Marx, Engels and ‘The Holy Family’ by Franz Mehring from Karl Marx: The Story of His Life. Covici Friede Publishers, New York. 1935.

Marx, Engels and ‘The Holy Family’ by Franz Mehring from Chapter 4 Section 3 from Karl Marx: The Story of His Life. Translated by Edward Fitzgerald. Covici Friede Publishers, New York. 1935.

The first work jointly undertaken by Marx and Engels was the overhauling of their philosophic consciences, and it took the form of a polemic against the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung published since December, 1843, in Berlin-Charlottenburg by Bruno Bauer and his brothers Edgar and Egbert.

In the columns of this organ the Berlin “Freemen” attempted to justify their world outlook, or what they referred to as such. Bruno Bauer had been invited by Frobel to contribute to the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, but after some hesitation he had not done so. His personal vanity had been deeply wounded by Ruge and Marx, although this was not the real reason why he clung to his old philosophy of self-consciousness. For all their bitterness his acid remarks about “the late-lamented Rheinische Zeitung,” the “Radicals” and the “clever sticks of anno domini 1842” had a basis in fact. The thoroughness and despatch with which the romanticist reaction had crushed the Deutsche Jahrbücher and the Rheinische Zeitung as soon as they had turned from philosophy to politics, and the complete indifference of “the masses” to this “intellectual massacre” had convinced him that no progress could be made along such lines. For him salvation could be found solely in a return to pure philosophy, pure theory and pure criticism, and, naturally, once the retirement to the ideological clouds had been accomplished, it was not a matter of any great difficulty to create an omnipotent ruler of the world from these materials.

The program of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, as far as it is possible to speak of anything so tangible, was summed up by Bruno Bauer as follows: “Up to the present all the great movements of history have been misguided and doomed to failure from the beginning, because they aroused the interest and enthusiasm of the masses, or they came to a miserable end because the idea around which they centred was one requiring no more than a superficial understanding, and reckoning therefore with the applause of the masses.” This antagonism between “intellect” and “the masses” was the Leitmotiv throughout the whole of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung, which declared that intellect at last knew where it must seek its only opponent, namely in the self-deception and spinelessness of the masses.

Bruno Bauer.

Accordingly therefore, Bauer’s organ treated all “mass” movements with the contempt they deserved: Christianity and Judaism, Pauperism and Socialism, the French Revolution and English industry. Engels was almost too polite about it when he wrote: “Its decayed and shrivelled Hegelian philosophy is like an old hag whose body has withered to a revolting caricature of its former self, but who still decorates and bedizens herself and leers around in the hope of finding a suitor,” for in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung Hegelian philosophy was reduced to an absurdity. When Hegel declared that the absolute idea as the creative world spirit came to consciousness in the philosopher only subsequently, he meant only that the absolute idea apparently made history in the imagination, and he expressly forestalled the misunderstanding that the philosophic individual himself was the absolute idea. However, the Bauers and their disciples regarded themselves as the personal incarnation of criticism and of the absolute idea consciously living in them as the world spirit as against the rest of humanity. Such vapourings were bound to disperse rapidly even in the philosophic atmosphere of Germany, and in fact the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung met with a very tepid welcome even amongst the “Freemen. Neither Köppen, who maintained a reserved attitude, nor Stirner co-operated and in fact Stirner was secretly preparing an attack on it. Meyen and Rutenberg also held themselves aloof, and with the one exception of Faucher, the Bauers had to content themselves with the third-raters amongst the “Freemen”: a certain Jungnitz and a pseudonymous Szeliga, a Prussian Lieutenant named von Zychlinski who lived to a ripe old age and died in 1900 as a General of Infantry. Within a year the whole hubbub had subsided completely and by the time Marx and Engels took the field against it, the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung was not only dead but forgotten.

This fact was not propitious for their first joint work, A Criticism of Critical Criticism, as they called it themselves, or The Holy Family, as it was called at the suggestion of their publisher. Their opponents immediately derided them for beating dead donkeys, and when Engels received the first copy of the printed book he declared that although it was a fine piece of work, the sovereign contempt with which it treated critical criticism was in sorry contradiction to its bulk, which was well over 300 pages. Most of it would be lost on the general public, he thought, and it would not meet with general interest. That verdict is much more applicable to-day than it was even then, but on the other hand it has now an added attraction which it did not have then, or at least, not in the same way. After condemning its hair-splitting, its quibbling and the monstrous straining of ideas, a later critic declared that it contained some of the most brilliant revelations of its authors’ genius, and that in the mastery of its form and the iron compactness of its language it belonged amongst the finest things Marx had ever written.

