Franz Mehring

Karl Marx:
The Story of His Life

Chapter Four: Friedrich Engels


1. Office and Barracks

FRIEDRICH ENGELS was born on the 28th of November, 1820, in Barmen. Like Marx, he did not acquire his revolutionary opinions in the home of his parents nor was he driven into revolutionary paths by personal indigence, but by high intelligence. His father was a well-to-do manufacturer of conservative and orthodox views, and religiously Engels had more to overcome than Marx.

He attended high school in Elberfeld, but left a year before his finals to enter business life. Like Frieligrath, he became a very capable business man without his heart ever having been in “this damned business,” as he called it. We make his acquaintance for the first time in the letters he wrote as an 18-year-old apprentice in the office of Consul Leupold in Bremen to the brothers Graber, two of his school friends who were then studying theology. There is not much about business in these letters except remarks like the following which is found in one of them: “Given from our office stool when for once we were not feeling seedy.” The youthful Engels like the later Engels was a convivial drinker and although he never gave himself up to reverie like Hauff or sang like Heine, he tells us with robust humour of the drinking bouts at which he was present within the time-honoured walls of the Bremen Ratskeller.

Like Marx he first tried his hand at poetry, but he realized as quickly as Marx had done that the laurels of the bard were certainly not for him. In a letter dated the 17th of September, 1838, that is to say, before he had completed his 18th year, he declares that Goethe’s advice For Young Poets has cured him of all belief in any poetic mission. He is referring to the two short essays in which the master of German poetry pointed out that the German language had reached such a high level of development that it was not difficult for anyone to express himself felicitously in rhythm and rhyme, a faculty therefore about which no one was entitled to compliment himself very highly. Goethe concludes his advice with the rhyme:

Jungling, merke dir in Zeiten,
Wo sich Geist und Sinn erholt,
Dass die Muse zu begleiten
Doch zu leiten nicht versteht. [1]

The youthful Engels found himself aptly described in Goethe’s advice and he realized that his rhyming was not likely to produce anything worth while in the cause of poetry. Still, he would retain it as “an agreeable supplement,” as Goethe said, and now and then submit a poem for publication, “because other fellows who are just as big or even bigger fools than I am have done it, and because I shall neither raise nor lower the level of German literature thereby.” Even in his youth the jovial tone which Engels always adopted concealed nothing frivolous in his character, and in the same letter we find him asking his friends to send him popular classics from Cologne: Siegfried, Eulenspiegel, Helena, Octavian, Schildburger, Heymonskinder and Doktor Faust, and announcing that he is studying Jakob Böhme. “His is a sombre, but deep soul. Most of what he writes must be thoroughly studied if any of it is to be grasped.”

It was not long, therefore, before Engels plunged into the depths and lost all taste for the superficial literature of Young Germany. [2] In a letter written a little later, on the 10th of January, 1839, we find him attacking “this fine company” chiefly because it sent things out into the world which did not exist in reality: “This fellow Theodor Mundt is scribbling a fine lot of rubbish about Demoiselle Taglione, who gives dance interpretations of Goethe’s poetry. He decks himself in fine feathers borrowed from Goethe, Heine, Rahel and Stieglitz, and writes precious nonsense about Bettina, but all of it is so modern, so modern that it must be a pleasure for any snapper-up of trifles or for any vain and lascivious young lady to read it ... And Heinrich Laube! The fellow churns out one non-existent character after the other, travel stories which are no travel stories, nonsense on top of nonsense. It is awful.”

Engels found that “the new spirit” in literature dated from the “thunderclap” of the July revolution, which he declared was “the finest expression of the will of the people since the War of Liberation The most prominent representatives of this new spirit were Beck, Grun, Lenau, Immermann, Platen, Börne, Heine and Gutzkow, placing the latter with sure judgment above the other lights of Young Germany. According to a letter of May 1st, Engels contributed an article to the Telegraph, a publication issued by “this quite capital and excellent fellow” [3], but he requested the strictest discretion from the editor as otherwise he feared he might get into “a hellish scrape.”

The tirades about freedom delivered by Young Germany did not deceive Engels concerning the aesthetic inferiority of its literary products, but he was inclined to be no more tolerant on that account of the orthodox and reactionary attacks on it. He joined forces unconditionally with the party of the persecuted and probably signed himself “Young German,” and in a letter we find him threatening his friend: “And I can tell you one thing, Fritz, if you should ever become a pastor you can be as orthodox as you like, but if you become a pietist then you will have me to deal with.” His particular preference for Börne was probably due to similar reflections, and in the opinion of the young Engels Börne’s attack on the informer Menzel was stylistically the finest production in Germany, whilst Heine had to be content with an occasional reference such as “smutty fellow.” Feelings ran high against Heine in those days and even the young Lassalle wrote in his diary: “And this man has abandoned the cause of freedom! This man has torn the Jacobin cap of liberty from his head and pressed a gallooned hat upon his noble locks!”

