Skip to main content

Engels, Friedrich


(b. Barmen [now part of Wuppertal], Prussian Rhineland, 28 November 1820; d. London, England, 5 August 1894)

history, sociology, political science, economics, philosophy, history and philosophy of science and technology, military science.

Friedrich Engels was the eldest of eight children of Friedrich Engles, senior, a third-generation conservative cotton mill owner, and his wife, Elizabeth van Haar, daughter of a gymnasium principal of Dutch origin. The father held to strictly orthodox German Pietism, side-by-side with enjoyment of theafter, fine arts, and music (he played the bassoon and the cello—his orthodoxy had been tempered toward an unprejudiced and critical outlook by his many trips to England and elsewhere in Europe. The mother was lively, loving, imaginative, wellread, and known for her sense of humor, laughing “until the tears ran down her cheeks” even in old age. Engels was devoted to her; typically, in 1869, when he was business career in the Manchester textile mills, he wrote; “Dear Mother, Today is my first day freedom and I can put it to no better use than by writing to you first thing.” Without accepting his politics, Engles’s mother always believed in his integrity.

To his father, Engles was more distant, critical, cooler; indeed, the elder Engles was soon disturbed by the strong tendency of his adolescent son toward conflict with the established order, with convention, and with religion. In later years father and son overcame that pattern of paternal disappointment and filial resentment; their business relations became cordially collaborative and reflected correct mutual respect. Friedrich Engels, senior, died in 1860; Elizabeth Engles, in 1873. Typically, Engels resolved a disupte with his brothers over their father’s estate by renouncing his full claim as eldest son under law as well as by family tradition, in order to avoid embittering his mother. He wrote to hoer: “I can get a hundred other businesses, but never again a mother.”

In 1834, Engels was sent to a better gymnasium at nearby Elberfeld, where he studied Latin, Greek,French, mathematics, natural sciences, geography, and philosophy. He was especially stimulated by one teacher, a Dr. Clausen, and immersed himself in German literature and history. Engels admired Clausen as the only one who knew “how to awaken the feeling for poetry in the students… the feeling that otherwise would have had to grow stunted under the philistines of the Wupper Valley.” Engels’ heroes then were Siegfried, William Tell, and Faust.

But other institutions educated him too. During these school years, Engels, unlike his fellow students, was increasingly affected by the miserable conditions of life among workers in the Barmen factories and artisans in their home shops; by smoky, airless workrooms; child labor from the age of six; jobless and homeless laborers, often ruined by cheap gin. In short, he was overwhelmed by the condition of the poverty-stricken working class in the prosperous, industrialized Wupper Valley. Engels came to feel a deep conflict6 with his politically and religiously conservative home, and even more with the inhumane hypocrisy of the social-economic system all about him.

Strongly encouraged by his father to enter the business world rather than attend a university to study law, as he had wished for a time, Engels left the gymnasium a year before graduating. He worked for a year at his father’s firm, then for about two years as a clerk for a wholesale merchant at Bremen. Next he volunteered his year of military service in an artillery guards’ regiment at Berlin, then went to England in November 1842 to work in his father’s textile mill at Manchester.

At school and in Bremen, Engels had tried his hand at literary and critical essays, poetry, and translations; and he enthusiastically espoused the rationalist, anti-authoritarian, and humanist views of the “Young Germany” literary movement. He published several dozen writings under pseudonyms; the first under his name was a romantic translation of a Spanish poem in honor of Gutenberg, in which the poet Manuel José Quintana praised the inventor for bringing mankind reason and truth—and thereby peace and freedom—through the printing press. Among his unsigned pieces were two vividly critical “Letters from Wuppertal,” written at the age of nineteen, which were published in a Hamburg paper; they anticipated the analytic and factual style of his lifework by their exposé of the linked Pietist egoism and mass distress in his home town, and they settled his account with that religion, which he saw as bigoted, obscurantist, and the denial of human creativity and decency. While still a clerk, Engels was deeply affected by David Friedrich Strauss’s just-published Life of Jesus, and soon wrote to a close school friend: “What science rejects— the development of which included whole of church history—should no longer exist in life either” (Collected Works, II, letter to F. Graeber, 12-27 July 1839, P. 457). Strauss led him to Hegel: first the Upward spiral of the philosophy of History, and then the deeper waters of the logical treatises and the Phenomenology if Mind, and soon back into the writings of Kant and other predecessors.