In the passages to which the critic is referring, Marx shows himself a master of that constructive criticism which defeats ideological fantasies with positive facts, which creates whilst it destroys, and builds up whilst it is pulling down. He answers the critical observations of Bruno Bauer on French materialism and the French Revolution with brilliant sketches of these historical phenomena. Dismissing Bauer’s talk about the contradiction between “intellect” and the “masses, between the “idea” and “interest,” Marx answers coolly: “The idea always comes to grief in so far as it is distinct from interest.” Every mass interest which found historical expression and entered the world arena as an idea, invariably proceeded far beyond its real limits and identified itself with the interests of humanity as a whole. It was the illusion which Fourier called the tone of every epoch in history. “Far from being ‘misguided,’ the interests of the bourgeoisie gained everything in the Revolution of 1789 and met with ‘real success,’ although the ‘pathos’ disappeared and the ‘enthusiastic’ garlands with which it had decorated its cradle faded. These interests were so powerful in fact that they successfully vanquished the pen of a Marat, the guillotine of the terrorists, the sword of Napoleon, the crucifix of the church and the blue blood of the Bourbons.” The bourgeoisie had consummated its wishes of 1789 in 1830 with the difference that by that time its political enlightenment was at an end. It no longer aimed at achieving the ideal State and working for the good of the world and for the general interests of humanity. It recognized its constitutional representative State as the official expression of its exclusive power and as the political expression of its particular interests. The revolution was a failure only in so far as the masses were concerned, for their political idea did not correspond with their real interests, their vital principle was therefore not identical with the vital principle of the revolution, and the real conditions for their emancipation were essentially different from those under which the bourgeoisie could emancipate itself and society.

Replying to Bauer’s contention that the State holds together the atoms of bourgeois society, Marx declared that they were held together by the fact that they were atoms only in the imagination, in the heaven of their fantasy, whilst in reality they were vastly different from atoms, namely, not divine egoists, but egoistic human beings. “To-day only crass political ignorance can imagine that bourgeois life must be held together by the State. The truth is that the State is held together by bourgeois life.” And Bauer’s scorn of the significance of industry and nature for historical knowledge Marx answers by asking whether critical criticism can be said to have arrived even at the beginning of historical knowledge so long as it continues to exclude the theoretical and practical attitude of man to nature, natural science and industry from the historical movement: “As it separates thinking from feeling and the soul from the body, so also does it separate history from natural science and industry, and regards the birthplace of history as being in the hazy cloud formations of heaven rather than in the raw, material production on earth.”

Leon Faucher.

Just as Marx defended the French Revolution against critical criticism, so Engels defended English history. His particular opponent was young Faucher, who paid rather more attention to earthly reality than any other contributor to the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. It is diverting to observe how accurately Engels sets forth the capitalist law of wages which twenty years later, when Lassalle adopted it, he was to consign to the depths of hell as “a rotten Ricardian law.” Engels proved Faucher guilty of many blatant errors – the man did not know in 1844 that the English anti-combination laws had been repealed in 1824 – but his own arguments were often dangerously near to hair-splitting and in one important point he was wrong, though in a different way from Faucher. Faucher scorned the Ten Hour Bill of Lord Ashley as “a superficial slipshod measure” which would not lay the axe to the root of the matter, whilst Engels declared that “with the whole thoroughness of England” it was the expression, though the mildest possible, of a completely radical principle – for it would not only lay the axe to the roots of foreign trade and thus of the factory system, but bite deep into them. At the time Engels, and Marx also, regarded Lord Ashley’s Bill as an attempt to place reactionary fetters on large-scale industry, although they felt that the conditions of capitalist society would shatter such fetters again and again.


In The Holy Family neither Marx nor Engels has completely overcome the philosophic past. In the very beginning of the introduction they quote the “real humanism” of Feuerbach against the speculative idealism of Bruno Bauer. They recognize unconditionally the brilliant advance of Feuerbach and his great services in having provided the great and masterly fundamentals for a criticism of all metaphysics, and in having set the human being in place of the old lumber and in place of the old eternal philosophic self-consciousness, But they advance again and again beyond the humanism of Feuerbach towards socialism – from the abstract to the historic human being – and in the chaotic and confused world of socialism they find their way about with remarkable acumen. They reveal the secret of that socialist dilettantism on which the satiated bourgeoisie prides itself. Human misery, the utter degradation which must accept alms to live, serves the aristocracy of wealth and education as an amusement, as a means to satisfy its vanity, as a means to gratify its arrogance. And all the numerous welfare associations in Germany, the charitable organizations in France and the various Quixotic doings in England, the charity concerts, balls and performances, the charity spreads for the poor, and even the public subscriptions for the victims of labour and industry, have no deeper significance than this.

