Friedrich Engels whose name and work endured through the centuries


Friedrich Engels wasn't yet 30 years old, but he already had almost everything that many people dreamed of. Tristram Hunt described this young man as having a high lifestyle with a dress-up and a relatively above average appearance.

Engels was also a connoisseur of everything that was delicious, from lobster salads, Château Margaux, pilsner, to expensive women. He was also the king of textiles and a fox hunter. But with all his privileges, he wasn't a typical rich jerk who was disgusted by seeing poor people.

Engels was the opposite. He claimed to leave the company and dinner parties, wine and champagne, to interact with ordinary workers, to come to their beds. He did this, so he could see them in their own homes, observe them go about their daily lives, chat with them about their situations and problems.

Engels was happy and, more than that, proud to do it. He was happy because he thus spent the time to gain knowledge about the realities of life when others wasted it by talking about exhausting fashion and etiquette. He was proud to have the opportunity to do something just for the oppressed.

Engels wrote these sympathetic sentences in the introduction to The Condition of the Working Class in England, a book written with strict ethnographic methods from 1842 to 1844 and published a year later when he was only 25 years old. At that time, he was being assigned by his father to work in one of the family companies.

This book portrayed the lives of ordinary people in Manchester, the heart of the industrial revolution. Engels neatly described how, in a location just a stone's throw away from a comfortable, clean, magnificent houses of rich people, runny kids were forced to work for a wage of only three potatoes; beds were filled with workers who slept in rows like anchovies, and people with disabilities due to work accidents were lying on the roadside.

David McLellan called this book a classic work on the effects of early industrial capitalism and the struggle against it. Although not the first person to write about it, Engels, explicitly, didn't just call for sufficient people to help them. He went beyond that. The workers themselves would improve their conditions by rebellion.

The Condition of the Working Class is still widely read today. And in some cases, his notes can still be found in many places after this work was published nearly two centuries ago.

Engels was born in the most industrialized city of Barmen in Prussia, now Germany, which decades later became the first place for the Nazi concentration camp. He was born into a family that owned the Ermen & Engels textile business on November 28, 1820.

Hunt described how prosperous the life of the young Engels. There was no broken home, an irresponsible father, a lonely childhood, or bullying at school. Instead, he grew up in the midst of loving parents, pampering grandparents, many siblings, and prosperity.

Engels was the eldest of eight siblings. Since childhood, he had been prepared by his father, also named Friedrich Engels, to inherit the family business that was pioneered by his grandfather since the age of 16.

At the age of 17, before passing the language school exam, Engels was apprenticed to the company of his father's relatives to become a clerk. He was continuously sent to work in various places, the decision that his father would regret because he actually became radical and sided with the workers after seeing the reality.

From his internship, Engels realized that he was part of the problem. In his youth, he was embarrassed by the family aristocratic tradition. Thus he was a political activist who departed from the materialist standpoint.

Engels saw reality before the eyes, not from textbooks as many intellectual activists of his day. Instead, the intake of theory came later, which increasingly confirmed his political alignments. His mother, Elise von Haar, who had a teacher's family background, played an important role. Secretly, Engels's mother often sent German and French intellectual papers to him.

Hunt said Engels's political ideology began to shift from romanticism to socialism when he was apprenticed to Bremen in 1838, although he also didn't forget how to have fun, such as studying dance, visiting bookstores, horse riding, traveling, and swimming.

Engels only worked for a year in Bremen. In 1841, he was sent by his father to Berlin to take part in military service. But there, he instead wandered to the lectures of philosophy professors and was increasingly diligent in reading books.

Young Engels also loved going to Berlin University student discussion forums. From here, he began to interact with a group called the Young Hegelians. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was the biggest giant philosopher in Germany at the time, whose thoughts were interpreted into two branches.


In the hands of the Old Hegelians, Hegel's philosophy, which was categorized as idealism, was made a philosophical foundation for the existence of the Prussian monarchical system and Protestantism, or in other words, perpetuating the current situation no matter how bad it was.

