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Engels, Friedrich (1820–1895)


Friedrich Engels, the intellectual companion of Karl Marx, although generally considered inferior to his colleague as a thinker, contributed more than Marx to the development of the philosophical aspects of Marxism. Indeed he was the creator of orthodox Marxism as a system based on historical materialism and on dialectics. Engels was born in Barmen in the German Rhineland. His father was a textile manufacturer who had interests in England, and Engels went there to work in a cotton mill in Manchester, first as clerk, later as manager and part owner. Engels was a man of many talents, a scholar, linguist, pamphleteer, soldier, military commentator, and businessman. He was all those things with a thoroughness and distinction that would have brought him recognition in his own right, but it was his intellectual partnership with a man of genius that brought him fame. Engels met Marx briefly in Cologne in 1842, became acquainted with him in Paris in 1844, and worked actively with him before and during the revolutionary ferment of 1848, when they wrote the Communist Manifesto. In 1850 Engels reluctantly returned to his business in Manchester, in part because he saw that Marx needed financial support in order to continue his researches. This help Engels gave unstintingly throughout Marx's life and for years after his death, to his surviving children. Outliving Marx by twelve years, Engels edited his friend's manuscripts, notably the two volumes of Das Kapital left unfinished by Marx. He also served as official interpreter of Marxist doctrine during the years when it was beginning to attain worldwide influence over workingmen's movements.

Beginning with works written during Marx's lifetime and with Marx's express approvalfor example, Anti-Dühring (1878)Engels emphasized the scientific, positivist component in their joint theories, which he compared with those of Charles Darwin. Engels believed that he and Marx had discovered a rigid system of historical laws that would lead with inexorable necessity to socialism. These laws, Engels held, were dialectic rather than mechanical in character. That is, instead of being like the laws previously discovered in natural science and extrapolated to social studies by men whom Engels called vulgar materialists, they were laws that took account of the contradictions in reality and of the fact that development occurred in revolutionary leaps to higher levels. Engels took from G. W. F. Hegel the doctrine, which he called the law of the interpenetration of opposites, that objective contradictions exist in reality. He enunciated the law of the transformation of quantity into quality, which asserts that change occurs abruptly, after a period of gradual progression. The last dialectical law, the negation of the negation, states that progress takes place by a series of detours, from position A to the opposite, positionA, and then back to the opposite of that position, which turns out to be position A "raised to a higher power." To give one of Marx's own examples, the industrial bourgeoisie generates its opposite, the miserable proletariat, which then negates bourgeois capital in a revolutionary leap to the higher stage of classless industrial society.

Engels adumbrated these theories in Anti-Dühring and stressed them in a special excerpt from that work, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1892), but the extent to which he carried them was not known until his Dialectics of Nature was published in 1925. In this work he extended materialist dialectics to the natural sciences, with results that are often held to be ludicrous, and implied that dialectics would supersede formal logic. The lengthy controversies that these questions provoked in Soviet philosophy arose, then, from the work of Engels rather than of Marx.

While it is certain that Engels stressed such questions more than Marx and that he lived on to formalize a Marxist tradition out of reverence for a friend who disliked just such formalism, one must be wary of attempts to set Engels, as a scientistic pedant, against Marx, as an existentialist or idealist. It is tempting for certain neo-Marxist philosophers, but in the end impossible, to purge Marxism of all its allegedly scientific content that has since been proven untrue and to lay all these errors at Engels's door, leaving only the "profound" (or ambiguous) speculations of the young Marx as true Marxism. For one thing, it was Engels who suggested those early speculations to Marx, in 1844. And decades later it was not Engels alone but the age and his own ambitions that led Marx to present his mature theory of history as a "scientific system" (decorated with some Hegelian flourishes). At all events, it was Marx's thought as understood by Engels that came to constitute Marxism and, in particular, Soviet dogma.

See also Communism; Dialectical Materialism; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Marxist Philosophy; Marx, Karl.


primary works

Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus von der Utopie zur Wissen-schaft (Socialism: utopian and scientific). Translated by E. Aveling. New York: Scribner, 1892.

Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigentums und des Staats (The origin of the family, private property and the state). Translated by E. Untermann. Chicago: Kerr, 1902.

Die Briefe von Friedrich Engels und Eduard Bernstein. Berlin, 1925.

Gesamtausgabe. 12 vols. Berlin and Moscow, 19271935.

Herr Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft (Herr Eugen Dühring's revolution in science). Translated by E. Burns. London: M. Lawrence, 1934.

Ludwig Feuerbach und der Ausgang der klassischen deutschen Philosophie (Ludwig Feuerbach and the outcome of classical German Philosophy). New York: International, 1934.

Dialektik der Natur (Dialectics of nature). Translated by Clemens Dutt. New York: International, 1940.

Selected Works. 2 vols. London, 1942.

Grundsätze des Kommunismus (Principles of communism). Translated by Paul Sweezy. New York: Monthly Review, 1964.

Sochineniya, 32 vols. Moscow, 1955.

Friedrich EngelsPaul et Laura Lafargue, Correspondance, 186895, 3 vols. Edited by E. Bottigelli. Paris: Editions Sociales, 19561959.

Selected Letters: The Personal Correspondence, 18441877. Edited by Fritz J. Raddatz. Translated by Ewald Osers. Boston: Little Brown, 1981.

secondary works

Arthur, Christopher J., ed. Engels Today: A Centenary Appreciation. Houndmills, U.K.: Macmillan, 1996.

Carver, Terrell. Friedrich Engels: His Life and Thought. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1990.

Dixon, Richard et al., trans. Karl Marx, Frederick Engels: Collected Works. 49 vols. New York: International, 1975.

Hook, Sidney. Reason, Social Myths, and Democracy. New York: Humanities, 1950.

Lichtheim, George. Marxism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1964.

Meyer, Gustav. Friedrich Engels. 2 vols. The Hague, 1934.

Steger, Manfred B., and Terrell Carver, eds. Engels after Marx. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999.

Neil McInnes (1967)

Bibliography updated by Philip Reed

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