Remembering Frederick Engels

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The 200th birth anniversary of Frederick Engels will be celebrated on November 28. Engel’s theoretical contributions in the evolution and elaboration of the Marxist world outlook are immensely significant and a rich source for understanding the unfolding of the dialectical method and the discovery of dialectics in every law that governs the material development of the universe and the development of life, its evolution and of human society. The celebration of his life and works would, normally, have been accompanied by restudying all these contributions and the seminal impact it made on the advancement of human thought, intellect and civilization. Frederick Engels is often referred to as the world’s first Marxist. With his characteristic self-effacing modesty, Engels may have proudly accepted this status. He once said, “What Marx accomplished, I would not have achieved. Marx stood higher, saw further, and took a broader and quicker view than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented. Without him, the theory would be far from what it is today. It, therefore, rightly bears his name.” Notwithstanding this, Marx’s assessment of Engels and the special place he gave him in the unfolding of the theoretical foundations of the Marxist world outlook needs to be appreciated. Marx was editing a paper called ‘Rheinische Zeitung’, which was banned by the reactionary Prussian state in March 1843, and Marx moved to Paris in the beginning of 1844.

In 1844, Engels contributed an article, ‘Outline of a Critique of Political Economy’. In this, Engels laid the foundational principles for the critique of bourgeois political economy. Engels demonstrated that all important phenomena in the bourgeois economic system arise inevitably from the rules of private ownership of the means of production and a society without poverty could only be a society without this private ownership. This immensely fascinated Marx. He came to the conclusion that through a critique of bourgeois political economy, another thinker had come, independently, to the same conclusion that he had come to with his critique of Hegelian philosophy. It was this that cemented the lifelong collaboration, friendship, camaraderie and joint contributions in the evolution of Marxist world outlook. The pioneering work by Engels, ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’, greatly influenced Marx’s line of thinking on the beginnings of the industrial revolution that was taking place in England. During ten days of exchanges in August 1844, Marx’s admiration for Engels grew enormously. He admired Engels’ courage, dedication, single-mindedness and noted that both were in agreement on all theoretical questions of the day.

After Marx’s death, the international working class and the world became aware of the rich works and theoretical foundations of the Marxist outlook mainly through Engels. The vast volumes of notes left behind by Marx were arranged and edited by Engels. ‘Capital’ (Volumes II and III) were prepared by Engels editing these notes. Engels continued to write prefaces to the ‘Communist Manifesto’ and other newer editions of their works on the basis of contemporary developments enriching the international working class struggles and urging its forward movement. As Lenin said, “Engels taught the working class to know itself and be conscious of itself and he substituted science for dreams.”

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