During his military year(1841), Engels lives privately and plunged into life among university students and an informal club of young Left Hegelians called “The Free” he attended Schelling’s inaugural lecture, was outraged by Schelling’ rejection of reason, science, and progress, and proceeded to publish three anonymous pamphlets in defense of progressive Hegelianism and against Schelling. That year he was profoundly influenced by Ludwig Feuerbach’;s works, which confirmed both his total breakaway from his Christian upbringing, and his abiding belief in the humanist basis and purpose of any reasonable ethical principles. And then came a decisive turn: he was impressed by Moses Hess, who brought the French socialism of Saint-Simon into the Left Hegelians’ discussions: it was Hess whom Engels called the first communist among them, the first to show that human liberation required communism. Hess also pointed away from Germany and toward England, which also meant to Engels a turn away from philosophy to practice from theory to action.

Engels’ activities accelerated. In 1842 he wrote for Marx’s newspaper, the Rheinische Zeitung, and the two met briefly at Cologne. While in England for the next two years, Engels continued his commercial training at the family firm and investigated English social and economic conditions,He also developed his association with the German emigre League of the Just, began his long friendship with the Chartist leader G.J. Harney, and wrote for English Chartist and Utopian socialist papers. During this period Engels published his first economic work-the extraordinary anticipation of Marx’s later critique of economic categories, Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy. He also fell in love with a young lrish working-class women, Mary Burns, with whom he lives until her death in 1863.

During his return journey to Barmen in August 1844, Engels stopped for ten days in Paris, to see Marx. The visit was decisive for both: their intimate friendship and collaboration began then. Engels returned to Barmen to visit his family, to plan his business career, to undertake political activity with Hess and other socialists in the Rhineland, and to write The Condition of the Working Class in England.

This pioneering book in social science, a work of first-hand investigation combined with thorough analysis of reports and secondary sources, both histórical and empirical, was extraordinarily moving both in detail and in its overall portrait of the new urban industrial society of Manchester. Engels set forth the rapid pace of change in England during the previous sixty years that had brought new ways of production, new ways of living, new classes of people; most important, he described the extraordinary upheaval in human relations within the new industrial working class, the proletariat, which “was called into existence by the introduction of machinery” (Collected Works, IV, 321). Machinery, the division of labor, and water power (especially in the form of steam) were “the three great levers… busily putting the world out of joint.” They also were the causal technology that served the main force of development, which he saw to be capitalist concentration and centralization of people and economic power.

Thereafter Engels continued his work on concrete social matters, both contemporary and historical: The Peasant War in Germany (1850); twenty articles on the 1848 revolution in Germany for the New York Tribune(1851-1852)-signed by Marx; and six articles on housing (1872). He also produced philological studies on the history of German dialects; several dozen significant articles and pamphlets on tactical and political-military subjects; and essays and notes on the history of science and technology (which were used in his longer theoretical works and in Dialectics of Nature).

In 1844-1845, Engels had quickly joined Marx in a number of projects, the first being their sarcastic critique of “speculative” Left Hegelians, The Holy Family (1845). It was followed by The German Ideology (unpublished until 1932), which set forth an early major statement of their theory of histórical materialism; initiated their conception of sociological analysis; extended their separately developed concepts of economic laws, categories, and socioeconomic formations; and provided various suggestive apercus and theoretical starting points for understanding language, the evolution of materialism, the social foundations of the psychology of thinking and of emotions, and the contributions of technology to social development. Engels later said that he mainly listened and questioned while Marx wrote; and Marx himself commented. “We abandoned the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice, all the more willingly as we had achieved our main purpose — self-clarification.”

In 1848 came their famous Manifesto of the Communist Party, written by Marx but influenced by Engels, and anticipated in many aspects by Engels’ Principles of Communism (1847). In sharp and spare language the Manifesto combined empirical sociological investigation with passionate exposition of their view of the social crisis and its resolution: “In place of the old bourgeois society with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each individual is the condition for the free development of all.” Engels aided Marx with more than 170 articles as European correspondent for the New York Tribune and nine, chiefly on military subjects, foe the New American Cyclopedia (1857-1862). (After Marx’s death in 1883, Engels put the incomplete manuscripts in order and prepared the second and third volumes of Marx’s Capital for publication (1885, 1894), as well as some eighteen new editions of Marx’s other works. He had collaborated for decades in the research and thinking that had gone into Marx’s research for Capital.)

