Friedrich Engels, a German socialist philosopher, was a figure of immense significance in the world of political thought and theory. Engels grew up to be an influential voice in the foundation of modern communism. His ideas and philosophical contributions made him a revolutionary pioneer among his contemporaries.
But do you ever wonder who was Friedrich Engels? And what he is known for? One cannot delve into the life and works of Engels without acknowledging his close association with Karl Marx. The two became inseparable in their ideological journey. They collaborated on many works that would shape the course of history.
Who Was Friedrich Engels?
Friedrich Engels was not just a philosopher but a revolutionary who worked to lay the foundation for the practice of communism. His life and works and his collaboration with Marx, have left an indelible mark on the history of political thought.
Their most notable collaboration was the co-authorship of ‘The Communist Manifesto‘ in 1848. It laid the critical groundwork for the philosophy of communism. This powerful partnership between Engels and Marx was instrumental in the development and propagation of socialist thought.
Beyond being just Marx’s collaborator, Engels played a pivotal role in supporting Marx’s work financially as well. He returned to the business to provide the necessary funds for Marx’s seminal work, ‘Das Kapital‘.
The first volume of this work was published in London in 1867, with Engels’ financial backing. This support extended beyond Marx’s lifetime, with Engel. He completed the edits of the second and third volumes of ‘Das Kapital’ after Marx’s death.
Engels was a firm believer in the need for a large-scale socialist revolution, led by the proletariat, for the survival of society. He maintained the view that the revolutionary seizure of power by the proletariat should remain a goal. He also accepted short-term tactics of electoral politics that included gradualist and evolutionary socialist measures.
Despite the public perception that Engels was gravitating towards evolutionary socialism, he remained committed to revolutionary socialism.
In the next sections, we will explore in more detail Engels’ early life, his intellectual development, his transition to socialism, and his legacy in the world of philosophy and socialist thought.
1. Engels’ Early Life and Education
When we delve into Friedrich Engels’ early life, we encounter a world of privilege and wealth, punctuated by political ideologies and religious beliefs that would go on to shape his intellectual journey.
Born on November 28, 1820, in Barmen, Germany, a bustling center of the textile industry, Engels was the eldest son of a prosperous textile manufacturer. His father owned a factory in their hometown and even held a partnership in a cotton-spinning factory in Manchester, England.
Engels grew up in a family with strong religious convictions and conservative political views. They were devout followers of the Prussian State Church, a Protestant denomination, and his parents expected him to follow the same path. But, the young Engels was more inclined towards questioning the status quo than following it.
An Early Introduction to Liberal and Revolutionary Works
At the tender age of 17, Engels traveled to Manchester, England, to learn the ins and outs of the family business at the Ermen & Engels cotton plant. This trip was not just a business education for him. it exposed him to new political ideologies and socioeconomic realities. The stark differences between the lives of the factory workers and the owners, the harsh working conditions, and the wide economic disparity he witnessed had a profound impact on his young mind.
The liberal and revolutionary works he was exposed to during this time further fueled his critical thinking. These experiences and influences planted the seeds of socialist ideas in him, setting the stage for his transformation into a revolutionary socialist.
Academic Influences and the Turn Towards Socialism
Engels’ academic journey also played a crucial role in shaping his ideologies. His formal schooling was supplemented by private tutoring. There he developed a keen interest in philosophy, history, and literature.
Moreover, Engels was privy to the educational reforms proposed by Marx and himself in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. They advocated for “free public education for all children” and the “abolition of all child labor in factories,” emphasizing the integration of education with material production.
This exposure to liberal thinking and the realities of the working class ignited a passion in Engels to fight against the injustices of capitalism. And so, the young man who had been groomed to take over a textile empire found himself drawn to socialism. He rejected the capitalist ideals upheld by his family.
This marked the beginning of his journey toward becoming a revolutionary socialist.
2. Engels’ Interest in Hegelian Philosophy
Friedrich Engels, a stalwart in the world of socialist philosophy, developed a keen interest in the works of G.W.F. Hegel. He was a German philosopher known for his dialectical method.
