in the fabric of society. I am indebted to Peter Schran for his assistance on this point.

  9. The word “written” was emphasized by Engels; the remaining emphasis is mine.

  10. Petrović made this same observation. [Petrović, p. 97]

  11. The Origin of the Family is more closely related to their German Ideology than their strictly economic works. In fact, Engels referred to the latter manuscript when he wrote The Origin of the Family .

  12. In the speech which Engels gave at Marx's funeral he stated that whereas “Darwin discovered the law of motion in organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of evolution in human history.” [Foner, 1973, p. 39] It has been argued that it was in fact Engels rather than Marx who introduced the Darwinian perspective into the Marxian analysis of history. [C. F. Lichtheim, 1965, pp. 234-258]

  13. I have developed this aspect of Marx's conceptual framework in another paper. [Wiltgen, 1979]

  14. “Mastery over nature began with the development of the hand, with labor, and widened man's horizon at every new advance.” [Engels, 1964, p. 175] Engels set forth a similar argument in the introduction to his Dialectics of Nature. [pp. 34-35]

  15. Note, for example, the following statement which Engels made pertaining to early German development:

    … the population being scanty, there was always enough waste left over to make any disputes about land unnecessary. Only in the course of centuries, when the number of members in the household communities had increased so much that a common economy was no longer possible under the existing conditions of production did the communities dissolve. The arable and meadow lands which had hitherto been common were divided into the manner familiar to us, first temporarily and then permanently, among the single households which were now coming into being, whole forest pasture land, and water remained in common. [p. 128]

    Engels clarified the relationships between the family and the household with his conclusions that

    The practice of living together in a primitive communistic household, which prevailed without exception till late in the middle stage of barbarism, set a limit, varying with the conditions but fairly definite in each locality, to the maximum size of the family community. [p. 34]

    As is explained below, Engels found environmental factors to be quite important in distinguishing between the barbarian periods in the Eastern and Western hemispheres.

  16. Two statements made by Marx are quite interesting in this regard:

    The further back we trace the course of history, the more does the individual, and accordingly also the producing individual, appear to be dependent and to belong to a larger whole. At first, the individual in a still quite natural manner is part of the family and the tribe which evolves from the family; later he is part of a community of one of the different forms of the community which arise from the conflict and the merging of tribes.

    “Introduction to a Critique.” [Marx, 1970, p. 189]

    Under the rural patriarchal system of production the product of labor bore the specific social imprint of the family relationships with its naturally evolved division of labor. [Marx, 1970, p. 33]

  17. “It [monogamy] was the first form of the family to be based not on natural, but on economic conditions—on the victory of private property over primitive natural communal property.” [p. 57]

  18. According to Engels, the Spanish conquest in the Western Hemisphere “cut short any further independent development.” [p. 22]

  19. Engels claimed that the basis for this master-slave relationship was directly derivative from the “first great social division of labor.

  20. Engels cited the following statement by Marx which appears most consistent with his reasoning: “The modern family contains in germ not only slavery (servitus), but also serfdom, since from the beginning it is related to agricultural services. It contains in miniature all the contradictions which later extend throughout society and its state.” [p. 51]

  21. Employing Morgan's description, Engels defined hetaerism as a practice “co-existent with monogamous marriage,” and consisting of “sexual intercourse between men and unmarried women outside the marriage .” [p. 59]

  22. I have explored the implications of this elsewhere. [Wiltgen, 1979]


Engels, Frederick. Anti-Dühring, Moscow, 1947.

———. The Dialectics of Nature, Moscow, 1964.

———. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, New York, 1942.

———. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Moscow, 1972.

———. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, New York, 1973.

Foner, Philip, Editor. When Karl Marx Died, New York, 1973.

Lichtheim, George. Marxism: American Historical and Critical Study, New York, 1965.

Marx, Karl. Capital, Volume 1, New York, 1967.

———. A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Moscow, 1970.

———. Early Economic Writings, New York, 1964.

———. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, Moscow, 1974(a).

———. Ethnological Notebooks, Amsterdam, 1974(b).

———. Grundrisse, New York, 1973.

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. The German Ideology, New York, 1947.

———. Gesamtausgabe, Abt. I, Bd. 3, Berlin, 1932.

———. Selected Correspondence, Moscow, 1965.

Ollman, Bertell. Alienation: Marx's Concept of Man in Capitalist Society, London, 1971.

Petrović, Gajo. Marx in the Mid-Twentieth Century, New York, 1967.

———. “Teaching Economics in the Soviet Union,” American Economic Review, 3, September, 1944.

Wiltgen, Richard. “Marxism and Population: A Reconsideration of Marx's and Engels' Critique of Malthus,” unpublished paper presented at the Eastern Economic Association, May 1979.

Gareth Stedman Jones (essay date 1982)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 15479

SOURCE: “Engels and the History of Marxism,” in The History of Marxism, Vol. 1: Marxism in Marx's Day, edited by Eric J. Hobsbawm, Indiana University Press, 1982, pp. 290-326.

[In the following essay, Jones offers an assessment of Engels' contribution to the theory of historical materialism, noting that typically critics only acknowledge that Engels played a marginal role in the development of this Marxist theory. Jones concludes that Engels contributed significantly to the formulation of the historical materialist theory and that clearly several important Marxist propositions are first developed in Engels' early writings rather than in Marx's.]

Since his death in London in 1895, it has proved peculiarly difficult to arrive at a fair and historically balanced assessment of Engels' place in the history of Marxism, both within the Marxist tradition and outside it. Engels was both the acknowledged co-founder of historical materialism and the first and most influential interpreter and philosopher of Marxism. Yet, since at least the breakup of the Second International, he has been persistently treated, either simply as Marx's loyal lieutenant, or else as the misguided falsifier of true Marxist doctrine. The continued prevalence of these rather stale alternatives cannot be attributed to the lack of an adequate scholarly basis on which Engels' career could more imaginatively be judged. On the contrary, Engels was magnificently served by one of the best of twentieth-century scholarly biographies, that of Gustav Mayer, the product of over three decades research and a scarcely rivalled knowledge of nineteenth-century German labour and socialist history.1 But Mayer's work has remained little studied, indeed virtually unknown until its republication in the last decade. Because Mayer was not a Marxist, his research went virtually unacknowledged by communist writers, even though he deliberately confined himself to a painstaking descriptive reconstruction of Engels' life and work, and ventured few judgements of his own. He was also unlucky in the timing of his biography. The first volume appeared in 1918 at a time when the attention of German socialists was deflected by the end of the war and the splits of the November revolution. The second volume appeared at the end of 1932 and was almost immediately suppressed by the incoming Nazis. Even in the German speaking world the book almost immediately became a bibliographic rarity, and it was never translated, except in an extremely truncated version. It thus remained the restricted possession of a few specialised scholars in the post-war period.

But the one-sidedness of most modern treatment of Engels was not solely or even principally the consequence of the mishaps of Mayer's book. For, from at least the end of World War I, assessment of Engels' particular contribution to Marxism had become a highly charged political question. After a period of unrivalled prestige, between the 1880s and 1914, Engels' reputation suffered first in the revolutionary leftist critique of the failings of the Second International and subsequently in the non-communist or anti-communist critique of the excesses of the Third.

It was Lukacs and to a lesser extent Korsch, in the revolutionary period following the Russian Revolution who drove the first effective wedge between the theory of Marx and that of Engels.2 In a respectful but ominous critique of Engels' Anti-Dühring, Lukacs from a radical Hegelian standpoint attacked Engels' preoccupation with a uniform dialectic linking human and natural history, and in particular his distinction between ‘metaphysical’ and ‘dialectical’ science, on the grounds that it obscured the truly revolutionary dialectic within Marx: that between subject and object within human history. This criticism was not merely epistemological. For in Lukacs' eyes, the prestige of Darwin and evolutionary science within the Second International was intimately bound up with an undialectical separation of theory and practice, and hence the immobilism and reformism of its politics. Although Lukacs' critique had little immediate impact, and he himself later retracted it, it was a prefiguration of the form taken by many later attacks. Dialectical materialism—Plekhanov's term for a Marxist philosophy and a general view of the world—was largely constructed from Engels' later writings, and once this philosophy received the official imprimatur of the Soviet Union, it became difficult to differentiate an attitude to Engels from an attitude to the communist positions of the Stalinist era. On the one hand, the publication of Engels' unfinished manuscript, The Dialectics of Nature, in 1927, became associated with Stalin's attempt to impose a dialectical materialist orthodoxy upon natural scientists. On the other hand, it was the social democrats, Landshut and Meyer who first published a version of Marx's 1844 Manuscripts in an effort to pit an ethical humanist Marx against a Leninist interpretation of Marxism. The alleged rift between the theories of Marx and Engels, first implied by Lukacs, was further widened, no longer as an attack upon social democracy, but in defence of it.

In the post-war period, if Cold War commentators were happy to lump together Marx and Engels as the twin architects of a determinist and totalitarian system, the official spokesmen of the Communist Parties were equally insistent upon the seamless unity of the work of the two men and intensely suspicious of any attempt to distinguish their individual contributions. Alternative interpretations of the Marxist legacy were largely developed by those who felt uncomfortable with either of these poles—a mixed bag of dissident communist theorists. Second International social democrats, radical Christian theologians and existentialist or neo-Hegelian philosophers. Their efforts, either to construct a Marx which challenged the authorised version, or to appropriate him to a pre-existing philosophical tradition, generally took the form of heaping on to Engels all the unwanted components of Soviet Marxism, from which they were so anxious to distance themselves.

The one-sidedness and distortions of the twentieth-century treatment of Engels are really only a measure of the immense and lasting influence that he exerted on the definition of Marxist socialism at the point at which it first began seriously to be adopted by the European socialist movement. This effectively happened, neither in the 1840s, nor in the 1860s, but in the 1880s and the immense burden of work and responsibility that this involved was virtually shouldered by Engels alone. Already in the last years of the First International, the brunt of the battle against Proudhonism and Bakuninism had fallen on Engels, and in the last ten years of his life, Marx produced little of immediate public consequence. His answers to the queries of Russian revolutionaries on the relevance of Capital to the character of a future Russian revolution were hesitant and open-ended. They were not sufficiently decisive to be used by Russian social democrats in their struggle against the Narodniks and were thus left unpublished until the 1920s.3 Similarly, Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme was an unwanted contribution to the unity negotiations between Eisenach and Lassallean wings of German social democracy in 1875. Little heed was taken of it even by the professed friends and followers of Marx in the social democratic leadership, and it was only made public by Engels during the negotiations over a new party programme fifteen years later. The last joint attempt of Marx and Engels directly to challenge the running of the German Social Democratic Party, the so-called drei Sterne affair of 1879—an angry critique of the leadership's toleration of an attempt from within the party to dilute the proletarian character of the SPD—ended in an equally bitter blow to their pride. Their threat of public dissociation from the party evoked little response, and thereafter it became clear that direct and overt attempts at political intervention would be self-defeating, and that the London exiles would have to accept their honoured but remote role as founding theorists or have their political powerlessness publicly exposed.

But if the late 1870s marked the nadir of Marx and Engels' personal influence upon the policy of the German party, it also marked the effective point of origin of the Marxism of the Second International. For the world-wide diffusion of Marxism in the guise of a systematic and scientific socialism began neither with the Communist Manifesto, nor with Capital but with the publication of Engels' Anti-Dühring.

‘Judging by the influence that Anti-Dühring had upon me’, wrote Kautsky, ‘no other book can have contributed so much to the understanding of Marxism. Marx's Capital is the more powerful work, certainly. But it was only through Anti-Dühring that we learnt to understand Capital and read it properly’.4 This was the formative book of the most influential leaders of the Second International—Bebel, Bernstein, Kautsky, Plekhanov, Axelrod and Labriola. Nor was its influence confined to party leaders and theorists. Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, an excerpt from it, shorn of all reference to Dühring published in 1882 became the most popular introduction to Marxism apart from the Manifesto. Not only was it widely read in the social democratic parties of the German speaking world, but it paved the way to an understanding of Marxism in areas of traditional resistance to Marx's and Engels' positions, especially France. The difference in atmosphere between the late 1870s and the late 1880s was evident in Engels' Ludwig Feuerbach of 1888. Anti-Dühring was in origin a reluctant local intervention into the confused socialism of early German social democracy. ‘It was a year before I could make up my mind to neglect other work and get my teeth into this sour apple’,5 wrote Engels of his polemic which had been published serially in Vorwärts between 1877 and 1878 (Liebknecht had in fact been urging him to combat Dühring's influence since at least 1874). Feuerbach, however, was written in a quite different spirit. ‘The Marxist world outlook has found representatives far beyond the boundaries of Germany and Europe and in all the literary languages of the world’,6 wrote Engels in the Preface. Popular conceptions of orthodox Marxism today still date back to Engels' work of systematisation and popularisation in that crucial decade.

It is this fact which has tended to dominate all subsequent assessments of Engels' achievement. Engels, the prophet of dialectical materialism has wholly overshadowed Engels, the co-founder and elaborator of historical materialism. Little attention has been paid to his early life and work. Criticism or appreciation of Engels has overwhelmingly focussed on his later writings. Those who have defended an orthodox Marxist tradition, particularly when filtered through a Bolshevik perspective, have given equal authority to historical materialism and to Engels' generalisation of the dialectic, as if they formed part of one seamless web. Conversely, in the eyes of his western critics, Engels has loosely been associated with positivism and evolutionism and with the passivity of Second International politics, as if the differences between his outlook and that of Kautsky and Plekhanov were simply one of degree, and as if the positions adopted by Marx would have been substantially different from his own. In the light of the subsequent development of Marxism, preoccupations with dialectical materialism or the failures of the Second International has not been surprising. But they have led to a consistent imbalance in the historical treatment of Engels. In the orthodox view, Engels' individuality as a thinker all but disappears. In the conventional western views, his credentials as a Marxist are seriously impugned.

At a simple level of historical fact, the second view is easier to dispose of than the first. It is an elementary failure of historical interpretation not to make any distinction between the constituents of Engels' own outlook, and the way in which he was read by a generation of intellectuals nurtured on Buckle and Comte. Again to quote Kautsky, ‘they had started from Hegel, I started from Darwin’.7 It is highly unlikely that Engels conceived his Dialectics of Nature, as an all-encompassing genetic theory of development, of which Capital was to form the final social-historical part. His concern was rather to redefine materialism in terms which took account of scientific development in the nineteenth century. It was to combat the physiologically based vulgar materialism of Vogt and Büchner so popular in the liberal-dominated Arbeiterbildungsvereine of the 1850s, that Engels had first begun to take an interest in developments in the natural sciences. After the publication of the Origin of the Species, he was in no doubt that the historical materialist conception of a mode of production clearly distinguished human history from the Darwinian struggle for existence, and wryly commented upon the fact that the bourgeoisie first projected its social theory (from Hobbes to Malthus) into the world of nature and then of the basis of Darwin's researches, accepted it back again as an adequate portrayal of human society. Against the later positivist-evolutionist stress upon natural laws of development whose effects were conceived in terms of a simple transitive causality and which proceeded unilinearly from the natural through the economic/technological to the political and ideological, Engels, on the basis of historical materialism was more concerned to demonstrate the effect of human practice on nature through science and production, and in later years particularly, the relative autonomy of politics and ideology from any simple determination by the economic. It was in relation to the spread of positivist and economic determinist ideas, that he wrote to Conrad Schmidt in 1890:

What these gentlemen all lack is dialectics. They always see only here cause, there effect. That this is a hollow abstraction, that such metaphysical polar opposites exist in the real world only during crises, while the whole vast process goes on in the form of interaction—though of very unequal forces, the economic movement being by far the strongest, most primordial, most decisive—that here everything is relative and nothing absolute—this they never begin to see. As far as they are concerned Hegel never existed.8

What was problematic in Engels' attempts to theorise the sciences of nature and history, was not the few dubiously positivist formulations to be found there, but his confident resort to a Hegel whom he and Marx had ‘inverted’. Here, however, one should beware of any simple juxtaposition between Marx's and Engels' thought. In the years after Marx's death, Engels had neither the desire, the confidence nor the time to develop new positions of his own. His arguments in Feuerbach on the relationship between historical materialism and the natural sciences and upon the dialectical nature of reality, whether natural or historical had been developing from at least the end of the 1850s and had frequently been raised in his correspondence with Marx.9 It is well known that Marx contributed some of the economic chapters of the Anti-Dühring and that he was acquainted with the work as a whole. It should also be mentioned that there are comments in Marx's handwriting on parts of the unfinished manuscript of Engels' Dialectics of Nature. Similarly, although it has been convincingly demonstrated that historical materialism is not an inversion of Hegel's dialectic and that such an inversion is not to be found in the theoretical structure of Capital, that should not obscure the fact that this was how both Marx and Engels tried to theorise its achievement.10 In this sense Engels' explanations in Feuerbach do not significantly depart from Marx's brief statement in the Preface to Capital, or from Engels' own unfinished review of Marx's Critique of Political Economy, published in Das Volk in 1859. Thus, if there was an inadequacy in Engels' later explanation of the relationship between Marxism and the Hegelian dialectic, it was an inadequacy fully sanctioned by Marx.

But simply to emphasise the congruence of outlook between Marx and Engels is not adequate either. Its effect has been to render invisible the considerable independent contribution that Engels made to the development of Marxist theory and to diminish his own individuality as a thinker. Engels' own very modest assessments of his contribution have been the principle obstacle here, and later commentators have generally been content to follow his judgement. In Feuerbach, he wrote:

I cannot deny that both before and during my forty years collaboration with Marx I had a certain independent share in laying the foundations of the theory, and more particularly in its elaboration. But the greater part of its leading basic principles, especially in the realm of economics and history, and above all their final trenchant formulation, belong to Marx. What I contributed—at any rate with the exception of my work in a few special fields—Marx could very well have done without me. What Marx accomplished I would not have achieved. Marx stood higher, saw further, and took a wider and quicker view than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented.11

It would clearly be pointless to contest Marx's theoretical superiority nor need there be any doubt that Engels could neither have given historical materialism the logical coherence and explanatory breadth with which Marx imbued it. Indeed, on his own, he would probably never have arrived at the theory of historical materialism at all. The division of labour between the two collaborators was established almost from the beginning. In one of his earliest letters to Marx (17 March 1845), concerning their respective plans to write critiques of Frederick List's System of National Economy, Engels wrote that he would deal with the practical consequences of List's theory, ‘while I presume in view of … your personal inclinations you will go into the premisses rather than his conclusions.12

Most subsequent commentators have left the matter there, assigning to Engels a vaguely auxillary role in the formation of the theory. They miss the centrality of Engels' contribution because they look for it in the wrong place. For theoretical ability, even when possessed in as exceptional a degree as Marx, is a necessary but not sufficient condition of a theoretical revolution: especially in the social domain. For such revolutions to occur, disturbing phenomena are also necessary, which not only point to the inadequacy of the existing theoretical problematic, but are suggestive of the raw components of a new theoretical structure. It was Engels in his writings of 1844 and 1845 who provided these decisive new components—even if in a raw and unsatisfactory theorised practical state. Before, however, making clear what these components were, it is first necessary to say something of Engels himself, so that the importance and limitations of his contribution become easier to understand.

Engels was two years younger than Marx, born in Barmen in 1820, the eldest son of one of the principal manufacturers in the town.13 In the backward and non-industrialised state of Germany in the Restoration period, Barmen and its sister town of Elberfeld, as manufacturing towns dependent on the world market were exceptional. Travelling journalists literateurs in the 1830s and 1840s were apt to refer to the region as the German Manchester, although the German Coventry would have been a more apt description, since its principal trade was ribbon-making and its workers generally worked together with their families in their homes for putting-out merchants who controlled the purchase of raw materials and the sale of finished goods. Elberfeld-Barmen was also exceptional in another respect. Although, subject like the rest of the Rhineland to the Napoleonic conquest and the benefits of the Code Napoleon, the population was Calvinist or Lutheran rather than Catholic, and thus much more amenable to Prussian rule after 1815 than the Rhineland itself.

These two features markedly differentiated Engels' family and cultural background from that of Marx. Living in the Francophile zone, and the son of a nominally Protestant Jewish lawyer with liberal enlightenment beliefs, Marx appears to have experienced little early conflict with his father's political or cultural outlook. At least until the end of the 1830s, the local Trier middle class continued to resent the Prussian occupation, the nostalgia for Napoleon remained strong, and the educated population were receptive to French ideas, both liberal and, in the 1830s, Saint-Simonian. The adolescent Marx appears to have been little moved by the political and cultural stirrings of German nationalism and to have felt a much deeper affinity with the outlook of the German Aufklärung with its humanist adulation of classical civilisation. It is therefore not surprising that when after a period in Bonn he arrived as a graduate student in Berlin, he should have felt drawn to a liberal tinged version of Hegel's notion of the state as the guiding principle of his reflection, rather than the emotive principle of the nation. Until his friend and mentor, Bruno Bauer was sacked from Bonn University, he appeared destined for an academic career, and his move to the political left and finally to communism was of a much more gradual and measured kind than that of the young Engels.

Engels' formation was quite different. The pietist Protestantism of the Barmen merchants was fiercely opposed to the pagan associations of the Aufklärung, to any rationalist dilution of Biblical interpretation and to the ambiguously protestant philosophy of Hegel. The value placed on education was strictly practical. The gymnasium at Elberfeld to which Engels went, enjoyed an excellent reputation, particularly in languages, so important for the Barmen merchant's profession. But schooling stopped at the end of the secondary level and was followed by a commercial apprenticeship in the firm of a business colleague. It was in this way that the young Engels was sent to the Bremen import-export firm of Heinrich Leopold in 1838. Within the close society of Barmen merchants, creative literature was suspect, Goethe prone to dismissal as ‘a godless man’ and the theatre regarded as immoral. Although grateful for some of the Napoleonic legal reforms, the prevalent attitude to French ideas was hostile. Family prayers and reading of the Bible, meditation on devotional literature, an ethic of dedication and hard work and a sectarian theology communicated through the terrifying pulpit oratory of preachers like Krummacher were the principle components of the merchant-family culture of Engels' youth (though lightened somewhat by a love of music, both choral and instrumental). The outlook of the merchant manufacturers was strongly patriarchal, in their attitude to their families, to their workers and to their religion. The world of the merchants was closely tied to the world of the preachers. As social equals, it was normal for merchants' sons to marry priests' daughters, and vice versa. Engels' mother, the daughter of a protestant pastor in Hamm was typical of this pattern.

