200th Birthday  of Freidrich Engels


Tribute to one of the greatest thinkers and characters in shaping the  last millennium

Today the world celebrates the bicentenary or two hundredth birthday of Freidrich Engels, one of the most outstanding figures or thinkers of the millenium.Without doubt but for Engels Marxism would not have come of being or taken shape..Had it not been for Engels support Marx would never have survived of the spark of Marxism shimmered. Engels contribution is on par with the likes of Marx,Lenin,Stalin and Mao. Engels relationship with Marx was like flesh to a bone. With humanity on the verge of an unprecedented crisis it is all the more important that figures like Engels and their ideas are ressurected,in another form.

The relationship between Marx and Engels was the most touching or interactive revolution of any tow great men working together in the history of mankind. No pair of great men mutually working together , did as much to transform the course of history.

Although born in highly prosperous conditions in the family of a German industrialist Engels was touched by the pathetic condition of mankind as a result of his inborn sensitivity and inquiring mind. He was greatly influenced by his surroundings and invested his scholarly inclination into studying the misery around him and its causes; Engels was academically highly gifted but had strong rebellious tendencies against conventional patterns of Society. Engels was master in delving into the very root of topics with his great knowledge of materialist philosophy.

Engels was deeply influenced by the ideas of Hegel which shaped him into a left hegelian.

Engels was born to a German Industrialist. He was banished from his home in Leipzig in Germany to work as a factory apprentice in Manchester, with his parents fearing his veering towards revolutionary activities with the great impact of Hegel.

Engels received his baptism into revolutionary class struggle  when touring the slums and factory areas of Manchester and coming in direct touch with the impoverished people.

He was deeply touched by their plight and it made him re-invent his approach to philosophy.. It was during his tenure in managerial post that he came hand to hand with the working class whose pitiful condition created a spiritual change within him.

It would take a separate book or biography to do justice to the life of Engels whose life was perfect illustration of how men were products of historical materialism. Through his experiences he testified that man was capable of shaping his circumstances as much as they could shape him. Such a book could portray how various inter connected events turn the course of a  man’s life and not an isolated phenomena. I would have loved such a book to evaluate the spiritual evolution with such a figure from the aristocratic gentry.Engels always asserted that man would shape and turn the course of history, irrespective of circumstances.

The relationship between Marx and Engels was the most touching or interactive revolution of any tow great men working together in the history of mankind. No pair of great men mutually working together , did as much to transform the course of history.


Engels’s Condition of the Working class in England’ is a classic in comparison with nay outstanding Work of Marx and Lenin. It is divided into 11 chapters.

No work could have with such depth and accuracy described the pathetic economic condition of the working class, reflecting the slavery they were subjected to. It was a perfect illustration of how capitalist society operated and the evils permeating through it. It exposed the hypocrisy of parliamentary bourgeois democracy which robbed the workers of all basic rights and how it ruthlessly deployed the state machinery to give a striking blow to any organized offensive of the workers.

The writings in the book touched the core of the soul of many intellectuals and other strata of society. In the manner of seeing a painting a reader gained a vivid picture in how the workers in slum towns were de-humanised to the core, huddled together in houses with no proper sanitation and subjected to the worst diseases. The total apathy of the capitalists or ruthless feelings too were touched upon summing up how they banged every nail in the wall to create a framework to exploit the working class. All aspirations of the working class was simply crushed to the dust.

The book revealed how in essence workers had no democratic bodies to redress their grievances. It highlighted how they were so subordinated into depression, that they literally lost hope. Detailed description was given to how workers were so tied to their machines that they could not find time even to interact with each other.

Engels gave a more telling picture than any novel of Charles Dickens or Movie ‘Modern Times’ of Charlie Chaplin. .It was work like this that gave Marxism a channel to emerge or spread, throwing relevance of Marxism in perfect light. There has never been a more first hand account of the lives of the Working class or the events that shaped the evolution of the peasantry into the working class and villages into towns.

