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F.Engels’ protection and development of scientific socialism in the 1883-1895 period

(LLCT) - After K.Marx’s death (1883), F.Engels continued to protect and develop Marxism in terms of philosophy, political economy and scientific socialism. The article focuses on clarifying F.Engels’ great contributions in the protection and development of scientific socialism in the 1883-1895 period. 

Keywords: F.Engels, scientific socialism.

1. F.Engels criticized the views on opportunism and reformism in the workers’ movement

Opportunism and reformism in the workers’ movement appeared very early; even in the First International, the Bakunin’s anarchism, Prudon’s bourgeois socialism came into being, in 1862 F.Lassalle’s reformism was born and by the 1890s, opportunism had spread throughout Europe, strongly influencing the workers’ movement. Opportunism and reformism have a number of key characteristics, including: denial of the inevitability of class struggle, socialist revolution, dictatorship of proletariat; propaganda on class cooperation, belief in reforms that can change the nature of capitalism; communication of the ideas “modern society gives birth to socialism”. Faced with that situation, to promote the development of the workers’ movement, F.Engels resolutely struggled with opportunism, exposed the cause of birth, the nature and its harmful effects.

Regarding the origin of opportunism, F.Engels stated that, like other socio-political views, opportunism and reformism did not happen by accident according to the subjective will of any individual or any organization, which had profound roots in certain economic, political and social conditions. Based on the specific context at that time, F.Engels pointed out the origin of opportunism in the workers’ movement.

Regarding social origin, opportunism and reformism were often associated with the bourgeois class, “aristocratic” workers. In the late 19th century, capitalism shifted from freedom of competition to monopoly, the concentration of production and capital increased, making a large part of small businesses go bankrupt. Therefore, the bourgeoisie people had massively entered the working class, bringing with them the thoughts, aspirations and consciousness of their class. A significant part of them also became the leaders of the workers’ parties, and at that time, their voices reflected the feelings and aspirations of the bourgeoisie.

Economically, opportunism was born out of the working class’s dependence on the economic interests of the bourgeoisie: “The participation in the dominance in the world market has been the basis of business of British workers’ passivity. It stuck to the bourgeoisie in the economic use of that monopoly, and was always engaged in its profit”(1). Opportunism was also formed by the leaders of the worker’s movement. They were corrupted by the material interests of the bourgeoisie. In France, the Possibility’s(2) leaders “sold off the principles to the bourgeoisie for partial concessions, but mainly to obtain cozy chairs for the chiefs”(3). In England, the Fabian Society(4) was “a bunch of bourgeois “socialists” of all colors... they unite only out of fear being dominated by the workers, and they are willing to do everything to prevent that danger, to assure themselves - the “educated ones” - the right to leadership”(5).

In politics, opportunism and reformism in the communist movement, international workers in the late nineteenth century in Western European countries were formed on the one hand due to the brutal repression of the bourgeoisie that scared some workers and made them lose the will to fight; on the other hand, the bourgeoisie also used the guise of compromises, giving in to certain interests, making the proletariat have the illusion of victory by means of peace. In Europe, through the electoral route, some working class representatives also won seats in parliament, thereby leading to the subjective idea that, by the way of peace, through voting, socialism could be reached without the need for social revolution.

Regarding the nature of opportunism, unlike the anti-Marxist bourgeois movements, opportunism and reformism do not completely deny Marxism, they deny the socialist goal, and they use the methods of mutilating and modifying Marxism suitable for the needs of the bourgeoisie. So, externally, it has the look of Marxism, but it is actually against Marxism; by name, it is to represent the interests of the working class but in nature it is to protect the interests of the bourgeoisie. F.Engels concluded, the ideology, the opportunist view was the bourgeois view, the opportunistic elements were the tail of the bourgeoisie. They created a bourgeois front in the workers’ movement and the workers’ party.

Regarding the opportunism’s influence on workers’ movement, objectively, in the times when the political task was to gather and organize the proletariat to promote the movement to grow, opportunism and reformism proposed views of compromises, which created some illusion of the workers’ movement: “People are deceiving themselves and deceiving the party that the present society is slowly developing into socialism”(6). From that, opportunism paralyzed the working-class’ ideology, promoting small-scaled, scattered struggles, concessional reforms, making them the goal of the movement. In order to unify the workers’ movement, to fight against the views of reformism and opportunism, in 1889, F.Engels established the Second International-the Socialist International.

