Friedrich Engels was born November 28, 1820. Engels’s father was a wealthy German entrepreneur. In his early 20s, he moved to Manchester, England, to supervise the family cotton factory. While managing the plant, Engels was shaken by the poverty of his workers. This became the data for his book Condition of the Working Classes in England (1844). He also became associated with the Chartist, an English working-class movement for political and economic reforms. In 1844, in Paris, Engels became part of a radical journal Franco-German Annals, which was edited by Karl Marx; the two men became close friends. Together they wrote The Holy Family and German Ideology. On January 25, 1845, Marx was deported from France for radical activities. Engels and Marx from then on would always be seen as part of a larger European community of revolutionaries. Marx, together with Engels, moved to Belgium. With Engels’s financial support, Marx had the opportunity to put together his economic and political theories in written form.
In July 1845, Engels and Marx traveled to England. There, they met with Chartist leader George Julian Harney. In Brussels, in 1846, Engels and Marx established the Communist Correspondence Committee for all socialists in Europe. Later, this became the Communist League. While in England in December 1847, they attended a meeting of the Communist League Central Committee. It was decided that in order to remove the bourgeoisie from power, the proletariat must control the economy; eliminate the current society, which was established on class antagonisms; and create a new society without classes or private property. Engels and Marx wrote a pamphlet explaining their philosophy; the first draft was called The Principles of Communism. Later, Marx finished the pamphlet, calling it The Communist Manifesto, which summarized the forthcoming revolution and the nature of the communist society.
Together, these two men claimed that class societies were specific to a restricted historical situation. The history of any class society is one of class struggle. Each class has its own unique interests; this conflicts with the interests of other classes in society. This conflict sooner or later leads to revolution. One of Engels’s and Marx’s main premises was that the big changes in history were the triumph of one class over another.
As Engels and Marx explained it, the bourgeoisie (capitalists) were the owners of all the raw materials and means of production. The proletariat (workers) owned only their labor power and were required to sell their labor power to the capitalists in order to live. With the vanishing of the bourgeoisie as a class, class society would cease to exist. The class-based state is then no longer needed to control the producers, and it withers away.”
With the publication of the Manifesto, Engels and Marx were forced to flee from Belgium to London. Engels continued to support Marx both financially and philosophically. To do this, Engels returned to work for his father in Germany until 1869, when he was able sell off his share of the family business. The two kept in constant contact over the next 20 years.
Karl Marx died in London in March 1883. Engels devoted the rest of his life to editing and translating Marx’s writings. This included the second volume of Capital (1885). Engels then used Marx’s notes to write the third volume of Capital (1894). Friedrich Engels died in London on August 5, 1895.
Engels was a major Marxist theorist in his own right, contributing much to Marxism. Several of his major works are seen as classics in Marxist anthropology, sociology, and economic history. The partial list that follows has made a major contribution to anthropology.
Peasant War in Germany, written in 1850, was inspired by the failure of the revolution of 1848, which strongly resembled the peasant revolutions of 1525. To have a deeper understanding of these histories, the researcher must examine the class grouping in both histories. Both revolutions proved that class alliances are required if there is to be any hope of success in any political revolution.
Engels wrote Anti-During in 1878 and Dialectics of Nature in 1873 to 1884 to explain materialism and dialectics. Matter in motion is self-creating, with everything in the universe, including life, developing out of already-existing natural forces. Life originates from a complex natural interaction of physical, chemical, and biological materials and evolves from one form into another. Materialism, being dialectical, becomes science without a need for philosophy. Anthropology, being interdisciplinary, can use Engels’s work as a bridge between the physical, biological, and social sciences.
Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, 1882 to 1892, was written as a summary of Anti-During in pamphlet form. One of Engels’s major points was that the three origins of Marxism were French socialism, German philosophy, and English economics. In this pamphlet, Engels clarified that most socialism of the past had been utopian. In the past, in most political history, class analysis was absent. There was a very slow maturity of the dialectical philosophy over thousands of years; this philosophy was what allowed Marx to see and explain the materialist conception of history. This means that the first principle of historical sociology is the mode of producing the necessities of life. This, in turn, is controlled by the distribution of the needed resources and the products created through labor among the members of society. After capitalism took off in Europe in the late 18th century, it rapidly replaced existing class societies around the world. Ranking by birth was replaced by free trade, legal equality, individualism, and competition. Capitalism controlled the economic resources, and the workers had no choice but to sell their labor power to any employer they could find. The state represented the interest of the ruling class. The republic became a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. With mass production of goods, the means of production became socialized. The working class was then in a position, through revolution, to replace capitalism with socialism.
According to Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, 1884, state society and class society are two sides of the same category. The first form of exploitation was within the family. The exploitation of women was the first form of inequality. With each further evolution of inequality, class structure is further developed, and the changes in the family reflect these evolving inequalities. With capitalism, the capitalist controls the opportunities for working-class survival. With the family, the husband has authority over the wife in the contemporary capitalist families. To have any real social equality, there must be total equal rights by law. This requires not only legal and political rights, but the woman would have to also be economically independent of her husband. As such, this solution for social equality could lead to the abolition of the monogamous family as the economic unit of society.
Friedrich Engels was known mostly for his close association with Karl Marx. However, Engels made many valuable contributions to Marxist theory in his own right. While Marx had a strong background in philosophy and later political economy, Engels kept Marx abreast of the latest changes in the natural sciences and anthropology.
- Cameron, K. N. (1995). Dialectical materialism and modern science. New York: International Publishers.
- Engels, F. (1975). Origin of the family, private property, and the state. New York: International Publishers.
- Engels, F. (1977). Dialectics of nature. New York: International Publishers
- Engels, F. (1978). Anti-during. New York: International Publishers.
- Marx, K., & Engels, F. (1970). The German ideology. New York: International Publishers.
- McLellan, D. (1977). Friedrich Engels. New York: Penguin Books.