T. A. Jackson
Publisher: N.C.L.C Publishing Society LTD., London
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
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FORTY years have passed since the death of Frederick Engels, the friend and co-worker of Karl Marx. So great has grown the interest excited by the Socialist movement in recent years, and so much has this growth of interest tended to obscure the reputation of Engels by an exclusive pre-occupation with that of Marx—a process which Engels himself stoutly encouraged—that it seems more than fitting that we should grasp the occasion as a chance to appraise more adequately the debt the Marxist movement owes to Frederick Engels.
Marx’s pre-eminence in their partnership was avowed by no one more emphatically than by Engels himself:—
“I cannot deny,” he wrote, “that both before and during my forty years’ collaboration with Marx, I had a certain independent share in laying the foundations, and more particularly in elaborating the theory (i.e., of dialectical or ‘historical’ materialism). Put the greater part of its leading basic principles, particularly in the realm of economics and history, and above all its final clear formulation, belongs to Marx. What I contributed, at any rate with the exception of a few special studies, 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 a quicker view than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented. Without him the theory could not be what it is to-day. It therefore rightly bears his name.” Engels, Feuerbach, footnote, pp. 52-53.
This leaves little room for doubt or question, except in so far as concerns Engels’s generous self-abnegation, especially in the reference to “we others.” If we dissent from it, as in justice we must, it can be only in respect of the fact which Engels passes over as of no account: the fact that but for Frederick Engels there would have been no Karl Marx.
We do not refer only, or even mainly, to the fact that, but for Engels’s unstinted aid, Marx would have starved to death or have been driven insane by privation and disappointment in the terrible years after first the failure of the Revolution of 1848-49: and then the suppression of the paper (the Neue Rheinische Zeitung) in which he had sunk his little fortune. This fact is important enough, but we can agree with Engels in treating it as negligible in comparison with the fact that it was only in close association with Engels and under the constant stimulus of his companionship, and his more than talented collaboration, that the genius of Marx was developed from something which merely might have been into the splendid reality of the fully developed Marx. The Marx of history, of every one of his works from the Communist Manifesto onwards, is the “natural” Marx, but strengthened and enriched by association with Frederick Engels. True, the same argument applies to Engels, and his strengthening and enrichment by association with Marx. So that the net result is much as Engels expresses it—with this difference: that the world is richer, in each of their cases, as a result of one of the most enduring and fruitful friendships ever known.
A few years after he had written the footnote quoted above, Engels returned to the point in a letter to Franz Mehring (July 14, 1893):—
“If I find anything to object to it is that you attribute more credit to me than I deserve, even if I count in everything which I might possibly have found out for myself, in time, but which Marx with his more rapid coup d’il (grasp) and wider vision discovered much more quickly. When one has the good fortune to work for forty years with a man like Marx, one does not usually get the recognition one thinks one deserves during his lifetime. Then if the greater man dies, the lesser easily gets over-rated, and this seems to be my case just at present; history will set all this right in the end, and by that time one will be safely round the corner and know nothing more about it.” Marx-Engels Correspondence, p. 510.
Now that Engels is “safely round the corner” it is more than ever his due that, while preserving to Marx all the pre-eminence that is his undoubted due, we should learn to appreciate the work of Frederick Engels.
HOW THE FRIENDSHIP BEGAN
The friendship between Marx and Engels began in 1844. They had met previously, in 1842, in the office of the Rheinische Zeitung, then the leading Democratic Republican journal in Germany, of which Marx was the editor. Neither was, at this first meeting, much drawn to the other.
Engels, the son of a leading cotton manufacturer and importer in Barmen-Elberfeld, in Rhenish Prussia, had just finished his year in the army as lieutenant of the Guard-Artillery, and was still, despite an ardent interest in the Schelling-Hegel Nature Philosophy and in republican-democratic politics, rather stiffly the “officer of the Guards.” His upbringing in a rigidly Lutheran and commercial home atmosphere had been very different from that of Marx, who had been reared in an atmosphere of eighteenth-century French culture upon a basis of the rabbinical tradition and legal studies of his father. Marx, as the brilliant young editor, fresh from his university studies, had reached his enthusiasm for classical German philosophy and revolutionary democratic politics by a road opposite to that travelled by Engels. Each was a man of intense feeling and wide sympathy; each was, as is usual with sensitive natures, shy in the presence of strangers. In this their first meeting neither was able to conquer his restraint.
