Frederick Engels, the son of a manufacturer, was born in Barmen, November 28th, 1820. His home, the Rhine Province, was the most industrially and politically developed district in Germany.
Written in 1887 for the Austrian Labour Almanac
The nearness of England upon the one side and of France upon the other, its position on the water-way of the Rhine, its wealth of coal and metals – all these had produced in the Rhine Province, earlier than anywhere else m Germany, a powerful capitalistic industry, a revolutionary Bourgeoisie, hostile to feudalism, and also a strong proletariat that already enfolded the germ of a distinct class-consciousness. Small industrialism prevailed less in the Rhineland than anywhere else in Germany. This was one of the few German districts which possessed revolutionary traditions. For twenty years, prior to 1813, it had been as a part of the French possessions under the influence of the French Revolution, and the views and opinions created by the great Revolution were in full force during the youth of Frederick Engels.
This was also the high-tide of German philosophy. The social revolution of the eighteenth century, which in England openly took the form of an industrial revolution, in France was political, while in Germany, because of peculiar relations, it was only a mental revolution – a revolution in philosophy. While the revolution of things in Germany was slower and less complete than in France and England, the revolution of ideas was so much the more fundamental.
This reached its highest point in the Hegelian philosophy. German schoolmasters denounced this movement as a reactionary vindication of obsolete and exploded ideas. Hegel says, for example: “All that is real is rational, and all that is rational is real.” (Alles was wirklich ist, ist vernünftig, und Alles, was vernünftig, ist wirklich.) The schoolmasters, who saw only the antiquated and decayed political and industrial institutions of their time, believed that according to Hegel only these were logical. They forgot that the germ of the new is no less real than the survival of the old.
Far removed from being conservative, the Hegelian philosophy is fundamentally revolutionary, not in a political but in a philosophical sense. In that it proposes the continuous transformation and overturning of existing conditions and the continuous growth of new oppositions and the overcoming of existing ones, the Hegelian philosophy has indeed accomplished much.
Besides Heinrich Heine, Feuerbach, Marx and others, Frederick Engels was much influenced by Hegel. The practical and theoretic economic training of Engels made Hegelianism to him not merely a dialectic play of words, but a means of scientific investigation; not a method of constructing the actual existing conditions out of ideas, but a means for extracting the ideas out of the actually existing relations. He wished originally to take economic studies in the university, so after he had gone through the little “Realscule” at Barmen (which by its training in physics and chemistry gave him an invaluable. foundation in scientific principles), he went to the “Gymnasium” at Elberfeldt. Family relations and early tendencies toward oppositional politics made every official career hateful to him and left him the year before the examinations to choose the life of a merchant.
He followed his philosophical studies while working in mercantile houses in Bremen and Berlin. From 1842-44 he was employed in a manufacturing establishment in Manchester of which his father was part owner.
In England, the mother land of capitalism, his keen economic and philosophical insight soon made the tendency of capitalistic production plain to him. The actual position of the proletariat, its misery and historical future, were more plainly evident here than anywhere else. His interest in the proletariat was strengthened, and we soon find him in the midst of the agitation of the Utopian socialism, which was then current, as well as of the actual labor movement which had not yet become socialistic. He studied both of these diligently, not as an onlooker but as a fellow-fighter. He was associated with the Northern Star, the party organ of the Chartists, and the New Moral World of Robert Owen.
Upon his return to Germany he visited Marx in Paris, with whom he was already in correspondence. Their friendship, which was to be of such far-reaching significance to both, dates from that time. They agreed so completely in their ideas that they began a book together for the purpose of making known their separation from the Hegelian school.
The Hegelian philosophy, like the greater part of the German philosophy, was ideological. It took for granted that ideas are not images of real conditions, but have an independent existence, and that their development forms a foundation for the development of things. Marx and Engels protested against this. They held fast to the dialectic method of Hegel, but not to the dogmatic superstructure of his philosophy. They substituted materialism for ideology. They conceived the real world-nature and history – as it actually appears to each individual who comes to it without preconceived idealistic whims.
The first appearance of this new dialectical materialism was in a work entitled The Holy Family; or, a Review of the Critical Critique Against Bruno Bauer and His Followers. This was written in Paris in 1844 and appeared in Frankfort a year later. The greater part was written by Marx, and is a reflection of the historical and philosophical studies they had carried on together. The economic sphere was little touched upon. The proletarian standpoint, however, was already prominent. Meanwhile the publications of both assumed more of an economic character. Marx buried himself more and more in economic study. Engels also at that time wrote out the results of his economic investigations in a work entitled The Condition of the Laboring Class in England, the importance of which even at the present time is shown by the fact that an English translation has just appeared.
Shorter economic articles of Engels’ had already been published. Of first importance is an article in the German-French Yearbook, issued by Marx and Ruge in 1824 entitled Outlines of a Critique on Political Economy. It’s significance lies in the fact that here the first attempt was made to found socialism upon political economy. Engels was at this time only a superficial student of political economy (for example, he knew Ricardo only through his commentator MacCullough). Accordingly there were many errors in the early beginnings of scientific socialism, of which, next to Marx, Engels must always be considered the founder. It was impregnated with sympathy for the forms of socialism which Engels had come to know in England.
It was altogether different with The Condition of the Laboring Class in England. Engels was in an attitude of hostile criticism to both Chartism and Owenism, and demanded that both should unite upon a higher plane; the labor movement must be the power to bring Socialism into birth; Socialism must be the goal the labor movement sets before itself.
The English Utopian Socialism – Owenism – knew nothing of the labor movement in general – nothing of strikes, of trades unions or of political trades unions or of political activity. The labor movement again – Chartism – acted wholly within the bounds of the existing wage system. The complete freedom of contract, the right of suffrage, the normal labor day, or perchance the small agricultural holdings, were for the majority of the Chartists not weapons with which to overthrow the existing social order, but only a means to make the condition of the masses more endurable.
