Who Was Friedrich Engels?

Friedrich Engels was a German philosopher, writer, and social scientist during the 19th century. Known for his collaboration with Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels helped define modern communism.

Friedrich Engels is the co-author of The Communist Manifesto, an 1848 pamphlet regarded as one of the world's most influential political documents.

Engels died on Aug. 5, 1895, in London, England.

Key Takeaways

  • Friedrich Engels wrote The Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx in 1848.
  • He also wrote under the pseudonym of Friedrich Oswald.
  • Engels edited the second and third volumes of Karl Marx's Das Kapital after Marx's death.
  • Along with Marx, Engels formed the basis for the modern communist movement.
Friedrich Engels

Investopedia / Alex Dos Diaz

Early Life and Education

Friedrich Engels was born on Nov. 20, 1820, in Barmen, Prussia, today's Germany. He was the eldest son of a wealthy textile manufacturer. At age 17, Engels traveled to Manchester, England, to learn the family business at the Ermen & Engels cotton plant.

Although raised in a family environment of moderate political views, and steadfast loyalty to Prussia and the Protestant faith, Friedrich Engels developed a sense of cynicism toward major institutions like religion and capitalism. His ideology would later become a theme of his publications.

The Bremen Years

After his apprenticeship in Manchester, Friedrich Engels worked in the export trade business and lived in the city of Bremen, Prussia from 1838 to 1841.

"The Bremen years" marked the start of his career in journalism, politics, and economics where he wrote under the pseudonym of Friedrich Oswald. He was involved in social reform and the literary movement of a young Germany. For three years in Bremen, Friedrich Engels lived a double life, one as a merchant’s clerk, and that of an anonymous journalist, commentator, and intellectual.

Meeting Marx

In 1841, Friedrich Engels enlisted as a volunteer for one year in an artillery regiment in Berlin. While in the city, he attended lectures at the university and his "Friedrich Oswald" articles gained him entry into the Young Hegelian circle of The Free, a club frequented by Karl Marx.

The Young or Left Hegelians were considered radical followers of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, a German idealist, between the late 1830s and the mid-1840s. They flourished between the French Revolution in 1830, and a wave of revolutions that swept Europe in 1848.

The Young Hegelians were both the product and the producers of the potent mixture of religion, philosophy, and politics that fermented in Germany during that period. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would become leaders of this revolutionary group.


Life as a Young Hegelian at Berlin University, and time spent at his family mill in Manchester, England, strengthened Engels' skeptical view of capitalism. His support of socialism, where resources and means of production are commonly or publicly owned to create a more equal society, grew.

After witnessing the uneven distribution of wealth gained during the Industrial Revolution in Manchester, Engels recalled “women made unfit for childbearing, children deformed, men enfeebled, limbs crushed, whole generations wrecked, afflicted with disease and infirmity, purely to fill the purses of the bourgeoisie," in his 1845 book, The Condition of the Working Class in England.

He noted that urban planning, how city space was socially and economically constructed, to support capitalism at the time, was an arena ripe for class conflict and revolution.

The Communist Manifesto

Engels believed that capitalism created and maintained class struggles between the bourgeoisie, the business owners, and the proletariat, the working class. Marx's theory, or Marxism, represented the recognition of this imbalance and defined ideas to create a political and economic landscape without class structure.

The Communist Manifesto, published in 1848, represents the converging ideas of Freidrich Engels and Karl Marx and formed the basis for the modern communist movement. Written at a time of industrial and social change, cities were expanding, with large proportions of the population moving from the countryside to urban areas to find employment. Economic growth was dependent on this workforce, often exploited by employers. Engels and Marx argued that a series of class struggles would destroy capitalism, and be replaced by socialism, followed by communism. 

The document encouraged revolution and its ideas reverberated with increasing force into the 20th century. By 1950, nearly half the world’s population lived under Marxist governments.

Das Kapital

Karl Marx published the first volume of Das Kapital in 1867, in London, with financial support from Friedrich Engels. Translated as Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, the book argues that the motivating force of capitalism is in the exploitation of labor, and Marx wanted to create a theoretical foundation for the overthrow of capitalism.


Friedrich Engels worked with Karl Marks to lay the groundwork for the practice of communism, where people live in social equilibrium, without class distinction, family structure, religion, or property.

Their published works includeThe Condition of the Working Class in England, The Communist Manifesto, The Holy Family, and Das Kapital. 

After Karl Marx died in 1883, Engels served as the foremost authority on Marx and completed two edits of Das Kapital. He also wrote Socialism: Utopian and Scientific in 1880, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State in 1884, and Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy in 1888.

For the remainder of his life, Friedrich Engels corresponded extensively with German social democrats, perpetuating the image of Marx and fostering a degree of conformity among followers of their philosophy.

What Encouraged Engels to Write "The Condition of the Working Class in England"?

The book recounts Engels' experience while working in Manchester, England, recalling the use of child labor, environmental damage, low wages, bad conditions, poor health, and the high death rates among laborers.

Where Are Engels' Published Works Written as Pseudonym Friedrich Oswald?

Thirty literary works that were published under Engels' pseudonym were found in Bremen after Engels' passing and are preserved. His pseudonym was not revealed until after his death.

What Is a Utopian Socialist?

Contrary to Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, who both believed in necessary revolution, utopian socialists believed that capitalists could be encouraged to surrender the means of production peacefully to the people through moral persuasion alone.

The Bottom Line

Friedrich Engels is remembered as a staunch advocate for communism and social change during the 19th century. Together with Karl Marx, Engels' books and publications have influenced societies worldwide, most notably, the former Soviet Union, Cuba, and China.

Article Sources
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