There are early signs of Engels' adolescent striving to escape the narrow imaginative horizons of his family and of Wuppertal society. His father was shocked to discover his 13-year-old son secretly reading a French medieval romance—‘ein schmutziges Buch’. But it is important not to over-individualise or over-psychologise Engels' revolt against his father.14 He was not an unloved, cruelly treated or neglected child. On the contrary, as the intended heir to the family business, he appears to have been subject to the constant worried solicitude of his parents. However perennial generational conflict might be, it is only in particular historical circumstances that it acquires social and political significance. In the Wuppertal in the late 1830s and 1840s a generational divide in religious and social attitudes was not confined to the Engels household, but present, if in a milder degree, among other of his contemporaries. To understand why this was a social rather than an individual phenomenon, it is necessary to realise that the social and religious world of the old merchant families had by the later 1830s begun to disintegrate. The sober Calvinism of the older generation had been deeply ingrained because it provided a satisfactory ordering of social experience. The merchant élite had made no distinction between the church and municipal government of the town, and the patriarchalism of their religion had been an appropriate articulation of their face-to-face government of the workforce whose cottages clustered round their chapels and their warehouses.

But from the Napoleonic period onwards, Barmen's trade entered a period of prolonged crisis resulting from its dependence on an English-dominated world market. In social terms, the population was threatened by dearth, declining living standards and intensification of work punctuated by frequent spells of unemployment. In religious terms, the result was a break-up of stable church government. Small domestic masters and their apprentices increasingly engulfed by ‘pauperism’, were attracted to breakaway revivalist and millenarian sects, while many relapsed into a state of semi-despair exacerbated by a dramatic increase in cheap schnapps consumption. While preaching became more revivalist and emotional, the traditional merchant élite began to withdraw from active church government. It was against this background that the 19-year-old Engels made his first pseudonymous attack upon the philistinism of the pietism of the Wuppertal.

The dissidence of the young Engels and his circle in Barmen took the initial form of aesthetic revolt against the narrowness of the merchant world and juvenile attempts to emulate the current literary avant garde. Engels' denunciation of the Wuppertal was not that of an embryo socialist, but that of the aspirant poet and representative of modern literary ideas. He particularly identified himself with the poet, Ferdinand Freiligrath, who had come to the Wuppertal to work as a commercial clerk. The image of a double life—a merchant by occupation and a writer by vocation—remained attractive until he managed to escape the family profession in 1845—and it reappeared in various guises in later life.

But by the end of the 1830s, the pre-occupations of literary political and religious debate were too intertwined to allow meaningful separation. Pietism, romantic conservatism and the absolution of the Christian Prussian state were all sharply opposed to the various strands of liberalism, rationalism and post-Hegelian biblical criticism. Since the debate was so polarised, to be a writer or poet necessitated a conscious choice between progress and reaction, and there was little doubt which direction Engels would follow. Unlike Marx, Engels' first political attitudes were strongly shaped by the liberal nationalist literary movement of the 1830s. His earliest heroes had been drawn from teutonic mythology and in Bremen the legend of Siegfried remained important to him as a symbol of the courageous qualities of young German manhood in struggle against the petty servile Germany of the princes. Soon after he began work in Bremen he became an enthusiastic disciple of Young Germany, a short-lived literary group which had arisen in the wake of the 1830 revolution, and modelled its style and stance upon the exiled Jews, Heine and Börne. Engels was at first an admirer of Karl Gutzkow, the editor of the Telegraph für Deutschland, who published his Letters from the Wuppertal. But by the end of 1839, Engels' enthusiasm had began to shift towards Gutzkow's former mentor, Börne whose radical republican denunciations of German princes and aristocrats, combined with his polemic against the Francophobe tendencies of German nationalism appealed to Engels' combative enthusiasm for the ‘ideas of the century’.

But for Engels at this time, the problem of religious belief was uppermost. Despite his discontent with the outlook of his family, the strength of his religious upbringing was not easily shaken off. The intensity of his religious longings can be testified by a pietist poem he wrote at the time of his confirmation. The stages by which he moved away from orthodox Christianity—from a liberal Christianity through Schleiermacher to Strauss—can be traced in detail in his letters from Bremen to his schoolfriends, the Graeber brothers. One thing is clear. He could not simply move away from belief. He could only abandon one belief when he had found another. His first criticisms of Wuppertal pietism were written from the viewpoint of liberal Christianity. But through his reading of Gutzkow's essays, he came across Strauss, and by October 1839, he could write, ‘I am now an enthusiastic Straussian’. Strauss was a bridge to Hegel, and the first impact made upon him by Hegel was akin to a religious conversion. In a real or imaginary voyage across the North Sea in July 1840, he stood at the bowsprit of the ship looking out over the ‘distant green surface of the sea, where the foaming crests of the waves spring up in eternal unrest’ and reflected:

I have had only one impression that could compare with this; when for the first time the divine idea of the last of the philosophers, this most colossal creation of the thought of the nineteenth century, dawned upon me, I experienced the same blissful thrill, it was like a breath of fresh sea air blowing down upon me from the purest sky; the depths of speculation lay before me like the unfathomable sea from which one cannot turn one's eyes straining to see the ground below; in God we live, move and have our being! We become conscious of that when we are on the sea; we feel that God breathes through all around us and through us ourselves; we feel such kinship with the whole of nature, the waves beckon to us so intimately, the sky stretches so lovingly over the earth, and the sun shines with such indescribable radiance that one feels one could grasp it with the hand.15

It was this difference in intensity of emotional need which is one of the features which distinguished Engels' relationship with Hegel from that of Marx. Engels had no academic education in philosophy, he found Hegel in his search for a secure resting place to replace the awesome contours of the Wuppertal faith which had been so deeply imprinted on his childhood imagination. He never subjected Hegel to the rigorous dissection which Marx undertook in his Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right or his Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic and Philosophy as a whole in 1843 and 1844, and thus when in later years in reaction to vulgar materialism and positivism, he resorted once more to Hegel, he tended to reproduce elements of his own pre-Marxist relationship with the German idealist tradition.

Already an enthusiastic Young Hegelian when he left Bremen for his year's military service in Berlin in 1841, he rapidly replaced the pantheist Hegel by the ‘secret atheist’ Hegel, and soon became one of the most apocalyptic members of ‘the free’. Within weeks in Berlin, he was launching polemics against Schelling, who had been summoned to the chair of philosophy there in order to combat the dangerous tendency of Hegelianism. He did not appreciate the incompatibility between Bruno Bauer's left Hegelian concept of ‘self-consciousness’, and Feuerbach's Man which through the method of inversion, effectively annulled the Hegelian dialectic altogether. In all his references to German philosophical radicalism up to the Holy Family, he bracketed Bauer and Feuerbach together as part of a single line of thought. Years later in Ludwig Feuerbach, he wrote of the Essence of Christianity ‘one must himself have experienced the liberating effect of this book to get an idea of it; enthusiasm was general. We all became at once Feuerbachians’.16 This was much truer of himself than of other members of the group. For what captured his attention and his enthusiasm, both in the Essence of Christianity and in the later Provisional Theses for the Reform of Philosophy, was not Feuerbach's criticism of Hegel, but his conversion of theology into anthropology, his humanist religion. In all his writings up to his meeting with Marx in Paris in the late summer of 1844, he remained methodologically a Hegelian, all his more ambitious essays taking the form of a dialectical juxtaposition of the development of one-sided principles, whose contradiction was transcended in a higher unity represented by the postulates of communist humanism.

Perhaps another reason why Engels never felt impelled to subject Hegel to a searching critique, was that unlike some of the other Young Hegelians, he never seems to have taken Hegel's theory of the state very seriously. This appeared to him part of Hegel's conservative ‘system’ rather than to his ‘revolutionary method’, and unlike the rest of the circle Engels had already become a revolutionary republican democrat before he became a Hegelian. Thus in Berlin, he still believed he could combine a Hegelian philosophy of history with Börne's republican view of politics. In a comic Young Hegelian mock epic which he wrote with Edgar Bauer in the summer of 1842, he referred to himself as:

… Oswald the Montagnard
A radical is he, dyed in the wool, and hard.
Day in, day out, he plays upon the guillotine a
Single, solitary tune and that's a cavatina,
The same old devil-song; he bellows the refrain:
Formez vos bataillons! Aux armes, citoyens!(17)

His political position remained Jacobin until he met Moses Hess at the Rheinische Zeitung offices at Köln, while preparing to go to England, and was converted to Hess's philosophical communism. It is probably because he had participated so fully in the bohemian anti-Christian excesses of ‘the free’, and was at one with Edgar Bauer in his frequent denunciations of the politics of a juste milieu, that his meeting with Marx in Köln around the same time, was so cool.

But Engels' weaknesses were also his strengths. If he did not possess the intellectual persistence and deductive power to be a rigorous original theorist, if his attempts to theorise were more remarkable for their boldness than their finality, his great virtues were his relative openness to new impressions, the persistent radicalism of his temperament, an astonishing quickness of perception, and comprehension, a daring intuition and an omnivorous curiosity about his surroundings. He was and remained marked by his merchant upbringing and training. It was to be seen in his methodical dealing with his correspondence, his careful ordering of his affairs, his ability to use every hour of the day, his irritation at the bohemianism of a Liebknecht and his complete antipathy to the generous flourishes of a disorderly aristocrat like Bakunin. He was by all accounts a good businessman and the acumen with which he represented the family firm in Manchester in the early 1850s greatly helped to ease the tensions caused by the deep rift with his father which had come to its head in 1848. It was the desire to get outside and beyond this background that made him more personally adventurous than Marx, more willing to flout convention, and at the same time more abrasive to those outside his circle. It would be difficult to imagine Marx living with a working-class Irish woman, exploring the slums of Manchester of his own accord, scribbling comic drawings over the manuscript of the German Ideology, roving the French countryside in late 1848 and extolling the charms of the peasant girls, fighting a military campaign in 1849, and back in England, riding to hounds, keeping a pet parrot and boasting of his wine cellar. Spiessburger was one of Engels' favourite terms of abuse, and there was nothing of the petit-bourgeois in Engels' make-up. He never concealed his background and was no diplomatist. Working men were probably justified in their intermittent complaints of his arrogance,18 though it shouldn't be forgotten that this was accompanied by a genuine personal modesty, a candid avowal of his own limitations, and a warm loyalty to old friends. If, as he wrote, he was no genius, he was certainly a man of exceptional talents. He possessed a fluent and lucid prose and wrote with unusual speed. Not only was he a superb exponent of the application of historical materialism, once it was in his possession, but he was also surely one of the most gifted journalists of the nineteenth century and one of its best historians. It was this unusual combination of attributes that enabled him to make his particular contribution to the formation of historical materialism.

Engels left for England at the end of November 1842, ostensibly to continue his commercial training at the firm of Ermen and Engels in Manchester, and he remained there for 21 months. Looking back to this first stay in England forty years later, Engels wrote:

While I was in Manchester, it was tangibly brought home to me that the economic facts, which have so far played no role or only a contemptible one in the writing of history, are at least in the modern world, a decisive historical force; that they form the basis of the origination of the present day class antagonisms in the countries where they have become fully developed, thanks to large scale industry, hence especially in England, are in their turn the basis of the formation of political parties, and of party struggles and thus of all political history.19

From the evidence of the writing he produced at the time, the process by which he came to those conclusions, was by no means as simple and clearcut as his later retrospect implied. For he not only had to use his eyes and ears, to open himself to new impressions, but also to frame questions against the grain of some of the basic presuppositions of the German philosophical communism which he now brought with him to England. The beginnings of a break with these presuppositions did not really appear until the second year of his visit, were not manifest until The Condition of the Working Class in England which he wrote up in Barmen after his return home between September 1844 and March 1845, and not completed until the time which he and Marx spent defining their position in opposition to German Ideology in Brussels in 1845 and 1846.

The first signs of his growing preoccupation with the importance of ‘economic facts’ are to be found from the end of 1843 in an ambitious series of essays on political economy, Carlyle's Past and Present and the condition of England, which were in part published in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher and continued in Vorwärts. A reading of Fourier, but in particular of Carlyle, led him to ‘the condition of England’: ‘the “national wealth” of the English is very great and yet they are the poorest people under the sun’.20 Or as Carlyle put it: ‘in the midst of plethoric plenty, the people perish; with gold walls and full barns, no man feels himself safe or satisfied’.21 A reading of Proudhon's What is Property and some of the works of Owen, stimulated him to connect this condition with the consequences of private property. In late 1843, he wrote of Proudhon: ‘The right of private property, the consequences of this institution, competition, immorality, misery, are here developed with a power of intellect, and real scientific research which I never found united in a single volume’.22 However, Engels in his ‘Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy’, published in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher went considerably further than Proudhon. He did not simply contrast the miserable economic reality with the statements of political economists, but attempted to show that the contradictions of political economy were necessary results of the contradictions engendered by private property. He was the first of the German philosophical left to shift discussion towards political economy and to highlight the connections between private property, political economy and modern social conditions in the transition to communism. Political economy, he defined as ‘a science of enrichment’, ‘a developed system of licensed fraud’ resulting from the expansion of trade and ‘born of the merchants' mutual envy and greed’.23 For trade was based on competition engendered by private property, which opposed individual interests to one another, and thus produced the division between land, labour and capital, the confrontation between the labourer and his product in the form of a wage, the conversion of man into a commodity, the invention of machinery and the factory, the dissolution of family and nationality and of all other bonds into a mere cash-nexus, the polarisation of society into millionaires and paupers and the universalisation of ‘the war of all against all’. The ‘science of enrichment’ which accompanied this process was seen to be trapped in irresolvable antinomies, and its practitioners to be guilty of ever greater hypocrisy and immorality. For the defenders of free trade and liberal economics from Adam Smith onwards, despite their attacks on monopoly and professions of peaceful progress through free trade, refused to question the greatest monopoly of all, private property, productive, under the name of competition, of the most bloodthirsty and general war of all against all.

It is known that this essay strongly influenced Marx's own first reflections on political economy in the 1844 manuscripts, and was still regarded by him in 1859 as a ‘brilliant sketch on the criticism of economic categories’.24 Nevertheless, it would be quite wrong to regard the Outlines as evidence of a break with his philosophical communism under the impact of English conditions or of an anticipation of historical materialism as it was to be conceived in 1845. Not only was the stress placed upon private property and competition rather than mode of production and the struggle between classes, but private property itself was made dependent on ‘the unconscious condition of mankind’.25 The stance from which Engels made his critique was ‘human’ (that is, anthropological rather than theological), and Carlyle was praised because his book showed ‘traces of a human point of view’.26 Engels fully accepted Carlyle's definition of the condition of England, but he ascribed Carlyle's contempt for democracy and ignoring of socialism, not to his class position, but to his ‘pantheism’ which still placed a supernatural power above man. Carlyle's solution was a new religion based on the gospel of work. But for Engels, religion, far from being an answer to the immorality and hypocrisy of the present, was in fact the root of the present evil. The solution was:

the giving back to man the substance he has lost through religion; not as divine but as human substance, and this whole process of giving back is no more than simply the awakening of self-consciousness. … The root of all untruth and lying is the pretension of the human and the natural to be superhuman and supernatural. For that reason we have once and for all declared war on religion and religious ideas.27

It was for this reason that trade crises could be defined as ‘a natural law based on the unconsciousness of the participants’, that Adam Smith could be described as ‘the economic Luther’ who put ‘Protestant hypocrisy’ in place of ‘Catholic candour’, and the Malthusian population theory be seen as ‘the pinnacle of Christian economics’.28 It was for similar reasons, evidently reinforced by a reading of Marx's essay on The Jewish Question, that a few months later, Engels attempted to develop a theory of the English constitutional monarchy as an expression of ‘man's fear of himself’.29

Furthermore, if the standpoint of Engels' critique was humanist, its method of critique remained Hegelian. As he wrote, with some consternation a few days after his arrival in England in November 1842:

there is one thing that is self-evident in Germany, but which the obstinate Briton cannot be made to understand, namely that the so-called material interests can never operate in history as independent guiding aims, but always consciously or unconsciously serve a principle which controls the threads of historical progress.30

Writing a year later on political economy, he remained equally confident that ‘once a principle is set in motion it works by its own impetus through all its consequences whether the economists like it or not’.31 His method of analysing political economy was to ‘examine the basic categories, uncover the contradiction introduced by the free trade system and bring out the consequences of both sides of the contradiction’.32

Engels came to England in full agreement with Hess's prophecy that England would be the bearer of a social revolution which would consummate and transcend the religious-philosophical revolution in Germany and the political revolution in France.33 But from the beginning, he was forced to admit that ‘among the parties which are now contending for power, among the whigs and tories, people know nothing of struggles over principles and are concerned only with conflicts of material interests’.34 The problem therefore was to discover how in England principle had realised itself through the apparent domination of material interests and pure practice. His solution to this problem appeared a year later in an unfinished series on the Condition of England, written in the first few months of 1844. ‘The concern of history from the beginning’, he wrote, was ‘the antithesis of substance and subject, nature and mind, necessity and freedom’. World history up to the end of the eighteenth century had only set these antitheses ever more sharply against one another. ‘The Germans, the nation of Christian spiritualism, experienced a philosophical revolution; the French, the nation of classical materialism and hence of politics, had to go through a political revolution’.35 But: ‘The English, a nation that is a mixture of German and French elements, who therefore embody both sides of the antithesis and are for that reason more universal than either of the two factors taken separately, were for that reason drawn into a more universal, a social revolution’. The English embodied these antitheses in their sharpest form and it was their inability to resolve them that explained ‘the everlasting restlessness of the English’. ‘The conclusion of all English philosophising is the despair of reason, the confessed inability to solve the contradictions with which one is ultimately faced, and consequently on the one hand a relapse into faith and on the other devotion to pure practice’.36 This explained the religious bigotry of the English middle class combined with its empiricism but at the same time ‘this sense of contradiction was the source of colonisation, seafaring, industry and the immense practical activity of the English in general’.37 Thus only England had a social history:

Only in England have individuals as such, without consciously standing for universal principles, furthered national development and brought it near to its conclusion. Only here have the masses acted as masses, for the sake of their interests as individuals; only here have principles been turned into interests before they were able to influence history.38

We have stressed the philosophical problematic within which Engels attempted to come to terms with England between 1842 and 1844, not to contradict his statement about his growing awareness of the importance of ‘economic facts’, but to show how great was the intellectual and imaginative effort that had to be made before he could write The Condition of the Working Class in England—a book, which is by no means solely an achievement of observant reportage, but which also embodies a profound shift in his political and theoretical position. The distance he had to travel and the extent to which he had to unlearn, not only the presuppositions of radical German idealism, but also virtually all the available varieties of socialism of the time, can be highlighted by his changing view of the revolution the working class and modern industry.

Engels came to England just after the Chartist general strike, confident of Hess's prophecy of imminent social revolution and the realisation of communism. Communism, in Hess's scenario, it should be stressed, represented the triumph of the principles of community and ‘unity’ over egoism and fragmentation.39 It was not the outcome of a battle between classes, nor was its realisation located in the destiny of any particular class. Hess repeatedly rejected Lorenz von Stein's identification of communism with a proletariat spurred on by a greedy and selfish desire for equality derived from the needs of the stomach.40 Thus Engels acted quite consistently in January 1843 when he turned down the invitation of Bauer, Schapper and Moll in London to join the League of the Just. He refused the communism of the German artisans since, as he later confessed, ‘I still owned, as against their narrow-minded equalitarian communism, a goodly dose of just as narrow-minded philosophical arrogance’.41 As he described the creed of the German philosophical communists, among whom he counted himself, later that year,42 ‘a Social revolution based upon common property, was the only state of mankind agreeing with their abstract principles’. Thus Germans were bound for communism since: ‘The Germans are a philosophical nation, and will not, cannot abandon communism, as soon as it is founded upon sound philosophical principles: chiefly if it is derived as an unavoidable conclusion from their own philosophy. And this is the part we have to perform now’.

Since socialism concerned humanity and not the interests of a particular class, it is not surprising to find that for most of his stay in England, Engels should ascribe much more importance to the Owenites than the Chartists. ‘As to the particular doctrines of our party’, he wrote in 1843, ‘we agree much more with the English socialists than with any other party. Their system like ours, is based upon philosophical principle’.43 He was very impressed by how far ahead the English were in the practice of socialism and his only disagreement with them was that: ‘The Socialists are still Englishmen, when they ought to be simply men, of philosophical developments on the Continent they are only acquainted with materialism but not with German philosophy, that is their only real shortcoming’.44 His distance from the outlook of the Chartists was further reinforced by their concentration on overcoming solely a form of the state rather than the state itself. For, as he wrote, ‘Democracy is, as I take all forms of government to be, a contradiction in itself, an untruth, nothing but hypocrisy (theology, as we Germans call it), at the bottom’.45 He clearly admired the combativity and spirit of the Chartists from the start and he regarded their victory as inevitable, but his sights were set firmly beyond the transitory triumph of democracy. The socialists, he wrote in January 1844, ‘are the only party in England which has a future, relatively weak though they may be. Democracy, Chartism must soon be victorious, and then the mass of the English workers will have the choice only between starvation and socialism’.46

Given these positions however, his early impressions of England were somewhat disconcerting. On his arrival, he was surprised to discover that, ‘when people here speak of Chartists and Radicals, they almost always have in mind the lower strata of society, the mass of proletarians, and it is true that the party's few educated spokesmen are lost among the masses’.47 He was even more astonished to find that the appeal of socialism was likewise virtually confined to the lower end of society and that the works of Strauss, Rousseau, Holbach, Byron and Shelley were read by workers, but virtually unmentionable in middle class and ‘educated’ circles. Carlyle helped him to understand why the middle class should be so sunk in ‘mammonism’ and bigotry, but he could find no better reason why enlightenment should be confined to the lower classes, than that the situation was analogous to what had occurred at the beginnings of Christianity.48

From around the beginning of 1844 however, a shift in his perceptions is detectable. Philosophical humanism and Hegelian method remained dominant, but the weight attached to different elements within this framework changed. Particularly noticeable is the new and primordial importance attached to the Industrial Revolution. After a detailed description of changes in industry, Engels stated:

This revolution through which British industry has passed is the foundation of every aspect of modern English life, the driving force behind all social development. Its first consequence was … the elevation of self-interest to a position of dominance over man. Self-interest seized the newly created industrial powers and exploited them for its own purposes; these powers which by right belong to mankind became, owing to the influence of private property, the monopoly of a few rich capitalists and the means to the enslavement of the masses. Commerce absorbed industry into itself, and thereby became omnipotent, it became the nexus of mankind.49

His attention, in other words, had shifted from explaining competition as a consequence of merchant's greed and the political economists’ ‘science of enrichment’ to the real forces which had universalised competition. He had also begun to discern how industrialisation had transformed the class system. The most important fact about eighteenth-century England had been the creation of the proletariat, a wholly new class; while in the same process, the middle class had become aristocratic. But this crystallisation of England into three distinct classes—landed aristocracy, monied aristocracy and working-class democracy—had in turn undermined the state. In an analysis of the English constitution and the legal system written in March 1844, he came to the conclusion that the famed balance of powers inscribed in the constitution was ‘one big lie’.50 Contrasting the theory and practice of the Constitution, he wrote: ‘on the one hand the trinity of the legislature—on the other the tyranny of the middle class’. Neither Queen, Lords or Commons ruled England. ‘Who then actually rules in England? Property rules’.51 The power of the aristocracy did not derive from its constitutional position but from its vast estates. Thus, to the extent that the power both of the aristocracy and the middle class derived from their property and to the extent that ‘the influence conferred by property’ constituted ‘the essence of the middle class’ … ‘to that extent the middle class does indeed rule’.52

But if the constitution were found to be a mere shell concealing the rule of property, and if other English ‘birthrights’—freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, Habeus Corpus and the Jury system—were likewise found to be privileges of the rich and denied to the poor, then what had at first seemed so mysterious to Engels—the unreasoning opposition of the middle class to democracy and socialism—now became much clearer. Socialism remained his guiding aim, and ‘democratic equality’ remained a ‘chimera’. But if the battle against the undemocratic state was in reality, not a political battle, but a social battle against the rule of property, then Chartism assumed a quite different significance. For what sort of democracy would a Chartist victory entail?