Quoting Karl Marx to Engels “What power, what incisiveness and what passion drove you to work in those days. That was a time when you were never worried by academic scholarly reservations! Those were the days when you made the reader feel that your theories would become hard facts if not tomorrow then at any rate on the day after.”

Today after over a century we live in a completely different world from the time of Engels but morally his book is even more relevant. With the advent of globalization capitalism has taken a different form with workers of different parts of the world composing different or unfinished parts of single products, Mechanization is on a different realm with greater penetration of Artificial Intelligence and automation.

Workers today are far more separated than in time of Marx ,Engels or Lenin .There is far greater awareness and formal existence of rights but to counter it offensive of Capitalist propaganda by Social media is at a crescendo and wave of Neo-fascism nurtured by imperialism ,creating phenomenal job cuts, unemployment ,price rise. and reduction in real wages.

Both the third world and Western countries have been subjected to the deepest recessions in history. Organized power of workers to resist has been smashed to the pulp with most oppressive laws passed to curtail labour resistance.

There is hardly an adjective to describe how after liberalization conventional workers Industries like the mill Industry in Mumbai was blown to the wind and workers displaced. In famous Industrial towns like Birmingham in England factories were dismantled

.Managements are so powerful that the right to form trade Unions is only on paper and protests virtually token with harshest labour laws introduced.

The Working class is virtually stripped of permanency, with contract labour the order of the day. In third world countries there is massive infiltration or influx of rural population into urban areas and many shanty towns mushrooming. It is common for people to alternately work in factories and fields. Today in India it is virtually impossible to organise industrial workers at their workplaces or factories.

In many ways it is an irony of history that the Covid-19 epidemic broke out in the bicentenary year of Engels. The working class has been similarly victimised by the perils of capitalism as in Engels days.

With deep lucidity and cogeality it describes the polarization of the bourgeosie from the working class and their conflicting interests. In the manner of a narrative it recounts what steps the upper classes did to completely marginalise the proletariat. I would be fascinated to have hypothetically heard the views of Engels on deploying artificial intelligence .The most subtle comparison would be how division was created amongst the working class then and now. Worldwide the proletariat has been de-humanised and alienated in proportions not reached before.

Engel’s book traces the evolution of the orgination of the working class from the peasantry and touches the turning points that transformed their lives. It depicted how the workers had literally been transformed into machines. The psychological supression of their feelings and frustration was touched upon deeply. With subtle depth he portrays how in the Industrial revolution the working class was alienated to the hardest core.

The book was finally published in town of Bremen in Lepipzig in 1844.

Quoting Engels “I once went into Manchester with a bourgeois, and spoke to him of … the frightful condition of the working people’s quarters, and asserted that I had never seen so ill-built a city. The man listened quietly to the end, and said at the corner where we parted: ‘And yet there is a great deal of money made here; good morning, sir.'”

“The race that lives in these ruinous cottages, behind broken windows, mended with oilskin, sprung doors, and rotten door-posts, or in dark, wet cellars, in measureless filth and stench, in this atmosphere penned in as if with a purpose, this race must really have reached the lowest stage of humanity.”

It also recorded a confession: that the prognostication of “an imminent social revolution in England’’ which Engels’s ‘‘youthful ardour (had) induced (him) to venture upon” in 1844-45 had been misplaced. Engels also points to the changes in his own understanding of the dynamic of social revolution. He now knew that class contradictions were irreconcilable, and the proletariat’s struggle for emancipation stood little chance of finding a potential ally in even those segments of the bourgeoisie whom Engels had earlier seen as enlightened fellow-travellers.(The Wire)

Engels was determined in portraying the “social war” waged by the middle class on the operatives of the industrial city. Workplaces – mills, mines, factories, farms – resembled crime scenes. “Women made unfit for childbearing, children deformed, men enfeebled, limbs crushed, whole generations wrecked, afflicted with disease and infirmity, purely to fill the purses of the bourgeoisie.”

In the mist of Manchester’s “planless,conglomeration of houses” there was a merciless logic to the urban form: “Cottonopolis” was carved along class lines to make the rich completely ignorant of the poor, Engels elaborated how streets, houses, factories, and warehouses – were manifestations of social and political power. The struggle between bourgeois and proletariat was visible in street design, transport system and planning process.