In opposition to this Engels declared: “Socialism in its present form can never accomplish anything for the laboring class; it would never lower itself enough to stand for an instant on the basis of Chartism. The union of this Owenism with Chartism, the reproduction in an English form of the French communism, must be the next step, and has already in part begun. When this is accomplished the laboring class movement will have become for the first time a power in England.” This union of socialism with the labor movement created modern scientific socialism. In the Condition of the Laboring Class their needs were for the first time definitely expressed; with this book scientific socialism had its beginning. It was largely based, even if but half consciously, on the same foundation from which two years later the Communist Manifesto sprung. This was the common production of Marx and Engels, in which for the first time Marx clearly expressed the materialistic conception of history. The historical role of class antagonisms and the class struggle is here plainly set forth. Engels himself said in the appendix to the English edition of his Condition: “In this book great emphasis is laid upon the statement that communism is not merely a party principle for the laboring class but is a theory which means the emancipation of all society, including the capitalist class from the narrowness of its present life. In theory this is perfectly correct, but it is useless or worse than that in practice. So long as the possessing class not only feel no need of emancipation but energetically oppose the attempts of the laboring class to free themselves, so long must the social transformation be planned and carried through by the laboring class alone.”
The Condition of the Laboring Class in England is, however, the first scientific work on socialism, not only because of its standpoint in relation to Utopianism and the labor movement, but also through its method of presenting the condition of the laboring class of England. This presentation is not, as in so many philanthropic books, merely a collection of the miseries of the laboring class, but an exposition of the historical tendencies of the time, especially of the capitalistic manner of production in go far as it pertains to the condition of the laboring class.
Engels saw in misery not merely the misery, as did the socialists of his time, but the germ of a higher form of society which it bore in its bosom. We who have grown up in the circle of modern socialistic thought can scarcely realize what a task was accomplished by the twenty-four-year-old Engels in his book, at a time when the miseries of the working class were either denied or bemoaned, but were never viewed as a portion of historical development.
The shallow, fantastic, literary and academic world of our time, which studies socialism less in the works of its scientific defenders than in the police reports, found nothing in the Condition that suited its purposes except the prophecy of an early outbreak of an English revolution, and with much satisfaction pointed out the non-fulfillment of this prophecy. These gentlemen forgot that since 1844 England has in fact gone through a colossal revolution, which had already begun in 1846 with the abolition of the “Corn Laws,” followed in 1847 by the fixing of a normal working day for women and children at ten hours, and that from then on concession after concession was granted to the laboring classes in England, so that to-day the objects of the Chartists are practically secured; and they have now conquered the balance of political power. Events which no one could have foreseen were at fault that the prophecy was not fulfilled; above all the June fight of 1848 in Paris and the discovery of the gold fields of California in the same year, which drew across the sea the discontented elements of England and weakened for a time the strength of the labor movement.
It is not so remarkable that this prophecy was not literally fulfilled as that so many other prophecies of the book were fulfilled.
Of the other side of the Condition our literary men said little, though it was of especial significance for German political economy. In the theoretical field German political economy had never accomplished anything. Marx has explained the reason for this in his Capital. Their only productions worthy of mention are a number of descriptions of the conditions of certain classes of labor in certain localities, such as those furnished by Thun, Schnapper-Arndt, Braf, Sax, Singer, Herkner and others. So far as these descriptions are of real significance, giving typical and historical facts and not merely pedantic accumulations of disconnected details, they rest upon the basis of Marx’ Capital and the Condition of the Laboring Class of Engels. But only a few like Sax had the courage or the honesty to confess this.
The present German economic “Science” only lives as it simultaneously plunders, snarls at or pretends to refute Marx and Engels. And the more one has secretly plundered the louder he snarls.
We have gone somewhat into details concerning the Condition, partly because it is the first book of scientific socialism and partly because the edition is exhausted, and it is no longer accessible to the greater number of our comrades. We need not linger so long with the other writings of Engels. They can be more easily obtained, and we dare say the greater part of our readers know them already and others will be led to a nearer acquaintance with them through this sketch. In his following writings he maintains the same position that he took in the Condition and which was for the first time symmetrically and completely set forth in the Communist Manifesto of 1847.
The Condition was worked out in Barmen after his return from Manchester. But at the same time Engels saw that with his present views an abode in pious Barmen, in the bosom of an orthodox and highly conservative family, was unendurable. Once for all he gave up mercantile life and went to Brussels, where Marx had also betaken himself, after he was expelled from France through the investigation of the Prussian government. And now began an active mutual labor for both. The theoretical foundation of their work was soon acquired. It was necessary for them, on the one hand, to establish a new scientific system; on the other hand to place the existing labor movement on this foundation and bring it to self-consciousness. This intimate union of practical and theoretical work, of such deep significance for Marx and Engels, became now a fixed plan and remained so for life. From this time on they systematically concentrated all their strength upon this subject.
Their first scientific task was to break definitely with the contemporary German philosophy and also with the remnants of the younger Hegelian school. They wrote together a criticism of the later Hegelian philosophy (Stirner, Feuerbach, Bauer), which was not published, however. But as Engels writes, “We were in no way minded to whisper the new scientific results in ponderous volumes to the learned world exclusively. On the contrary, we were both already deep in the political movement. We had a certain following in the educated world, namely, in West Germany, and much sympathy among the organized proletariat. We were in duty bound to found our views scientifically, but quite as important was it for us to win to our conviction the proletariat of Europe, and above all the proletariat of Germany. As soon as we were clear ourselves we went to work. We established a German labor union in Brussels and succeeded in dominating the Deutsch Brusseler Zeitung. At the same time we were in co-operation with the Brussels Democrats (Marx was vice-president of the Democratic society) and also with the French Social Democrats, through the Reforme, to which I furnished news of the English and German movement. In short, our connections with the radical and political organizations and press were all that could be wished for.”
