I don’t have the interest/knowledge in Stalin’s theory to examine its similarities and difference to Marx(s) beyond that Stalin is generally more in line with an early!Marx understanding (early here meaning before around 1857) of many things. Stalin had an understanding of Marxism, but for him theory was very much subordinate to the immediate material demands of building a socialist oriented state that could stand against really existing imperialism. I have read a few of Stalin’s essays and speeches, and generally I find them very useful when combined with other sources on the period. They provide insights into how decisions were made and what his concerns were at the time. Comparison of what information Stalin had to actual conditions as understood with the benefit of hindsight can teach how material analysis works, how politics work. However his works are generally not “new” in the sense that what Stalin was really good at (and i mean this positively) was changing stuff to make it both more applicable to immediate conditions and more understandable. Stalin was also an amazing organiser. Kotkin is a silly anti-communist but everyone should read Stalin: Paradoxes of Power bc it shows how bullshit the “stalin was a mediocrity” stuff is.

I can speak more to the stuff regarding Engels. No, Engels is not “le evil revisionist who made marxism bad and ruined everything,” but he had differences of opinion from Marx, and these differences influenced how he presented Marx’s thought post-1883.

Starting by proving some examples of Engels’ differences of opinion. We need to begin with the writing of ‘Capital.’ The first german edition was prepared by Marx, with little consultation/collaboration with Engels. Marx does not discuss or mention discussing ‘Capital’ in depth with Engels in his letters, and when he does asks Engels’ opinion on something he’s wrote, Marx explains the concept from the ground up, assuming Engel’s lacks any knowledge of the subject matter. Most of the letters we have where Marx consults Engels are him asking specific questions about the details of Engels’ mill; questions about how accounting is done, knitty gritty details of production and factory management rather than broad theoretical ones. However after Marx’s death Engels burned many of the letters so it is possible that some of these contained more abstract questions, but Engels said the letters he burnt were of a personal nature, mostly relating to his relationships with the Burns sisters.

Its not 100% on topic, but I will mention here that rather than Engels as a contributor to “Capital” we should be looking more at Jenny Marx (sr.) and Eleanor Marx. Marx’s wife and his youngest daughter (all three daughters, but especially Eleanor) were very much active in his research. They would often go with him to the Library and help him research, discuss his research with him at home and make clean copies of manuscripts for the publishers. WIthout their work, Marx would not have written Capital. This is in addition to the (unpaid, underecognised) domestic and emotional labour they did, the turmoils they suffered through (someone has to fend off the landlord and debt collectors while Marx is at the library). [edit: somehow managed to fail to mention Helene ‘Lenchen’ Demuth, the Marxs’ maid/friend who was with them from the mid 1840s until all of their deaths. She was a conversation partner and friend, as well as a maid who undertook untold amounts of domestic labour on Marxs’ behalfs. Demuth’s son, Freddy Demuth, was also likely Marx’s illegitimate child, rather than Engels’. Several letters indicate this, including 2-3 accounts of Eleanor Marx asking Engels on his deathbed, and him confirming. There’s also some circumstantial evidence around the period where Freddy was concieved; Marx writes in a letter to Engels of needing to speak to him about something urgent, something too bad to discuss in letters. We have no other indication of what was discussed at the time. Further, afaik Engels wasn’t in London at the time, he was in Manchester as usual until his retirement.]

Returning to Capital. We will counterintuitively start with vol2 and vol3 for purposes of completeness, but they are not wholly relevant to the discussion of Marx’s and Engels’ differences. Both were published after Marx’s death. Engels (along with Eleanor Marx until her death) edited them together from Marx’s incomplete manuscripts. Iirc there’s 9 different manuscript versions of the first chapter of vol2, to give an example of what I mean by multiple manuscripts. Thousands of pages of handwritten text, written from the mid 1860s to the 1870s in the case of vol2, but vol3 is from an “extremely incomplete [first] draft” written “between 1863 and 1867” (Marx, Capital vol3 engels’ preface)

