Engels Against Marx?

Marxism as Property
  • Alvin W. Gouldner
Part of the Critical Social Studies book series (CSOCS)


The caricature of Engels as the first revisionist and of his work as a haute vulgarisation of Marx is not new but began to emerge during and shortly after World War I. One finds it in Erwin Bans, “Engels als Theoretiker,” in the issue of Kommunismus, 3 December 1920, a journal that Georg Lukács edited for a while after World War I. Even before, it may be found in Rudolfo Mondolfo’s Le Matérialisme Historique daprès F. Engels, published in Paris in 1917.


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    Levine, too, accepts this trend line. See his The Tragic Deception: Marx Contra Engels (Santa Barbara: Clio Books, 1975), p. 6. As Marx became “deeply immersed in his economic studies … even though the basic theme of human activity remained persistent, it again appeared in a different form … as labor … the making of things necessary for human subsistence, replaced the political revolutionizing praxis of the ‘theses on Feurbach’ … a shift has taken place. … By 1858, history for Marx, had become the story of the expansion of social production powers … a reflection of industrial capacity.”Google Scholar
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    Levine, Tragic Deception, p. 181. Subsequently, however, Levine purports to show that Engels became increasingly reformist, non-revolutionary, the first revisionist. But at the last congress of the First International at the Hague in 1872, just one year after the disaster of the Paris Commune, Marx held that America, England, and Holland might achieve socialism through parliamentary and peaceful means. This, however, seemed to embarrass Engels who (in the preface to the first English translation of Capital) insisted that, in saying this, Marx “never forgot to add that he hardly expected the English ruling classes to submit, without a ‘pro-slavery rebellion,’ [in the manner of the American confederacy] to this peaceful and legal revolution.” Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, vol. I, translated from the 4th German edition by Eden and Cedar Paul, published in 2 vols., with an introduction by G. D. H. Cole (London and Toronto: J. M. Dent & Sons, 1930), vol. 2, p. 887. Was Engels more reformist than Marx, or was it the other way around?Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 153. This unfortunately evokes Levine. A recent discussion stressing the importance of technology in Marxism is to be found in Ramesh Mishra, “Technology and Social Structure in Marx’s Theory,” Science and Society, Summer 1979, pp. 132–58. Mishra appears to accept E. Balibar’s conception of industrial technology as entailing both the separation of the worker from the means of production and his transformation into an appendage. Mishra adds that these “are, in a certain sense, inherent in technology itself quite independent of the relations of production.” He is therefore led to ask: “Does not industrial technology … provide a fertile soil for the institutionalization of inequality and class relations in ‘socialist’ societies” (p. 149).Google Scholar
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    Lewis Mumford: “Pascal pointed out that people often spoke of ‘my ideas’ as complacently as middle-class people talked of ‘my house’ or ‘my paintings,’ but that it would be more honest to speak of ‘our ideas.’ This trait became so deeply a mark of the finer scientific mind that my own master, Patrick Geddes, was pleased rather than offended when others put forth his most original ideas as their own. He gleefully described his habitual practice as that of the cuckoo bird who lay her eggs in other birds’ nests, and gives them the trouble of hatching and caring for the offspring.” Lewis Mumford, The Myth of the Machine (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1964), vol. 2, The Pentagon of Power, p. 122.Google Scholar
  22. Patrick Geddes (like Mumford) was of course the exception, not the rule, which is why the history of modern science is littered with disputes about “priority.” For fuller discussion of my own related views, see Gouldner, The Future of Intellectuals and the Rise of the New Class (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), pp. 18ff.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    A curious instance was the posthumous review of the life and work of Oscar Lewis the anthropologist by John Womack, Jr., in which the latter decided to award Ruth Lewis credit for the literary merit of her husband’s work. (Notice how ingrained the fiction of individual authorship is: even as I criticize it, I am constrained to use it—“her husband’s work.”) Womack does this even though Ruth Lewis’s contribution is usually indicated on the title page of this work or is elsewhere acknowledged. Thus one member of Oscar Lewis’s production group is here presented by Womack as an unmasking of an unusual situation when, in fact, it is standard. See the review by Womack in the New York Review of Books, Aug. 4, 1977, pp. 25ff.Google Scholar
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    From Edward Aveling, “Frederick Engels at Home,” cited in Chuschichi Tsuzuki, The Life of Eleanor Marx, 1855–1898, A Socialist Tragedy (London and New York: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 240.Google Scholar
  25. Stefan Grossman’s work Lenschen Demuth und andere Novellin (Berlin, 1925).Google Scholar
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    See Gustav Meyer: “in 1851 The New York Herald Tribune … offered him [Marx] the post as regular correspondent. But Marx had not sufficient command of English as yet and was therefore forced to depend on Engels, to write, or at least translate, his articles. For years, indeed, countless articles which were sent under his name were actually written by his friend. … When his first articles were due, Marx was deep in his economic studies and asked Engels if he could write a series for him on the German revolution. Accordingly between August 1851 and October 1852 he wrote a group of articles called Germany, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, which were issued in book form after his death by Kautsky, with Marx’s name on the title page. … From 1851 till 1859 none of Engels’s writings appeared under his own name. His sole purpose was to enable Marx to support his family.” Gustav Meyer, Friedrich Engels, A Biography (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1936), pp. 144, 155.Google Scholar
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    Marian Sawer, Marxism and the Question of the Asiatic Mode of Production (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977), p. 44.Google Scholar
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    Yvonne Kapp, Eleanor Marx (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1972), vol. 1, Family Life (1853–1883), p. 278.Google Scholar

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© Alvin W. Gouldner 1980

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