Most important of all, however, was the connection of Marx and Engels with the international “League of the Just” – the later League of the Communists, the forerunner of the “International.” This League was necessarily, under the political conditions existing at that time, a secret society, though outwardly a labor union. In England, for example, it took the form of the Communist Laborers’ Educational Association. It was also the source of the German revolutionists – mostly laborers. In Paris it was a half propaganda, half oath-bound society, under the influence of the French labor Communism. It grew fast, and sections were soon formed in England and Switzerland. After 1839 London was the headquarters of the League, and from there sections were organized in Germany and Belgium. From a society of German emigrants in Paris it became an International Communist Association.
It steadily increased in numbers and clearness. The early communism of the French labor movement became less and less satisfactory to the leading minds; likewise the Weitling Sectarian Communism soon wore itself out. At the same time the influence of Marx and Engels grew in the socialist and democratic movement. Their new position was understood and accepted in the circle of this movement. So it came about that in the spring of 1847 Marx in Brussels and Engels in Paris, where he had gone from Brussels, were visited by a watchmaker, Moll, a former member of the League, who had become acquainted with Engels in London in 1843. Moll demanded admittance to the League in the name of his comrades, under the condition that they were ready to drop the conspiratory character of the League and accept the new theoretical standpoint. Both Marx and Engels responded to the call. In the summer of 1847 the first Congress of the League met in London, to which Engels came as a representative of the members in Paris. The league received at this Congress not only a new name – The Communist League – but also an entirely new organization. From a secret association it became a society for open propaganda.
The second Congress took place at the end of November and the beginning of December of the same year. Not only Engels but Marx as well took part in this. The change which the first Congress began was completed; the last opposition and doubt removed the new foundation unanimously adopted, and Marx and Engels were appointed to draw up the manifesto of the League.
With this there began a new epoch in the lives of Marx and Engels. They hurried at once to Paris and from there to Germany, and undertook at Cologne the management of a daily paper – the Neue Rheinische Zeitung.
This history of Engels at this time is bound up in that of the above-named paper. To relate their history, however, would mean to give the history of the year 1848 and its accompanying events. Necessarily we cannot enter into this. Suffice to say, at no other period of their lives have Marx and Engels given a better example of the characteristics previously referred to than at that time: the intimate union of practical and theoretical work, the combination of the scholar and the statesman, of the fighter and the critic. In the revolutionary struggle no one took a more decided part than they, and no one in that fight kept themselves freer from illusions.
Never, perhaps, was a movement so full of illusions as that of 1848. This was especially true of the economically and politically immature Germany, to which naturally German-Austria belonged. The revolutionary portion of the bourgeoisie – the small land-owners and the laborers – believed that with the destruction of the reactionary government heaven would come upon earth. They had no idea that this overthrow was merely the beginning and not the end of the revolutionary struggle; that the civil freedom gained by this struggle formed the foundation upon which the great class-struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat must be fought out; that this freedom did not bring social peace, but only a new social struggle.
The opinion frequently prevails that the revolution of 1848 was wrecked without results. What in reality did suffer shipwreck mere the illusions which the existing struggle between the main contending parties concealed, and which made the people believe that laborers, manufacturers and artisans were brothers with common interests and a common goal. In reality they mere only united in their struggle against the existing absolutism. The revolution revealed the opposition between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, and at the same time showed the political incompetency of the small property owners.
These latter were the soul of the movement of 1848 and its failure meant only the defeat of that class. The year 1848 marks their political bankruptcy. Everywhere the proletariat went into the fight for them; everywhere they were finally betrayed.
The laboring class was at that time too young, too immature and too much split up to construct a policy on its own responsibility. Wherever they sought to do this they failed.
The plans of the bourgeoisie in no way miscarried in this revolution. The reaction was successful in accomplishing most of its purposes. The proletariat (on the continent) learned, through this revolution, its friends and foes. It recognized, on the one hand, its opposition to the bourgeoisie; on the other, the treachery of the small property owners. It learned for the first time to know itself – it gained a class-consciousness, a self-consciousness. This development of a conscious fighting class dates in Germany from the February revolution.
The only class that lost economically, politically and morally in every relation was the small property owners. This class in reality went to pieces with the overthrow of the revolution.
All this is quite clear to-day, a generation after the struggle. In the year 1848 the Neue Rheinische Zeitung was the sole paper, and the men of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung were the only individuals who clearly recognized this. These made it their task, not to nourish the illusions of the masses with hollow phrases, but, on the contrary, to destroy them with merciless criticism. Not that they showed themselves to be either cowardly or obstructionists. On the contrary no paper urged on more energetically to decisive and quick action than the Neue Rheinische Zeitung so long as there were actual opponents to overcome or that advocated more unreservedly the overthrow of every remaining support of the old order.
Meanwhile conditions were more powerful than the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. The reaction triumphed. One portion of the Rhine province, the principal seat of commerce and manufacturing, Elberfeld, Dusseldorf, Solingen, etc., arose in May, 1849, to oppose the crumbling, reactionary opposition. Immediately upon hearing this Engels hurried from Cologne to Elberfeld, but only to see the uprising quickly go to pieces. The laborers were everywhere betrayed and left in the lurch by the little bourgeois.