Engels went on from Cologne to England, to a clerical appointment in his father’s cotton manufactory in Manchester, and applied himself to the study of commerce. Marx, continuing his work as editor, found himself landed in a succession of conflicts with the authorities and the censorship, and also in a number of controversies, in the course of which he found himself, somewhat vexatiously, handicapped by a lack of knowledge of political economy and of the new doctrine of “Socialism,” then making great headway in Paris, and from Paris spreading into Germany. When the Rheinische Zeitung was suppressed in 1844, Marx made his way to Paris expressly to study these subjects. A friend and fellow Hegelian, Arnold Ruge, invited Marx to collaborate with him in producing from Paris a new review-magazine, The German French Year Book, which should make a feature of critical-philosophical studies upon all the topics then exercising the minds of the most advanced spirits in Germany; such a magazine as it would be impossible, under the censorship, to publish in Germany itself. The collaboration of all the leading radical writers in France and Germany (Feuerbach, Bruno and Edgar Bauer, Heine and Proudhon among them) was invited and, in response to this appeal, came an article, “Outlines of Political Economy,” from young Frederick Engels away in Manchester. As soon as he read it, Marx proclaimed it a work of genius and wrote at once, enthusiastically, begging Engels, whenever he had occasion to return to Germany, to make his way there via Paris and give Marx the pleasure of his company for a few days.
ENGELS AND THE CHARTISTS
Engels was only too delighted to comply. On his arrival in Manchester in 1842, he had found the place in a ferment in consequence of the second great upheaval of the Chartist movement and the wave of strike-struggles and riotings which had accompanied it. As a republican-democrat he was drawn at once to the democratic-republican Chartist movement, and through that movement he came into contact with its socialist wing, and with the Owenite communist movement which more or less overlapped it. As a student of commerce he was forced to study classic political economy. In association with the Chartists, Democratic-Socialists and Owenites he was attracted to the study of the critical conclusions drawn from that political economy by the political champions of the working class. These studies, critically combined with the positive results of classical German philosophy, bore fruit in two works (in addition to a number of articles contributed to Owen’s New Moral World and the Chartist Northern Star). The first and larger was his remarkable study of The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, upon which he was at work when he was invited to contribute to the German-French Year Book. The second was the article with which he responded to that invitation which, as we have said, Marx at once acclaimed as a work of genius.
Engels speedily followed his article to Paris, and both he and Marx found that their original negative impression of each other was completely changed. For ten days they compared views and found that each had independently reached identically the same revolutionary conclusion: that the bourgeois social order was, historically, a transitory phenomenon—an order doomed to give place, sooner or later, to the rule of the proletariat and a system of Communism. The fact that each had reached this conclusion by a different route—Engels by the study of the classic English political economy and of the English Labour Movement, Marx by the study of the great French Revolution and its outcome in French proletarian radicalism and equalitarian socialism—made them only the more complementary to each other. The friendship sealed in these ten enthusiastic days—“ten days that shook the world” in a very real sense—lasted unbroken for the remainder of their lives.
AN EPOCH-MAKING ACHIEVEMENT
The immediate effect of the establishment of their alliance was that both together commenced upon what became henceforward their joint life-task: to win over the spontaneous proletarian movement to the adoption of Communism as its logically inevitable aim, and to win over the (more or less Utopian) Socialist and Communist movement to a recognition of the revolutionary proletarian struggle as the historically “necessary” vehicle for the attainment of its ideal aims. It was this synthesis of two independently arising movements (the practical struggle of the proletariat for immediate betterment and ultimate emancipation and the revolutionary-ideological struggle to transform bourgeois society into its opposite—i.e., into Socialist or Communist society—into one movement which was both proletarian and Communist, practical and revolutionary, radically realist and radically theoretical, which constituted the epoch-making achievement of Marx and Engels.
Each in his own way flung himself at once into the work of propagating the newly-begotten theory. Before leaving Paris for Barmen, Engels wrote the opening instalment of the first work in which the new theory was expounded—one directed against the abstract, anti-revolutionary theory of gradual philosophical enlightenment preached by Edgar and Bruno Bauer—which Marx completed and published under the title of The Holy Family: a Criticism of Critical Criticism. Engels, meanwhile, at his home in Barmen, completed and saw to the publication of his Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.