However, neither Börne nor Heine, nor any other poet guided Engels into the path his life finally took and his fate alone moulded him into the man he became. He was born in Barmen, one of the strongholds of German pietism, and lived in Bremen, the other. His liberation from these bonds marked the beginning of that great struggle for emancipation which filled his whole life. Still struggling with the beliefs of his childhood we find him speaking with unusual gentleness: “I pray every day, indeed almost all day, for truth, and I have done so ever since i began to doubt, but still I cannot go back to your belief ... The tears are welling up as I write. I am deeply moved, but I feel that I am not lost, that I shall find my way to God, for whom I long with my whole heart. And that is also a manifestation of the Holy Ghost, my life on that, and if the Bible says the contrary ten thousand times.”

In these mental struggles Engels developed from Hengstenberg and Krummacher, the leaders of contemporary orthodoxy, to David Strauss, putting up on the way for a while with Schleiermacher, but seeking temporary support from him rather than a permanent basis. And then he confessed to his theological friends that there could be no going back for him. An upright rationalist might be able to abandon his natural explanation of miracles and his shallow moralizing in order to crawl back into the strait-jacket of orthodoxy, but philosophic speculation could never descend from “snow-capped peaks flooded with the glory of the morning sun” into “the misty valleys” of orthodoxy. “I am on the point of becoming a Hegelian. Whether I shall or not I certainly don’t yet know, but Strauss has thrown light on Hegel for me and it all appears very plausible. The fellow’s philosophy of history is in any case thoroughly after my own heart.”

Engels’ breach with the church then led him direct to political heresy The young hotspur exclaimed after a clerical speech in praise of the King of Prussia, the man responsible for the Demagogue hunt: “I expect something good only of that prince whose head is sore from the buffets of his people and whose palace windows are crashing in under the stones of the revolution.”

With such ideas Engels was of course already far beyond Gutzkow’s Telegraph and in the orbit of the Deutsche Jahrbücher and the Rheinische Zeitung. He contributed occasionally to both these publications, whilst he was in Berlin serving his year with the Artillery Guards from October, 1841, to October, 1842, quartered in the Kupfergraben Barracks not far from the house in which Hegel lived and died. Probably out of consideration for the feelings of his conservative and orthodox family he had adopted the pen-name of Friedrich Oswald and whilst he was wearing “the King’s uniform” he was compelled to retain it for still more cogent reasons. On the 6th of December, 1842, Gutzkow wrote a consoling letter to a writer whom Engels had sharply criticized in the Deutsche Jahrbücher:

“The disservice of having introduced F. Oswald into literature is unfortunately mine. Years ago a young business man named Engels sent me letters from Bremen about matters in the Wuppertal. I corrected his matter, struck out the personalities when they were too glaring, and printed it. After that he sent me further stuff, but I always had to rewrite it, and then suddenly he forbade me to make correction in his work, began to study Hegel and went off to other journals. Only a little while before his criticism of you appeared I had sent him 15 thaler to Berlin. That is always the way with these young fellows: they owe us thanks for having taught them to think and write, and then their first independent act is intellectual parricide. Naturally, this evil would not flourish so if the Rheinische Zeitung and Ruge’s paper did not cater to it.” This is certainly not the groaning of the old Moor in the hunger tower, but rather the horrified cackle of an old hen when she sees the duckling she has hatched out swim cheerfully away from her.

Engels had been a capable servant of commerce in his office and in the barracks he became a capable soldier. From his service days until the end of his life military science was one of his favourite studies. Close and constant contact with practical daily life made up for what his philosophic consciousness lacked in speculative depth. During his year of military service in Berlin he caroused lustily with the “Freemen” and contributed one or two papers to their disputes, though this was at a time when their doings had not yet degenerated. In April, 1842, a fifty-five page pamphlet written by Engels was published anonymously in Leipzig. It was entitled, Schelling and Revelation, and criticized “the latest reactionary attacks on free philosophy,” or the attempt of Schelling to drive Hegelian philosophy from the field at the University of Berlin with his own belief in revelation. Ruge, who thought that Bakunin was the author, welcomed the work flatteringly with the remark: “This promising young man is outstripping all the old fools in Berlin.” The work, in fact, represented philosophic Young Hegelianism in its extremist consequences, but other critics were not being unreasonable when they declared that it was characterized less by trenchant criticism than by poetic-philosophic exuberance.

At about the same time and under the fresh impression of Bruno Bauer’s dismissal, Engels published A Christian Epic in four cantos satirizing the “triumph of belief” over the “Arch-Satan” to the great horror and dismay of the latter. It was published in Neumunster near Zurich and in it Engels made full use of the privilege of youth to despise carping criticism. The verses in which he describes himself and Marx, with whom he had not yet come into personal contact, give us some idea of his manner:

Doch der am weitsten links mit langen Beinen toset,
Ist Oswald, grau berockt und pfeflerfarb behoset,
Auch innen pfeflerhaft, Oswald der Montagnard,
Der wurzelhafteste mit Haut und auch mit Haar
Er spielt ein Instrument, das ist die Guillotine,
Auf ihr begleitet er stets eine Cavatine;
Stets tont das Hollenlied, stets brullt er den Refrain:
Formez vos bataillons! Aux armes, citoyens!

