The Young Engels and the Birth of Marxism
Public meeting: Bennett’s Bar Birmingham
6 January 2009 @ 7.30
Following the death of Karl Marx in 1883, Friedrich Engels became the most influential and most highly respected figure in the international socialist movement, culminating in his Presidency of the Zurich Congress of the Second International in 1893.
In his books, ANTI-DUHRING (1878) and DIALECTICS OF NATURE (1886, published in the USSR in 1925) he developed “dialectical materialism”,and attempt to generalize Marx’s historical materialism beyond social science and the study of historical development to encompass the natural sciences in an all-embracing world-view. Dialectical materialism subsequently became the entrenched orthodoxy of the international communist movement, culminating in its adoption as the official state philosophy of the “actually existing” socialist countries in the orbit of the Soviet Union during its Stalinist and post-Stalinist periods. Like Aristotelianism when it was the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church prior to the Renaissance, dialectical materialism became a theoretically barren and vacuous world-view, learned by rote by its devotees, but offering little in the way of genuine scientific or philosophical understanding.
In more recent times, many Marxists have turned their attention away from the system-building works of Engels’ maturity, to the early works that he penned as a youth in his 20s. His seminal study, THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ENGLAND (1845), is of course well-known, and regarded even by many non-Marxists as one of the foundational documents of modern sociology. What is less well-known is that prior to this, and prior to his collaboration with Marx, Engels wrote a series of short works that anticipated many of the most important facets of mature Marxism. One such work – “Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy”, written by Engels in 1844 as a 24 year-old – was later acknowledged by Marx as the work that first inspired him to the serious study of economics. In this educational, we’ll look at a number of these early works by Engels, with the emphasis throughout of their contribution to the development of mature Marxism, and on what they have to tell us about the cataclysmic crisis currently engulfing early 21st century capitalism.