Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engels Picture

Friedrich Engels, an illustrious German philosopher, was born on November 28, 1820 in Barmen, Rhine province, Prussia. His father was an affluent businessman, who owned a textile factory and was also a partner in a cotton plant in Manchester, England. Engels and his father had very different plans for his career, Engels began to exhibit radical philosophies from a very young age while his father was adamant to carve out a career in commerce for him. The two often sparred on this issue, and Engels was just as unyielding as his father. He did not complete his secondary education, and began publishing articles on philosophy and economics under the pseudonym of Friedrich Oswald. Meanwhile, in 1838, he also appeased his father by working at an export firm, due to which Engels could not benefit from a university education. Engels voluntarily served in an artillery regiment for a year, and was applauded for his military prowess. Upon settling in Berlin, Engels discovered the works banned authors such as Ludwig Borne, Karl Gutzkow, Heinrich Heine and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, of which Hegel influenced him the most and he openly embraced the Hegelian society. Along with Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner, he joined the ‘Young Hegelians’ society and accepted the Hegelian dialect. The society converted an agnostic Engels into an atheist militant, this conversion was made easy by his radical inclinations against the foundations of Christianity and repressive social notions.

In 1843, Engels encountered Moses Hess, who convinced him to believe that communism is the only logical solution to progress, and advised him to go to England, where class differences were becoming more and more prominent. Engels cajoled his father into sending him to work at his textile plant in Manchester, to which his father happily agreed. In England, Engels made remarkable progress at work and used his free time to read and compose articles on economic and political scenarios. He began researching on issues such as child labor and the lives and conditions of the workers. His articles began to get acclaim upon being published in magazines such as ‘The Northern Star’, ‘New Moral World’ and the ‘Democratic Review’, and he became an enthusiastic supporter of English labor and Chartist movements. In 1844, he decided to return to Germany, and during his journey, he met Karl Marx in Paris, an encounter that would lead to a lifelong friendship. Engels assisted Marx in writing a critic on the ‘Young Hegelians’ which would be published as ‘The Holy Family’. In 1845, Engels published ‘The Conditions of the Working Class’.

In 1845, Engels went to Brussels to join Marx in organizing the German workers like the French and English workers were uniting. They became members of the German Communist League, and were asked to draft a manifesto for the organization, which is now widely known as the Communist Manifesto. In 1848, Marx and Engels began openly participating in the revolution that had spread to Prussia from France. They settled in Cologne, and began editing a paper, Neue Rheinische Zeitung, that spread their revolutionary notions advocating that a democracy would be the first step towards communism. However, in 1849, the Prussian government shut down the paper and revoked Marx’s Prussian citizenship. Engels did not leave Prussia for some time, and organized an uprising in South Germany, but upon its failure he fled to England and reunited with Marx.

Back in England, Marx and Engels began reconstructing the Communist League. Funds began to get scarce, and while Marx was busy working on Das Kapital, Engels decided to go back to work at his father’s textile plant in Manchester. In 1864, he was made a partner at the plant due to his impressive and productive work record. Engels kept in touch with Marx throughout his life, and also supported him financially until Marx’s death. He assisted Marx in editing a few articles as Marx regarded him as highly informed on economics, political and military issues. In 1896, these articles were published under Engels’ name as the ‘Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Germany in 1848’. The same year, Engels sold off his share in the plant and moved to London to work with Marx. They worked together till Marx’s death in 1883.

After Marx’s death, Engels struggled to keep the spirit of communism alive, and gained the status of the first Marxist. He held regular correspondence with the German Social Democrats and other followers all over Europe. He also undertook the task of compiling the second and third volumes of Das Kapital, using Marx’s extensive research to assist him. Engels made several notable contributions to the field of political and economic philosophy, including highly acclaimed works such as ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’ and ‘Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy’. Friedrich Engels died on August 5, 1895, after a prolonged battle with throat cancer.

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