History  •  Marxist Theory

Friedrich Engels at 200

28 November 2020
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By Gerald Falke and Dave Stockton

The 200th anniversary Friedrich Engels’ birth, gives us an opportunity to look back over his remarkable life and recall the importance of his contribution to what became known as Marxism and to the formation of the political parties of the working class. In many assessments, he appears merely as a shadow of Karl Marx. He himself, with his characteristic modesty, invited this view with his remark that he “played second fiddle” to his great friend and that “Marx was a genius: we at most talents.”

A worse role has been given him by various commentators, namely that that he misrepresented and distorted the work of Marx. Engels is treated as the empiricist in relation to the real theorist, Marx, as the passive poet in relation to the active philosopher, or even as the reformist in relation to the revolutionary. Some even accuse Engels of turning Marx’s theory into a natural science, thereby creating a basis for various problems and misguided developments.

These themes were developed in the 1960s and ‘70s by Marxist and “post Marxist” writers alike. The very fact that Engels completed and popularised much of Marx’s work after the latter’s death means that those who wish to “improve Marxism” use his lifelong collaborator as a stalking horse to attack essential elements which stand in their way.

A life against exploitation and oppression

Engels was born on November 28, 1820, in the small industrial town of Barmen in the Prussian Rhineland province, the eldest son of the owner of a cotton mill. His family were strict pietist Lutherans and he grew up in this narrow minded environment. At his first school, when a child asked, “who was Goethe?” the teacher replied, “a godless man”.

Economically, however, Barmen, whose entrepreneurs were involved in the flourishing textile industry, was one of the pioneers of the industrial revolution in Germany. Early on, Engels observed the hard lives of the “hands” in his father’s and other cotton mills. Indeed, in one of his early articles he remarked that the pietist manufacturers were the worst of them all. When the young Engels moved on to a gymnasium (grammar school) he displayed a voracious enthusiasm for history, poetry and languages, including classical Greek. However, although he wanted to go on to university, his father blocked this, wishing his eldest son to enter, and one day take over, his business. Engels thus began a commercial apprenticeship in his father’s company and was sent to the establishment of a wholesale merchant in the port city of Bremen.

Already in his youth he had developed an interest in his social environment, where difficult and insecure conditions prevailed and, for example, almost half of all school-age children were forced to work in the factories. In the course of his father’s international business trips, he then acquired an open-minded view of the world at an early age. Anonymously, or under a pseudonym, he published “Letters from Wuppertal” in a radical paper.

The road to communism

Perhaps to get away from what he called “a dog’s life” in commerce, Engels volunteered for a year’s military service in Berlin, in a Guards artillery regiment, thus beginning a lifelong interest in military affairs and technology, which earned him the nickname, “the General”. Whilst there, he attended lectures at the university of Berlin, and also the “Doctors’ Club”, to which Marx, Bruno Bauer, Karl Friedrich Köppen, Max Stirner and others had belonged. These “Young-Hegelians” defended the dialectical method of Hegel but rejected the older Hegel’s belief that the Prussian state was the culmination and endpoint of historical development.

Reading Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity and the Life of Jesus Critically Examined by David Strauss, convinced him of the irreconcilability of religion and philosophy, ideas debated in the Doctors’ Club. He himself published a critique of Friedrich Schelling’s conservative philosophy, which was enthusiastically received. Already at this stage of his life he turned to the interaction of politics and philosophy, asserting the unity of revolutionary theory with practical action. In this way he distanced himself from the Young Hegelians, who considered the criticism and the word to be the deed in itself.
He published explicitly political texts either anonymously or under the pseudonym Friedrich Oswald during this period. His father eventually became aware of his radicalism and break with religion and determined his son should go into business, sending him to work in the Manchester cotton mill in which he was a partner with Gottfried Ermen.

On his way to England in 1842, Engels passed through Cologne, where he met Marx for the first time in the offices of the liberal paper the “Rheinische Zeitung”. Marx was its editor-in-chief and was developing into a crusading journalist on political and social matters. He gave the young manufacturer’s son a rather cool reception because he thought he was one of the Berlin Radicals with whom he had just broken because of their self-limitation to philosophy and the criticism of religion. Nevertheless, hearing he was bound for Manchester, he invited Engels to become a correspondent for the RZ and began to print his articles.

Another notable fact was that, under the influence of his friend Moses Hess, he had been convinced of communism, the need to abolish private property and that the workers would do this by violent revolution. These ideas were still abstract at this stage but experiences in England were to correct and concretise them.