Meanwhile, in the hands of the Young Hegelians was the opposite: Something given could be changed for the better. This group fitted in right with Engels, who was really embarrassed by the general morality of the elites at the time.

Engels Sr. was upset with the political activism of his eldest son because he hoped his son would be a good manager, that was to regulate cash flow in a balanced manner, to expand factories and market reach, and to continue to make profits by exploiting workers.

It was too late. Engels was dragged too far and could no longer be a normal bourgeoisie. He now wanted to change the fabric of society as a whole, to change the monarchy, not just to bring down his father's factory.

Engels even made friends with a group that organized a general strike in an industrial city before being sent to Manchester after military service was over.

Engels's political views, which sided with the workers, couldn't be separated from his friendship with Karl Marx, a German of Jewish blood who was two years older than Engels, who was also interested in the idea of Young Hegelians.

Engels interacted indirectly with Marx through the radical newspaper Rheinische Zeitung. At that time, Marx was working as an editor while Engels was one of his contributors with a pseudonym, possibly to avoid his father's wrath.

Heinz D. Kurz said Rheinische Zeitung played an important role in the Revolution of 1848 whose aim was to overthrow the European monarchy and contributed greatly to the dissemination of radical ideas in Germany.

The two met in person in Cologne in November 1842. There was nothing special about this encounter, although they had long admired each other's writings. The two met again at Café de la Régence, Paris, on August 28, 1844. This time, they talked more, of course, while drinking beer.

No one ever expected that the meeting would be the starting point for the collaboration of these two people for decades. Marx and Engels developed what would be called Marxism, a system of thought, which was totally opposed even now, including by clergies, but also defended and inspiring hundreds of millions of people to be free from the chains of life. During its heyday in the 1960s, Marxism became the official ideology of one-third of the world, the main rival of liberalism and its lackeys.

Still according to Kurz, in 1851, Marx and Engels had published more than 500 articles. These don't include other more serious works whose lives are much longer than their biological ages. Their first collaboration work entitled The German Ideology was first made in 1845 but only published 80 years later.

The German Ideology is a critique of the thinking of the Young Hegelians, the group in which the two had joined, notably Bruno Bauer and Max Stirner. Their key argument when criticizing the Young Hegelians is that there is no consciousness without conscious beings.

In this work, their idea of historical materialism began to emerge. While their old friends assumed that the history of society changed according to changes in ideas in the heads of clever people, Marx-Engels assumed that history moved because there was a change in the material nature of conscious beings. Therefore they also emphasized the importance of the revolution, something which was avoided by their old friends.

Another monumental work is The Communist Manifesto, which is the most important political document in human history. It was written in a literary style. The opening sentence is: A specter is haunting Europe: the specter of Communism, while the closing sentence is: The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working men of all countries, unite! This document was dedicated to the Communist League, a workers' political party founded in June 1847 in London, England.

In The Communist Manifesto, which has now been translated into more than 100 languages, we find the Marxist idea that human history is a class antagonism. Society consists of antagonistic classes with irreconcilable interests. With a brief description of human history from the hunting-gathering to the capitalist era, each mode of production contained the embryo of a new society.

After Marx died in 1883, it was Engels who completed the monumental work of his friend: Das Kapital. Marx only managed to compile one volume, and Engels completed the next two based on the drafts and rough notes Marx left.

Thanks to Engels, Marx was able to carry out his political economy studies maximally. The reason is simple. Engels was a rich man while Marx was destitute all his life. The funding assistance enabled him to focus on studying classical British economic theory, German supreme philosophy, and the French Revolution, which were touted as the three foundations of Marxism.


Engels sent money to Marx and his family 50 pounds per year, equivalent of 7,500 dollars today, since 1850, or when he started working on the Das Kapital manuscript, until the next 16 years. Gustav Mayer said Engels happily returned to work for his father's company, now as an official representation in Manchester, no longer an apprentice, even though he thought it was disgusting.

