Friedrich Engels in the genesis of Marxism



Considerations on the late work of Engels, in particular on the book “Anti-Dühring”

In the history of socialist struggles and thought, the term “Marxism” remains a kind of identifying sign. It is a sufficiently broad and flexible index, both because it encompasses the wide spectrum of modifications to which this word has been subjected over time (and according to geography), and because it effectuate the seamless passage of a well-delimited singular and determined for a plurality in permanent expansion.

During the second half of the XNUMXth century, the term “Marxism” spread and asserted itself as a result of the adoption and generalization of the “Marxist” label to designate supporters of certain forms of political action, linked to the positions of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In most cases, it was used in opposition to the appointment of groupings or separate supporters of rivals also demarcated by the incarnation of principles in a man, to which the Blanquist, Bakuninist, Proudhonian, Lassallean, etc. label was applied.

From the beginning Marx and Engels were against this denomination. Engels was primarily responsible for disseminating Marx's phrase – “if that's what Marxism is, I'm not a Marxist” –, each time referring to different people and contexts. The reasons that led them to reject the term “Marxism” are not due, however, as the fortune of this phrase implies, to the concern with possible attempts to usurpate its legacy, but rather to an intellectual and political environment in which the label onomastics carried a caricatural and accusatory meaning.

Despite the restrictions of the founders of historical materialism, the name nonetheless stuck. Designating internal trends or even as a subtitle of movements that explicitly claimed it, “Marxism” and its pair “Marxist” became inseparable from a series of organizations whose denomination changed according to the idiosyncrasies of each era: League of Communists, International Association of Workers, social-democratic parties, Socialist International, Communist International, etc.

At a certain point in this itinerary, this term acquired – mainly for Karl Kautsty and his colleagues in the magazine’s editorial staff. Die Neue Zeit (the main defenders and disseminators of this terminology, already positive) – a programmatic content to indicate the directions of the theoretical and political struggle. Over time, less valuing meanings crystallized. The term “Marxism” then comes to designate, in a restricted version, Marx’s theory (the writings and principles), as well as adherence to this doctrine, but also, broadly, the tradition constituted by adding to Marx’s legacy. Marx from the intellectual contribution of his followers and/or from the practical-theoretical arsenal developed by different movements and workers' parties.

George Haupt comments that the official recognition of the term corresponds to a precise historical moment of the rise of Marxism, characterized by the “separation and definitive break between social democracy and anarchism, by the systematization and embodiment of Marx’s theories, by the delimitation of the Marxist school in the face of all other socialist currents, and for the assertion of its political hegemony in the Second International”.[1] It should be noted, however, that none of this would be possible without the decisive contribution of the work and political action of the last Engels.


Friedrich Engels

An unavoidable mediation between Marx's theory and the later developments of the Marxist tradition, Engels owes at least the premises that made it possible to understand Marxism as a homogeneous whole, as a "system" capable of encompassing in a single word a method, a worldview and a program of action. The version bequeathed by Engels, the first season of a series whose different stages always claimed the name and lineage of Marxism (even when it came to redefining it), was named, by himself, in opposition to “utopian socialism”, by through a self-affirmation that seeks to dissociate itself from other socialist currents – as “scientific socialism”.[2]

Thus, it is not indifferent to the history and direction of the lineage of Marxism that Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) remained active intellectually and politically for more than a decade after the death of Karl Marx (1818-1883). The ease with which one could directly appeal to one of the co-founders of historical materialism in the decisive period of consolidation of Marxism as a unitary doctrine and hegemonic current in the labor movement; added to the division of labor that had assigned to Engels, during the last period of Marx's life, the task of guiding and accompanying the workers' parties then in the process of being formed;[3] all this contributed to the fact that, in the last fifteen years of the nineteenth century, his intellectual influence and theoretical importance rivaled and even, in some cases, surpassed that of Marx himself.

Supported by the recognition of his contribution to the genesis and theoretical foundation of the materialist conception, highlighted by Marx on numerous occasions, Engels made an effort to update the theory in accordance with the demands arising from conjunctural changes, in what actually satisfied a demand inherent to the self-conception of Marxism, admittedly historical. But he also allowed himself to advance, like a daring explorer, over areas and frontiers quite distant from the configuration delimited by the texts responsible until then for determining the contours of historical materialism.