Ironically it is in China after the 1980’s when Engel’s work is thrown in correct light with history repeating itself through an influx of over a million peasants to the Urban towns ,stripped of eight hour duty which was increased to twelve hours. History repeated itself in Latin American nations like Brazil or Peru. In India we have a similar plight if you analyse influx of rural folk into big cities of Delhi or Mumbai from villages in Uttar Pradesh,Bihar or even Southern regions.

Above all it is in England where morally conditions of the previous centuries have been ressurected like history repeating itself with economic disparity intensifying.

Quoting the Guardian of May earlier this year ‘Similarly, in the developed world, much of Engels’s analysis of the urban form reads as a telling critique of the gentrification programmes which entail the demolition of working-class neighbourhoods and curtailing the informal space of the city. Of course, the language has changed: policy-makers talk now of “sink estates” rather than “slums”, of “worklessness” rather than “the residuum” and in Britain the forces of progress come in the guise of “New Deal for Communities” or “Housing Market Renewal Funds”. Even Engels’s adopted city has not been unaffected. While Manchester’s revitalised city-centre glistens, Moss Side and Garton have somehow failed to prosper.’


In ‘Dialectics of Nature’ Engels interpreted Natural sciences throwing original light with Marxian perspective .Here he laid the base of Leninism integrating with Science or Leninist development of dialectics in Science.

He delved into region seven Marx did not illustrating how dialectical materialism was an integral part of natural Science and not divorced from it.It researched on the superficiality of bourgeois science which had connotations of idealist philosophy. In the Introduction he gave great respect to the achievements and contribution of the bourgeois revolutions in history and how they shaped progressive thinking as against idealism. I greatly admired his chapter on how the Ape changed man .Here he dealt with how labour determined and shaped the life of even apes and their evolution. Engels was a pioneer in applying Marxist dialectics to Science. Classically he illustrated the inter0relationship between Science and Marxist dialectics .

Engels greatly revered Darwin and recognized his immortal Contribution. However he refuted certain inherent flaws of Darwin .He tooth and nail refuted Darwin’s concept of survival of the fittest. Engel’s work laid the base for the development of Leninism on dialectics of Science in USSR and later China. Lenin,Stalin and Mao used Engel’s work on Dialectics as a great reference point. It laid the perfect foundation for Leninism to refute bourgeois idealism or metaphysical approach. Engels was less critical of Darwin than Marx and infused Darwinian concepts more in his works.

The biggest fallacy he found in Darwin was his upholding Malthusian concepts of population. Engels did not completely endorse natural selection concept. Engels was of the firm view that it was the struggle for human existence that determined man’s evolution. Tooth and nail he refuted that Human beings were passive in confronting forces of nature. In Engels’s view revolutionary ideas were natural and inevitable. Staunchly he rejected attempts of scholars using only biology to understand human society. Significant that Engels was not totally convinced of Darwin’s theories and was very critical of Malthusian theory on population. Engels felt that Darwin failed to talk into account variation in individual organisms. In his view he neglected factor of organisms adapting to alternative environmental conditions and organising struggles better suited to their environment. Engels felt that not enough had been researched on Darwin’s theory to make everything conclusive but he broadly agreed with was it proscribed. Today some evolutionary scientists feel what took place was mutation and not natural selection.

It was unfortunate that Albert Einstein did not make his discoveries of relativity in the lifetime of Engels. I have no doubt it would have had a great bearing on Engels and shaped his works. I am sure they both would have had an intriguing debate on topics like the expansion of the Universe and laws of motion. Engels may have found Einstein irrespective of his miraculous contribution, falling into the quagmire of idealism.

I would also have loved a meeting or exchange of Engels and Steve Hawking .Morally Hawking applied the dialectical method of Engels in his researching thesis on ‘Black Holes’ being the creator of the Universe and  rejecting ‘God.’