This work, being a profoundly original study of a social phenomenon which till then had never received proper objective treatment, attracted a far wider notice than the more directly polemical Holy Family. It is, indeed, a remarkable work, readable and illuminating to this day. But that for which it is outstandingly remarkable is that it breaks drastically with the tradition that the proletariat is only an aggregation of individuals who are alternately to be pitied and to be despised. The traditional notion—embalmed by Gladstone in the antithesis of “the classes and the masses”—was that only the “upper” classes, the aristocracy, the gentry, the members of the “liberal” professions, and the well-to-do middle class had any sort of traditional esprit de corps binding them together into definitely distinguishable social strata and entities whom rulers and governors were morally bound to respect and consider. The traditional attitude of the upper “classes” to the “masses”—whom they called the “lower orders of society” when they wished to be polite or the “mob” and the “swinish multitude” when they chose to drop all pretence at politeness—was that of the American slave owner who said that “the negro had no right that a white man was called upon to respect.” The canons of gentility, nobility and “humanity” decreed that the “lower orders” should no more be treated with wanton cruelty than a horse or a dog; but beyond that it was stupid sentimentalism to pretend to go. And if, and when, these “lower orders” got “out of hand,” it was right, just and necessary that they should be “disciplined” like a vicious horse or exterminated like a rabid cur.
Against this complacent view Engels formulated in the Condition of the Working Class the counter-conception (at which he and Marx had each arrived independently) that this miserable and despised “mob” was, precisely because it was miserable and outside the pale of bourgeois society, the very force prepared by historical development for the overthrow of bourgeois society—which overthrow would both make possible and necessitate the establishment of a Socialist or Communist society.
The Condition of the Working Class appeared in 1845. By that time Marx had been expelled from Paris and had settled in Brussels, where Engels joined him. Together they began upon the work of establishing a network of “corresponding societies” (after the fashion of the famous Jacobin Club and its English imitator, the London Corresponding Society) as a preliminary to the launching of a new revolutionary Communist Party. They were already in touch with a number of Socialist and Communist groups and secret societies after the Weitlingian and Blanquist model, and as a result a conference was projected for which Marx and Engels were commissioned to draw up a full statement of principles. Meanwhile, they wrote between them a full-length polemic against all the then current political delusions of the German intelligentsia—the German Ideology—which was fated not to reach the stage of print (except fragmentarily) until 1932, when it was—all but a small fragment that could not be discovered—published by the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow.
The first draft of the projected statement of principles was made by Engels in the form of a catechism. It, too, has been recovered and printed since the Bolshevik Revolution and it is a remarkably fine document. But what is most striking about it is the penetration shown by Engels in being dissatisfied even with so fine a work. In submitting it to Marx (who had been writing his criticism of Proudhon, the Poverty of Philosophy), Engels expressed his dissatisfaction with the whole idea of a catechism, and asked Marx to consider carefully the alternative idea of a Communist Manifesto. Marx agreed enthusiastically, and in consequence the world-famous Communist Manifesto was written.
BACK TO ENGLAND
This intimacy of association, a collaboration so close that it is hard to say in the final result how much is Marx and how much is Engels, since by far the greater part is both in conjunction, endured for the remainder of their lives. They fought side by side in the conduct of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the most radical journal of the German Revolution of 1848-49, and were separated only for a time when Marx, his journal suppressed, was deported from Cologne, while Engels went on to fling himself into the ranks of the Baden rising and take part in the last stand of the revolution at Rastadt.
When Marx, driven from France, took refuge in London, Engels joined him and busied himself in finding openings for Marx to make a living by journalism; while he himself, to provide the “sinews of war,” made his peace with his father and resumed his place in the parental factory in Manchester.
Thereafter for the rest of their lives they never lost contact.
How close their relationship was and how very much Engels’s stimulus and encouragement counted in promoting the development of Marx and the elaboration of his life-work can best be seen from the Marx-Engels Correspondence. They each wrote almost daily, and on every conceivable aspect of the theory for which they were jointly responsible. The range of subjects covered by them is as amazing as their range of languages. It is, too, no mere academic correspondence. Before, during and after the launching of the International Working Men’s Association the whole range of the actual practical revolutionary struggle was a matter of never-ceasing concern. They knew, personally, everybody of prominence in the revolutionary cause, and separately and jointly they were consulted by the leaders of every section of the movement. They never shirked the duty of expressing them dissent from theories and policies with which they did not agree; but, on the other hand, they were equally unsparing in their enthusiastic support for every “real movement to make an end of the existing order of things.”
THE PARIS COMMUNE
After 1869 Engels retired from commerce, and in 1870 he transferred his domicile to London. The daily correspondence with Marx was replaced by daily visits. Together they laboured during its brief lifetime to win support for the Paris Commune, and together they laboured at the work of providing theoretical and practical guidance for the rising Socialist and Workers’ parties which, in all the chief countries in Europe, emerged as a result of the gradual break-up of the International Working Men’s Association after the Commune.