This decided the fate of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. It was suppressed May 19th, and Marx was exiled. Engels also, on account of his participation in the Rhenish uprising, was persecuted and compelled to leave Cologne, where he had concealed himself when he returned from Elberfeld. Marx went with a mandate of the Democratic Central Committee to Paris, where a new crisis was preparing that was to be of importance to the German revolution. Engels went into the Palatinate, which, together with Baden, had risen to the support of the constitution of the Empire, and joined a volunteer corps, filling the position of an adjutant. He took part in three battles, as well as the decisive combat on the Murg. Here 13,000 poorly led and poorly disciplined revolutionary soldiers faced 60,000 Prussian and Imperial troops. Nevertheless the latter won only through the violation of its terms of neutrality by Wurtemburg, which made possible a flank movement.
The fate of the Baden-Palatinate insurrection, which had hardly been doubtful heretofore, was decided by this. The South German Democracy had been the soul of the insurrection. This was almost exclusively a small bourgeois party, and all their ridiculousness and miserableness came to view in this insurrection, which would have fallen to pieces more quickly than it did had it not been for the, proletarian element and the bad military management of the Prussians.
“Politically considered,” says Engels concerning the uprising in Baden and the Palatinate, “the government plan of campaign was from the first a failure. From a military point of view it was equally so. The only chance of its success lay outside of Germany, in the victory of the Republicans of Paris on June 13th – and the conflict of June 13th failed. After this the campaign could be nothing hut a more or less bloody farce. It was nothing else. Stupidity and treachery ruined it completely. With the exception of a few, the military chiefs were either traitors, or officious, unlearned, cowardly office-seekers, and the few exceptions were left in the lurch by the majority. As with the leaders, so with the soldiers. The Badish people had the best military element in them. In the insurrection from the first they mere so mishandled and neglected that all the misery arose we have described. The whole revolution resolved itself into a comedy, and the only comfort was that the six times greater opponent had six times less courage.
“But this comedy had a tragic ending, thanks to the bloodthirstiness of the counter-revolution. The same soldiers, who on the march or on the field of battle more than once were seized with panic fright, died like heroes in the ditches of Rastat – . Not one begged for mercy, not one trembled. The German people will not forget the fusillades and casemates of Rastat – – ; they will not forget the nobility who commanded these infamies, nor the traitors whose cowardice was to blame for it; the Brentanos of Karlsruhe and Frankfurt.” (The German Imperial Plan of Campaign, by Frederick Engels; Neue Rheinische Zeitung, Political and Economic Revue, edited by Karl Marx, 1850, Vol.III., p.80.)
Engels was one of the last of the conquered army to go over into the bounds of Switzerland after all was lost on the 11th of July, 1849. He remained in Switzerland a month. Meanwhile Marx had betaken himself to London. We know that he had gone to Paris with a commission from Democratic Revolutionary Central Committee, where the Democratic party was preparing an uprising upon which depended not only the fate of the French but also that of the German Democrats. The insurrection of June 13th, 1849, to which Engels refers in the above quotation, failed. This made it impossible for Marx to remain longer in Paris. He had to choose between going to Brittany or leaving France altogether. He went to London.
Since there was nothing in Switzerland to indicate the possibility of peaceful activity, Engels also went to London. As, however, the way through France was dangerous – the French government often sent German fugitives, who were passing through, on to America from Havre – he went by way of Genoa, and from there in a sailing ship through Gibraltar to London.
The majority of the leading members of the Communist League, as well as the majority of the German “great-men” of 1848, found themselves in the fall together in London. They undertook to form a new organization for the purpose of taking up again the propagandist activity. While the revolutionary uprising had not yet been entirely suppressed, it appeared necessary to prepare for a new revolution. But how completely different Marx and Engels comprehended these preparations from the majority of the Democratic emigrants! While to these the solution of the problem at which they had just failed appeared a child’s play, and while their illusions grew ever more chimerical and their manifestos more bombastic as they lost all actual connections with the home relations, Marx and Engels labored with tireless energy to perfect the organization of the Communist League, and to work in Germany with propaganda and criticism, at the same time advancing themselves intellectually.
The results of their criticism and scientific activity at that time are set forth in a monthly paper which they published in 1850, giving it the name of the paper suppressed in Cologne – the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. It appeared in Hamburg. Marx published in it a critical history of the French movement of 1848-49, which formed the foundation of his later pamphlet – The Eighteenth Brumaire. Engels described the imperial plan of campaign in a series of articles, a portion of which was cited above. The most notable of his other works was a series of articles on the The English Ten-Hour Bill, which are to-day only of historical interest, since the conditions from which he proceeded no longer exist. As one reads the articles he at once understands the industrial revolution that has since taken place. One of the most important of Engels’ productions was a series of articles on the German Peasants’ War, which later appeared in the form of a brochure. This work is the first historical description of the pre-capitalistic relations from the standpoint of the materialistic conception of history. Meanwhile the development of actual relations showed to those who carefully observed facts, instead of living in a self-created dream world, that the raising of an immediate revolution was impossible. However disagreeable this knowledge was, Marx and Engels determined, not only to accept it themselves but they had the courage to publish it, as they held it to be their task to destroy illusions, not to nourish them.
In their review of the events from May to October, written November 1st, 1850, they demonstrated that in trade and industry general prosperity ruled. “In the midst of this general prosperity,” they wrote, “here the productive powers of the bourgeois society are developing as luxuriantly as is possible within bourgeois relations, it is impossible to talk of an economic revolution. Such a revolution is only possible in a period when these two factors – the modern productive powers and the bourgeois form of production – come into conflict. The various quarrels into which the representatives of the different Continental factions are now engaged, so far from giving rise to new revolutions, are themselves only possible because of the security of the immediate relations, and further – which the reaction does not know – just because these relations are so bourgeois. In the face of these relations all bourgeoise efforts at reactionary restraint are as helpless as all the moral indignation and their spiritual proclamations of the earlier democrats.”
