Franz Mehring

27. 2. 1846 Schlawe/Pommern - 29.1.1919 Berlin



Franz Mehring

Frederick Engels


Franz Mehring, Frederick Engels, Social Democrat, Vol.9. no.10, 15 October 1905, pp.550-552.


On August of this year it was ten years ago that F. Engels closed his eyes for ever, less towards the end than at the zenith of his happy and fruitful life. He remained young right till a patriarchal age, and in his old age he exercised his greatest historical influence, as he influenced Lassalle in youth and Marx in middle age.

It would be wrong to conclude that Engels’s mind was slow in coming to maturity. On the contrary, he soon developed, like Lassalle and Marx. When he was younger than either of them, he wrote an epoch-making work, a work of lasting importance, the first great monument of scientific Socialism. He was only 24 when he wrote his book on the Condition of the Working Classes in England. Such a brilliant beginning in science for a young man has always been rare, and this shows that he had strength and genius – the more especially that there was constant progress for half a century. The old man fully fulfilled what had been expected from the young man.

When Engels wrote his first work, which opened the way, he already knew Marx. Not only had they corresponded, but they had been in personal communication, and had formed the plan of a common work which appeared later under the title of the Holy Family. But Marx had in no way exercised any influence on the book relating to the condition of the English working class; on the contrary, Engels introduced him to many subjects of which he knew nothing. But a few years later, when they wrote together the Communist Manifesto, Engels took a secondary place, as he himself has always clearly recognised. It was as his friend’s most faithful and most true assistant that he fought during the revolutionary years, and afterwards, except for trifling incidents, he disappeared from public life. Then he re-appeared, being nearly 60 years of age, with his second great book (The Anti-Duhring), which marks an important advance in scientific Socialism, and when he picked up the sword which fell from the hand of his dying friend he remained for many years the most important man of the international working-class movement.

What the morning and noon had refused to him was given to him in abundance by the evening. Engels thought it was given in superabundance, though he would admit that he had done much for his destiny. As a fact, his friendship for Karl Marx was the greatest happiness, but also the great suffering of his life. He made for it many sacrifices, great even for him, but it was an honour for him greater than might have been given to him by the finest intellectual gift to have sacrificed himself to a superior genius, not in a doleful and hesitating way, but with real devotion. Knowing what the strength of Marx was for the working class, he knew how to be modest, and if more than one considerable talent was shattered against the genius on which he looked with an envious eye, Engels – and also Lassalle – showed himself to be the equal of the master by walking at his side without any trace of jealousy.

It would be idle to speculate as to what would have happened to Engels or to Marx if they had never met. They were bound to come together, and the only thing that we can do in rendering grateful recognition to their common work is to just to the work of each.

The life which Engels lived seemed to have passed happy and serene compared to the storms which agitates the lives of Lassalle and of Marx, but it was not free from troubles and worries, and what fate spared him in one way it may have been said unmercifully to have overwhelmed him with in another. Destiny has not failed in thinking differently of the dead, but Engels, as a wise man, predicted that this would be, and in the last years of his life he used to say that his present reputation, which seemed to him to be then excessive, would fall to its true level when he was no longer among the living.

That is what has happened, and to-day there is more danger in thinking too little of Engels than of estimating him at too high a standard. For Karl Marx grows greater and greater in spite of, or perhaps on account of, the race of Lilliputians who would like to climb, in their despairing vanity, on the foot of his monument so as to pull down the laurels from his head. Thus he seems to rise above Engels. Yet Marx cannot rise without taking Engels with him. For Engels was not only his interpreter and his acolyte, such as Marx often found in his life and after his death, but he was also his independent co-worker, his mind was not of the same extent, but of the same class, of the same race, and – to make a comparison which seems obvious – you cannot ignore the historic importance of Lessing because Leibniz was a more universal genius.

Yet, if one cannot speak of Engels without speaking of Marx, and if one cannot speak of both without speaking of their friendship, Engels never complained of what fate had denied to him ... “History,” he thought, “will doubtless put everything in its place, without thinking of anything else.” What he cared more for than fame was the joy of seeing the seed, which he had sown, ripen and made ready for harvest. The only bitterness in his cup of joy was that Marx was no longer by his side to enjoy this sight. Thus his active life was a happy one; years rolled on without worrying him, and after a short illness, whose sufferings he ungrudgingly bore, he died an easy death at the age of 75.

We, too, might regret that he is no longer with us to enjoy the sight which the Revolution offers, and to see what a magnificent harvest is ready for the reapers. And if it be true that there is no indispensable man, it is no less true that his keen vision and his wise counsels could have saved the modern working-class movement from many an error, if he were still alive. But, above all, above all the pettiness and the littleness, he would have been overjoyed by the historic sight of revolutionary Russia, by the powerful rush of flames which we have kindled; and this is one of the greatest claims of Engels and of Marx to the gratitude of the international working-class movement.

They were revolutionists from head to toe, and they always saw that the overthrow of the Czar’s despotism was a first step in the proletarian revolution. Already, in the New Rhenish Gazette, they declared war on that government of blood and dirt, and their aim – never lost sight of – was to fell it by a deadly blow. By their teachings and lessons the Russian revolution has been inspired, and the dawn extending to the East, sends its greeting to the tomb in Highgate where Marx sleeps, and to the sea-waves in which were scattered the ashes of Engels.

Never were their minds keener, never was their thought clearer, than when Europe was groaning under the heel of Reaction. Their remembrance is felt by us for whom they lived, struggled, and achieved their immortal works; each anniversary of their birth and death gives them a new life, and, as if they still lived among us, we hear the sound of their voice when a new revolutionary era is beginning which will replace the present system that only consists of those who exploit and those who are exploited.