Fourier was the one amongst all the great utopians who contributed most to the ideological content of The Holy Family, but Engels distinguishes between Fourier and Fourierism, declaring that the emasculated Fourierism preached by the Democratie Pacifique was nothing more than the social teachings of a section of the philanthropic bourgeoisie. Like Marx, he stresses again and again the importance of historical development and the independent movement of the working class, things which even the greatest of the utopians failed to understand. Replying to Edgar Bauer, Engels declares: “Critical criticism creates nothing, whilst the worker creates everything, so much so, in fact, that his intellectual creations put the whole of criticism to shame. The English and French workers can give evidence of this.”

Engels’ cartoon of ‘The Free,’ Young Hegelians. Ruge, Buhl, Nauwerck, Bauer, Wigand, Edgar [Bauer], Stirner, Meyen, stranger, Koppen the Lieutenant. The squirrel is the Prussian Minister Eichhorn,

Marx disposes of the alleged mutually exclusive contradiction between “intellect” and the “masses” by pointing out that the communist criticism exercised by the utopians was in fact in accordance with the movement of the great masses. In order to gain some idea of the nobility of this movement one must make the acquaintance of the insatiable thirst for knowledge, the moral energy and the indefatigable urge forward of the French and English workers. It is not difficult to understand the great vigour with which Marx attacked Edgar Bauer on account of his poor translation of Proudhon and his absurd comments on Proudhon in the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung. To object that Marx glorified Proudhon in The Holy Family only to attack him fiercely a few years later, is a facile academic trick. In The Holy Family, Marx is defending Proudhon’s real achievements from being obscured and misrepresented by the empty phrases of Edgar Bauer. Marx recognized Proudhon’s work as being just as much a pioneer achievement on the economic field as Bruno Bauer’s own work was on the theological field, but just as Marx attacked Bauer’s theological limitations so he attacked Proudhon’s economic limitations.


Proudhon deals with property as an internal contradiction on the basis of the bourgeois economic system, but Marx declares: “Private property as such. as wealth, is compelled to maintain its own existence and at the same time that of its opposite, the proletariat. It is the positive side of the contradiction, representing private property sufficient in itself. The proletariat as such, on the other hand, is compelled to abolish itself and at the same time its conditional antithesis, that which makes it the proletariat. It is the negative, disintegrating side of the contradiction, representing dissolved and dissolving private property. Within the antithesis, therefore, the property owner is the conservative and the proletarian, the destructive party. From the one proceeds the action to maintain the contradiction and from the other the action to destroy it. In its economic movement private property advances to its own dissolution, in a development that is independent of itself, unconscious and involuntary, conditioned by the nature of the problem, namely in that it produces the proletariat as proletariat, intellectual and physical misery conscious of its misery, inhumanity conscious of its inhumanity and therefore liquidating itself. The proletariat carries out the verdict which private property pronounces on itself by the creation of the proletariat, just as it carries out the verdict which wage-labour pronounces on itself by the production of riches for others and misery for itself. When the proletariat is victorious it will not thereby become the absolute side of society because it can be victorious only by dissolving both itself and its antithesis. With this not only the proletariat, but also its conditional antithesis, private property, will disappear.

Marx points out expressly that he is not turning the proletarians into gods when he credits them with this historic role: “The contrary is true: because the abstraction of all humanity, even the appearance of humanity, is practically complete in the fully-developed proletariat, because the living conditions of the proletariat represent the focal point of all inhuman conditions in contemporary society, because the human being is lost in the proletariat, but has won a theoretical consciousness of loss and is compelled by unavoidable and absolutely compulsory need (the practical expression of necessity) to revolt against this inhumanity – all these are the reasons why the proletariat can and must emancipate itself. However, it cannot emancipate itself without abolishing the conditions which give it life, and it cannot abolish these conditions without abolishing all those inhuman conditions of social life which are summed up in its own situation.

“It does not go through the hard but hardening school of labour fruitlessly. It is not a question of what this or that proletarian, or even the proletariat as a whole, may imagine for the moment to be the aim. It is a question of what the proletariat actually is and what it will be compelled to do historically as the result of this being. The aim and the historical action of the proletariat are laid down in advance, irrevocably and obviously, in its own situation in life and in the whole organization of contemporary bourgeois society.”

Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher.

Again and again Marx lays stress on the fact that large sections of the French and English proletariat are already conscious of the historic task of the proletariat and are striving ceaselessly to develop this conscious to complete clarity. In The Holy Family the cooling streams which bear fresh water through the fields pass through wide stretches of arid land, and two chapters in particular, which deal with the incredible wisdom of the worthy Szeliga, put the patience of the reader to a severe test. The fairest estimate of the work is to regard it as an improvisation, as apparently it was. Just at the time when Marx and Engels were getting to know each other personally, the eighth number of the Allgemeine Literatur-Zeitung arrived in Paris. It contained an attack by Bruno Bauer in a veiled but none-the-less acid form on the conclusions the two had arrived at in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, and it is possible that the idea occurred to them of answering their old friend in a jovial, mocking fashion and as quickly as possible in a short pamphlet. In any case, Engels immediately sat down and wrote his contribution, which amounted to a little over sixteen pages, and was very much astonished when he heard that Marx had extended the answer to over 300 pages. He also felt it to be “curious” and “peculiar” that in view of the minor part he had played in the production of the book his name should appear on the title page together with and even before that of Marx.

