The Holy Family

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Friedrich Engels
Written November 1844


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Written: between September and November 1844;
First Published: The book was first published in February 1845, Frankfurt am Main. The work was never translated into English in either man’s lifetime;
Translated: This 1956 English translation is by Richard Dixon, and is taken from the 1845 German edition;
Source: Foreign Languages Publishing House, Moscow 1956.

The Holy Family

or Critique of Critical Criticism.

Against Bruno Bauer and Company

Note from Foreign Languages Publishing House Edition, 1956

The Holy Family, or Critique of Critical Critique. Against Bruno Bauer and Co. – the first joint work of Karl. Marx and Frederick Engels. It was written from September to November 1844 and published in February 1845 in Frankfurt-on-Main.

“The Holy Family” is a humorous nickname for the Bauer brothers and their followers grouped around Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung (General Literary Gazette). Attacking Bauer and the other Young Hegelians (or Left Hegelians), Marx and Engels at the same time criticized Hegel’s own idealist philosophy.

Marx gave evidence of deep divergencies with the Young Hegelians as early as summer 1842, when the club of the “Free” was formed in Berlin. When, in October 1842, Marx became editor of Rheinische Zeitung (Rhine Gazette), on the staff of which there were several Berlin Young Hegelians, he opposed the publication in the paper of insipid pretentious articles from the club, which had lost touch with reality and was absorbed in abstract philosophical disputes. During the two years following Marx’s break with the “Free,” the theoretical and political differences between Marx and Engels on the one hand and the Young Hegelians on the other became most profound and irreconcilable. This was due to the fact that Marx and Engels had abandoned idealism for materialism and revolutionary democratism for communism; it was also due to the evolution that the Bauer brothers and their fellow-thinkers went through during that time. Bauer and his group published in Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung disavowals of the “1842 radicalism” and of its most conspicuous mouthpiece, Rheinische Zeitung; they slithered into the vilest vulgar subjective idealism, to propaganda of the “theory” according to which only selected individuals, vehicles of the “spirit,” of “pure criticism,” are the makers of history, while the mass, the people, serves as inert material, ballast, in the historical process.

Marx and Engels decided to devote their first joint work to the exposure of these pernicious reactionary ideas and to the defence of their new materialistic and communistic outlook.

During a ten days’ stay of Engels in Paris the plan of the book – at first entitled Critique of Critical Critique. Against Bruno Bauer and Co – was drawn up, the parts were divided between the authors and the Foreword was written, Engels wrote his parts before leaving Paris. Marx, to whose share the larger part of the book fell. continued to work on it until the end of November 1844. He considerably increased the intended size of the book by using, in the writing of his sections part of his manuscripts on economics and philosophy on which he had been working in the spring and summer of 1844, his study of the history of the French Revolution and a number of excerpts and synopses. While the book was in the printing Marx completed the title with the words The Holy Family The table of contents showed which sections had been written by Marx and which by Engels (see Contents of the present edition pp. 5-6). As the book was more than 20 signatures and of small format, it was exempted from preliminary censorship according to the regulations then in vigour in a number of German states.

Note from MIA :

During Engels' short stay in Paris in 1844, Marx suggested the two of them should write a critique of the rage of their day, the Young Hegelians. In the doing was born the first joint writing project between the two men -- and a life-long association that would change the world.

At the end of August, 1844, Engels passed through Paris, en route to his employment in Manchester, England, from visiting his family in Barmen (Germany). During 10 days in the French capital, he met Marx (for the second time).

After talking, they began drawing up plans for a book about the Young Hegelian trend of thought very popular in academic circles. Agreeing to co-author the Foreword, they divided up the other sections. Engels finished his assigned chapters before leaving Paris. Marx had the larger share of work, and he completed it by the end of November 1844. (Marx would draw from his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, on which he'd been working the spring and summer of 1844.)

The foremost title line — “The Holy Family” — was added at the suggestion of the book publisher Lowenthal. It's a sarcastic reference to the Bauer brothers and their supporters.

The book made something of a splash in the newspapers. One paper noted, that it expressed socialist views since it criticised the “inadequacy of any half-measures directed at eliminating the social ailments of our time.” The conservative press immediately recognized the radical elements inherent in its many arguments. One paper wrote that, in The Holy Family, “every line preaches revolt... against the state, the church, the family, legality, religion and property.” It also noted that “prominence is given to the most radical and the most open communism, and this is all the more dangerous as Mr. Marx cannot be denied either extremely broad knowledge or the ability to make use of the polemical arsenal of Hegel’s logic, what is customarily called ‘iron logic.’

Lenin would later claim this work laid the foundations for what would develop into a scientific revolutionary materialist socialism.

Bruno Bauer attempted to rebut the book in the article “Charakteristik Ludwig Feuerbachs” — which was published in Wigand’s Vierteljahrsschrift, Leipzig 1845. Bauer essentially claimed that Marx and Engels misunderstood what he was really saying. Marx would reply to that article with his own article — published in the journal Gesellschaftsspiegel, Elberfeld, January 1846. And the matter was also discussed in chapter 2 of The German Ideology.