We know to-day that Marx and Engels were right. But to proclaim bitter truths is not the task of every one.
All those who believed that nothing is necessary for a revolution but a proper amount of enthusiasm, and that a revolution can be made at will whenever there is a desire for it – in short, the great majority of the revolutionary fugitives in England, who at that time represented the radical industrial opposition to the European reaction – rose up against Marx and Engels. The Neue Rheinische Zeitung lost its readers and was compelled to discontinue publication. There was a division in the Communist League. Its most active members in Germany were thrown into prison. With the prospect of an immediate uprising the socialist propaganda for a time went to pieces.
The political work was postponed still longer. From 1850 on every kind of literary activity in Germany was cut off for both Marx and Engels. The ban of the Democrats, as well as that of the government, rested upon them. No publisher would undertake any of their work. No paper would accept their writings. Marx went back to the British Museum and began again his historical and economic studies, laying the foundation for his great work, Capital. In the meantime he wrote for the New York Tribune, whose European editor he actually was for nearly twenty years. In 1850 Engels went into the Manchester woolen mill of which his father was a part owner, became himself associated in the business in 1864, and in 1869 legally severed his connection with it. Through the knitting firm “Ermen & Engels” his name hecame familiar to many working women who knew nothing of his labors for the working class.
Twenty years the two friends were separated except for short intervals, but their intellectual intercourse was unbroken. Almost every day they wrote to each other and exchanged views on events in the sphere of politics, economics and science. This correspondence still exists. When it is published it will constitute one of the most important sources for understanding the time from 1850 to 1870.
In Manchester Engels continued his studies along with his business. In the first place he worked on military history and science. The campaign of 1849 had shown to him the absolute necessity for such a work, and his service as a volunteer in the artillery gave him a practical foundation for his studies. Aside from this he busied himself with comparative philology – always his favorite study – and with natural science. During the Italian war of 1859 he published anonymously a military pamphlet – The Po and the Rhine wherein, on the one hand, he opposed the Austrian theory that the Rhine must be defended on the Po, and, on the other hand, the “little German” Prussian Liberals, who rejoiced over the downfall of Austria, and did not realize that Napoleon was the common enemy. A second pamphlet, similar in its contents – Savoy, Nice and the Rhine – followed after the war. During the Prussian military conflict of 1865 he published another pamphlet called The Prussian Military Question and the German Labor Party, wherein the opposition and half-heartedness of the Liberals and Radicals were exposed and criticised. It was set forth that an actual solution of the military problem as well as of all other serious questions could only be attained through the Labor Party. During the Franco-Prussian war he wrote a series of military articles for the London Pall Mall Gazette, wherein he was so fortunate as to prophesy on the 25th of August the battle of Sedan and the defeat of the French, which took place on September 2nd.
If there had already been a division of labor in the studies of Marx and Engels, this division took on a peculiar character after Engels’ removal to London in 1870. While Marx proceeded to work out systematically the fundamental theories for the scientific world, Engels took up the task of, on the one hand, sending out polemics whenever he found opponents worthy of his efforts, and on the other hand of treating the great questions of the present in accordance with these theories, and at the same time investigating their relation to the proletariat. This division of the field of labor was natural, not pedantic; they often worked together and always exchanged ideas.
Engels gives proof in various places of his recognition of this relation which existed between himself and Marx in the scientific world. In the preface to the second edition of his book, Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science, he says: “The greater part of the point of view developed here was founded and worked out by Marx, and only a small part of it by me. It’s presentation has not been made without his knowledge. I have read the whole manuscript to him before publication and the tenth chapter of the section on Economics was written by Marx, and aside from some superficial observation was merely abridged by me. It was always our custom to assist each other reciprocally in our special fields.”
It is well for the most part to say of this division of labor that while the Marxian studies are comprised in one principal work – Capital – the results of Engels’ investigations are scattered in numerous small pamphlets. So it happens that while complaints are made about the unintelligibleness of Marx, and most people have read more about Capital than they have of Capital itself, Engels stands as a master of popular exposition: his writings are read by all thinking proletarians, and the majority of those who have accepted socialism have obtained their knowledge and understanding of the Marx-Engels theory from these writings.
A slight observation on this point. Most of our friends, as soon as they recognize that socialism is not a matter of sympathy but of science, at once throw themselves with fiery energy upon Capital, break out their teeth on the theory of value, and then drop everything. The result would be entirely different if they first took up Engels’ pamphlets, and only after they had thoroughly studied these betook themselves to Capital.
Engels’ writings for the most part concern passing events, but they are in no way of such temporary value as to be useless when the occasion has passed which brought them forth. One of these has especial value for us through its sharp characterization of the historical situation which produced it, and the more so since we are in a similar position to-day. This is true, for example, of The Prussian ‘Schnaps’ in German Reichstag, which plays, if possible, a greater-role to-day than when Engels published the article in the Volkstaat (1876). The pamphlet, The Bakunist on Labor, which discusses the Anarchist revolution in Spain, is greatly valued by us Austrians.
The other popular articles of Engels are for the most part polemic in character, but the polemic is only the occasion for a positive development of different phases of their own theory.
That they are not obsolete even now is shown by the fact that new editions are constantly required. This is the case among others with The Housing Question, a polemic against the little bourgeois Proudhonist Muhlberger. This appeared first in 1872 as a series of articles in the Volkstaat, then in a separate publication, a new edition of which has just been issued in Zurich with a preface characterizing the later industrial development of Germany which renders it of value even to possessors of the first edition.
