The Founders of Modern Socialism.


“Karl Marx and Frederick Engels,” by Dr. Ryazanoff. (Martin Lawrence, Ltd. 7/6 net.)

This book of two hundred and twenty-one pages covers the lives and the collaboration of Marx and Engels, with an account of the historical background from which they emerged. The book is well done, without any appearance of bias, and the author criticises the work of others in the same field; for example, Franz Mehring, on cer­tain details, though he sometimes makes assertions in opposition to accepted views without backing them with supporting quotations. This is particularly noticeable where he refers to the correspondence of Marx and Engels. Only fragments of this correspondence have so far been translated into English, so that the mere reference to the correspondence leaves English readers in the dark.

On page 138 there is a curious mistake. Paul Lafargue is stated to have been born in 1811 (seven years before Marx) and to have died in 1877. In fact Lafargue was born in 1842 and died in 1911.

The book is open to the objection one would expect in one of so few pages covering lives so rich in activity. On some points the information is meagre; on others it is substantial.


The opening pages give a fair account of the historical position in the early nineteenth century, and particularly the local condi­tions, different in detail, but similar in their general effect, that influenced first Engels and then Marx to take up a democratic standpoint. Both were born and spent their early days in the industrial provinces of the Rhine—Marx in Treves and Engels in Barmen. Marx came of a family of Jewish Rabbis, Engels of a family of German cloth manufacturers. Both had a University edu­cation. The Rhine province in the ‘thirties of last century was the centre of much agita­tion on the part of the rising industrialists in their efforts to free themselves from the hampering influences of feudalism. This agitation first attracted both Marx and Engels, and eventually drew them into the progressive movement. Ryazanoff’s summary of the period covers what is essential.

Here is an example of his method :—

After 1831, as a result of the two events mentioned above [the July Revolution in France in 1830 and the Polish Rebellion of 1831], and despite the frustration of the July Revolution, we witness a series of revolutionary movements which we shall now cursorily review. We shall emphasise the events which in one way or another might have influenced the young Engels and Marx. In 1832 this movement was con­centrated in Southern Germany—not in the Rhine province, but in the Palatinate. Just like the Rhine province, the Palatinate was for a long time in the hands of France, for it was returned to Germany only after 1815. The Rhine province was handed over to Prussia, the Pala­tinate to Bavaria, where reaction reigned not less than in Prussia. It can readily be understood why the inhabitants of the Rhine province and the Palatinate, who had been accustomed to the greater freedom of France, strongly resented German repression. Every revolutionary up­heaval in France was bound to enhance opposi­tion to the government. In 1831 this opposition assumed threatening proportions among the liberal intelligentsia, the lawyers Wirth and Liebenpfeifer arranged a grand festival in Hambach. Many orators appeared on the rostrum. Borne too was present. They proclaimed the necessity of a free, united Germany. (Page 30.)


Ryazanoff then gives a summary of the events and of the gradual development in­side this movement of a movement of the German workers, the formation of the “League of the Just” and the “Workers’ Educational Association.”

On page 92 he says :—

To Marx, who had carefully studied the evolu­tion of the Jacobin party, it seemed that in the next revolution, too, it would be possible to direct the forces which would develop spontaneously in the heat of prolonged political action.”

This premise explains his error. For long he held to this opinion, and a whole series of events were needed to make him renounce this premise ….

The Neue Rhenische Zeitung, relying upon the experience of the French Revolution, advocated the following tactics: War with Russia, it seemed, was the only means of saving the Revo­lution in Western Europe. The defeat of the Paris proletariat was the first blow at the Revolution. The history of the Great French Revolu­tion showed that it had been the attack of the Coalition upon France that supplied the impulse for the strengthening of the revolutionary move­ment. The moderate parties had been thrown aside. The leadership had been taken over by those parties which were able to repel most energetically the external attack. As a result of the attack by the Coalition, France had been declared a republic on August 10, 1792. Marx and Engels expected that a war of the reaction­aries against the new Revolution would lead to similar results. That is why they kept on criti­cising Russia in the columns of their paper.

Unfortunately for his readers, Ryazanoff nowhere gives quotations showing that Marx and Engels held the views alleged above nor that they later renounced those views. The “Communist Manifesto,” the Address to the Communist League” in I860, the article on the defeat of the Paris proletariat, written in 1848, the article on the German Revolution and oppressed nationalities of the same year, and the article in the “Neue Rhenish Gazette” of 1850 on Taxation Reform and the Social Revolution, certainly do not support the assertions.

