Hermann Duncker 1925

The Thirtieth Anniversary of the Death of Frederick Engels

Source: Workers Monthly, Issue 12: October 1925 (v. 4, no. 12), pp. 560-561.
Online Version: Marxists Internet Archive 2021
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THIRTY years have passed since the death of Engels on August 5, 1895. Thirty years of the most stupendous developments and upheavals. Out of the capitalism of free competition there developed monopoly capitalism; out of the economically rapidly rising power of the first order Germany became a slave plantation of the Entente powers: out of the revolutionary social-democracy of Germany developed a counter-revolutionary party of the petty-bourgeoisie - but out of the country which appeared to every sincere revolutionist to be the most formidable stronghold of all reaction, czarist Russia, there developed the first proletarian state of the world: the home of all homeless proletarian revolutionists of the bourgeois world, the motherland for all further Communist research, economy and politics.

The two most important points of this entire tremendous change - the dying of old capitalism as imperialism, and the disintegration of the old social-democratic labor parties in reformist opportunism, were foreseen by Engels, who outlived Marx by twelve years.

In the last edition of his pamphlet, "Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science" (1891) which he himself edited, Engels strongly emphasized the development towards monopoly capitalism. Here he takes up again what he had already formulated in a most pregnant form in his first economic work "Outline for a Critique of National Economy:" "Competition turns into monopoly." The concentrated capitalist socialization of the means of production presents itself to him now in form of the trust: "The whole branch of industry turns into one great stock company; national competition makes room for the national monopoly of this one company." (Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science.)

And in the scheme of social evolution which he developed at the end of his little book, Engels clearly characterized the essential signs of the present epoch of imperialism as the last epoch of the capitalist revolution before the proletarian revolution. Certainly not with the completeness with which Lenin did this later - at that time the dragon of imperialism had just emerged from its egg shell - but Lenin had only to pick up the threads of Marxian research which death had taken out of the hands of Engels.

Both Marx and Engels, in their forty years of work together, and Engels still later, kept clearly before them the opportunist dangers in the development of the workers' parties. In England, they could study at its very source the connection of monopoly profit and colonial exploitation with the "Verbuergerlichung" (the bourgeoisation) of certain strata of the proletariat. (Compare Lenin, "Imperialism," 1916.) In the division of the labors of their Communist work, the task of watching over and keeping pure Marxist-revolutionary politics fell primarily to Engels. In countless letters and articles Engels, from his vantage-point in England, discussed and signalized the weakening of the Marxist line through the symptoms of petty-bourgeois and philistine politics. With his vital optimism, he again and again threw himself against the current of right tendencies in the Social-democratic party of Germany. In this, however, he trusted the sound revolutionary sense of the German workers and the forceful determination of its leaders, such as Bebel and others. But the fact that Engels could follow affairs in Germany only from a distance, resulted in his now and then subordinating himself to the "real politiker" of the continent, in cases where energetic opposition would have been better in place. His over-optimism was punished most severely, when in 1895 the scared rabbits at the head of the Social-democratic party, by means of infamous expurgations, falsified Engels' preface to the "Class Struggles in France" into an unconditional propagation of legality. Engels spent his rage about this in private letters.

But the death of Engels, following shortly afterwards, came to the aid of the German publishers, and since that time extracts from the treacherously "corrected" preface of Engels decorate every piece of revisionist writing; it became the main theoretical prop of the politics of the reformist Social-Democratic Party of Germany from 1895 until today. As Engels was here clearly a victim of the modification tendencies in the Socialist Party of Germany, it seems monstrous that so capable a socialist historian as Max Beer could write:

"After the death of Marx, Engels strongly influenced the tactics of the socialist movement, and on the whole exercised a modifying influence."

And in his recent "History of Socialism," (1924, p. 460) Beer unfortunately besmirched his otherwise valuable work through his characterization of Engels. The old Engels is summarily stamped as a reformist and a believer in parliamentarism. "He also weakened the materialist conception of history." Revisionist "Marxian" philosophers on the other hand, damn Engels with holding too stubbornly to materialism.

As against the almost hateful way in which Beer dismisses Engels, "the adjutant of Marx" - "after all only a talent like that of Hess, Green, Luning, Proudhon, Blanc, etc." we may call attention to the testimony of Mehring, who has studied and reviewed as no other man has the intellectual labors of Marx and Engels. In the wonderful chapter, "An Unparalleled Union" (see Mehring's Biography of Marx, page 236, German edition), he says:

"Engels was never merely the interpreter and helper of Marx, but rather an independent co-worker, a dissimilar but an equally great spirit."