Not that of the French Revolution whose antithesis was the monarchy and feudalism, but the democracy whose antithesis is the middle class and property. … The middle class and property are dominant; the poor man has no rights, is oppressed and fleeced, the Constitution repudiates him and the law mistreats him; the struggle of democracy against the aristocracy in England is the struggle of the poor against the rich. The democracy towards which England is moving is a social democracy.53

Around the beginning of September 1844, Engels stayed with Marx in Paris on his way back to Barmen. Continuing his retrospect on his discovery in Manchester, of the decisive importance of ‘economic facts’ as the basis of ‘present day class antagonisms’ Engels wrote in 1885:

Marx had not only arrived at the same view, but had already in the German-French Annals (1844) generalised it to the effect, that speaking generally, it is not the state which conditions and regulates civil society, but civil society which conditions and regulates the state, and consequently, that policy and its history are to be explained from the economic relations and their development, and not vice versa.54

This statement is only partly true. For on the evidence of Marx's extant writings up to his meeting with Engels, he had not arrived ‘at the same view’ in at least two important respects. Firstly, while Marx had established the determination of the state by civil society Engels had established—though not in theoretically generalised form—an equally important proposition, the class character of the state. In his Critical Notes on the Article, ‘The King of Prussia and Social Reform’ by a Prussian, written a few weeks before Engels' arrival, Marx's basic definition of the state was that: ‘The state is based on the contradiction between public and private life, on the contradiction between general interests and private interests’.55 In this article, there was no conception of a ruling class in a later Marxist sense. The theme was rather the incapacity of political administration in the face of the domination of civil society from whose contradictory character, the illusion of the political realm was itself to be explained. Engels on the other hand, had defined the English state as an instrument used by the propertied ruling class in its struggle against the working class.56

Secondly, Engels' allusion to the type of class struggle engendered by modern industry, pertained primarily to himself. Until his unfinished essay on List, written early in 1845, Marx's references to modern industry had been cursory and descriptive. The decisive concept around which the new theory of historical materialism was to crystallise between 1845 and 1847 was that of the mode of production, and the lynchpin of that concept was the emphasis that it placed upon means of production. Theoretically, it would eventually enable Marx and Engels to understand class struggle as the revolt of the forces of production against the relations of production. Politically, it would enable them to declare war on capital, while stressing the progressive tendency of modern industry. The crucial change effected by the industrial revolution had been its transformation of the relationship between the labourer and the means of production. It was this transformation that had produced the unprecedented form assumed by modern class struggle.

Although Engels in 1844 had begun to sense with increasing sureness the revolutionary significance of modern industry through its creation of a new form of class struggle, he was nowhere near to producing the theory of historical materialism. He was simply concerned with the particular path that England appeared to be taking to social revolution, and he clung inconsequentially to a blend of Hegel and Feuerbach writings to explain it. But embodied in the space created by that inconsequentiality were precisely the raw elements which would be the catalyst of the new theory. Marx, on the other hand in the 1844 Manuscripts, precisely because of his theoretical rigour, remained essentially within an artisanal framework. Following with greater consistency the technique of Feuerbachian inversion, the crucial relationship emphasised was not that between labourer and means of production, but between the labourer and his product, and his vision was that of man's pauperisation, both materially and anthropologically—a world of alienation and private property unmediated by the progressive revolutionary possibilities of the new form of production. Marx's particular impact upon Engels in the summer of 1844 was that of a brilliant humanist theorist, bolder and more original in his application and extension of the logic of inversion to the state and political economy, and clearsighted about the incompatibility between Feuerbach and Hegel.

The Condition of the Working Class in England represents the final phase of Engels' thinking before he joined Marx in Brussels. The narrowing of his theme to modern industry, the working class and the development of class struggle is itself indicative of a change in his priorities. Like Marx, who later planned to write a book on dialectics, Engels never found time to write his social history of England, of which The Condition of the Working Class was intended to form a part. The Hegelian categorisation of English prehistory which had formed such a prominent part of his preceding essays, is absent from the book, no doubt as a result of his conversations with Marx. But so also, despite his continuing belief that communism stood above the battle of classes, is the preoccupation with theology and Feuerbach. Engels had contributed some of the most ecstatic passages on Feuerbach in the Holy Family, but already by November 1844, a reading of Stirner's, Ego and His Own had convinced him that:

Feuerbach's ‘man’ is derived from God … and therefore his ‘man’ is still possessed of a theological halo of abstractions. The true path for arriving at ‘man’ is the opposite one. … We must start out from empiricism and materialism, if our thoughts and in particular our ‘man’ are to be something real. We must deduce the general from the particular and not from itself or out of thin air à la Hegel.57

Marx evidently disapproved of this programme, in particular its concession to Stirner, and in his next letter, Engels deferred to Marx's judgment.58 Nevertheless, the negative impact of Stirner remained. For the results of Engels' irritation with ‘theological chatter’ about ‘man’ and ‘theology’ and his new concern with ‘real, living things, with historical developments and their results’ were clearly to be seen in his book.

The starting point of The Condition of the Working Class was not competition or private property, but the historically specific changes in manufacture from the middle of the eighteenth century. His explanation of this shift was uninformative,59 but its rationale can be deduced from the general structure of his argument. Competition in itself could only describe a negative process of dissolution, an ever more brutish struggle between individuals, whose only chance of salvation could arise from a renewed consciousness of their humanity, awakened from outside by philosophy. ‘Manufacture’ on the other hand, could provide the starting point of a more complex and contradictory process—a process which contained the potentiality of liberation within itself: ‘Manufacture, on a small scale, created the middle class; on a large scale it created the working class, and raised the elect of the middle class to the throne, but only to overthrow them more surely when the time comes’.60 ‘Manufacture’ under free competition could not only explain ‘the war of all against all’, but also the growth of a labour movement united in an effort to overthrow the competitive system. The English socialists were no longer praised for their adherence to a ‘philosophical principle, but criticised for being ‘abstract’ and acknowledging ‘no historic development’:

While bemoaning the demoralisation of the lower classes, they are blind to the element of progress in this dissolution of the old social order. … In its present form, socialism can never become the common creed of the working class; it must condescend to return for a moment to the Chartist standpoint.61

Competition only implied the abstract alternative of community, but ‘manufacture’ was a historic process which by concentrating population into large units of production and large cities had itself created the material possibility of combination between workers:

If the centralisation of population stimulates and develops the property-holding class, it forces the development of the workers yet more rapidly. The workers begin to feel as a class, as a whole; they begin to perceive that, though feeble as individuals they form a power united; their separation from the bourgeoisie, the development of views peculiar to the workers and corresponding to their position in life, if fostered, the consciousness of opposition awakens, and the workers attain social and political importance. The great cities are the birth-places of labour movements; in them the workers first began to reflect upon their own condition, and to struggle against it; in them the opposition between proletariat and bourgeoisie first made itself manifest; from them proceeded the trade unions, Chartism and socialism. The great cities have transformed the disease of the social body which appears in chronic form in the country, into an acute one, and so made manifest its real nature and the means of curing it.62

In his Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy, Engels had defined competition as an affliction of humanity; ‘In this discord of identical interests resulting precisely from this identity is constituted the immorality of mankind's condition hitherto; and this consummation is competition’.63 Now, on the contrary, competition was the nodal point of the class struggle between the bourgeoisie and the working class. The productiveness of each hand raised to the highest pitch by competition among the workers themselves, by division of labour and machinery generated ‘the unemployed reserve army of workers’ and deprived ‘a multitude of workers of bread’. Competition among workers was ‘the sharpest weapon against the proletariat in the hands of the bourgeoisie’.64 Moreover competition constituted not only the practice, but the whole theory of the bourgeoisie: ‘Supply and demand are the formulas according to which the logic of the English bourgeois judges all human life’. Even the state was reduced to the minimum necessary to ‘hold the … indispensable proletariat in check’.65

Conversely, the constant thread in the growth of the working class movement through Luddism and trade unionism to Chartism had been the battle to abolish competition among the workers. The split between bourgeois ‘political’ democrats and working class ‘social’ democrats after 1842 had revolved around free trade:

Free competition has caused the workers suffering enough to be hated by them; its apostles, the bourgeoisie, are their declared enemies. The working man has only disadvantages to await from the complete freedom of competition. The demands hitherto made by him, the Ten Hours' Bill, protection of the workers against the capitalist, good wages, a guaranteed position, repeal of the New Poor Law, all of the things which belong to Chartism, quite as essentially as the ‘Six Points’, are directly opposed to free competition and Free Trade.66

‘This question’, wrote Engels, ‘is precisely the point at which the proletariat separates from the bourgeoisie, Chartism from Radicalism’. Chartism was ‘of an essentially social nature, a class movement’. But because Chartism was a social movement, and because socialism represented the only ultimate alternative to competition, a unification of the Chartists and the socialists in a ‘true proletarian socialism’ was soon to be expected, and in that form it must ‘play a weighty part in the development of the English people’.

How then should we characterise Engels' contribution to Marxism? How essential was his presence to the birth of historical materialism?

There are no signs that Engels on his own would have produced a new general theory which broke decisively with its various philosophical antecedents. A historical materialist theory could not have been constructed from ‘materialism and empricism’ or from a progression from the ‘particular’ to the ‘general’, in the way that Engels had proposed in the late autumn of 1844. A new-found enthusiasm for the empirical produced many of the enduring strengths of his book on the working class, but it could not have produced the positions outlined in the German Ideology from 1845. England was still treated by him as a special case. It was still possible for him to imagine that France's path to communism would be political, and that of Germany, philosophical. Despite signs that in the light of his English experience, his expectations of Germany were becoming less naïve, the distance between his position at the time of the writing of The Condition of the Working Class and the position he was to reach at the time of his collaboration on the German Ideology, remained profound. It can be measured by comparing two reports he wrote in Germany, the first in December 1844, the second in September 1845:

Up to the present time our stronghold is the middle class, a fact which will perhaps astonish the English reader, if he does not know that this class is far more disinterested, impartial and intelligent, than in England, and for the very simple reason that it is poorer.67

It is true there are among our middle classes a considerable number of republicans and even communists … who, if a general outbreak occurred now, would be very useful in the movement, but these men are ‘bourgeois’, profit-mongers, manufacturers by profession; and who will guarantee us they will not be demoralised by their trade, by their social position, which forces them to live on the toil of other people, to grow fat by being the leeches, the ‘exploiteurs’ of the working classes?. … Fortunately we do not count on the middle class at all.68

Nevertheless, without Engels' work on England, the formulation of a Marxist theory, would at the very least, have been much slower than it actually was. The Condition of the Working Class in England provided an extraordinarily lucid account of how the development of modern industry had by the same token generated proletarian class struggle and the possibility of ultimate liberation. He provided a systematic explanation of the development of a proletarian political economy and of the social character of working-class political demands. It was the process itself rather than the intervention of the philosophers which had awakened workers to a consciousness of their class position, and which he hoped would lead to the emergence of a ‘proletarian socialism’. Moreover his Hegelian formation, for all its limitations, had helped him to avoid two important theoretical obstructions which inhibited advances in the English working-class movement itself. While learning from English socialism the liberating potential of modern industry, through his assumption of a rational kernel to historical development, he could come to avoid their negative evaluation of the antagonism between middle and working class. On the other hand he could come to share the Chartist's belief in the necessity of an independent working-class politics, without having to base its legitimacy on a labour theory of value derived from a theory of natural right.69 Thus, distanced by his nationality from some of the more sectarian aspects of the working-class movement, he was able to give a remarkable assessment of the significance of their struggle as a whole.

The importance of this assessment needs to be stressed. For, simply from a comparison of the extant texts, it is clear that a number of basic and enduring Marxist propositions first surface in Engels' rather than Marx's early writings: the shifting of focus from competition to production, the revolutionary novelty of modern industry marked by its crises of overproduction and its constant reproduction of a reserve army of labour, the embryo at least of the argument that the bourgeoisie produces its own gravediggers and that communism represents, not a philosophical principle, but ‘the real movement which abolishes the present state of things’, the historical delineation of the formation of the proletariat into a class, the differentiation between ‘proletarian socialism’ and small master or lower-middle-class radicalism, and the characterisation of the state as an instrument of oppression in the hands of the ruling propertied class.

All these were to become basic propositions in the theory of Marx and Engels, but it is of course true that they only became ‘Marxist’ by virtue of the historical materialist logic which was to connect and underpin them. It was Marx who constructed that logic and conceived the historical causality and new concepts, of which these propositions could be the result. As he wrote to Weydemeyer in 1852, ‘what I did that was new was to prove … that the existence of classes is only bound up with particular historical phases in the development of production’.70

It is thus possible to agree with Engels that ‘the materialist theory of history … which revolutionised the science of history is essentially the work of Marx’, but at the same time to dispute his claim to have had ‘only a very insignificant share’ in its gestation.71 For what Engels had provided, were the raw components which dramatised the inadequacies of the previous theory and formed a large part of the nucleus of the propositions to which the new theory was addressed. Engels' disclaimer becomes more understandable if it is realised that some of the most important of these propositions were not in any sense original to Engels himself. Take, for instance, the definition of the modern state, set out in the German Ideology:

To this modern private property corresponds the modern state, which, purchased gradually by the owners of property by means of taxation, has fallen entirely into their hands through the national debt, and its existence has become wholly dependent on the commercial credit which the owners of property, the bourgeois extend to it, as reflected in the rise and fall of government securities on the stock exchange.72

Such statements or less sophisticated variants of them had been commonplaces of the unstamped press and Chartist politics. So had much of the case against Malthus, the condemnation of overproduction as a result of concentration upon the world market and the notion of the reserve army of labour. The importance of Engels' contribution derived less from his moments of theoretical originality than from his ability to transmit elements of thinking and practice developed within the working-class movement itself in a form in which it could become an intrinsic part of the architecture of the new theory.

The importance of this moment in the beginnings of Marxism is generally ignored. In the standard account, first formulated by Kautsky and subsequently given enormous prestige through its partial adoption by Lenin in What is to be Done, the process of the connection between socialism and the labour movement is wholly one way. Socialist theory is developed outside the working class by bourgeois intellectuals then communicated to the most far-seeing of the working class and finally filters down to the working-class movement. The working class plays a wholly passive role in the process, a picture resembling Marx's view of 1843 in which the proletariat lends its force of arms to the philosopher and is given in return a consciousness of what it is and what its struggle means. It is in accordance with this position to view Marxism's own theoretical break as sui generis—a motor fuelled solely by theoretical introspection. It is only after the theory has been formed, that a juncture is made with the proletarian movement, which then propagates the new ideas.

Against this interpretation it should be stressed that while the concepts and structure of the new theory are certainly irreducible to experience and can only be the result of theoretical work, the changing questions which provoked the new theory had their source by definition outside the pre-existing theoretical discourse. Both in Engels' and in Marx's case, the form of their questioning changed, as their knowledge and experience of the working-class movement increased. It is known that Marx attended meetings of Parisian artisans in 1844 and that this experience made an evident impression on his work.73 But the effect was even more striking in Engels' case. For Paris was not as strategic a place as Manchester to assimilate the connections between modern industry and the modern labour movement.

What distinguished Engels from many of his contemporaries was a deep-rooted discontent with his own background and milieu. It made him willing not merely to learn about, but also from workers, not merely to read the available sources but also to make personal contact, and consider himself part of their movement. How he spent his time in Manchester, is stated by Engels in the Preface to his book, ‘I forsook the company and the dinner parties, the port wine and the champagne of the middle classes, and devoted my leisure hours almost exclusively to the intercourse with plain working men; I am glad and proud of having done so’.74 It is known that in Manchester, he became acquainted with the Burns sisters, that he argued with John Watts of the Owenites, that he attended the Halls of Science, witnessed Chartist interventions against the Anti-Corn Law League, met James Leach, a factory worker prominent in the National Charter Association and in the autumn of 1843 introduced himself to Harney at the Northern Star offices at Leeds. The effect of this experience is clear from his book, but part of what he learnt, he tells us explicitly in the Preface, ‘Having … ample opportunity to watch the middle classes, your opponents, I soon came to the conclusion that you are right, perfectly right in expecting no support whatever from them’.75

Of course, as we have tried to show, there was no simple capitulation of theory in the face of experience between 1842 and 1845, either on Marx's or on Engels' part. The process was necessarily much more complex, since a theory, however ultimately inappropriate, is more likely to be stretched and forced to take account of new phenomena than to be abandoned—at least, until the possibility or beginnings of another can be discerned. It was Marx who accomplished this theoretical transformation. But it was Engels who had preceded him, in providing so many of the elements of what was to be the object of that theory, though only in a practical state and posed unsatisfactorily within an inappropriate philosophical problematic. If Engels was a less consistent thinker than Marx, that was a crucial virtue in the formative period that led up to the break-through to historical materialism. For what it ensured was that the juncture between a materialist theory of history and the practical assumptions of working class struggle—an event which in the orthodox account took place in 1847 when Marx and Engels joined the Communist League—was already there as part of the new theory at its moment of formation in Brussels in 1845.

Because it has been necessary to argue at some length the importance of Engels' initial contribution to Marxism, it has not been possible to do justice to the many other contributions he made to its subsequent development. There has been no space to deal with his work in the Communist League and in the preparation of the Communist Manifesto. It has been impossible to deal with his work as a correspondent on European affairs and his handling of the vexed problem of nationality in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1848, his growing expertise on military strategy and theory from the early 1850s, his masterly analyses of Germany, developed in the Peasants' War and Revolution and Counter-revolution in Germany and continued in his writings on Bismarck and the new unified German state. Nor has it been possible to consider his later work on natural science, the family, or the origins of the state, nor, in the more immediately political realm, his reflections on Ireland, his many lucid analyses of the situation and strategy of the various working class movements in Europe and America, his battles against Proudhonism and anarchism, his close relations with the leadership of German social democracy nor his growing anxiety about the maintenance of a European peace from the foundation of the Second International. All that can be done in conclusion is to suggest a certain consistency in his strengths and limitations from the beginning through to the end of his long career as a Marxist.

From 1845 onwards, the relationship between Marx and Engels was a remarkably constant one. What Engels wrote in 1887 had applied throughout their working relationship:

As a consequence of the division of labour that existed between Marx and myself, it fell to me to present our opinions in the periodical press, that is to say, particularly in the fight against opposing views, in order that Marx should have time for the elaboration of his great basic work.76

Such a relationship could never have lasted, had it simply been one between master and disciple, creator and populariser. It worked because the initial theory was the joint property of both of them, so that both could be equally committed to its enlargement through the development of a specific theory of the capitalist mode of production. Engels never entertained any doubts that Marx rather than he was best fitted for this task. It would therefore be quite wrong to extend sympathy to Engels for his long years' support of Marx during the preparation of Capital. He would not have asked for such sympathy and indeed regarded Capital as much a vindication of himself as of Marx. There are no real signs of strain on Engels' side, except at the time of Marx's unfeeling response to the death of Mary Burns. As might be expected, the tension was felt more by the Marx family, the well-born Mrs Marx in particular resenting the humiliating dependence of her family for their subsistence on the charity of her husband's friend. For Engels himself, however tiresome the long years of office work in Manchester, the relationship fulfilled a deep-felt need for intellectual certainty and a firm basis from which he could develop his much more diverse talents. Engels did not possess the certainty of self to be a great original theorist; he therefore sought this quality in others. Apart from Marx, the only other thinker who satisfied this desire for intellectual security was Hegel.

The initial conception of historical materialism developed in Marx and Engels' work between the German Ideology and the Communist Manifesto was far from unproblematic. Its tendency was to reduce the status of ideology to a mere reflex of the real movement, and the development of the real movement itself to a reflex of the development of the forces of production. Specific countries were allotted their particular roles in the coming revolution according to a scale of development, and there was little space within the theory to enable a distinction between the specific character of the capitalist crisis of the 1840s and an ultimate crisis of capitalism as a whole. The 1848 revolutions did not take their predicted course. Chartism and ‘proletarian socialism’ did not triumph in England, Germany did not accomplish its bourgeois revolution, the French Revolution miscarried, producing the ‘farce’ of the Second Empire, and the ‘history-less peoples’ of Eastern Europe demonstrated in practice the existence of a more complex and uneven historical logic than the initial theory had envisaged.

Nevertheless, the failures of 1848 did not lead to any fundamental recasting of the basic theory. Indeed, after a more detailed analysis of the trade cycle and a recognition of further room for the development of productive forces within capitalism, it appeared to Marx and Engels that the character of the revolutions had only served to confirm the correctness of their position. The theory of the capitalist mode of production was infinitely deepened in Capital, but the general conception of the relationship between the economic, political and ideological realms remained in essentials unchanged. It was reaffirmed in their 1872 Preface to the Communist Manifesto, and it was not until the 1880s in reaction to the growth of a positivist-tinged vulgar Marxism that Engels began to stress the complex and indirect character of economic determination and the importance of the political sphere. Even this, however, remained a qualification rather than a development of the theory, since Engels was unprepared to rethink the character of determination within the terms of the theory itself. It is in fact unlikely that Engels would have conceded the necessity of such a substantial reformulation. For his basic vision of the theory remained remarkably constant. He remained imperturbably convinced of a historical process leading to capitalist downfall, but unlike most of the Second International Zusammenbruch theorists, saw the development of class struggle as an integral part of the process of collapse. Similarly, he remained true to his initial conviction derived from Chartism that the struggle for democracy in capitalist countries was a social struggle and thus part of the struggle for socialism, and this explains his and Marx's continuing enthusiasm for universal suffrage and their belief that the achievement of socialism in certain countries might be a peaceful one. Moreover, for all the sophistication of Engels' analyses of Germany in which he developed his important conceptions of absolutism, of the ‘buonapartism’ of the bourgeoisie and of the ‘revolution from above’, or again of his theory connecting the character of the English labour movement to English domination of the world market, the political point of his interventions remained that which he and Marx had developed in the 1840s—to encourage the formation of independent working-class parties based on class struggle, to make alliances with other progressive forces only on the basis of this independence and to combat all sectarian obstacles to such development.

