Engels and the state

In my preparation for writing the second chapter of my book on the ‘socialist state’, I am rereading Engels very carefully. In the end, that is my method boiled down to its most basic: the old humanist adage to ‘go back to the texts’.

Given that there is always a tendency to jump to conclusions about someone’s position – especially if that person is Engels – I have been studying his many writings on the state from the 1880s, after Marx’s death. Plenty of themes here, including his efforts to construct full histories based on ‘historical materialism’ (Engels’s term) and the extraordinary work, ‘The Role of Force [Gewalt] in History’, where he offers a German companion to Marx’s ‘Eighteenth Brumaire’.

But for now, a couple of great quotations:

A perfect society, a perfect ‘State [Staat]’, are things which can only exist in the imagination [Phantasie]. On the contrary, all successive historical states [Zustände] are only transitory stages in the endless course of development of human society (1886, MECW 26: 359).

And in his preface to a revised edition of ‘The Housing Question’, where he analyses the bourgeois dream of ‘owning’ a home:

And with this the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois Utopia, which would give each worker the ownership of his little house and thus chain him in semi-feudal fashion to his particular capitalist … (1887, MECW 26: 433).


9 thoughts on “Engels and the state

  1. Dear Roland,

    Is this book on the ‘socialist state’ part of your PSP project?

    Is it a re-reading of the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin and each chapter being a commentary of their own unique philosophies of socialism in power?


    1. Working through Marx and Engels, Lenin and Stalin, is for the first half – back to the texts, since it is amazing what you find. The second half – under current plans – will focus on the Chinese situation and theoretical developments. It works at the intersection of history and philosophy, especially since thinking through the implications of the material has not really been done adequately.

      1. Will the second half be sort of like ‘From Mao to Xi’?

        Does this mean there will be no separate work detailing Mao’s philosophy?

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