However, assuming that Marx and Engels were banking on a war with Russia to bring about a similar situation as obtained in France in 1792, the idea was not tested, since the Crimean War broke out long afterwards when circumstances, from a revolutionary point of view, had fundamentally changed. The alleged posi­tion was—war with Russia to save the revo­lution. As the war did not come the revolu­tion was defeated, and the revolutionists im­prisoned or scattered, a few finally gather­ing together in London to begin all over again. So that, assuming Marx and Engels held the view alleged, it looks as if they had correctly forecast the result and there would therefore have been no need for any renoun­cing.


On page 105, writing of “Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany”, the author states :—

Marx was credited with this hook, but from their correspondence we now know that Engels was the author. However, ideologically it was the common work of Marx and Engels. The latter wrote it on the basis of facts that were supplied by Marx, and chiefly on the basis of the article’s which they had both been writing for the “Neue Rhenische Zeitung.”

Here, again, it is unfortunate that no quotation is supplied from the Marx and Engels correspondence to support the statement. Failing this information, I am bound to state that Ryazanoff appears to me to have overstated the position, and for three principal reasons. Firstly, Eleanor Marx, in her introduction to the collected edition of these articles, definitely gives the impression that they were the works of Marx, as the following quotations will show :—

The following articles are now, after forty-five years, for the first time collected and printed in book form. They are an invaluable pendant to Marx’s work on the coup d’etat of Napoleon III …. Both works belong to the same period, and both are what Engels calls excellent specimens of that marvellous gift of Marx …. of apprehending clearly the character, the significance, and the necessary consequences of great historical events at a time when these events are actually in course of taking place, or are only just completed

These articles were written in 1851-1852, when Marx had been about eighteen months in Eng­land. ….

That readers of these articles may have some idea of the conditions under which Marx was working, under which he wrote them and the 18th Brumaire,” and was preparing his first great economical work, “The Critique of Politi­cal Economy,” I again quote from my mother’s notes. ……

Finally, I would remind English readers that these articles were written when Marx had only been some eighteen months in England, and that he never had an opportunity of reading the proofs.

The above is definite enough, and was written by Marx’s daughter within a year of Engels’ death.

In the second place, these articles are in style essentially Marx’s, and thirdly, I have read somewhere, but unfortunately I cannot lay my hand on the quotation at the moment, that the first group of articles Marx wrote for the “New York Tribunewere sent to Engels for him to correct the English, as Marx had not yet acquired suffi­cient mastery of the written language. In view of the Marxian style of the articles, and not having had an opportunity of con­sulting the Marx and Engels correspond­ence, the latter appears to me the more likely explanation of what happened.


From page 113 onward there is an excel­lent explanation of the differences between Lasalle and Marx and Engels. The former took up the attitude of a Prussian demo­crat, which compelled him to abuse Austria, take up a gentle attitude towards Russia, and shower compliments on Napoleon the Third. Marx and Engels, on the other hand, in the interests of the international working class, attacked with equal relentlessness, all four contending parties. The curious part is that Lasalle, as well as Marx and Engels, claimed to be carrying out the fundamental principles of the Communist Manifesto.”


From page 138 onwards there is a dis­cussion of the foundation of the 1st Inter­national. Ryazanoff disputes the common view that the foundation of the Inter­national Workingmen’s Association origi­nated in the world exposition that took place in London in 1862 to which continental workers came and mixed with English workers at a reception held in honour of seventy French delegates. He points out that the whole business was arranged by the employers and that nothing was said at the reception that could in any way offend the employers, and that the English trade union­ists refused to have anything to do with the affair. That the American Civil War of 1860-1865 and the Polish insurrectionary movement of 1862-1863 were the real insti­gators of movements that led to the founda­tion of the International. Here are some extracts which will better explain his atti­tude :—

But now two very important events happened, the first of which was the American Civil War (1860-1865). We have already seen that the abolition of slavery was the most important problem of the day. It became so acute and it had led to such an acrid conflict between the Southern and the Northern States, that the South, in order to preserve slavery, determined to secede and to organise an independent republic, The result was a war which brought in its train unexpected and unpleasant consequences to the whole of the capitalistic world. The Southern States were then the sole growers of the cotton which was used in all the cotton industries of the world. Egyptian cotton was still of very little importance. East India and Turkistan were not producing any cotton at all. Europe thus found itself without any cotton supply. The textile industries of the world were experiencing a crisis. The shortage of cotton caused a rise in the prices of all the other materials in the textile industry. Of course, the big capitalists suffered, least of all, the petty capitalists hastened to shut down their factories. Tens, nay hundreds of thousands of workers were doomed to perish of hunger.

The Governments confined themselves to handing out pitiful pittances. The English workers who had not long before, during the strike in the building trades, shown an example of solidarity, now, too. took up the cause of organising help. The initiative belonged to the London Trades Council, which appointed a Special Committee. In France also, there was organised a Special Committee for this purpose. The two Committees were in frequent communication with one another. It was this that suggested to the French and English workers how closely allied were the interests of labour of different countries….

