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Amazon.com: 14 reviews
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
The junior partner? 5 Sept. 2009
By Jay C. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Marx's General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels
The collaborative friendship of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx is surely among the most remarkable in all of history. Engels is generally perceived as the junior partner and he readily acknowledged that "Marx stood higher, saw further, and took a wider and quicker view than all the rest of us." But the most notable aspect of their relationship might be how much it depended on Engels' personal sacrifices and generosity, both material and intellectual.

As this fine biography of Engels documents, Engels bankrolled Marx; originated certain seminal socialist ideas; co-wrote, edited, and translated various publications issued under Marx's name; acted as Marxism's chief political operative and publicist; fulfilled the role of a close "uncle" to Marx's daughters; and even took on the responsibility for the paternity of Marx's illegitimate son.

Hunt does an especially good job of setting the intellectual context in which the ideas of Engels and Marx developed and matured. He succinctly summarizes Engels' reactions to Hegel, Schleiermacher, Strauss, Hess, Saint-Simon, Fourier, Proudhon, Carlyle, Owen, and the Chartists, for example. He also captures well the continental politics of the 1840s and the roles Engels played in the revolutionary events of 1848-49.

Between 1850 and 1870 Engels was a junior partner in the family textile firm of Ermen & Engels in Manchester, where he lived a life of contradictions. He earned a good income and was an outwardly respectable member of the local merchant establishment, a fox hunter and an attendee of society events, but he also welcomed a business crash in textiles as a boost for socialism, sometimes put his hand in the till to get money to send to Marx, and co-habited with a working-class paramour.

Hunt is able to provide only a little insight into whatever inner tension Engels may have felt regarding his two worlds. He alludes to illness and depression, but gives no details. Engels correspondence with Marx refers to the tedium of his job in "vile commerce," and we know that when he left he finally felt himself a "free man."

Marx's General is helpful in sorting out Engels' intellectual contributions from those of Marx. Engels' own Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), based on an early sojourn to Manchester, is itself something of a classic (though an imperfect one). Through that work and others one can trace to Engels several key themes and ideas that became part of the mainstream of Marxist thought.

Engels was generous and intellectually talented, but we learn that he also had his faults. For instance, apparently he could be something of a bully to his workers and he was often a relentless ad hominem attacker of ideological opponents in the internecine quarrels among activists on the left. He shared in the racism of his times, though he generally opposed racist forces in politics.

Various critics have indicted Engels as the source of certain of the more objectionable rigidities of subsequent communist ideology, but Hunt stresses that Engels was flexible and re-thought his positions over time as conditions changed. He cannot be held responsible for the subsequent terrible deeds of communist regimes, Hunt claims -- Engels was too much a believer in individuality, culture, and the good life to have gone along with Soviet communism .

Intended or not, the overall impression Hunt creates here is that without Engels there would be no Marxism as we know it, that Engels was an equal partner, not a subordinate one.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
A good book in a time of forgetting 19 Jan. 2010
By Charles S. Fisher - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Since the 1989 failure of communism, Marxism has fallen into disrepute. And yet harking back to my reading of "The Condition of the Working Class in Manchester in 1843" for a graduate course in field methods I was teaching forty years ago, I can recall the importance of both Marx and Engels' view of the world to my understanding of the inequalities of capitalist industrial society, America's imperialism in Vietnam and Latin America, and the civil rights movement. "The Condition of the Working Class" was indeed the first great work of urban sociology. Although bound by Marx and Engels' emerging blinders of class as the only independent variable, the study really takes one into the world of the industrial jetsam of Manchester. I set it as a model of how my students might learn as they immersed themselves in the multifold settings of Boston in the late 1960s. Available to them was a ghetto whose condition mirrored the oppression of Manchester, a dying factory economy being replaced by hi-tech, intellectual and medical services, an Irish and Italian-American resistance to integration, a working class and liberal rebellion against a war and an emerging counterculture. There abounded many a Mary Burns to take my Engels-like students into the cellars and demonstrations which were sprouting about them. Thank you Engels, no matter how wrong you might have been about the science of history.

As the author of this biography makes clear you can not hold Marx or Engels at fault for Stalinist brutality, Maoist insanity, or Pol Pot's murder of his own people, despite the fact they were done in the name of Marxism. Can we blame Thomas Paine for lynchings, the two million Vietnamese we killed, or the blockade of Cuba, Guatemala's right wing, or the US support of Jonas Savimbi's rape of Angola? And While Marx's political paranoia is sometimes cited as the root of communist sectarianism, that is unfair. Marx, lacking almost any power, was no worse than any backroom politician or bitter intellectual nit-picker who writes in the New York Review of Book. And Engels was quite capable of changing his opinions especially after Marx was no longer around to hold him to account.