This was a significant turning point in Engels’ intellectual journey and greatly influenced his ideologies and worldview.
Exploration of Engels’ Interest in Hegelian Philosophy
Engels’ interest in Hegelian philosophy began during his time in Bremen where he led a double life.
He performed his duties as a business apprentice by day and immersed himself in liberal and revolutionary works by night. Among these works were the writings of Young German authors such as Ludwig Börne, Karl Gutzkow, and Heinrich Heine.
Engels soon found these works to be lacking in discipline and conclusiveness.
Thus he directed his attention toward the systematic and all-encompassing philosophy of Hegel as expounded by the Young Hegelians, a group of leftist intellectuals who accepted the Hegelian dialectic.
The Hegelian dialectic proposed that rational progress and historical change result from the conflict of opposing views, culminating in a new synthesis. This powerful ideology captured Engels’ mind.
It influenced Engels to become a part of the Young Hegelians, who aimed to accelerate this process by criticizing anything they deemed irrational, outmoded, and repressive.
Hegelian Philosophy’s Influence on Engels
Engels’ fascination with Hegelian philosophy and his association with the Young Hegelians catalyzed his transformation into a militant atheist.
- Engels’ revolutionary convictions made him ready to challenge traditional beliefs, including Christianity.
- The philosophy also nurtured in Engels a critical mindset. A trait that would later become foundational in his critique of capitalism and his journey toward socialism.
- As a member of the Young Hegelians during his time at Berlin University, Engels began to view the world through the lens of Hegelian dialectics.
- This led to a strengthened skepticism towards capitalism and a growing support for socialism. A system where resources and means of production are commonly or publicly owned to create a more equal society.
- Engels saw the harsh reality of capitalism during the Industrial Revolution in Manchester, where he witnessed a stark disparity in wealth distribution. This experience further solidified his belief in the need for a socialist revolution.
Thus, it can be said that Hegelian philosophy played an instrumental role in shaping Engels’ political ideology. It was the catalyst that steered him away from conventional belief systems. It guided him towards a path of revolutionary socialism, which would ultimately lead to his collaboration with Karl Marx and the creation of modern communism.
3. Engels’ Transition to Revolutionary Socialist
Friedrich Engels is well known for his collaboration with Karl Marx in shaping the intellectual infrastructure of socialism. He embarked on a journey towards revolutionary socialism shaped by personal experiences and ideological influences. The transition was marked by critical events and key decisions. These decisions drew him towards a more systematic and comprehensive approach to social change.
Early Influences & Encounters with Social Inequality
Engels’ exposure to the philosophy of G.W.F. Hegel played a significant role in his early intellectual development. But, it was his time spent at his family’s mill in Manchester, England, that solidified his turn towards socialism.
Witnessing firsthand the horrific conditions faced by English industrial workers during the Industrial Revolution, Engels grew to despise capitalism’s inherent inequality.
As he observed the exploitation of the working class to generate wealth for the bourgeoisie, his commitment to socialist ideals became stronger.
Rejection of Earlier Influences
In favor of a more systematic approach to social change, Engels began to reject some of his earlier influences. He distanced himself from the radical followers of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, also known as the Young Hegelians, who had initially influenced his philosophical outlook.
Instead, Engels started developing a more materialistic and practical approach toward understanding and transforming society.
4. Engels’ Partnership with Karl Marx
The collaboration between Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx is one of the most influential partnerships in the history of political thought. This alliance began with a 10-day visit by Engels to Marx in Paris.
It led to a lifelong partnership that significantly shaped the socialist movement. They first met in Cologne, but it was during this Paris meeting that they decided to join forces and dedicate their lives to promoting socialism.
The Communist Manifesto
One key outcome of their collaboration was the publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1848.
- This groundbreaking work, co-authored by Marx and Engels, argued that capitalism was inherently unstable and would inevitably collapse.
- It lead to socialism and eventually communism The manifesto formed the basis for the modern communist movement.