Marx got vol1 published in 1867, but it was a very different book from later editions. I won’t mention it in the future because it’d be repetitive, but every new Marx edition (and to an extent engels’ editions) meant updating the empirical portions, bringing it more up to date. This first edition also had few divisions between sections, few headers, misplaced diagrams and other such problems abounded. In the second German edition Marx fixed it up a bit, made it slightly more readable. The Russian translation is completely irrelevant here, but it was the first. The next edition was a French translation, published in 44 installments between 1872 and 1875. The process was that the translator would translate a section, send it to Marx, and then Marx would revise the section, often entirely rewriting parts. The French edition is where the final form of Capital took shape, later editions and translations have generally followed its parts, chapter and section divisions.

The 72-75 French edition also included many changes with theoretical significance. One was the removal of much of the use of Hegelian categories. Another was a change in the preface, and also in the section on primitive accumulation. In the 2nd German edition Marx heavily implied or outright stated (depends on how its read) that “less advanced” societies will inevitably develop through the same stages as western european societies underwent. In the French edition he explicitly restricted the inevitability of primitive accumulation to Western Europe, which has significant implications for our understanding of the future of indigenous peoples and peasants in the global south and 4th world. The French edition also contains more analysis of the effects of unemployment and anticipations of Lenin’s discussion of imperial division of the planet causing worse crises. In the afterward to Le Capital, Marx wrote that it had “a scientific value independent of the [German] original.” Marx also wrote in a letter that future “translator[s should] always compare the second German edition with the French one, since the latter contains many important changes and additions.” (MECW vol45 p.343-344 cited in Pinho “the Originality of Marx’s French Edition, 2021”).

Marx died in 1883, before finishing the 3rd German edition of Capital. Engels completed it (with Eleanor’s help). He included some, but not all of the changes from the French edition. Most of the formatting changes seem to have been accepted easily, but Engels repeatedly mentions in letters during this period that he dislikes how Marx wrote in the French edition. MEGA2 has an appendix containing all the changes and additions Engels did not include, it’s 60 pages long. The first English translation did not engage with the French edition afaik, and to this day there is no English version of Capital including all of the changes and additions Marx made in his last edition of Capital. Even the forthcoming new edition of Capital in English will not have them from what I’ve read.

Another difference. Late marx was much more skeptical of the value of european ‘civilisation’ and mass consumption and production than Engels. By the late 1850s marx supported anti-imperialist struggles, even if they were ‘feudal’ or ‘tribal,’ a change from the early 1850s when Marx wrote in the New York Tribune that British Imperialism was a progressive force in India. Relatedly, increasingly as the european proletariat became a “bourgeois proletariat” (Engels to Marx Oct. 7 1858) and began to “gaily share the feast of England’s monopoly of the world” (Engels to Kautsky Sep. 12 1882) Marx and Engels needed to wrestle with the fact that their revolutionary subject — the English proletariat — was increasingly tending towards reformism. From the 60s on, Marx began to respond to this in part by examining rural and non-capitalist societies more closely. He also began to place some hope on an anti-imperialist revolution in being the lever towards socialism, rather than a proletarian one in England.

A quote from a letter from Marx to Engels, Dec. 10 1869 illustrates this point so I’ll quote it in full:

“it is in the direct and absolute interests of the English working class to get rid of their present connexion with Ireland. I am fully convinced of this, for reasons that, in part, I cannot tell the English workers themselves. For a long time I believed it would be possible to overthrow the Irish regime by English working class ascendancy. I always took this viewpoint in the New-York Tribune. Deeper study has now convinced me of the opposite. The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. The lever must be applied in Ireland.”

Engels leaned more towards a view where the non-capitalist societies were doomed to fall to imperialism, resistance should be supported, but was ultimately futile. There’s a large amount of theory here with regards to tendencies and countertendency in the rate of profit wrt all three volumes of Capital, but the short of it is that Engels broadly thought it would be necessary for capitalism to continue progressing to a point where the proletariat would again be a revolutionary (rather than reforming) subject. This has to do with how primitive accumulation (accumulation by dispossession) ‘increases’ (its more complicated) the rate of profit. This isn’t to say he advocated pacificism, giving up, (Kautsky tho) or supporting imperialism,(KAUTSKY) its more a mark of pessimism on his part in my opinion.

This leads into marx’s later notes, contrary to the claim of his first biography that his last decade was a “slow death” with no intellectual work, he actually undertook some of his most interesting studies in this period. There was much more focus on rural areas, more focus on colonies, rejection of “asiatic mode of production” and “asian despotism” for more complex models based on his studies on land ownership and production in India and Indonesia and Algeria among other places. He also investigated non-capitalist societies to gather further evidence/knowledge of how Capitalism is a) historically constructed and so b) not natural and c) has a beginning and hence d) an inevitable end. However none of this was published, all we have is his excerpt-notes.

Engels book based on some parts (mostly the sections on Morgan) of the notes, “Origin of the Family Private Property and the State” has some differences. Some examples; Marx challenged Morgans’ statement that ‘females’ were ‘defeated’ at some prehistoric time. Marx’s view was that there is a struggle between genders (which following Delphy’s Close to Home can be understood to some extent as a class relationship), he pointed to instances of womens’ struggle for rights through history, successes and failures. Engels’ regurgitated Morgans’ formulation, albeit with the anendum that sexism would somehow end with the death of capitalism, implying no need to struggle against it specifically.

Dialectics of nature is more correct than incorrect in my view, but not in sense of ‘nature IS dialectical,’ rather in the sense of ‘nature can be understood dialectically.’ But this is honestly rly extra abstract nerd stuff imo so I’m going to move on.

A thing many say wrt nature dialectics is “Engels did science but Marx stuck to political economy, division of labour” but this is wrong. Marx extensively researched science and mathematics as well as political economy, history and contemporary events. One key example to the theory of Capital is Marx’s study of Liebig in the 1860s before finishing vol1 of Capital. Liebig was a soil scientist who looked at the issue of diminishing crop returns. The mainstream understanding at the time was farms have diminishing returns on crops because as the population grows they farm less fertile areas for lack of land. Liebig challenged this assumption of soil being static and unchanging, arguing instead that the yield of crops was based on the presence of nutrients in the soil. Modern agriculture was “robbery baron agriculture” he argued; because the products of the soil are transported to cities and the waste is not returned to the soil, there is a net loss of nutrients from the soil and hence diminishing returns over time, eventual depletion of soil. This was “solved” in the 19th century with guano and later with artificial fertilizers. Liebig and Marx both argued that it was not solved; that the “metabolic rift”, the net drain on the soil was a dangerous threat to our society, simultaneously postponed and intensified by our use of non-renewable artificial fertilizers.

Regarding the idea of Engels and Marx as a collaboratory pair, I’ve already discussed the lack of Collaboration in Capital, but here I will discuss their earlier collaborations. “German Ideology” will be saved for last because its context is the most complicated. “Holy Family” was Marx and Engels’ first collaboration. Engels was first author because he was better known at the time. He wrote his piece in it, before departing back to his family in the Wupper valley in Prussia. Marx remained in Paris and wrote his contribution, which formed the majority of the work. Because they wrote their parts separately, it’s different from a true collaboration imo.

The Communist Manifesto is closer to collaboration and unity of ideas. While Marx wrote it “himself” (as always he discussed it with Jenny, there’s some evidence that some of the phrases in the Manifesto are hers), it was based on the catechism Engels wrote beforehand. Imo its honestly not a great theoretical text, it can and should be criticised for a lotta stuff (eurocentrism, “imperialism is progressive” takes, linear stagist view of history (Marx was only 29 at the time, he got better)). The style is still amazing ofc.

The German Ideology Articles are more complicated. They were a collaborative work of self clarification by Marx and Engels, actually written together unlike the other two collaborations.This is the point in their lives when they were most on the same page (from here until Marx is in London imo). However there’s three other points which must be made. First, the articles were originally written not as one work, but as a series of articles dealing with various german philosophers in 1846. “The German Ideology” is the title it was given by the MEGA1 project. The editors of MEGA1 not only combined these articles into one “book,” they inserted into the text sentences and paragraphs Marx had written in sheets of contemporaneous notes and made inferences in some places where the text was incomplete. In justification they claimed they were illuminating the “dialectical coherence” of the text. (Johnson 2022) Further, when Engels rediscovered the manuscripts some time after Marx’s death, he remarked that even “the finished portion [of Feuerbach]…proves only how incomplete our knowledge of economic hisotry still was at that time.” (Engels, Ludwig Feuerbach, preface, 1886), there are an array of issues with it, not least of which its stagist linear view of history and belief that the steam engine caused capitalism (the latter of which is explicitly corrected by Marx in chapter 15 of Capital).

So Engels and Marx’s three [edit: after waking up and making another check of this I finally remembered Anti-Duhring Exists. Its writing was more in the vein of Holy Family as best as we can tell. Engels claim to have read the entire thing to Marx wasn’t made until post-1883, however this should not be understood as “Engels was a lier,” it likely simply wasn’t really relevant to mention Marx’s knowledge of it in writing until this point, he most likely agreed with at least the broad points.] works which were collaborations were written before either had turned 30, and before the vast, vast majority of marx’s research. This point— from Marx’s second meeting with engels in paris to his flight to london as a refugee — marks the most united the two men ever were in views as far as I can tell from my investigations. After the failure of the revolutions of 48, Marx found himself in desperate straits; half his kids died in the slums of london. Engels went back to his father and worked at the mill, this was the end of the period where marx and engels collaborated as partners in theoretical matters, and the beginning of Engels helping marx make rent and groceries (though marx was not a freeloader, he kept a steady job as a correspondent for the new york tribune and wrote other articles), he had much less free time to devote to theory during his working period. It seems natural to me that their perspectives would diverge to some extent.

So to summarise: engels differs from marx wrt theory in some respects — more teleological (in engels view history moves through fixed, discrete stages which will eventually lead to an “end” of history in a communism based on large scale industrial production and luxury consumption), less belief in the colonised as revolutionary subjects (in engels view they are objects of imperialism which will be transformed (cultural, etc, genocide) into revolutionary subject urban industrial proletarians), less multilinear/horizontal and more stagist/vertical view of history (in engels’ view, linear history, each stage an ‘advance’ on the previous leading to an ultimate end of history). Their collaboration in terms of theory was mostly a thing of their early lives, we should instead turn to Jenny Marx (sr.) and Eleanor Marx as Karl Marx’s most immediate theoretical collaborators.

Stalin differs from Engels in terms of theory, but they were similar (in a good way) imo in that they were able to take highly complex and abstract ideas and simplify and make them more applicable to the situation at hand. Deng was similar in this regard. The main theoretical difference as I understand it is that Engels believed in the revolutionary proletarian subject whereas the bolshevik analysis led to an anti-imperialist rural majority revolution with tenuous urban leadership (which solidified later).

“Dialectical materialism” “historical materialism” “scientific socialism” and “marxism” are terms that have been defined and redefined so often that there’s no real way to know exactly what is meant unless the person using the word has explained how they intend it. If I had to define them, as I understand it, dialectical materialism is the application of the dialectic (i.e. very broadly and simplified a relational ontology, which marx derived from hegel, and epicurus) to reality as understood by “ascend[ing] from earth to heaven” (marx, german ideology articles, 1846) rather than the reverse. Historical materialism is (again rly simplified) the application of dialectical materialism to history (in a definition of history where history is understood to be the sum of literally everything). Scientific socialism is the refusal to build castles in the sky, how socialism should be built is decided based on the actual conditions rather than theoretical presumptions. Marxism can mean a lotta things, from the most restrictive “the literal thought of karl marx” to the very broad “the thought of anyone calling on marx’s abstractions and conceptual tools”. Marx used some of these terms, especially scientific socialism afaik but not in the sense of a concrete system through which everything is explained and abstractive categories fixed, usually as descriptive terms for what he was doing.

Engels had more of a tendency to use these sort of fixed terms, but not by much afaik. The standardization and formalization (and in a sense, invention) of first three terms came mostly with the post-Engels German left as I understand it (i.e. Kautsky and friends). Marxism-Leninism can be understood as Marxism as adapted to Russian material conditions and ‘standardized’ by Stalin. To an extent this entails ‘distortions’ because an actually existing socialist project is going to be much more riddled by contradictions than an abstract critique of the existing systems, but this should not be understood as “Stalin and Engels ruined Marxism,” rather imo they had differing interpretations of some things. I think their interpretations are wrong, but the vast majority of them are equally valid, or clearly understandable in the contexts they were in.

works consulted

Books (all of them have flaws to various extents etc etc read critically)

Anderson - Marx at the Margins; On Nationalism, Ethicity and Non-Western Societies

Bedford & Irving - The Tragedy of Progress; Marxism, Modernity and the Aboriginal Question

Carver - Marx & Engels; The Intellectual Relationship

Delphy - Close to Home; A Materialist Analysis of Women’s Oppression

Federici - Caliban and the Witch; Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation

Foster - Marx’s Ecology; Materialism and Nature

Gabriel - Love and Capital; Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution

Heinrich - Karl Marx and the Birth of Modern Society; The Life of Marx and the Development of His Work volume One

Kotkin - Stalin Volime One; Paradoxes of Power

Lewontin - Biology as Ideology; The Doctrine of DNA

Liedman - A World to Win; the Life and Works of Karl Marx

Marx - Capital Volume I

Marx - Capital Volume II

Marx - Capital Volume III

Marx & Engels - Letters on Capital

Churchill et al. - Marxism and Native Americans

Musto ed. - Marx and Le Capital; Evaluation, History, Reception

Musto ed. - Rethinking Alternatives with Marx; Economy, Ecology and Migration

Musto - The Last Years of Karl Marx; an Intellectual Biography

Ollman - Dance of the Dialectic; Steps in Marx’s Method

Patnaik & Moyo - Primitive Accumulation and the Peasantry; the Agrarian Question in the Neoliberal Era

Roberts - Stalin’s Library; A Dictator and His Books

Saito - Karl Marx’s Ecosocialism; Capital, Nature, and the Unfinished Critique of Political Economy


Anderson - The ‘Unknown’ Marx’s Capital, Volume 1; The French Edition of 1872-75, 100 Years Later

Hudis - The Third World Road to Socialism; New Perspectives on Marx’s Writings From his Last Decade

Pinho - The Originality of Marx’s French Edition of Capital; an Historical Analysis

Malm - Marx on Steam; From the Optimism of Progress to the Pessimism of Power

Meyer - Joseph Stalin and the Left; Reflections Occasioned by Stephen Kotkin’s Paradoxs of Power

Deleixhe - Marx, The Irish Immigrant-Workers, and the English Labour Movement

Johnson - Farewell to The German Ideology

Williams & Chandler - ‘Tussy’s Great Delusion’ - Eleanor Marx’s Death Revisited

Anderson - Revisiting Marx on Race, Capitalism and Revolution

Mauro - Learning Dialectics to Grow Better Soils Knowledge, not Bigger Crops; A Materialist Dialectics and Relationality for Soil Science

Alvares - On Karl Marx’s ‘Ethnological Notebooks’

Beatty - The Two Irish Wives of Friedrich Engels; Recovering the Narrative of Mary and Lizzie Burns

Salas Perez - All Our Relations (of Production); Losing and Finding Marx in the Field of Indian Materialism

Anderson - Marx s late writings on non Western and precapitalist societies and gender