2. F.Engels developed scientific socialism

Firstly, F.Engels developed a shortened perspective on socialism in backward countries. In January 1894, F. Engels wrote the Epilogue for the work “On social issues in Russia”(7) systematically presenting social problems in Russia in particular, in underdeveloped countries in general and the possibility of transition to socialism in those countries. He found that the development of the workers’ movement in Western European countries opened up new development paths for underdeveloped countries, not necessarily following the Western path.

If following the law of sequential development, the least developed countries must implement the bourgeois democratic revolution, go through a new stage of capitalist development to move to the socialist revolution. However, based on the characteristics of the world revolution and the social characteristics of the least developed countries, F.Engels predicted that underdeveloped countries could completely shorten the development process to move straight to socialism. “It is not possible but certain that after the victory of the proletariat and after the socialization of the mean of production in the nations of Western Europe, the countries have just entered the path of capitalist production with intact remnants of the clans can use such remnants as common property and the respective popular customs as powerful tools to shorten the way to socialism and largely to avoid the suffering and struggles that we have experienced in Western Europe”(8). This is true not only for Russia but for all countries in the pre-capitalist stage.

Secondly, he developed the theory of family origins, the private ownership and the state. Before Marxism, idealistic and metaphysical views for the family, private ownership and the state were natural phenomena and constant concepts. Based on the latest achievements of ethnography, F.Engels had very convincing explanations about the family background, private property regime and the state.

F.Engels pointed out that, at the low stage of the primitive period, humans just separated themselves from the animal kingdom, with a low level of production, “the lack of individual defenses must be replaced with the union and collective action of the flock”(9). From promiscuity, without a family form in the scientific sense, humans underwent different forms of family such as a group marriage, Punaluan family, and couple marriage.

Following the development of production forces, the production scope was constantly expanding, the amount of wealth increased: “These possessions, once owned by separate families and increased rapidly, hit a very strong blow to the society based on the couple marriage and on the matrilineality”(10). Monogamous families replaced the couple’s family, the difference was that the marriage relationship was more stable, the main reason was that the property was already privately owned: “Monogamy was the first form of the family to be based, not on natural, but on economic conditions - on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property. The sole exclusive aims of monogamous marriage were to make the man supreme in the family, and to propagate, as the future heirs to his wealth, children indisputably his own”(11).

From his careful investigation of the long-term development of family forms, F.Engels outlined the close relationship between family and the regime of property ownership and the development of society in general. During the period when the clan society changed to the class society, the change of family relations alternated with the advent of private property, class and state. Therefore, the study of the development and interchange of family forms had a reference meaning for the interpretation of the phenomena of the society with class and state. F.Engels added to the gap of family history, enriched the point of historical materialism, and laid a solid scientific basis for researches on primitive society.

Regarding the origin of the private property regime and the class, F. Engels scientifically explained the emergence of private ownership and the class mainly associated with the development of production. In primitive society, the level of production force was low, leading to the common ownership of production materials and products under common ownership. Labor was divided by gender (male and female). A society was equal, having no classes, oppression, exploitation and injustice. Due to the development of the production force, primarily the tools of labor, labor was divided into separated fields (husbandry was separated from cultivation, handicrafts were separated from agriculture, and commercewas born). This assignment increased the productivity of social labor, the output was diversified, plentiful, exceeding the essential needs to maintain the labor force of individuals or families, creating a foundation for barter exchange. But the same production process posed an objective requirement that people not only used their own labor and their family, but also had the need to use other people’s labor. There was a war that usurped labor, and turned prisoners into slaves. The political and social consequences were that, “From the first great social division of labor arose the first great cleavage of society into two classes: masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited”(12). The development of the commodity economy also led to the emergence of money as a tool of exchange, which led to usury, pledge of assets, accumulation of wealth in the hands of some people, while some others were bankrupt or impoverished. The differentiation of society into different classes was deepening.