Engels remained clearly marked by his early English experience. His judgement was always at its most incisive, his intuition most sure in the handling of working-class movements in industrial countries. He retained his youthful conviction of the ‘idiocy of rural life’ and found it difficult to regard peasants except as barbarian survivals or future proletarians.77 His sense of proportion went awry in the manner of his dealing with the Bakuninists in Spain and Italy. He never really forgave the Southern Slavs and the Czechs for their anti-teutonic and anti-magyar activities in 1848 and he refused to treat nationalism as a serious phenomenon, except where consciously or unconsciously it aided the cause of the revolution. Both the strength and the weakness of his thinking was contained in the absolute priority he accorded to those situations which apparently offered the best chances of socialist advance, and this sometimes made him insensitive to parallel conflicts of an inconvenient but equally material character.

Such calculations consistently dominated his changing views on international relations. In the 1850s and 1860s, he and Marx hopefully scanned the political horizon for any possibility of a European war which might provoke a progressive alliance against Tzardom, radicalise the citizenry and topple the reactionary autocracies. Once Bismarck had annexed Alsace-Lorraine however, he became increasingly insistent upon the necessity of peace. Since the future of socialism now depended on the future of Germany and the unobstructed development of the SPD, a Franco-Russian alliance must at all costs be prevented and the restitution of France's lost provinces left until after socialist victory. There can be no doubt that this German-oriented position was based on socialist criteria, and not upon any particular national predilections—Bebel and Bernstein were shocked to discover among his papers a plan for the defence of Paris against the Prussians in 1870, and destroyed it for fear of the reaction at home.78 Nevertheless this unilateral emphasis on the prospects of German socialist success produced problems in the Second International. French socialists were intensely irritated in 1891, by an attack by Engels upon French chauvinism and the necessity of German socialists supporting a defensive war if attacked, without any mention of what French socialists should do in the case of an offensive attack by Germany.79 Engels' preoccupation with a Russian menace and the necessity of peace for the building of socialism in Germany, somewhat blinded him to the case of France, and one result was that the SPD were not wholly unjustified in claiming his authority in its justification of its support of war credits in August 1914.80

Both the strengths and weaknesses of Engels' Marxism derived from an intense and enduring sense of the onward march of a historical dialectic, of the concomitant advance of modern industry and the proletarian movement. It was this that explained his lasting attraction to Hegel, and his recurrent resort to Hegel when faced with problems to which Marxism provided no apparent solution. It was to Hegel's concept of ‘historic nations’ that he turned when confronted with the nationalisms of 1848. It was to Hegel's Natural Philosophy that he looked for guidance in seeking to develop an alternative to the mechanical materialism of the late 1850s; and it was to Hegel's notion of dialectical interaction that he returned when he wanted to oppose vulgar Marxist conceptions of economic or technological determination in the 1880s and 1890s.

But Hegel was not the only loyalty he retained from his early years. Despite his insistence upon placing socialism upon a scientific foundation, he remained in many respects a true disciple of the great utopians of his youth. He thought, not only of the immediate strategy of the various socialist parties of his time, but also of the abolition of the distinction between town and country, the liberation of women, the freeing of sexual and social relations from the trammels of property and wage slavery, and of the disappearance of the state. He remained an admirer of Owen, and above all of Fourier. The strength of his hatred of property, government and the miseries of ‘civilisation’ came out to the full in his Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. And who but someone who had once tasted and not forgotten the vision of a socialist Utopia, could write:

Man's own social organisation, hitherto confronting him as a necessity imposed by Nature and history, now becomes the results of his own free action. The extraneous objective forces that have hitherto governed history pass under the control of man himself. Only from that time will man himself more and more consciously, make his own history—only from that time will the social causes set in movement by him have, in the main and in a constantly growing measure, the results intended by him. It is the ascent of man from the kingdom of necessity to the kingdom of freedom.81


  1. G. Mayer, Friedrich Engels, Eine Biographie (Köln, 1969); among other biographical studies of Engels, see A. Cornu, Karl Marx et Friedrich Engels, leur vie et leur oeuvre (Paris, 1954); H. Ullrich, Der junge Engels (Berlin, 1961); S.E.D., Friedrich Engels, Eine Biographie (Berlin, 1970); H. Hirsch, Engels (Hamburg, 1968); H. Pelger (ed.), Friedrich Engels 1820-1970: Referate, Diskussionen, Dokumente (Hannover, 1971); W. Henderson, Frederick Engels (London, 1976).

  2. G. Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness (London, 1971); Karl Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy (London, 1970).

  3. See D. Rjazanov, ‘Briefwechsel zwischen Vera Zasulic und Marx’, Marx-Engels Archiv (Frankfurt/M, 1928), vol. 1, pp. 309-45.

  4. F. Engels' Briefwechsel mit K. Kautsky (Vienna, 1955), pp. 4, 77.

  5. F. Engels, Anti-Dühring (Moscow, 1969), pp. 9-10.

  6. F. Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of German Classical Philosophy, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works (Moscow, 1969), vol. 3, p. 335.

  7. Cited in G. Mayer, op. cit. vol. 2, p. 448.

  8. Engels to Schmidt, 27 October 1890, Selected Works, vol. 3, p. 495.

  9. See for instance, Engels to Marx, 14 July 1858, in Werke, vol. 29, pp. 337-39.

  10. On the problem of the possibility of inverting Hegel, see L. Althusser, ‘Contradiction and Overdetermination’ in For Marx (London, 1970); for the relationship between Engels' later theory and Hegel, see G. Stedman Jones, ‘Engels and the End of Classical German Philosophy’, New Left Review, No. 79, 1973; for other discussions of Engels and ‘dialectical materialism’ see L. Colletti, Marxism and Hegel (London, 1973); S. Timpanaro, On Materialism (London, 1975).

  11. Selected Works, vol. 3, p. 361.

  12. Werke, vol. 27, p. 26.

  13. On the social history of nineteenth-century Wuppertal, see in particular, W. Köllman, Sozialgeschichte der Stadt Barmen in 19 Jahrhundert (Tubingen, 1960).

  14. For an interesting attempt at a psychoanalytical interpretation of the young Engels, see S. Marcus, Engels, Manchester and the Working Class (London, 1974).

  15. K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works (London, 1975), vol. 2, p. 99.

  16. Ibid. vol. 3, p. 344.

  17. Ibid. vol. 2, p. 335.

  18. See for instance, S. Born, Erinnerungen eines Achtundvierzigers (Leipzig, 1898).

  19. F. Engels, ‘On the History of the Communist League’, Selected Works, vol. 3, p. 178.

  20. F. Engels, ‘Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 421.

  21. F. Engels, ‘The Condition of England. Past and Present by Carlyle’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 449.

  22. F. Engels, ‘Progress of Social Reform on the Continent’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 399.

  23. F. Engels, ‘Outlines’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 422-3.

  24. K. Marx, ‘Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy’, Selected Works, vol. 1, p. 504.

  25. F. Engels, ‘Outlines’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 433.

  26. F. Engels, ‘Condition of England: Carlyle’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 444.

  27. Ibid. p. 463.

  28. F. Engels, ‘Outlines’, Collected Works, vol. 3, pp. 422, 439.

  29. F. Engels, ‘The Condition of England: The English Constitution’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 491.

  30. F. Engels, ‘The Internal Crises’, Collected Works, vol. 2, p. 371.

  31. F. Engels, ‘Outlines’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 424.

  32. Ibid. p. 424.

  33. See M. Hess, Die europaische Triarchie (Leipzig, 1841).

  34. F. Engels, ‘The Internal Crises’, Collected Works, vol. 2, p. 371.

  35. F. Engels, ‘The Condition of England’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 471.

  36. Ibid. p. 472.

  37. Ibid.

  38. Ibid. p. 474.

  39. See M. Hess, ‘Philosophie der Tat’, in T. Zlocisti (ed.), Moses Hess: Sozialistische Aufsätze (Berlin, 1921), pp. 62-3.

  40. L. von Stein, Der Sozialismus und Kommunismus des heutigen Frankreich (Leipzig, 1842).

  41. F. Engels, ‘On History of the Communist League’, Selected Works, vol. 3, p. 175.

  42. F. Engels, ‘Progress of Social Reform on the Continent’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 406.

  43. Ibid. p. 407.

  44. F. Engels, ‘Condition of England: Carlyle’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 467.

  45. F. Engels, ‘Progress of Social Reform’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 393.

  46. F. Engels, ‘Carlyle’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 467.

  47. ‘The English View of the Internal Crises’, Collected Works, vol. 2, p. 368.

  48. ‘Letters from London’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 380.

  49. F. Engels, ‘The Condition of England: The 18th Century’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 485.

  50. F. Engels, ‘The Condition of England, The English Constitution’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 498.

  51. Ibid.

  52. Ibid.

  53. Ibid. p. 513.

  54. F. Engels, ‘On the History of the Communist League’, Selected Works, vol. 3, p. 178.

  55. K. Marx, ‘Critical Marginal Notes on the Article “The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian,” ’ Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 198.

  56. The discrepancy between Marx and Engels' early views on the state, is brought out, though not adequately explained in R. Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels (Pittsburg, 1974), vol. I.

  57. Engels to Marx, 19 November 1844, in Werke, vol. 27, p. 12.

  58. Engels to Marx, 20 January 1845, in Werke, vol. 27, p. 14.

  59. F. Engels, ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’, Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 325.

  60. Ibid.

  61. Ibid. p. 526.

  62. Ibid. p. 418.

  63. F. Engels, ‘Outlines’, Collected Works, vol. 3, p. 432.

  64. F. Engels, ‘Conditions of the Working Class’, Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 376.

  65. Ibid. pp. 563, 564.

  66. Ibid. p. 523.

  67. ‘The Rapid Progress of Communism in Germany’, Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 230.

  68. ‘The Late Butchery at Leipzig’, Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 647.

  69. On this subject, see the forthcoming article, G. Stedman Jones, ‘The Limitation of Proletarian Theory in England before 1850’, History Workshop, No. 5 (Oxford, 1978).

  70. Werke, vol. 28, p. 508.

  71. Selected Works, vol. 3, p. 179.

  72. K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology, in Collected Works, vol. 5, p. 90.

  73. For a good account of Marx's changing attitude to the working class in this period, see M. Lowy, La Théorie de la Révolution chez le jeune Marx (Paris, 1970).

  74. Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 297.

  75. Ibid. p. 298.

  76. F. Engels, ‘The Housing Question’, Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 297.

  77. Although, see his impressive Of The Peasant Question in France and Germany, Selected Works, vol. 3, pp. 457-77.

  78. G. Mayer, op. cit. vol. 2, p. 196.

  79. Ibid. pp. 508-9.

  80. See Engels to Bebel, 13 October 1891, August Bebel Briefwechsel mit Friedrich Engels, edited by W. Blumenberg (Hague, 1965), pp. 450-3.

  81. F. Engels, ‘Socialism: Utopian and Scientific’, Selected Works, vol. 3, pp. 149-50.

Gregory Claeys (essay date 1985)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 11025

SOURCE: “The Political Ideas of the Young Engels, 1842-1845: Owenism, Chartism, and the Question of Violent Revolution in the Transition from ‘Utopian’ to ‘Scientific’ Socialism,” in History of Political Thought, Vol. VI, No. 3, Winter, 1985, pp. 455-78.

[In the following essay, Claeys attempts to explain Engels' theory of revolution by analyzing the political statements Engels made during his first stay in England from 1842 through 1844. Claeys traces Engels' development from the non-violent Owenite brand of socialism to Marxism, arguing that despite this transition, Engels still held that the violence of class conflict could be lessened through the employment of Owenite-type strategies.]

Most accounts of early Marxist political thought have concentrated upon the development of the young Marx from the ‘Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right’ (1843) through the German Ideology (1845-46) and on to the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848) and the seminal analysis in Class Struggles in France (1850). While a degree of collaboration in the Holy Family (1844), the German Ideology and the Manifesto is acknowledged, the contribution of the young Engels to this development has not generally been treated with much care. It is usually conceded that the idea of the state as an agency of class despotism mainly originated with Engels, and that the latter reached conclusions about the necessity of proletarian revolution independently of Marx's thoughts on this subject.1 Few writers, however, have tried to discuss in any detail the development of Engels' political opinions prior to his common endeavours with Marx. In this regard a lack of interest has been compounded by a deficit of information concerning Engels' activities in England between 1842-44, which remains the least well-documented period in his long career despite scholarly concern with the social context of one of Engels' best-known works, the Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.2

This article offers a detailed analysis of Engels' political statements during the period of his first visit to England with a view to elucidating his theory of revolution. It is argued that while Engels echoed his youthful revolutionary sentiments when he first arrived in England, he soon converted to the evolutionary and non-violent strategy of the Owenite socialists, with its emphasis upon the formation of model communist communities and the dissemination of propaganda. Engels held to this view for approximately two years, but was weaned from it by the failure of the strategy itself, by the arguments of the left-wing Chartists whom he had befriended, and by his early collaboration with Marx and the implications of the first statements of the materialist conception of history. For a time Engels accepted the view that the proletariat was to be the agency of social change, while nonetheless continuing to hope that communist propaganda (especially in its Owenite form) could prevent violence or dampen its excesses by an appeal to reason rather than to class hatred. Even up to 1848, moreover (if not considerably longer) he retained elements of his beliefs in Owenite communitarianism and Fourierism, while accepting Marx's argument that ‘local communism’ by example was an impossibility and that revolution had to sweep through the industrialized countries simultaneously. By 1846, too, he had come to accept the idea that the choice of the proletariat as the agency for overthrowing the old society was central to the new variety of communism which he and Marx saw as their own distinctive contribution to revolutionary struggle. It was this which constituted the advance of ‘revolutionary science’ over ‘utopian’ science, as this essential distinction was first put by Marx in the Poverty of Philosophy (1847). Hence the development of the opposition of ‘scientific’ to ‘utopian’ socialism, which through Engels' Anti-Dühring (1878) became central to Marxist historiography, and particularly the acceptance of the need for violent revolution which was later recognized as vital to this distinction, can be clarified through an analysis of the particular path taken by Engels in this period through Owenite socialism and towards Marxism.


When Engels first arrived in Britain in the autumn of 1842 he already considered himself as something of a revolutionary.3 Only a few months earlier he had been converted to communism during a visit to Moses Hess in Cologne, where Hess described him as being on arrival ‘an Anno I revolutionary’ and on departure ‘a wholly enthusiastic communist’.4 This transformation did not however mean that Engels shed his desire for or belief in revolution at this point. To the contrary, it is clear from his first articles in England that he expected and desired a revolution to take place there. Hence in ‘The English View of Internal Crises’, his first article from England written in late November 1842, he argued that

If Chartism has the patience to wait until it has won a majority in the House of Commons, it will have to go on for many a year to come holding meetings and demanding the six points of the People's Charter; the middle class will never renounce its occupation of the House of Commons by agreeing to universal suffrage, since it would immediately be outvoted by the huge number of the unpropertied as the inevitable consequence of giving way on this point.5

Shortly thereafter, too, he began a second article entitled ‘The Internal Crises’ with the question, ‘Is a revolution in England possible or even probable?’, and answered of the results of the 1842 strikes and disturbances that

a revolution by peaceful means is impossible and … only a forcible abolition of the existing unnatural conditions, a radical overthrow of the nobility and industrial aristocracy, can improve the material position of the proletarians. They are still held back from this violent revolution by the Englishman's inherent respect for the law; but in view of England's position described above there cannot fail to be a general lack of food among the workers before long, and then fear of death from starvation will be stronger than fear of the law. This revolution is inevitable for England, but as in everything that happens there, it will be interests and not principles that will begin and carry through the revolution; principles can develop only from interests, that is to say, the revolution will be social, not political.6

On his arrival in England Engels was hence committed to the view that a violent revolution by the proletariat was both inevitable and desirable. Its character was to be ‘social’ rather than ‘political’ in keeping with the ‘triarchy’ conception of Hess on the development of revolutions in philosophy in Germany, politics in France, and economics and industry in England.7 When we next hear from Engels some six months later in the ‘Letters From London’ (May-June 1843) it is evident that this view had been modified somewhat by his intervening experiences with the Owenite socialists and Chartists with whom he had associated regularly since his arrival (in the Owenite case, he implied that he had attended their meetings every Sunday at the ‘Hall of Science’ in Manchester).8 From these first reports on Manchester we can see that Engels was not only becoming very favourably inclined to many of the socialist doctrines of the Owenites, but that he was also affected by their choice of a policy of peaceful propaganda, writing that ‘despised and derided socialism marches forward calmly and confidently and gradually compels the attention of public opinion’.9 Describing the activities of both the Chartists and Socialists for the readers of the Schweizerischer Republikaner Engels emphasized that the Owenites had a very advanced, critical position on political economy and that they were ‘engaged in an open struggle against the various churches and do not want to have anything to do with religion’, with the result that ‘the English Socialists are far more principled and practical than the French’. Besides their atheistical propaganda, too, Engels noted of the political views of the Owenites that ‘they laugh at the mere Republicans, because a republic would be just as hypocritical, just as theological, just as unjust in its laws, as a monarchy’.10 Clearly the Owenite view of the inadequacy of ‘mere’ political reforms was one with which he found himself in agreement.11

When we next hear from Engels (once again some six months later) in the series of articles for the leading Owenite journal (the New Moral World) entitled ‘Progress of Social Reform on the Continent’, the extent of his adherence to Owenite views and the general tenor of his political ideas are much clearer. Speaking for the German communists in general, Engels emphasized that

we agree much more with the English Socialists than with any other party. Their system, like ours, is founded upon philosophical principle; they struggle, as we do, against prejudices whilst the French reject philosophy and perpetuate religion by dragging it over with themselves into the projected new state of society. The French Communists could assist us in the first stages only of our development, and we soon found that we knew more than our teachers; but we shall have to learn a great deal yet from the English Socialists. Although our fundamental principles give us a broader base, inasmuch as we received them from a system of philosophy embracing every part of human knowledge; yet in everything bearing upon practice, upon the facts of the present state of society, we find that the English Socialists are a long way before us, and have left very little to be done. I may say, besides, that I have met with English Socialists with whom I agree upon almost every question.12

Engels hence classified what English Socialism had to offer as being more in the realm of the ‘practical’ than the ‘political’, in keeping with the triarchy conception of revolutionary developments. What one could learn from the history of specifically French developments was thus ‘what the future history of the English Chartists must be’, and this was doubtless the sort of advice which Engels gave his Chartist friends. But this did not mean that the political strategy pursued by the French socialists was the one Engels preferred to recommend himself. Here he argued that amongst the objections which could be made to the French communists

They intend overthrowing the present government of their country by force, and have shown this by their continual policy of secret associations … Even the Icarians, though they declare in their publications that they abhor physical revolutions and secret societies, even they are associated in this manner, and would gladly seize upon any opportunity to establish a republic by force. This will be objected to, I dare say, and rightly, because, at any rate, secret associations are always contrary to common prudence, inasmuch as they make the parties liable to unnecessary legal persecutions. I am not inclined to defend such a line of policy, but it has to be explained, to be accounted for; and it is done fully so by the difference of the French and English national character and government.13

This difference in strategy did not imply that Engels accepted what he took to be the Owenite view of the future mode of political rule, which he described as ‘more favourable to an elective monarchy’ than to a republic. He did however praise the Owenites for being ‘too enlightened to force their kind of government upon a people totally opposed to it’ since he claimed that it was evident that ‘to try this would involve this people in far greater disorders and difficulties than would arise from their own democratic mode of government, even supposing this to be bad’.14 Yet in involving himself to some degree in a debate amongst the Owenites on the best form of government for a community and for the principal Socialist organization, the Association of All Classes of All Nations, Engels also expressed his disdain for the language of liberal politics in a manner similar to that argued by the Owenites and most other socialists in this period. ‘Democracy’, he stated bluntly, was

as I take all forms of government to be, a contradiction in itself, an untruth, nothing but hypocrisy (theology, as we Germans call it), at the bottom. Political liberty is sham-liberty, the worst possible slavery; the appearance of liberty, and therefore the reality of servitude. Political equality is the same; therefore democracy, as well as every other form of government, must ultimately break to pieces: hypocrisy cannot subsist, the contradiction hidden in it must come out; we have either a regular slavery—that is, an undisguised despotism, or real liberty, and real equality—that is, Communism.15

The exact sources of Engels' hostility to ‘government’ in general cannot of course be ascertained. Such a sentiment cannot merely be labelled ‘anarchist’ though we know that Engels had read and was favourably impressed with the writings of Proudhon in this period. We also know that he found in the Garantien der Harmonie und Freiheit of the German communist tailor Wilhelm Weitling the idea of ‘the abolition of all government by force and by majority, and establishment in its stead of a mere administration, organising the different branches of labour, and distributing its produce’. He was sufficiently acquainted with the writings of Saint-Simon in this period to have gained such a notion from this source. He also on occasion applied a Feuerbachian analysis of the ‘essence’ of the state to current affairs, as in the claim that ‘the essence of the state, as of religion, is mankind's fear of itself’. And, furthermore, he had been introduced in Manchester by his good friend the Owenite lecturer John Watts to the writings of William Godwin, and wrote in the spring of 1844 that Godwin had ‘attacked the very essence of the state itself with his aphorism that the state is an evil’ and that (again in a Godwinian vein) ‘the government in every state is but another expression for the level of education of the people’. Socialism could hence be described as ‘a principle transcending everything of a political nature’ in the context of which words like ‘state’ and ‘government’ were anachronistic.16

In bringing about this new form of organization the proletariat would not be acting entirely on its own. Although Engels' ‘social’ analysis and emphasis upon material interests made logical his early discussion of the proletariat as a source of revolution, it is clear that he expected some degree of guidance to come from the middle classes. In his earliest statements he held that middle class interests meant that ‘Chartism has not yet been able to gain any hold among educated people in England and will remain unable to do so for some time yet’, and that amongst the Chartists themselves ‘the party's few educated spokesmen are lost among the masses’.17 Two years later, in the autumn of 1844, this stress on the role of the middle classes was still present. To some degree this was simply the result of German conditions in particular, for as Engels wrote of German socialism in December 1844, ‘Up to the present time our stronghold is the middle class … this class in Germany is far more disinterested, impartial, and intelligent, than in England, and for the very simple reason, because it is poorer’. He added, however, that ‘We … hope to be in a short time supported by the working classes, who always, and everywhere, must form the strength and body of the Socialist party’.18 As part of the strategy of change, however, Engels also anticipated that the enlightened dedication of the workers would itself result in further support from the classes above them:

if … they have set their sights upon such a rational purpose, and one which desires the best for all mankind, as community of goods, it is self-evident that the better and more intelligent among the rich will declare themselves in agreement with the workers and support them. And there are already many prosperous and educated people in all parts of Germany who have openly declared for community of goods and defend the people's claims to the good things of this earth which have been appropriated by the wealthy class.19

For England Engels quickly came to see this necessary meeting of education and social force in terms of the uniting of the Chartist and Owenite movements. Certainly Engels felt that the future could only be described as lying with the proletariat as a class, however, for despite ‘all their roughness and for all their moral degradation’ it was still true that ‘It is from them that England's salvation will come, they still comprise flexible material; they have no education, but no prejudices either, they still have the strength for a great national deed—they still have a future.’ But this strength, represented by the Chartist movement, was in and of itself not sufficient. Chastising the Owenites in early 1844 for their lack of acquaintance with German philosophy, Engels nonetheless conceded that

that is their only shortcoming, and they are directly engaged in the rectification of this deficiency by working for the removal of national differences … But in any case they are the only party in England which has a future, relatively weak though they may be. Democracy, Chartism must soon be victorious, and then the mass of the English workers will have the choice only between starvation and socialism.20

Engels was not of course alone in his wish to see the strength of the Chartists united to the social programme of the Owenites. On the Chartist side there were a few leaders (notably Bronterre O'Brien) who shared similar aims.21 Engels tended continually to overestimate both their strength and their dedication to the communist cause, however, writing in 1845 for example that the average Chartist ‘is more than a mere republican, his democracy is not simply political’, while admitting of the movement as a whole that its ‘Socialism is very little developed’.22 Even those Chartist leaders with whom he became close tended to see Engels as rather over-optimistic about English developments, with George Julian Harney in particular writing to Engels in early 1846 that

Your speculations as to the speedy coming of a revolution in England I doubt … I cannot see the likelihood of such changes in England at least until England is moved from without as well as within. Your prediction that we will get the Charter in the course of the present year, and the abolition of private property within three years will certainly not be realised;—indeed as regards the latter, although it may and I hope will come, it is my belief that neither you nor I will see it.23

On the Owenite side, too, some attempt had been made to bring together Chartism and socialism before Engels came to consider the matter. As Engels' German friend from Bradford, Georg Weerth, had perceived, the general influence of Owenism on the Chartist movement from 1836 to the mid-1840s had been to aid in splitting the leaders of the latter on the question of physical force.24 Some Owenites, however, had always felt that the strength of the movement should derive from the working rather than the middle classes. The Birmingham Owenite William Hawkes Smith, for example, writing in 1838, asked

Who shall first raise the standard of revolt against competition and selfishness, and commence the establishment of a purer system of morality—a more rational basis of Society, than any which is now influential? … to the greatest sufferers;—the producers of all wealth, who most practically feel the blunders and anomalies of a system which makes excessive production another name for increasing destitution—must we look for any great efforts at decided amelioration. These are the agents in the work of regeneration.25

During the mid-1840s, too, Owenite lecturer James Napier Bailey attempted to unite the Chartist and Socialist movements under the banner of ‘Republican Socialism’ or ‘Charter Socialism’. These views, however, which argued against the more paternalistic aspects of Owen's rule over the movement as a whole, were studiously ignored by the central Owenite organization and found no reception among the Chartists (who at this point had begun to concentrate upon their Land Plan) either.26 In essence the fairly orthodox economic views of the average Chartist (and his fears of Owenism's views on marriage and religion) as well as the stridently anti-political attitude of most Owenites stood in the way of any proposed union of the two camps.

