Engels deserves to be understood, but can we understand either Engels or Marx?
Marx was a very domineering personality and that forced Engels into a crippled psychological state. Friendships are often like that. Marx’s domination mentality has succeeded in making the term ‘socialism’/’communism’ a kind of Marxist monopoly. Here Marx gets too much credit/adulation where Engels is degraded to sidekick status. Frankly, Marx is overrated where Engels is the object of condescension and dismissal despite having produced the classic starting point.
The left would do well to see that Marx’s domineering personality has shaped the whole history and turned him into a kind of canonized saint whose can never be questioned. The left has lost the ability to think clearly about socialism because at every point the disciple quotemongers rush in with boilerplate.
The Marxist left must free itself from Marx here, and rethink its whole platform. To the despair of Engels Marx suffered writer’s block with Capital and the effort ended in failure with an incomplete corpus. It is puzzle of history. In end you can see in Marx’s face of despair as he knew his project was a failure. He left the whole mess to Engels who stitched together what he could.
One often feels that with Engels’ more fluid writing talents the whole thesis of Marx could have been stated far earlier in the fifties without the confusion of the end result.
Engels had his own problems and his dialectical materialism is a dubious product. The result is a curiously stalled ideology of ‘Marxism’, the term itself a symptom of the cult of personality surrounding Marx.
The problem Marx had is a now dated view of science as reductionism and the further attempt to make that ‘economic reductionism’ and the result was a wild goose chase for a theory of history. No such theory is really possible and it is clear why Marx ended in writer’s block and obsessive ‘more and more’ research as the British Library.
In any case, we have Engels’ truly classic book on the English working class, the true starting point here, and his fascinating and correct intuitions about the origins of socialism in the early modern.
The question of who wrote the great Manifesto remains but in the end the Manifesto and Engels’ early texts are a real foundation beyond the hopeless morass of historical materialism.
It is important to see why Marx got stuck: he was supersmart, but no one can do the impossible with theory no matter how smart. Marx’s stages of production theory is grossly fallacious and yet impossible to question in the culture Marxist true believers.
The left has wasted an immense amount of time here and the result in the hopeless muddle of Marxist theory.
The world is out of time at at time of crisis and needs to simply break out of its ‘bad habit’ called Marxist theory. The larger corpus of Marx beyond theory is still useful in any case.
Best to just move on, with the two starting points as core heroic saga as the left recasts its framework.
Friedrich Engels once wrote that he played “second fiddle” to Marx. On the 200th anniversary of his birth, we should remember the profound influence that Engels had on his friend and comrade, as well as his own theoretical contributions.