Letter to Karl Marx, November 19, 1844

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 19 November 1844

Written: Barmen, 19 November 1844
First Published: Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, Bd. 1, Stuttgart, 1913
Keywords : Letter, Young Hegelians

No. 2

Barmen, 19 November 1844

Dear M.,

About a fortnight ago I received a few lines from you and Buergers dated 8 October and postmarked Brussels, 27 October.[1] At about the same time you wrote your note I sent off a letter to you, addressed to your wife, and trust that you received it. In order to make sure in future that our letters are not tampered with, I suggest we number them, thus my present one is No 2 and, when you write, let me know up to what number you have received and whether one is missing from the series

A couple of days ago I was in Cologne and Bonn. All goes well in Cologne. Grun will have told you about our people's activities. Hess is thinking of joining you in Paris, too, in a fortnight or three weeks time, provided he can get hold of sufficient money. You now have Buergers there as well and hence enough for a council. You will have all the less need of me and there is all the more need for me here. Obviously I can't come now since it would mean falling out with my entire family. Besides I have a love affair to clear up first and after all, one of us ought to be here because all our people need prodding if they are to maintain a sufficient degree of activity and not fall into all manner of shuffling and shifting. Jung, for instance as well as many others, cannot be convinced that the difference between us and Ruge is one of principle,[2] and still persists in believing that it is merely a personal squabble. When told that Ruge is no communist, they don't quite believe it and assert that in any case it would be a pity if such a 'literary authority' as Ruge were to be thoughtlessly discarded. What is one to say to that? One must wait until Ruge once again delivers himself of some monumental stupidity, so that the fact can be demonstrated ad oculos[3] to these people. I don't know, but there's something not quite right about Jung; the fellow hasn't enough determination.

We are at present holding public meetings all over the place to set up societies for the advancement of the workers[4] ; this causes a fine stir among the Teutons and draws the philistines' attention to social problems. These meetings are arranged on the spur of the moment and without asking the police. We have seen to it that half the rules-drafting committee in Cologne consists of our own people; in Elberfeld, at least one of them was on it and, with the help of the rationalists,[5] we succeeded at two meetings in thoroughly trouncing the pious; by a huge majority, everything Christian was banned from the rules.[6] It amused me to see what a ridiculous figure these rationalists cut with their theoretical Christianity and practical atheism. In principle they entirely agreed with the Christian opposition, although in practice, Christianity, which according to their own assertions forms the basis of the society, must nowhere be mentioned in the rules. The rules were to cover everything save the vital principle of the society! So rigidly did the fellows cling to this absurd position that, even without my putting in a single word, we acquired a set of rules which, as things are now, leaves nothing to be desired. There is to be another meeting next Sunday, but I shan't be able to attend because I am leaving for Westphalia tomorrow.

I am up to my eyebrows in English newspapers and books upon which I am drawing for my book on the condition of the English proletarians.[7] I expect to finish it by the middle or the end of January, having got through the arrangement of the material, the most arduous part of the work, about a week or a fortnight ago. I shall be presenting the English with a fine bill of indictment; I accuse the English bourgeoisie before the entire world of murder, robbery and other crimes on a massive scale, and I am writing an English preface[8] which I shall have printed separately and sent to English party leaders, men of letters and members of Parliament. That'll give those fellows something to remember me by. It need hardly be said that my blows, though aimed at the panniers, are meant for the donkey, namely the German bourgeoisie, to whom I make it plain enough that they are as bad as their English counterparts, except that their sweat-shop methods are not as bold, thorough and ingenious. – As soon as I've finished this, I shall make a start on the history of the social development of the English,[9] which will be still less laborious, since I already have the material for it and have sorted it out in my head, and also because I'm perfectly clear about the matter. Meanwhile I shall probably write a few pamphlets, notably against List[10] as soon as I have the time.