In 1875 there appeared in the Volkstaat, and also as a separate publication, the pamphlet on Social Conditions in Russia, a polemic against the Bakhunists. This gave an opportunity to apply modern scientific socialism to Russian conditions and relations. Of special interest is what Engels says of the Artels (Mirs), the ancient productive organizations, the village communism, and the significance of these institutions for socialism.
Two years later Engels published his polemic against Dühring. This was the year before the beginning of the anti-socialist legislation. A part of the German Social Democracy lulled itself in the most evident illusions. Many already saw the day nearing when a Social Democratic majority in the German Reichstag would bring in the “Socialist State,” and mere racking their brains as to how this could be best and easiest accomplished. The Social Democracy was the rising sun, and not only the proletariat turned toward it, but the whole mass of discontented elements within the possessing class – unappreciated geniuses who hoped to find among the laborers the recognition the bourgeois denied them, anti-vaccinationists, nature healers, writers of all kinds. It was difficult to distinguish these people from those industrial elements who came to us because of an actual interest in the proletariat, and not merely out of envy of the bourgeoisie. The younger and more inexperienced of the comrades welcomed these new-comers. It must he true that victory was not far away when doctors and professors betook themselves to the Social Democracy.
But the professors and doctors did not propose to break with the bourgeoisie. They wished to play a certain role, with the help of the Social Democracy, but they hoped through it to secure the recognition of the bourgeoisie. It was necessary first of all to make the Social Democracy “respectable,” to render it admissible to the salons, to take from it its proletarian character.
It became necessary to impose a rule upon the bourgeois-ideological elements that began to have an influence in the Social Democracy. One of the most prominent and gifted of these salon-socialists was unquestionably the Berlin privat-docent, Eugen Dühring, a man of great intellectual powers, who would have been of great significance had he possessed something more of the Marx-Engels power of self-criticism and less of the delusions and froth of the German literary world. Dühring believed that his genius raised him above the necessity of studying fundamentally the relations upon which he philosophized. He was less of the Philistine and bolder than Schaeffle, and began to exercise great influence on the younger elements of the party in Berlin. He was no mean opponent, and many comrades urged Engels to meet him personally and lay bare the hollowness of his philosophy and at the same time sharply define the character of our movement.
This is the story of the origin of the Anti-Dühring” as it was originally called. A second edition with the polemic portions omitted appeared in a few years under the title The Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science.
The occasion for the Anti-Dühring has been long forgotten. Not only is Dühring a thing of the past for the Social Democracy, but the whole throng of academic and platonic socialists have been frightened away by the anti-socialist legislation, which at least had the one good effect to show where the reliable supports of our movement are to be found. In spite of the change of conditions the book has not lost one iota of its significance to-day. Dühring was a many-sided man. He wrote on Mathematics and Mechanics, as well as on Philosophy and Political Economy, Jurisprudence, Ancient History, etc. Into all these spheres he was followed by Engels, who was as many-sided as Dühring, but in another way. Engels’ many-sidedness was united with a fundamental thoroughness which in these days of specialization is found only in a few cases and was rare even at that time. Modern science partakes of the character of the modern manner of production, and the fundamental principle of superficial, feverish haste of production more and more enters into it. The products of modern science, like those of modern industry, are cheap and poor. This by no means signifies that even the worst articles, if they happen to be in style, will not bring good prices.
It is to the superficial many-sidedness of Dühring that we own the fact that the Anti-Dühring became a book which treated the whole of modern science from the Marx-Engels materialistic point of view. Next to Capital the Anti-Dühring has become the fundamental work of modern socialism.
In our study of the literary side of Engels we have almost lost sight of his practical political activity. We will turn now to this latter.
The labor movement, which had almost ceased to exist upon the continent, after the blows of 1848-49, began in the middle of the sixties to stir on all sides, not only in Germany, but in France, Belgium and England. Even in Spain and Italy the laboring class began to move. To turn all these confused and unclear movements into one uniform, clear, conscious movement was the task which the International, founded in London in 1864, set before itself. This was a society for organization and propaganda, among the proletariat of all lands, not an oath-bound association, as is many times asserted.
The intellectual leadership of the League naturally fell upon Marx, although, as might be expected, Engels lent his assistance. He was able to devote his whole strength to the task since he had withdrawn from business and had settled in the neighborhood of London. Be came just in the nick of time, for the great struggle of the Franco-German war had just begun. At that time the greatest demands were made upon the strength of the International, and it could dispense with no one.
The year 1870 brought a revolution, which in its acts of violence would well compare with any previous revolution. Few have demanded so great sacrifices as the Franco-German War. This revolution was not confined to France and Germany. Others seized the opportunity to burst sworn contracts and nullify hereditary rights of property. It was not “wild Communists” who did these things, but the guardians of “law and order.” Victor Emmanuel occupied Rome and the Czar of all the Russias declared that he was no longer bound by the contract signed by him to preserve the neutrality of the Black Sea.
If the conquerors and their friends viewed the revolution from above, the conquered naturally saw it from below. The Empire was swept away in France, and when the royalists, after the conclusion of peace attempted to betray the Republic, Paris arose in defense of its threatened freedom. The old drama of 1848 was repeated. The little bourgeois sent the proletariat into the fire in the hope that they might be frightened by their own comrades and their strength be weakened. But the proletariat of 1871 was not the proletariat of 1848-49. It had grown stronger and riper. The longer this struggle lasted in Paris the more were its burdens shifted from the little bourgeoisie to the proletariat, until the latter became the driving and supporting force of the revolutionary movement. The members of the “International” belonged to the definitely conscious and decisive portion of the Parisian proletariat. If they were not responsible for the uprising of the Commune, its guidance, at least in the economic direction, fell exclusively into their hands before the conflict had burnt itself out. The responsibility for the Commune was forced upon the “International,” and so far from denying it they declared themselves solidly with the Parisian uprising. The “International,” already long an object of fear and abhorrence for every “good minded” person, was now, after the fall of the Commune, placed completely under the ban throughout all Europe. The influential English laborers quickly withdrew from it. England was not yet ready for socialism, and the English laborers were but the political hangers-on of the radical bourgeois. As the “International” had “compromised” itself by its connection with the Commune they withdrew from it. So there came a split in the “International” itself.