Engels' ascendancy in this period owes much to this work of expanding the limits of Marxism, developed more as a function of the intellectual environment of the time (marked by advances in science and the scientistic desire to order them in an encyclopedic way) than as a result of internal needs of the theory. But it also depended, to a certain extent, on his undeniable position – at a time when the spread of Marxism was processed mainly through dissemination texts and only sporadically through contact with the works of Marx himself – as the main systematizer and interpreter of Marxism. .

This duality of roles, rather than being perceived as an obstacle or harmful interference, rather helped to reinforce the legitimacy of Engels' authority. In the peculiar context of the time, the act of ordering the discoveries of Marxism into a systematic set, the commitment to schematize and summarize a thought full of nuances (contradicting essential demands of the dialectic), in short, the task of dissemination - today seen as minor and associated with the idea of ​​impoverishment – ​​helped to corroborate and, to some extent, to ratify Engels' effort to expand and complement the theory of historical materialism.



The first work structured according to this amalgam was Anti-Dühring. Initially a circumstantial writing, reluctantly written to satisfy a request from German social democracy, this book, published during Marx's lifetime, in 1878, ended up being the first important theoretical work developed by Engels after an interval of almost two decades (1850-1869) dedicated to commercial activities in Manchester.

The balance of this critical exercise – the scientific and political refutation of Eugen Dühring's system – mixes, albeit in unequal doses, moments of mere disclosure – or rather, of simple interpretation and systematization – with chapters dedicated to incursions into hitherto unexplored terrain, thus contributing to the expansion of Marxist doctrine. To that extent, Anti-Duhring marks, by form and content, an important turning point in Engels' intellectual trajectory, inaugurating the last phase of his thought.

In the Preface to the first edition, Friedrich Engels justifies the wide range of subjects dealt with there – a list that ranges from philosophy of nature, politics and economics, passing through themes of morality and law –, as a necessity that is sometimes inherent to the thing, that is, to the punctual criticism of Eugen Dühring's thought, sometimes external, shaped by the author's desire to position himself in the face of the controversial issues of the time.

Even if one admits an intersection between these two sets, it is worth noting a persistent ambiguity, present in Engels' justifications. At one extreme, after apologizing for having been forced to accompany Dühring in regions where he recognizes that his knowledge does not exceed that of a dilettante – “in that extensive area where he deals with all possible things and more” –, he attributes this to an imposition of immanent criticism. At the opposite pole of the pendulum, however, he places the book as the result of an effort to avoid the dissemination of confused ideas within the then newly unified German Workers' Party (SPD) – in whose newspaper the texts that make up the book were initially published – , or else, in a positive way, as an occasion to expose the positions of Marxism on current issues of scientific and practical interest.

More revealing than this detectable ambiguity in the 1878 Preface is the explanation for the demand for a second edition, included in the “1885 Preface”. In this version, Engels states that, by following Dühring through such vast domains, opposing point by point to his views, “negative criticism became positive criticism, and polemics became a more or less coherent exposition of the dialectical method and of the communist worldview defended by Marx and myself, which occurred in a very wide range of fields of knowledge”. The desire to break with the procedures and the expository form of the past, embodied mainly in the texts prior to 1848, becomes evident. gifts in Anti-Dühring, will henceforth be increasingly replaced by a positive, systematic and orderly presentation of ideas, preferably in more accessible language.[4]

The mimetic effort inherent in the project of contesting Eugen Dühring's “integral philosophical system” point by point, even if his work was basically, as Engels states, a “daring pseudoscience”; the need to confront and give an opinion on almost everything – in Engels' inventory, “from ideas about space and time to bimetallism; from the eternity of matter and motion to the perishable nature of moral ideas; from Darwin's natural selection to the education of youth in a future society" - were factors that contributed decisively to the fact that, contrary to the author's intention, Anti-Duhring and, by extension, Marxism itself – then in the process of being delimited as a school distinct from other socialist currents – was interpreted, in the same register as rival bourgeois disciplines and according to the meaning of the time, as a system, a unitary theory of the human being and of nature.

Engels attributed the book's publishing success to a number of external factors. After all, although constituted by the gathering of articles already published in an important (and widely read) organ of the German working press – the newspaper Forward – the demand arose a few years later for a second edition. In addition, the booklet grouping chapters of the Anti-Duhring who made an international career under the title From utopian socialism to scientific socialism it became a resounding success.[5] Engels modestly lists as reasons for this reception, among others, the expansion of public attention, now worldwide, on everything related to Marxism and the banning of the book by the German Empire.