Engels and the class struggle

Engels arrived in Britain in November 1842 to work in a junior management position in the Victoria cotton thread mill in Salford. Here, he immediately discovered the working class not just as those who suffered poverty and exploitation at the hands of the cotton lords but as fighters against them, indeed, as the creators of trade unions, a political party (the Chartists) and a utopian socialist movement (Owenism).

Three months before, the country had witnessed one of the first general strikes in history, which spread from the coalmines of the Midlands to the cotton mills of Lancashire and the wool mills of Yorkshire. After a whole month of actions that began with economic demands, the strikers had ended by taking up the political demands of the Chartist movement, the most radical of which were universal (male) suffrage and annual elections to parliament.

Whilst the workers were driven back by hunger, the police and soldiers, the lessons were being earnestly debated at mass workers’ meetings when Engels arrived. He was convinced that the country was on the eve of a revolution and that it was the British workers who would make it. He was, of course, wrong, the deep economic crisis, which had wracked the country from 1838-42, abated just as he arrived.

Another important meeting for Engels took place in London with a group of German journeyman artisans, members of the League of the Just, a secret society, originally formed in Paris but now with a base in London and linked to a legal society, the German Workers’ Educational Association, that met in Soho. Its founders, Karl Schapper and Heinrich Moll, were impressed by the young man and invited him to join the League. Though he, too, found these working men impressive, at this point he demurred, though he kept in touch with them and their groups in other countries.

In 1843, he visited Leeds, where the weekly paper of the Chartist movement was produced, it had the second largest circulation in Britain. The Northern Star, carrying the slogan “political power our means – social happiness our goal”, had as one of its editors, George Julian Harney. He became a firm friend of Engels with whom he discussed the English workers’ movement as well as the movements in France and Germany. Harney stood on the left of the Chartist movement and saw the six demands as a means to a socialist reorganisation of society, not as ends in themselves. In addition, he was a dedicated internationalist who opened the pages of the Star to Engels’ reports on the movements in mainland Europe.

As well as the Chartists, England had yet another working class-supported movement, the Owenite utopian socialists. The 22-year old attended meetings at their Hall of Science in Manchester, where the great man himself delivered regular lectures to audiences of up to 3,000 persons. Engels got to know Owen and was invited to write articles about continental communism and socialism for Owen’s paper, The New Moral World.

In Manchester, too, he met Mary Burns, a young working class woman, born in England, but whose parents came from Tipperary in Ireland, with whom he began a 20 year long relationship interrupted by his return to Germany but resumed on his return to Manchester in 1850. Mary showed him the impoverished quarters of the city where the millworkers lived, introducing him to their families and homes as well as to trade unionists, Chartists and Irish freedom fighters. Another working class friend was the tailor John Watts, a leading Chartist in the city and a member of its national leadership.

These relationships contributed significantly to the formation and consolidation of Engels’ view that the working class was destined to be the fundamental agency of socialism and to his final breaking from philosophical idealism. The results of his visits to the poorest quarters of the cotton metropolis with Mary were incorporated in his work The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. This concluded;

“A knowledge of proletarian conditions is absolutely necessary to be able to provide solid ground for socialist theories, on the one hand, and for judgments about their right to exist, on the other; and to put an end to all sentimental dreams and fancies, pro and con.”

Marx, Engels and Communism

Meanwhile, through letters and articles, Marx and Engels were becoming collaborators and friends. About the time Engels was settling in to Manchester, the “Rheinische Zeitung” was banned for its ”insolent and disrespectful censure of the existing state institutions“ and Marx journeyed to Paris where, with Arnold Ruge, he founded the “German-French Yearbooks”. A submission by Engels enormously impressed him. “Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy“ was based on his reading of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, J.B. Say and Thomas Malthus. This helped spark Marx’s own studies on this subject.

Engels found the significance of the proletarian class standpoint primarily through his analyses of bourgeois economics, Marx, in turn, through his examination of Hegel’s philosophy, which he expressed briefly as follows: “As philosophy finds its material weapons in the proletariat, so the proletariat finds its intellectual weapons in philosophy,…”. (On the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right). Marx and Engels completed their development into communists during their international travels. Engels with the English socialists and Chartists, Marx through the influence of the French communist groups.