History can recount the numerous instances great scientists of USSR applied teachings of Engels. This work reflected Engels’s profound knowledge of Science and how deeply Science and Marxism were connected. Even great revolutionaries like Lenin and Mao did not delve into this subject in the manner of Engels.

It was mastery of Hegel that created the roots of Engel’s writings. This work brilliantly illustrated the evolution of man with relationship to his surroundings.

In a world where bourgeois science is in ascendancy Engels thesis still has relevance The most unbalanced economic development deploying science and technology as well as over mystification of Scientists testifies this. In many ways today man is alienated in the manner science is applied be it in fields of medicine, education or technology.

Engels writings would also be a thorn in the flesh to cultures like in India which wish to champion idealist philosophy like that of reviving the Vedas in India. Today there is a strong current in India glorifying the sacrileges of ancient culture to suppress scientific spirit.

On the other hand a generating of atheists have been created who have even been anti-people like Richard Dawkins who uphold evolution theory but condemn Socialism  in addition to accentuating Islamophobia. Engel’s writings and image must be revived to counter such forces.

The environment is also in the worst state worldwide with ecology receiving a fierce battering. Rampant competition is promoted or is the hour of the day leading to de-humanisation.

Today there is a strong current in the International movement from Trotskyite and New Left trends that divorce roots of Engels by claiming that Stalin violated his teachings or even Mao. Some quarters even try to split Engels with Lenin or even Marx. The correct trend is to uphold his teachings as an integral part of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism .’

However we must not be mechanical and apply the ideas of Engels in accordance with the conditions prevailing today or the creation of a different type of industrial proletariat. We must counter Post-Modernist currents through Engels but arguably we must imbibe important lessons from thinkers like Alain Badiou.

Harsh Thakor is a political commentator

[email protected]


Quoting Engels Introduction to  ‘Dialectics of Nature.’

‘MODERN natural science, which alone has achieved an all-round systematic and scientific development, as contrasted with the brilliant natural-philosophical intuitions of antiquity and the extremely important but sporadic discoveries of the Arabs, which for the most part vanished without results – this modern natural science dates, like all more recent history, from that mighty epoch which we Germans term the Reformation, from the national misfortune that overtook us at that time, and which the French term the Renaissance and the Italians the Cinquecento, although it is not fully expressed by any of these names. It is the epoch which had its rise in the last half of the fifteenth century. Royalty, with the support of the burghers of the towns, broke the power of the feudal nobility and established the great monarchies, based essentially on nationality, within which the modern European nations and modern bourgeois society came to development. And while the burghers and nobles were still fighting one another, the peasant war in Germany pointed prophetically to future class struggles, not only by bringing on to the stage the peasants in revolt – that was no longer anything new – but behind them the beginnings of the modern proletariat, with the red flag in their hands and the demand for common ownership of goods on their lips. In the manuscripts saved from the fall of Byzantium, in the antique statues dug out of the ruins of Rome, a new world was revealed to the astonished West, that of ancient Greece: the ghosts of the Middle Ages vanished before its shining forms; Italy rose to an undreamt-of flowering of art, which seemed like a reflection of classical antiquity and was never attained again. In Italy, France, and Germany a new literature arose, the first, modern literature; shortly afterwards came the classical epochs of English and Spanish literature. The bounds of the old orbis terrarum were pierced. Only now for the first time was the world really discovered and the basis laid for subsequent world trade and the transition from handicraft to manufacture, which in its turn formed the starting-point for modern large scale industry. The dictatorship of the Church over men’s minds was shattered; it was directly cast off by the majority of the Germanic peoples, who adopted Protestantism, while among the Latins a cheerful spirit of free thought, taken over from the Arabs and nourished by the newly-discovered Greek philosophy, took root more and more and prepared the way for the materialism of the eighteenth century.

It was the greatest progressive revolution that mankind has so far experienced, a time which called for giants and produced giants – giants in power of thought, passion, and character, in universality and learning. The men who founded the modern rule of the bourgeoisie had anything but bourgeois limitations. On the contrary, the adventurous character of the time inspired them to a greater or less degree.’