Engels returned to Manchester in 1850, after six years of activity among revolutionary and working-class organizations, during which he served in the unsuccessful German uprisings of 1849. He resumed his managerial post at the family cotton mill, becoming a partner in 1864, and also continued his studies, his writing, an immense correspondence with Marx and others, and his political associations, notably the International Working Men’s Association. After his retirement in 1869, Engels settled in London to continue scientific work, writing, political activity, and work with Marx. He wrote Anti Duhring (1876- 1878), the most popularly effective of all his and Marx’s expositions of their world view: The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884), based in part on Marx’s anthropological notes; and Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy (1886): he also drafted parts of his proposed work on the philosophy of science, a “dialectic of nature.”

Engels had lived happily with Lizzie, the sister of Mary Burns, after Mary’s death; they were formally married the day before Lizzie died in 1878. In his last years his housekeeper was Louise Kautsky, who had been married to Karl Kautsky (a leader of the German socialist movement). When she married Ludwig Freyberger, a medical doctor who attended Engels, he shared a new residence with them.

As social scientist and political figure, Engels was primarily Marx’s collaborator, beloved friend, support and disciple, research assistant and critic. Perhaps he also was Marx’s window to the actualities of Victorian England. Good-willed and good-humored, healthy and vigorous, he was a confident man of great physical and mental energy, quick at languages, at reading, at personal relationships, and at the immense tasks of self-imposed studies. He saw his own achievement accurately, for he knew how very much of his work in politics and in science (and not least in his hypotheses and projects for research into the natural sciences and their history) remained programmatic. He was, however, immensely pleased by what he had accomplished. He knew Marx’s quality better than anyone, of course: “Marx stood higher, saw further and took a wider and quicker view than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius; the rest of us were talented at best” (“Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy,” in Marx-Engels Selected Works, II [Moscow, 1950], 349).

Engels and Science. A remarkable autodidact in the full breadth of the natural sciences as much as in philosophy, history, and the social sciences, Engels wrote on science in several distinct modes: (1) popular exposition of natural science in support of his and Marx’s general outlook upon society; (2) investigation of the history of the sciences, especially their social history, as supportive research for the Marxist theory of histórical materialism: (3) reports and commentary on scientific developments for himself and for Marx in their congenial division of intellectual labors; (4) general criticism of the uses of science in practical and in ideological developments; (5) philosophical and methodological interpretations of the sciences.

Engels’ appreciation of science began early, as is shown in this passage from his first economic work, written in 1843, when he was twenty-three:

… a third element which, admittedly, never means anything to the economist —science-whose progress is as unlimited and at least as rapid as that of population. What progress dues the agriculture of this century owe to chemistry alone —indeed to two men alone. Sir Humphry Davy and Justus Liebig!… And what is impossible to science? (Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy: Collected Works, III, 440).

This appreciation continued; in 1894, at the end of his life, Engels wrote to a correspondent his now well-known comment on the place of science in modern history, and on the correct understanding of the history of science:

What we understand by the economic relations, which we regard as the determining basis of the history of society, is the manner and method by which men in a given society produce their means of subsistence and exchange the products among themselves (in so far as division of labor exists). Thus the entire technique of production and transport is here included. …Further included in economic relations [is] the geographical basis on which they operate.…

If, as you say, technique largely depends on the state of science, science depends far more still on the state and the requirements of technique. If society has a technical need, that helps science forward more than ten universities. The whole of hydrostatics (Torricelli, etc.) was called forth by the necessity for regulating the mountain streams of Italy in the 16th and 17th centuries. We have known anything reasonable about electricity only since its technical applicability was discovered. But unfortunately it has become the custom in Germany to write the history of the sciences as if they had fallen from the skies (letter to H. Starkenburg, 25 January 1894; Selected Correspondence [Moscow-London, 1956]. no. 234.pp. 548-549).

Engels and Marx had a common outlook upon science as a histórical phenomenon, so that any account of Marx’s thought on science is largely an account of Engels’ thought as well. First, we summarize their joint view of the history of science, and then Engels’ work on the history of nature as well as his understanding of the philosophy of science. Then we set forth these matters in some detail.

