Frederick Engels

The People
August 12, 1995
Vol. 105 No. 8

FREDERICK ENGELS

Frederick Engels, collaborator of Karl Marx, and with him cofounder of the science of socialism, died on Aug. 5, 1895, just a few months shy of his 75th birthday. Engels was one of the most versatile men of his age. He was knowledgeable in most sciences, and proficient in several. His primary interest and concern, however, was the international socialist movement. And it was to that movement that he devoted his time, his abundant energies and his great intellect during his entire adult life.

The thought has often been expressed that Engels' life and work were eclipsed by the genius of Marx. Nothing could be further from the truth. Engels was no "tag along," no "toady." He was a great and independent thinker, as his many articles, letters and pamphlets proclaim. At the same time, he was no egotist. He recognized the genius that was in Marx and did all in his power to bring Marx's genius to flower for the benefit of the international working-class movement. Giving tribute to the great friendship that existed between Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Franz Mehring (known primarily as Marx's biographer), once wrote of Engels' life and work:

"...his [Engels'] friendship with Marx was the greatest happiness, and at the same time the secret suffering of his life. He sacrificed much to it that even the bravest man has difficulty in sacrificing; but it is a greater credit to him than the keenest intellectual feat could have brought that he subordinated himself willingly, without regret or reluctance, to the greater genius. And if many a talent of no mean magnitude was wasted through envy of genius, Engels became the peer of the master because he remained at his side without any trace of envy.

"It would be idle dreaming to try to speculate what would have become of Engels or of Marx if life had not brought them together. They could not but come together, as they did indeed, and the grateful heirs of their common life's work must appreciate those two mortal men by their immortal work....

"Toward the end of his life Engels used to say that the exaggerated -- as he thought -- recognition paid to him, would come into right proportion when he was dead.

"And that is what has happened: today there is more danger of underestimating than overestimating him. The figure of Marx towers higher and mightier in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- the Lilliputians who are trying in their helpless vanity to warm up the base of his pedestal to snatch the laurels from his brow. And Marx seems to tower above Engels too. But Marx cannot rise without Engels rising with him. For Engels was never just Marx's assistant or interpreter as were many both during Marx's life and after his death. He was his self-dependent collaborator, not his equal, but still his peer intellectually...We cannot speak of Engels without speaking of Marx. And we cannot speak of both of them without a word about their friendship one for the other. It was not Engels' way to grumble over what destiny had denied him. 'History will settle all that in the end,' he used to say, 'and by then we shall have happily lived our time and shall not know anymore about anything.'"

Coincidentally, 1995 also marks the 175th anniversary of Engels' birth and the 125th anniversary of one of his most important works, THE CONDITION OF THE WORKING CLASS IN ENGLAND. Throughout the year, THE PEOPLE will continue to pay tribute to Engels' contributions to the development of modern socialism by publishing selections from his works.