Although this volume brings little astonishingly new to our understanding of Engels, it gives a very good picture of what kind of a man Engels was, a real polymath and a likeable person at that. Although during the times they had for carousing where Marx seemed humane and personable, Marx played the misanthrope (except with respect to his family) to Engels' true gentleman. Engels' multilayered household filled with his mistresses and their kin, then Marx's offspring and their families, reminds me a bit of the image of Leonard Euler, mathematician to the Tsar, sitting with his grandkids climbing all over him while he turned out folio after folio of brilliant mathematics. In the midst of all this life Engels kept thinking. Before Engels died he made good Marx's bastard son whose paternity he claimed to save Marx's bourgeois reputation. He nursed his mistresses and house keepers in their last moments. He paid everyone's debts. He supported Marx despite the latter's whining about money and secret contempt for his benefactor. And while doing this he both worked at business which he hated, lived publicly the English gentleman, edited Marx's research, ghost wrote articles under Marx's name, and finally in retirement produced intellectual work that could have been an ordinary geniuses life out put. Not bad. He even came to terms with history. The bitterness of defeat in 1848 (although Engels got distracted by pleasure-seeking during part of it) led to Marx and Engel's taking the temperature of each event to see whether it would precipitate the inevitable revolution. But after Marx died Engels became more of a realist eventually looking to the Social Democratic Party in Germany as a route to democratic take over by workers---although he thought revolution might happen elsewhere. Both Engels and Marx clearly saw that the British working class was bought off by the profits of Imperialism, an insight which would be crucial if Americas current lower half could see and understand it. If Engels had kept a guest list one might find most of the names of the prominent turn of the century socialists on it. Although Lenin was in his twenties and Trotsky and Stalin teenagers when Engels died Engels deeply influenced the generation of socialists who came before them.

For all his flaws, Engels, as they say in Yiddish, was a mench. I am glad that Tristam Hunt brought him back to life for us.

Charlie Fisher emeritus professor and author of Dismantling Discontent: Buddha's Way Through Darwin's World
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Five Star Review but Marx and Engels are Six Star People 23 Oct. 2009
By Richard J. Gibson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is no insult to the author to suggest that a fine piece of historical biography deserves a top Amazon rating, but at the same time to urge a more sophisticated take on Marx, Engels, and Marxism. This book is very well researched, organized, and written with an occasionally amused ironic style that will bring back even the drowsiest reader. Hunt's research, again, demonstrates the unity of the work on Marx and Engels and their profound friendship, yet their very different lives. It's a very good history. Sometimes, good gossip too. But it takes more than good history to really grapple with the relationship of Marx and Engels and their legacy. It takes a solid study of dialectical materialism which Hunt the historian apparently does not have the background to address. And it takes a more extended take on the long term results of Marx and Engels theory and practice. For example, what of the remarkable difference between Lenin's early work on dialectical materialism and his later Hegel notes, far more sophisticated (and so far beyond thesis/antithesis/synthesis), or, if we are to deal with the debasement of Marxism in the USSR under Stalin (as our author does), would it not be good to note that he eradicated the key, "negation of the negation," and why? It's no quibble to want more, but it's no disrespect either. I am more than happy I spent the candle and the time. I am urging this on friends and students.
15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant biography of the great Marxist 18 Aug. 2009
By William Podmore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Tristram Hunt, a lecturer in British history at Queen Mary, University of London, has written a fine biography of Engels. He shows how Engels developed by working through Shelley's poetry, Strauss' Life of Jesus, Hegel's Philosophy of History, Feuerbach's critique of Christianity, and Carlyle's two volumes on Cromwell.

He shows how Engels was both a patriot and an internationalist. Engels reported capitalism human costs, first in Barmen in Prussia, then in Manchester, in the brilliant Condition of the Working Class in England, where, as Engels, wrote, "I accuse the English bourgeoisie before the entire world of murder, robbery and other crimes on a massive scale."

He co-wrote the Communist Manifesto and made a huge contribution to Das Kapital, `the foundation text of scientific socialism and one of the classics of Western political thought'. His work with Marx was `Western philosophy's greatest intellectual partnership'.

Engels was a great enthusiast for science: "Darwin, by the way, whom I'm reading just now, is absolutely splendid." As a materialist and atheist, he knew that matter existed independently of, and before, any consciousness.

Hunt notes, "He always believed in a workers' party led by the working class itself (rather than intellectuals and professional revolutionaries)". He worked in the General Council of the First International and with Britain's trade unions.

He opposed colonialism and supported the Indian and Chinese peoples' wars for independence. Hunt writes, "When it came to the raw politics of race, Engels was always on the right side." He exposed the ruling classes' exploitation of the colonies' raw materials, cheap labour and unprotected markets. In 1882 he forecast, "I would consider a European war to be a disaster; this time it would prove frightfully serious and inflame chauvinism everywhere for years to come."

Hunt concludes, "He remained that restless, inquisitive, productive and passionate architect of scientific socialism who first emerged in the 1840s. ... His critique speaks down the ages" - `the insight that the modern state was merely a front for bourgeois class interests', the growth of finance capital, the instability of capitalism, its inevitable crises and its absolute decline.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Learned something on every page 10 Aug. 2013
By Constant Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is an absolutely riveting dual biography of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that is beautifully written with some fine touches of ironic humor. I'm in awe of Tristram Hunt's achievement. This book didn't get enough attention when it was published here in the states (the author is a young Brit) and I can't figure out why. It's got everything you want to know about a famous friendship that altered the course of history.

Especially interesting to me, because I knew nothing about it, was Engels's and Marx's fascination with Darwin's theory of evolution and their abiding belief that human society would inevitably evolve in a similar "scientific" fashion. I always wondered where the odd belief in dialectical materialism as a "science" sprang from--- now I know.

Also odd: Engels, a polymath intellectual, invariably chose illiterate workingclass women as his sexual partners and closest female intimates. Despite his evident fear of intellectual women of his own class (what else could it have been but fear?), he wrote "The Origin of The Family, Private Property, and the State," a pretty good analysis of female oppression for its time.

My one big quibble with Hunt is that his citation system uses the definitive edition of Marx and Engels's works, which tells me nothing about when a particular work was first published.

I bought this book simultaneously with Frances Wheen's negligible biography of Marx that was touted by Christopher Hitchens. Forget Wheen (another young Brit). If you want to learn about Marx and Engels and the times they lived in, read "Marx's General".
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