Preface to MECW Volume 2

Submitted by pogo on April 28, 2015

Preface by Progress Publishers

Marx-Engels Collected Works Volume 2

Works of Frederick Engels, 1838-1842


The Second Volume of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels contains Engels’ early writings and letters dating from the years 1838 to 1842, grouped together in two main sections. A special section contains his poetic and prose works in manuscript of an earlier period (1833-37); other biographical material is given in appendices.

Engels’ outlook developed on similar lines to that of the young Marx. He had steeped himself in the progressive philosophical and political ideas of the time, and was moved by a sense of protest against the reactionary order in Germany. His ambition was to take part in the ideological and political controversies on the eve of her bourgeois revolution. Like Marx, Engels became an adherent of the Hegelian philosophy, drawing revolutionary conclusions from it and soon afterwards coming under the influence of Ludwig Feuerbach’s ideas, which helped to crystallise the materialist aspects of his thinking.

Engels, however, found it much harder than Marx to arrive at a progressive outlook. He came from the conservative and religious family of a Barmen industrialist and was forced by his father to leave school and go into business. This meant that he had to complete his education independently, to find his own way through the labyrinth of contemporary religious, philosophical, political and literary trends, and in much painful soul-searching to rise above the religious convictions nurtured in him since early childhood. It was in the main Engels’ critical analysis of religion and theology that led him to progressive philosophical ideas. Literature, too, had an important part to play in his development, particularly in his early years.

While espousing the rational elements in the views of Ludwig Börne and the writers of the Young Germany movement, and in Hegel’s philosophy and the Young Hegelians’ radical theories, Engels came to realise at each stage of his intellectual development the inconsistencies and limitations in their ideas, subjecting them to critical analysis as he carved out his own path to other views which were more profound and more radical. His attention was soon drawn to the contradictions of the society in which he lived and to the wretched conditions of the working masses. This was an additional stimulus to his turning his back on the bourgeois outlook. By late 1842 he had become an advocate of communist reconstruction of the existing social system, though he still saw this largely in utopian terms.

This stage in Engels’ intellectual evolution can be broadly summed up as the emergence and rapid development of revolutionary-democratic ideas, followed in the second half of 1842, two years before he and Marx began to work closely together, by his incipient transition from idealism to materialism, and from a revolutionary-democratic outlook to communism.

Engels’ early journalistic writings make up the first section of this volume. At the age of eighteen he became a regular contributor to the press and published many letters, articles and essays on literary and sociopolitical subjects in various journals and newspapers, as well as some poems and philosophical pamphlets. His first published work, the poem The Bedouin (September 1838), breathed a spirit of liberty.

A good dozen articles and letters from the young Engels’ pen appeared in the columns of the Hamburg journal, Telegraph für Deutschland, a mouthpiece of the Young Germany movement edited by Karl Gutzkow. Engels had already begun to discern the contradictory nature of Young Germany, but remained firmly in favour of its demands for a constitution, freedom of the press, abolition of all forms of religious coercion, and emancipation of women.

It was in the Telegraph für Deutschland that Engels published, in the spring of 1839, his first major journalistic work, “Letters from Wuppertal”, describing life in his home town of Barmen and neighbouring Elberfeld. With an eye for detail remarkable for his years Engels describes in these letters the grim working conditions in the factories, the terrifying poverty, the widespread disease and the drunkenness among the poorer classes. He likewise paints the true portrait of broad sections of the German bourgeoisie, with their philistinism, obscurantism and religious bigotry. With them pietism served as a mask for the inhuman exploitation of the unfortunate masses and the poverty of intellectual life. Engels’ highly critical attitude to the social conditions of his day is pointedly expressed in the irony and sarcasm with which he describes the mores of the burghers of Wuppertal.

In the article “German Volksbücher”, Engels attacks the “popular literature” which gave either overt or covert expression to the interests of the reactionary classes. Condemning the serving up of pious homilies and the idealisation of meekness in pseudo folktales, Engels demands books to foster the people’s proud awareness of its rights and dignity, to help arouse its courage and love for its country.