When Marx died, Engels put his feelings into a sentence “Humanity is shorter by a head, and what a head!” And the rest of his days he devoted to the task of completing, vindicating and popularising the work of his life’s friend.
Physically and temperamentally they were very different, and at the same time much alike. Both were big men physically, but whereas Marx was broad and swarthy, Engels was tall and blonde. Marx was the more of a wit, Engels the more of a humorist; but both were men of intense feeling, both had a hatred of fuss and parade, and both were men of a radical profundity in the study of every subject they undertook.
THE COMIC SIDE
This profundity had at times its comic side. Engels being in the hands of the doctor for some ailment, Marx writes to urge him to take iron, backing his plea with the opinion of “all the leading medical authorities, French, German and English, whose works I have specially studied for the purpose.” Engels, in reply, counters with an equally learned exposition of the reasons for preferring cod-liver oil. He agrees however that the one does not exclude the other, and so consents cheerfully to try both!
As Marx after years of herculean labour reaches the completion of the first volume of Capital, and the work is actually at the printers, Engels writes: “The day your damned book appears I will get gloriously drunk!” And Marx replies hoping that he will not get too drunk, but adding seriously and with intense feeling:—
“It is only thanks to you that this was possible. Without your self-sacrifice I could never have accomplished the enormous work.”
It was fitting that it should be Engels himself who found that Marx had passed away peacefully in his chair while waiting the daily visit of his dear comrade, “our old Fritz.” Typical of Engels was his letter to his old comrade and fellow-fighter in the Baden rising, Johann Philip Becker, the revolutionary brushmaker, the morning after Marx had died:—
“The greatest mind in our party has ceased to think, the strongest heart I have even known has ceased to beat . . . You and I are almost the last of the old guard of 1848. Well, we’ll remain in the breach! The bullets are whistling, our friends are falling around us, but this is not the first time we two have seen this. And if a bullet hits one of us, let it come—I only ask that it should strike fair and square and not leave us long in agony.” Marx-Engels Correspondence, p. 416.
Of Engels’s personality a word or two may fittingly be said.
He was a genial soul, fond of the open air, of country walks, of fox-hunting (which he with solemn facetiousness excused as good training for cavalry operations in the event of a revolution), of good eating and good drinking. He was twice married (without legal ceremony) —to Irishwomen in each case, sisters in fact, Mary and Lizzy Burns, each of whom was an enthusiastic Fenian. He was devoted to them, as they were to him. He differed greatly from Marx in so far as he was more immediately companionable and likeable. But they were as one in their enthusiasm for their joint life’s-work.
In all he did, in his studies, his commercial career, his military service, his writings, his revolutionary adventures, Engels flung himself into the work in hand with all the force of his sturdy, genial, exuberant vitality. The Marx children loved him like an elder brother and he returned their affection. It is impossible not to be superlative when treating of Frederick Engels. If ever any man deserved to be called “as true as steel,” that man was Frederick Engels.
His end came swiftly. In March, 1895, still full of work, he developed cancer in the throat. By August 5, 1895, he was dead. At his own wish his body was cremated and his ashes thrown into the sea off Eastbourne, his favourite summer resort.
The writings of Frederick Engels are indispensable for the study of Marxism, and this for several reasons. Apart from showing Engels’s personal genius, his writings derive added importance from the fact that even when they were not produced jointly with Marx—as was the case with the Communist Manifesto—they were (until Marx’s death) produced in collaboration with Marx in the sense that the whole plan was discussed by them jointly before any of the works of either was written, and the result was, in each case, submitted for the critical revision of the other. For the purposes of Marxism, therefore, the works of Engels are also largely the works of Marx, and vice versa.
Omitting an immense mass of journalistic work and correspondence, and confining ourselves only to those of his works which have appeared in book form (and here again we omit the various prefaces he wrote to every work of Marx’s reprinted during his lifetime), the list of Engels’s writings, with the date of writing, runs as follows:—
The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844-45)
* The Holy Family (with Marx) (1844-45)
The German Ideology (with Marx) (1845-46)
The Communist Manifesto (with Marx) (1847)
The Peasants’ War in Germany (1850)
Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany, 1848 (Originally published under Marx’s name.) (1851)
* The Poland the Rhine (1859)
Savoy, Nice and the Rhine (1859)
* The Prussian Military Question and the German Labour Movement (1865)
The Housing Question (1872)
Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880)
“The Labour Movement in Britain” (articles written for the Labour Standard) (1881)
“The Mark” (given as an Appendix in Socialism) (1883)
The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884)
Editing Marx’s Capital, Vol. II (Completed 1885)
*The Dialectics of Nature (1885-93)
Ludwig Feuerbach (1888)
Editing Marx’s Capital, Vol. III (Completed 1894)
Those marked with an asterisk are not yet available in English.