In terms of the origin, the nature of the state, like the family and class, the state appeared to have its roots in economic development. F.Engels pointed out that, at the end of the primitive society, due to the advent of private property and class, social structure changed. The clan - the social organization based on blood relations was no longer suitable. Community of interests within the gens disintegrated, replaced by antagonistic relations of economic interests. The customs of the gentile society were no longer sufficient to deal with newly emerging socio-economic relations. The rich had a large share of social wealth, increasingly demanded the demolition of the old gens, building a new social order to protect their interests and better deal with the common affairs of the community. Therefore, the state, the new powerful institution of the ruling class, was born on the ruins of clan society. F.Engels generalized the origin and nature of the state: “The state is a product of society at a certain stage of development; it is the admission that this society has become entangled in an insoluble contradiction with itself, that it has split into irreconcilable antagonisms which it is powerless to dispel. But in order that these antagonisms, these classes with conflicting economic interests, might not consume themselves and society in fruitless struggle, it became necessary to have a power, seemingly standing above society, that would alleviate the conflict and keep it within the bounds of “order”; and this power, arisen out of society but placing itself above it, and alienating itself more and more from it, is the state”(13). The state is not “the reality of the ethical idea”, “the image and reality of reason” as explained by the bourgeois theorists, but the product of society that has developed to a certain level.

From analyzing the origin of the state, F. Engels also predicted that when the production force developed to a certain extent, the existence of class was no longer inevitable and became a direct obstacle to production, the class would perish, and the state would also perish. Then: “Society, which will reorganize production on the basis of a free and equal association of the producers, will put the whole machinery of state where it will then belong: into the museum of antiquity”(14).

With the above points, F. Engels clarified the birth of the family, the private ownership and the state associated with a certain historical period of social development, as a result of the development of individual economic factors. Starting from the development of production forces, the changing economic conditions, the division of social labor to explain the birth of the family, private ownership, the state, he contributed to expose the “divine halo” that embraced the human perception of the class and the state. The above point of view further deepened the materialistic dialectic of the history of human society.

Thirdly, F.Engels raised the correct views about the peasant class and agricultural reform in the socialist revolution. The peasant class played an important role in the theory of proletarian revolution and proletarian dictatorship of Marxism. This idea dated back to the 1850s. At that time, K.Marx and F.Engels realized that agricultural workers in large numbers were natural allies of industrial workers. Although they were enlightened to the revolution, they were not actively participating in the movement. That was why urban workers’ movement had not been successful.

By the 1890s, capitalism developed into a monopoly, capitalist concentration took place not only in industry but also in agriculture. Lots of farmers went bankrupt, or almost went bankrupt. Discontent increased, fighting broke out in many places. That situation posed for the working party an issue of setting right policy to attract peasants into the revolutionary movement.

However, some leaders of the working class passionately fought theoretically, underestimated the peasant problem. Only until the peasant movement broke out did the workers’ parties in France and Germany pay attention to this issue. The essence of this trend, though, was an attempt to enlist peasants to increase parliamentary votes-a clear manifestation of opportunism.

In 1892, the Marseille Congress of the French Workers’ Party passed a land platform with many contents contrary to the socialist principle. At the Nantes Congress (September 1894), the opportunistic trend was more serious, when it came to the view that the socialist revolution was only on maintaining peasants’ ownership of land. In Germany in 1894, the Frankfurt Congress of the German Social Democratic Party raised the specific problem of agricultural development to present the view of opportunism, which said, unlike industrial capitalism, in agriculture, the right way to go up to socialism was small-scale development, with private peasantry.

In that situation, in November 1994, F. Engels wrote the article The Peasant Question in France and Germany(15) to criticize the views of opportunism in the peasant problem of the two German and French workers’ parties. Thereby, he presented systematically the principles and stance of Marxism on the peasant issue, outlining the platform of the socialist parties in agricultural reform.

F.Engels pointed out it was essential to see the position and strategic role of peasants in the socialist revolution. Farmers were not the subjects to take advantage of the votes, but important factors in terms of demography, production, and politics: “the peasant is a very essential factor of the population, production and political power”(16). The socialist revolution would not succeed without taking into account the interests of peasants: “No lasting revolutionary transformation is possible [in France] against the will of the small peasant”(17).