Wer jaget hinterdrein mit wildem Ungestum?
Ein schwarzer Kerl aus Trier, ein markhaft Ungetum.
Er gehet, hupfet nicht, er springet auf den Hacken
Und raset voller Wut und gleich als wollt’ er packen
Das weite Himmelszelt und zu der Erde ziehn,
Streckt er die Arme sein weis in die Lufte hin.
Geballt die bose Faust, so tobt er sender Rasten
Als wenn ihn bei dem Schopf zehntausend Teufel fassten. [4]

When his year of military service was at an end in September, 1842, Engels returned home and two months later left for England to become a clerk in the office of the big spinning firm of Ermen & Engels in which his father was a partner. On his way to England he passed through Cologne and made the acquaintance of Marx in the editorial offices of the Rheinische Zeitung. However, this first meeting was cool, for Marx was about to break off relations with the “Freemen,” and he regarded Engels as one of their supporters, whilst Engels was prejudiced against him by letters from the brothers Bauer.



2. English Civilization

The twenty-one months Engels now spent in England had the same significance for him as the year spent in Paris had for Marx. Both of them had gone through the German philosophic school and whilst abroad they came to the same conclusions, but whilst Marx arrived at an understanding of the struggles and the demands of the age on the basis of the French Revolution, Engels did so on the basis of English industry.

England had also gone through its bourgeois revolution, a century before France in fact, but just on that account the English bourgeois revolution had taken place under far less developed conditions, finally resolving itself into a compromise between the aristocracy and the bourgeoisie which resulted in the setting up of a joint monarchy. The English “middle class” was not compelled to wage such a long and bitter struggle with the monarchy and the aristocracy as fell to the lot of the “Third Estate” in France, but whereas French historians realized the class nature of the struggle of the “Third Estate” only on subsequent consideration, the idea of the class struggle in England sprang up, so to speak, spontaneously when the proletariat took up the struggle against the ruling classes at the time of the Reform Bill in 1832.

This difference is explained by the fact that in England large-scale industry had ploughed up the country far more deeply than was the case in France. In an almost visible process of development English industry had destroyed old classes and created new ones. The internal structure of modern bourgeois society was much more clearly visible in England than in France. Studying the history and character of English industry Engels learned that economic factors, though they had played no role in historical research, or at the utmost a very minor one, represented a decisive historical force, at least in the modern world, and that they formed the basis for the development of existing class antagonisms. Where these class antagonisms were completely formed thanks to the development of large-scale industry, they represented the basis for the development of the political parties and the political struggles, and thus the basis for the whole of political history.

The fact that Engels directed his attention primarily to the economic field was largely the result of his profession. His contribution to the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher was a criticism of national economy whilst Marx’s contribution was a criticism of the philosophy of law. Engels’ contribution is written with all the avidity of youth, but it reveals an unusual maturity of judgment. It remained the privilege of the German professorial Philistines to dub it “an utterly confused worklet,” whilst Marx declared it to be “a brilliant sketch.” It was in fact no more than a sketch because what Engels had to say about Ricardo and Adam Smith was by no means exhaustive and not always correct, whilst the objections he brought forward had perhaps already been made by the English and French socialists. However, his attempt to explain all the contradictions of bourgeois economics from their real source, private property as such, was brilliant, and it carried Engels far beyond Proudhon, who never got any farther than fighting private property on its own ground. The observations of Engels concerning the inhuman effects of capitalist competition, the population theory of Malthus, the ever-increasing momentum of capitalist production, the commercial crises, the law of wages, the progress of science, which he declared had degenerated under the rule of private property into a means for consolidating the slavery of humanity instead of being a means for the emancipation of humanity, etc., contained the fruitful seeds of scientific communism on the economic field, and it was Engels in fact who was the pioneer in this field.

He was much too modest about his own contributions. On one occasion he declared that Marx had given his economic writings “their final shape and form,” on another occasion that “Marx was greater, saw farther, saw more and saw more quickly than all of us,” and on a third occasion that Marx would have discovered what he, Engels, had discovered in any case. However, the fact remains that in the beginning Engels gave and Marx received on that field on which: in the last resort the decisive struggle must be fought out and is being fought out.

There is no doubt that Marx was philosophically the greater of the two and that his brain was more highly trained. If one cares to seek amusement in a childish game of ifs and whens with no relation to serious historical research, then one may let one’s imagination loose on the question of whether Engels could have solved alone the problem which both men solved, whether he could have solved it in its more complicated French form in the way that Marx did. However, a fact which has been unjustly overlooked is that Engels solved the problem in its simpler English form none the less happily. If one regards his criticism of political economy exclusively from the economic standpoint, then it is open to certain objections, but that which gives it its essential character and makes it a fundamental advance in economic knowledge is the treatment its author owes to the dialectical school of Hegelian philosophy.