An examination of this list, to which, of course, should be added the Correspondence of Marx and Engels, of which a very good selection is available in English, demonstrates the two main aspects in which Engels’s work supplements, and can, so far, be distinguished from that of Marx. To set Marx free for concentration upon his great life-work in economic analysis Engels took upon himself the work of popular exposition and of polemical reply to criticism. In addition, Engels specialised upon the study of the military questions in which he had received a thorough grounding during his service in the Prussian Guard-Artillery.
Engels’s gifts as a popular expounder of Marxism have never been excelled. The proof is found in the world-wide and enduring popularity of his Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. Originally, this consisted of portions of certain chapters in his great polemic against Eugen Dühring. Paul Lafargue, Marx’s son-in-law, hit upon the idea of making a separate pamphlet out of these sections which, with Engels’s approval, he translated into French and issued in 1880. Translations into other languages and reprints of the original German text were followed in 1892 by an English translation, for which Engels wrote a special introduction which is one of his most remarkable essays. It has been many times translated into still more languages, and many times reprinted in all these languages. In 1892 Engels commented, with obvious surprise as well as delight, upon its universal popularity. With the only possible exception of the Communist Manifesto, it remains to this day unapproached as an introduction to the study of Marxism.
ENGELS AND AN INTELLECTUAL JERRY-BUILDER
Engels’s qualities as a populariser were shown no less well in his Ludwig Feuerbach. In this essay he traces the connection between the Marxian world-conception and that of the German classical philosophy which came to an end with Feuerbach. Engels’s powers are here shown at their very finest; no praise could be too high for the skill with which Engels compresses the most profound implications of the Marxian world-outlook into terms that are limpid in their clarity and at the same time carefully guarded against any possibility of dogmatic over-statement.
In one sense the essay on Ludwig Feuerbach is an epitome of the central theme of Engels’s longest work, his world-famous Anti-Dühring. The two works differ widely in tone and temper, since the larger work is a point-by-point polemic against a pretentious, jerry-built theory of Socialism, manufactured by one of Adolf Hitler’s spiritual ancestors, and the world philosophy upon which it was based, while the shorter essay is a straightforward exposition of the historical origin of the Marxian world-outlook. But while the essay gives that outlook in a summarised form, the Anti-Dühring reaches it in a succession of storming assaults in which the enemy’s defences are beaten in and ultimately the whole domain of philosophical thinking is won for the Marxian philosophy of dialectical materialism and of revolutionary struggle. If serenely genial confidence is the predominant tone of Ludwig Feuerbach, enthusiastic joy-in-battle is the prevalent tone of the superlative Anti-Dühring. Deservedly popular as are the chapters from it reprinted under the title of Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, it is not saying too much to assert that the work as a whole would suffer less from the extraction of those chapters than they suffer from being extracted from their context. The Anti-Dühring is, next only to Marx’s Capital, the outstanding classic of Marxism.
Both the Anti-Dühring and the Feuerbach have suffered in Britain, until recently, the terrible handicap of being available, for those who cannot read German, only in appallingly bad (and Bowdlerised) translations imported from the U.S.A. Happily both works are now available for English readers in full and adequate translations.
On the other hand, the Dialectics of Nature, which contains a number of notes on questions of natural philosophy and which is of great value for the full understanding of dialectical materialism, has not yet been translated into English. It was first published in Moscow in 1925 and proved to be a great stimulus for Soviet research.
The more specialised work of Engels falls under three heads (a) military studies; (b) historical-political essays; (c) the completion of Marx’s Capital.
Of the works in the first of these categories we need say little since neither of them is at present available in English. Of their quality it is sufficient to say that Engels’s Po and the Rhine (published anonymously) was generally believed to have been written by a member of the General Staff of the Prussian Army. Similarly, his articles contributed to the New York Tribune (in Marx’s name so far as the editor was concerned, but appearing anonymously) on the Crimean War were attributed to the Commander-in-Chief of the Army of the U.S.A., Lieutenant-General Wingfield-Scott. And during the Franco-Prussian War his articles (again unsigned) in the Pall Mall Gazette won for that paper the esteem of all the military experts in Britain and on the Continent. His articles on the American Civil War, contributed to a Viennese journal, showed a similarly penetrating grasp of the military problems involved. In their familiar circle the Marx household always jokingly nicknamed Engels “the General.” That he should have so used his period of military service as to gain a thorough grasp of the principles of military science was characteristic of the enthusiastic thoroughness with which Engels flung himself into every subject he tackled.
