Friedrich Engels ( 28 November 1820 – 5 August 1895) was a German philosopher, social scientist and journalist, who founded Marxist theory together with Karl Marx. In 1845 he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on personal observations and research in Manchester.
In 1848 he co-authored The Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx, though he also authored and co-authored (primarily with Marx) many other works, and later he supported Marx financially to do research and write Das Kapital. After Marx’s death, Engels edited the second and third volumes.
Additionally, Engels organized Marx’s notes on the “Theories of Surplus Value,” which he later published as the “fourth volume” of Capital. He has also made contributions to family economics.
Friedrich Engels was born on 28 November 1820 in Barmen, Prussia (now Wuppertal, Germany).
Barmen was an expanding industrial metropolis, and Frederick was the eldest son of a wealthy German cotton textile manufacturer. His father, Friedrich, Sr., was a Pietistic Protestant, and Engels was raised accordingly.
As he grew up, however, he developed atheistic beliefs and his relationship with his parents became strained.
His mother wrote to him of her concerns: She said that he had “really gone too far” and “begged” him “to proceed no further.” She continued:
“You have paid more heed to other people, to strangers, and have taken no account of your mother’s pleas. God alone knows what I have felt and suffered of late. I was trembling when I picked up the newspaper and saw therein that a warrant was out for my son’s arrest.”
When his mother wrote, Engels was in hiding in Brussels, Belgium, soon to make his way to Switzerland. In 1849, he returned to the Kingdom of Bavaria for the Baden and Palatinate revolutionary uprising.
At 17 years of age, young Frederick had dropped out of high school due to family circumstances. He spent a year in Barmen. In 1838, his father sent the young man to work as a nonsalaried office clerk at a commercial house in Bremen.
His parents expected that he would follow his father into a career in business. His revolutionary activities disappointed them. It would be some years before he joined the family firm.
Whilst at Bremen, Engels began reading the philosophy of Hegel, whose teachings dominated German philosophy. In September 1838, he published his first work, a poem entitled “The Bedouin”, in the Bremisches Conversationsblatt No. 40. He also engaged in other literary and journalistic work.
Also while at Bremen, Engels began writing newspaper articles critiquing the societal ills of industrialization. He wrote under a pseudonym, Friedrich Oswald, to avoid connecting his life in a Pietist industrialist family with his provocative writings.
In 1841, Engels joined the Prussian Army as a member of the Household Artillery. He was assigned to Berlin, where he attended university lectures and began to associate with groups of Young Hegelians.
He anonymously published articles in the Rheinische Zeitung, exposing the poor employment and living conditions endured by factory workers.
The editor of the Rheinische Zeitung was Karl Marx. Engels did not meet Marx until late November 1842.
Engels acknowledged the influence of German philosophy on his intellectual development throughout his life.
He also wrote, “To get the most out of life you must be active, you must live and you must have the courage to taste the thrill of being young … ” (1840)