My Acquaintance with Engels

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Author(s) Nikolay Rusanov

Source: Marx Engels On Literature and Art, Progress Publishers, 1976
From Reminiscences of Marx and Engels

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Suddenly Engels quickly rose and exclaimed:

“By the way, I'll read you something out of Marx’s old Russian library.... I gave most of his Russian books to other institutions and people who can make better use of them.... But I kept a few things for myself.. ..”

In a friendly way he asked me to go with him into the next room. That was just as light and spacious — the library, judging by the long bookcases fixed to the walls. Engels went as quickly as before up to one of the shelves, looked at it for a moment and then, without any hesitation, took down a book in an old binding and showed it to me: it was one of the first editions of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.

It was as if somebody had pressed a button in my memory, which was then good. I wanted to show Engels that we, victims of “political romanticism,” had read a few things and knew something:

“Dear citizen, you apparently want to read me something out of that? Allow me to read you the very passage that you wanted to draw my attention to. —

Engels looked askew at me in a friendly mocking way:

“Please do.”

He gave me the book.

I held it shut and recited from memory:

For having tackled Adam Smith,
And knowing all the means wherewith
A state may prosper, what it needed
To live, and how it might abide
The lack of gold if it provide
Itself with simple product; heeded
He wasn’t by his father, who
Mortgaged his lands without ado.

Donnerwelter!... Powausend.... .” Engels exclaimed several times. “Hell! you guessed right.... That’s it, that’s the very passage I wanted to read out to you. What put you on to it?”

“Association of ideas.”


“You obviously wanted to quote something on the inevitable backwardness of Russian life. When I saw Eugene Onegin in your hands I immediately remembered that Marx quoted that very passage in his A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy and in Russian at that:

Ego otets ponyat ne mog
I zemlyi otdyaval b zyalog, —

to prove that the ideas of bourgeois political economy cannot be applied to a society based on serf labour. ...”