Engels, Friedrich

Engels, Friedrich
   A philosopher and political economist, Friedrich Engels is best known as Karl Marx ’s lifetime friend and ally. Engels was born in Barmen, present-day Wuppertal, Germany on November 28, 1820, the eldest son of a successful textile manufacturer. The works of the radical German poet Heinrich Heine (1797–1856) and the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) greatly influenced Engels. The German Socialist Moses Hess (1812–1875) converted Engels to Communist beliefs. While passing through Paris in 1844, Engels met Marx, and their lifelong association began.
   In Manchester, England, Engels came into contact with chartism, the movement for extension of suffrage to workers. He contributed to the Northern Star and other publications and made a study of political economy. His experience and studies convinced him that politics and history could be explained only in terms of the economic development of society. He firmly believed that the social evils of the time were the inevitable result of the age-old institution of private property. These conclusions were embodied in a historical study, Condition of the Working Class in England (1844), a creditable piece of factual research that was highly praised by Karl Marx and established Engels’s reputation as a revolutionary political economist. In 1844, Engels visited Marx in Paris. Marx had published works sympathetic to communism. The two men found that they had arrived independently at identical views on capitalism. Engels wrote that there was virtually “complete agreement in all theoretical fields.” Their many-sided collaboration, which continued until the death of Marx in 1883, had two principal aspects: systematic development of the principles of communism, later known as Marxism; and the organization of an international Communist movement. Lesser aspects of their collaboration included journalistic writing for the New York Tribune and other publications. In elaborating Communist ideas and principles, the two men delved into the field of philosophy but subsequently turned to other fields. Marx dealt particularly with political thought, political economy, and economic history; Engels’s interests included the physical sciences, mathematics, anthropology, military science, and languages. The Communist Manifesto (1848), written by Marx, partly on the basis of a draft prepared by Engels, influenced all subsequent Communist literature and is regarded as a classic articulation of modern Communist views.
   After the death of Marx in 1883, Engels, in his own words, had to play the first fiddle for the first time. He did it through his writings that suggested the “orthodox” ways of interpreting Marx and through advising numerous newly emerging Marxist groups in various countries. Sometimes Engels tried to serve as a moderating influence, raising his voice against extreme emphasis on “revolutionary violence.” He could not, however, prevent Leninist-Stalinist orthodoxy from shaping some of the most oppressive totalitarian regimes of the time. Engels died in London on August 5, 1895, long before it all happened; but his name, just as the name of Marx, cannot be dissociated from the most traumatic experiment of the twentieth century. Engels was also a military critic, and he held out the hope that the universal conscription common in his time might become the vehicle of social revolution - a hope not wholly unfounded.
   See also <>.
    Henderson, W. O. Marx and Engels and the English Workers and Other Essays. London: Taylor & Francis, 1989;
    Marcus, S. Engels, Manchester, and the Working Class . New York: Random House, 1974;
    Riazanov, David. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels . New York: International Publishers, 1927;
    Schumpeter, Joseph A. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy . New York: Harper, New York, 1950;
    Tucker, R. C. The Marx-Engels Reader . New York: Norton, 1972.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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