No, the reformists cannot bargain Engels away from us, they cannot separate and split Marx from Engels.

But today we see more clearly than ever how Marx and Engels wrote and worked beyond their time, for a later generation. It was the great tragedy of the two founders of scientific Communism that they found all too petty a generation. And so, from 1848, they met with the bitterest disappointments: after the defeat of the 1848 revolution, there was the dispute with the ultra leftists, the faction of Willich-Schaper in the Communist League. There was the reformism in the Lassalle movement, and also much naive petty-bourgeois ideology even among the "honest" under the leadership of Bebel and Liebknecht. Then came the development of the First International, and here also the fight against opportunism cloaked in ultra leftism. Engels grimly lashed the advancing petty-bourgeois reformism in Germany in the work "The Housing Question" (1872). Both Marx and Engels directed a smashing criticism against the Gotha program. There followed the settling of accounts by Engels with the intellectual-socialism of the private lecturer at the University of Berlin, Eugene Duehring (1875). Here Engels defended Marxian socialism all along the line. Later on, there was made hardly any worth-while attempt to combat Marxism which had not already met its punishment in the "Anti-Duehring." The years of the exception laws allowed opportunist tendencies again to grow up alongside of the ultra leftist "Mostiaden." Against both of these dangers Engels tried energetically to protect the German labor movement.

"From compromise we can expect nothing - that is, from concessions to our enemies. Only through defiant opposition have we forced our enemies to respect us and have we become a power. Only power is respected, and only as long as we are a power will the philistine respect us. Whoever makes concessions to him, he despises; such a man is no longer a power."[1]

These are oft-repeated thoughts with Engels. Aside from that we find polemical arguments with Brentano and other professor-like distorters of Marx. The many new editions of Marx' works, the completion of the second and third volumes of "Capital," etc., put an immense burden of work upon Engels' shoulders. In the year 1884 appeared "The Origin, of the Family, Private Property and the State," by Engels, a popularization of the bigger work by Morgan. It must be stated, however, that the sociological researches of later years brought forth some new material, through which the scheme of family-development of Morgan and Engels was corrected in some details.

But "Our teaching is not a dogma, but rather a method of work!" It is according to this Marxian slogan that the life work of Engels must be viewed and evaluated. What lessons have the Bolsheviks, particularly Lenin, gained from Engels? For the most important points of Leninism, one can uncover the theoretical embryo by Engels. Thus with Lenin's presentation of the agrarian question, of the national question, of the role of the colonial peoples and the recognition of the "Verbuergerlichung" of the workers' parties by means of the sharing of workers in the super-profits of imperialism, on the question of religion, etc. It was a purely Bolshevik lesson which Engels already in 1884 clothed in the following words, often quoted by Lenin:

"In any case, our only enemy on the day of the crisis and during the days following is the brotherhood of reaction grouped about 'pure democracy.'"

Ten years ago, in the paroxysm of the world war, the social-patriots peddled old quotations from Engels, in which he defended a war against Russian czarism. But they unfortunately failed to add, that Engels was thinking only of a war on a revolutionary basis! Engels, naturally, was no pacifist, just as he was never a Social-Democrat in the real sense of the word. The year before his death, the old Communist said once more, how "unfitting" the word "Social-Democracy" was for a Party "whose economic program was not merely socialistic, but rather directly communistic, and whose political goal is the overthrow of the entire state, democracy included." (1894.).

During these days of the strengthened anti-war propaganda of the Communist International, we may well conclude with a prophetic phrase of Engels, uttered in the year 1891:

"Only a victorious revolution in Russia, which will place the destiny of the country in the hands of the people, is able to prevent the threatening world war . . . Only a victorious revolution can protect humanity from a world war."

Engels has in no way become "historical" for us. His thoughts still lighten the road, his slogans live on in Leninist form.

We do not know how the Second International, on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of Engels' death, reconciles itself with his revolutionary passion and aims. Do these gentlemen really fail to see the monstrous gulf which has opened between Noske, Scheidemann and Kautsky, on the one hand, and Marx and Engels on the other? But truly, the real drama is yet to play: Karl Kautsky will call up the spirits of Marx and Engels as witnesses in his behalf for his call to a "righteous war" against Russia. Nothing protects our Marx and our Engels from such a desecration.


[1] At the same time Engels already in 1873 characterized as a senseless phrase the ultra left league oath "No compromise.". Lenin recalls that to our memory in an article, "About Compromises," 1917.