The philosophic starting point can be seen still more clearly in Engels’ second contribution to the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. Here he describes the situation in England on the basis of one of Carlyle’s books, declaring it to be the only book worth reading out of the literary harvest of a whole year, a literary poverty in characteristic contrast to the literary riches of France. He adds a note with reference to what he describes as the intellectual exhaustion of the English aristocracy and bourgeoisie. The educated Englishman, who was regarded on the Continent as the measure of the English national character, was, he declared, the most contemptible slave under the sun and stifled by prejudices, particularly of a religious nature: “The only decent section of English society is that one unknown to the Continent, the workers, the pariahs of England, the poor – despite their coarseness and demoralization. England’s hope for salvation lies in them. They are uneducated, but they have no prejudices and they represent good material for education. They have still sufficient vitality for a great national movement. They have still a future.” Engels then pointed out, using the expression of Marx, that philosophy was beginning to sink deep into “the naive mass of the people.” No respectable English translator had dared to do Strauss’ Life of Jesus into English and no reputable publisher had dared to publish it, but a socialist lecturer had translated it and it was now being sold amongst the workers in London, Birmingham and Manchester as a penny pamphlet.

Engels translated the “most beautiful, often wonderfully beautiful,” passages of Carlyle in which the latter described the situation in England in the blackest colours. However, he quoted Bruno Bauer and Feuerbach against Carlyle’s remedial proposals: a new religion, a pantheistic hero cult, and the rest of it, pointing out that all the possibilities of religion had been exhausted, including pantheism, which Feuerbach’s theses in the Anekdota had disposed of forever. “Up to the present the question raised has always been, what is God? And German philosophy has given us the answer: God is man. Man has but to realize himself, to measure all the conditions of life against himself, to judge them according to his own character, to create the world in a thoroughly human fashion in accordance with the demands of his own nature, and he has solved the riddle of our age.” Marx immediately interpreted Feuerbach’s “man” as the character of man, the State, society, whilst Engels interpreted the character of man as his history, “our one and all” which must be held higher “by us” than by any other former philosophic school, higher ever than by Hegel, who in the last resort had regarded it as no more than a test of his own logical conclusions.

It is extremely interesting to study in detail in the contributions which Marx and Engels made to the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher how the same ideas developed, coloured in the one case by the light of the French Revolution and in the other case by the light of English industry, the two great historic transformations from which the history of modern bourgeois society dates, but essentially the same. Marx arrived at a realization of the anarchic character of bourgeois society from the Rights of Man, whilst Engels declared that competition was “the chief category of the economist, his favourite daughter”: “What are we to think of a law which can come into operation only as a result of the periodical revolutions of commercial crises? It is simply a natural law based on the unconsciousness of the parties concerned.” Marx came to the conclusion that the emancipation of humanity would be achieved only when man had become a social being through the organization of his forces propres as social forces, whilst Engels declared: produce consciously as men and not as atomized individuals without social consciousness, and you will have overcome all artificial and untenable contradictions.

One observes that the agreement between the conclusions of Marx and Engels extends almost to the letter.



3. The Holy Family

The first work jointly undertaken by Marx and Engels was the overhauling of their philosophic consciences, and it took the form of a polemic against the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung published since December, 1843, in Berlin-Charlottenburg by Bruno Bauer and his brothers Edgar and Egbert.

In the columns of this organ the Berlin “Freemen” attempted to justify their world outlook, or what they referred to as such. Bruno Bauer had been invited by Frobel to contribute to the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, but after some hesitation he had not done so. His personal vanity had been deeply wounded by Ruge and Marx, although this was not the real reason why he clung to his old philosophy of self-consciousness. For all their bitterness his acid remarks about “the late-lamented Rheinische Zeitung,” the “Radicals” and the “clever sticks of anno domini 1842” had a basis in fact. The thoroughness and despatch with which the romanticist reaction had crushed the Deutsche Jahrbücher and the Rheinische Zeitung as soon as they had turned from philosophy to politics, and the complete indifference of “the masses” to this “intellectual massacre” had convinced him that no progress could be made along such lines. For him salvation could be found solely in a return to pure philosophy, pure theory and pure criticism, and, naturally, once the retirement to the ideological clouds had been accomplished, it was not a matter of any great difficulty to create an omnipotent ruler of the world from these materials.

The program of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, as far as it is possible to speak of anything so tangible, was summed up by Bruno Bauer as follows: “Up to the present all the great movements of history have been misguided and doomed to failure from the beginning, because they aroused the interest and enthusiasm of the masses, or they came to a miserable end because the idea around which they centred was one requiring no more than a superficial understanding, and reckoning therefore with the applause of the masses.” This antagonism between “intellect” and “the masses” was the Leitmotiv throughout the whole of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, which declared that intellect at last knew where it must seek its only opponent, namely in the self-deception and spinelessness of the masses.