However, after Marx was expelled in 1845, Engels founded a Communist Correspondence Committee in Brussels the following year. Here, the two began to work on a clarification of their methodological standpoint, in an unpublished work The German Ideology. In this, they outlined their rejection of idealism and utopianism, the idea of an abstract idea of a future society and attempts to realise it behind the back of the present conditions of society. They explained that it is necessary to start from how ‘real human beings’ produce their means of subsistence in order to satisfy their material needs.

This, in turn, creates new needs of both a material, social and mental character, in the course of which forms of society arise, corresponding to the state of development of the productive forces. From changes in successive modes of production develops a society, capitalism, from which the proletariat, the exploited class, can only liberate itself by seizing hold of the means of production. When they become conscious of this, communism will become a real possibility.

Armed with their common outlook, Engels went to Paris where he stayed for nearly two years. Here, he contacted other German artisans who had formed branches of the League of the Just and now he worked with them winning them over to his and Marx’s view of a scientific (or knowledge-based) socialism or communism rather than the utopian ideas they had held before.

Sent as a delegate by the Paris branches to a conference in London, he persuaded them at this meeting to change the name to the League of Communists and its slogan from “All Men are Brothers” to the ringing battle cry “Workers of all Countries, Unite!” At its second congress, again in London, but this time with Marx present, the two comrades were given the mandate to draw up a party programme that would go down in history as the “Communist Manifesto”. Engels wrote two preliminary drafts of this, later published as “The Principles of Communism”, before working on the final draft which shows that he was fully the co-author and, indeed, developed its demands for the transition to communism, which later appeared in the Manifesto.

Engels, along with Marx, returned to their homeland after the 1848 February Revolution in France spread to Berlin in mid-March. He was active with Marx in Cologne, launching the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, subtitled Organ of Democracy, in June. At the beginning of 1849, he became a war correspondent and covered the war waged by the Hungarian revolutionaries against the Austrian and Russian counterrevolutionary armies and eventually had to flee to Switzerland. He was, however, able to return to Cologne after a few months. In June, after the bloody suppression of the uprising of the Paris workers, counterrevolution spread across Europe. The NRZ was closed down in May and Marx had to flee to London, beginning his long exile that was to last for a third of a century.

Engels, meanwhile, joined the remains of the revolutionary troops in Baden, taking part in several battles with Prussian royal forces. Eventually, the rebel forces had to escape across the Swiss border. As a result of his involvement, he was temporarily arrested and had to flee again. Towards the end of the year, he joined Marx in London. But it soon became clear that he could not live on his journalism and that the Marx family were in dire poverty, so he yielded to his father’s pressure to rejoin the Ermen and Engels business in Manchester, where he remained for over two decades. To Marx, in London, he sent almost daily letters, many of which contained money to rescue the hard-pressed family. Only in 1869, was he able to withdraw from the business with a sizeable severance sum and devote himself full time to propaganda and organisational activities. Due to his language skills, he also conducted numerous international correspondences.

The International and the Commune

In 1870, Engels moved to London and was quickly co-opted as a member of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association. This had been founded in 1864, by British trade unionists, French followers of Joseph Proudhon, and a variety of other continental radicals. Marx had been its political inspirer from the outset. His addresses and resolutions at its congresses, together with polemics against the heterogeneous trends which made it up, created a priceless programmatic heritage. In these years, the Communist Manifesto became really well known for the first time and Marx’s work helped the sections of the International to become the seeds of future working class parties.

The Franco–Prussian war that began in July of the same year, saw Engels write military assessments of the war, widely praised in the British press. The defeat of Napoleon III and the replacement of his Second Empire with a Third Republic, led to the world historic event, the Paris Commune, which lasted from 18 March to 28 May 1871, reaching its tragic end in the semaine sanglante in which 20,000 Communards were murdered by the Versailles troops.

Marx’s bold defence of the Paris Commune as a working class government, indeed as the first example of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” that he had predicted would be necessary back in 1851, was at first accepted by the General Council.

It published The Civil War in France which recorded the achievements of the Commune as well as developing and completing Marx’s analysis of the bourgeois state as an instrument of class rule that had to be smashed in the course of a proletarian revolution and replaced by a “semi-state” in which the government was an elected and immediately recallable body, with no bureaucracy, and the only armed force or police was a mass workers’ militia. Though the Commune, isolated as it was in a single city and lasting only just over two months, was unable to take much in the way of socialist measures, Marx saw its potential; ending his pamphlet:

“Workingmen’s Paris, with its Commune, will be forever celebrated as the glorious harbinger of a new society. Its martyrs are enshrined in the great heart of the working class. It exterminators history has already nailed to that eternal pillory from which all the prayers of their priests will not avail to redeem them.”