Subsequent articles by Engels, such as “Karl Beck”, “Platen”, “Retrograde Signs of the Times” and “Immermann’s Memorabilien”, show that already at this early stage he was coming to understand very well the processes then at work in German literature and distinctive aspects of the relationship between literature and society. In the article “Retrograde Signs of the Times”, he remarks that criticism should not only expose tendencies to hark back in art and literature, but also their links, often not visible at first glance, with related phenomena in politics and in public and social life.

Engels’ revolutionary-democratic approach to literature undeniably set him apart from other critics and writers of his day. This is especially evident in his articles on poets like August von Platen, Karl Immermann and Karl Beck. Beck’s poems had at first led Engels to expect great things in view of the love of freedom professed in them, but later proved a source of considerable disappointment. Engels stressed that contemporary poetry should not express a futile Weltschmerz but rather the positive fight for freedom and against tyranny, philistinism and religious bigotry (see this volume, p. 43).

It was in the autumn of 1839 that Engels acquainted himself with Hegel’s philosophy, to which he was led to turn after reading David Strauss Das Leben Jesu. Engels adopted a radical, revolutionary approach to Hegel’s philosophy from the start, and this helped him to escape the influence of the conservative aspects of Hegel’s ideas and, in particular, to recognise the narrowness of his political views. While Hegel presented the constitutional monarchy as the culmination of the process of historical development and even implied that the Prussian monarchy might well be regarded as the final stage of evolution of absolute spirit, Engels opposed to this the open-endedness of historical progress and mankind’s advancement (pp. 47-48).

In his article “Requiem for the German Adelszeitung”, published in April 1840, basing himself on the Hegelian theory of world history as the implementation of the idea of freedom, Engels attacked conservative trends in philosophy, romantic historiography, the “historical school of law”, etc., which proclaimed the eternal and immutable character of the medieval social system and the privileges of the nobility. Pouring scorn on the political programme of the Adelszeitung, Engels wrote: “The foreword teaches us that world history exists ... solely to prove that there must exist three estates: the nobility, which has to fight, the burghers — to think, and the peasants — to plough” (pp. 68-69). In this and other articles he attacked the feudal-monarchic institutions of Germany which had outlived their day, the bureaucracy and the censorship.

Engels’ revolutionary-democratic convictions were expressed still more clearly in his articles “Siegfried’s Native Town” (published in December 1840) and “Ernst Moritz Arndt” (published in January 1841). In these he calls for an all-out struggle against conservatism and philistinism, praises the urge to perform heroic exploits in the name of freedom, and protests against the suppression of “every free movement” (p. 136). Condemning the antipathy to the democratic principles of the French Revolution which was kept alive and encouraged by the German nobility, he proclaims a programme of democratic reform in Germany, including such demands as elimination of the vestiges of feudalism, liquidation of absolutism together with the social estates, introduction of trial by jury and formation of a united democratic state. He declares that “so long as our Fatherland remains split we shall be politically null, and public life, developed constitutionalism, freedom of the press, and all else that we demand will be mere pious wishes always only half-fulfilled” (p. 150).

In the article “Ernst Moritz Arndt”, Engels praises Arndt’s generation of German patriots for their role in the liberation struggle against Napoleon, while pointing out the national limitations inherent in their ideas. He castigates the German nobility’s reactionary Teutomania and arrogant attitudes towards. ot)ler nations, while at the same time rejecting the abstract cosmopolitanism and nihilism on the national question to be found among many representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie. But while criticising nationalist ideology in many of its aspects Engels had yet to dissociate himself completely from all the nationalist tendencies to be found in the work of such writers as Arndt. He echoed Arndt’s ideas about the return of Alsace and Lorraine to Germany and the “Germanisation of a disloyal Holland and of Belgium” (p. 149). But the main aspect of Engels’ article was not the re-echoing of Arndt’s demands, which he very soon came to regard as unwarranted, but his opposition to national prejudices, his stand for the idea of the equal-rights of nations, and his strongly voiced conviction that every nation deserves respect and makes its own specific contribution to world civilisation.