A determining element, not mentioned by Engels, of the permanence of interest in this refutation of Dühring's ideas – by the time of the second edition, an illustrious unknown – consists in the fact that the Anti-Duhring (in the first item of the “Introduction” and in two items in the section dedicated to philosophy) contains a succinct presentation of a subject that constitutes one of the blanks of Marx's work. Since the book was written when he was still alive and even counted on his collaboration (in the writing of an article in the part devoted to political economy), it is not surprising that contemporaries, and even posterity, saw the exposition there. (often demanded of Marx and eagerly awaited) of his method.



The novelty of this brief and “authoritative” exposition of the Marxist dialectic – which certainly did not go unnoticed by contemporaries, but acquired an air of naturalness over the years – can be located in its effort (completely absent in Marx’s work) to discover and develop the “ laws of dialectics” from nature. Engels adopts as a guiding principle the belief that the mere accumulation of facts in the natural sciences would inevitably lead this knowledge to follow the rails of the dialectic. There would even be, according to him, a complete homology between this domain with its countless mutations and the realm of history, in which the apparently fortuitous plot of events would follow the same laws, also present in the evolution of human thought.

The recent developments of these sciences – in charge of the two priority objects in the decantation of the method, nature and history –, allow Engels to advocate a new materialism different from the predominant one in the eighteenth century, since “essentially dialectical, no longer needing any philosophy positioned above of the other sciences”.

Dialectical materialism does not result, therefore, from a simple inversion of Hegel's idealist philosophy, since it understands itself as distinct from philosophy. To the extent that it qualifies as a science, it is not just German idealism that it sets out to overcome, but philosophy itself: “At the moment when each individual science is confronted with the requirement to obtain clarity about its position in the global nexus of things and the knowledge of things, any specific science dedicated to the global nexus becomes superfluous. After that, what of all previous philosophy still preserves its independent character is the theory of thought and its laws - formal logic and dialectics. Everything else is absorbed by the positive science of nature and history” (Friedrich Engels. Anti-Duhring).

Engels re-updates, in another register, the topos Young Hegelian to which, together with Marx, he adhered in the 1840s: overcoming (cancel) of philosophy understood, at the same time, as its negation and its realization.[6] The paradoxes inherent in this program turned the question of the relationship between Marxism and philosophy into one of the most intense controversies in the theoretical and intellectual debate of the Marxist lineage.

Within the scope of the Second International, the orthodoxy led by German social democracy interpreted the materialist program proposed in the texts of Engels after 1878 – the reduction of philosophy to a particular science occupied solely with the rules of reasoning – as a recommendation to replace philosophy with a positive science system. The triad “economics”, “politics” and “history” thus became the basis of an almost literal understanding of Marxism as “scientific socialism”.

The acclimatization of Marxism in Russia, with its own peculiarities, forged an inflection – shaped by the work of Georgy Plekhanov and Lenin’s book, Materialism and Empiricism – through which the primacy of method is restored to some extent. Thus, in the Third International the qualification of materialism as “dialectical” became inseparable from a revaluation of philosophy, embodied by the adoption as a guide, after 1924, of the posthumous collection of articles and manuscripts by Engels, significantly entitled dialectic of nature.

Western Marxism, in turn, since Karl Korsch's book – Marxism and philosophy – accorded the question of the relationship between Marxism and philosophy special consideration. Roughly speaking, it can be said that its representatives sought both to clarify the paradoxes of the young Marx's motto – “it is impossible to abolish philosophy without realizing it” – and to determine the characteristics of a “materialist dialectic”. In this sense, they do not disregard the legacy of the last Engels, they just position themselves radically against him, rejecting, each one for different reasons, his version of the dialectical method.

It is therefore possible, retrospectively, to discern in Engels' last works, amid the tangle of conjunctural and practical concerns, an organizing principle: the systematization of the main measures that made it possible for Marxism to constitute itself as a theoretical and practical tradition after the death of its founders. founders. His texts served as a model for procedures that, although absent or secondary in the canonical books of historical materialism, crystallized – for better or worse – as part of the Marxist tradition.