- It was a radical call to arms for the working class and a fierce critique of the capitalist system.
Engels and Marx’s Other Collaborative Works
Marx and Engels didn’t stop at The Communist Manifesto. They later collaborated on another significant work – Die deutsche Ideologie (The German Ideology).
Although this polemical critique of their earlier Young Hegelian associates and various German socialists who rejected the need for revolution wasn’t published until more than 80 years later, it had a profound impact on Marxist theory.1
Supporting Marx’s Work on Das Kapital
Engels not only collaborated with Marx but also played a crucial role in supporting Marx’s individual work.
After Marx’s death, Engels edited the second and third volumes of Das Kapital.
Moreover, Engels had to return to business to support himself and Marx financially. He managed to maintain his communist principles while successfully running a business and consistently provided financial aid to Marx, allowing Marx to focus on his writings.1
Thus, the partnership between Marx and Engels was not just intellectual but also financial. Engels often provided the means for Marx to continue his work. Their collaboration was a blend of shared ideology, mutual respect, intellectual companionship, and practical support. They became one of the most influential duos in history.
In sum, the collaboration between Engels and Marx was instrumental in shaping the course of socialist and communist thought.
From co-authoring The Communist Manifesto to ensuring the completion of Marx’s Das Kapital after his death, Engels played an integral role in the formation of these fundamental texts of communism. His partnership with Marx truly changed the world of philosophy and left an enduring legacy in socialist thought.
5. Engels’ Later Life and Legacy
After the revolutionary fervor of his early and mid-life, Friedrich Engels found himself returning to the business world later in life. This decision was largely driven by necessity. He needed to financially support both himself and Karl Marx, his collaborator and intellectual partner.
- In 1850, Engels reluctantly returned to his father’s cotton mill business, a firm he had apprenticed at earlier in Manchester, England. Years later, in 1869, he sold his interest in the firm, providing him with the means to live comfortably until his death
- Despite his return to business, Engels continued to remain active in the world of socialist thought, leaving behind a significant legacy. His collaborative work with Marx on The Communist Manifesto laid the foundation for modern communism.
- The movement argued capitalism would inevitably self-destruct and was replaced by socialism and ultimately communism.
- Their manifesto emphasized the importance of class struggle in every historical society and the dangerous instability capitalism created, ideas that have shaped numerous political movements and revolutions across the globe.
Who was Friedrich Engels?
Friedrich Engels was a German philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary sociolist.
What are Friedrich Engels’ major contributions?
He co-authored ‘The Communist Manifesto’ in 1848, He also edited and completed the second and third volumes of ‘Das Kapital’.
What is Friedrich Engels’ connection to Karl Marx?
Friedrich Engels had a close association and collaboration with Karl Marx. Together, they co-authored ‘The Communist Manifesto’ in 1848, a seminal text that laid the groundwork for the philosophy of communism. They also collaborated on ‘Die deutsche Ideologie’ (The German Ideology).
Where and when was Friedrich Engels born?
Friedrich Engels was born on November 28, 1820, in Barmen, Germany.
What were Friedrich Engels’ political beliefs?
Engels was a firm believer in the need for a large-scale socialist revolution, led by the proletariat, for the survival of society. He maintained the view that revolutionary seizure of power by the proletariat should remain a goal,
Did Friedrich Engels write any notable works?
Yes, besides his collaboration with Karl Marx on ‘The Communist Manifesto’ Engels authored ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England.” He also wrote ‘Anti-Dühring.’
Friedrich Engels played a crucial role in the formation of socialist and communist thought through his collaboration with Karl Marx. Despite returning to the business world later in life, Engels continued to contribute to socialist theory and left behind a lasting legacy.
His partnership with Marx not only resulted in influential works such as The Communist Manifesto but also provided financial support. This allowed Marx to continue his intellectual pursuits. Engels’ ideas and contributions have had a profound impact on political movements and revolutions worldwide. He became an important figure in the history of socialism and communism.