The socialists, prior to Marx and Engels, had no conception of the Class Struggle. This struggle was naturally a political one. Its aim was the attainment of political power to be used in the interest of the laboring class. The socialists of that time, disgusted with the actions of all old parties, refused to place their Utopia into the struggle of the laboring class in opposition to the old society, and sought rather to bring it in behind the shoulders of that society and outside the sphere of its corrupt influence. They advocated abstinence from all political action, and every class struggle, in order, through isolated “Propaganda of the Deed” by certain advanced individuals, to convince the mass of the people of the necessity and utility of socialism. These socialists were very peaceable people, who saw only misfortune in the necessary conflict between the laboring class and capitalists and not a lever of historical advance. They hoped to avoid this antagonism by educating the capitalist class concerning its true interests. As a means to this end their “Propaganda of the Deed” was very harmless, consisting for the most part in the founding of productive associations, socialist colonies and the like.
The great achievement of Marx and Engels lay in their bridging over the chasm between the theoretical socialism and the practical, political labor movement. They sought to utilize every power of the struggling proletariat to bring in the new society. In place of the exertions of individuals they substituted the power of the whole laboring class; for the good will of “friends of humanity” they substituted natural necessity, which forced the laboring class on pain of destruction to oppose the capitalist oppression. Opposed to individual efforts on a small scale they maintained that the new form of industry could only be secured through the common united efforts of the class-conscious proletariat of all lands. They pointed out that the new manner of production could not arise from individual autonomous associations, colonies or communities, but could only come through the appropriation of the means of production and the systematic organization of labor in the united nations of present capitalistic civilization.
They gave expression to this opinion in the Communist Manifesto, which also formed the foundation of the “International.”
The time for the old unpolitical socialism appeared past. Labor parties were everywhere adopting socialist and political programs. The year 1848 had destroyed, for all thinking laborers, the illusion that only a misunderstanding existed between them and the bourgeoisie. The class struggle sprang up all along the line in Europe. There was no longer any place for peaceful, unpolitical socialism. The question of political action for the laboring class was no longer a question of doctrine, but a question of life and death.
But the unpolitical socialism continued to appear, especially in economically backward lands, where the laborers had just begun to move, or in those where the little bourgeois element still predominated, as in Paris, or in countries where the laboring class were politically helpless, as in Belgium, or, finally, in those lands where there could be no question of a class struggle of the laboring class, as in Russia.
But this new unpolitical socialism could no longer be peaceable. The class struggle had become too well known among the laboring class. For the “Propaganda of the Deed” of individuals through colonies and associations this new unpolitical socialism substituted the “Propaganda of the Deed” individuals through conspiracy and force. The man who applied the old unpolitical socialism of Proudhon in this manner to the existing industrial conflict, and so created modern anarchism, was Bakhunin.
His influence in the “International” rose ever higher, and it was necessary to oppose him if the work on which Marx and Engels had spent a lifetime were not to be undone, and the socialism of a political nature, before which all the older parties trembled, were not to sink into a secret, loosely connected sect which could be put down by the police as easily as a gang of thieves. Thus arose the great conflict between Marx and Bakunin which led to the splitting of the “International” and finally to its end.
In all these conflicts Engels, as member of the general council of the “International” (in 1871 corresponding secretary for Belgium and Spain, and later for Italy and Spain), took a prominent part. With this reference we must content ourselves. A detailed account of the activity of Engels in the “International” would not only overreach the limits of the present sketch, but would also presuppose a study of the protocols and correspondence of the general council, which have not yet been made public. With the endings of the “International” the practical immediate activity of Engels. as well as of Marx, with the party ceased. But their work lost through this nothing of its significance for the scientific as well as the political development.
Discord and persecution had well-nigh killed the “International” when its end was precipitated. The fundamental cause for this lay in the fact that it had outlived itself, in the sense that its object was reached; the labor movement was in full action in all places, and the international solidarity of the whole laboring class was so firmly established that the formal bond of an association, created especially for this object, had become clearly a fetter. In Germans the Social Democracy gained one decisive victory after another, and could already begin to think of having an influence on legislation. Where things had progressed thus far, party activity had to be more and more determined through the economic and political peculiarities of the individual countries than formerly when it was a question of the propaganda of principles.
The movement constantly took on more of a national character, not in the sense that it overlooked the international solidarity, but that it was more influenced by the peculiarities of the people and the character of the state upon which it had to work.
The “International” as an organization was in consequence of the advance of socialism quite as superfluous as was in its time the “League of the Just.” But the international solidarity of the proletariat remained, and without any definite nomination or recognition Marx and Engels remained its representatives.
Living in London, the center of the modern capitalistic world, and in constant communication with the most prominent socialists of all countries, they obtained a view of the whole economic and political movement, as well as of the particular relations within the various parties. This, in connection with their wide scientific knowledge, and the ripe experience of nearly half a century spent actively in the proletarian movement especially qualified them to separate, in the development of the different parties, the essential from the superficial and temporary, and to recognize the position which the socialists of all lands must take on the questions of the day. This was plainly evident from all their manifestos. Little wonder that the intelligent socialist element of all countries went for advice to the two veterans in London whenever they found themselves in a critical situation. And never were those who went disappointed. They spoke out their convictions freely and frankly without circumlocution, but also without obtrusiveness. No proletarian, no one to whom the subject of the proletariat was a serious matter, went to these two in vain. That they were the advisers of the whole fighting proletariat of Europe and America, pamphlets, numerous articles and numberless letters, in different languages, bear evidence.