Engels and Marx had a common outlook upon science as a histórical phenomenon, so that any account of Marx’s thought on science is largely an account of Engels’ thought as well. First, we summarize their joint view of the history of science, and then Engels’ work on the history of nature as well as his understanding of the philosophy of science. Then we set forth these matters in some detail.

Engels’ and Marx’s principal contribution to understanding natural science was an analysis of its changing, that is, histórical nature. They went further, to conclude that science not only is in process, as part of the larger histórical social process, but also has a fundamentally social character and impact, and must be understood as such. By the mid-nineteenth century, the role and impact of science upon social life, both actual and prospective, by direct means and through technology, may have needed no argument; nevertheless, Marx and Engels saw insufficient recognition of that impact in the scholarly works of contemporary historians and political economists. This failure occurred despite the explicit hopes of scientists and philosophers from the time of Galileo and Bacon to Diderot. Kant, and Goethe for a benevolent impact of science upon human life.

Moreover, study of the converse effect, the impact of the social order upon science, was even more neglected; and to Engels such study promised to provide a more profound understanding of science. Here Engels included several distinct aspects of science: the sociology and political economy of scientists; provision and selection of problems for scientific investigation; material tools and techniques for investigating by observation and experiment; ideas, metaphors, heuristics, and mathematical and abstract (and perhaps other) models for use in concepts, theories, and general hypotheses; methodology and classification of the sciences, including social impact upon the development of epistemology and upon the criteria of scientific explanation. These external factors were to be taken along with the internal factors of thought and discovery in order fully to comprehend the cognitive, as well as the instrumental, nature of science. Engels disclaimed any simple and distinct separation of the internal and the external factors.

For Engels, science evidently was complex. An essential part of the productive basis of society, as both contributor and recipient, science was also seen by Engels as part of the cultural and conceptual superstructure of society. At times it was allied with religion, philosophy, fine art, or other cultural tendencies; at other times, opposed. It was never stable, never completed. Science was in part self-developing through rational argument, discursive critique, and either deliberate or chance enlargement of its empirical foundations; but—of great importance— in substantial part science developed in response to command, purchase, opportunity, or social values. Science was therefore surely both ideological and objective. Science was ideological in that it reflected, utilized, projected, and carried out social purposes; but just as surely science was objective in its cognitive achievements. It attained truths about the physical, chemical, astronomical, and biological processes of nature, and about the political economy of societies in their histórical development. In doing so, it served the most advanced stage of the human project to master nature.

Both in attaining truths and in serving to dominate nature, science was, for Marx and Engels, a source of individual fulfillment: in satisfying the human capacity to take pleasure in analytic understanding and in the combination of individual achievement with social cooperation, a particularly satisfying form of the cooperative division of labor that typifies all social and scientific advance. Essential for the liberation of mankind, but limited by its entrenchment within the ironic progress and conflicts of the bourgeois epoch, science was, when they wrote, the achievement and servant of capitalism.

Nature and Science. The historical quality of science had another significance for Engels. Not only must science be understood through its history and its social context; nature too required such understanding. Deeply influenced by his grasp of Hegel’s logic, Engels saw the essential criterion for understanding nature in a cosmic dialectic of development, from a stellar and galactic universe of physical and chemical evolutionary processes, through the biochemical processes that are the genesis of living matter, to the biological evolution of all life forms, and to the specific histórical evolution of the human species, with its particular bodily and mental changes and its social development due to its primary character in labor. The meaning and distinctive significance of “dialectic” for Engels is still disputed, but he stated the minimal and necessary property in 1859: “What distinguished Hegel’s way of thinking from that of all other philosophers was the enormous histórical sense upon which it was based” (On Karl Marx’s “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.” Das Votlk 20 August 1859; trans, in Selected Works, I 119351, 367, originally published separately at London in 1895).