You will have heard of Stirner's book, Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum[11] , if it hasn't reached you yet. Wigand sent me the specimen sheets, which I took with me to Cologne and left with Hess. The noble Stirner – you'll recall Schmidt of Berlin, who wrote about the Mysteres in Buhl's magazine[12] – takes for his principle Bentham's egoism, except that in one respect it is carried through more logically and in the other less so. More logically in the sense that Stirner as an atheist sets the ego above God, or rather depicts him as the be-all and end-all, whereas Bentham still allows God to remain remote and nebulous above him; that Stirner, in short, is riding on German idealism, an idealist who has turned to materialism and empiricism, whereas Bentham is simply an empiricist. Stirner is less logical in the sense that he would like to avoid the reconstruction effected by Bentham of a society reduced to atoms, but cannot do so. This egoism is simply the essence of present society and present man brought to consciousness, the ultimate that can be said against us by present society, the culmination of all the theory intrinsic to the prevailing stupidity. But that's precisely what makes the thing important, more important than Hess, for one, holds it to be. We must not simply cast it aside, but rather use it as the perfect expression of present-day folly and, while inverting it, continue to build on it. This egoism is taken to such a pitch, it is so absurd and at the same time so self-aware, that it cannot maintain itself even for an instant in its one-sidedness, but must immediately change into communism. In the first place it's a simple matter to prove to Stirner that his egoistic man is bound to become communist out of sheer egoism. That's the way to answer the fellow. In the second place he must be told that in its egoism the human heart is of itself, from the very outset, unselfish and self-sacrificing, so that he finally ends up with what he is combating. These few platitudes will suffice to refute the one-sidedness. But we must also adopt such truth as there is in the principle. And it is certainly true that we must first make a cause our own, egoistic cause, before we can do anything to further it – and hence that in this sense, irrespective of any eventual material aspirations, we are communists out of egoism also, and it is out of egoism that we wish to be human beings, not mere individuals. Or to put it another way. Stirner is right in rejecting Feuerbach's ‘man’, or at least the ‘man’ of Das Wesen des Christentums.[13] Feuerbach deduces his ‘man’ from God, it is from God that he arrives at ‘man’, and hence ‘man’ is crowned with a theological halo of abstraction. The true way to arrive at ‘man’ is the other way about. We must take our departure from the Ego, the empirical, flesh-and-blood individual, if we are not, like Stirner, to remain stuck at this point but rather proceed to raise ourselves to ‘man’. ‘man’ will always remain a wraith so long as his basis is not empirical man. In short we must take our departure from empiricism and materialism if our concepts, and notably our ‘man’, are to be something real; we must deduce the general from the particular, not from itself or, à la Hegel, from thin air. All these are platitudes needing no explanation; they have already been spelled out by Feuerbach and I wouldn't have reiterated them had not Hess-presumably because of his earlier idealistic leanings – so dreadfully traduced empiricism, more especially Feuerbach and now Stirner. Much of what Hess says about Feuerbach is right; on the other hand he still seems to suffer from a number of idealistic aberrations – whenever he begins to talk about theoretical matters he always proceeds by categories and therefore cannot write in a popular fashion because he is much too abstract. Hence he also hates any and every kind of egoism, and preaches the love of humanity, etc., which again boils down to Christian self-sacrifice. If, however, the flesh-and-blood individual is the true basis, the true point of departure, for our ‘man’, it follows that egoism – not of course Stirner's intellectual egoism alone, but also the egoism of the heart – is the point of departure for our love of humanity, which otherwise is left hanging in the air. Since Hess will soon be with you, you'll be able to discuss this with him yourself. Incidentally, I find all this theoretical twaddle daily more tedious and am irritated by every word that has to be expended on the subject of ‘man’, by every line that has to be read or written against theology and abstraction no less than against crude materialism. But it's quite another matter when, instead of concerning oneself with all these phantasms – for such even unrealised man remains until the moment of his realisation – one turns to real, live things, to historical developments and consequences. That, at least, is the best we can hope for so long as we're confined exclusively to wielding a pen and cannot realise our thoughts directly with our hands or, if need be, with our fists.

