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Friedrich Engels

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Who was Friedrich Engels?

Born on 28 November 1820, Friedrich Engels was a German political philosopher. After witnessing the appalling situation of British factory workers while operating a factory in Manchester, England, he became a socialist. The “Condition of the Working Class in England”, was his first book published in the year 1844. He met Karl Marx in Paris in 1844 and then it was a lifelong partnership that the world remembers. He and Marx collaborated on several books, including The Communist Manifesto (1848). In 1848, the two participated in anti-German revolutions, but they were forced to flee to England when these failed. Here, Engels went back to work at the factory to send money to Marx to continue writing.

After a while, Engels could retire from the company and devote the rest of his life to writing. Engels made contributions in ethnicity, military affairs, research, and industrial operations and is credited with helping to form two of Marxism's main philosophical components: historical materialism and dialectical materialism. After Marx's death in 1883, Engels continued publishing and promoting their works. In 1895, Friedrich Engels died of cancer. His work significantly impacted later communists like Lenin, encouraging them to carry out their revolutionary activities.

 

Summary
  • Friedrich Engels was a German political philosopher who worked closely with Karl Marx to establish modern Communism.
  • As a teenager, Engels was critical of the oppression of the working class, and he started his writing career by publishing articles critical of industrialisation's consequences right from the young age of nineteen.
  • Moses Hess was the man who converted Engel’s to Communism after his discharge from the Prussian Army in 1842.
  • Engels moved to Brussels in April 1845 to join Marx, who had been expelled from Paris by the French authorities due to Prussian pressure.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is known about the early life of Engels?

Being the eldest child, Friedrich was his father's preferred successor among the nine brothers. He pulled his son out of school at 17 just before he graduated to pursue a commercial apprenticeship- this was against Engel’s will.  The young Engels was troubled by the conflict between pious religiosity and capitalist greed- a constant cause for tension in the father-son bond. Engels began his career as an apprentice, first at his family's business and then at a Bremen export company.

Away from home, Engels started to read widely and became fascinated by German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel's teachings. Engels started his writing job by publishing articles critical of industrialisation's consequences. Radical and eloquent, nineteen-year-old Engel’s first social criticism, Letters from Wuppertal, was written under the pseudonym Friedrich Oswald. The critique highlighted the misery of the lower class factory workers in Wuppertal and the vast discrepancy in the division of wealth.

How did Engels transition towards Communism?

In 1841, Engels joined the Prussian Army. Engels met Moses Hess who became the leading force that converted him to Communism, after his discharge in 1842. Hess, the son of wealthy Jewish parents and a supporter of progressive causes and magazines, showed Engels that Communism was the logical conclusion of Hegelian theory and dialectic. Hess also emphasised that England was destined to play in potential upheavals, given its advanced industry, the emerging proletariat, and omens of class war. Engels jumped at the chance to visit England, ostensibly to pursue his business training at his family's Manchester company. Due to the oppressed conditions of Europe's workers and their large numbers, Engel’s too was convinced that a communist revolution was unavoidable somewhere in the continent.

In the backdrop of this, In 1842, Engels took advantage of working in one of his family's factories in Salford. He made a pit stop en route at the Cologne offices of the Rheinische Zeitung, for which he had been publishing. He met the paper's publisher, Karl Marx, who shared views similar to that of Engels.

In 1844, Engels contributed articles to German-French Yearbooks in Paris, which Marx edited. In them, Engels outlined an early version of scientific socialism's ideals. Engels exposed discrepancies in the liberal economic doctrine. Engels tried to establish that the prevalent structure of private property was the root cause of a society of "millionaires and paupers."

Engels moved to Brussels in April 1845 to join Marx, who had been ousted from Paris. Since Brussels was a more liberal area, Engels and Marx established the Communist League with the help of several other socialist German expatriates. The League demanded that Engels and Marx compose a paper outlining the ideals of Communism, which they did in February 1848 with the famous Communist Manifesto.

How was the later life of Engels after joining Marx?

In 1848, Europe was swept by a wave of revolution. Engels and Marx returned to Germany to be at the centre of it. Neue Rheinische Zeitung, a new daily revolutionary newspaper, was published by them. Engels actively participated in revolutions in Hungary and parts of Germany, but had to flee after the failure of the revolution.

For financial reasons, Engels decided to return to work at the factory in England near the end of 1849. This decision allowed him to elude German authorities while also earning money to continue his and Karl Marx's activities. Marx and his family were living in poverty in London, relying on Engels' incomes to make ends meet.

Engels joined his father's firm as a partner in 1864. He had been leading a double life for many years, contributing to capitalist injustice during the day and working at night to bring about a revolutionary revolution. In 1869, he was able to sell his stock in the business and retire, allowing him to devote all of his time to writing progressive articles and co-authoring books with Marx. To be closer to Marx, Engels moved to London in 1870.

Engels became the leading foreign authority on Marx and Marxism after Marx's death in 1883. He completed further volumes of Das Kapital using Marx's notes and unfinished manuscripts and his own scholarly and political works based on Marxism. Despite the progress of European parliamentary democracy and social change, Engels continued to stress the need for class struggle and the continuance of revolutionary political tactics until his last days.

What are the important works of Friedrich Engels?

The Holy Family (1844)

It is a criticism of the Young Hegelians, which was very common in scholarly circles. Marx and Engels wrote it in November 1844. The publisher came up with the title, which was meant to be a satirical reference to the Bauer Brothers and their supporters.  The book sparked a debate in the media

The Condition of the Working Class (1844)

The work is a thorough summary and study of the appalling working-class conditions in Britain and Ireland that Engels witnessed during his time. It was produced with a German audience in mind. His works suggested many seminal ideas about the state of socialism.

The Communist Manifesto (1848)

In 1848, the German Communist League commissioned Engels and Marx to write a political pamphlet on Communism. This slim volume is one of history's most famous political texts. Its power stems in part from how succinctly it is written. The Manifesto lays out a plan of action for the proletariat (working class) to overthrow the bourgeoisie (middle class) and create a classless society and a ten-point agenda.

The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884)

The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State is a comprehensive seminal work that connects the emergence of capitalism with what Engels claims is an artificial institution, the family, structured to "privatise" wealth and human relationships in opposition to how animals and early humans developed naturally. It provides a detailed historical perspective on the family concerning social status, female subjugation, and private property ownership.