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Friedrich Engels

Related subjects Philosophers

Western Philosophy
19th-century philosophy
Friedrich Engels
Birth November 28, 1820 ( Barmen, Prussia)
Death August 5, 1895 (aged 74) (London, England)
School/tradition Marxism
Main interests Political philosophy, Politics, Economics, class struggle
Notable ideas Co-founder of Marxism (with Karl Marx), alienation and exploitation of the worker, historical materialism
Influenced by Kant, Hegel, Feuerbach, Stirner, Smith, Ricardo, Rousseau, Goethe, Fourier
Influenced Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao, Guevara, Sartre, Debord, Frankfurt School, Negri, more...

Friedrich Engels ( November 28, 1820 August 5, 1895) was a German social scientist and philosopher, who developed communist theory alongside his better-known collaborator, Karl Marx, co-authoring The Communist Manifesto (1848). Engels also edited the second and third volumes of Das Kapital after Marx's death.


Early Years

Friedrich Engels was born in Barmen, Rhine Province of the kingdom of Prussia (now a part of Wuppertal in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany) as the eldest son of a German textile manufacturer, with whom he had a strained relationship. Due to family circumstances, Engels dropped out of High school and was sent to work as a nonsalaried office clerk at a commercial house in Bremen in 1838. During this time, Engels began reading the philosophy of Hegel, whose teachings had dominated German philosophy at the time. In September of 1838, he published his first work, a poem titled The Bedouin, in the Bremisches Conversationsblatt No. 40. He also engaged in other literary and journalistic work. In 1841, Engels joined the Prussian Army as a member of the Household Artillery. This position moved him to Berlin where he attended university lectures, began to associate with groups of Young Hegelians and published several articles in the Rheinische Zeitung. Throughout his lifetime, Engels would point out that he was indebted to German philosophy because of its effect on his intellectual development.


Friedrich Engels' house in Primrose Hill
Friedrich Engels' house in Primrose Hill

In 1842, the twenty-two year old Engels was sent to Manchester, England to work for the textile firm of Ermen and Engels in which his father was a shareholder. Engels' father thought working in at the Manchester firm might make Engels reconsider the radical leanings that he had developed in high school.On his way to Manchester, Engels visited the office of the Rheinische Zeitung and met Karl Marx for the first time - though the pair did not impress each other. In Manchester, Engels met Mary Burns, a young woman with whom he began a relationship that lasted until her death in 1862. Mary acted as a guide through Manchester and helped introduce Engels to the English working class. The two maintained a lifelong relationship; they never married, as Engels was against the institution of marriage which he saw as unnatural and unjust.

During his time in Manchester, Engels took notes and personally observed the horrible working conditions of English workers. These notes and observations, along with his experience working in his father's commercial firm, formed the basis for his first book The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. Whilst writing Conditions of the Working Class, Engels continued his involvement with radical journalism and politics. He frequented some members of the English labour & Chartist movements and wrote for several different journals, including The Northern Star, Robert Owen’s New Moral World & the Democratic Review newspaper.


After a productive stay in England, Engels decided to return to Germany in 1844. While traveling back to Germany, he stopped in Paris to meet Karl Marx, with whom he had an earlier correspondence. Marx and Engels met at the Café de la Régence on the Place du Palais, August 28, 1844. The two became close friends and would remain so for their entire lives. Engels ended up staying in Paris in order to help Marx write The Holy Family, which was an attack on the Young Hegelians and the Bauer brothers. Engels' earliest contribution to Marx's work was writing to the Deutsch-französische Jahrbücher journal, which was edited by both Marx and Arnold Ruge in Paris in the same year.


Between 1845 and 1848, Engels and Marx lived in Brussels, spending much of their time organizing the city's German workers. Shortly after their arrival, they contacted and joined the underground German Communist League and were commissioned by the League to write a pamphlet explaining the principles of Communism. This became the The Manifesto of the Communist Party, better known as the Communist Manifesto. It was first published on February 21 1848.

Return to Prussia

Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels

During the month of February in 1848, there was a revolution in France that eventually spread to other Western European countries. This event caused Engels & Marx to go back to their home country of Prussia, specifically the city of Cologne. While living in Cologne, Engels and Marx created and served as editors for a new daily newspaper called the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. However, during June 1849 Prussian coup d'état the newspaper was suppressed. The coup d'état separated Engels and Marx, the latter was deported, since he lost his Prussian citizenship, and fled to Paris and then London. Engels stayed in Prussia and took part in an armed uprising in South Germany as an aide-de-camp in the volunteer corps of the city of Willich. When the uprising was crushed, Engels managed to escape by traveling through Switzerland as a refugee and returned to England.

Back in Manchester

Once Engels made it to England, he decided to re-enter the commercial firm where his father held shares in order to help support Marx with his publications. He hated this work intensely but knew that his friend needed the support. He started off as an office clerk, the same position he held in his teens, but eventually worked his way up to become a joint proprietor in 1864. Five years later, Engels retired from the business to focus more on his studies. At this time, Marx was living in London but they were able to exchange ideas through daily correspondence. In 1870, Engels moved to London where both he and Marx lived until the latter's death in 1883. His London home at this time and until his death was 122 Regent's Park Road, Primrose Hill, NW1. Marx's first London residence was a cramped apartment at 28 Dean Street, Soho. From 1856 he lived at 9 Grafton Terrace, Kentish Town and subsequently in a tenement at 41 Maitland Park Road from 1875 till his death.

Later years

After Marx's death, Engels devoted much of his remaining years to editing and translating Marx's unpublished works. However, he also contributed significantly to other areas, such as feminist theory. Engels believed that the concept of monogamous marriage was created from the domination of men over women. Engels would tie this particular argument to communist thought by arguing that men have dominated women just as the capitalist class has dominated workers. One of the best examples of Engels' thoughts on these issues are in his work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.

Engels died of throat cancer in London in 1895. Following cremation at Brookwood Cemetery near Woking, his ashes were scattered off Beachy Head, near Eastbourne as he had requested.

Major Works

The Holy Family (1844)

The Holy Family was a book written by Marx & Engels in November 1844. The book is a critique on the Young Hegelians and their trend of thought which was very popular in academic circles at the time. The title was a suggestion by the publisher and is meant as a sarcastic reference to the Bauer Brothers and their supporters. The book created a controversy with much of the press and caused Bruno Bauer to attempt to refute the book in an article which was published in Wigand's Vierteljahrsschrift in 1845. Bauer claimed that Marx and Engels misunderstood what he was trying to say. Marx later replied to his response with his own article that was published in the journal Gesellschaftsspiegel in January 1846. Marx also discussed the argument in chapter 2 of The German Ideology.

The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (1844)

The Condition of the Working Class is a detailed description and analysis of the appalling conditions of the working class in Britain and Ireland during Engels' stay in England. It was considered a classic in its time and still widely available today. This work also had many seminal thoughts on the state of socialism and its development.

The Communist Manifesto (1848)

Engels and Marx were commissioned by the German Communist League to publish a political pamphlet on communism in 1848. This slender volume is one of the most famous political documents in history. Much of its power comes from the concise, pithy and punchy way it is written.

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

The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State is an important and detailed seminal work connecting capitalism with what Engels argues is an unnatural institution - family - designed to "privatize" wealth and human relationships contrary to the way animals and early humans evolved. It was written when Engels was 64 years of age and at the height of his intellectual power and contains a comprehensive historical view of the family in relation to the issues of class, female subjugation and private property.

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