But Stirner's book demonstrates yet again how deeply abstraction is rooted in the Berliners' nature. Clearly Stirner is the most talented, independent and hard-working of the 'Free',[14] but for all that he tumbles out of idealistic into materialistic abstraction and ends up in limbo. From all over Germany comes news of the progress made by socialism, but from Berlin not a whisper. When property has been abolished throughout Germany these clever-clever Berliners will set up a democratie pacifique[15] on the Hasenheide – but the fellows will certainly get no further. Watch out! A new Messiah will presently arise in the Uckermark, a Messiah who will tailor Fourier to accord with Hegel; erect a phalanstery upon the eternal categories and lay it down as an eternal law of the self-developing idea that capital, talent and labour all have a definite share in the product. This will be the New Testament of Hegelianism, old Hegel will be the Old Testament, the 'state', the law, will be a 'taskmaster over Christ',[16] and the phalanstery, in which the privies are located in accordance with logical necessity, will be the 'new Heaven' and the 'new Earth', the new Jerusalem descending from heaven decked out like a bride,[17] all of which the reader will be able to find expounded at greater length in the new Revelation. And when all this has been completed, Critical Criticism will supervene, declare that it is all in all, that it combines in its head capital, talent and labour, that everything that is produced is produced by it, and not by the powerless masses – and sequestrate everything for itself. That will be the end of Berlin's Hegelian [peace]ful democracy.

If Critical Criticism[18] is finished, send me a few copies under sealed cover through the booksellers – they might be confiscated. In case you [didn't re]ceive my last letter, I repeat that you can write to me either [...] F. E. junior, Barmen, or under sealed cover to F. W. Struecker and Co., Elberfeld. This letter is being sent to you by a roundabout route.

Write soon – it's more than two months since I last heard from you – how goes it with Vorwarts? My greetings to all.


[signature illegible]

[Address on envelope]
a Monsieur Charles Marx
Rue Vanneau N 38
Faubg. St. Germain, Paris

  1. The letter written by Marx and Buergers to Engels on 8 October 1844 has not been found.
  2. The disagreement between Marx and Engels on the one hand and Arnold Ruge on the other dated back to the time of the publication of the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, under the editorship of Marx and Ruge. These disagreements were due to Ruge's negative attitude towards communism and the revolutionary proletarian movement, the fundamental difference between Marx's view and those of the Young Hegelian Ruge, who was an adherent of philosophical idealism. The final break between Marx and Ruge occurred in March 1844. Ruge's condemnation of the Silesian weavers' rising in June 1844 impelled Marx to criticize his views in the article "Critical Marginal Notes on the Article 'The King of Prussia and Social Reform. By a Prussian.'"
  3. "visibly"
  4. A reference to the Associations for the Benefit of the Working Classes formed in a number of Prussian towns in 1844 and 1845 on the initiatives of the German liberal bourgeoisie, who were alarmed at the rising of the Silesian weavers in the summer of 1844, and hoped that the associations would help to divert the German workers from militant struggle. Despite the efforts of the bourgeoisie and the government authorities to give these associations a harmless philanthropic appearance, they gave a fresh impulse to the growing political activity of the urban masses and drew the attention of broad sections of German society to social questions. The movement to establish such associations was particularly widespread in the towns of the industrial Rhine Province.

    Seeing the associations had taken such an unexpected direction, the Prussian Government hastily cut short their activity in the spring of 1845 by refusing to approve their statutes and forbidding them to continue their work.
  5. Rationalists – Representatives of a Protestant trend which tried to combine theology with philosophy and to prove that "divine truths" can be explained by reason. Rationalism opposed pietism, an extremely mystical trend in Lutheranism.
  6. At the meeting held in Cologne on 10 November 1844 and attended by former shareholders of and contributors to the Rheinische Zeitung, liberals Ludolf Camphausen, Gustav Mevissen, radicals Georg Jung, Karl d'Ester, Franz Raveaux and others among them, a General Association for Relief and Education was set up with the aim of improving the workers' condition (the measures to be taken included raising funds for mutual assistance and relief to the sick, etc.). Despite the opposition of the liberals, the meeting adopted democratic rules which provided for the workers' active participation in the work of the Association. Subsequently a definitive split took place between the radical-democratic elements and the liberals. The latter headed by Camphausen withdrew from the Association, which was soon prohibited by the Authorities.