Engels did this just for Marx's studies, and for his family so that they wouldn't starve to death. Engels said he got about 200 pounds from his father, which was a quarter of which went to his beloved comrade.

Reportedly, Engels helped Marx because he knew he wasn't as smart as his friend. Financing him was his way of contributing. Another opinion is that, as Yvonne Kapp wrote in a book about Marx's youngest daughter, Eleanor Marx, he was well aware that what his friend did was very important for the progress of the labor movement.

Without his intellectual, moral, and financial support, Kapp said Das Kapital would never have been written. Perhaps because of this, many consider Engels to be just Marx's ATM machine and nothing more.

Though Engels was much bigger. He was also intellectually independent. Vladimir Lenin, the architect of the first workers' state, the Soviet Union, by overthrowing the Tsardom of Russia, praised him as the best scholar and teacher of the modern proletariat in the civilized world.

One of the works related to the context of Lenin's speech was the pamphlet Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, which Engels wrote and published for the first time in 1880. In this pamphlet, he strongly criticized socialism, which strived to be born not from within and destroyed capitalist society itself but by experimenting with community models.

On the other hand, Engels's socialism is really one that was born out of the rubble of a capitalist society. It is not imported from the outside, such as forming a community separate from the general public, but emerges from within society as a consequence of the irreconcilability of class antagonisms between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

This socialism is the end of the reading of capitalism, not just criticism on the basis of utopian morals, and therefore it is called scientific. Engels also had a special interest in the natural sciences, a field of study which Marx seemed less interested in.

Engels studied almost all branches of natural science between 1873–1876, which was later made into a book entitled Dialectics of Nature. One of the theories he put forward was the matter of human origins.

In theory, brain and cognitive abilities aren't essential attributes of humans. Brain capacity isn't the cause but the consequence of the evolution of more essential attributes in hominid evolution: the bipedal terrestrial way of life and the use of the tools that led to the emergence of the social organization of labor.

The theory, in plain language, is as follows: Human evolution from apes wasn't primarily due to the development of brain size but environmental factors. Being separated from the habitat of forest trees made early hominids evolve into bipedal, AKA standing on their feet, and therefore their hands were free.

These hands were an important factor in how they developed tools that allowed differentiation of consumption, for example, being meat-eaters. The brain developed, and the language of communication as well, until the last hominid, Homo sapiens, emerged.

Within the broader horizon of thought, this theory strikes completely against the tendency of Hegel's idealist philosophy in nature that what happens in the world is only a reflection of the ideas. The world of ideas changes, so does society. This theory proves that humans first need to fulfill their material needs: eat and drink and take refuge, before they can develop others, such as language, literature, law, art, and even belief in the unseen.

Engels was also a military expert, a scientific field that was foreign to Marx. He analyzed several wars, including the American Civil War and other popular uprisings, in every detail. He was even called General by his political friends.

W. B. Gallie thinks Engels was the most perceptive military critic of the 19th century. In military science, Marx was nothing more than a research assistant. His military theories related to the left-wing armed movements of the 20th century from Africa to the Philippines to the Cuban guerillas under Che Guevara's command.

The Marx-Engels collaboration ended forever on March 14, 1883, at a quarter to three. On that day, Marx passed away. The greatest thinker stopped thinking. He was left alone for nearly two minutes, and when they returned, they found him in a chair fast asleep peacefully but for good, Engels said at his funeral.

Engels followed him 12 years later. On August 5, 1895, today 125 years ago, he died of cancer of the larynx, the respiratory tract where the vocal cords are located. Because he was cremated, and his ashes were scattered at Beachy Head near Eastbourne, East Sussex, England, his physical traces have completely disappeared, but not with his works, whether they were made with Marx or independently, which are still read today.

Engels continues to be criticized and refuted, but also some others defend his views and consider them still relevant today when capitalism is still the dominant mode of production in the world. Therefore the concluding sentence of his speech at Marx's grave applies to himself as well: His name will endure through the ages, and so also will his work.


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