Friedrich Engels Essay - Critical Essays

Engels, Friedrich

Introduction

Friedrich Engels 1820-1895

German essayist, journalist, and propagandist.

Often discussed only within the context of his relationship with Karl Marx, Engels nevertheless established his own reputation as a major figure within the developing socialist movement in the nineteenth century. Although he himself admitted that his own fame was garnered through his collaboration with Marx, many modern critics have argued that Engels’ work and ideas influenced and enhanced the work of Marx. In addition to making Marx's complex economic and social theories accessible to the working class, Engels contributed his own experience and knowledge to the development of Marxist theories and to his own theories. Devoted to the communist cause, Engels applied dialectical materialism to a variety of interests, including military studies, natural science, and history.

Biographical Information

Born in Barmen in 1820, Engels was the oldest of eight children. Engels’ father ran a bleaching and spinning business and had partners in Manchester, England. Because his father wanted him to begin training to run the family business, the young Engels was removed from school before being allowed to take the final examinations necessary for entrance to university. In 1838, Engels traveled to Bremen for an internship. There, he was influenced by the Young German movement and its position on freedom. Engels wrote “Briefe aus dem Wuppertal” (Letters from Wuppertal) anonymously in 1839, in which he criticizes the Christian Pietists (the religion of his parents) for their treatment of factory workers. At this time, Engels also studied the revolutionary works of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. In 1841 Engels traveled to Berlin to serve his year of mandatory military service. While attending lectures at the university, he became involved with the Young Hegelian movement. In 1842, after finishing his military service, Engels went to Manchester to work for his father's partners. Here Engels was exposed to the effects of industrialization on the English working class. In response, he became interested in the works of utopian socialists, including Robert Owen and Charles Fourier, and with the Chartists (an English labor movement), and the League of the Just (exiled German utopian socialists). In 1844, Engels’ article “Umrisse zu einer Kritik der Nationalökonomie” (Critical Essays in Political Economy) appeared in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher. In it, Engels condemns the effects of private property on the working class and concludes that private property must be abolished. After gathering more information on the plight of English workers, Engels returned to Barmen and wrote Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England (1845; translated in 1887 as The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844). In 1845 Engels joined Marx in Brussels. The two had been corresponding and had met briefly on two occasions. They penned their first joint treatise “Die deutsche Ideologie” in 1846. Engels spent the next years disseminating the goals of the “scientific” communism he and Marx developed. He continued to collaborate with Marx (on such works as Manifest der kommunistischen Partei (1848; translated in 1888 as Manifesto of the Communist Party) and to write his own analyses of German revolutionary struggles. Returning to Manchester in 1850 to manage the family factory, Engels concentrated on the study of military science and history while encouraging Marx to complete the first volume of Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (1867; translated in 1887 as Capital: A Critical Analyses of Capitalist Production). In 1870 Engels moved to London and devoted himself to the socialist movement. Engels wrote a series of articles in the 1870s in which he attacked a reformist leader of the German Socialist Workers’ party. The articles were collected as Herr Eugen Dührings Umwälzung der Wissenschaft (1878; translated as Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science [Anti-Dühring] in 1934). Engels continued to encourage Marx to finish the second volume of Das Kapital, but Marx died in 1883. Engels spent the rest of his life serving as an advisor to working class movements and continuing to study and write about a variety of topics related to scientific communism and dialectics. He died of throat cancer in 1895.

Major Works

Engels’ first major effort was The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844. In it, Engels outlinesd the foundations for modern sociology and described the history of the rise of industrialization in England as well as the increasing conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. His “Grundsätze des Kommunismus” (1932; translated in 1925 as Principles of Communism) became the first draft of his collaborative effort with Marx, the Manifesto of the Communist Party. Another significant work was Anti-Dühring. In explicating dialectical and historical materialism, Marxist political economy, and scientific socialism, Engels presented Marxist theory to the proletariat in language easily understood by working-class men. Concerned with the historical development of socialism, Engels studied the relationship between the development of the family and how capitalism adversely affects families. Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigenthums und des Staats (1884; translated in 1891 as The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State) is a critique of an anthropological study by Lewis Henry Morgan, Ancient Society; or, Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization (1877). In this critique, Engels attempted to demonstrate how the family, property relations, and the state are determined by historical conditions and subject to change. The work is often recognized as one of the first efforts to link patriarchy and capitalism. Engels also began a major work that was left unfinished upon his death. Kialektik der Natur (1935; translated in 1940 as Dialectics of Nature) represents Engels’ attempt to apply dialectical materialism to recent developments in physical sciences.

