Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Review of Marx's General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels by Tristram Hunt

This review was written by Eugene Kernes

Book can be found in:
Genre = Economics
Intriguing Connections = 1) Biographies: Auto, Memoir, and Other Types

Elaborate Description

Friedrich Engels is the intellectual partner and editor of Karl Marx’s work. Without Engels support of Marx, much of the Marx work would not be published or reputation secure. This book contains Engels youthful background, intellectual arguments, taking part in battles, financial status, promiscuousness and dedications, but most importantly are the sacrifices he made to support the socialist cause. This book is not just about Engels, it is about the people and situations which made Engels see the world the way he did.

Even when Engels was young, he disagreed with his families earned income. Writing under a pseudonym to protect his family’s reputation. He was fascinated with community bonds in the novels he read. Those community bonds were being destroyed by the disbanding of guilds, undermined working conditions, and other assaults on paid labor. It was not capitalism that Engels was distraught over as the terminology had not yet existed, but the social cost of religious dogma. Although socialism is an ancient concept, it was secularism which facilitated the conditions for the construction of socialism.

There are many different types of socialism, some being ancient. Marx’s and Engels’s socialism is based on Hegelian philosophy. Hegelian philosophies see each era as becoming increases more progressive in every component such as art, religion, governance, with the usual trend of reason producing more freedom. Historical states are transient and develop in a process of change in the status quo followed by their synthesis. The state is seen as the embodied progress, reason, and what freedom means so each individual has to submit to the state for affirmation of knowledge and freedom. Capitalism brought with it class consciousness than was not present in feudalism, and communism will bring with it more freedom.

The centerpiece of the argument of going against capitalism is that the capitalistic mode of production competition creates waste and unemployment which result in market failures and cyclical trade cycles. Communism would eliminate competition by efficiently allocating capital and labor through a central authority. Without tension between individuals, there would be no crime, and production would increase. Production and social relations are bound together as having different way of earning a living changes the way individuals engage with each other.

Communism allows for a control of exchange, and end the alienation between production and worker. When politics and economic fundamentals are not aligned, their adjustments are usually painful transformations. For change to happen, it requires the proletariat to understand their role in the process. This creates the trend considered the law of history that history itself is a about class struggle. When the proletariat succeeds in taking control of the political process there will be no more class struggle so an end to history.

Ideas have an unfortunate aspect that they tend to be tied to the character of idea maker, their reputation matters not just the idea. In this case, to protect the socialist ideals meant protecting Marx’s reputation. Engels’s sacrificed his personal finances and reputation to protect Marx. Marx was a bourgeois who made an income writing, but not enough support the lifestyle. Engels provided Marx with additional sources of income to maintain the bourgeois lifestyle. Engels income came from exploited labor power which were used to finance Marx. Although Marx was married to Jenny, Marx took advantage of their housemaid who proceeded to have his child. Engels sacrificed his already fragile reputation by claiming Marx’s child as his own.

To promote Capitalism and the ideas held within, the pair decided to create a media firestorm by denouncing the book. There was also a need to defend Marx’s and Engels’s version of communism from alternative versions communism. After the death of Marx, Engels’s needed to edit many of the writing Marx’s had not finished. To protect the socialist idea, Engels’s needed to argue with many institutions which were supposed to act in a socialist manner but were actually protecting its members.

The problem with this book is not what is in it but what is left out. There were generally many events which were given their historical perspective, but not enough to make a full understanding of the situation. Not only the historical events were incompletely described but the ideas presented. Arguments against capitalism and other forms of socialisms which were not supported by Marx and Engels were present throughout, but not the problems with their own ideas. Marx’s and Engels’s ideas were not subject to a critical analysis as everyone else’s were.

As there were many different types of socialisms there were those who departed from socialism while professing to be supporters of the Marx’s. The author does not wish to blame Marx and Engels for the atrocities done in their name as Marx and Engels would not have condoned such acts, much like the author does not place blame done in Adam Smith’s name who would not have condoned many policies in his name. The problem is that Marx’s and Engels’s language and actions inspired those who proceeded them. This story should be read as a lesson and warning that it is not just the ideas that matter, it is how successors will choose to utilize the ideas.

Book Details

Edition ISBN:  9780805092486
Pages to read:   367
Publication:     2010
1st Edition:      2009
Format:            Paperback

Ratings out of 5:
Readability     4
Content          3
Overall           3