Young Engels

Hélio Oiticica, B33 Bólide Box 18 "Homage to Cara de Cavalo", 1965
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By FELIPE COTRIM*

Introduction of the author and excerpts from the newly released book

Friedrich Engels was one of the greatest interpreters of the XNUMXth century. In partnership with Karl Marx, he formulated a radical and humanist social theory that synthesized the philosophical, historiographical, political, and economic thought precedent, Marxism, as well as one of the greatest political movements of the past two centuries, Communism. However, before being a champion of social theory and communism, Engels went through a path of unique intellectual and political formation and evolution. In Young Engels, the reader will follow this Engelsian path until his historic meeting with Marx, in the Parisian summer of 1844.

The book summarizes the formative years of Friedrich Engels, from the first essays in travel literature and literary criticism to the first reports on the situation of the working classes in Europe and the first draft of criticism of political economy.

 

1.

In August 2016, British filmmaker Phil Collins traveled through the former Soviet Republics accompanied by two Russian interpreters, Anya Harrison and Olga Borissova, in order to carry out the project of bringing Friedrich Engels back to Manchester. Engels lived in Manchester in the mid-XNUMXth century for approximately two decades. It was in this city that he collected the bulk of the material for what remains one of the greatest works on the social question in the great industrial cities of England: The situation of the working class in England. However, even after 121 years of his death (1895), and although his life was well documented and studied, there was, until then, no permanent mark of him in the city of Manchester. Collins set out to remedy this situation by bringing a statue of Engels erected in the Soviet Union to the city.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, many statues paid tribute to its statesmen, such as Lenin and Stalin, and to the founders of scientific socialism, Marx and Engels – who came to be seen by many of its inhabitants as architects of tyrannical governments – have been torn down, vandalized and abandoned. With the almost permanent diplomatic tension and, later, the military conflict between Russia and Ukraine (Civil War in Eastern Ukraine, or War in Donbass, 2014–present), the iconoclastic practice towards Soviet symbols increased exponentially after the Ukrainian government decree authorizing the removal of all these icons and the banning of any speeches and songs from the Soviet period. Thus, Collins' project began, coincidentally, when his search object was in serious threat of extinction. Collins' proposal consisted of finding these statues of Engels scattered throughout the territory of the former Soviet Republics and collecting and transporting the most suitable one to Manchester.

Collins' endeavor began in the Russian port city of Engels on the Volga River. In that town, Collins found a concrete statue of Engels still standing in the ruins of an old meat packing plant. However, local authorities were deeply uneasy about handing over the icon to a British citizen in a context of diplomatic and political tension between Russia and the European Union.

The search continued through many of the former Soviet cities, until, in the small town of Mala Perechtchepina – located in Poltava province, in northeastern Ukraine – Collins found a concrete statue of Engels behind a dairy factory. The icon was split in half at waist height, neglected, moldy, lying in the mud and stained yellow and blue – the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Unlike the distrustful Russian authorities of Engels, the authorities of Mala Perechtchepina were diligent in releasing the collection and transport of the statue which, within that context, had become like toxic waste.

In mid-May 2017, the approximately 3,5 meters tall, two ton statue was loaded onto a flatbed truck that transported it across Europe, east to west, to Manchester.

Collins' journey ended on the evening of July 16, 2017, when the restored statue of Friedrich Engels was set up on a plinth in Tony Wilson Place, the main square of HOME, a center for the arts of greater Manchester.

Collins' timing was impeccable: rescuing a threatened icon from the midst of civil war in Ukraine, roughly a year before Marx's bicentennial celebrations and three years before Engels'.

 

2.

In March 2017, Foster published in Monthly Review an essay entitled The return of Engels, in which he critically assessed the way in which Engels was often downgraded and belittled by Marxist thought in the West and turned into a fossil by Soviet Marxist thought. Foster also demonstrated how historians, economists, and natural scientists such as EP Thompson, Sweezy, and Gould, among others, have restored Engels' reputation as a social theorist and natural science scholar who contributed enormously to the scientific understanding of human societies and nature. . We add to this list Konder and Lukács, who studied Engels' activity as a theorist and critic of literature, and Sartori, who investigated Engelsian contributions in the field of legal criticism. In turn, Foster highlighted the relevance of Engels' contributions on studies of metabolism between nature and human societies.

As noted by Foster, Engels's recovery was strengthened by the renewed project MEGA (Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe), in which the natural science manuscripts of Marx and Engels were first published. The result has been a revolution in understanding in the classical Marxist tradition, very much resonating with a radical new ecological praxis, evolving out of the current contemporary crisis (both economic and ecological).

And, further on, he concluded: “The argument of Engels’ indispensability to the critique of contemporary capitalism is rooted in his famous thesis on Anti-Duhring that "nature is the proof of dialectics". However, Engels's thesis, reflecting his deep dialectical and ecological analysis, could be presented in today's language as: Ecology is the proof of dialectics – a proposition that few would be willing to deny. Viewed this way, it is easy to see why Engels has taken such an important place in contemporary ecosocialist debates.

 

3.

The book that the reader has in his hands aims to contribute to the progress of historiographical research in the field of economic and social history from the life and work of Friedrich Engels, intending to critically examine his contributions to philosophy, historiography, political science. Therefore, it does not consist of a defense, much less an attack on Engelsian work. I understand that Engels is self-sufficient and does not need my assistance to defend himself. His work and life project were clear, objective and speak for themselves.

In partnership with Marx, Engels left a legacy of relevant contributions to the progress of social and natural sciences. He engaged in the political organization and ideological formation of the international proletarian movement, aiming at the realization of the modern project of universal human emancipation; the construction of a society in which the free development of the individual is not a limit to the free development of others; overcoming economic inequalities; the end of State control, repression and surveillance over society; the reestablishment of the harmony of the metabolism between nature and the social being and of the rational articulation between the realm of necessity and the realm of freedom.

*Felipe Cotrim holds a master's degree in Economic History from the University of São Paulo (USP) and editor of Angelus Novus Magazine.

 

Reference


Felipe Cotrim. Young Engels: philosophical evolution and criticism of political economy (1838-1844). São Paulo, Viriato, 2022, 248 pages.

 

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