For Engels, the idea of a full continuity of inanimate, animate, and human nature (individual and social) had already been well established by the sciences of his day. Human nature was embedded within the larger natural history; and the larger process of nature likewise would have a genuine dialectical development, its levels of beings coming into existence where they did not exist before, with a striking ability to generate novel phenomena that had their own characteristic properties and activity. Engels saw three great instances of genuine natural history: our sun with its planets had a beginning (the Kant—Laplace hypothesis), and no doubt all other astronomical and galactic structures had too; life had a chemical genesis (Wöhler and subsequent biochemistry); our species had its biological origin, as did all the others (Darwin). So, to the history of ideas of nature, Engels added the idea of the history of nature. He believed that the study of the history of nature would best be undertaken by “Hegel’s way of thinking” applied within the sciences of nature. To write such an interpretive synthesis of the sciences in order to demonstrate such a dialectic of nature remained a cherished goal for Engels, to which he turned initially in 1873, again in 1875- 1876, and later in 1882; but aside from a popular presentation in his Anti—Dühring, the project remained drafts, notes, fragments, and a plan. His notes were published in 1927 and are now known as his Dialectics of Nature.

The History of Science. At the age of twenty—three, Engels wrote: “… a single achievement of science like James Watt’s steam-engine has brought in more for the world in the first fifty years of its existence than the world has spent on the promotion of science since the beginning of time” (Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy; Collected Works, III, 428). He soon realized that to understand nineteenth-century capitalist society, he must understand not only Watt and his steam engine, and others he cited Berthollet, Davy, Liebig, Edmund Cartwright-but the general history of science and technology as well.

Thus, for Marx and Engels, science was one among many social activities, arising from society and developing as other social activities did —in part autonomously, in part closely coupled to a component of the overall structure. Science was, in their view, characteristically a fusion of several distinct activities: (I) observation and its systematic development through exploration, instrumentation, measurement, experimentation, mathematical analysis, and the accumulated learning of craft and technology: (2) explanatory thinking through increasingly abstract principles, using correlations, hypotheses, analogies, metaphors, pictorial and abstract models, and logical demonstrations; (3) presentation of an increasingly concrete conceptual rendering of the objects of investigation, together with critical testing in social practice and in subsequent theoretical practice as well.

As thoughtful human activity, science was a peculiar form of consciousness, since scientific consciousness was not only cognitive but also ideological in being responsive to social interests and powers: likewise, science was not only instrumentally practical but also a meditative and intrinsically a joyful activity, an essential contribution toward a creative outlook upon the world. Scientific consciousness, Engels said, changes with changing times, just as religious, political, aesthetic, and other forms of mental life do. Like culture in general, science itself can be investigated scientifically; and as part of human history, science should be explained by Marx’s theory of histórical materialism. Marx’s compact summary applied, then, to science as a component of intellectual life (1859):

The mode of production of material life condition the general process of social, political, and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness (Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy [New York. 19701.20-21).

Tin successive development of the separate branches of natural science should be studied. First of all. astronomy, which, if only on account of the seasons, was absolutely indispensable for pastoral and agricultural peoples. Astronomy can only develop with the aid of mathematics. Hence this also had to be tackled.—Further, at a certain stage of agriculture and in certain regions (raising of water for irrigation in Egypt), and especially with the origin of towns, big building structures and the development of handicrafts, mechanics also arose. This was soon needed also for navigation and war, — Moreover, it requires the aid of mathematics and so promotes the lattersup(1) s development. Thus, from the very beginning the origin and development of the sciences has been determined by production (Dialectics of Nature [Moscow, 1954], 247).

Social existence is fundamental to science, then, at least at the beginning. For Marx and Fngels, the main content of their materialist understanding of society had been tentatively settled early in their work, and with increased conviction as they undertook further studies. There were three central and related components: (1) Societies are histórically evolved systems, the structures of which depend essentially on the social relations among men and women; these relations primarily serve the material functions of production and reproduction. The human relations are within, and between, social classes; social systems are hierarchical structures with a basis in the production and reproduction needed to satisfy material and related needs, and with a political-cultural superstructure. (2) While the social systems are self preserving with respect to their external natural and human environment and to their internal activities carried on by individuals and classes, this stabilizing function is countered by internal conflicts and tensions, the Marxian “contradictions,” which tend to undermine and propel the systems. (3) The histórical quality pervades all social phenomena, and must characterize any adequate explanation of either the material forces and the social relations of production in the base, or of the political and cultural realities of the superstructure.

Marx and Engels observed that science functions in the economic basis, but is situated as a cognitive and partly autonomous activity within the cultural superstructure. As a component of the base, scientists have their special tasks in the historically developed division of labor. Under nineteenth-century capitalism, the overall scientific enterprise increasingly and massively served as one of the productive forces of society. As a component of the superstructure, changing science reflected and, in a complex way, mediated, and contributed to, the structure, values, and human relations of changing society. It did so in the course of the investigation and interpretation of the forces of nature.