Critical Reception

While Engels’ early writings, such as his essays on political economy and The Condition of the Working Class in England, generated Marx's interest and inspired a lifetime of collaboration, Engels’ work was less well-received in London. The Condition of the Working Class was reprinted in 1892 and reviewers from The Spectator and The Westminster Review suggest that Engels’ attack on capitalism was unfounded. A reviewer from The Spectator commented that the only reason the book was worth republishing was “to show what foolish things a clever man may say.” After Engels’ death in 1895, however, he received a somewhat objective obituary in The Economic Journal. The same year, Vladimir I. Lenin eulogized Engels and offered a summary of his work and his collaboration with Marx. Lenin observed that Engels’ writing is “easy and frequently polemic in style,” and that his work was guided by the materialist view of history as well as Marx's economic theories. Modern critics have focused on Engels’ specific works or areas of study as well as on the collaborative relationship of Engels and Marx. Engels’ time in England and the development of his politics is a focus of critical interest. Critic Gregory Claeys has observed that despite the interest in The Condition of the Working Class, Engels’ first years in Manchester, 1842 through 1844, have been largely neglected. Claeys has studied the political statements Engels’ made in various articles written during this time in order to determine the extent to which Engels was influenced by utopian socialist ideas. Arguing that once in England Engels soon adopted the non-violent strategy of Robert Owen's brand of socialism, Claeys then traces Engels’ movement from Owenite socialism to Marxism. While Engels eventually came to believe that revolution was necessary and that utopian and scientific socialism were incompatible, Claeys has argued, Engels nevertheless retained the belief that Owenite methods could reduce the violence of class conflict. Another critic, Michael Levin, has offered a similar evaluation of Engels’ studies of the English working class. Levin discusses several factors that influenced Engels’ views, including the Chartist movement and Owenitism. In a slight contrast to Claeys’ assessment, Levin states that Engels rejected Owenite socialism as he recognized that such utopian socialists did not view socialism as a historical product of social circumstances. Levin argues that Engels was swayed by the Chartist stance and held that while revolution was necessary, it could only take place after the proletariat had gained parliamentary control. The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State has also been closely studied by modern critics. Bernhard J. Stern has offered a detailed analysis of the work, stressing its emphasis on the condemnation of capitalism because of its subjection of women. Stern goes on to point out some of the problems with generalizations Engels made. In his analysis of The Origin of the Family, Richard J. Wiltgen has focused on the way Engels employed the materialist conception of history. Wiltgen comments that Engels's achievement in the area of anthropological study is his “exposition of the socioeconomic development of pre-capitalist societies.” Like Wiltgen, critic Gareth Stedman Jones has been interested in Engels’ development and application of historical materialism. Jones, however, has examined The Condition of the Working Class in order to assess Engels’ contribution to Marx's theory. Jones comments that while Engels is credited with the formulation of dialectical materialism, typically he is only allotted a “vaguely auxiliary role” in the development of the theory of historical materialism. Conceding that Engels could not have produced the theory on his own, Jones has stressed that without Engels’ study of the conditions in England, it would have taken Marx much longer to develop the theory. Jones highlights the specific contributions of The Conditions of the Working Class to Marxist theory. Engels’ final, though unfinished work, Dialectics of Nature focuses on “the search for the fundamental dialectal laws which govern the universe as well as the inquiring mind” notes Dirk J. Struik. Explaining and assessing the laws of dialectics as developed by Engels, Struik has praised Engels’ achievements in the philosophy of science. Similarly, B. M. Kedrov has stated that through Dialectics, Engels sought to “synthesize the findings of natural science in his day from the standpoint of materialist dialectics.” Kedrov has traced the history of the text, assessed its contents and concluded that the work may be viewed as a “natural-science introduction to Marx's Capital.” However, Gareth Stedman Jones has commented that it is improbable that Engels viewed Dialectics “as an all-encompassing genetic theory of development, of which Capital was to form the final social-historical part.”

Principal Works

“Briefe aus dem Wuppertal” [“Letters from Wuppertal”] (articles) 1839; published in Telegraph für Deutschland

Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England [The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844] (essay) 1845

Die heilige Familie, oder Kritik der kritischen Kritik: Gegen Bruno Bauer und Consorten [The Holy Family; or, Critique of Critical Critique] [with Karl Marx] (essay) 1845

“Die deutsche Ideologie” [“The German Ideology”] [with Karl Marx] (treatise) 1846

Manifest der kommunistischen Partei [Manifesto of the Communist Party] [with Karl Marx] (manifesto) 1848

...