It is quite clear that the form of communism to which Engels was most attached in this period, and to which he sought to help join the Chartist movement, was in fact the Owenite variety. In his ‘Description of Recently Founded Communist Colonies Still in Existence’, written for the Deutsches Bürgerbuch at Darmstadt in late 1844, it was Owenite communitarianism which played the central role. Communism, which Engels defined as ‘social existence and activity based on community of goods’, had admittedly first been successfully practiced by various small religious sects, especially the Shakers. But, Engels argued, there was no necessary connection between religion and communism, and he gave an extensive description of the Owenite community at Harmony, Hampshire, which Weerth as well as various of the German socialists in London had themselves visited. The difficulties which had been experienced at Harmony (and which were shortly to prove its undoing) Engels excused as entirely due to the financial problems suffered by the Owenite organization. Of the actual results of community life he was emphatic that ‘We also see that the people who are living communally live better with less work, have more leisure for the development of their minds, and that they are better, more moral people than their neighbours who have retained private property’. Writing back to England on his propaganda efforts in Germany during a visit at home, Engels shortly after announced that a German communist (probably himself) had been ‘invited to draw up a plan of organization and regulations for a practical Community, with reference to the plans of Owen, Fourier, etc’.27

It was in fact at this point, during late 1844 and early 1845, that Engels was at his most enthusiastic about communitarian socialism. On two successive occasions in early February 1845 he lectured to a group of the assembled burghers of Elberfeld, his hometown in the Wuppertal. Here, analysing the ‘divergence of interests’ as lying at the root of existing social problems, he argued that production would be regulated according to need in communist society, and specifically supported Owen's plans for the organization of the latter, ‘since these are the most practical and the most fully worked out’. In these communities an administrative body would manage the whole of social life, such that there would be no more wastage of labour power or production of useless luxuries, and no need of standing armies or other mechanisms of oppression.28

Two points in Engels' Elberfeld speeches are of importance to understanding how he conceived the relationship between communitarian socialism and revolution at this point. The first is that he felt that different modes of implementing socialism were possible. The English, he argued, would ‘probably begin by setting up a number of colonies and leaving it to every individual whether to join or not’, while ‘the French, on the other hand, will be likely to prepare and implement communism on a national basis’. For the Germans Engels recommended three measures which he said were ‘bound to result in practical communism’: the general education of all children at state expense, the reorganization of the poor law system such that ‘all destitute citizens would be housed in colonies where they would be employed in agriculture and industry and their work organized for the benefit of the whole colony’, and a ‘general, progressive tax on capital’ established in order to fund the former reforms. This plan was close to that often offered by the Owenites, and allowed Engels to argue that ‘it is not intended to introduce common ownership overnight and against the will of the nation, but … it is only a matter of establishing the aim and the ways and means of advancing towards it’.29

Secondly, Engels was clearly of the opinion at this time that the establishment of socialist communities was the only means by which a violent revolution could be avoided in England and, eventually, elsewhere too. The point which England had now reached, he stated, was ‘the eve of the social revolution’. The tendency of capital to concentrate in a few hands and of the middle classes to become impoverished meant a continuous enlargement of the proletariat. One day, thus:

the proletariat will attain a level of power and of insight at which it will no longer tolerate the pressure of the entire social structure always bearing down on its shoulders, when it will demand a more even distribution of social burdens and rights; and then—unless human nature has changed by that time—a social revolution will be inevitable.

The change in human nature which Engels demanded did not however involve the proletariat at all, but rather the middle classes, upon whose shoulders in turn he seems to have placed the burden of introducing communism as a means of forestalling revolution:

If, gentlemen, these conclusions are correct (he concluded at the end of his second talk), if the social revolution and practical communism are the necessary result of our existing conditions—then we will have to concern ourselves above all with the measures by which we can avoid a violent and bloody overthrow of the social conditions. And there is only one means, namely, the peaceful introduction or at least preparation of communism. If we do not want the bloody solution of the social problem, if we do not want to permit the daily growing contradiction between the education and the condition of our proletarians to come to a head, which, according to all our experience of human nature, will mean that this contradiction will be solved by brute force, desperation and thirst for revenge, then, gentlemen, we must apply ourselves seriously and without prejudice to the social problem; then we must make it our business to contribute our share towards humanising the condition of the modern helots.30


It was about this time that Engels ceased to have much faith in the ability of revolution to be prevented by the peaceful introduction of communism through the enlightened efforts of middle class reformers. This fundamental break in Engels' thought, which is first expressed in The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, written between September 1844 and March 1845, took the principal form of an attack upon the Owenite strategy of social reform from a Chartist point of view. Hence those accounts which take this text as a point of departure for discussions of Engels' early political thought miss the significance of this shift of loyalties on Engels' part.

Much of what is novel in the Condition of the Working Class can be described primarily in terms of a heightened sense of awareness of both the inevitability and the necessity of class antagonism. Building upon the model of competitive industrialization which he had first described in the ‘Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy’, where he had developed Owenite conclusions in political economy in a manner which had profoundly influenced Marx, Engels here came to explore the political implications of his economic model more carefully.31 These, in turn, he connected to an analysis of how the Chartist movement had developed in the last several years. More clearly than in his earlier works, Engels described the middle class as distinct from the aristocracy, and as the ‘opponents’ of the proletariat whose ‘interest is diametrically opposed to yours’. Here he strongly emphasized ‘the peculiarly social character of working-men's Chartism’, and argued that ‘in Chartism it is the whole working class which arises against the bourgeoisie’. What had been particularly vital, in this regard, about the uprising of 1842 and the long strike that year was that this provoked what Engels described as ‘the decisive separation of the proletariat from the bourgeoisie’. This separation was effected over two points—the question of moral versus physical force in the carrying of the Charter itself, and the question of the repeal of the Corn laws.32 The ‘Complete Suffrage Association’ was founded in order to carry out the programme of middle class political reform and hence, Engels claimed, ‘From this moment Chartism was a purely working men's cause freed from all bourgeois elements’.33

There is no doubt that Engels felt that the Chartists still had to become socialists. He bemoaned the fact that ‘their Socialism is very little developed’, but argued that ‘The approach to Socialism cannot fail, especially when the next crisis directs the working-men by force of sheer want to social instead of political remedies’. Such a crisis, he felt, might come as early as 1846, but would certainly follow ‘the present active state of industry and commerce in 1847’ which would ‘far exceed in extent and violence all former crises’ (as indeed it largely did).34

Yet for our purposes what is central about this conception of economic development is the effect it had on Engels' conception of English socialism. After briefly describing the practical programmes of the latter, Engels introduced a new note of criticism into his thinking, and here we can clearly see how far Engels' study of economics and his acceptance of Chartist conceptions of class antagonisms combined to produce a rejection of Owenism's approach to social revolution:

English Socialism arose with Owen, a manufacturer, and proceeds therefore with great consideration towards the bourgeoisie and great injustice towards the proletariat in its methods, although it culminates in demanding the abolition of the class antagonism between bourgeoisie and proletariat. The Socialists are thoroughly tame and peaceable, accept our existing order, bad as it is, so far as to reject all other methods but that of winning public opinion. Yet they are so dogmatic that success by this method is for them, and for their principles as at present formulated, utterly hopeless. While bemoaning the demoralisation of the lower classes, they are blind to the element of progress in this dissolution of the old social order, and refuse to acknowledge that the corruption wrought by private interests and hypocrisy in the property-owning class is much greater. They acknowledge no historic development, and wish to place the nation in a state of Communism at once, overnight, not by the unavoidable march of its political development up to the point at which this transition becomes both possible and necessary. They understand, it is true, why the workingman is resentful against the bourgeois, but regard as unfruitful this class hatred, which is, after all, the only moral incentive by which the worker can be brought nearer the goal. They preach instead, a philanthropy and universal love far more unfruitful for the present state of England. They acknowledge only a psychological development, a development of man in the abstract, out of all relation to the Past, whereas the whole world rests upon that Past, the individual man included. Hence they are too abstract, too metaphysical, and accomplish little.35

Here, in one passage, outlined are many of the elements which would later be incorporated into the distinction between ‘utopian’ and ‘scientific’ socialism. In order to progress Engels urged English socialism to ‘condescend to return for a moment to the Chartist standpoint’ or (what he saw as the same) ‘recede for a moment to the French standpoint in order to proceed beyond it later’. Politically, in other words, Owenism was wholly inadequate, and only in union with Chartism could it have any future.36

This rejection of the ‘tame and peaceable’ methods of the Socialists entailed a clear conception of how revolution might take place. Crisis would follow crisis, with the proletariat soon growing to ‘embrace the whole nation’, at which time ‘there comes a stage at which the proletariat perceives how easily the existing power may be overthrown, and then follows revolution’. This ‘war of the poor against the rich’ would be ‘the bloodiest ever waged’, and no general reform of the bourgeoisie could help to prevent it. Yet Engels does retain a significant element of the Owenite conception of how class antagonisms developed. He now argued that ‘The revolution must come; it is already too late to bring about a peaceful solution’, which separated him from the vast majority of Owenite writers on such questions. But he nonetheless added that ‘it can be made more gently than that prophesied in the foregoing pages’ precisely insofar as socialist ideas became disseminated:

In proportion, as the proletariat absorbs socialistic and communist elements, will the revolution diminish in bloodshed, revenge, and savagery. Communism stands, in principle, above the breach between bourgeoisie and proletariat, recognises only its historic significance for the present, but not its justification for the future: wishes, indeed, to bridge over this chasm, to do away with all class antagonisms. Hence it recognises as justified, so long as the struggle exists, the exasperation of the proletariat towards its oppressors as a necessity, as the most important lever for a labour movement just beginning; but it goes beyond this exasperation, because Communism is a question of humanity and not of the workers alone. Besides, it does not occur to any Communist to wish to avenge himself upon individuals, or to believe that, in general, the single bourgeois can act otherwise, under existing circumstances, than he does act. English Socialism, ie., Communism, rests directly upon the irresponsibility of the individual. Thus the more the English workers absorb communistic ideas, the more superfluous becomes their present bitterness, which, should it continue so violent as at present, could accomplish nothing; and the more their action against the bourgeoisie will lose its savage cruelty. If, indeed, it were possible to make the whole proletariat communistic before the war breaks out, the end would be very peaceful; but that is no longer possible, the time has gone by. Meanwhile, I think that before the outbreak of open, declared war of the poor against the rich, there will be enough intelligent comprehension of the social question among the proletariat, to enable the communistic party, to conquer the brutal element of the revolution and prevent a ‘Ninth Thermidor’. In any case, the experience of the French will not have been undergone in vain, and most of the Chartist leaders are, moreover, already Communists. And as Communism stands above the strife between bourgeoisie and proletariat, it will be easier for the better elements of the bourgeoisie (which are, however, deplorably few, and can look for recruits only among the rising generation) to unite with it than with purely proletarian Chartism.37

These comments demonstrate how important Owenite socialist concepts still were for Engels' idea of revolution and of class alliances. Among the proletariat violence was to be inhibited by the doctrine of the formation of character by external circumstances, which engendered the idea that individuals were not in any essential sense responsible for their own behaviour. This notion was the centrepiece of Owenite psychology and one of the best-known aspects of Owenite propaganda.38 Meanwhile, the fact that the idea of communism was ‘above the strife between bourgeoisie and proletariat’ meant that it could attract those members of the upper and middle classes for whom class hatred had no appeal, or indeed, a negative and distasteful connotation. Here Engels' conception of communism is midway between a purely Owenite notion, in which the pressure of working class struggle played little or no role, and the soon-to-emerge idea of communism as embedded in and inseparable from the struggle itself, which Marx was in the process of developing and which would form the principal definition of the doctrine shortly thereafter.39

It is in the German Ideology (composed between November 1845 and August 1846), in fact, that we find evidence for the view that Marx's influence was essential in altering Engels' conception of revolution and its relation to communism. Marx's sense of confidence in the conclusions of his economic studies had been evident as early as the autumn of 1844, when he mentioned in reference to his own views on ‘the centralisation of property and its consequences for the working classes’ that ‘the stupid Chartists think they are well aware of them; the Socialists maintain that they expounded those consequences in detail long ago.’40 The German Ideology, however, marks a specific break from Owenism in a manner which has hitherto remained unappreciated. Engels was later to stress that Marx's articulation of the materialist conception of history was one of the two central elements of the new ‘scientific’ socialism (the other being the theory of surplus value).41 But it is important to understand that the real failure of the strategy of communitarian socialism at exactly this time helped to ensure that this break was much sharper than it might otherwise have been. The Owenite community at Harmony collapsed, in fact, in 1844, and by 1845 the Owenite movement was in total disarray, with Owen abandoning his followers to go off to America once again and the entire communitarian effort widely discredited in the eyes of the public. One result of this failure would be the emergence of far more cautious ‘shopkeeping’ forms of co-operative socialism, with the model provided by the Rochdale Pioneers beginning in 1844.42 Another result, however, was the decisive reformulation of a new strategy in which model communitarianism was abandoned in face of something approaching total socialist revolution.

Hence in the German Ideology Marx and Engels already inscribed their epitaph to communitarianism in proclaiming ‘who in England believes in the plans of Owen, which he preached in various modifications with an eye to propaganda among particular classes or with respect to the altered circumstances of the moment?’ Incremental socialism would never be able to emerge successfully out of the present economic system, since such collective enterprises had ‘always perished because they were unable to compete with the “contending” private bakers, butchers, etc, and because for the proletarians—owing to the frequent opposition of interests among them arising out of the division of labour—no other “agreement” is possible than a political one directed against the whole present system.’ On the historical side, moreover, what Marx termed ‘local communism’ was clearly an impossibility, since every extension of economic development in non-communist areas tended to abolish whatever achievements local communism might have been able to make. Hence, Marx wrote, communism was ‘only possible as the act of the dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with them.’ ‘Communism’ itself, moreover, changes its nature at the same time; it is no longer ‘a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality (will) have to adjust itself. We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.’43

To some extent the polemic with Max Stirner with which the German Ideology was mainly concerned helped to sharpen many of the passages in which other forms of existing radicalism are also taken into account. This is the case, for example, when Marx and Engels reproach Stirner for presuming that any kind of ‘amicable’ settlement of the property question is possible, adding that the question of peaceableness is also what separates the Chartists from the Owenites in Britain, as well as the communists from the Fourierists and Saint-Simonians in France.44 But what is central in clarifying Marx and Engels' new conception of revolution is the materialist conception of history, for it is clearly stated that it is from this conception that arguments for revolution can be deduced:

Both for the production on a mass scale of this communist consciousness, and for the success of the cause itself, the alteration of men on a mass scale is necessary, an alteration which can only take place in a practical movement, a revolution; the revolution is necessary, therefore, not only because the ruling class cannot be overthrown in any other way, but also because the class overthrowing it can only in a revolution succeed in ridding itself of all the muck of ages and become fitted to found society anew.45

Here, hence, the strategy of revolution is not only the only practical means by which the old world can be superseded. It also plays an essential role in the problem of remaking the human beings who would make up the future world, who would cleanse the prejudices of the past in the act of recreating the future. Since the accusation that socialism had failed because it tried to create a ‘new moral world’ out of the ‘old moral materials’ was commonly levelled against Owenism in 1844-45, the significance of Marx and Engels' comments must be seen in this light.

The theory of revolution outlined in the German Ideology did not mean that Marx and Engels committed themselves to the view that only violent revolution was possible after 1845. To some extent such statements were avoided because their Blanquist overtones were seen as indicative of a conspiratorial view of revolution, which Marx and Engels tried to avoid.46 Hence the ‘Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith’ (June 1847) said that

We are convinced not only of the uselessness but even of the harmfulness of all conspiracies. We are also aware that revolutions are not made deliberately and arbitrarily but that everywhere and at all times they are the necessary consequence of circumstances which are not in any way whatever dependent either on the will or on the leadership of individual parties or of whole classes. But we also see that the development of the proletariat in almost all countries of the world is forcibly repressed by the possessing classes and that thus a revolution is being forcibly worked for by the opponents of communism. If, in the end, the oppressed proletariat is thus driven into a revolution, then we will defend the cause of the proletariat just as well by our deeds as now by our words.47

In the ‘Principles of Communism’ (October 1847) which succeeded the ‘Confession of Faith’, these views were repeated again, and the question of the peaceable abolition of private property is answered by the statement that ‘It is to be desired that this could happen, and Communists certainly would be the last to resist it.’48 This answer is however once again mainly directed at the problem of conspiracies rather than at the general question of the violent overthrow of existing circumstances. In his correspondence Engels, for one, argued as early as October 1846 that the aims of the communists could only be met through ‘democratic revolution by force’, and at the same time wrote to Marx that he had written to Harney ‘gently attacking the pacific nature of the Fraternal Democrats’, the internationalist wing of the late Chartist movement.49 In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, moreover, the last paragraph (written before the revolutions of 1848 had broken out) said that ‘The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions’, and this was to be the view with which they would be associated until discussion of possible forms of peaceful transition within democratic regimes arose again some thirty years later.50

Meanwhile the classification of the types of socialism in part on the basis of their attitude towards class struggle had begun in Marx's Poverty of Philosophy, which was written in the first half of 1847. Here, however, it is not ‘utopian’ and ‘scientific’ socialism which are directly juxtaposed, but rather two forms of science:

Just as the economists are the scientific representatives of the bourgeois class, so the socialists and the Communists are the theoreticians of the proletarian class. So long as the proletariat is not yet sufficiently developed to constitute itself as a class, and consequently so long as the very struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie has not yet assumed a political character, and the productive forces are not yet sufficiently developed in the bosom of the bourgeoisie itself to enable us to catch a glimpse of the material conditions necessary for the emancipation of the proletariat and for the formation of a new society, these theoreticians are merely utopians who, to meet the wants of the oppressed classes, improvise systems and go in search of a regenerating science. But in the measure that history moves forward, and with it the struggle of the proletariat assumes clearer outlines, they no longer need to seek science in their minds; they have only to take note of what is happening before their eyes and to become its mouthpiece. So long as they look for science and merely make systems, so long as they are at the beginning of the struggle, they see in poverty nothing but poverty, without seeing in it the revolutionary, subversive side, which will overthrow the old society. From the moment they see this side, science, which is itself produced by the historical moment and associating itself consciously with it, has ceased to be doctrinaire and has become revolutionary.51

In the Manifesto of the Communist Party these groups are now categorized as ‘Critical-Utopian Socialism and Communism’, and the implications of their ahistorical conception of science for their tactics more carefully outlined. Here it is ‘the undeveloped state of the class struggle, as well as their own surroundings’ which ‘causes Socialists of this kind to consider themselves far superior to all antagonisms’, which in turn leads them to ‘reject all political, and especially all revolutionary, action’ in favour of attaining ‘their ends by peaceful means, and small experiments, necessarily doomed to failure.’ What gives their critical component ‘a purely utopian element’ is thus in particular the extent to which their ‘proposals point solely to the disappearance of class antagonisms which were, at the time, only just cropping up, and which, in these publications, are recognised in their earliest indistinct and undefined forms only.’52 This then was the clearest statement of the distinction which Engels was to render in vaguer if equally famous terms many years later in the Anti-Dühring, and which he had gone through himself, in microcosm, in the period we have been describing here.53

The new theory and tactics announced in the materialist conception of history did not at first mean a complete separation from Owenite and Fourierist forms of communitarianism, however. The ‘Principles of Communism’ still included as part of its programme a provision for ‘the erection of large palaces on national estates as common dwellings for communities of citizens engaged in industry as well as agriculture, and combining the advantages of both urban and rural life without the one-sidedness and disadvantages of either.’ But such communities were not of course to serve as models any longer; revolution would have to take place ‘simultaneously in all civilised countries’, and communitarianism was no longer a method of achieving socialism but merely a means of improving it.54 In the Manifesto itself such plans were reduced to the statement that communism would include ‘combination of agriculture with manufacturing industries; gradual abolition of the distinction between town and country, (and) a more equable distribution of the population over the country.’55 By this time, thus, the remnants of Engels' communitarianism had been almost completely eradicated, and thereafter ‘scientific socialism’ would have few occasions to re-examine this aspect of its own prehistory. As we have seen, however, the formation of this concept on Engels' side requires that we understand the context of his early views on revolution, and in particular the impact of Owenite socialism upon these. For even after he had come to accept the virtual inevitability of the proletarian overthrow of the existing order, Engels at least for a time hoped that Owenite beliefs might mitigate the fierceness with which the class struggle would be fought out. With the German Ideology Marx and Engels' conception of revolution is placed securely on a new basis, and such sentiments thereafter do not reappear. After this point, too, communism ceases to be seen as something hovering above class antagonisms, and hence can hardly be construed as having for its mission their mitigation. Such views were possible as long as Engels remained essentially an Owenite, or even an Owenized Chartist, but they disappeared soon after he became a Marxist.