Accordingly therefore, Bauer’s organ treated all “mass” movements with the contempt they deserved: Christianity and Judaism, Pauperism and Socialism, the French Revolution and English industry. Engels was almost too polite about it when he wrote: “Its decayed and shrivelled Hegelian philosophy is like an old hag whose body has withered to a revolting caricature of its former self, but who still decorates and bedizens herself and leers around in the hope of finding a suitor,” for in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung Hegelian philosophy was reduced to an absurdity. When Hegel declared that the absolute idea as the creative world spirit came to consciousness in the philosopher only subsequently, he meant only that the absolute idea apparently made history in the imagination, and he expressly forestalled the misunderstanding that the philosophic individual himself was the absolute idea. However, the Bauers and their disciples regarded themselves as the personal incarnation of criticism and of the absolute idea consciously living in them as the world spirit as against the rest of humanity. Such vapourings were bound to disperse rapidly even in the philosophic atmosphere of Germany, and in fact the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung met with a very tepid welcome even amongst the “Freemen. Neither Köppen, who maintained a reserved attitude, nor Stirner co-operated and in fact Stirner was secretly preparing an attack on it. Meyen and Rutenberg also held themselves aloof, and with the one exception of Faucher, the Bauers had to content themselves with the third-raters amongst the “Freemen”: a certain Jungnitz and a pseudonymous Szeliga, a Prussian Lieutenant named von Zychlinski who lived to a ripe old age and died in 1900 as a General of Infantry. Within a year the whole hubbub had subsided completely and by the time Marx and Engels took the field against it, the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung was not only dead but forgotten.

This fact was not propitious for their first joint work, A Criticism of Critical Criticism, as they called it themselves, or The Holy Family, as it was called at the suggestion of their publisher. Their opponents immediately derided them for beating dead donkeys, and when Engels received the first copy of the printed book he declared that although it was a fine piece of work, the sovereign contempt with which it treated critical criticism was in sorry contradiction to its bulk, which was well over 300 pages. Most of it would be lost on the general public, he thought, and it would not meet with general interest. That verdict is much more applicable to-day than it was even then, but on the other hand it has now an added attraction which it did not have then, or at least, not in the same way. After condemning its hair-splitting, its quibbling and the monstrous straining of ideas, a later critic declared that it contained some of the most brilliant revelations of its authors’ genius, and that in the mastery of its form and the iron compactness of its language it belonged amongst the finest things Marx had ever written.

In the passages to which the critic is referring, Marx shows himself a master of that constructive criticism which defeats ideological fantasies with positive facts, which creates whilst it destroys, and builds up whilst it is pulling down. He answers the critical observations of Bruno Bauer on French materialism and the French Revolution with brilliant sketches of these historical phenomena. Dismissing Bauer’s talk about the contradiction between “intellect” and the “masses, between the “idea” and “interest,” Marx answers coolly: “The idea always comes to grief in so far as it is distinct from interest.” Every mass interest which found historical expression and entered the world arena as an idea, invariably proceeded far beyond its real limits and identified itself with the interests of humanity as a whole. It was the illusion which Fourier called the tone of every epoch in history. “Far from being ‘misguided,’ the interests of the bourgeoisie gained everything in the Revolution of 1789 and met with ‘real success,’ although the ‘pathos’ disappeared and the ‘enthusiastic’ garlands with which it had decorated its cradle faded. These interests were so powerful in fact that they successfully vanquished the pen of a Marat, the guillotine of the terrorists, the sword of Napoleon, the crucifix of the church and the blue blood of the Bourbons.” The bourgeoisie had consummated its wishes of 1789 in 1830 with the difference that by that time its political enlightenment was at an end. It no longer aimed at achieving the ideal State and working for the good of the world and for the general interests of humanity. It recognized its constitutional representative State as the official expression of its exclusive power and as the political expression of its particular interests. The revolution was a failure only in so far as the masses were concerned, for their political idea did not correspond with their real interests, their vital principle was therefore not identical with the vital principle of the revolution, and the real conditions for their emancipation were essentially different from those under which the bourgeoisie could emancipate itself and society.

Replying to Bauer’s contention that the State holds together the atoms of bourgeois society, Marx declared that they were held together by the fact that they were atoms only in the imagination, in the heaven of their fantasy, whilst in reality they were vastly different from atoms, namely, not divine egoists, but egoistic human beings. “To-day only crass political ignorance can imagine that bourgeois life must be held together by the State. The truth is that the State is held together by bourgeois life.” And Bauer’s scorn of the significance of industry and nature for historical knowledge Marx answers by asking whether critical criticism can be said to have arrived even at the beginning of historical knowledge so long as it continues to exclude the theoretical and practical attitude of man to nature, natural science and industry from the historical movement: “As it separates thinking from feeling and the soul from the body, so also does it separate history from natural science and industry, and regards the birthplace of history as being in the hazy cloud formations of heaven rather than in the raw, material production on earth.”

Just as Marx defended the French Revolution against critical criticism, so Engels defended English history. His particular opponent was young Faucher, who paid rather more attention to earthly reality than any other contributor to the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. It is diverting to observe how accurately Engels sets forth the capitalist law of wages which twenty years later, when Lassalle adopted it, he was to consign to the depths of hell as “a rotten Ricardian law.” Engels proved Faucher guilty of many blatant errors – the man did not know in 1844 that the English anti-combination laws had been repealed in 1824 – but his own arguments were often dangerously near to hair-splitting and in one important point he was wrong, though in a different way from Faucher. Faucher scorned the Ten Hour Bill of Lord Ashley as “a superficial slipshod measure” which would not lay the axe to the root of the matter, whilst Engels declared that “with the whole thoroughness of England” it was the expression, though the mildest possible, of a completely radical principle – for it would not only lay the axe to the roots of foreign trade and thus of the factory system, but bite deep into them. At the time Engels, and Marx also, regarded Lord Ashley’s Bill as an attempt to place reactionary fetters on large-scale industry, although they felt that the conditions of capitalist society would shatter such fetters again and again.