Quoting  excerpt of Engels on Dialectics from book ‘Dialectics of Nature.”

‘It is, therefore, from the history of nature and human society that the laws of dialectics are abstracted. For they are nothing but the most general laws of these two aspects of historical development, as well as of thought itself. And indeed they can be reduced in the main to three:’

The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa;
The law of the interpenetration of opposites;
The law of the negation of the negation.’

‘All three are developed by Hegel in his idealist fashion as mere laws of thought: the first, in the first part of his Logic, in the Doctrine of Being; the second fills the whole of the second and by far the most important part of his Logic, the Doctrine of Essence; finally the third figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system. The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, is made out to be arranged in accordance with a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human thought. If we turn the thing round, then everything becomes simple, and the dialectical laws that look so extremely mysterious in idealist philosophy at once become simple and clear as noonday.’

‘Moreover, anyone who is even only slightly acquainted with his Hegel will be aware that in hundreds of passages Hegel is capable of giving the most striking individual illustrations from nature and history of the dialectical laws.’

‘We are not concerned here with writing a handbook of dialectics, but only with showing that the dialectical laws are really laws of development of nature, and therefore are valid also for theoretical natural science. Hence we cannot go into the inner interconnection of these laws with one another.’

‘1.The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy).’

‘All qualitative differences in nature rest on differences of chemical composition or on different quantities or forms of motion (energy) or, as is almost always the case, on both. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned. In this form, therefore, Hegel’s mysterious principle appears not only quite rational but even rather obvious.’

‘It is surely hardly necessary to point out that the various allotropic and aggregational states of bodies, because they depend on various groupings of the molecules, depend on greater or lesser quantities of motion communicated to the bodies.’

But what is the position in regard to change of form of motion, or so-called energy? If we change heat into mechanical motion or vice versa, is not the quality altered while the quantity remains the same? Quite correct. But it is with change of form of motion as with Heine’s vices; anyone can be virtuous by himself, for vices two are always necessary. Change of form of motion is always a process that takes place between at least two bodies, of which one loses a definite quantity of motion of one quality (e.g. heat), while the other gains a corresponding quantity of motion of another quality (mechanical motion, electricity, chemical decomposition). Here, therefore, quantity and quality mutually correspond to each other. So far it has not been found possible to convert motion from one form to another inside a single isolated body.

We are concerned here in the first place with nonliving bodies; the same law holds for living bodies, but it operates under very complex conditions and at present quantitative measurement is still often impossible for us.’

If we imagine any non-living body cut up into smaller and smaller portions, at first no qualitative change occurs. But this has a limit: if we succeed, as by evaporation, in obtaining the separate molecules in the free state, then it is true that we can usually divide these still further, yet only with a complete change of quality. The molecule is decomposed into its separate atoms, which have quite different properties from those of the molecule. In the case of molecules composed of various chemical elements, atoms or molecules of these elements themselves make their appearance in the place of the compound molecule; in the case of molecules of elements, the free atoms appear, which exert quite distinct qualitative effects: the free atoms of nascent oxygen are easily able to effect what the atoms of atmospheric oxygen, bound together in the molecule, can never achieve.’

But the molecule is also qualitatively different from the mass of the body to which it belongs. It can carry out movements independently of this mass and while the latter remains apparently at rest, e.g. heat oscillations; by means of a change of position and of connection with neighbouring molecules it can change the body into an allotrope or a different state of aggregation.

Thus we see that the purely quantitative operation of division has a limit at which it becomes transformed into a qualitative difference: the mass consists solely of molecules, but it is something essentially different from the molecule, just as the latter is different from the atom. It is this difference that is the basis for the separation of mechanics, as the science of heavenly and terrestrial masses, from physics, as the mechanics of the molecule, and from chemistry, as the physics of the atom.

In mechanics, no qualities occur; at most, states such as equilibrium, motion, potential energy, which all depend on measurable transference of motion and are themselves capable of quantitative expression. Hence, in so far as qualitative change takes place here, it is determined by a corresponding quantitative change.