While still contributing to Gutzkow’s journal, Engels also wrote articles for a number of other German periodicals. His article “Modern Literary Life”, published in the Mitternachtzeitung (March-May 1840), shows his increasingly critical attitude to the adherents of the Young Germany movement. He draws attention to their inconsistency and irresolution, their incapacity for energetic action, their lack of ideological unity, and their unprincipled literary wrangling. By this time, Engels was clearly aware that the Young Germany movement had retreated a long way from the political radicalism of its forerunner, Börne, and lacked a coherent outlook. In “Modern Literary Life” he stressed the need to integrate progressive philosophy with political activity, an idea he was later to elaborate in a number of other articles. He expressed his conviction that essential in the fight for freedom was “cooperation between science and life”, between philosophy and the modem political trends, between Hegel and Börne (pp. 50-51).

Of particular interest in this volume are Engels’ reports in the newspaper Morgenblatt für gebildete Leser, which give a picture of the political, religious and cultural life of Bremen, where Engels worked in the office of a trading company between July 1838 and March 1841. “An Outing to Bremerhaven” (written in July 1840 but published in August 1841) reflects his sensitive awareness of social problems, and in particular his search for the cause of the working people’s underprivileged status, desperate poverty and lack of rights.

In the autumn of 1841 Engels went to Berlin for his military service. For a year he underwent military training in a brigade of the Guards’ Artillery and in his spare time attended lectures and seminars at Berlin University as a non-matriculated student. Finding himself at the centre of a fierce controversy between the various philosophical schools, he made contact with the Berlin group of Young Hegelians, who had formed a study circle which went by the name of “The Free”, and took a most active part in their fervent battle of ideas. At this stage his philosophical and political convictions had assumed an even more radical and consistently revolutionary-democratic character.

An important element of Engels’ writings in this period is his spirited defence of the philosophy of Hegel and the Young Hegelians from attacks by adherents of religious and conservative principles, and in particular by Schelling. Schelling, an old man by then, had veered to the right and lately been invited by the king of Prussia to Berlin University so as to root out the “dreadful dragon of Hegelianism” (p. 192). After regularly attending the lectures given by this prophet of irrationalism Engels dashed off a series of critical studies — Schelling on Hegel, Schelling and Revelation and Schelling, Philosopher in Christ — showing the reactionary, mystical character of Schelling’s latter-day ideas and the absurdity of his attempts to discredit Hegel, whom at one time he had praised. Engels still shares the Hegelian belief in the Weltgeist as the moving force behind historical development, but he is more clearly aware of the need to reject the conservative elements in Hegel’s thinking and go beyond “the limits within which Hegel himself had confined the powerful, youthfully impetuous flood of conclusions from his teaching” (p. 196). Engels gave a revolutionary meaning to Hegel’s doctrine of the omnipotence of thought and the triumph of reason and truth, which he saw as the triumph of democracy.

The pamphlet Schelling and Revelation bears obvious traces of the influence of Feuerbach’s Wesen des Chistenthums which Engels read in the second half of 1841. Following in Feuerbach’s footsteps while not as yet realising the essentially materialist character of his criticism of religion, Engels here takes his first step towards a materialist view of consciousness, and of the relation between reason (spirit) and nature. The pamphlet also testifies to a considerable advance in the evolution of Engels’ atheism. Feuerbach’s book, together with various works by Bruno Bauer on the history of early Christianity, helped Engels to shed the influence of religion.