    In November 1844, an Educational Society was set up in Elberfeld. Its founders had from the very start to fight against the local clergy, who attempted to bring the Society under the influence and give its activity a religious colouring. Engels and his friends wished to use the Society's meetings and its committee to spread communist views. As Engels had expected, the statute of the Society was not approved by the authorities, and the Society itself ceased to exist in the spring of 1845.
  7. F. Engels, The Condition of the Working-Class in England
  8. F. Engels, "To the Working-Classes of Great Britain".
  9. Originally Engels planned to write a book on the social history of England and to devote one of its chapters to the condition of the working class in England. But, realizing the special role played by the proletariat in bourgeois society, he decided to deal with this problem in a separate book, which he wrote on his return to Germany, between September 1844 and March 1845. Excerpts in Engels' notebooks made in July and August 1845, and the letters of the publisher Leske to Marx of 14 May and 7 June 1845 show that in the spring and summer of 1845 Engels continued to work on the social history of England. Though he did not abandon his plan up to the end of 1847, as is seen from an item in the Deutsche-Brusseler-Zeitung, No. 91 or 14 November 1847, he failed to put it into effect.
  10. Engels did not write a pamphlet on Friedrich List's book Das nationale System der politischen ökonomie (Stuttgart und Tuebingen, 1841) though later he continued to discuss this idea with Marx, who in his turn intended to publish a critical analysis of List's reviews. Engels criticized the German advocates of protectionism, and List above all, in one of his "Speeches in Elberfeld."
  11. The book came out at the end of October 1844, though imprinted as 1845
  12. Review of Les Mysteres de Paris by Eugene Sue published in Berliner Monatsschrift.
  13. The Essence of Christianity
  14. "The Free" – A Berlin group of Young Hegelians formed early in 1842. Among its prominent members were Edgar Bauer, Eduard Meven, Ludwig Buhl and Max Stirner (pseudonym of Kaspar Schmidt). Their criticism of the prevailing conditions was abstract, devoid of real revolutionary content and ultra-radical in form. The fact that "The Free" lacked any positive programme and ignored the realities of political struggle soon led to differences between them and the representatives of the revolutionary-democratic wing of the German opposition movement. A sharp conflict arose between "The Free" and Marx in the autumn of 1842, when Marx had become editor of the Rheinische Zeitung.

    During the last two years which had elapsed since Marx's clash with "The Free" (1843-44), Marx and Engels' disagreement with the Young Hegelians on questions of theory and politics had deepened still more. This was accounted for not only by Marx's and Engels' transition to materialism and communism, but also by the evolution in the ideas of the Bauer brothers and their fellow-thinkers. In the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, Bauer and his group renounced the "radicalism of 1842" and, besides professing subjective idealist views and counterposing chosen personalities, the bearers of "pure Criticism," to the allegedly sluggish and inert masses, they began spreading the ideas of moderate liberal philanthropy.

    It was to the exposure of the Young Hegelians' view in the form which they had acquired in 1844 and to the defence of their own new materialistic and communistic outlook that Marx and Engels decided to devote their first joint work The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Criticism. Against Bruno Bauer and Co.
  15. An ironical allusion to the Fourierist newspaper La Democratie pacifique known for its sectarian and dogmatic leanings.
  16. Cf. Galatians 3:24
  17. Cf. Revelation 21:1 and 2.
  18. K. Marx and F. Engels, The Holy Family.