Engels’s historical-political studies form the largest single class of his writings. Every one of them is remarkable. For convenience of characterisation they may be sub-classified as (a) the group dealing with the German revolution; (b) the social theory group; and (c) the group dealing with the English working-class struggle.
In the first category are his Peasants’ War (probably the most neglected of his writings—quite undeservedly) and his Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany in 1848 (which has the added interest of having for long been attributed to Marx). Although the first dealt with the events of the early sixteenth century, while the second deals with events contemporary with the time of writing, they are closely connected. Much that happened in the former period conditioned the course of events in the second period; the experience of the later events excited an interest in, and gave a reason for the study of, the former period. A direct connection is found in a phrase in a letter from Marx to Engels, in which, discussing the chances of a renewed outbreak of the revolutionary struggle (then subsiding), Marx says: “Everything depends upon whether we can back the struggle with an up-to-date version of the Peasants’ War.”
It was this hint which most likely set Engels writing (for Marx’s paper the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, the publication of which had been transferred to Hamburg) the essay on the Peasants’ War in Germany, the high-water mark of the German Reformation.
The ground-theme which connects these two studies has a profound significance for the Marxian conception of history. Once the social content of the Protestant Reformation is seen to have been the class struggle of bourgeois society to break through the constraining bonds of the feudal social order it becomes possible to establish a comparative sequence in which the Protestant Revolution, the Anglo-Scottish Puritan Revolution, the British “Whig” Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution, the Great French Revolution of 1789, and the year of Revolutions, 1848-9, all present an essentially similar movement at various stages of development. And more than that. Not only do they present in sequence various stages in the development of the bourgeois revolution, but each stage in its degree has its phase in which a more or less proletarian struggle is seen discriminating itself from the bourgeois movement in general, and becoming a distinctly more radical movement for ends which lie well beyond those of the bourgeois revolution—a movement towards Communism. In the Protestant Revolution this phenomenon took the form of the Peasants’ War and the movement headed by Thomas Munzer. In the Puritan Revolution it took the forms successively of the Levellers, the True Levellers, and the “Fifth Monarchy” men. In the Great French Revolution it took the forms of the ultra-Jacobin (Marat-ist) movement, and of Babuf’s conspiracy. Finally, in 1848, the proletarian phase came out most clearly of all in the Parisian rising of the days of June, 1848.
In each ease the effect of the emergence of the proletarian variation on the general theme of revolution was to cause a counter-movement of a conservative or even counter-revolutionary order—a general consolidation of the revolution on the main positions won, combined with a violent suppression of the attempt to drive the revolution further. But since at each successive stage of its emergence into the arena of world events the proletariat is more clearly differentiated, greater in mass, better consolidated, riper in development and more consciously revolutionary, it becomes clearer that (in the words of the Communist Manifesto) “the weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself.”
Developments since 1850-51 have made the historical process still clearer. In 1870-71, the petty-bourgeois and proletarian revolt in France against the Second Empire, which finally culminated in the consolidation of the Third Republic, had the dramatically outstanding phase of the Paris Commune of 1871, in which the proletariat dominated more completely than ever before, and came much nearer to enduring triumph. In 1917, in Russia, the general revolt against Tsardom early passed into the phase of proletarian dominance and finally emerged as a triumphant proletarian revolution, every effort to overthrow which failed and which has, in its achievements in the field of Socialist construction, definitely opened the new, Socialist era in the history of mankind.
In his Peasants’ War, and in the Revolution and Counter-Revolution, Engels traces the historical causation which led to the outbreaks in 1515 and in 1848, and which determined their course of development. He draws in each case the moral which Marx later crystallised into a memorable phrase: “The emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.”
It says much (let us remark in passing) for the state of Marxist study in Britain that these words, thus written by Marx, in English, are usually quoted from the translated form of a purposely more guarded version (“emancipation . . . must be the act . . . ” &c.) used by Engels in an introduction written for circulation in a period of police persecution in Germany. And, likewise, it says much for British pseudo-Marxist perspicacity that Marx’s reference to “working classes” has been taken to mean no more than that Marx’s grasp of the English language was imperfect.
The Peasants’ War in particular, and the Revolution and Counter-Revolution in only less a degree, show that Engels, like Marx, never for one moment lost sight of the fact that the peasantry is a working class, and needs emancipation just as does the wage-working proletariat. Some more recent attempts to translate the term “bourgeois” by the term “middle class” achieve also often a complete inversion of Marx’s and Engels’s meaning.