Marx probably began the work in his usual thorough fashion and then discovered, in accordance with the old all-too-true proverb, that he had no time to be brief, or perhaps he stretched the matter out in order to take advantage of the provision which exempted books of over 320 pages from the censorship.

The authors of the polemic announced that it was only the preliminary to the publication of independent works in which they would discuss – each for himself – their attitude to the newest philosophic and social doctrines. That they were deadly serious in their intentions can be seen from the fact that when Engels received the first printed copy of The Holy Family he had already completed the manuscript of the first of these independent writings.

Karl Marx: The Story of His Life by Franz Mehring. Translated by Edward Fitzgerald. Covici Friede Publishers, New York, 1935.

Franz Mehring brought all his considerable gifts to bear for this classic 1918 biography of Karl Marx. A major undertaking and labor of love, it is the first substantial biography in any language of Marx. Mehring, through his connections to the Marx family, had access to letters, drafts, and unpublished material unavailable to others. Delayed and hampered by military censorship and World War One, Mehring died just months after it was published and only two weeks after the murder of his comrades Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. Considered by many to be the Marx biography by which all others are measured, this work has been translated into over two dozen languages. This is the first English language translation and edition. It deserves to be on the shelf of every student of Marx and Marxism.

Contents: Author’s Preface, Chronology, I) EARLY YEARS, Home and School, Jenny Von Westphalen, II) A PUPIL OF HEGEL, The First Year in Berlin,The Young Hegelians, The Philosophy of Self-Consciousness, The Doctoral Disseration, The Anekdota and the Rheinische Zeitung, The Rhenish Diet, Five Months of Struggle, Ludwig Feuerbach, Marriage and Banishment, III) EXILE IN PARIS, The Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher, A Philosophic Perspective, On the Jewish Question, French Civilization, The Vorwärts and the Expulsion of Marx, IV) FRIEDRICH ENGELS, Office and Barracks, English Civilization, The Holy Family, A Fundamental Socialist Work, V) EXILE IN BRUSSELS: The German Ideology, “True Socialism”, Weitling and Proudhon, Historical Materialism, The Deutsche Brüsseler Zeitung, The Communist League, Propaganda in Brussels, The Communist Manifesto, VI) REVOLUTION AND COUNTER-REVOLUTION, February and March Days, June Days, The War against Russia, September Days, The Cologne Democracy, Freiligrath and Lassalle, October and November Days, An Act of Perfidy, And Another Cowardly Trick, VII) EXILE IN LONDON, The Neue Rheinische Revue, The Kinkel Affair, The Split in the Communist League, Life in Exile, The Eighteenth Brumaire, The Communist Trial in Cologne, VIII) MARX AND ENGELS, Genius and Society, An Incomparable Alliance, IX) THE CRIMEAN WAR AND THE CRISIS, European Politics, David Urquhart, G. J. Harney and Ernest Jones, Family and Friends, The Crisis of 1857, The Critique of Political Economy, X) DYNASTIC CHANGES, The Italian War, The Dispute with Lassalle, New Struggles in Exile, Interludes, Herr Vogt, Domestic and Personal Affairs, Lassalle’s Agitation XI) THE EARLY YEARS OF THE INTERNATIONAL, The Founding of the International, The Inaugural Address, The Breach with Schweitzer, The First Conference in London, The Austro-Prussian War, The Geneva Congress, XII) DAS KAPITAL, Birth Pangs, The First Volume, The Second and Third Volumes, The Reception of Capital, XIII) THE INTERNATIONAL AT ITS ZENITH, England France and Belgium, Switzerland and Germany, Bakunin’s Agitation, The Alliance of Socialist Democracy, The Basle Congress, Confusion in Geneva, “The Confidential Communication”, The Irish Amnesty and the French Plebiscite, XIV) THE DECLINE OF THE INTERNATIONAL, Sedan, After Sedan, The Civil War in France, The International and the Paris Commune, The Bakuninist Opposition, The Second Conference in London, The Disintegration of the International, The Hague Congress, Valedictory Twinges, XV) THE LAST DECADE, Marx at Home, The German Social Democracy, Anarchism and the War in the Near East, The Dawn of a New Day, Twilight, The Last Year, Bibliography, Index. 608 pages, illustrated.

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