An interesting work by Engels to be found in this volume is the satirical poem entitled The Insolently Threatened Yet Miraculously Rescued Bible written together with Edgar Bauer in June-July 1842. It is a sharp attack in Young Hegelian style on religious obscurantism and fanaticism. At the same time Engels is aware of the inconsistencies and the patchwork character of the Young Hegelian trend. He is pointedly ironical about the contradiction between the revolutionary talk of many members of “The Free” and their incapacity for practical action, which was already becoming evident by that time. Making no secret of where his own sympathies lie Engels names the most radical thinkers and writers of contemporary Germany, among whom he ranked Marx. Even before the two men met, Engels paints a dynamic and vivid portrait of Marx as an impassioned and indefatigable champion of the revolutionary cause.

A swarthy chap of Trier, a marked monstrosity.

He neither hops nor skips, but moves in leaps and bounds,

Raving aloud. As if to seize and then pull down

To Earth the spacious tent of Heaven up on high (p. 336).

Engels’ work on the opposition newspaper Rheinische Zeitung, from April 1842, marked the beginning of a new stage in his political and intellectual development. Marx, who also contributed to this paper, became one of its editors in the autumn of 1842. Between April and December 1842, Engels published seventeen articles and sketches in the Rheinische Zeitung (including “Diary of a Guest Student”, “Rhenish Festivals”, “Polemic Against Leo”, “On the Critique of the Prussian Press Laws”) in which he advocated radical social reform, freedom of speech and the press, and criticised conservative ideology and the timidity of the liberals. Engels’ articles for the Rheinische Zeitung contributed to setting the paper’s revolutionary-democratic tone, which it acquired under Marx’s editorship.

It was at this time that Engels made a clean break with the Young Germany movement. His review of Glossen und Randzeichnungen zu Texten am unserer Zeit, published in the Rheinische Zeitung, condemned the eclecticism and political spinelessness of its spokesmen who, to use his words, “have sunk into lethargy” (p. 280). Engels treated the ideas and political attitudes of this movement with still harsher criticism in his review of Alexander Jung’s book Vorlesungen über die moderne Literatur der Deutschen, published in the July issues’ of the Young Hegelian journal, Deutsche Jahrbücher. In this review Engels champions a committed literature and hurls passionate invective at the philosophy of “the golden mean”, which sought artificially to reconcile opposites.

In the columns of the Rheinische Zeitung, in particular in articles such as “North- and South-German Liberalism” and “Centralisation and Freedom”, Engels openly opposes bourgeois liberal ideology and treats the conciliatory stand of the Young Germany movement as merely one of its manifestations. Engels’ attitude to the liberal opposition was a genuinely dialectical one, a far cry from the nihilist attitude of “The Free”, who prided themselves on their show of radicalism. He recognised, given the conditions of that particular period, the progressive nature of the criticism directed by opposition spokesmen at the reactionary order in the German states. Yet he was aware that liberal moderation and inconsistency were serious obstacles to revolutionary initiative and efforts to arouse the people’s revolutionary energy.

The article “Centralisation and Freedom” shows that by the autumn of 1842 Engels was convinced of the limitations of liberalism and of its increasingly anti-popular tendencies in Germany and all over Europe. As a revolutionary democrat, he condemns the idealisation of the July monarchy in France and the Guizot régime, which was openly violating “the principles of popular sovereignty, of a free press of an independent jury, of parliamentary government” (p. 355) With deep historical insight he grasped the connection between bureaucratic centralisation and the absolutist state, going on to observe how the bourgeois régime of the July monarchy represented a direct continuation of the old absolutist order.

While attacking bourgeois liberalism, Engels continued his onslaught against the absolute monarchy, against the Prussian state and the ideologists of the “Christian German state”. This is clearly expressed in his article, “Frederick William IV, King of Prussia”, written in the autumn of 1842. which predicts inevitable revolutionary upheavals in Germany like those in France at the end of the eighteenth century. The censorship forbade the article being printed in Germany and it appeared in a collection published in Switzerland.