In physics, bodies are treated as chemically unalterable or indifferent; we have to do with changes of their molecular states and with the change of form of the motion which in all cases, at least on one of the two sides, brings the molecule into play. Here every change is a transformation of quantity into quality, a consequence of the quantitative change of the quantity of motion of one form or another that is inherent in the body or communicated to it. “Thus, for instance, the temperature of water is first of all indifferent in relation to its state as a liquid; but by increasing or decreasing the temperature of liquid water a point is reached at which this state of cohesion alters and the water becomes transformed on the one side into steam and on the other into ice.” (Hegel, Encyclopedia, Collected Works, VI, p. 217.) Similarly, a definite minimum current strength is required to cause the platinum wire of an electric incandescent lamp to glow; and every metal has its temperature of incandescence and fusion, every liquid its definite freezing and boiling point at a given pressure – in so far as our means allow us to produce the temperature required; finally also every gas has its critical point at which it can be liquefied by pressure and cooling. In short, the so-called physical constants are for the most part nothing but designations of the nodal points at which quantitative addition or subtraction of motion produces qualitative alteration in the state of the body concerned, at which, therefore, quantity is transformed into quality.’

In a famous chapter “The Role of Work in Transforming Ape into Man.”, he writes: “Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquest over nature. For each such conquest takes its revenge on us. Each of them, it is true, has in the first place the consequences on which we counted, but in the second and third places it has quite different, unforeseen effects which only too often cancel out the first. The people who, in Mesopotamia, Greece, Asia Minor, and elsewhere, destroyed the forests to obtain cultivable land, never dreamed that they were laying the basis for the present devastated condition of these countries, by removing along with the forests the collecting centres and reservoirs of moisture. When, on the southern slopes of the mountains, the Italians of the Alps used up the pine forests so carefully cherished on the northern slopes, they had no inkling that by doing so they were … thereby depriving their mountain springs of water for the greater part of the year, with the effect that these would be able to pour still more furious flood torrents on the plains during the rainy seasons. Those who spread the potato in Europe were not aware that they were at the same time spreading the disease of scrofula. Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature — but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other beings of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.” (my emphasis) (my emphasis)

Engels goes on: “in fact, with every day that passes we are learning to understand these laws more correctly and getting to know both the more immediate and the more remote consequences of our interference with the traditional course of nature. … But the more this happens, the more will men not only feel, but also know, their unity with nature, and thus the more impossible will become the senseless and antinatural idea of a contradiction between mind and matter, man and nature, soul and body. …”

‘It required the labour of thousands of years for us to learn a little of how to calculate the more remote natural effects of our actions in the field of production, but it has been still more difficult in regard to the more remote social effects of these actions. We mentioned the potato and the resulting spread of scrofula. But what is scrofula compared to the effects which the reduction of the workers to a potato diet had on the living conditions of the popular masses in whole countries, or compared to the famine the potato blight brought to Ireland in 1847, which consigned to the grave a million Irishmen, nourished solely or almost exclusively on potatoes, and forced the emigration overseas of two million more? When the Arabs learned to distil spirits, it never entered their heads that by so doing they were creating one of the chief weapons for the annihilation of the aborigines of the then still undiscovered American continent. And when afterwards Columbus discovered this America, he did not know that by doing so he was giving a new lease of life to slavery, which in Europe had long ago been done away with, and laying the basis for the Negro slave trade. The men who in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries laboured to create the steam-engine had no idea that they were preparing the instrument which more than any other was to revolutionise social relations throughout the world. Especially in Europe, by concentrating wealth in the hands of a minority and dispossessing the huge majority, this instrument was destined at first to give social and political domination to the bourgeoisie, but later, to give rise to a class struggle between bourgeoisie and proletariat which can end only in the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the abolition of all class antagonisms. But in this sphere too, by long and often cruel experience and by collecting and analysing historical material, we are gradually learning to get a clear view of the indirect, more remote social effects of our production activity, and so are afforded an opportunity to control and regulate these effects as well.’



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