If the Peasants’ War is notable for its handling of the historical roots of the revolutionary alliance between the peasantry and the proletariat, the Revolution and Counter-Revolution is notable no less for its handling of the historical line of demarcation between the objective of the petty-trading “democrats” and the increasingly “communistic” objectives of the revolutionary proletariat. The chapter in which Engels deals with Insurrection as an art is a fine example of Engels’s military talent, and one that Lenin repeatedly quoted.
The social theory group consists of one polemical volume, the Housing Question, a full-length study of the Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, and an essay, The Mark, dealing with the form in which tribal-communal landownership survived in German history. All the works in this group deal with the problem of land-ownership, and all entail a consideration of the nature of the State. The first is the most limited and immediately practical in scope, but it provides a first-class example of the radical difference between the genuinely revolutionary Marxist approach to practical questions (such as housing) and the abstract, a priori approach (superficially more “thoroughgoing,” but, in fact, reactionary) of the Proudhonians and their latter-day imitators.
The Origin of the Family deals, in form, with the sociological discoveries of Lewis Henry Morgan, who was one of the first to perceive, certainly the first to attempt to prove, that human society had undergone a prolonged process of historical transformation before even the most ancient of historical records began. At the time when Engels wrote, the bare notion of a “history before history begins” had barely been mooted. To-day the literature of anthropology and anthropological sociology is so vast that the significance of Engels’s work is apt to be overlooked. Engels did what more modern writers are careful to avoid: he drew a moral for to-day from the lessons of the past. Just as mankind had existed for great lengths of time without reaching even the notion of such a thing as a frontier, so it was possible to envisage a future in which frontiers had ceased to be and mankind had become united into a harmoniously co-operating whole. So with private property. As this, too, was an institution which had evolved and that by degrees, so it was possible to conceive it passing out of existence again and giving place to a re-establishment of community-ownership on a higher plane. So with the “family.” As this too had its history in the past, it could not be doubted it would have its history in the future. On all counts the so-called “necessary pre-conditions” of human society—the State with its sharply defined frontiers, Property and The Family—which pietists regard as communicated to Man by “divine revelation,” were shown to be transitory products of social development and not its immutable causes.
Engels not only draws these communist conclusions from his subject matter in a general form; he draws them concretely in his analysis of the State. This he shows to be likewise a transitory phenomenon, the product of class divisions based upon property differentiation. He concludes here, in line with the general conclusions of Marxism, that the victorious proletariat will constitute themselves a state force, as the bourgeoisie did before them, but under radically different conditions. Since the essence of the State is to coerce, and since further the essential object of the proletarian struggle is to abolish class differences, the proletariat organised as State, and using their State force to eliminate all class divisions, must in the end achieve a result in which the State has ceased to be a State at all. So far as the proletariat eliminates all privileges based upon private property in the means of production, and makes these means of production the common property of society, so far the proletariat converts all the members of society into workers who are also, collectively, owners. But in so doing the proletariat will have abolished its own distinctly proletarian status. Its own class character will have disappeared with the disappearance of the property relations and the privileges relative to which it was a class. Its State therefore will cease to be a State since there exists no longer any “subjects” over whom it can exercise coercion. The function of the central organisation of society will change even more radically than it changed when the tribal “council” became the State authority of the period of civilisation. “The government of persons will be replaced by the administration of things.” “The State will die out.”
Hard indeed though it is to place Engels’s works in any precise order of merit, and having in mind the unquestionable preeminence of the Anti-Dühring, it can be said categorically that Engels’s Origin of the Family is absolutely indispensable for a proper grasp of Marxism.
The essay, “The Mark,” is in one sense a sort of footnote to the Origin. It is very valuable, however, as showing Engels’s sense of the various stages of permutation possible to the collective ownership of the land in the process of its transformation from undifferentiated common ownership to indiscriminate private ownership. The “English” sub-group contains two works: Engels’s first work, the Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, and a later work, a series of articles, contributed in 1882 to the Labour Standard, the journal of the London Trades Council, which has only recently been separately republished under the title of the British Labour Movement. Of the first of these we have already spoken in the earlier part of this essay. The second is equally noteworthy.
Invited to write for the Labour Standard at a time, 1881, which proved to be the eve of the revival of a Socialist movement in Britain, Engels contributed a series of articles in which, by means of current events, he demonstrated that old-style trade unionism, whose objectives were all conscribed within the slogan: “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” no longer constituted for the workers the all-sufficient philosophy which its champions were at one time fairly justified in imagining it to be. Simply worded, quietly and carefully reasoned, these articles had a tremendous effect upon the younger generation of trade unionists, and contributed decidedly to the formation, later in the same year, of the Democratic Federation (which, in 1883, became the Social Democratic Federation), the first move towards a revival of the Socialist movement in Britain.