Since 1883 this heavy and responsible burden has rested upon the shoulders of Engels alone, to whom fell, at the same time, the task of finishing what Marx, on the threshold of completion, had been compelled to leave. In addition to this Engels continued his part of their joint labors – namely, the application of the materialistic conception of history to the questions of the day and the defense of the Marx-Engels theory against attacks and misunderstandings. Besides all these tasks Engels carried on special investigations of historical methods which he had already earlier begun, and which demanded that he enter into a study of almost every sphere of knowledge.
Engels looked upon the completion of the legacy of Marx as the first and most important of these duties. First he took up the third edition of the first volumes of Capital, which was enlarged and revised according to statements left by the author, as well as provided with notes. It appeared at the close of 1883.
In the summer of 1884 Engels published his work on the Origin of the Family, of Private Property and the State, in which he carried out what Marx himself had planned. He gave to the public the investigations of Morgan, and at the same time enlarged upon them. Morgan, in his pre-historic studies, had arrived at the same materialistic conception of history which Marx and Engels had reached in their historical investigations. The orthodox knowledge of the time sought to suppress Morgan as they had previously tried to do with Marx. It was necessary not only to save him from threatened oblivion, but also to fill in the historical gaps in Morgen’s investigations; to fit these into the frame of the Marx-Engels materialistic conception of history and to blend in one uniformly developed series the pre-historic and historic. Nothing less than this is accomplished in the little book of 146 pages.
A year later followed the second volume of Capital, which treated of the process of the circulation of capital. The first volume explained the process by which value and surplus value are produced. The second volume was an exposition of the different forms of circulation of capital. It was shown that by every circulation the capitalist sold the produced value and surplus value, in order with the proceeds – after the deduction of what he consumed – to again buy means of production, and labor power, and to allow the production of new value and surplus value. The third volume, which we look for in 1888, will treat of the whole process – the forming of price from value, the apportionment of surplus value into its different constituent parts; land rent, profit, interest, etc.
Along with this completion of the Marxian legacy went a lively journalistic activity, if one dare use this word of so fundamental and well thought out productions as those of Engels. A numerous collection of articles in the Zurich Social Democrat, in the Stuttgart Neue Zeit” the Paris Socialiste, etc., are the results of the activity of Engels at this time.
At the same time new editions and translations of his writings were produced in English, Italian, French, Danish, etc., all of which he had to revise and provide with notes and prefaces. And finally came the difficult and tiresome task of the revision of the English translation of the first volume of Capital, which translation was accomplished by Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling and appeared in 1887.
How many of us younger ones who would be physically equal to such a task? But our veteran, in spite of his 67 years, is still young. He has none of the irritableness of old age, none of that enviousness which glorifies the past at the expense of the present. No one realizes better than he the possibilities of youth. No one is more indulgent of youthful mistakes. He is equally opposed to Utopianism and place-seeking and to undue regard for respectability. He objects quite as much to every assertive impotence that feels itself called upon to rescue humanity, and presses forward to a task for which it is not fitted, causing irreparable injury, and which, in its good nature, seeks to justify every foolishness.
He gives full value to the present, but not at the cost of the past.
He has not undervalued the early socialists, as so many have done who have merely tasted scientific socialism. No one has spoken with greater modesty than he of his own learning, of which he created so brilliant a monument in his Anti-Dühring.
Engels has always succeeded in keeping himself free from illusions. This he can do because behind him lies the experience of half a hundred years, in which the world has changed more than in any previous hundred years. These experiences have made him a cool, quiet observer. The whole development during his later years has made him certain that the proletariat will become the determining force in the life of the state within a comparatively few years in the lands of capitalistic civilization. To be sure, there are many and great obstacles yet to he overcome, but the dynamic forces of present historic development in the economic and political spheres are such that these obstacles will not prove insurmountable. We cannot wish anything better, said Engels, than that existing relations be allowed to develop further in their present direction. Then our victory is certain within reasonable time. The worst to happen would be a leap into uncertainty, which, while having the appearance of an advance, would in reality set us still further back; or that some event should put the Social Democracy to an extreme test before its strength were sufficiently developed; or that the thoughts of the people should be given a new direction. Such an event would mean war, which would arouse race hate and destroy the international solidarity.
Such elementary events naturally cannot be advanced or hindered according to our desire. When they do occur we must seek as far as possible to exploit them in our interest. What we must seek to avoid at such times is an “adventurous policy” on the part of our own party. We must not attempt to forcibly surprise natural development or to diplomatically outwit it. “We have learned to wait,” said Engels to me, “and you in turn must learn to wait your time.” But by such waiting he did not mean waiting with folded arms and open mouth until one of the roasted doves of spontaneous development should fly down the throat, but a waiting in tireless labor – labor of organization and propaganda. Quietly and decisively, with faith in our own good cause, without either prophecy or hesitancy, me must toil on, without rest, to weld the mass of the proletariat more firmly and clearly together and to fill them with a more clear self-consciousness. We have not only to teach, but also to learn much – very much to learn.
When we wait in this manner, the waiting will not be long. When every moment is used in the best possible manner we can without unnecessary sacrifice become masters of the situation in a short time. Then it will surely be granted, to at least one of the fathers of modern socialism, to see with his bodily eyes that which the eyes of his intellect have so long looked upon.
Engels lived until 1895
[Acknowledgments to the Marxist Internet Archive]