Frederick Engels about his role in Marxist theory

Nasir Khan, February 9, 2017

The names of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels are inseparably linked for laying the foundations of Scientific Socialism in contrast to the previous versions known as utopian socialism. As long they lived, their intellectual partnership was in the service of a common cause but deeply rooted in rigorous scientific work in social sciences including history, economics and the socialist movement.

After the death of Marx in 1883, Engels had the ardous task of sorting out the unfinished notes and scripts that eventually he published as the rest of the volumes of Das Kapital. He wrote a number of books on history and philosophy which hold a pre-eminent position within Marxism.

But how did he see his contribution to the new theories the two friends had developed? Any normal human being who works all his life and produces so much worthwhile scientific works will take pride in his/her accomplishments and will not allow anyone or anything to take away the credit he/she deserves. It is just being human to think so.

But the co-founder of Marxism was a great human being in another respect also. He refused to take any credit for his contributions and instead accredited Marx with developing the fundamental theories that are called Marxism. In fact, I can’t find another example of a dedicated thinker and writer anywhere in world history who showed so much modesty as Engels did about his role.

While reading once again Engels’s Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy (first published in German in 1886), the following marginal note he wrote profoundly stirred me. Such was the friend of Karl Marx!

“Lately repeated reference has been made to my share in this theory, and so I can hardly avoid saying a few words here to settle this point. I cannot deny that both before and during my forty years’ collaboration with Marx I had a certain independent share in laying the foundations of the theory, and more particularly in its elaboration. But the greater part of its leading basic principles, especially in the realm of economics and history, and, above all, their final trenchant formulation, belong to Marx. What I contributed—at any rate with the exception of my work in a few special fields—Marx could very well have done without me. What Marx accomplished I would not have achieved. Marx stood higher, saw further, and took a wider and quicker view than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented. Without him the theory would not be by far what it is today. It therefore rightly bears his name. (Note by Engels, in Chapter IV)

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