But the pressure placed on the IWMA by its defence of the Commune, the furious reaction of the governments of Europe who saw it as the inspirer or even (wrongly) the organiser of it – was soon to break it apart. The English trade unions that had long been supporters of Marx on the General Council, were already inclining towards Liberalism after winning the vote for skilled workers in 1867. To be associated with a “bloody revolution” terrified them and they first set up a British Council, autonomous from the General Council, to put some distance between themselves and “the Red Doctor”.

Simultaneously with the blow from the right came one from the left. Michael Bakunin and his anarchist International Alliance of Socialist Democracy, although formally dissolved in 1868, was secretly plotting to take over the International from its bases in Italy, Switzerland and Spain. Marx, with the aid of Engels, determined on a confrontation with Bakunin at the next congress, to be held in the Hague in 1872. The Bakuninists were defeated and expelled. But the departure of the English trade unionists and the Pyrrhic victory over the anarchists soon led to the end of the IWMA. Indeed, after Marx proposed and secured the transfer of the General Council to New York, it quietly expired.

Workers’ Parties

Marx and Engels had persuaded the London Conference, held in September 1871, to declare :

“Considering, that against (the) collective power of the propertied classes the working class cannot act, as a class, except by constituting itself into a political party, distinct from, and opposed to, all old parties formed by the propertied classes;
“That this constitution of the working class into a political party is indispensable in order to ensure the triumph of the social revolution and its ultimate end — the abolition of classes; …. its economical movement and its political action are indissolubly united.”

The struggle for a working class political party to enable the proletariat to act as a class now, for the next decades or so, passed from England and France to Germany.

A major impetus for this came from the workers’ movement in Germany, where two parties existed; the General German Workers’ Union, which had been founded by Ferdinand Lassalle as early as 1863, and the Social Democratic Labour Party, founded by Wilhelm Liebknecht and August Bebel. The two parties met in 1875 for a unity congress in Gotha and agreed on a common programme. This Socialist Workers’ Party founded in Gotha subsequently became the Social Democratic Party (SPD) in 1891.

Marx and Engels regarded the formation of a united workers’ party as an enormous step forward but felt its Gotha Programme was something of a disaster because it had accepted what they regarded as Lassalle’s serious errors. They subjected its theoretical and programmatic errors to fundamental criticisms. First, there was its view that all other German parties constituted “a single reactionary mass”. In a still semi-absolutist state, to fail to support the Liberals when the latter fought for constitutional changes like parliamentary control of the government was wrong. Lassalle had even collaborated with Bismarck against the German Liberals.

Likewise, the Gotha programme advocated Lassalle’s fetish of state aided workers’ cooperatives, as well as defining the party’s goal as a “people’s state” which was a legally allowed expression for a democratic republic. This, after Marx and Engels’ insistence that the Paris Commune had shown that the only possible transition from capitalist to communist society was through the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.

After the death of Marx, in 1883, Engels’ London home became a sort of surrogate International for the working class parties growing up in Europe and beyond, with which leaders from many countries corresponded and not a few visited.

A literary legacy for socialism

In his theoretical work, Engels always aimed to incorporate knowledge from both the natural and the social sciences, from the most general problems of philosophy to specific questions of military history and has subsequently achieved a paradigmatic influence in a wide range of scientific fields.

With his work “Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy”, he traced the first beginnings of a materialist method in the history of German philosophy, while at the same time pointing to its inner limits and how they were overcome by scientific socialism.

After the German Eugen Dühring attacked Marx’s teachings as merely outdated and barren conceptions formed from dialectical fantasies, and after his influence had grown considerably in the workers’ movement, Engels decided he had to write a polemic in defence of Marx. He used this unwelcome task to give a fundamental exposition of the dialectical method and socialist worldview he had developed with Marx, dealing with questions of philosophy, economics, history and a wide range of other sciences. With “Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (Anti-Dühring)”, however, he created a work that proved to be eminently suitable for winning the German working class over to Marxism. In translation it played the decisive role along with Capital and the Manifesto in winning the major parties of the Second International (1889-1914) to Marxism. To this day, it should be compulsory reading for every communist revolutionary.

In “The Peasant War in Germany”, his “Introduction to Marx” and ‘The Civil War in France'”, Engels’ produced major contributions to the body of Marxist theory.