The first section of this volume closes with reports specially sent to the Rheinische Zeitung from England, where Engels went at the end of November 1842. His experiences in England, then the bastion of the capitalist world, were to play a decisive role in the development of his materialist ideas and his full turn to communism. These reports were written during his first few weeks in England and clearly indicate the subsequent direction of his ideas. He had been closely following the progress of the socialist and communist movements for some time, and was coming round to the view that communism alone could solve the social question. His acquaintance with economic and social conditions in England and with the English labour movement did much to confirm this opinion.

In the reports entitled “The Internal Crises”, “The English View of the Internal Crises”, “The Position of the Political Parties”, “The Condition of the Working Class in England” and “The Corn Laws”, Engels describes the mounting economic and political struggle in England, which he understood as rooted in the incompatibility of interests of the various classes. He describes with evident sympathy the English workers’ resistance to capitalist exploitation, in particular the activities of the Chartists. There was no doubt in his mind that the English working class was destined to play a crucial role in the coming social revolution: all that it needed to put an end to the domination of the propertied classes was to become aware of its real strength and to organise its ranks. Engels had still to overcome completely the contradictory aspects of his former outlook, with its Hegelian attribution of the dominant role in history to ideas rather than material interests. Yet he could not be blind to the fact that in an industrially developed country like England: “it will be interests and not principles that will begin and carry through the revolution; ... the revolution will be social, not political” (p. 374).

The second section of this volume contains Engels’ letters to his school friends Wilhelm and Friedrich Graeber, his sister Marie, his brother Hermann, the writer Levin Schücking and the journalist Arnold Ruge. They shed much light on the formation of his character, and show the wide range of his interests, his conviviality, his literary and artistic tastes and the workings of his rich and subtle mind.

Engels’ developing ideas in literature, philosophy, religion and politics emerge most clearly in his letters to the Graeber brothers, which reflect his gradual escape from religion. From the outset he conceived a violent dislike for pietism and the hypocritical orthodox forms of Christianity, and gradually came to doubt the very essence of Christian dogma. In his correspondence with the Graeber brothers, both clergymen, Engels conducted serious discussions on the authenticity of the Gospel legends and on the contradictions to be found in the Bible. Concentrated critical analysis, his searching study of the history of Christianity, his wide acquaintance with critical works on the Gospels, and his grasp of the Hegelian dialectic set Engels on a path which was to lead him to a scientific interpretation of religion and his subsequent elaboration of scientific atheism.

Engels’ letters dating from the years 1838 to 1842 give a clear idea of his literary interests, the extent of his reading, and his flair for subtle criticism. Originally Engels dreamed of the poet’s laurels and now and again quotes his own verses in his letters. Indeed, some of his poems made their way into print: they are often imitative in form, and it is the epigrams and satirical parodies which betray the greatest degree of originality. However, certain poems are set apart by their perceptive political and philosophical content, and their revolutionary implications. A good example is the ode on the anniversary of the July 1830 revolution in France which Engels sent to Friedrich Graeber in the summer of 1839 (pp. 463-64). It is a veritable hymn to revolution which the poet celebrates as a surge of vital energy among the popular masses, a truly popular festival.

Engels’ critical view of his own work made him realise that poetry was not his true vocation. This merely meant, however, that he turned with all the more energy to other forms of literary activity, to literary, social and political criticism. His letters bear witness to the intensity of his work in these fields. Engels’ original ideas, which subsequently found expression in his articles of literary criticism, were first expounded in his letters to the Graeber brothers before they appeared in print.

He was also to try his hand at translation, and rendered into German a poem, On the Invention of Printing (A la invencidn de la imprenta), by the Spanish poet M. J. Quintana. Even as a boy he had shown great interest in the study of foreign languages, for which, as his letters make clear, he had a phenomenal flair, and he was widely read in several languages. His letters to his school friends and the writer Levin Schücking show that what he looked for in literature was above all love of liberty and humanistic ideas. This explains his predilection for Shelley and his plans for publishing his own translations of the latter’s verse, which however, were never to materialise. He valued most in Shelley, whom he was always to admire, his praise of freedom and his furious protest at oppression. Engels used Shelley’s words “To-morrow comes!” as an epigraph to his poem An Evening, in which he expresses the conviction that the dark despair then reigning in Germany would give way to “Freedom’s day” (p. 107).

