Werke, Artikel, Entwurfe Oktober 1886 Bis Februar 1891 [The Founding of the Second International]

Friedrich Engels – Werke, Artikel, Entwurfe Oktober 1886 Bis Februar 1891 [The Founding of the Second International] reviewed by Gerd Callesen

This new volume includes writings, articles, and drafts written by Friedrich Engels from October 1886 to February 1891. Marx had died in 1883, and this volume is the middle one of the three volumes that will include Engels’ texts from 1883 to 1895 (except for his editions of Capital vols. 2 and 3, which will be published in section II of the MEGA). The volume falls into two parts covering a total of 1440 pages, of which 850 pages are in the second part-volume. This volume contains the explanatory notes and historical information including the general introduction to both part-volumes. It also contains registers of names, periodicals, newspapers, and literature.

During the four and a half years covered by the volume, Engels wrote or drafted 67 documents. One such document is an incomplete manuscript, part of which was published by Eduard Bernstein in 1896, after Engels’s death. The manuscript is concerned with the “Meaning of Violence in History.” It includes a survey of German history from about 1848 to 1888, a draft with which Engels was not satisfied. Also included is “The Foreign Policy of the Russian Empire” (1890). In addition we find ten introductions and new reprints and translations of, e.g., the Communist Manifesto (the last edition published by Engels), a number of articles in newspapers and periodicals, and some minor manuscripts. In an addendum we find reprints of pamphlets to which Engels contributed, as well as five of his own translations. The commentary very carefully explains what Engels’ particular contribution was. Several of these texts are published here for the first time as texts to which his contribution has been identified.

These introductions, translations, etc., must be seen in connection with his endeavours to fortify the position of Marxism as the theory of the working class. Following Marx’s death, he saw it as his principal duty to further develop the theory. During these years, he spent much of his time preparing volume 3 of the Capital and working on the history, theory, and strategy of the labour movement. Against the background of such work, it became possible for him to think about the tactics of the contemporary labour movement, thoughts that are also reflected in his correspondence (two volumes covering the correspondence 1888-1890 are under preparation).

The period saw two principal sets of problems: the development of the international labour movement toward the establishment of the Second International, and the growing risk of war. Engels analysed these problems and actively participated in preparations for the inaugural conference of the Second International. He did not consider it necessary actually to establish a formal organization. But he acceded to the wishes of the labour organizations, especially when it became clear to him that the non-Marxist forces in the labour movement had seized the initiative in this matter. He made use of his own contacts in the labour movement to foster a Marxist conference. In this connection, it is noteworthy that two concurrent and competing conferences were held in Paris in July 1889-a Marxist and a reformist. The Marxist conference was to cast the longer shadow, although it certainly did not mean that the question of which theoretical line would prevail had been settled once and for all. Engels threw himself into an extensive campaign, reflected in this volume. Several of his interventions are here published for the first time in his name. At the time, for tactical reasons, they were published in, for instance, Eduard Bernstein’s name or in the name of the French socialist Charles Bonnier. The purpose of these activities was to prevent the old conflicts between various lines of thought in the labour movement from flaring up and dominating international conferences. There are other documents as well, and the editor has provided an extensive account of the echo they had.

In several of his contributions, Engels touched upon the problems relating to the war threat. In his opinion a war might quickly develop into a world conflagration with vast armies and thus create a situation which might well, at the end of the day, foster a revolution, but would at the same time lead to unheard of sacrifices and might also destroy the labour movement.

Time and time again Engels examined the development of the movement, and in 1889/90 he concluded that it was developing in a direction which he considered to be positive. This was not wishful thinking; in the UK “new trade-unionism” (i.e., the unionization of unskilled workers) was having its breakthrough in a large-scale industrial conflict in the autumn of 1889. But also in France, the Marxist line connected with Jules Guesde gained its breakthrough, and in Germany the Social-Democratic party grew to be the biggest political party in terms of votes in 1890, with just under 20 percent. Also in the United States, it seemed as if the workers were finally on the move. Not only in New York and Chicago, but in many other places throughout the country the Knights of Labor had gained massive support. However, Engels obviously overestimated the importance of these results: the fact that many workers voted for a Social-Democratic party or joined trade unions did not necessarily reflect a revolutionary stance.

The volume contains many other interesting contributions, e.g., a letter sent to an Austrian socialist published as an article in a number of newspapers. It sheds new light on Engels’ perception of the “non-historic” peoples and the role of political anti-Semitism. In his unfinished manuscript on German history 1848-1888, Engels touched upon German unification into one single state. Marx and Engels had not wanted to see the unification take place as a top-down venture, as was in fact the chain of events in 1871. But they considered the German unification an important historical step and a fact of life, as the 39 German mini-states did not have much chance of developing economically, and thus, politically. As the revolutionary solution had disappeared with the defeat of the revolution in 1849, they accepted what had happened and worked from this new position.

This two-part volume thus sheds new and comprehensive light not only on Engels’ understanding of theoretical problems, but also, especially, on his ability to apply his theoretical cognition to concrete and topical issues. This in and of itself puts paid to any doubts concerning his Marxist stance or his dialectical ability.

Reviewed by Gerd Callesen
Arbejderbevaegelsens bibliotek og arkiv
[Labor Movement Library and Archive]

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