Engels: Revolutionary Realist?

  • Andrew Collier


By the time of his death in 1895, Engels was a revered elder statesman of the Second International. The SPD in particular took his opinions seriously, accepting, if somewhat reluctantly, his amendments to its party programme at Erfurt in 1891. Yet this party, and most of the other supposedly Marxist parties in the International, behaved as reformist parties, supported their national governments in mutual slaughter in 1914, and survive today as parties dedicated not even to the reform of capitalism, but to its management. Was Engels himself implicated in this process? Some things that he said in his later years can be read as a retreat from the revolutionary politics in which he had been engaged in 1848; in his ‘Introduction’ to Marx’s Class Struggles in France he certainly pleaded for a realistic recognition of the tendencies adverse to revolution in contemporary history. Was this the beginning of the slippery slope (or first rung of the ladder, depending on your point of view) that led to the ‘new realism’ of modern social democracy? In this essay I will first analyse the structure of the Marxist case for revolution and the way the argument has been ‘played backwards’ by social democrats; then I will look at the text of Engels’s ‘Introduction’ to see what he is arguing there; I shall then relate this to his most systematic account of the projected revolution, in Anti-Dühring; finally, I shall ask what relevance this has for socialists today.


State Apparatus Social Democracy Social Democrat Socialist Revolution Military Technology 
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Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Collier

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