In The Holy Family neither Marx nor Engels has completely overcome the philosophic past. In the very beginning of the introduction they quote the “real humanism” of Feuerbach against the speculative idealism of Bruno Bauer. They recognize unconditionally the brilliant advance of Feuerbach and his great services in having provided the great and masterly fundamentals for a criticism of all metaphysics, and in having set the human being in place of the old lumber and in place of the old eternal philosophic self-consciousness, But they advance again and again beyond the humanism of Feuerbach towards socialism – from the abstract to the historic human being – and in the chaotic and confused world of socialism they find their way about with remarkable acumen. They reveal the secret of that socialist dilettantism on which the satiated bourgeoisie prides itself. Human misery, the utter degradation which must accept alms to live, serves the aristocracy of wealth and education as an amusement, as a means to satisfy its vanity, as a means to gratify its arrogance. And all the numerous welfare associations in Germany, the charitable organizations in France and the various Quixotic doings in England, the charity concerts, balls and performances, the charity spreads for the poor, and even the public subscriptions for the victims of labour and industry, have no deeper significance than this.

Fourier was the one amongst all the great utopians who contributed most to the ideological content of The Holy Family, but Engels distinguishes between Fourier and Fourierism, declaring that the emasculated Fourierism preached by the Democratie Pacifique [5] was nothing more than the social teachings of a section of the philanthropic bourgeoisie. Like Marx, he stresses again and again the importance of historical development and the independent movement of the working class, things which even the greatest of the utopians failed to understand. Replying to Edgar Bauer, Engels declares: “Critical criticism creates nothing, whilst the worker creates everything, so much so, in fact, that his intellectual creations put the whole of criticism to shame. The English and French workers can give evidence of this.”

Marx disposes of the alleged mutually exclusive contradiction between “intellect” and the “masses” by pointing out that the communist criticism exercised by the utopians was in fact in accordance with the movement of the great masses. In order to gain some idea of the nobility of this movement one must make the acquaintance of the insatiable thirst for knowledge, the moral energy and the indefatigable urge forward of the French and English workers. It is not difficult to understand the great vigour with which Marx attacked Edgar Bauer on account of his poor translation of Proudhon and his absurd comments on Proudhon in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. To object that Marx glorified Proudhon in The Holy Family only to attack him fiercely a few years later, is a facile academic trick. In The Holy Family, Marx is defending Proudhon’s real achievements from being obscured and misrepresented by the empty phrases of Edgar Bauer. Marx recognized Proudhon’s work as being just as much a pioneer achievement on the economic field as Bruno Bauer’s own work was on the theological field, but just as Marx attacked Bauer’s theological limitations so he attacked Proudhon’s economic limitations.

Proudhon deals with property as an internal contradiction on the basis of the bourgeois economic system, but Marx declares: “Private property as such. as wealth, is compelled to maintain its own existence and at the same time that of its opposite, the proletariat. It is the positive side of the contradiction, representing private property sufficient in itself. The proletariat as such, on the other hand, is compelled to abolish itself and at the same time its conditional antithesis, that which makes it the proletariat. It is the negative, disintegrating side of the contradiction, representing dissolved and dissolving private property. Within the antithesis, therefore, the property owner is the conservative and the proletarian, the destructive party. From the one proceeds the action to maintain the contradiction and from the other the action to destroy it. In its economic movement private property advances to its own dissolution, in a development that is independent of itself, unconscious and involuntary, conditioned by the nature of the problem, namely in that it produces the proletariat as proletariat, intellectual and physical misery conscious of its misery, inhumanity conscious of its inhumanity and therefore liquidating itself. The proletariat carries out the verdict which private property pronounces on itself by the creation of the proletariat, just as it carries out the verdict which wage-labour pronounces on itself by the production of riches for others and misery for itself. When the proletariat is victorious it will not thereby become the absolute side of society because it can be victorious only by dissolving both itself and its antithesis. With this not only the proletariat, but also its conditional antithesis, private property, will disappear.

Marx points out expressly that he is not turning the proletarians into gods when he credits them with this historic role: “The contrary is true: because the abstraction of all humanity, even the appearance of humanity, is practically complete in the fully-developed proletariat, because the living conditions of the proletariat represent the focal point of all inhuman conditions in contemporary society, because the human being is lost in the proletariat, but has won a theoretical consciousness of loss and is compelled by unavoidable and absolutely compulsory need (the practical expression of necessity) to revolt against this inhumanity – all these are the reasons why the proletariat can and must emancipate itself. However, it cannot emancipate itself without abolishing the conditions which give it life, and it cannot abolish these conditions without abolishing all those inhuman conditions of social life which are summed up in its own situation.

“It does not go through the hard but hardening school of labour fruitlessly. It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the proletariat as a whole, may imagine for the moment to be the aim. It is a question of what the proletariat actually is and what it will be compelled to do historically as the result of this being. The aim and the historical action of the proletariat are laid down in advance, irrevocably and obviously, in its own situation in life and in the whole organization of contemporary bourgeois society.”