  1. On Engels' contribution to Marxist political thought see especially Gareth Stedman Jones ‘Engels and the Genesis of Marxism’, New Left Review, CVI (1977), pp. 79-104, also reprinted as ‘Engels and the History of Marxism’, in The History of Marxism, ed. E. Hobsbawm (Hassocks, 1983), pp. 290-326. For general treatments of Marx's and Engels' political ideas see John Sanderson, An Interpretation of the Political Ideas of Marx and Engels (London, 1969); Richard N. Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels, Vol. 1: Marxism and Totalitarian Democracy 1818-1850 (London, 1974); Ralph Miliband, Marxism and Politics (Oxford, 1977); and Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution (2 vols., New York, 1977-8).

  2. For background on the young Engels see Gustav Mayer, Friedrich Engels (2 vols., Berlin, 1975), Vol. 1, 100-220; Horst Ullrich, Der junge Engels (2 vols., Berlin, 1961), Vol. 1, pp. 1-165; Friedrich Engels. Eine Biographie (Berlin, 1970), pp. 63-166; Hans Peter Bleuel, Friedrich Engels. Bürger und Revolutionär (Bern, 1981), pp. 90-159; W.O. Henderson, The Life of Friedrich Engels (2 vols., London, 1976), Vol. 1, pp. 1-80; Steven Marcus, Engels, Manchester, and the Working Class (London, 1974); Harry Schmidtgall, Friedrich Engels' Manchester-Aufenthalt 1842-1844 (Trier, 1981); Friedrich Engels 1820-1970. Referate. Diskussionen. Dokumente, ed. Hans Pelger (Hanover, 1971), pp. 1-24; John Lucas and Standish Meacham, ‘Engels, Manchester and the Working Class’, Victorian Studies, XVIII (1975), pp. 461-72; Hyman Fagan, ‘Engels and the British Working Class’, World Marxist Review, XIII (1970), pp. 13-14; John Smethurst, Edmund Frow and Ruth Frow, ‘Frederick Engels and the English Working Class Movement in Manchester, 1842-1844’, Marxism Today, XIV (1970), pp. 340-6; Michael Knieriem, ‘Ein unbekanntes Auswanderungsgesuch Friedrich Engels nach England’, Zeitschrift des Bergischen Geschichtsvereins, MXXXVII (1974-76), pp. 105-9; Wolfgang Köllemann, ‘Der junge Friedrich Engels', Ibid; MXXXVI (1973), pp. 146-63; Bruno Kaiser, ‘Neues über den jungen Engels', Beiträge für die Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, XIX (1977), pp. 77-80; Howard Parsons, ‘Engels' Development from Christianity to Communism’, Revolutionary World, XXII-XXV (1977), pp. 180-90; Gertrude Himmelfarb, ‘Engels in Manchester: Inventing the Proletariat’, American Scholar, MII (1983), pp. 479-96.

  3. On Engels' early political ideas see especially Meyer, Friedrich Engels, Vol. 1, pp. 35-118; Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels, Vol. 1, pp. 93-131; Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Vol. 1, pp. 149-94; Norman Levine, The Tragic Deception: Marx contra Engels (Santa Barbara, 1975), pp. 107-39; Martin Gilbert, Marx's Politics; Communists and Citizens (Oxford, 1981), pp. 50-60.

  4. Moses Hess, Briefwechsel, ed. E. Silberner (The Hague, 1959), p. 103, Hess to Berthold Auerbach, 19 June 1843. On Hess generally see Auguste Cornu, Moses Hess et la Gauche Hégélienne (Paris, 1934) and Isaiah Berlin, The Life and Opinions of Moses Hess (Cambridge, 1959). Hess's main ideas on communism came from French sources, on which see Zwi Rosen, ‘The Attitude of Hess to French Socialism and His Plans for Publishing a Series of Socialist Writings with Marx and Engels', Philosophical Forum, VIII (1977), pp. 310-22; and Moses Hess and Karl Marx (Hamburg, 1983), especially pp. 63-71, David Gregory, ‘The Influence of French Socialism on the Thought of Karl Marx, 1843-45’, Proceedings of the Western Society for the Study of French History, VI (1978), pp. 242-51; and ‘Marx and Engels' Knowledge of French Socialism’, Historical Reflections X (1983), pp. 143-93; and Robert Bowles, ‘The Marxian Adaptation of the Ideology of Fourier’, South Atlantic Quarterly, LV (1955), pp. 185-93.

  5. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Collected Works (London, 1975-), Vol. 2, pp. 368-9 (hereafter MECW). For general treatments of the question of violence within socialism see Gajo Petrovic, ‘Socialism, Revolution and Violence’ in The Socialist Idea, ed. Stuart Hampshire (London, 1977), pp. 96-110; and Neil Harding, ‘Socialism and Violence’, in The Concept of Socialism, ed. Bhikhu Parekh (London, 1975), pp. 192-220.

  6. MECW, Vol. 2, p. 374. On the origins of the theory of proletarian revolution in Marx see Robin Blackburn, ‘Marxism: Theory of Proletarian Revolution’, New Left Review, CVII, (1976), pp. 3-35; and Shlomo Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (Cambridge, 1968), pp. 41-64.

  7. See Hess's Die Europäische Triarchie (Leipzig, 1841). This insistence that British industrial conditions would produce a new form of ‘social’ radicalism has dominated the assumptions of labour historians from Engels onwards. Its historiographical consequences are discussed at length in Gareth Stedman Jones, ‘Rethinking Chartism’, in Languages of Class: Studies in English working class history 1832-1982 (Cambridge, 1983), pp. 90-178.

  8. MECW, Vol. 3, p. 387. There is no separate study of Owenism in Manchester in this period, though some details are given in Eileen Yeo, ‘Robert Owen and Radical Culture’, in Robert Owen: Prophet of the Poor, ed. Sidney Pollard and John Salt (London, 1971), pp. 84-114; and Owenism generally is well covered by J. F. C. Harrison's Robert Owen and the Owenites in Britain and America (London, 1969). The other main area of Owenism's impact on Engels in this period (and through him on Marx) was political economy, on which see Gregory Claeys, ‘Engels' Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy (1843) and the Origins of the Marxist Critique of Capitalism’, History of Political Economy, XVI (1984), pp. 207-32. On Chartism in Manchester see Donald Read, ‘Chartism in Manchester’, in Chartist Studies, ed. Asa Briggs (London, 1959), pp. 29-64.

  9. MECW, Vol. 3, p. 379. Engels had at this point also come briefly into contact with some of the communist workers in London, many of whom also advocated a peaceful strategy. Their views are described at length in N. Beloussawa, ‘Joseph Moll’ and S. Lewiowa, ‘Karl Schapper’, in Marx und Engels und die ersten proletarischen Revolutionäre (Berlin, 1965), pp. 42-119. Many original documents from this group are reprinted in Der Bund der Kommunisten. Dokumente und Materialien, vol. 1: 1836-1849 (Berlin, 1970). Two recent reinterpretations are Alexander Brandenburg, ‘Der Kommunistische Arbeiterbildungsverein in London’, International Review of Social History, XXIV (1979), pp. 341-70; and Christine Lattek, ‘Radikalismus im Ausland: Deutsche Sozialisten im englischen Exil, 1840-1852’, in Politischer und literarischer Radikalismus im 19. Jahrhundert, ed. G. Claeys and L. Glage (forthcoming).

  10. MECW, Vol. 3, pp. 383-5, 389.

  11. On Owenism's treatment of ‘politics’ see Gregory Claeys, ‘Owenism, Democratic Theory, and Political Radicalism: Aspects of the Relationship between Socialism and Politics in Britian, 1820-1852’, Ph.D. thesis, University of Cambridge, 1983.

  12. MECW, Vol. 3, p. 407.

  13. Ibid., pp. 393, 397-8. Draper has strongly understated the character of Engels' contributions to the New Moral World in arguing that they ‘may have been affected by the non-class-struggle character of the Owenite movement’ (Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Vol. 1, p. 185). See also David Gregory, ‘Marx and Engels' Knowledge of French Socialism’, pp. 145-60.

  14. MECW, Vol. 3, p. 397. On the controversy on forms of government within Owenism see Gregory Claeys, ‘Owenism, Democratic Theory, and Political Radicalism’, pp. 216-24 and ‘Paternalism and Democracy in the Politics of Robert Owen’, International Review of Social History, XXVII (1982), pp. 161-207.

  15. MECW, Vol. 3, p. 393. On the meanings of ‘democracy’ in early socialism see also Jens Christophersen, The Meaning of ‘Democracy’ as Used in European Ideologies (New York, 1966), pp. 111-57; Frederic Bender, ‘The Ambiguities of Marx's Concepts of “Proletarian Dictatorship” and “Transition to Communism” ’, History of Political Thought, II (1981), pp. 525-55; Murray Stedman, ‘ “Democracy” in American Communal and Socialist Literature’, Journal of the History of Ideas, XII (1951), pp. 147-54; and generally, Keith Taylor, The Political Ideas of the Utopian Socialists (London, 1982). For a comparison of Engels' with Marx's views in this period see Maximilien Rubel, ‘Notes on Marx's Conception of Democracy’, New Politics, II (1961-2), pp. 78-90; and Horst Mewes, ‘On the Concept of Politics in the Early Work of Karl Marx’, Social Research, XLIII (1976), pp. 276-94.

  16. MECW, Vol. 3, pp. 413, 486, 498, 513. There is hence no need to presume that Proudhon alone is responsible for Engels' views on the disappearance of the state, as Hunt, among others, seems to have done (Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels, Vol. 1, p. 120). For treatments of this question generally in Marx and Engels see Solomon Bloom, ‘The Withering Away of the State’, Journal of the History of Ideas, VII (1946), pp. 114-21; Elizabeth Rapoport, ‘Anarchism and Authority in Marx's Socialist Politics’, European Journal of Sociology, XVII (1976), pp. 333-43; Paul Thomas, Karl Marx and the Anarchists (London, 1980), pp. 100-23; John Ehrenberg, ‘Dialectics of Dictatorship: Marx and the Proletarian State’, Social Praxis, VII (1980), pp. 21-39; Richard Adamiak, ‘The “Withering Away of the State”: A Reconsideration’, Journal of Politics, XXXII (1970), pp. 3-18; and ‘State and Society in Early Socialist Thought’, Survey, XXVI (1982), pp. 1-28.

  17. MECW, Vol. 2, pp. 368-9.

  18. Ibid., Vol. 4, p. 230. On Engels' view of German conditions see also J. Dehnert, ‘Engels Korrespondenzen für den “Northern Star” aus dem Jahre 1844’, Beiträge für die Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, XXV (1983), pp. 384-98.

  19. MECW, Vol. 4, pp. 227-8.

  20. Ibid., Vol. 3, pp. 445-6, 467. On the development of the concept of the proletariat among German socialists in this period see Werner Conze, ‘Vom “Pöbel” zum “Proletariat”. Sozialgeschichtliche Voraussetzungen für den Sozialismus in Deutschland’, Vierteljahresschrift für Sozial—und Wirtschaftsgeschichte, XLI (1954), pp. 333-64.

  21. On O'Brien see Alfred Plummer, Bronterre. A Political Biography of Bronterre O'Brien (London, 1971). Of the left-wing Chartists Engels was closely acquainted with G. J. Harney, on whom see A. R. Schoyen, The Chartist Challenge: A Portrait of George Julian Harney (London, 1958); Peter Cadogan, ‘Harney and Engels', International Review of Social History, X (1965), pp. 66-104; and W. Kunina, ‘George Julian Harney’, Marx und Engels und die ersten proletarischen Revolutionäre, pp. 421-55. In Manchester he also knew James Leach very well. See Edmund and Ruth Frow, ‘James Leach’, Quarterly Bulletin of the Marx Memorial Library, XXXIX (1966), pp. 12-14; and Schmidtgall, Friedrich Engels, pp. 60-81.

  22. MECW, Vol. 4, pp. 518, 524. These opinions were then repeated in Germany by Hess's Gesellschaftsspiegel (IX, January 1846, p. 35). Thanks to Christine Lattek for this reference.

  23. The Harney Papers, eds. Frank Gees Black and Renee Métivier Black (Assen, 1969), pp. 239-40. See also Cadogan, ‘Harney and Engels'.

  24. Georg Weerth, Sämtliche Werke (Berlin, 1956), Vol. 3, p. 322.

  25. W. H. Smith, Letters on the State and Prospects of Society (Birmingham, 1838), p. 35.

  26. On Bailey and similar plans in this period see Claeys ‘Owenism, Democratic Theory, and Political Radicalism’, pp. 195-212.

  27. MECW, Vol. 4, pp. 214-28 (here, 214), 227, 232. On the significance of this article see Lewis Feuer, ‘The Influence of the American Communist Colonies on Engels and Marx’, Western Political Quarterly, XIX (1966), pp. 356-74. On Weerth's visit to Harmony see his Werke, Vol. 3, p. 328. The impressions of two German socialists living in London of their visit to Harmony are recorded in Weitling's Die Junge Generation, 21 March 1842 and 5 November 1842. (Thanks to Christine Lattek for this reference).

  28. MECW, Vol. 4, pp. 243-64, and here, 245-7, 252.

  29. Ibid., pp. 253-5. For Owenite precedents of this plan see, e.g. Robert Owen, Preliminary Charter of the Rational System (London, 1843).

  30. MECW, Vol. 4, pp. 261, 263. Steven Marcus implies that it is Engels' own confusion as to which class he himself belonged which had much to do with the relatively moderate tenor of his proposals to abolish class at this time. See the discussion in Lucus and Meacham, ‘Engels, Manchester, and the Working Class’.

  31. On the ‘Outlines’ see Claeys ‘Engels' Outlines’; Terrell Carver ‘Marx—and Engels' Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy’, History of Political Thought, IV (1983), pp. 357-66; and Schmidtgall, Friedrich Engels, pp. 28-32.

  32. MECW, Vol. 4, pp. 304, 298, 519, 517, 522. On the implications of Engels' theory of classes for his conception of the state in this period see Bob Jessop, ‘Marx and Engels on the State’, in Politics, Ideology and the State, ed. Sally Hibbin (London, 1978), pp. 47-51; Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Vol. 1, pp. 182-3; Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels, Vol. 1, pp. 117-25.

  33. MECW, Vol. 4, p. 523. On the split between the middle and working classes and the Complete Suffrage movement see Mark Hovell, The Chartist Movement (Manchester, 1970), pp. 240-50.

  34. MECW, Vol. 4, p. 524. Harney had considerable doubts about the violent propensities of the English even in crises, arguing against Engels in 1846 that ‘The body of the English people … are becoming an eminently pacific people’ (The Harney Papers, p. 240). Engels however continued to have high hopes for the Chartists into the early 1850s, and passed such sentiments along to Marx as well. See, e.g. Engels' ‘England’ (MECW, Vol. 11, pp. 200-1) and Marx's ‘The Chartists’ (Ibid., pp. 333-41).

  35. MECW, Vol. 4, pp. 525-6.

  36. Ibid.

  37. Ibid., pp. 580-2.

  38. On Owen's notion of responsibility see in particular his ‘A New View of Society’, reprinted in A New View of Society and Other Writings, ed. John Butt (London, 1972), pp. 5-92. Alan Gilbert, among others, misses the Owenite context of The Condition of the Working Class in arguing that it was ‘remnants of “true socialist” philosophical pacifism and fear of the workers’ which ‘lingered in Engels' analysis and made him ambivalent about revolution’ (Gilbert, Marx's Politics, p. 56).

  39. For Marx's view of communism see especially MECW, Vol. 5, p. 49.

  40. Ibid., Vol. 4, p. 14.

  41. See Engels' discussion in Anti-Dühring (Moscow, 1947), pp. 316-38 (German edition: Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft (Moscow, 1935), pp. 265-96); and Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (New York, 1969), p. 53.

  42. On this development in English socialism see Sidney Pollard, ‘Nineteenth Century Co-operation: From Community Building to Shopkeeping’, in Essays in Labour History, ed. Asa Briggs and John Saville (London, 1960), pp. 74-112. Many brands of English socialism, moreover, continued to distinguish themselves from their Continental competitors by their adherence to non-violence late into the nineteenth century. See for example E. T. Craig, Memoir and in Memoriam of Henry Travis M.D. (London, 1885), p. 11n. For a domestic attack on this view see, e.g. Bronterre O'Brien, State Socialism (London, 1885), pp. 3-4.

  43. MECW, Vol. 5, pp. 461-2, 371-2, 49.

  44. Ibid., p. 226.

  45. Ibid., p. 53. On the development of Marx's conception of the relationship between class and revolutionary consciousness see Michael Levin, ‘Marx and Working Class Consciousness’, History of Political Thought, I (1980), pp. 499-515.

  46. On Marx, Engels and Blanquism see D. Riazanov, ‘Zur Frage des Verhältnisses von Marx zu Blanqui’, Unter dem Bannerdes Marxismus, II (1928), pp. 140-9; Hunt, The Political Ideas of Marx and Engels, Vol. 1, pp. 212-336. For a contemporary account of the rejection of conspiratorial methods see Frederick Lessner, Sixty Years in the Social Democratic Movement (London, 1907), pp. 11-12. See also John Cunliffe, ‘Marx, Engels and the Party’, History of Political Thought, II (1981), pp. 349-68.

  47. MECW, Vol. 6, pp. 101-2. On this text and its background see Herwig Förder and Martin Hundt, ‘Zur Vorgeschichte von Engels' Arbeit “Grundsätze des Kommunismus” ’, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, XII (1970), pp. 60-85.

  48. MECW, Vol. 6, p. 349.

  49. MECW, Vol. 38, pp. 82, 88. On the Fraternal Democrats see Henry Weisser, ‘Chartist Internationalism, 1845-1848’, Historical Journal, XIV (1971), pp. 49-66; Mary Davis, ‘The Forerunners of the First International—The Fraternal Democrats’, Marxism Today, XV (1971), pp. 50-60; Christine Lattek ‘Die Fraternal Democrats’, in Chartismus und britische Gesellschaft 1834-1860, ed. G. Claeys and C. Lattek (Hanover, forthcoming).

  50. MECW, Vol. 6, p. 519. On the programme and text of the Manifesto see Y. Wagner and M. Strauss, ‘The Programme of the Communist Manifesto and Its Theoretical Foundations’, Political Studies, XVII (1969), pp. 470-84.

  51. MECW, Vol. 6, pp. 177-8. On the character of the ‘social science’ of the Owenites and other early socialists see Gregory Claeys ‘ “Individualism”, “Socialism”, and “Social Science”: Further Notes on a Process of Conceptual Formation, 1800-50’, Journal of the History of Ideas, XLVII (1986), forthcoming; Barbara Goodwin, Social Science and Utopia (Hassocks, 1978); and Gareth Stedman Jones, ‘Utopian Socialism Reconsidered’, in After Adam Smith: Essays on the Making of Political Economy in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Istvan Hont (forthcoming).

  52. MECW, Vol. 6, p. 515. On the context of these views in 1847-8 see Eugene Kamenka, ‘ “The Party of the Proletariat”: Marx and Engels in the Revolution of 1848’, in Intellectuals and Revolution: Socialism and the Experience of 1848, ed. E. Kamenka and F. B. Smith (London, 1979), pp. 76-93. It was also Lenin's opinion that it was the question of violence which distinguished ‘utopian’ from ‘scientific’ socialism: ‘What constitutes the utopian character of the plans of the old advocates of co-operation, beginning with Robert Owen? It is the fact that they dreamed of a peaceful transformation of contemporary society to socialism, without taking into account such basic questions as the class war, the conquest of political power by the working class and overthrow of the rule of the class exploiters’ (‘On Co-operation’, Selected Works, Vol. 9, Moscow, n.d., p. 408). See also John Plamenatz, German Marxism and Russian Communism (New York, 1965), p. 119, for the comment that it is ‘revolutionary zeal’ which separates Marx from his predecessors among the socialists, and that ‘what distinguishes him from the other socialists who believed in the class war, from Blanqui, Proudhon and Bakunin, is again not science but the peculiarities of the theory he invented to explain his faith in the proletariat.’

  53. Engels, Anti-Dühring, pp. 305, 314-15. For discussions of the distinctions between ‘utopian’ and ‘scientific’ socialism see: Max Adler, ‘Der Utopismus bei Marx und Engels', Marx-Studien, IV (1922), pp. 292-312; Samuel Bernstein, ‘From Utopianism to Marxism’, Science and Society, XIV (1949-50), pp. 58-67; Adam Ulam, ‘Socialism and Utopia’, Daedalus (1975), pp. 382-400; Frederic Jameson, ‘Introduction/Prospectus to Reconsider the Relationship of Marxism to Utopian Thought’, Minnesota Review, NS VI (1976), pp. 53-8; Pavel Kovaly, ‘Marxism and Utopia’, in Utopia/Dystopia, ed. Peyton Richter (Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1975), pp. 75-92; Andrew Altman, ‘Is Marxism Utopian?’, Philosophy and Social Criticism, VIII (1981), pp. 387-404; Darko Suvin, ‘ “Utopian” and “Scientific”: Two Attributes for Socialism from Engels', Minnesota Review, NS VI (1976), pp. 59-70; Henri Lefebvre, ‘Engels et l'utopie’, Espaces et sociétés, IV (1971), pp. 3-9; Joachim Höppner, ‘Der Anti-Dühring von Friedrich Engels und der utopistische Sozialismus’, Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenscaft, XXVI (1978), pp. 310-24; Renate Merkel and Monika Steinke, ‘Engels' Schrift, “Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus von der Utopie zur Wissenschaft’, Beiträge für die Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, XXII (1980), pp. 820-36; Jacques Grandjonc and Hans Pelger, ‘Die Diskussion über utopischen und wissenschaftlichen Sozialismus um 1840’, in Politik und Gesellschaft im alten und neuen Österreich, ed. Isabella Ackerl, Walter Hummelberger and Hans Mommsen (Oldenbourg, 1981), pp. 327-40. Hans Pelger, ‘Was verstehen Marx/Engels und einiger ihrer Zeitgenossen bis 1848 unter “wissenschaftlicher Sozialismus”, “wissenschaftlicher Kommunismus”, und “revolutiorärer Wissenschaft”?’, in Wissenschaftlicher Sozialismus und Arbeiterbewegung . Begriffsgeschichte und Dühring-Rezeption (Trier, 1980), pp. 7-17; Wolfgang Schieder, ‘Zur Geschihte des Befriffs “Wissenschaftlicher Sozialismus” vor 1914’, ibid., pp. 18-24; G.A. Cohen, ‘Karl Marx and the Withering Away of Social Science’, in Marx, Justice and History, ed. M. Cohen, T. Nagel, T. Scanlon, (Princeton, 1980), pp. 288-309; Paul Thomas, ‘Marx and Science’, Political Studies, XXIV (1976), pp. 1-23, and Barbara Goodwin and Keith Taylor, The Politics of Utopia (London, 1982), pp. 72-77, 163-8.