He clearly stated his views on socialist reform in agriculture. The difference between farmers and workers was that peasants (small, middle, and well-off peasants) were those who owned the means of production. They always had a need to “permanently maintain ownership of their fragmented land”(18), but the socialist revolution aimed to publicize the means of production. So, how to attract peasants to join the revolutionary movement and what are the socialist disciplines with peasants? F.Engels made two main points of view: (i) the communists saw the inevitable destruction of small peasants, but did not intervene to speed it up; (ii) after gaining power, they did not use violence to deprive poor peasants, just deprive landowners. The task of the communists was: “to direct their individual ownership and businesses into a cooperative business path”(19). To make the peasants see that the path of cooperation was the most suitable for their interests, to help them escape the risk of bankruptcy, the common ownership of the means of production was the main goal to be achieved, not only in the industry, but also agriculture.

Fourthly, F.Engels developed ideas about the strategy of the workers’ movement. Facing changes in the economic and political situation in European countries at that time, in terms of revolutionary strategy, F.Engels made relevant adjustments. If in the period 1848-1850, he insisted that a proletariat revolution was about to break out and the working class by means of revolutionary violence could win the government: “There is absolutely no doubt that the great decisive battle has begun, that that decisive battle has to be waged to the end in a period of long and turbulent revolution, but that battle could only end with the final victory of the proletariat”(20).

However, in the 90s of the 19th century, in the context of the political maturity of the working class and working people in political activities, commenting on the revolutionary opportunity, F.Engels admitted: “History has made it clear that the state of economic development on the continent was far from ripe for the abolition of capitalistic mode of production”(21). In the context of class conflict no longer fierce, the revolutionary situation had turned to a state of peace, F.Engels introduced a new way for the working class to take power that was through democratic elections: “With this successful utilization of universal suffrage, however, an entirely new method of proletarian struggle came into operation, and this method quickly took on a more tangible form”(22); “Voting right - a formerly deceitful trick - is now a tool of liberation”(23).

Thus, it is clear that F.Engels’s thought in revolutionary strategy had underwent some changes. However, these changes are not the changes of the stance and the goal of the workers’ movement but just the adjustment of the revolutionary method to meet the requirements of social reality. Because the opportunity and the form of revolution have a dialectic relationship with each other, in these cases there must be a certain correspondingform. When the situation of the revolution is ripe, it can explode widely; meanwhile, using revolutionary violence to take power simultaneously is necessary and appropriate. On the contrary, when opportunity has not yet come, the flexible use of different measures, especially legal ones, is necessary. If the form given for the period 1848 -1850 was the same with that in the year 1895, it would be an illusion because class relations and society did not allow it. However, through a period of relatively peaceful development, a specific social context allowed for new predictions of the form of power seizure.

The above analysis shows that, in the period 1883-1895, in terms of scientific socialism, F.Engels made a great contribution to the protection and development of Marxism. This development all stems from the practice of the workers’ movement at that time, but absolutely not from the subjective desire of F.Engels.



(1) K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.36, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1998, p.88.

(2) “Possibility”, possibilité in French, a branch separated from the French Workers’ Party in 1882, in a reformist ideology.

(3) K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.37, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1997, p.319.

(4) The Fabian Society (named after a Roman marshal Fabius Maximus 280-203 BC) founded in 1889 in England, comprised of members of the bourgeois intellectual class, the fundamental view was to deny Marxism on class struggle, they asserted that they could move from capitalism to socialism with small reforms, gradual reforms - this view is also known as “municipal socialism”.

(5) K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.38, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1997, p.591.

(6), (7), (8), (15), (16), (17), (18), (19), (20), (21), (22), (23) K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.22, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995,  pp.345, 622-643, 632, 713-746, 715, 734, 735, 736, 757, 761, 769, 767-768.


(9), (10), (11), (12), (13), (14) K.Mark and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol.21, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 1995, pp. 63, 90, 103-104, 240, 252-253, 258.

Dr. Nguyen Van Quyet

Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics

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