These articles, along with the Condition, bear testimony to the fact, of which we are made abundantly aware in the Marx-Engels Correspondence, that Engels’s association with the working class in Britain continued to be intimate and direct from the time of his contribution to Owen’s New Moral World and O’Connor’s Northern Star down to the day of his death. To the last he glowed with pleasure at the memory of the enthusiasm of the great mass meetings of the days of the Chartist struggle, and he never for a moment weakened in his conviction that the British working class would sooner or later find its rightful place in the very forefront of the revolutionary movement of the world-proletariat.
“The English working class is moving,” he wrote in 1892. “It moves now and then with an over-cautious mistrust of the name of Socialism while it gradually absorbs the substance; and the movement spreads and seizes one layer of the workers after another. . . . If the pace of the movement is not up to the impatience of some people let them not forget that it is the working class which keeps alive the finest qualities of the English, character, and that if a step in advance is once gained in England it is, as a rule, never lost afterwards.” Engels, Introduction, Socialism, p. xxxviii.
The final group of Engels’s specialised writings consists in his completion of Vols. II and III of Marx’s Capital. It was characteristic of Engels that as soon as his beloved friend had died he should take upon himself, as a matter of course, the completion of the immense work which failing health had compelled Marx to leave unfinished. Engels knew better than any man that the full magnificence of Marx’s analysis of the laws which underlie capitalist society could not be appreciated from Vol. I alone. Vol. I envisaged the process of capitalist production only in a general and abstract form. The investigations of Vols. II and III pushed the analysis forward to a study of the concrete process which links together production, circulation and consumption. Only these later studies show the contradictions of capitalist society as a developing whole.
That his friend’s genius might be rightly appreciated it was necessary that his great scientific discovery (the Law of Motion of Capitalist Society) should be presented to the world complete. Hence at sixty-five years of age lion-hearted Frederick Engels tackled a job whose immensity can be appreciated only by those who have (a) studied the result and (b) compared it with all that had ever been done before it in the field of economics.
In connection with his completion of Capital, must be considered the number of prefaces and introductions written by Engels to new editions of his own works and those of Marx. In the last years of his life he, with somewhat grim humour, congratulated himself upon the fact that the number of languages in which he could be called upon to write prefaces and revise translations was “after all limited.” (Preface to Capital, Vol. III.)
And what is astonishing about this mass of work, to which his immense and voluminous correspondence must be added, is not only its sheer bulk but its uniformly high quality. Nothing Engels ever wrote failed to shed fresh light upon the subject of which he treated. Without the work of Engels, Marxist theory would be reduced to far smaller dimensions than anyone realises who has not put the question to himself.
Both Marx and Engels attached tremendous importance to questions of theory.
In one of the earliest of his Socialist essays (in the German-French Year Book) Marx had said: “Theory itself becomes a material force when it takes hold of the masses.”
Engels, years later, re-states this truth with a special application. He distinguishes between three aspects of the working-class struggle: (1) the practical economic opposition to the capitalists in detail; (2) the political struggle against capitalism in general and the capitalist class as a ruling power; and (3) the theoretical struggle against all the ideas advanced in defence of the capitalist order. It is, he says, in bringing these forms of struggle, into “one harmonious and well-planned entity,” into, so to speak, a “concentric” attack, that “the strength and invincibility” of the movement lies. In 1874, in the addendum to the second preface of the Peasants’ War, he said:—
“Without German philosophy, particularly that of Hegel, German scientific socialism (the only scientific socialism extant) would never have come into existence. Without a sense for theory among the workers, scientific socialism would never have become part of their blood and tissue as it has. What an immense advantage this is may be seen on the one hand from the indifference of the English Labour Movement to all theory, which is one of the chief reasons why it moves so slowly, in spite of the splendid organisation of the individual unions; and, on the other hand, from the mischief wrought by Proudhonism . . . ”
“It is the specific duty of the leaders to gain an everclearer insight into all theoretical questions, to free themselves more and more from the influence of traditional phrases inherited from obsolete world-conceptions, and constantly to keep in mind that socialism, having become a science, demands the same treatment as every other science, i.e., it must be studied . . .”
“The task of the leaders will be to spread with increased enthusiasm, among the masses of the workers, the ever-clearer insight thus gained, to knit together ever more firmly the organisation both of the Party and of the trade unions . . .
“The slogan is not to flinch in the struggle . . .”