  54. MECW, Vol. 6, pp. 351-2. There is some discussion of Engels' views in this period in James Mahon, ‘Engels and the Question about Cities’, History of European Ideas, III (1982), pp. 43-77. See also Gregory Claeys, ‘Country, City and “Community”: Ecology and the Structure of Moral Space in British Owenite Socialism, 1800-1850’, Zeitschrift für Anglistik und Amerikanistik, XXXII (1985), forthcoming.

  55. MECW, Vol. 6, p. 505.

Richard F. Hamilton (essay date 1991)

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 23080

SOURCE: “Engels on Germany's Classes,” in his The Bourgeois Epoch, University of North Carolina Press, 1991, pp. 122-70.

[In the following essay, Hamilton examines Engels' writings on the German classes, comparing his various analyses on this topic and studying the logic and consistency of his conclusions. Hamilton finds that Engels' research and writings on the different classes in Germany contain flawed logic and numerous inconsistencies.]

This chapter will compare four analyses by Engels of developments in Germany, along with the more familiar account of The Communist Manifesto. As will be seen, several positions appear in these less-known historical writings. Put differently, several divergent “Marxisms” are contained in the original work. To be considered are, first, an Engels essay written in 1847 (but not published until 1929), “The Status Quo in Germany”; second, Engels's Germany: Revolution and Counter-Revolution, a series of articles written in 1851 and 1852; third, Engels's preface to the second edition of his book The Peasant War in Germany (1870); and fourth, an addendum to that preface, written for the third edition of The Peasant War (1874).

The principal tasks here will be those of exposition and analysis. A comprehensive empirical assessment of the historical claims contained in these works would require an extensive review of monographic studies. For the most part, therefore, the questions raised will focus on the logic and plausibility of the analyses. One can indicate logical inconsistencies and one can also make rule-of-thumb estimates of the possibilities, that is, of the likely “realism” of the claims. One can, moreover, indicate those points where the bold assertion lacks support, where the claim is nothing more than an unsubstantiated hypothesis in need of empirical assessment. On several key points, however, on questions of special importance where historical evidence is readily available, direct assessment of claims will be made. This first engagement, as indicated, will focus on German history from roughly 1840 to 1875. A brief review of that history is clearly in order.1


Three decades of peace and relative stability in continental Europe followed the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. The terms of the peace, the international arrangements, were worked out at the Congress of Vienna. With the Karlsbad Decrees of 1819, Prince Metternich, the Austrian chancellor, imposed a repressive domestic policy designed to reverse and suppress the liberal movement of the period. The leaders of the continental powers, basically, agreed on a mutual security arrangement designed to stabilize boundaries and to ensure their conception of the appropriate “domestic tranquility.” The period up to 1848, apart from some eruptions in 1830, was one of general stability or, perhaps better, of quiescence.

No Germany existed at that time—at least no state with that name. Instead, there was a German federation, a loose assemblage of thirty-eight states operating within the territory of the old Holy Roman Empire. The largest states in that federation, Austria and Prussia, at first shared the management of German affairs, the smaller states either following their lead or quietly attempting to pursue an independent course. Engels declared 1840 to be the turning point in this episode of the history. That date has a rather unexpected un-Marxian significance. It is the year in which Frederick William IV ascended the throne of Prussia. Some events were then set in motion, Engels alleges, that eventually culminated in the revolutions later in the decade. The first spark, undoubtedly the most important and the most dramatic of the series, came in Paris in February 1848. Uprisings followed in other European cities, in Munich, Milan, Vienna, Berlin, Budapest, and in many smaller centers.

That might be taken as proof for the Marxian case, as instances of the rising bourgeoisie attempting to displace a previous ruling class. But it is best not to prejudge the issue. At mid-century, the German states were still very backward economically. Britain's leading industrial center at that point was the city of Manchester. It was also Engels's home in the fifties and sixties. The city was a giant, rapidly growing manufacturing center with over 400,000 inhabitants. The nearest equivalent in the German states, the leading textile center for the time, was the city of Barmen, where Engels was born and raised. At mid-century it had not yet passed the 40,000 mark; it continued at that level, showing only modest growth, until the 1870s. The German economic takeoff, for all practical purposes, came only in the seventies; thus the image of powerful bourgeois contenders in the forties and fifties is, to say the least, somewhat premature. Marx and Engels read their interpretation into the events of 1848. But, given the laggard German development, it follows that the actual history must have had a strikingly different character.

In the end, all of the 1848 revolutions were defeated. In France, as noted, Louis Napoleon was elected president and then overthrew the Second Republic. In Austria, the military defeated the national uprising in northern Italy and, aided by Russian troops, defeated the national rising in Hungary. “Order” was then ultimately restored in Vienna. In Prussia, the undefeated army reentered Berlin and restored the authority of the monarch without having to fire a shot. The old order was restored also in the smaller states of Germany, in many instances with the assistance of Prussian troops. In Prussia, the newly secured regime promulgated a constitution. It was, at best, a modest advance over the pre-1848 arrangements.

A new period of quiescence followed. Marx and Engels made regular predictions about the forthcoming revolution. They saw it coming with the next downswing of the economy. But the next revolution was many decades away. When it did come, it was in markedly different circumstances; it was in November of 1918, as the final episode of the world war.

Two socialist parties had been founded in the 1860s. One, Prussia-based, was led by Ferdinand Lassalle; the second, based largely outside of Prussia, was led by Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel, both of whom had close ties to Marx and Engels. The major events of that decade, however, were not generated by the working class. They were not the product of social history but, in great measure, stemmed from the maneuvers of Otto von Bismarck, minister president of Prussia. With remarkable cunning, he stimulated three quick wars in the course of six years. In 1864, in alliance with Austria, he moved against Denmark and captured the disputed territories, Schleswig and Holstein. Then, precipitating a struggle over the spoils, he moved against and defeated his former ally. The defeat of Austria at Königgrätz in July 1866 made Prussia the dominant power in the German-speaking world. Finally, in another effort of manipulation, Bismarck encouraged the gullible French emperor to attack. This allowed Bismarck to bring an array of smaller German states into a “defensive” alliance. This episode ended with the defeat of Louis Napoleon at the battle of Sedan in September 1870.

The culmination of this series of foreign-policy moves was a major achievement of domestic policy, Bismarck's unification of Germany. In January 1871, most of the German states joined together to form the new Reich (empire). Austria, rather ostentatiously, was left out of the new German unity. The King of Prussia, William I, was elevated to the rank of Kaiser (emperor).

That easy summary phrase—the unification of Germany—hides a wide range of contention and detail. There had been years of discussion over the boundaries (whether Grossdeutsch or Kleindeutsch, that is, big or small; with or without Austria; or, the same issue, whether with Catholic or Protestant dominance). Serious struggles also took place over the internal constitution of that unity. Marx and Engels favored the Grossdeutsch solution. For them the nationality and religious questions were of no significance and should have been discounted. Marx and Engels also favored a unitary centralized state. That would facilitate the development of a large, unified working class. But in both respects, despite their initial enthusiasm, Bismarck had failed them. He had created “small Germany” and, even worse, had created a federal state, one leaving many powers with the component states. The kings, dukes, and lesser rulers continued in their offices until 1918. Only foreign affairs (including tariffs) and the conduct of war were centralized, that is, were to be handled by national offices located in Berlin.

The two socialist parties experienced occasional reverses but, on the whole, showed considerable growth. A merger was achieved in 1875, at the Gotha conference, to create what soon became the world's leading socialist party, the Social Democratic Party of Germany (called, for short, the SPD). Marx and Engels paid considerable attention to these developments, guiding the party and attempting to direct its course. Although the most significant quantitative growth came outside the period under immediate review, one key episode, the struggle over the Agrarfrage, the farm question, did fall here, and Marx and Engels both intervened to affect the outcome. The resolution of that question was to have long-ranging implications for the political development of Germany.

For this discussion, one must follow the writings of Engels, who, in their informal division of labor, was the German specialist of the pair.


The first Engels contribution to be considered here, a brief account entitled “Der Status Quo in Deutschland,” was written in the spring of 1847, less than a year before the Manifesto. Not published until 1929, in the Soviet Union, it does, nevertheless, provide us with a first view of the German topic. It is also, as will be seen, an unusually detailed and comprehensive account. One West German specialist, Iring Fetscher, declared “The Status Quo in Germany” to be “one of the most brilliant criticisms of the (German) bureaucracy and political backwardness to be written by a revolutionary intellectual in the nineteenth century.”2

The work begins with a discussion of the German bourgeoisie, contrasting it with the equivalent classes in England and France. The account, on the whole, is very much in keeping with standard Marxian views: it portrays a rising class aspiring to take power. The treatment is clear and unambiguous: “In Germany the bourgeoisie is not only not in power, it is even the most dangerous enemy of the existing governments.” He speaks in this connection of the “aspiring” (andrängende) bourgeoisie. The point is repeated in subsequent discussion, with Germany being contrasted with the two leading forerunners: “While in France and England the bourgeoisie has become powerful enough to overthrow the nobility and to raise itself to be the ruling class in the state, the German bourgeoisie has not yet had such power.”3

If not the bourgeoisie, who, then, does rule? One might think it was simply the aristocracy, but that was not Engels's position, at least not in the discussion that follows. “While in France and England the towns dominate the countryside, in Germany the countryside dominates the towns, agriculture dominates trade and industry.” He then turns, appropriately, to consider the nobility, “the class of big landed proprietors.” Their complete domination of society appears in the feudal system. But that system, he reports, has “everywhere declined” due to the rise of a competing “industrial class” (gewerbetreibende Klasse). That new class, one learns, is not the haute bourgeoisie, as one might anticipate, but rather the petty bourgeoisie (Kleinbürger). The outcome of this development, rather unexpectedly, is a compromise between the nobility and the petty bourgeoisie which “amounts to resigning power into the hands of a third class: the bureaucracy.” Since the nobility is the more powerful of the two (actually, “represents the more important branch of production”), members of that group hold the highest posts in the civil service, while the petty bourgeoisie must settle for the lower ones. “The petty bourgeoisie,” Engels declares, “can never overthrow the nobility, nor make itself equal to it; it can do no more than weaken it. To overthrow the nobility, another class is required, with wider interests, greater property and more determined courage: the bourgeoisie.4

This formulation is distinctive in four respects: First, the discussion bypasses the monarchy entirely, treating it as of no importance. It is, to say the least, an unusual portrait of the Hohenzollerns, Habsburgs, Wittelsbachs, and the lesser royal families. Second, it assigns a power and a role to the petty bourgeoisie that is seldom seen elsewhere in the Marxian literature. Third, the portrait of rule is coalitional in character; that unexpected pluralist argument, seen in the previous chapter, appears again in this brief analysis. And fourth, there is an ad hoc delineation of a new class, the bureaucracy, a group not appearing in most accounts of the basic nomenclature; this class is treated as a dependent force, apparently, in some way, executing the will of the coalition partners. The latter claim, it should be noted, again bypasses consideration of the monarchy; the civil service serves this coalition of classes, not the king.

Engels next provides an extended discussion of the petty bourgeoisie, contrasting them with the bourgeoisie. It is one of the most detailed accounts to be found anywhere in the Marx-Engels work. The bourgeoisie grew out of the petty bourgeoisie in those countries sharing in world trade and large-scale industry, in those with free competition and concentration of property. The bourgeoisie engage in worldwide trade; the petty bourgeoisie, by contrast, deal locally or, at best, in a regional market. (Curiously, Engels makes no mention of the obvious intermediate option, of a national market.) Correspondingly, there appears a difference in the breadth of their outlooks: the petty bourgeoisie have only local concerns, but the bourgeoisie have general interests. The petty bourgeoisie settle for and are happy with small gains, indirect influence in national legislation being adequate for their purposes; participation in local administration is all that is required. The bourgeoisie, in contrast, cannot secure their interests without direct, continuous control over the central administration, foreign policy, and national legislation. This point has considerable importance for later discussion in this chapter: it says direct and continuous control is required over, effectively, all government operations. Engels here denies the representational possibility, that some other group or class could serve as its agent; the bourgeoisie itself must undertake the task. One final statement in this comparison touches on the differing politics of the two classes: “The petty bourgeois is conservative as soon as the ruling class makes a few concessions to him; the bourgeois is revolutionary until he himself rules.”5

Germany's bourgeoisie has a rather unexpected historical origin. Engels declares that “the creator of the German bourgeoisie was Napoleon.” It is a statement worthy of a Carlyle—or of a Treitschke (who argued that “men make history”). It was Napoleon's continental system and the resulting pressure for freedom of trade that gave Germany its modern industry and extended the development of mining. Then, already in 1818, the Prussian government felt compelled, much against its will, to create a protective tariff, this being its first official recognition of the new class. The Prussian Customs Union followed, and then the bourgeoisie “developed rather quickly.” Although lagging behind England and France, “it has nevertheless established most branches of modern industry, in a few districts supplanted peasant or petty-bourgeois patriarchalism, concentrated capital to some extent, produced something of a proletariat, and built fairly long stretches of railroad.”6

The 1818 arrangement, as W. O. Henderson has summarized it, “swept away some sixty internal duties, abolished prohibitions, admitted raw materials free of duty and levied import and consumption duties of only 10 percent on manufactured goods and 20-30 percent on colonial goods [foodstuffs] and wines.” Eliminating internal trade barriers and increasing the size of the trade territory are both key elements of the liberal program. A pure liberal might have wished no tariffs at all, but the Prussian program could easily be counted as “steps in the right direction,” especially since most import duties were “levied at much lower rates than those of other countries on the Continent.” Free trade, the abolition of the Corn Laws, it will be remembered, did not come to Britain until 1846.

An empirical question: Did the Prussian government only reluctantly institute the tariff? Historical research on the subject indicates just the opposite—the government (“the bureaucracy”) pursued the task with enthusiasm. It was relatively easy for that government to eliminate trade barriers within Prussia and to establish the 1818 tariff. Then, through sustained diplomatic efforts, the ministers succeeded in extending the arrangement to include other German states, yielding the Customs Union (Zollverein) of 1834. It was, Henderson declares, “the most liberal tariff in Europe.” The explanation for the zeal—of Prussia and of the other participating states—is very simple: following basic liberal principles, the move would mean substantial increases in trade and equally dramatic increases in state revenues. The Prussian civil servants responsible for Zollverein affairs, we are told, “had been educated at universities at which doctrines of the classical economists were taught.” It was the civil servants, moreover, who had taken the initiative; business leaders, generally supportive of the innovations, complained only that they had not been consulted.7

The actual history, in short, does not square with Engels's account of the bureaucracy. He has the top ranks filled with members of the aristocracy (an accurate portrait) and, presumably, serving the interests of that class. But the actual history shows them serving the interests of “the state.” Arguing liberal principles, they claimed their policy served also the general welfare. The actual history points to an independence or autonomy of the state (or the government, or the civil service). The policy was not something derived from (or “a reflection of”) the will or interests of a dominant (or rising) class. Engels's account misses this actual history; his treatment is such as to lend plausibility to the basic Marxian notion of the centrality of the classes.

Apart from the actual historical evidence, it should be noted, the logic of the argument is implausible. In 1818, it is argued, the Prussian government felt compelled (genötigt) to institute the tariff. But at that time the bourgeoisie must have had minuscule influence. It is only after the Zollverein (Engels omits the date, 1834) that he can speak of the “rather rapid development” of the class, it still, even in the twenties, thirties, and forties, lagging far behind its British and French equivalents. He has assigned an influence to that class which, at that early date, is most unlikely. There is also a motivational problem: why would the higher civil servants—aristocrats with interests opposed to the bourgeoisie—foster a policy that, presumably, would damage their class interests? It is clear from logic alone that something else must have been operating.

The rise of the bourgeoisie, Engels declares, meant a loss for the previously dominant classes. The German nobles, he claims, ever since Napoleonic times, had become more impoverished and burdened by debt. The ending of feudal labor services increased their costs; Russian, American, and Australian competition squeezed them. They failed, moreover, to use the newest developments in farm technology. The decline of the nobility, it should be noted, is not simply a function of economic facts. An important role is assigned to outlooks or attitudes, to laziness on the one hand and to profligacy on the other. The German nobles, Engels reports, like their English and French forerunners a century earlier, were squandering their fortunes. Engels writes: “Between the nobility and the bourgeoisie began that competition in social and intellectual education, in wealth and display, which everywhere precedes the political dominance of the bourgeoisie and ends, like every other form of competition, with the victory of the richer side. The provincial nobility turned into a Court nobility, only thereby to be ruined all the more quickly and surely. The three per cent revenues of the nobility went down before the fifteen per cent profit of the bourgeoisie.”8

The introduction of the attitudinal factor, of the element of will, changes the character of the analysis; it is no longer, strictly speaking, economic determinist. It thereby becomes contingent history; the nobility, if so disposed, could have made use of the newest advances in agriculture, could have given serious attention to the management of their estates, and could have refrained from ostentation and frivolous display.

The bourgeoisie, as noted repeatedly, is generally treated as an urban class, the word itself in its etymology signifying an urban base. But Engels here points to the appearance of bourgeois farmowners, to a new class of industrial landowners. The differences between them and the nobility are again, unexpectedly, matters of will or character rather than legal or purely economic ones. “This class carries on agriculture,” Engels declares, “without feudal illusions and without the nobleman's nonchalance, as a business, an industry, with the bourgeois appliances of capital, expert knowledge and work.” This agricultural segment of the bourgeoisie is essentially at one in outlook with its urban peers. Some of the nobility, those “wise enough not to ruin themselves,” joined with this industrial landowner class. Engels's conclusion here is that “the nobility has therefore become so impotent, that a part of it has already gone over to the bourgeoisie.”9

Engels returns again to discussion of the petty bourgeoisie. This class is weak in comparison with the nobility and, even more, in relation to the bourgeoisie. Indeed, after the peasants, it is “the most pathetic class that has ever meddled with history.” Its heyday was in the late middle ages, but even then its concern with petty local interests brought it only to local organizations, local struggles, and local advances. It led a tolerated existence alongside the nobility; nowhere, however, did it achieve a general political domination. With the coming of the bourgeoisie, the petty bourgeoisie loses “even the appearance of historical initiative.” At this point, the petty bourgeoisie, Engels writes, is caught in between, overwhelmed by the political power of the nobility and pressed by the economic power of the bourgeoisie. Given this position of conflict, Engels announces, the class divides into two factions; the richer, urban petty bourgeoisie, “more or less” timidly, joined the revolutionary bourgeoisie; the poorer faction, especially from the rural communities, joined with the nobles to protect the existing arrangement.

That all seems clear enough. However, in the same long paragraph one is provided with another scenario. Under current circumstances, in the prevailing status quo, the ruin of the petty bourgeoisie is certain, something clearly recognized by the poorer faction. Seeing their only chance in the possibility of mobility into the bourgeoisie, they follow the leadership of that class. The “more certain its ruin,” Engels declares, “the more it ranges itself under the banner of the bourgeoisie.”

When the bourgeoisie attains power, the petty bourgeoisie divides once again. At that point its members must either ally with the proletariat, an option mentioned only in passing, or surrender unconditionally to the bourgeoisie. This process had already occurred in England, most clearly in periods of economic downswing, and was currently to be seen in France. The same development is just beginning in Germany. It was only now in the phase of abandoning the nobility. The petty bourgeoisie, Engels concludes, “places itself every day more and more under the command of the bourgeoisie.”

To summarize, the petty bourgeoisie is backing away from the declining nobility. But, at the same time, it finds no clear positive option. Seen first in alliance with the nobility (those two classes staffing the bureaucracy), it then divides, one part maintaining the link, the other joining with the bourgeoisie. Then, in a third development, virtually the entire class submits to the bourgeoisie. A minor option, forming ties with the proletariat, as indicated, receives only a brief mention. For the moment, the German petty bourgeoisie has allied with—has entrusted its fate to—the bourgeoisie.10

The next class considered by Engels is the farmers (die Bauern), including here the smallholders and tenants. This account notes some similarity between farmers and the urban petty bourgeoisie. Unlike the Manifesto and The Class Struggles in France, it also recognizes a point of difference. Like the urban segment, this group is a “helpless class,” one incapable of any historical initiative. The two differ, however, in character. The farmers, it is said, show “greater courage” than the petty bourgeoisie. Where the absence of a nobility or bourgeoisie allows them to rule (Norway and the Alpine cantons of Switzerland are mentioned), they are given to “pre-feudal barbarianisms, local narrow-mindedness, and dull, fanatical bigotry.” On the positive side, Engels notes, they show “loyalty and rectitude.”

Where the farm class persists, as in Germany, the farmers find themselves squeezed, just like the petty bourgeoisie. Accordingly, one finds division in their ranks, the condition of the holding being the decisive factor. Some, those with larger farms—those in the east—tend to ally with the nobility. Elsewhere the tendency is to ally with the bourgeoisie. As with his discussion of the petty bourgeoisie, Engels makes no attempt at quantification. He does say, in a final passage, that they, “for the greatest part,” have put themselves at the disposal of the bourgeoisie. One might wonder, in the absence of any serious evidence on farmers' outlooks or behavior, how Engels knows about these mass reactions. At this point he gives us a clue as to his research procedures. “That this is actually the case,” Engels writes, “is proved by the Prussian provincial diets [legislatures].”11 That rather imprecise proof assumes a direct, unbiased system of representation, broad suffrage, and free elections. But the comments of such spokesmen, at all times and places, must be recognized as providing, at best, only very oblique reflections of underlying mass opinion. Any such conclusions, therefore, must be viewed as extremely tenuous.12

Finally, Engels discusses the working class. His main task is to indicate the fragmentation present: the class contains farm laborers, day laborers, journeymen in the crafts, factory workers, and Lumpenproletariat . These groups are spread thinly over a wide territory with only a few weak points of concentration. As a result, it is difficult for them to develop an understanding of their common interests and to form themselves into a single class. They, as a consequence, focus on their respective immediate interests and see these linked to the conditions of their employers. Each segment, accordingly, forms an auxiliary army in the service of its employers. The farm laborers and day workers support the interests of the nobility or the farmer, and so on. The “Lump” fights for whoever pays a few Taler. The workers, clearly, are not at all prepared to take over the direction of public affairs.

