Karl Kautsky

The Historic Accomplishment of Karl Marx

III. Marx and Engels

It was his revolutionary, proletarian standpoint that allowed an intellectual giant like Marx to establish the unity of all science. But when we speak of Marx, we must never forget that the same feat was achieved at the same time by an equal thinker, Friedrich Engels, and that without the intimate cooperation of the two, the new materialistic conception of history and the new historical or dialectical conception of the world could not have appeared so completely and comprehensively in one fell swoop.

Engels arrived at this view by other means than Marx. Marx was the son of a lawyer, first intended for a legal career, then for an academic one. He studied law, philosophy, and history, and only turned to economic studies when he bitterly felt a lack of economic knowledge.

He studied economics, revolutionary history, and socialism in Paris, and the great thinker Saint-Simon seems to have had a great influence on him. These studies then led him to the realization that it was not the law, nor the state, which makes society, but vice versa, that the society arising from the economic process makes the law, the state, according to its need.

Engels, on the other hand, was born the son of a factory owner, and it was not college but a lowlier secondary school that gave him the first foundations of his knowledge; there he learned to think scientifically. Then he became a practical businessman, ran economics practically and theoretically, in England, in Manchester, the center of English capitalism, where his father owned a factory. Familiar with Hegelian philosophy from Germany, he knew how to deepen the economic knowledge he had gained in England, and his gaze was directed above all to economic history. But nowhere in the forties of the nineteenth century was the proletarian class struggle so developed and its connection with capitalist development as clear as in England.

Thus, Engels arrived at the same time as Marx, yet in a different way, at the threshold of the same materialistic conception of history. One arrived at this via the old humanities, jurisprudence, ethics, and history, the other via the new economy, economic history, ethnologies, and the natural sciences. In the revolution, and in socialism, they met. The agreement of their ideas was what first brought them closer to each other when they came into personal contact in 1844 in Paris. But the convergence of ideas soon became a complete fusion in a higher unity, in which it is impossible to say what and how much one or the other contributed to it. It is true that Marx was the more important of the two, and no one acknowledged this more enviously, or joyfully, than Engels himself. Their thought, named Marxism, was also named after Marx. But Marx could never have achieved what he did without Engels, from whom he learnt a great deal, and of course vice versa.

Each of the two was lifted up by the interaction with the other and thus attained a breadth of vision and a universality that he could not have achieved on his own. Marx would have come to the materialistic conception of history even without Engels, Engels also without Marx, but their development would probably have been slower, going through more errors and failures. Marx was the deeper thinker, Engels the bolder. With Marx, the power of theoretical abstraction was more strongly developed, a gift for discovering the general in the confusing abundance of particular phenomena; with Engels, the gift of practical combination, the ability to produce a totality from individual characteristics. Marx’s critical faculty was more powerful, as was his self-criticism, which bridled the audacity of his thinking and urged it to cautious progress and constant examination of the ground, while Engels’s spirit was easily inspired and flew over the greatest difficulties by the proud joy of the tremendous insights it gained.

Among the many stimuli that Marx received from Engels, one above all has become significant. Marx was greatly elevated by overcoming the one-sided German way of thinking and by fertilizing German thinking with French thinking. Engels also made him familiar with the English spirit. It was only in this way that his thinking achieved the highest upswing possible under the given circumstances. Nothing is more erroneous than declaring Marxism to be a purely German product. It was international from its beginning.


Last updated on 5 November 2020