His “Dialectics of Nature” was not conceived by him in the form it was later published. Rather, individual fragments with a variety of illustrative examples of objective dialectics in nature are summarised in it, which was then misused in the Stalinised Soviet Union to naturalise historiography.

His “Critique of the Social Democratic Draft Programme” (1891) became well known far beyond its original intended audience. In it, he polemicised above all against the demands of the so-called Erfurt Programme, which avoided decisive questions and thus suggested the possibility of growing into socialism even under the German monarchy.

Engels, the State, Classes and Women’s Liberation

Apart from his enormous labours to complete Capital, Engels decided to attempt to preserve and give to the world other areas of Marx’s encyclopaedic reading and researches. Amongst these were Marx’s ethnographical notebooks; particularly those on Lewis Morgan’s anthropological study, Ancient Society (1877) which, like Darwin’s Origin of Species, he had believed confirmed their materialist world view. From this work came Engels’ book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, published in 1884.

This book contains an invaluable analysis of how the state emerged from within pre-state societies (where the kinship groups like the gens, the clan and the tribe, predominated). Here he presented his definition of the state, which has since proved a scandal and offence to reformists and to academics who find it “too crude” and reductionist.

“This special, public power is necessary because a self-acting armed organisation of the population has become impossible since the split into classes…. This public power exists in every state; it consists not merely of armed men but also of material adjuncts, prisons, and institutions of coercion of all kinds, of which gentile [clan] society knew nothing….”

Of course, this does not in any way deny the existence of the state’s deep penetration into, and roots within, civil (class) society. But every revolutionary crisis, most recently in the Arab Spring, reveals that the state is indeed “special bodies of armed men” and that this has to be smashed and replaced with “the armed organisation of the population”. Indeed “in the final analysis” this is posed at a critical moment in every modern revolution and if the working people fail to answer it in this way the revolution itself fails, and bloodily at that.

Marx and Engels had noted the relative equality of women in most of the early societies and the fact that, as classes, exploiting and exploited, emerged, so too did patriarchy, the dominance of men over women. Engels puts it in the sharpest terms:

“The modern individual family is founded on the open or concealed slavery of the wife…Within the family he is the bourgeois and his wife represents the proletariat.

“This domestic slavery, like chattel slavery, is in the final analysis based not only on economics (lack of equal access to the means of life) but on coercion, and in the final analysis, physical coercion.

“In order to make certain of the wife’s fidelity and therefore the paternity of the children, she is delivered over unconditionally into the power of the husband; if he kills her, he is only exercising his rights.”

Despite all the great advances made by the women’s liberation movement since Engels wrote, an important part of which was thanks to the labour movement, anyone who thinks this refers only to the past should remember the ongoing prevalence of femicide in many modern societies.

The Origins also asserts the role of the social reproduction of labour power and of the labourers themselves within every class society, including capitalism, and as the basis for the oppression of women.

“According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of the immediate essentials of life. […] On the one side, the production of the means of existence, of articles of food and clothing, dwellings, and of the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species.”

Engels’ understanding of working woman’s double burden (work at home and in the workplace) has become an integral part of socialist feminism. At the same time, he saw the involvement of women as equals in social production as an essential to their liberation.

“The emancipation of woman will only be possible when woman can take part in production on a large, social scale, and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time.”

Last, but not least, he refuses to speculate on what the relations of the sexes will be like under a fully socialist (that is, communist and classless society):

“What we can now conjecture about the way in which sexual relations will be ordered after the impending overthrow of capitalist production is mainly of a negative character, limited for the most part to what will disappear. But what will there be new? That will be answered when a new generation has grown up: … When these people are in the world, they will care precious little what anybody today thinks they ought to do; they will make their own practice and their corresponding public opinion about the practice of each individual – and that will be the end of it.”

“The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” became a standard work that shows how the new results of scientific research can be combined into a systematic concept. New and improved findings on individual sections do not refute the method developed in it, but rather confirm the constantly necessary further development of such works.

Subsequent attempts at misuse

Eduard Bernstein, who had been (like Karl Kautsky) Engels’ pupil in London, after “the General’s death’ fell under the influence of the British Fabians (Sidney and Beatrice Webb) lifelong opponents of Marxism. In 1899, he presented a clearly reformist revision of Marxism, and thus opened a major debate (the Revisionist Controversy) on the orientation of social democracy. In his defence against his critics (Rosa Luxemburg, Plekhanov, Parvus etc.) he referred to Engels, who at the end of his life had advocated a central place for parliamentary activity and the legal methods and said that the era of barricade fighting was over.

