Engels by Stedman Jones
cburford at gn.apc.org
Sat Aug 5 08:07:36 MDT 1995
[The entry by Gareth Stedman Jones from "A Dictionary of Marxist Thought"
second edition, ed Tom Bottomore, Blackwell, Oxford, 1991]
Born 28 November 1820, Barmen; died 5 August 1995, London
The oldest son of a textile manufacturer in the Wuppertal in
Westphalia, Engels was brought up a strict Calvinist and on leaving
Gymnasium was trained for a merchant's profession in Bremen.
>From school onwards, however, he developed radical literary ambitions.
He was first attracted to the democratic nationalist writers of the
Young Germany movement in the 1930's and then fell increasingly under
the sway of Hegel. Taking the opportunity of military service to delay
his mercantile career, he went to Berlin in 1841 and became closely
involved with the Young Hegelian circle around Bruno Bauer. There,
he achieved brief fame for his pseudonymous attacks upon Schelling's
critique of Hegel.
In the autumn of 1842, Engels left for England to work in his father's
firm in Manchester. Under the influence of Moses Hess he was already
a communist, and, following the latter's "European Triarchy", believed
England destined for social revolution. A stay of almost two years in
the textile district and contact with Owenites and Chartists distanced
him from the Bauer circle.
The experience, registered in "The Condition of the Working Class",
convinced him that the working class, a distinctively new force
created by the 'industrial revolution', would be the instrument of
Between leaving England and writing his book, Engels had his first
serious meeting with Marx. Because they found they shared a common
position against the Bauer group and had been similarly impressed
by the importance of the working-class movement outside Germany,
they agreed to produce a joint work stating their position, "The Holy
Family". This marked the beginning of their lifelong collaboration.
At that time the communism they espoused remained strongly influenced
by Feuerbach, though distinctive in the far greater importance
they attached to the working class and politics. From the beginning of
1845 however, partly under the impact of Stirner's critique of
Feuerbach in "The Ego and His Own", Marx clarified his theoretical
position, in relation both to Feuerbach and to the Young Hegelians.
This marked the beginning of a distinctively 'Marxist' conception of
history. According to his own account, Engels's role in this process
Nevertheless, his work on political economy and on the relationship
between the industrial revolution and the development of class
consciousness in England contributed vital elements to Marx's overall
synthesis. Moreover, Engels contributed substantially to their unfinished
joint work setting out the new conception, the "German Ideology".
The period between 1845 and 1850 was one of extremely close collaboration.
Engels broke off relations with his father and devoted himself full time
to political work with Marx in Brussels and Paris. Their joint ambition
was to win German communists to their own position and to forge
international links with foreign working-class movements on the basis of
a common revolutionary proletarian platform. To this end, they joined the
German League of the Just (renamed the Communist League) and produced
for it the "Communist Manifesto" on the eve of the 1848 revolution.
During the revolution, Engels worked with Marx in Cologne on the "Neue
Rheinische Zeitung. Threatened with arrest in September 1848, he went
to France, but returned early in 1849 and from May to July participated
in the final stages of armed resistance to the victory of counter
revolution. His interest in military affairs dated from this period
and his general interpretation of the revolution was recorded in
"Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany" (1851-2)
After some time in Switzerland and London where the Communist League
finally broke up, Engels settled in Manchester in 1850 and rejoined the
family firm. There he stayed until 1870. In addition to his successful
business activity, he helped the impoverished Marx family, remained Marx's
principal political and intellectual companion, and applied their common
position to a wide array of journalistic contributions.
It was also from the late 1850's that he became increasingly interested
in establishing dialectical connections between the materialist conception
of history and developments in the natural sciences. His unfinished work
around these themes was eventually collected together and published
in Moscow in the 1920's as the "Dialectics of Nature".
In 1870 Engels was able to retire comfortably and move to London. As
Marx's health became more fragile, Engels undertook an increasing
share of their political work, in particular the running of the First
International in its last years.
It was in this political role that Engels intervened against the
positivist currents in the German Social Democratic Party, to produce
"Anti-Duhring" - the first attempt at a general exposition of the Marxist
position. This work and abridgements from it like "Socialism: Utopian
and Scientific" formed the basis of his immense reputation among the new
socialist movements between 1880 and 1914.
Further works, notably "Origin of the Family" and "Ludwig Feuerbach",
consolidated his position as a philosopher of even greater importance
than Marx during the epoch of the Second International. After Marx's
death in 1883, Engels spent most of his time editing and publishing
the second and third volumes of "Capital" in 1885 and 1894. But he
also took an active part in the formation of the Second International,
which he saw as the best vehicle for the further development of
socialism and as a barrier against the danger of a destructive war
between France and Germany.
He was just beginning work on the fourth volume of Capital (subsequently
published as "Theories of Surplus Value"), when he died of cancer.
Before 1914, Engels enjoyed an unparalleled reputation. He, far more than
Marx, was responsible for the diffusion of Marxism as a world view
within the socialist movement. After 1914 and the Russian revolution,
however, his standing was more contested. While Soviet Marxists accentuated
the apparent scientism of his writings as part of an official
philosophy of 'dialectical materialism', Western socialists accused
him of positivism and revisionism. Both lines of interpretation are
guilty of serious defects, for Engels belonged to a pre-positivist
generation. Next to Marx himself, his mentors were Hegel and Fourier
and his interpretatin of socialism should be understood in that light.
Gareth Stedman Jones
Carver, Terrell 1981: Engels
- 1983: Marx and Engels: The Intellectual Relationship
Henderson W.O. 1976: The Life of Friedrich Engels
McLellan, David 1977: Engels
Marcus S 1974: Engels, Manchester and the Working Class
Stedman Jones, Gareth 1978 (1982) 'Engels' in Eric Hobsbawm et al. eds.
"History of Marxism", vol 1
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