(The entire section is 260 words.)

Criticism

The Westminster Review (essay date 1892)

The Westminster Review (essay date 1892)

SOURCE: Review of The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, in The Westminster Review, Vol. CXXXVII, June, 1892, pp. 702-03.

[In the following excerpt, the anonymous critic reviews the 1892 reprint of Engels' The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (originally published in 1845) and finds fault with the book's attack on the capitalist system.]

We have received the two new volumes of the “Social Science Series,” The Condition of the Working Classes in England in 1844,1 by Frederick Engels, and Commercial Crises of the Nineteenth...

(The entire section is 631 words.)

The Spectator (essay date 1892)

SOURCE: “A Communistic Prophet,” in The Spectator, No. 3,349, Sept. 3, 1892, pp. 326-27.

[In the following essay, the anonymous critic comments on the 1892 reprinting of The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, discussing specifically the preface Engels wrote for the new edition. The critic suggests that the book was worth republishing “if only to show what foolish things a clever man may say.”]

There are men who lack the courage of their convictions. Of these is not Mr. Frederick Engels. He has the courage both of his convictions and his predictions. In 1845 he wrote a book, from the communistic point of view, on the condition of the...

(The entire section is 1682 words.)

The Economic Journal (essay date 1895)

The Economic Journal (essay date 1895)

SOURCE: The Economic Journal, Vol. V, No. 19, September, 1895, pp. 490-92.

[In this obituary, the anonymous author discusses the London death of Engels and offers a brief summary of Engels' life, works, and collaboration with Karl Marx.]

It will be news to many who have long associated Engels with Marx and Marx with Engels, that Friedrich Engels was living quietly in London till the 5th of August, 1895, when the fatal cancer ended his career. He had been long our guest, and we had treated him well; we had allowed him to carry out his work unmolested, in the ways he liked best.

As...

(The entire section is 1124 words.)

V. I. Lenin (essay date 1895)

SOURCE: “Frederick Engels,” in Labour Monthly, Vol. 17, No. 8, August, 1935, pp. 498-505.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1895 and reprinted in 1935, Lenin offers a brief overview of Engels' life and works and praises Engels' contribution to socialism.]

Oh, what a lamp of reason ceased to burn,
What a heart had ceased to throb?(1)

In London, on August 5, 1895, Frederick Engels breathed his last. After his friend Karl Marx (who died in 1883), Engels was the most remarkable scientist and teacher of the modern proletariat in the whole civilised world. Ever since fate brought Karl Marx and Frederick Engels together, the lifework of both...

(The entire section is 3426 words.)

Dirk J. Struik (essay date 1945)

SOURCE: “Friedrich Engels and Science,” in New Masses, Vol. LVII, No. 10, December 4, 1945, pp. 10, 12-13.

[In the following essay, Struik assesses and praises Engels' contributions and achievements in the philosophy of science. Struik's assessment focuses on Engels' Dialectics of Nature which, the critic explains, examines the “fundamental dialectical laws which govern the universe as well as the inquiring mind.”]

Outstanding among the thinkers of past generations are a few whose thought was so penetrating, whose vision so clear, that study of their works gives guidance to those who try to understand the principles underlying contemporary science....

(The entire section is 2477 words.)

Bernhard J. Stern (essay date 1948)

SOURCE: “Engels on the Family,” in Science and Society: A Centenary of Marxism, Vol. XII, No. 1, Winter, 1948, pp. 42-64.

[In the following essay, Stern examines Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property and the Statein order to elucidate Engels' view of the family and the effects of capitalism on family development. Stern discusses the strengths and weaknesses of Engels' arguments.]

I

The major work in Marxian literature on the family, Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State,1 appeared thirty-six years after the Communist Manifesto. There are several anticipations of its points of...

(The entire section is 9895 words.)

Donald Clark Hodges (essay date 1965)

SOURCE: “Engels' Contribution to Marxism,” in The Socialist Register 1965, edited by Ralph Miliband and John Saville, Monthly Review Press, 1965, pp. 297-310.

[In the following essay, Hodges investigates the nature and extent of Engels' contribution to Marxist social theory and concludes, among other things, that there are significant differences between the dialectical methods of Marx and Engels and that Engels “did a disservice” to Marx's “analytical and critical method” when he attempted to make Marx's methodology “universal in scope.”]

