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Friedrich Engels – A Glimpse

Friedrich Engels (1820 – 1895) was one of the contemporaries of Karl Marx. Both worked in close association and are considered to be the fathers of Marxist theory. Engels came from a well off Prussian family. His father owned textile mills. His family raised him as a Christian yet he developed atheist ideas. More to the disappointment of his family, he showed no interest in family business; instead he published anonymous articles in Rheinische Zeitung – a newspaper then edited by Marx. Liked Marx, he also acquainted himself with Hegel and developed ties with Young Hegelians. For a short time, he also served in Prussian Army. He never married being against the institution of marriage.

Though he contributed to the Marx’s newspaper, both never saw each other. Both met each other in 1842 while Engels was leaving for England. Both developed a life long friendship. They seldom met in the future but continuously corresponded with each other. During the London days – when Marx faced financial crisis – it was Friedrich Angles who supported him monetarily and wrote ghost articles for him in The New York Daily Tribune. Both of them joined a number of radical organizations like The Communist League. Before doing any concrete work, they went on criticizing the Young Hegelians for their attitudes in The Holy Family and The German Ideology. Their first major socialist breakthrough was The Communist Manifesto in 1847. Engels composed its first draft and sent it to Marx who then finalized it by making significant contributions to the original manifesto of the former.

In 1842, Friedrich Engels was sent to Manchester to look after a mill that his father partially owned. His parents also supposed that he would learn some liberal ideas in England which proved to be a futile idea. Manchester, at that time, had grown from a small town into a metropolis of more than 400,000 inhabitants – most of them being workers in the factories. There he closely observed the life of workers and came up with his celebrated works, Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy and The Condition of the Working Class in England. Most of his works were published under the supervision of Marx. Engels also spent plenty of time completing the remaining volumes of Marx’s Capital after the death of the later. 

“Angry Young Man” tone is dominant in the works of Engels. He criticized political economy as private economy as it protects the rights of bourgeoisie. The private ownership was inhumane and source of dominance, according to him. People were actually motivated by their self-interest – as Adam Smith supposed – thus they mistrusted each other and remain alienated within a society. Industrial overproduction – though produce too much – would create a paradox of misery and markets would not be able to accommodate the excess. During his stay in England, he saw that proletariat were living in misery and agony so he concluded that feudal societies were much better than the industrial ones. In feudal societies, people were not forced for excessive work hours. They were free to fix their daily work hours and still be able to produce enough to feed themselves and their families. Peasents, however, were “spiritually dead”, motivated by their “private interest” and contented with their “plant like life”. In other words, they were happy with their monotonous and supervised life. However, in Industrial societies, Engels suggests, the situation was different. There was a possibility of workers to stand up against the exploitation to change the system. Hence, capitalism was a necessary condition for the creation of a capitalist society, according to Engels.

Despite all this, there are some deficiencies in the works for Engels. First among them is that – unlike Marx – he did not come up with a systematic theory. He did not explain dynamics of capitalist society and the underlying causes that will bring it to a destructive end. He predicted a possible revolt yet failed to explain the nature of it. Apart from that, he was a notable scholar who is less credited. He had a great influence on Marx and his works shaped the ideology of the later. Marx borrowed some significant ideas from Engels and use them in his theory. Indeed, he deserves to be called as the father of Marxist Theory – of course with Marx.

*** Not a scholarly articles; must not be used in an academic research. 

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