In doing so, he wanted to bring Engels into opposition to Marx, who, on the question of the possible form of rule by the working class, pointed unmistakeably to the experiences of the Paris Commune.
In reality, there can be no question of this opposition. Already at a young age, Engels developed the conviction that an improvement in the material situation of the proletariat required a violent upheaval of social conditions. As early as 1842 he proclaimed the necessity of a social revolution in which “only a forcible abolition of the existing unnatural conditions, a radical overthrow of the nobility and industrial aristocracy can improve the material conditions of the proletariat.” (Marx and Engels Collected Works volume 2, page 374)

Throughout his life, Engels branded the bourgeois rule of law as merely apparent justice, political freedom as the illusory freedom of the worst servitude, and the political equality of bourgeois democracy as hypocrisy to conceal the despotic rule of capital. If social evils are to be overcome by democratic means, democracy must become a social one – guided by the principle of socialism. True freedom and equality mean communism.

Social democratic reformism, of course, does not refer to such statements, but instead to some of Engels’ comments on developments in America, England and France and the electoral successes of German social democracy. Indeed, this was linked to the impressions of a new proletarian mode of struggle at the end of the 19th century, more precisely a parliamentary form of peaceful transition from a bourgeois to a socialist society. For such a case, Engels described the democratic republic as a specific form of dictatorship of the proletariat.

However, he explicitly supplemented the parliamentary orientation with the demand that all political power should actually be concentrated in the representation of the people and, in view of the ban on any openly republican party programme in Germany, he emphasised “how colossal the illusion is that it is possible to establish a republic there in a comfortable, peaceful way, and not only a republic but also a communist society.” (Engels, Critique of the 1891 SPD’s Programme Draft)

Engels saw the right to vote not simply as an “instrument of liberation” but also as a possible “instrument of government cheating”. Especially in North American conditions, he noted how politics could become a business which “two large gangs of political speculators” can exploit with the most corrupt means for their own ends.

Instead of the idea of a seizure of power by a parliamentary majority, he warned that “the rulers will continue to use violence against us long before that date; but that would lead us from the ground of the majority vote to the ground of revolution.” (Engels, reply to the Honourable Giovanni Bovio, in: MEW 22, Dietz, Berlin/East, 1977, p. 280)

On the specific suggestion that street fighting would never be significant in the future, he declared in the year of his death: “Not at all. It only means that since 1848 conditions have become far less favourable for civilian fighters, far more favourable for the military. A future street fight can therefore only be victorious if this unfavourable situation is outweighed by other moments. It will therefore occur less frequently in the beginning of a great revolution than in the further course of one and will have to be undertaken with greater force.” (Engels, Introduction to Karl Marx’ “Class Struggles in France 1848 to 1850,” in: MEW 22, Dietz, Berlin/East, 1977, p. 522)

Engels the friend

Engels supported Marx with regular financial contributions, revised his English newspaper articles, and ensured, for example, that the second and third volumes of Capital, in Marx’s hard-to-decipher handwriting could be published in the years after his death. He was no longer able to complete a planned fourth volume (Theories of Surplus Value) which task fell to Karl Kautsky.

The lifelong friendship with Marx was only once clouded, namely as a result of his friend’s cold reaction to the death of his companion, Mary Burns. When Marx apologised, Engels accepted it saying; “I’m glad that in losing Mary I didn’t also lose my oldest and dearest friend.”

In contrast to the standard bourgeois image of a scholar who draws from his own individual intellectual development, Marx and Engels show the potential of cooperation. Neither would ever have been able to create by themselves what they could accomplish together. While they had already found by their own efforts ground-breaking insights, it was actually only their dialogue, their work as one, that developed its world-historical importance. They complemented, supported and inspired one another. Without Engels, Marx would certainly not have had the necessary resources for his theoretical work and would hardly have fulfilled his undoubted genius. Without Marx, Engels would have been lacking in a wide range of inspirations, and he would hardly have attained the significance he achieved.

In his obituary for Engels, Lenin pays tribute to this collaboration in an excellent historical comparison: “Ancient sagas tell of some touching examples of friendship. The European proletariat can say that its science was created by two scholars and fighters whose relationship dwarfs the most touching legends of the ancients about human friendship.”

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