Now that knowledge of Marxism has become a respected path to academic advancement, scholars have increasingly...

(The entire section is 6269 words.)

I. Kuzminov (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: “Frederick Engels and the Economic Theory of Socialism,” in International Affairs, Nov., 1970, pp. 26-32.

[In the following essay, Kuzminov maintains that Engels and Marx formulated a theory of the basic principles pertaining to the political economy of communism. Kuzminov studies these principles as developed by Engels and comments on the experience of the Soviet Union in the application of Marx's and Engels' principles.]

The theory of scientific socialism is rightly considered the product of two brilliant minds—Karl Marx and Frederick Engels. Paul Lafargue, noted figure in the international working-class movement and talented populariser of the ideas of...

(The entire section is 5087 words.)

B. M. Kedrov (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: “Science and Nature,” in Soviet Studies in Philosophy, Vol. X, No. 1, Summer, 1971, pp. 3-26.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1970, Kedrov explores Engels' aims and achievements in the writing of Dialectics of Nature, arguing that Engels strove to use materialist dialectics to “synthesize the findings of natural science in his day.”]

Philosophers and natural scientists are both familiar with the fact that, nearly a century ago, Engels undertook to synthesize the findings of natural science in his day from the standpoint of materialist dialectics. But few know the price Engels paid, how many times the work approached completion...

(The entire section is 8169 words.)

A. P. Kazhdan (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: “Origins of Christianity,” in Soviet Studies in Philosophy, Vol. X, No. 1, Summer, 1971, pp. 81-102.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1970, Kazhdan references several writings by Engels on the origins of Christianity in order to explore the parallel Engels saw between the nineteenth-century development of the socialist movement and the founding of Christianity.]

Engels is the author of three articles devoted to the origins of Christianity. In 1882 the magazine Der Sozialdemokrat carried his “Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity,” conceived of as an evaluation of Bauer's contribution to the treatment of this complex problem. The...

(The entire section is 7071 words.)

W. O. Henderson (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: “Engels and Das Kapital,” in his The Life of Friedrich Engels, Vol. II, Frank Cass, 1976, pp. 391-413.

[In the following essay, Henderson examines Engels' contribution to Marx's Das Kapital, demonstrating that Engels was involved throughout all stages of the book's production and that he provided input on economics and helped to publicize the work.]

In whatever literary projects they were engaged Marx and Engels were accustomed to work in close co-operation. Engels gave his friend every possible assistance when he was writing his major work on the capitalist system.1 Marx often consulted Engels on theoretical and practical problems....

(The entire section is 10110 words.)

George G. Brenkert (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: “Marx, Engels, and the Relativity of Morals,” in Studies in Soviet Thought, Vol. 17, No. 3, October, 1977, pp. 201-224.

[In the following essay, Brenkert assesses apparently contradictory statements Marx and Engels make concerning the relativity of morality. Brenkert contends that it is possible to determine the position of Marx and Engels on this issue but that their views are somewhat complicated. Brenkert concludes that Marx and Engels are not “normative relativists” but may be characterized as “descriptive relativists, though of a modified sort,” as well as “meta-ethical relativists.”]

1. It is often claimed that Marx and Engels are moral...

(The entire section is 9890 words.)

Howard L. Parsons (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: “Engels' Development from Christianity to Communism,” in Revolutionary World: An International Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 23/25, 1977, pp. 180-90.

[In the following essay, Parsons analyzes the progress of Engels' beliefs from his Christian upbringing to his espousal of communism. In particular, Parsons discusses the influence on Engels of Christian Pietism and Hegelianism.]

The life of Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) spanned the greater part of the 19th century—a period which in many parts of the western world saw both the ripening and the rottening of capitalism and its ideological ally, Christianity. From childhood through adulthood Engels was so situated...

(The entire section is 4901 words.)

Martin Berger (essay date 1977)

SOURCE: “Engels' Military Studies and Their Revolutionary Purposes,” in his Engels, Armies, and Revolution, Archon Books, 1977, pp. 39-63.

[In the following essay, Berger surveys Engels' military writings, arguing that Engels' interest in this area was driven by his desire to help the revolutionary cause. Berger assesses Engels' military writings as “good, but rather conventional.”]

Since Engels' early career reveals no sign of an obsession with war and armies, how are we to explain the diligent study of military science which he began in the 1850s? The answer lies in Engels' willingness to do whatever he could to help the revolutionary cause. Military studies...