To Marx and Engels, a theory of economic determinism, and a fortiori any blunt technological determinism, was a misunderstanding of their views. Direct social causation of scientific activities and ideas by economic or technological factors is a crude reductionism, a primitive “mechanical” determinism. What they intended was clear and univocal to them, although disputed by contemporaries and subsequent Marxist thinkers: to wit, an association of scientific achievements with the economic structure and technical processes of their time, but an association of which the feedback modes of reciprocal conditioning and influencing of science and society set subtle research problems before the historians of science and of society. Engels wrote about the danger of simplification, of a “vulgar” Marxism, explicitly, some years after Marx died:

… According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. More than this, neither Marx nor I have ever asserted.… The economic situation is the basis, but the various elements of the superstructure-political forms of the class struggle and its results… and even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the participants, political, juristic, philosophical théories, religious views and their further development into systems of dogmas—also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form. There is an interaction of all these elements in which, amid all the endless host of accidents (that is, of things and events whose inner interconnection is so remote, or so impossible of proof that we can regard it as non-existent, as negligible) the economic movement finally asserts itself as necessary. Otherwise the application of the theory to any period of history would be easier than the solution of a simple equation of the first degree.…

Marx and I are ourselves partly to blame for the fact that the younger people sometimes lay more stress on the economic side than is due to it. We had to emphasize the main principle vis-a-vis our adversaries, who denied it, and we had not always the time, the place or the opportunity to give their due to the other elements involved in the interaction. But when it came to presenting a section of history, that is, to making a practical application, it was a different matter and there no error was permissible… (letter of 21-22 September 1890, to J. Bloch; Selected Correspondence, no. 214, pp. 498-499).

The Marxist heuristic for historians of science, then, included a spectrum of social, economic, and cultural influences upon science. (See, however. L. Colletti, From Rousseau to Lenin, 63-72, for the argument that this is not Marx’s own view —and, indeed, that in this respect Engels differs.) The blunt and promising power of the Marxist approach was the complex externalism, seeking explanation of scientific activities in the multiple social contexts of those activities. Whatever subtlety would be found was due to the complex nature of those social contexts. Furthermore, their view of the social determination of ideas, including scientific ideas, took Marx and Engels beyond any externalist account of science that would be limited to a commonsense list—problem choice, resource allocation, professional codes, social roles, public relations, personnel recruitment and training, industrial and military exploitation, religious and aesthetic influence, and the like —however illuminating such an account would be. Marx and Engels also looked for social influences upon the content of science, upon the factual findings, concepts and théories, explanatory criteria, and epistemology.

Applying historical materialism to a variety of cultural phenomena, including religion, philosophy, and the natural and the social sciences, Marx and Engels began to formulate the research problem of locating and understanding the social determinants of truth seeking and truth attainment. Their work was to be a major source of the sociology of knowledge (for Karl Mannheim, Max Scheler, and others). As a rather general method, they looked, in the case of science, for differing sciences —which means differing accounts of nature —and different practical activities and interactions with natural materials in differing histórical epochs. Nature as understood and science as developed in an aristocratic and pastoral society contrast with nature as understood and science as practiced in an industrial, urban, and competitively individualist society. Engels was amused by projections of social norms upon nature in the content of science, as in the nineteenth-century English adaptive transition from a religion of cosmic harmony to a theology of progress through struggle and the “survival of the fittest.”

But such a general assessment of social context provides no specific account of any particular scientific development. What it can do is to suggest the problem of the histórical periodization of science, and the related problem of the systematic classification of the sciences —but again without specificity. In treating these two problems, Engels analyzed the sciences first with respect to their histórical stages. and separately with respect to their differing, specialized subject matter (which he took to be identified by particular forms of motion— or, more properly, of energy). Periodization of science largely followed Marx’s account of the stages of histórical formations, as in his striking remarks in The Poverty of Philosophy about the societies of feudal lords and industrial capitalists as “given” by the hand mill and the steam mill; but neither Marx nor Engels wrote at length on it. There are extended fragments on classification in Engels’ notes. (See Kedrov’s full exposition.)