Another event then occurred which was also of equal interest to the workers of the different countries. Serfdom was abolished in Russia (1861). Reforms in other branches of the politi­cal and economic life of Russia were imminent. The revolutionary movement became more animated, it advocated more radical changes. Russia’s outlying possessions, and chiefly Poland, were in a state of commotion. The Czar’s govern­ment grasped at this as the best pretext of getting rid of external as well as internal sedition. It provoked the Polish revolt, while at the same time, aided by Katov and other venal scribes, it incited Russian Chauvinism at home. The notorious hangman, Nfuraviev, and other brutes like him, were commandeered to stifle the Polish revolt.

In Western Europe, where hatred for Russian Czarism was prevalent, the rebellious Poles evoked the warmest sympathy. The English and French governments allowed the sympathisers of the Polish insurgents complete freedom of action, regarding this as a convenient outlet for the stored-up feelings of resentment. In France a number of meetings were held, and a committee, headed by Henri Toulain (1828-1897). and Perruchon, was organised. In England the pro-Polish movement was headed by the workers, Odger and Cremer, and by the radical intellec­tual, Professor Beesly.

In April, 1863, a monster mass meeting was called in London. Professor E. S. Beesly (1831-1915), presided; Cremer delivered a speech in defence of the Poles. The meeting passed a resolution which urged the English and the French workers to bring simultaneous pressure to bear upon their respective governments and to force their intervention in favour of the Poles. It w-as decided to provide for an International meeting. This meeting took place in London on July 22nd, 1863, The chairman was again Beesly. Odger and Cremer spoke in the name of the English workers, Toulain in the name of the French. Nothing but the Polish affair was discussed, and they all insisted on the necessity of restoring independence to Poland. On the next day another meeting took place, to which the his­torians of the International have not paid much attention. It was arranged on the initiative of the London Trades Council, this time without the participation of the bourgeoisie. Odger had been advocating closer ties between English and Continental labour. The problem presented itself on a practical basis English labour had to take note of the serious competition of the French, the Belgian and particularly the German workers. At the beginning of the ‘sixties, the bread-baking industry which was already con­centrated into great enterprises was wholly operated by German workers. In the building, furniture and decorative industries there was an influx of Frenchmen. That was why the Eng­lish trade unionists valued so much any possible chance of influencing foreign labourers who were pouring into England. This could best be accom­plished through an organisation which would unite the workers of various nations.

It was decided that the English workers send an appropriate address to the French workers. Almost three months elapsed, while the draft of this address was being offered to the London trade unionists, for approval. It was written largely by Odger. (Pp. 140-143.)


On September 28th, 1864, the meeting was held that founded the International, Ryazanoff points out that Marx took no part in the initial stages and was only an invited guest to this meeting. Ryazanoff’s attitude agrees in the main with statements of Frederick Lessner in “Recollections of an Old Communist” (page 33), and a letter, addressed by Marx to Engels, translated by Max Beer and published in the “Labour Monthly” in the latter half of 1923. Liebknecht, in his “Memoir” of Marx, bears out a portion of it, but the inference from his remarks is that Marx indirectly inspired the movement. At the same time it is curi­ous and suggestive that Marx should have been invited to the meeting of September 28th. I would quote extensively from each of the above, but I have already overloaded this article with quotations. However, I cannot refrain from some quotations on this point as they illustrate how frail is human testimony where reliance is placed on memory alone. In his letter to Engels Marx says :—

A certain Le Lubez, a Frenchman, who speaks an excellent English, was sent to me to inquire whether I would take part on behalf of the German workmen, and send a German workman to speak in that meeting. I sent Eccarius, who acquitted himself exceedingly well, while I assisted as a dumb figure on the platform.

Now for Lessner :

The English committee invited also the Communistische Arbeiter-bildungsverein to this meeting, and at the same time expressed a wish that Marx should attend this international fraternisation of the working men. The Communistische Arbeiter-bildungsverein sent me to Marx. I informed him of the wish of the English workmen, and after some inquiries as to the conveners and the object of the meeting, Marx consented to come.

Now hear Leibknecht:

This idea [an international association] assumed a more definite form, when in the spring of 1864—and again in April—a delega­tion of workers came from Paris, which resolved in a conference with German, Polish, English and American delegates to call an international delegates’ meeting for the purpose of founding the ” International Workingmen’s Association,” and to entrust Marx with the preliminary work.

Five months later, on the 28th of September, 1864, in the memorable meeting at St. James’s Hall, London, the ” International Workingmen’s Association ” was founded.