(The entire section is 12422 words.)

Richard J. Wiltgen (essay date 1979)

SOURCE: “Engels' Origin of the Family as a Contribution to Marx's Social Economy,” in Review of Social Economy, Vol. XXXVII, No. 3, December, 1979, pp. 345-369.

[In the following essay, Wiltgen provides an interpretation of Engels' Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, and maintains that through such anthropological studies, Engels succeeded in offering “a detailed exposition of the socioeconomic development of pre-capitalist societies.”]

Marx's method was largely historical. As a consequence, a proper understanding of Marx's social economy requires a good grasp of what he termed “the materialist conception of history.” Marx's...

(The entire section is 9822 words.)

Gareth Stedman Jones (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: “Engels and the History of Marxism,” in The History of Marxism, Vol. 1: Marxism in Marx's Day, edited by Eric J. Hobsbawm, Indiana University Press, 1982, pp. 290-326.

[In the following essay, Jones offers an assessment of Engels' contribution to the theory of historical materialism, noting that typically critics only acknowledge that Engels played a marginal role in the development of this Marxist theory. Jones concludes that Engels contributed significantly to the formulation of the historical materialist theory and that clearly several important Marxist propositions are first developed in Engels' early writings rather than in Marx's.]

Since his death in...

(The entire section is 15479 words.)

Gregory Claeys (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: “The Political Ideas of the Young Engels, 1842-1845: Owenism, Chartism, and the Question of Violent Revolution in the Transition from ‘Utopian’ to ‘Scientific’ Socialism,” in History of Political Thought, Vol. VI, No. 3, Winter, 1985, pp. 455-78.

[In the following essay, Claeys attempts to explain Engels' theory of revolution by analyzing the political statements Engels made during his first stay in England from 1842 through 1844. Claeys traces Engels' development from the non-violent Owenite brand of socialism to Marxism, arguing that despite this transition, Engels still held that the violence of class conflict could be lessened through the employment of Owenite-type...

(The entire section is 11025 words.)

Richard F. Hamilton (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: “Engels on Germany's Classes,” in his The Bourgeois Epoch, University of North Carolina Press, 1991, pp. 122-70.

[In the following essay, Hamilton examines Engels' writings on the German classes, comparing his various analyses on this topic and studying the logic and consistency of his conclusions. Hamilton finds that Engels' research and writings on the different classes in Germany contain flawed logic and numerous inconsistencies.]

This chapter will compare four analyses by Engels of developments in Germany, along with the more familiar account of The Communist Manifesto. As will be seen, several positions appear in these less-known historical...

(The entire section is 23080 words.)

J. D. Hunley (essay date 1991)

SOURCE: “Engels' Alleged Reformism,” in his The Life and Thought of Friedrich Engels, Yale University Press, 1991, pp. 96-111.

[In the following essay, Hunley studies the idea that Engels favored reform over revolution as the road to the rule of the proletariat and argues that Engels, like Marx, never rejected the necessity of revolution but that both Marx and Engels, after 1848, began to “redefine the conditions under which it [revolution] would take place.”]

It has become common for scholars to consider Engels as the first revisionist of Marx's ideas. Most of them have meant this in the generic sense that he changed some of Marx's conceptions, but a few of...

(The entire section is 7287 words.)

John Lea (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: “Poverty, Crime and Politics: Engels and the Crime Question,” in The Condition of Britain: Essays on Frederick Engels, edited by John Lea and Geoff Pilling, Pluto Press, 1996, pp. 84-109.

[In the following essay, Lea summarizes Engels' treatment of crime in The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 and discusses the relevance of the essay to modern issues.]

The present period is an appropriate one in which to reread Engels's The Condition of the Working Class in England. The demolition of the welfare state under conditions of high global unemployment and dramatic increases in poverty would have been thought impossible 20 years ago....

(The entire section is 10937 words.)

Michael Levin (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: “Friedrich Engels: Workers and Revolution,” in his The Condition of England Question, Macmillan Press, 1998, pp. 137-56.

[In the following essay, Levin analyzes Engels' study of the English proletariat and the effects of factory work on this class. Levin focuses on the factors that affected the development of Engels' thought on socialism and class conflict, maintaining that despite Engels' later emphasis on the proletariat's infiltration of parliament, Engels still saw revolution as necessary.]

I THE PROLETARIAT

Engels regarded the segmentation of the city as merely the product of the segmentation of the social classes. ‘It is not...

(The entire section is 9191 words.)