Again and again Marx lays stress on the fact that large sections of the French and English proletariat are already conscious of the historic task of the proletariat and are striving ceaselessly to develop this conscious to complete clarity. In The Holy Family the cooling streams which bear fresh water through the fields pass through wide stretches of arid land, and two chapters in particular, which deal with the incredible wisdom of the worthy Szeliga, put the patience of the reader to a severe test. The fairest estimate of the work is to regard it as an improvisation, as apparently it was. Just at the time when Marx and Engels were getting to know each other personally, the eighth number of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung arrived in Paris. It contained an attack by Bruno Bauer in a veiled but none-the-less acid form on the conclusions the two had arrived at in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, and it is possible that the idea occurred to them of answering their old friend in a jovial, mocking fashion and as quickly as possible in a short pamphlet. In any case, Engels immediately sat down and wrote his contribution, which amounted to a little over sixteen pages, and was very much astonished when he heard that Marx had extended the answer to over 300 pages. He also felt it to be “curious” and “peculiar” that in view of the minor part he had played in the production of the book his name should appear on the title page together with and even before that of Marx.

Marx probably began the work in his usual thorough fashion and then discovered, in accordance with the old all-too-true proverb, that he had no time to be brief, or perhaps he stretched the matter out in order to take advantage of the provision which exempted books of over 320 pages from the censorship.

The authors of the polemic announced that it was only the preliminary to the publication of independent works in which they would discuss – each for himself – their attitude to the newest philosophic and social doctrines. That they were deadly serious in their intentions can be seen from the fact that when Engels received the first printed copy of The Holy Family he had already completed the manuscript of the first of these independent writings.



4. A Fundamental Socialist Work

The manuscript which Engels had completed was The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 and it was published in the summer of 1845 in Leipzig by Wigand, who had been the publisher of the Deutsche Jahrbücher and had published Stirner’s Ego and His Own a few months before. As the last offshoot of Hegelian philosophy Stirner slid into the shallow wisdom of capitalist competition, whilst Engels in his book laid the basis for those German theorists who had developed to communism and socialism as a result of Feuerbach’s dissolution of Hegelian speculative philosophy, and who represented the majority. He described the conditions of the English working class in all their ghastly reality, a reality typical of the rule of the bourgeoisie.

When Engels re-issued his book almost twenty years later he called it a phase in the embryonic development of modern international socialism and added: just as in the earlier stages of its development the human embryo still shows the gill formations of our forefathers, the fish, so this book betrays everywhere the signs of the origin of modern socialism from one of its forefathers, German classic philosophy. This is true, but with the modification that these signs are much weaker than they were in Engels’ contributions to the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. This time neither Bruno Bauer nor Feuerbach is mentioned, and “friend Stirner” only occasionally, and then in order to make game of him a little. The influence of German philosophy on this book must be considered as definitely progressive and no longer retrograde.

The real value of the book lies less in the descriptions it gives of the proletarian misery which developed in England as a result of the capitalist mode of production, for in this respect Engels had numerous predecessors, Buret, Gaskell and others, from whom he quoted freely. And it is not even the burning indignation against a social system which subjected the working masses to such terrible sufferings, or the moving and graphic descriptions of those sufferings and the deep and heartfelt sympathy with the victims, which give the book its special character. The most admirable and at the same time the most noteworthy historical feature of the book is the thoroughness with which the twenty-four-year-old author understands the spirit of the capitalist mode of production and succeeds in explaining from it not only the rise, but also the decline of the bourgeoisie, not only the misery of the proletariat, but also its salvation. The aim of the book was to show how large-scale industry created the modern working class as a dehumanized, physically shattered race, degraded intellectually and morally to the point of bestiality, and how, thanks to a process of historical dialectics whose laws he reveals in detail, it develops, and must inevitably develop, to the point of overthrowing its creator. The rule of the proletariat in England, it declared, would come about as the result of the amalgamation of the working-class movement with socialism.

Such an achievement as this book represented could only have been the work of one who had mastered Hegelian dialectics until they had become second nature and who had placed them squarely on their feet instead of leaving them upside down. The book therefore became one of the foundation stones of socialism as its author had intended. However, the great interest which it aroused on its publication was not due to this, but rather to the matter with which it dealt. One of the academic bigwigs observed with comic vanity that the book made socialism “fit for the university,” but this was true only in the sense that this or that professor broke a rusty lance against it. Above all, the learned critics swelled with pride when the revolution which Engels observed on the threshold of England did not materialize, but fifty years later he declared imperturbably that the astonishing thing was not that this or that prophecy “made in youthful ardour” did not come to pass, but that so much had come about although at the time he had seen it “in the much-too-near future.”

To-day “the youthful ardour” which saw many things “in the much-too-near future” is not the least attraction of this pioneering book. Without its shadows its light would be unthinkable. The eye of genius which descries the shape of the future from the present sees coming things more clearly and, therefore, nearer than the eye of common sense, which has difficulty in getting used to the idea that the steaming soup need not inevitably appear on the table just at dinner rime. However, there were other people in England besides Engels who saw the revolution approaching, including even The Times, the chief mouthpiece of the English bourgeoisie, but in this case an uneasy conscience saw only devastation and slaughter in the revolution, whilst the social eye of Engels saw new life springing from the ashes.