Engels often declares his political convictions more openly in his letters than in his literary writings, which were subject to censorship; he expounds them without concealing his hatred and contempt for despotism, the arbitrary rule of monarchs, the social arrogance of the aristocracy and the prosperous bourgeoisie, and the general atmosphere of political and intellectual bondage in his native land. Much of what Engels writes in his letters is permeated by a truly democratic spirit and reveals how, as he came to realise the transforming role of revolution in history, he began to advocate revolutionary methods for removing social and political barriers standing in the way of Germany’s advance and unification.

Engels had a tremendous zest for life, which shows itself abundantly in his letters. He took great interest in art and painting, travel and sport. He was something of a connoisseur of beer, wines and tobacco. He spent much of his leisure time riding, fencing, swimming and going for long walks. His letters to his favourite sister, Marie, also reveal his love of music: he was a keen concert-goer and opera-lover, and admired the works of Bach, Handel, Gluck, Mozart, Mendelssohn and above all Beethoven, and even attempted to write chorales himself. He was extremely sensitive to the grandeur and beauty of nature, and his landscape descriptions are often detailed and compelling (see “Landscapes”, “Wanderings in Lombardy”, etc.).

The two main sections of this volume are followed by a section of Early Literary Experiments, containing the poems Engels wrote in his schooldays and chapters of A Pirate Tale, written in 1837, in which for his heroes he turned to the Greek corsairs fighting against Turkish rule. This fragment and the poems shed some light on the very earliest formation of Engels’ literary tastes and social ideals.

The documents included in the appendices are also of biographical interest, and enable us to form some idea of the setting in which Engels spent his childhood and youth. This applies in particular to the letters from his father, one of which, addressed to Karl Snethlage (October 5, 1842), testifies to the strained relations which by then existed in the family, and to the pious and conservative father’s deep anxiety about his son’s free-thinking. To a large extent this accounted for the decision to send Engels to England, where it was hoped the eldest son would be cured of the malaise besetting German youth and return to the bosom of the Church. Engels’ father never imagined that in England Frederick would become a proletarian revolutionary and communist, to remain one till the end of his days.

This volume contains all the extant writings and letters of the young Engels, nearly all of which are here published in English for the first time. The supplementary material has not previously been published in English. Engels’ original drawings, musical notations, etc., are reproduced in the letters.

Letters written in a number of languages are printed in the original with a word-for-word translation in the footnotes. Words underlined by the author in the manuscripts are given in italics. Headings of articles and the dates and places of letters, provided by the editors, where the author’s own are missing, are given in square brackets. The asterisks indicate footnotes by the author; the editors’ footnotes are indicated by index letters, and reference notes by superior numbers.

This volume was compiled by Lev Golman and Vladimir Sazonov of the Institute of Marxism-Leninism of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, who also prepared the preface and the greater part of the notes. Some notes, the name index, the index of quoted and mentioned literature and of periodicals, were prepared by Albina Gridchina. Yuri Vasin also assisted in the arrangement of the reference material.

All the articles, letters, etc., in this volume have been translated from the German, unless otherwise stated.

The prose was translated by jack Cohen, Clemens Dutt, Barbara Ruhemann and Christopher Upward, and edited by Frida Knight, Margaret Mynatt and Alick West (Lawrence & Wishart Ltd.), Kate Cook and Richard Dixon (Progress Publishers). The poems were translated by Alex Miller in consultation with Diana Miner and Victor Schnittke, except for The Single Combat of Eteocies and Polynices translated from Engels’ Greek composition by Robert Browning.

The volume was prepared for the press by the editors Lydia Belyakova, Yelena Chistyakova, Victor Schnittke and Lyudgarda Zubrilova, and the assistant-editor Tatyana Butkova, for Progress Publishers, and Irene Bach, scientific editor, for the Institute of Marxism-Leninism.