The task of updating Marxism, renewed with each generation, thus has a formal model to which, for more than a century, little has been added. The requirement, solidified by a succession of theorists, that each author who intends to participate in the Marxist lineage should, in connection with a diagnosis of the historical present, complement Marx's legacy through an interpretation of his own work is nothing more than an unfolding of the project of systematization and expansion of Marxism put into practice in the last works of Engels.

*Ricardo Musse He is a professor at the Department of Sociology at USP. Organizer, among other books, of contemporary china (Authentic).

Modified version of article published in the journal Marxist critique no. 44.



Friedrich Engels. Anti-Dühring – the scientific revolution according to Mr Eugen Dühring. Translation: Nélio Schneider. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2015, 380 pages.



[1] HAUPT, George. “Marx and Marxism”, p. 374-5. In: HOBSBAWN, Eric J. (org.). history of marxism, vol. 2, p. 347-375. Sao Paulo, Peace and Earth, 1982.

[2] The current name at the time was “socialism”. In the preface to the 1888 English edition of the Communist Party Manifesto, Engels explains that the The Manifest it was so named because at the time (the 1840s) socialism, whose main references were Owen and Fourier, was “a bourgeois movement” (the middle-class movement), while the term communism designated the action of the proletariat. Despite having contributed to the discarding of the communism label, Engels warns that he and Marx never thought of repudiating it.

[3] Engels also had the responsibility, delegated by Marx himself, of taking care (and, mainly, of deciding on the opportunity) for the publication of the constitutive texts of historical materialism. This corpus, quite different from current knowledge, and also from the critical fortune that privileged, in our century, certain works of Marx, did not fail, to a certain extent, to influence the configuration that Marxism acquired in the last quarter of the 426th century. On this cf. HOBSBAWM, Eric. “The Fortune of the Editions of Marx and Engels”, p. 7-XNUMX. In: history of marxism, vol. 1, p. 423-443. Sao Paulo, Peace and Earth, 1982.

[4] The first step in this direction was the organization by Engels, at the request of Paul Lafargue, already in 1880, of a condensed version of the Anti-Duhring bringing together three unstructured chapters in the form of a punctual critique of Dühring. The French edition, also published in German and subsequently translated into several languages, won the world over with the title of From utopian socialism to scientific socialism. Alongside the concern to facilitate reading for an audience that was unaware of or uninterested in Dühring's ideas, there is an effort, reiterated in later writings, to present Marxism in a direct and non-controversial manner.

[5] In the 1892 Preface to the English edition of From utopian socialism to scientific socialism, Engels points out that he knows of “no other socialist publication, including the communist manifesto , from 1848 and The capital, by Marx, which has been translated so many times. In Germany, four editions were made, with a total circulation of about twenty thousand copies”.

[6] The almost twenty years that elapsed between the death of Hegel (1831) and the failed revolution of 1848 are marked, in German thought, by the conviction that we were living in a decisive period of human history, in which the truth could only be found and put into practice in the territory delimited by the “concrete material existence of man”. The abstract principles of philosophical knowledge, rejected in their transcendence, were transformed into the foundations of emancipatory action, since from now on it was up to men themselves to “determine the rational course of history”. The promise of temporal realization of reason and individual freedom, inscribed in Hegelian philosophy under the aegis of a consummation that announced the end of philosophy, then becomes a task for the future. As concrete historical possibilities, different modalities and conceptions of this “realization” confronted each other from a common ground, the negation of philosophy.


See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • Introduction to “Capital” by Karl Marxred triangular culture 02/06/2024 By ELEUTÉRIO FS PRADO: Commentary on the book by Michael Heinrich
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Impasses and solutions for the political momentjose dirceu 12/06/2024 By JOSÉ DIRCEU: The development program must be the basis of a political commitment from the democratic front
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • The strike at federal Universities and Institutescorridor glazing 01/06/2024 By ROBERTO LEHER: The government disconnects from its effective social base by removing those who fought against Jair Bolsonaro from the political table
  • A myopic logicRED MAN WALKING _ 12/06/2024 By LUIS FELIPE MIGUEL: The government does not have the political will to make education a priority, while it courts the military or highway police, who do not move a millimeter away from the Bolsonarism that they continue to support
  • Hélio Pellegrino, 100 years oldHelio Pellegrino 14/06/2024 By FERNANDA CANAVÊZ & FERNANDA PACHECO-FERREIRA: In the vast elaboration of the psychoanalyst and writer, there is still an aspect little explored: the class struggle in psychoanalysis
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives