Works of Frederick Engels

A Fragment of Fourier’s On Trade [204]

Source: MECW Volume 4, p. 613;
Written: in the latter half of 1845;
First published: in Deutsches Bürgerbuch für 1846;
Signed: F. Engels

The Germans are gradually beginning to spoil the communist movement too. Here also being as always the last and most inactive, they believe they can conceal their somnolence by contempt for their predecessors and empty philosophical boasting. Communism has hardly come into existence in Germany before it is being seized on by a whole host of speculative minds who imagine they have performed miracles by translating into the language of Hegelian logic propositions that long ago became commonplaces in France and England and now offering this new wisdom to the world as something unprecedented, as “true German theory”, in order to be able to throw mud to their heart’s content at the “bad practice” and “ridiculous” social systems of the narrow-minded French and English. This always ready German theory, which has had the boundless good fortune to get a whiff of Hegel’s philosophy of history and to become embodied in the scheme of the eternal categories by some dried-up Berlin professor, and which then perhaps leafed through Feuerbach, a few German communist writings and Herr Stein’s book [Lorenz von Stein, Der Socalismus und Communismus des heutigen Frankieichs. Ein Beitrag zur Zeitgeschichte]on French socialism, this German theory of the very worst sort has already, without the slightest difficulty, reconstrued French socialism and communism according to Herr Stein, has allotted it a subordinate position, has “overcome” it, and “elevated” it to the “higher stage of development” of the always ready “German theory”.[205] It has never occurred to it, of course, to acquaint itself to any extent with the things to be elevated themselves, to take a look at Fourier, Saint-Simon, Owen and the French Communists — Herr Stein’s meagre extracts are quite sufficient to bring about this brilliant victory of German theory over the wretched efforts of foreigners.

In contrast to this comical arrogance of German theory, which is incapable of dying, it is absolutely necessary to show the Germans what a lot they owe to foreigners since they became concerned with social questions. Among all the pompous phrases now loudly proclaimed in German literature as the basic principles of true, pure, German, theoretical communism and socialism, there has so far not been a single idea which has grown on German soil. What the French or the English said as long as ten, twenty and even forty years ago — and said very well, very clearly, in very fine language — the Germans have now at last during the past year become acquainted with in bits and have Hegelianised, or at best belatedly rediscovered it and published it in a much worse, more abstract form as a completely new discovery. I make no exception here of my own writings. What is peculiar to the Germans is only the bad, abstract, unintelligible and clumsy form in which they have expressed these ideas. And as befits genuine theoreticians, from what the French have produced — they still know almost nothing at all of the English — they have so far found worthy of their attention, apart from the most general principles, only what is worst and most theoretical: the schematic plans of future society, the social systems. The best aspect, the criticism of existing society, the real basis, the main task of any investigation of social questions, they have calmly pushed aside. Not to mention the fact that these wise theoreticians are accustomed also to speak contemptuously of, or to ignore altogether, the only German who has really achieved something, namely: Weitling.

I want to put before these wise gentlemen a short chapter from Fourier, which they could take as an example. It is true that Fourier did not start out from the Hegelian theory and for this reason unfortunately could not attain knowledge of absolute truth, not even of absolute socialism. It is true that owing to this shortcoming Fourier unfortunately allowed himself to be led astray and to substitute the method of series for the absolute method and thereby arrived at such speculative constructions as the conversion of the sea into lemonade, the couronnes boréale and australe, the anti-lion, and the conjunction of the planets. [206] But, if it has to be, I shall prefer to believe with the cheerful Fourier in all these stories rather than in the realm of the absolute spirit, where there is no lemonade at all, in the identity of Being and Nothing and the conjunction of the eternal categories. French nonsense is at least cheerful, whereas German nonsense is gloomy and profound. And then, Fourier has criticised existing social relations so sharply, with such wit and humour that one readily forgives him for his cosmological fantasies, which are also based on a brilliant world outlook.

The fragment which I am reproducing here was found among Fourier’s works after his death and was printed in the first number of the periodical Phalange [La Phalange. Revue de la science sociale, XIVE année, 1re série in 8o, Paris, aux Bureaux de la Phalange, 1845. — Publication des Manuscrits de Fourier: “Section ébauchée des trois unités externes”, pp. 1-42 of the January and February issue. — Note by Engels], published by the Fourierists from the beginning of 1845. I am omitting what relates to Fourier’s positive system and what otherwise is of no interest, and in general am making such free use of the text as is absolutely necessary with the foreign Socialists in order to make the things they wrote with definite aims in view readable to a public which is alien to these aims. This fragment is by no means the most brilliant of Fourier’s writings, nor is it the best of what he wrote about trade — and yet no German Socialist or Communist, with the exception of Weitling, has so far written anything remotely comparable to this rough sketch.

To save the German public the trouble of reading the Phalange itself, I should mention that this periodical is a purely monetary speculation on the part of the Fourierists, and Fourier’s manuscripts published in it are of very unequal value. Messieurs the Fourierists who publish this review are germanised, pompous theoreticians who have replaced the humour with which their teacher unmasked the world of the bourgeoisie by a holy, thoroughgoing theoretical, learned seriousness, for which they are deservedly ridiculed in France and prized in Germany. The description of the imaginary triumphs of Fourierism which they present in the first issue of the Phalange could send a professor of the absolute method into raptures.

I begin my reproductions with a passage which has already been reprinted in the Théorie des quatre mouvements. This is the case with considerable sections of the present fragment of which, however, I shall give only what is most essential.

See On Trade, by Fourier

See The Hierarchy of Bankruptcy, by Fourier

F. Engels