Frederick Engels – A Tribute

The early days of August are eventful ones for the international proletariat. This terrible war was ushered in on the fateful 4th and it was on the 5th of August, 1895, that Marx’s great co-worker passed away. Unfortunately no adequate biography of Engels has been written and the short sketch of his life by Karl Kautsky has long been out of print. A brief resumé of his life story is therefore timely, especially when the so-called “leaders of Socialism” in England are busy reviling the memory of every Socialist of German birth.

Marx and Engels paid the debt they owed to society with compound interest, and it is for us who still hold fast to the principles they laid down to make their writings known.

Frederick Engels was born in Barmen on the Rhine on Nov. 28th, 1820. His home was in the most developed part of German capitalism with its accompanying militant burgher and rising working class. For twenty years the district had been French territory and when it passed into German hands in 1815 it inherited the traditions of the French Revolution. German philosophy was at its zenith and Henrich Heine, Feuerbach and Hegel were active in the society in which Engels was born. Educated at the local school and afterwards at the “Gymnasium” at Eiberfeldt, he grew to hate the official life and politics of the German bourgeois and left his studies to take up work in a merchant house at Bremen and later at Berlin. His father was part owner of a textile firm in Manchester known as “Ermen Engels,” and from 1842 to 1844 he was employed in the business. Those days of break-neck speed capitalism, with its fearful exploitation and murder of women and children in the mills, made a lasting impression on Engels, and he threw himself into the incipient working-class movement of that time. Those who are interested can consult in the British Museum the files of the Bronterre O’Brien’s (Chartist) “Northern Star” and in Robert Owen’s “New Moral World’’ for many contributions from his busy pen.

In 1844 he returned to Germany and thence to Paris, where he revived his friendship with Karl Marx which had begun two years before. Their common views led to their joint authorship of “The Holy Family’’ or a Review of the Critical Critique against Bruno Bauer and his followers. Published in Frankfurt in 1845, this work dealt a mortal blow at the idealist philosophy of the Hegelian school and showed that changes in the “world of ideas” cannot lie explained by themselves hut only by the previous changes in the material world.

Soon afterwards he published the result of his investigations into proletarian life, entitled “Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844,” a work which is widely quoted to-day and shows that even in 1844 Engels studied material conditions in order to found a social science. Here he traced the effects of the industrial changes on the social life of the workers and showed that the reformism of Chartism and the idealism of Owenism could not he the basis of a Socialist movement. He wrote for the “German French Year Book” in 1844, ”Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy,” which was the first attempt to found Socialism upon Political Economy.

Upon his return to Barmen to complete the “Condition of the Working Class” he grew disgusted with the piety of the town and left his orthodox and conservative family to go to Brussels. He gave up mercantile life and joined Marx here alter the latter had been expelled from France through the “kind” offices of the Prussian Government. They cut themselves off from the Bourgeois philosophers of Germany and the young Hegelians, and promoted an international workers’ movement, The Communist League. Engels went to Paris and by means of educational work laid the basis for a democratic organisation to replace the secret societies that had formerly existed. Marx and Engels became so well known and relied upon that after two Congresses of the League they were instructed to prepare a manifesto of its aims. Back in Germany at Cologne they took control of the daily “Neue Rheinische Zeitung.” Its work was difficult as it stood alone in its clear conception of the necessities of the time.

The ’48 revolution showed that the politically and economically unripe Germany was full of illusions as to the meaning of the struggle and mistook the struggle of the small property-owners against the government for a social revolution.

The labourers were betrayed by the small bourgeoisie after they had helped the latter and the “Neue Rheinische Zeitung” was suppressed. Engels was persecuted and fled to Switzerland. Marx went to Paris, where a new revolt was seething, and after the bloody June days in Paris was ordered to leave. He went to London and was followed by Engels, who escaped the French authorities by travelling by ship from. Genoa.

In 1850 in Hamburg they re-established the- “Zeitung,” and Engels wrote for it his series of articles on “The Ten Hours Bill” and also his criticism of the German bourgeois revolt in “The German Imperial Plan of Campaign.”

Here he also published the articles forming his book on “The German Peasants’ War,” and through dispelling the fond illusions of the small property owners the circulation of the paper fell. Many of the Communist leaders were thrown into prison and Marx’s defence may be found in his “Communist Trial.” All literary expression was afterwards denied to them in Germany, being banned by Democrats and Government alike. Publishers and papers closed their doors to them. Marx returned to the Reading Room of the British Museum and planned his magnum opus—“Capital.” Engels joined his father’s woollen business and afterwards became a partner, but finally severed his connection with it in 1869.

Whilst Marx is chiefly known by the great works that bear his name, Engels expressed himself chiefly in the smaller books he wrote from time to time and in the large number of articles he published in many journals, now obscure. His popular style of exposition made his application of the Socialist philosophy to specific questions and problems a fruitful field of propaganda. An example of this may be found in his lucid introduction to Marx’s “Wage, Labour and Capital.” He wrote much on militarism, science and philosophy between the busy hours of his business life. “The Po and the Rhine,” published during the Italian War of ’59, where he dissected the methods of the Prussian Liberals, and after the war he wrote “Savoy, Nice, and the Rhine.” During the Prussian struggle of 1865 he penned “The Prussian Military Question and the German Labour Party” a further message to the proletarians of Germany. His profound military knowledge served him well when he wrote the military articles for the “Pall Mall Gazette” (London) during the Franco-German War, and also for the “Manchester Guardian.” “The Prussian ‘Schnaps” in the German Reichstag’’ is still worthy of application to-day though written in ’76.

