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Marx and Engels on Philosophy

Early Philosophical Works.

Marx: 1841 - 1845



Engels’ response to Friedrich Schelling’s attack on Hegel, 1841. This work is recommended for the seasoned student of philosophy only. Wrriten before Engels had met Karl Marx, this is the earliest glimpse of how Marx and Engels arrived at their own approach to critique of Hegel’s philosophy.

Marx’s Doctoral Dissertation, 1841

Entitled “The Difference between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature”, this work is recommended for the seasoned student of philosophy only. In promoting Epicurus as against Democritus, we the young Marx already searching for a critique of Hegel. At the same time, in his exploration of these philosophers, Marx shows a profound understanding of the contradiction between the immediately given world of sense perception and the essence of our human relation with Nature.

Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Marx, 1843

Marx has copied each paragraph from the section of Hegel’s work on the State and written his annotations and commentary on it. This work shows the early development of Marx's criticism of Hegel, inspired by Ludwig Feuerbach, but with the outlines of his own critique beginning to appear.


Economic & Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844:

Comment on James Mill.

This is the first statement of Marx's critique of political economy. If you were to read only one article on philsoophy, this would be it. In this work Marx shows how money intervenes in the relation of person to person and establishes itself as an independent power over and above people, but nevertheless is nothing but a human power. These ideas are further developed in the 1844 Manuscripts which follow, eventually finding their mature form in Capital. These manuscripts were not deciphered until 1932.

Preface to Philosophical Manuscripts
Estranged Labour
Private Property and Communism
Human Requirements and Division of Labour
The Power of Money
Critique of the Hegelian Dialectic and Philosophy as a Whole


In the course of these manuscripts, Marx develops his critique of Hegel and of Ludwig Feuerbach and marks out the main outlines of his conception of communism. These are not easy reading, but you should return to them time and again as you learn more and more about Marxism

On the Jewish Question, 1844

This work is important for understanding the foundations of Marx’s view of history, the state and society.

The Holy Family, 1845

This very polemical work written by Marx and Engels against the &145;Young Hegelians’ is hard going, but contains some readable passages. Try chapters II and III, and for a very brief history of philosophical materialism see Chapter VI

Theses on Feuerbach, 1845

In this single most famous and important work of Marx on philosophy, Marx puts forward 11 short theses defining the foundations of his view of human knowledge, practice and history.


The German Ideology, Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, 1845

This work was never completed or published. Its early chapters contain important statements of Marx and Engels’ position on philosophical materialism, method of investigation, history, class, revolution, etc., etc. The remainder of the work is scattered with gems on subjects as diverse and language, technology, agriculture, etc., etc.


Letter to Annenkov, 1846

Famous letter cautioning against mechanical or formal conceptions of “productive forces” and explaining his dialectical approach to the conception of these relations.

Wage Labour and Capital, 1847

In this first systematic elaboration of his critique of political economy, Marx develops the basic concepts. Chapter 5 in particular makes it clear how Marx understands the concepts of political economy as a mystification of the relationships between people.


        The Nature and Growth of Capital


Preparatory work and early chapters of Capital.

Marx: 1852 - 1867


The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, 1852

This study of the French Revolution marks a definitive point in the development of Marx and Engels' understanding of history and in particular the nature and position of the bourgeoisie. The first chapter in particular contains some famous formulations of the principles of historical materialism.

Chapter I.

Speech at anniversary of the People’s Paper, 1856

A speech by Marx where he outlines in a popular form his ideas about the conflict between the productive forces and the relations of production.

Grundrisse, 1857

This is Marx’s preparatory work for Capital. When it was first published until 1953 and translated into English in 1973, it was a bombshell, for it showed irrefutably that as late as 1857, Marx was still working through Hegel's concepts in the development of his analysis of bourgeois society. Almost 1,000 pages long and barely structured it is not an easy read. However, there are a number of passages which clarify Marx's views on a range of important methodological problems.

The following chapters are of particular interest:

The Method of Political Economy.
The General Relation of Production, Exchange & Consumption.


Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, 1859

This Preface contains one of Marx’s most famous and succinct statement of his view of history and the meaning of philosophical materialism.

Capital, I, 1867

The First four chapters include a number of important observations on philosophy, and the Afterword contains a well-known statement of Marx's relation to Hegel.

Chapter One: Section 1, Commodities.
Chapter One: Section 2, The Two-fold Character of Labour.
Chapter One: Section 4, The Fetishism of Commodities.
Afterword to the Second German Edition.



Engels: 1878 - 1886


Anti-Dühring, 1877

Eighty per cent of this book is made up of exceedingly boring refutations of the views of the now long-forgotten Eugen Dühring. However, in winding up on each theme, Engels puts forward his own view, often in extremely succinct and highly readable form. The sections below deal with some classic themes.

Introduction: General.
Freedom and Necessity.
Dialectics: Quantity and Quality.
Dialectics: Negation of the Negation.


On Dialectics, 1878

Socialism: Utopian & Scientific, 1878

This pamphlet is a classic text, obligatory for all students of Marxism.

Study Guide

Historical Materialism.

Social Classes — Necessary and Superfluous, 1881

Short sketch of the Marxist conception of social class.

Dialectics of Nature, 1883

In this controversial book by Engels, he explains the basic ideas of dialectics by demonstrating how these relationships are manifested in our understanding of Nature.

Refer to the same works cited above in relation to Anti-Dühring, and the archive of a discussion list which includes a discussion around dialectics of nature.


Ludwig Feuerbach & the End of Classical German Philosophy, 1886

This pamphlet, written by Engels after Marx's death, is probably the most readable, comprehensive and profound of Marx & Engels’ expositions of philosophy. The chapter on Feuerbach is not too interesting for us nowadays, but the other three together constitute a short three-part lesson in Marxist Philosophy.




Engels’ fight against simplistic interpretations of Marx.

Engels: 1890 - 1894

Letter to Otto Von Bönigk, 1890

Letter cautioning against metaphysical, formal or utopian conceptions of socialism.

Letter to J. Bloch, 1890

Famous letter cautioning against exaggerated or one-sided understanding of Marx's views on the materialist conception of history.

Letter to Starkenburg, 1894

Letter cautioning against a deterministic interpretation of historical materialism.