Engels summarizes as follows: “The nobility is too much in decline, the petty bourgeoisie and peasants are, by their whole position in life, too weak, the workers are still far from sufficiently mature to be able to come forward as the ruling class in Germany. There remains only the bourgeoisie.”13

A more detailed discussion of the condition of the bourgeoisie follows. Its situation in Germany is compared with the experience of other nations, principally with England and France. The immediate conclusion, not at all unexpected in this case, is that Germany's bourgeoisie is destined to overturn the status quo. This follows both from the general historical experience and from the particular constellation of forces in Germany. Although only a small and relatively undeveloped class (especially as compared with those of England and France), its strength comes through its leadership of a broad combination of forces. Engels concludes that the bourgeoisie is “the only class in Germany which at least gives a great part of the industrial landowners, petty bourgeoisie, peasants, workers and even a minority among the nobles a share in its interests, and has united these under its banner.”14

Engels also reports on the state of bourgeois consciousness. It is the only class in Germany that has definite plans, that knows what to put in place of the status quo. He reports at some length on the aims of the bourgeoisie, on its plans and organization. It is a portrait of knowledge, understanding, and of actions designed to attain their ends. The portrait, in short, is one of a class having a high state of awareness and a will to action. In the familiar Marxian terms, it possesses a fully developed class consciousness; it is a class for itself.

Some additional questions are considered in the remaining pages of the incomplete manuscript. The principal concern is with the “why” question: Why does the bourgeoisie seek to overturn the status quo? These pages provide a rather detailed account of the fetters argument, of the obstacles placed in the way of bourgeois trade and industry by the old regime. It explains that class's needs, taking up matters on an issue-by-issue basis. In this respect it is a rare performance; most later discussions simply refer to the fetters, assuming the obviousness of the argument and neglecting the details. Exploration of those details here would require a major digression. One may focus, however, on the conclusion: Engels argues that the bourgeoisie must become the ruling class. Its interests must take priority in legislation, in administration, in the judiciary, in matters of taxes, and in the conduct of foreign policy. The logic of that “must” is neither clear nor all that compelling. The argument, moreover, has an all-or-nothing character—the bourgeoisie “must develop itself to the full … in order not to be ruined.” But there might be other possibilities: sharing power, muddling through, compromise arrangements (especially to be recommended for coalitions), representational alternatives, and so on. If the bureaucratic-monarchical regime could serve the nobility and the petty bourgeoisie, might it also be of service to the developing bourgeoisie?15


“The Status Quo in Germany” and the Manifesto show important differences in the character of the analyses. The first and perhaps the most striking difference, is the shift from complexity to simplicity. In the article, six classes receive at least a paragraph-long treatment. In the Manifesto, including the single paragraph on the Lumpenproletariat, there are four classes. The change, in part, stems from a difference in focus. The article deals with prerevolutionary Germany; hence the classes of two epochs are present and contending. The Manifesto is focused on the bourgeois era; the first and principal analytic section considers the dynamics of the presumably already-existing bourgeois epoch. Hence, for that reason, the nobility receives only a few casual mentions. The farm populations are there treated as part of the bourgeois economy and are classified with the petty bourgeoisie. The bureaucracy exists as a separate entity in “The Status Quo”; it is not present in the Manifesto.

Simplification occurs in still another way. “The Status Quo” recognizes the possibility of internal differentiation; some diversity of outlooks within classes is clearly indicated. The Manifesto, in contrast, provides strong categorical formulations—the bourgeoisie does this, the proletariat does that. The former work sees contending coalitions of forces; it is the alliance of the bourgeoisie with other groups that challenges the status quo. By itself, the bourgeoisie would be too weak to achieve the task. The Manifesto, in contrast, says nothing of such alliances. The bourgeoisie is a bold, competent, and capable class; it goes its way, charts its own course. The linkage with the Lumpenproletariat involves the purchase of services, something quite different from a conventional alliance. Differentiation within the bourgeoisie is recognized, but the minority factions defect; they “go over to” the workers rather than allying with them. It is the class-versus-class formulation of the Manifesto that has dominated subsequent thought, both in Marxist and non-Marxist analyses, rather than the coalition-versus-coalition portrayal.16

The coalitional focus, it will be noted, has a counterpart in contemporary thought, that is, in the pluralist framework. That line of theorizing, reaching back to Montesquieu and Tocqueville, assumes multiple centers of power and processes of negotiation between them to achieve satisfactory compromise results. Engels's “Status Quo” account clearly has a strong pluralist character. There is a recognition of the multiple power centers and, although not a strong emphasis, there is a recognition of the negotiated or compromise outcomes. But where the pluralists normally give consideration to the negotiations, discussing the terms of the compromise, Engels neglects that subject, treating the alliances as the natural or automatic outcomes of the larger social developments. The introduction of negotiations into the discussion would have problematical implications in that the determinist history would again become contingent. A role for the individual, for the shrewd, adept negotiator, would appear; moreover, one would also have to allow some place for the accident, for the fluke in such negotiation efforts.

There is also a problem of inconsistent predictions. The most important of these appears with respect to the petty bourgeoisie. In “The Status Quo,” that class is allied with the aristocracy and then, so it is claimed, will join with the bourgeoisie, that being the most forcefully stated option. Any links with the proletariat are mentioned only in passing. In the Manifesto, as was seen in Chapter I, the petty bourgeoisie either acts for itself, wishing to “roll back the wheel of history,” or, a part of it at least, joins with the workers. In the Manifesto, all segments of the class “fight against the bourgeoisie.” There is no suggestion of a “surrender” into the hands of the bourgeoisie. This indicates a remarkable flexibility of position within the span of only a few months.17


The next account to be considered here is Engels's Germany: Revolution and Counter-Revolution. This work is a collection of articles that were written under Marx's name for the New York Daily Tribune in 1851 and 1852. Leonard Krieger, who edited the version to be used here, declares that “the work has been recognized as a classic by historians of all persuasions.” As a historical study, he adds, “its repute and its utility remain eminent.” He refers also to “the precedence which it has recently enjoyed over all the contemporary and even many of the subsequent histories of the 1848 revolution in Germany.”18

This history opens with a delineation of five classes (plus some “subordinate gradations”). Two classes mentioned briefly in “The Status Quo,” the industrial landowners and the Lumpenproletariat, do not appear here. The significance of those missing classes will be considered at a later point.

The first class discussed is the nobility. Again comparison is made with England and France, where feudalism was “entirely destroyed” or, in England, reduced to a “few insignificant forms” due to the efforts of a “powerful and wealthy middle class.” But in Germany “the feudal nobility” retained “a great portion of their ancient privileges,” including “jurisdiction over their tenants.” In addition to this “supremacy over the peasantry in their demesnes,” they were also exempt from taxes. The feudal arrangement was stronger in some localities than in others. Regional variation within Germany is a central theme found throughout Engels's discussion; there were, after all, thirty-eight separate states within the loosely organized German federation. The nobility, officially, was the first “Order” of the land. It “furnished the higher Government officials” and, almost exclusively, “officered the army.” One point deserves special emphasis: The nobility was not a ruling class. Engels is very clear on this point, referring to them as “deprived of their political privileges, of the right to control the princes.”19

The nobility in this 1851 portrait bears little resemblance to that of Engels's 1847 account. There is nothing on their backwardness, on their failure to use modern technique; there is nothing on their outlooks, on either laziness or profligacy; there is nothing on their competition with the bourgeoisie for status, nothing on their “three per cent incomes”; and there is nothing on their role as “flunkies” at court. In 1847, Engels places great emphasis on their relative impoverishment. In 1851, that also disappears, the only comment now being that some of them are “very wealthy.”

The bourgeoisie, in this account, is portrayed as relatively weak and backward, but growing in strength. It is certainly not the bourgeoisie of England or France. The most serious problem is that of division, there being no large centers of trade or manufacturing. Much of the trade passes through foreign ports, Dutch and Belgian principally, thus creating the bourgeoisie of other nations. There is, moreover, the problem of division into some three dozen states. The basic problem was a want of numbers and particularly of concentrated numbers; this prevented them from taking power, as was done in the leading capitalist nations.

The governments of Germany were “compelled to bow,” reluctantly, he says, to the immediate material interests of the bourgeoisie. Engels again mentions the Prussian tariff of 1818 and the Zollverein as prime examples. It was, however, a seesaw struggle, the governments, in subsequent periods of reaction, recapturing ground previously lost. The argument of fetters on trade and industry appears again, this time without any detailed specification. Bourgeois activity is “checked” by the political constitution of the nation, by the “random division” of territory “among thirty-six princes with conflicting tendencies and caprices,” by “the feudal fetters upon agriculture and the trade connected with it,” and by the “prying superintendence” of an “ignorant and presumptuous bureaucracy.” Despite these obstacles, trade continued to grow, bourgeois links and consciousness to develop. The commercial classes of the various states were brought closer together, their interests equalized, and their strength centralized. The “natural consequence,” Engels reports, is that the “whole mass” of them passed into the camp of the Liberal Opposition. He gives this move a precise date, 1840, described as “the moment when the bourgeoisie of Prussia assumed the lead of the middle-class movement of Germany.”20

The next class discussed is the petty bourgeoisie. That expression, however, is not used; here it is referred to as the “small trading and shopkeeping class.” Because of the limited development of the bourgeoisie, this class has special importance in Germany. “In the larger towns,” Engels writes, “it forms almost the majority of the inhabitants; in the smaller ones it entirely predominates [due to] the absence of wealthier competitors or influence.” Engels assigns this class a considerable role in the revolutionary events of 1848. “During the recent struggles,” he says, “it generally played the decisive part.”

Once again we have a discussion of the distinctive intermediate position of this class. Its members are, he says, “eternally tossed about” between “the hope of entering the ranks of the wealthier class, and the fear of being reduced to the state of proletarians or even paupers.” Unlike the bourgeoisie, which knows its position, and unlike the proletariat which soon will know where it stands, the petty bourgeoisie is “extremely vacillating” in its views. The class is “humble and crouchingly submissive” under feudal or monarchical governments; it turns “to the side of Liberalism” under the ascendant middle class and is even “seized with violent democratic fits” when the middle class “has secured its own supremacy.” But then, when the proletariat attempts its own independent movement, the class “falls back into the abject despondency of fear.” All these positions, he says, are evidence in the events of the German revolution.21

This portrait of the petty bourgeoisie, the third of the Marx-Engels portraits reviewed thus far in this chapter, differs markedly in the specific assertions made about the class. The Manifesto had it that they would either be reactionary or, those recognizing their fate, would join with the workers. The former option is not mentioned specifically here, although the “abject despondency of fear” statement might be an oblique reference to that possibility. The second option, joining with the workers, is not mentioned at all. The development described in “The Status Quo,” the alliance of petty bourgeoisie and nobility sharing power through the bureaucracy, also is not mentioned in Revolution and Counter-Revolution. The minor option mentioned in “The Status Quo,” alliance with the proletariat, has disappeared. The major alternative mentioned there, “unconditional surrender” to the bourgeoisie or serving “under the command of the bourgeoisie,” may be implicit in at least two phases of the present sequence, although here the relationship appears freely chosen as opposed to the helpless “act of submission” of the earlier work. And finally, where that earlier work left the class under the command of the bourgeoisie, the last act in the 1851 scenario has them leaving that command, evidently to support the monarchy.

Engels again is showing unusual flexibility in his statement of the petty bourgeoisie's role. The recurrent evidence problem surfaces once again: How could Engels have known about the reactions of hundreds of thousands of persons scattered across “three dozen” central European states? It is clear that no adequate epistemological method—way of knowing—was available at that time and that he, to put it simply, was freely extemporizing.

The German working class, like that nation's bourgeoisie, has a laggard development. This is the only place where Engels's discussion is clearly dialectical in character. The working class develops in opposition to the bourgeoisie. “Like master, like man,” he writes. But the “mass” of German workers are employed “by small tradesmen, whose entire manufacturing system is a mere relic of the Middle ages.” The consequence is a lack of development, an absence of modern ideas. Just as there is “an enormous difference between the great cotton lord and the petty cobbler or master tailor, so there is a corresponding distance from the wide-awake factory operative of modern manufacturing Babylons to the bashful journeyman tailor or cabinet-maker of a small country town, who lives in circumstances and works after a plan very little different from those of the like sort of men some five hundred years ago.”

Given the condition, it was not surprising, as Engels reports, that “at the outbreak of the Revolution, a large part of the working classes should cry out for the immediate re-establishment of guilds and Mediaeval privileged trades corporations.” That reactionary tendency has been well documented in later scholarship. That single sentence is the only statement in the entire account that recognizes the backward-looking character of the working-class movement of 1848. Beginning with the next sentence, Engels turns to the opposite movement, to consideration of the emerging radical tendencies. In the manufacturing districts where the “modern system of production” predominated, where greater movement and communication was possible, a different “mental development” was possible. There, a “strong nucleus” formed “whose ideas about the emancipation of their class were far clearer and more in accordance with existing facts and historical necessities; but they were a minority.” Those qualified formulations disappear in his later pages. There, even before the March revolution, “the working classes of the larger towns looked for their emancipation to the Socialist and Communist doctrines.” And a page later, he reports that “the proletarians were preparing to hurl down the bourgeoisie.”22

The fifth and last category considered in this account is “the great class of small farmers, the peasantry.” Together with the farm laborers, it constitutes “a considerable majority of the entire nation.” This class, Engels reports, is divided into four subcategories or factions. These are the more wealthy farmers (who have allied with the “antifeudal middle class of the towns”); the small freeholders, a group that is, on the whole, impoverished, burdened by mortgages, and so forth; feudal tenants—those not easily turned off the land, persons obliged to pay “perpetual” rents or labor services; and the agricultural laborers. The last three groups “never troubled their heads much about politics” before the revolution. Although they see new opportunities for themselves in that development, Engels does not portray them as actors in those events. It is evident, he says, something “borne out by the history of all modern countries,” that the farm population, being dispersed and unable to develop their ideas and to coordinate action, “never can attempt a successful independent movement; they require the initiatory impulse of the more concentrated, more enlightened, more easily moved people of the towns.”

Wealthy farmers, the Gross and Mittel-Bauern, it will be noted, are explicitly declared to be a faction of “the great class of the small farmers, the peasantry,” although that does not seem appropriate. The “class of industrial landowners” of “The Status Quo” has disappeared as a separate category. The second and third factions, freeholders and tenants, classified with the farm class in “The Status Quo” and with the petty bourgeoisie in the Manifesto, are again part of the farm class. No clear role is attributed to them in this work: they had an opportunity, saw it, and did nothing with it. Farm laborers, explicitly excluded from the farm class in “The Status Quo,” presumably to be counted as proletarians, now are counted along with the Gross, Mittel, and Klein farm proprietors. The inconsistent placement had no great significance because, according to Engels, none of the factions played a serious role in the revolutionary events he is describing.

That portrait of do-nothing farm populations, however, is not accurate. Violence was widespread in the German countryside in the year prior to the revolution, with burning of manor houses a frequent event. The farm populations showed considerable “initiating impulse.” Engels's treatment of the historical record here involves serious distortion. He makes much of minor working-class skirmishes (for example, the “insurrections” of Silesian and Bohemian weavers) but gives no attention to the much more serious farm insurgency. For those not knowing anything of the history, that selection would confirm Engels's claims—that the future would be decided by the proletariat and that farm populations generally would count for nothing in the unfolding drama.23

The German case, in contrast to Britain and France, is complicated by the diversity problem, that is, by the presence of many states (or statelets). The contending classes have a different mix in “every district, in every province.” Moreover, there is no great center, no London or Paris, where a decisive battle could occur. There is, accordingly, a necessity for “fighting out the same quarrel over and over again in every single locality.” Given such “incoherence,” it is not at all surprising that Marx and Engels were ardent supporters of German unification; it would simplify all of that complexity and allow a rapid acceleration of the historical development.

The previous paragraphs summarize Engels's first Daily Tribune article, which briefly describes the five classes of his nomenclature and gives some indication of their dispositions in the 1848 struggles. It is not at all clear from this particular account which sides were contending. Given the trained expectation of a class struggle, one might anticipate a conflict of bourgeoisie against aristocracy. But that is not the case. The antagonists, the defenders in the struggle, are the monarchies headed by the princes. The protagonists, the revolutionary forces, are arrayed against political regimes, not against ruling classes. Engels's portrayal of these regimes, initially at least, is rather nebulous, providing no clear link to the just-described classes. At the opening of the second article, for example, they are described as “half-feudal, half-bureaucratic Monarchism.” Those regimes, it will be noted, are autonomous political agencies. Engels has indicated earlier that the aristocracy had been deprived of political power; power now was in the hands of monarchs and their agencies, principally, bureaucracy and army. Those regimes stand outside the classes and interests he has delineated. No sooner is the Marxian class analysis under way than the strict lines of that framework are abandoned.

Most knowledgeable persons would expect a structural analysis to follow, one proceeding independently of persons and individual motives; in fact, in the opening pages, Engels promises just that kind of analysis. His actual analysis, however, centers on individuals, their whims and fancies. In his discussion of Prussia, the subject of the second article, he focuses on the king, Frederick William IV, who came to the throne in 1840. That date is given repeatedly as the beginning point of the new ferment. The king's political preferences and his foibles, speeches, and behavior are reviewed at length, the net result, it is said, being “to estrange from him the sympathies of the middle class.”24

An extended discussion of the troubled relationship of king and bourgeoisie follows. The conflict resulted in a high level of consciousness on the part of the middle classes. They knew they were “on the eve of a revolution and prepared themselves for it.” For this purpose they “sought to obtain by every possible means the support of the working class of the towns, and of the peasantry in the agricultural districts.” Curiously, Engels omits the petty bourgeoisie, the class that he said played the decisive part in the towns. It is a puzzling observation: Why would the bourgeoisie neglect its most obvious ally in this struggle? Why would bourgeois leaders instead attempt to mobilize two rather distant classes, ones that would be disposed to dangerous positions on questions of suffrage, indebtedness, and property?

The final paragraph of this discussion depicts two contending coalitions—not a polar confrontation of opposed classes. Engels's summary reads:

While the higher nobility and the older civil and military officers were the only safe supports of the existing system; while the lower nobility, the trading middle classes, the universities, the schoolmasters of every degree, and even part of the lower ranks of the bureaucracy and military officers were all leagued against the Government; while behind these there stood the dissatisfied masses of the peasantry, and of the proletarians of the large towns, supporting, for the time being, the Liberal Opposition, but already muttering strange words about taking things into their own hands; while the bourgeoisie was ready to hurl down the Government, and the proletarians were preparing to hurl down the bourgeoisie in its turn; this Government went on obstinately in a course which must bring about a collision.

A similar portrait appears at the end of the following article, one focused on the smaller states of Germany. Again it is an account of “a heterogeneous mass of opposition,” this “more or less led by” the bourgeoisie.25

The basic portrait offered in Revolution and Counter-Revolution differs considerably from that provided in the Manifesto. The former account, like the “Status Quo” article, depicts a struggle of coalitions, one weak and fumbling, the other large, angry, and confident. The account does not show, as in the Manifesto, a sharp class-versus-class confrontation; it does not show a class struggle. This divergence, however (as noted in the discussion of “The Status Quo”), does not represent a contradiction but stems rather from a difference in focus. The Manifesto gives only a truncated portrait of the historical process and thus provides a misleading clue to the larger framework.26 It begins with a bourgeoisie already in power and concentrates on the end-phase of the capitalist epoch. The final struggle, so it is announced, will find “two great classes directly facing each other.” In that struggle, the proletariat, a powerful, self-conscious majority, will have no particular need for allies. The options available to the bourgeoisie, as compared with earlier points in the epoch, will be limited and without promise, since only the dwindling petty bourgeoisie and the Lumpenproletariat remain. Given the unreliable character of both segments and given the odds against them, negotiations by the bourgeoisie could not significantly alter the situation. The pluralist analysis, in short, would no longer be applicable in the end-phase of the epoch.

But in those previous struggles, in those assumed (and bypassed) in the Manifesto, the conflict would have had a different character, one for which a pluralist analysis would be most appropriate. In fact, only with difficulty could it be avoided. With aristocracy and bourgeoisie together not making up even 10 percent of the population, any social conflict would, almost of necessity, involve coalitions of forces. There would, in other words, be considerable incentive for the principal contenders to seek aid from among “the other 90 percent.” Accounts of those earlier struggles would have to consider discussions of the terms; they would have to consider quid pro quo arrangements—what rewards for what support? Analyses of the defeats, where appropriate, would also have to consider the unraveling of those agreements. What led participants to withdraw from a coalition? What led some to change sides?

Engels provides only a brief sketch of the revolutionary coalition. He assumes the bourgeoisie to be revolutionary in orientation. He declares the movement to be “more or less” under bourgeois direction. Other groups seeking redress of their grievances have been drawn into this effort. But no serious evidence is provided to back up any of these claims. No evidence is offered to show the revolutionary orientations of the bourgeoisie. We have nothing on the bourgeois leadership, and no detail is provided on the negotiations necessary to form the coalition. Some important considerations, in short, are missing from Engels's analysis.

Something must also be said about the other contender in the revolutionary struggle, the “half-feudal, half-bureaucratic” monarchical regimes. They evidently are in power. It is also evident that these regimes are not reducible to (that is, are not the agencies of) any of the five classes described in the opening article. Individual rulers now appear, and their outlooks and orientations make a difference. In the Prussian case, Frederick William's peculiarities play a “decisive part” in stimulating the formation of the opposition. These rulers, moreover, do not stand alone; they operate through a bureaucracy, a civil service. And just as decisively—a key aspect of the arrangement—they operate with the aid of armies. The entire cluster—monarch, bureaucracy, army—stands outside Engels's basic analytic framework. Since he cannot very well ignore these ruling agencies, they enter through the back door, in ad hoc discussions. This means there is no serious analysis of the key agencies in the struggle, of the so-called absolute monarchies. Those agencies, therefore, have a phantom existence in his account.

One should, in addition to these purely analytical objections, consider the empirical implications of Engels's analysis. If the bourgeoisie was “more or less” organizing the effort, that should be reflected in the surviving documentary record. A simple question arises: Where is that leadership role empirically established? If the bourgeoisie were as unified and conscious as Engels claims, that too should be indicated in the documentary record. Again s