Marx’s letter, of course, was written about the time of the events, whilst both Lessner and Leibknecht were writing over thirty years later.

Beginning on page 183, there is a good account of the struggle within the Inter­national between the Marxians and Bakunin and his followers. I would particularly re­commend this part to the English ultra-Bolshevists. On the same point I cannot refrain from quoting from a letter written by Engels to Marx in March, 1852, in which Engels says : —

Bakunin has only become of some importance because no one knows Russian. And the old pan-Slav trickery that the old Slav communal ownership can be transformed into communism, and that the Russian peasants are to be regarded as born Communists, will again be widely canvassed.

(The Life and Work of Frederick Engels by Zelda Kaban-Coates, published by the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1920.)


On page 155 Ryazanoff quotes certain paragraphs from the Inaugural Address of the International as follows : —

“Considering that the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the work­ing classes themselves ; that the struggle for the emancipation of the working classes means not a struggle for class privileges and monopolies, but for equal rights and duties, and the abolition of all class rule ;

That the economical subjection of the man of labour to the monopoliser of the means of labour, that is, the sources of life, lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all social misery, mental degradation, and political dependence ;

That the economical emancipation of the working classes is therefore the great end to which every political movement ought to be subordinate as a means ;

That all efforts aiming at that great end have hitherto failed from want of solidarity between the manifold divisions of labour in each country, and from the absence of a fraternal bond of union between the working classes of different countries ;

That the emancipation of labour is neither a local nor a national, but a social problem, embracing all countries in which modern societies exist and depending for its solution on the concurrence, practical and theoretical, of the most advanced countries ;

That the present revival of the working classes in the most industrious countries of Europe, while it raises a new hope, gives solemn warning against a relapse in the old errors, and calls for the immediate combination of the still dis­connected movements.


Immediately following these quotations, Ryazanoff makes the following remark : —

A careful perusal of these points reveals how closely the Communist Party of Russia had, in some planks of its programme, followed the theses formulated by Marx.

Now I do not know to which particular programme the author refers, but the pro­grammes I have read have not shown any marked likeness to the above theses. For instance, if one compares the first paragraph in the above theses with the following quo­tation, taken from the “ Resolutions and Regulations of the 9th Congress of the Russian Communist Party ” (29th March-4th April) 1920) a remarkable unlikeness will be noticed :—

The Congress makes it obligatory to all the members of the Party mercilessly to fight that particularly obnoxious form of ignorant conceit which deems the working class capable of solving all problems without the assistance in the most responsible cases of specialists of the bourgeois school. The demagogic elements who speculate on this kind of prejudice of the more backward section of our working classes can have no place in the ranks of the Party of Scientific Socialism.

Registration of individual output or produc­tivity of labour and the granting of individual premiums, must also be carried out in a way suitable to administrative technical staff. Better conditions must be secured for our best administrators and engineers to enable them to make full use of their capacities in the interests of social economy.

A special system of premiums is to be estab­lished for those specialists under whose guidance the workers can attain the necessary qualifications to make them capable to accept further independent posts.

Or again, take the programme drawn up at the beginning of 1919 on the occasion of the first call for the 3rd International, which invited as participants the ” Syndicalist ele­ments of the workers” and the various national groups of the industrial workers of the world. Paragraph 7 states :—

The most important method is the mass action of the proletariat, including armed struggle against the government power of capitalists.

This paragraph is made clearer by the first President of the Executive Committee of the International, Zinovief, in a document dated September 1st, 1919, which includes the following paragraph :—

What we would particularly emphasise is the following : The real solution of the question is to be found, under all circumstances, outside Parliament, in the street. That strikes and in­surrections are the only methods of resolute war between Capital and Labour is now clear. (The Socialist Review, p. 272, July, 1920.)

Now if there was one thing against which the 1st International set its face determin­edly from the very beginning it was the policy of street fighting and the barricade. It was out of matters like this that the struggle with the Bakuninites arose, and moved Marx to state, after the Congress at The Hague in September, 1872 (the last Congress of the 1st International) :—

A group had arisen in our midst which pro­claimed working-class abstinence from political work.

We deemed it our duty to declare how danger­ous and how threatening such opinions may become for our cause.

The worker must, sometime, get the political power into his own hands in order to lay the foundation of a new organisation of labour. He must overthrow the old political system that upholds the old institutions unless he is ready like the old Christians—to sacrifice the “king­dom of this world.” (Taken from “The Class Struggle,” Vol. 2, May-June, 1918, No. 3.)

In conclusion, however, in spite of the criticism I have offered of the book, it is well worth reading, and contains much valu­able information in a handy form.

GILMAC. (Socialist Standard, February 1928)

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