His masterpiece, “Anti-Duhring” was written in 1877 and represents for us the classic of Socialist philosophy. The three chapters from it known as “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific” is still (next to his Manifesto) the most widely read of Socialist literature and deservedly so. It is a thorough exposition of the scientific character of Socialism, and an example of that Materialist Conception of History which he jointly discovered with Marx. “The Housing Question” was written as a reply to the Proudhonists, and “Social Conditions in Russia” against the wild theories of the Bakunists. Here he applied social science to Russian conditions and examined the mir in the light of modern Socialism.

The clear grasp of the class struggle made itself manifest in the formation of the International— ruined though it was by the reformers and Nationalists who disrupted it within whilst the agents of capitalism attacked it without. The second so-called International has again been killed in 1914 by the jingoes who have given the lie to every principle International solidarity stands for.

On the General Council of the International Engels had to fight the efforts of English Labour Leaders on the one hand and Continentai Physical Force theorists on the other.

Amidst all his writings Engels had to assist the many comrades from all parts of Europe who flocked to him and Marx for advice and to correspond with the many friends of the movement everywhere. The editing of .Marx’s works also occupied him largely.

In 1883 he brought out the 3rd edition of vol. I of “Capital,” enlarged and revised according to the wishes of Marx and provided with notes. In 1884 he published the 2nd volume dealing with Circulation, after much energy spent in finishing the preparation of the material left by Marx.

Lewis Henry Morgan’s classic work on Ancient Society appeared in 1877 and Marx and Engels were practically alone in their recognition of its value. As the Professor of Finance at Columbia University (New York), Prof. E. R. A. .Seligman, says [1],  Engels advanced Morgan’s discovery one step farther by his “Origin of the Family.”

Seligman further admits that the great founders of modern Socialism were the first to get the real significance of Morgan’s work recognised. Engels showed that gentile society was transformed owing to the first fundamental division of labour—the separation of the pastoral tribes from the rest of society with the consequent intertribal exchange and rise of private property—the coming of slavery and the decline of the matriarchate.

The death of Marx in 1883 left Engels with two men’s work. He revised the English translation of the 1st vol. of “Capital” made by Dr. Aveling and Justice Moore, and worked steadily at the great task of preparing the material Marx left for the 3rd volume of “Capital.” The tremendous difficulties Engels had in this may be read in his preface to that volume. His growing eye weakness made work by gas impossible and yet he lived to accomplish his task. It stands to day as much Engels’ work as Marx’s, and is Engels’ undying tribute to his comrade of 40 years. “Capital” lives when thousands of critics are forgotten, and it is read more to-day than ever. Even here in America, where superficial reading is the order of the day, “Capital” is being studied as never before. In 1888 he wrote his “Feuerbach.”

The last debt Engels repaid to Marx was to edit and put in book form the articles Marx wrote for the “Rheinische Zeitung” in 1850 under the title “Class Struggle in France, 1818-1849.” In the preface Engels showed how the change in economic development had made former methods of warfare useless. It is a complete answer to the “direct action” element and its truth may he seen from the terrible defeat of the Irish insurgents under Connolly, and the massacre of the striking workers here in America recently at Pittsburg. The quick-firing gun, says Engels, has destroyed the hope of the barricade but the suffrage has given the proletariat a more powerful weapon, against which the ruling class are helpless.

Whilst working on Marx’s “Literary First Fruits” Engels was taken ill and he returned from Eastbourne to London, and after two month’s suffering with cancer of the throat he passed away in the presence of his old friend, Edward Bernstein. By request he was cremated and the ashes scattered to the winds from Beachy Head.

Thus died a man who laboured restlessly all his life for the emancipation of the working class. He bequeathed his money to Marx’s children and thus brightened their closing years.

The three volumes of correspondence between Marx and Engels published by Franz Mehring, as the “Manchester Guardian” well says, are a beautiful and rare example of lasting friendship of two gifted men whose work was indissolubly interwoven. What they owed to each other and what we owe to both may be glimpsed from their almost daily correspondence.

The test of Engels’ foresight may be seen to-day, 21 years after his death, in the action of the so-called leaders of Socialism in England and Germany. Engels never trusted H. M. Hyndman, and the latter retorted by calling him the “Grand Llama of Regents Park Road ”

But if Engels could see Hyndman supporting the jingoes and bitterest enemies of our class as he is now doing, what a justification he would feel! For the Palmers Weekly he wrote, whilst he was in the grip of his illness, an article, “The Awakening,” which closed with words so appropriate in spirit for our time.

        “Above all let the oppressed close up their ranks and reach out to each other across the boundary lines of every nation. Let the International Proletariat develop and organise until the beginning of the new century shall lead it on to victory.”

Adolph Kohn


[1] The Economic Interpretation of History by Edwin Robert Anderson Seligman

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