Engels’ “youthful ardour” found expression apart from this book. During the winter of 1844-45, whilst it was still on the anvil, he had other irons in the fire. Apart from the continuation of the book, which was to be only the first section of a larger work on the social history of England, he proposed to issue a socialist monthly together with Moses Hess, a library of foreign socialist authors, a critique of List, and other things as well. His plans often coincided with those of Marx and he tirelessly urged on the latter: “Finish off your economic work finally, even if you are not completely satisfied with it. It doesn’t matter. Men’s minds are ripe now and we must strike the iron whilst it’s hot....Time is pressing and therefore see to it that you are finished by April. Do as I do: set yourself a date by which you must positively be finished and then see to it that it appears in print as quickly as possible. If you can’t have it printed there, then try Mannheim or Darmstadt or somewhere else, but the great thing is that it must appear quickly.” Engels even consoled himself over the “astonishing” length of The Holy Family with the idea that it wasn’t a bad thing after all: “In that way a lot has already seen the light of day which might otherwise have lain in your desk heaven knows how long.” How often was he to raise his voice in similar exhortations during the coming years!

He was impatient when he urged Marx to complete his work, but he was the most patient helper when genius, engaged in a hard struggle with itself, was at the same time hard pressed by the petty miseries of practical life. As soon as news came to Barmen that Marx had been expelled from Paris, Engels opened up a subscription, “to divide communistically amongst us all the extra expenses which you have been caused.” Reporting the “good progress of the subscriptions,” he adds: “I don’t know whether you will find the sum sufficient to set yourself up in Brussels, but I should like to point out that as a matter of course the honorarium which I hope to receive soon, at least in part, for my first English thing is at your disposal with the greatest pleasure. In any case I don’t need it myself for the moment because the old gentleman must lend me anything I need, if necessary. The curs shall at least not have the pleasure of causing you pecuniary embarrassment as a result of their infamy.” And for a generation Engels was tireless in his efforts to rob the canaille of this pleasure.

As light-hearted as Engels appears from his youthful letters, he was very far from being frivolous. The “first English thing,” to which he refers in such an off-hand fashion, has since proved its sterling worth for over ninety years. It was an epoch-making work, the first great document of scientific socialism. When he wrote it Engels was twenty-four years old, and this in itself was sufficient to raise the dust in clouds from the academic bigwigs, but his was not a precocious talent rapidly developed in the clammy heat of a hot-house to wither away rapidly in the open air. His “youthful ardour” developed from the inexhaustible fire of a great idea which warmed his declining years as it had inspired his youth.

And in the meantime he led “a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and respectability” in the house of his parents, a life which must have satisfied the most punctilious Philistine. But he soon grew tired of it and only the “doleful faces” of his parents caused him to have another shot at commerce. In the spring he planned to leave home and go first of all to Brussels. His “family troubles” were greatly intensified by communist propaganda in Elberfeld-Barmen in which he took a lively part. In a letter to Marx he reports that three communist meetings had been held with 40 people at the first, 130 at the second and 200 at the third: “The thing is a great attraction. People are talking of nothing but communism and we are winning new supporters every day. Communism is a verité in the Wuppertal, indeed, it is a power already.” This power afterwards capitulated before a simple police order and the situation was peculiar enough in all conscience. Engels himself reports that only the proletariat remained aloof from this communist movement whilst the stupidest, laziest and most Philistine people, who normally interested themselves in nothing but their own private affairs, were beginning to become almost enthusiastic about it.

All this fitted in badly with what Engels wrote at the same time about the prospects of the English proletariat, but that was typical of the man: a splendid fellow from head to heels, always on the alert, fresh and keen-eyed, tireless, and yet not without a touch of that amiable folly which suits enthusiastic and courageous youth so well.





Youthful scribe, take heed, in moments
When both heart and soul exult,
That the Muse may well go with you,
But your guide can never be.

2. Das Junge Deutschland: A group of young authors under the influence of Börne and Heine formed under this name after the French July Revolution in 1830. – Tr.

3. Karl Gutzkow. – Tr.


But he who dances long of leg and farthest left,
Is Oswald, with coat of grey and pepper-coloured breeches;
Pepper without and pepper within, Oswald the Montagnard.
Most radical of all from pate to toe,
He thumps an instrument, it is the Guillotine
And on its keys he plays a Cavatine.
Ever sounds the hellish song, howling the refrain:
Formez vos bataillons! Aux armes!

Who charges on his tracks with reckless rage?
A dark-browed fellow from Trier, a thorough rip,
Who neither walks nor hops, but springs upon his heels
And stretches high his arms into the air
As though his wrath would seize at once
The mighty tent of Heaven and tear it to the earth.
With clenched and threatening fist he rages without rest,
As though ten thousand devils were dancing on his chest.

5. The organ edited by Victor Considerant in Paris. – Tr.


Last updated on 27.2.2004