Works of Frederick Engels 1850

On the Slogan of the Abolition of the State and the German “Friends of Anarchy”

Source: MECW Volume 10, p. 486;
Written: not later than October 1850;
First published: in Russian in the journal Pod Znamen Marksizma No. 6, 1927.

This article is an unfinished draft Engels intended for Revue No. 5, relates to the Young Hegelians — Eduard Meyen, Julius Faucher, Ludwig Buhl and Max Stirner — who were members of “The Free” in 1842 and from the early 1850s gathered around the Berlin Abend-Post and the Stuttgart Deutsche Monatschrift. They promoted extreme individualism and anarchism and called for a “higher democracy” and the “free association of people” and the abolition of the state. However, in practical politics, they championed Free Trade and opposed the campaign for Universal Suffrage, and from April 1850, omitted the subtitle “Democratic Paper” from the masthead of their paper, which campaigned against “communism and revolutionary terror” while appealing to “the law-abiding people”.

“The abolition of the state has meaning with the Communists, only as the necessary consequence of the abolition of classes, with which the need for the organised might of one class to keep the others down automatically disappears. In bourgeois countries the abolition of the state means that the power of the state is reduced to the level found in North America. There, the class contradictions are but incompletely developed; every clash between the classes is concealed by the outflow of the surplus proletarian population to the west; intervention by the power of the state, reduced to a minimum in the east, does not exist at all in the west. In feudal countries the abolition of the state means the abolition of feudalism and the creation of an ordinary bourgeois state. In Germany it conceals either a cowardly flight from the struggles that lie immediately ahead, a spurious inflating of bourgeois freedom into absolute independence and autonomy of the individual, or, finally, the indifference of the bourgeois towards all forms of state, provided the development of bourgeois interests is not obstructed. It is of course not the fault of the Berliners Stirner and Faucher that this abolition of the state ‘in the higher sense’ is being preached in so fatuous a way. La plus belle fille de la France ne peut donner que ce qu'elle. [the most beautiful girl in France can only give what she has] (Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Politisch-Ökonomische Revue No. 4, p. 58)

The abolition of the state, anarchy, has meanwhile become a universal catchword in Germany. The scattered German disciples of Proudhon [Grün and Ruge], the “higher” democracy of Berlin and even the “noblest minds of the, nation” of the Stuttgart parliament and the Imperial Regency [Ludwig Simon and Karl Vogt] now altogether vanished, have appropriated to themselves, each in his own fashion, this savage-looking slogan.

All of these factions agree in the maintenance of existing bourgeois society. Along with bourgeois society they therefore necessarily advocate the rule of the bourgeoisie and in Germany even the conquest of power by the bourgeoisie; they are distinguished from the true representatives of the bourgeoisie only by the strange form which gives them the appearance of “going further”, of “going further than anybody”. In all practical collisions this appearance vanished; confronted by the real anarchy of revolutionary crises, where the masses [and the state power] fought each other with ‘brute force’, these representatives of anarchy on each occasion did their best to control the anarchy. In the end the content of this much-vaunted “anarchy” amounted to the same thing as is expressed by the word “order” in more developed countries. The “Friends of Anarchy” in Germany are in complete entente cordiale with the “Friends of Order” in France.

Insofar as the friends of anarchy are independent of the Frenchmen Proudhon and Girardin, insofar as their way of viewing things is of German origin, they all have a common source: Stirner. The period of dissolution of German philosophy has in general supplied the democratic party in Germany with most of its rhetorical commonplaces. The notions and phrases of the last of the German scripturists, namely Feuerbach and Stirner, had already before February, in a somewhat dissolute form, passed into the general literary awareness and journalistic writing, and these again formed the principal source for the post-March democratic spokesmen. Stirner’s sermon on statelessness in particular is excellently suited to give the ‘superior consecration’ of German philosophy to Proudhon’s anarchy and Girardin’s abolition of the state. Stirner’s book Der Einzige und sein Eigenthum is forgotten, it is true, but its manner of thinking, -especially its criticism of the state, appears again in the friends of anarchy. Although we have already investigated the sources of these gentlemen insofar as they are of French origin, we are once more constrained to descend into the depths of antediluvian German philosophy to examine their German sources. If one must, for one reason or another, concern oneself with day-to-day German polemics, it is always more pleasant to deal with the original inventor of a conception than with its second-hand pedlars.

Saddle me my Hippogryph once more, O Muse,
For a ride into th’ old, romantic land!

Before we take up Stirner’s above-mentioned book we carry ourselves back into the “old, romantic land” and into the forgotten time in which this book appeared. The Prussian bourgeoisie, fastening upon the financial embarrassments of the government, began to conquer political power while simultaneously, alongside the bourgeois-constitutional movement, the communist movement of the proletariat was daily gaining ground. The bourgeois elements of society, still needing proletarian support to attain their own goals, had everywhere to affect a kind of socialism; the conservative and feudal party was similarly forced to make promises to the proletariat. Alongside the struggle of the bourgeois and the peasants against feudal aristocracy and bureaucracy, we had the struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie, and in between these a series of intermediate stages of socialism, embracing all kinds of socialism, reactionary, petty-bourgeois and bourgeois socialism; all these struggles and endeavours held down, damped down in their expression by the pressure of the ruling power, by the censorship, by the prohibition of associations and assemblies — such was the situation of the parties in the period in which German philosophy celebrated its last meagre triumphs.

Right from the start the censorship forced the most abstract mode of expression upon all more or less unpopular elements; the German philosophical tradition, which had just reached the complete dissolution of the Hegelian school, provided this expression. The struggle against religion was still being pursued. The more difficult the political struggle against established power became in the press, the more eagerly it was carried on in the form of the religious and philosophical struggle. German philosophy in its most dissolute form became the common property of the “educated”, and the more it became common property, the more dissolute, confused and stale the philosophers became, and this dissoluteness and staleness again gave it a so much higher reputation in the eyes of the “educated” public.

The confusion in the heads of the “educated” was terrifying, and it increased with every moment. It was a real mongrelising of ideas of German, French, English, antique, medieval and modern origin. The confusion was so much the greater because all the ideas were only possessed at second, third and fourth hand, and thus circulated in a form distorted beyond recognition. This fate was not only shared by the thoughts of the French and English liberals and socialists, but also by the ideas of Germans, for instance of Hegel. The whole literature of this period, and especially, as we shall see, Stirner’s book, provides countless proofs of this, and present-day German literature is still labouring under the consequences.

In this confusion, the philosophical shadow-boxing served as an image of the real struggles. Every “new turn” in philosophy excited the general attention of the “educated”, who in Germany comprised a vast number of idle heads, articled clerks, aspirants to school posts, failed theologians, out-of-work medicos, literati, etc., etc. For these people a historical stage of development was superseded and done for for ever with every such “new turn”. Bourgeois liberalism, for instance, as soon as any philosopher had criticised it in any way, was dead, erased from historical development and also annihilated as far as practice was concerned. Likewise republicanism, socialism and so on. How far these stages of development were “annihilated”, “dissolved” and “done for” was subsequently shown in the revolution, when they played the most important part and when there was suddenly no more talk of their philosophical annihilators.

The slovenliness in form and content, the arrogant platitudes and inflated insipidity, the unfathomable triviality and dialectical poverty of these latest German philosophers exceed anything that has previously existed in this discipline. It is only equalled by the unbelievable gullibility of the public, which took all these things at face value, for brand new, for “never seen before”. The German nation, the “thorough”...[The manuscript breaks off here]