It is likely that Engels understood the strength, subtlety, complexities—even the difficulties —of a Marxist historiography of science. In his view, all intellectual and institutional formations in the social superstructure had their own “internal” histories once they had been initiated, their own “forces” influencing the development of the base and the rest of the superstructure, their relative autonomy. Just how far that independence might go could only be determined concretely, case by case, by the scientist and the historian of science after him; just how personally idiosyncratic and autonomous an individual experimenter or theorist might be, going against the dominant patterns of scientific activity (whether they in turn were set by internal or external factors); just where and how the requirements set by the productive base of society finally prevailed or how the established norms of the cultural superstructure fixed limits upon scientific thinking; just how, and how much, the received and accustomed patterns of thought and explanation might be stretched-these, and a host of similar questions, remain for the historian.

Given the prevailing histories of ideas at his time, Engels surmised that the first Marxist analyses of the history of science would have to be blunt, only a first approximation, stressing economic and technical necessities. One of the first pioneering efforts, B. Hessens “The Social and Economic Roots of Newton’s Principia” (1931), deliberately emphasized “the complete coincidence of the physical thematics of the period, which arose out of the needs of economics and technique, with the main contents of the Principia, which in the full sense of the word is a survey and systematic resolution of all the main group of physical problems” (Hessen, p. 176). But Engels and Marx, as Hessen also recognized, would in addition have looked for internal factors at work upon Newton and upon his scientific context: it is the balance of all factors that only the historian’s genius can establish. How far autonomous superstructure may stray from the constraining influences of the base is too abstract a question to be put in general terms; but Engels, at any rate, would not agree with those historians for whom even the histórical genesis, as well as the major properties, of modern science are fully independent, “the fruit of intellectual mutation” (Hall. “Merton Revisited” [1963]).

Engels did write of reciprocal relations between science and philosophy, as well as between science and (independent) technology, so that the actual sources of ideas must be a matter of inquiry. Moreover, for Engels the social context of science included ideas, such as the metaphysical or other presuppositions about nature, where metaphysics in turn was the object of investigation with respect to its social role and ideological interests. Likewise, the history of the continuum of interactions between science and technology, near to common ground in Engels’ time, as he saw it, was construed within the same theory of social contexts.

If Engels was to avoid simple reduction to either economic need or technological implication, what was to remain of the distinctively Marxist explanation of science? A reply can be drawn from The German Ideology. The economic basis of society comprises productive forces and the social relations of those who take part in the working of those forces. Out of these social relations of production comes the consciousness that characterizes the given times; and the general prevailing state of consciousness provides the framework for ideas and other cultural activities. But all these relations are reciprocal, asymmetric, shifting; moreover, the study of culture in society should be the study of an entire social system, not of pairs of separate and independent entities that interact externally. Even so fundamental an analytic distinction as that of basis and superstructure would be open to qualification, as may be seen in the discussion of “ideology” and in the consideration of the formal process whereby ideas and other ideological factors, such as values, arise. In 1893, Engels wrote to the literary critic and historian Mehring:

… one more point is lacking, which, however, Marx and I always failed to stress enough in our writings and in regard to which we are all equally guilty. That is to say, we all laid, and were bound to lay. the main emphasis, in the first place, on the derivation of political, juridical, and other ideological notions, and of actions arising through the medium of these notions, from basic economic facts. But in so doing we neglected the formal side —the ways and means by which these notions, etc., come about —for the sake of the content. This has given our adversaries a welcome Opportunity for misunderstandings and distortions…

Ideology is a process accomplished by the so—called thinker consciously, it is true, but with a false consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to him; otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process.… The histórical ideologist (histórical is here simply meant to comprise the political, juridical, philosophical, theological—in short, all the spheres belonging to society and not only to nature) thus possesses in every sphere of science material which has formed itself independently out of the thought of previous generations and has gone through its own independent course of development in the brains of these successive generations. True, external facts belonging to one or another sphere may have to exercise a codetermining influence.…

… It is the old story: form is always neglected at first for content….

Hanging together with this is the fatuous notion of the ideologists that because we deny an independent histórical development to the various ideological spheres which play a part in history we also deny them any effect upon history. The basis of this is the common undialectical conception of cause and effect as rigidly opposite poles, the total disregarding of interaction… once an historic element has been brought into the world by other, ultimately economic causes, it reacts, can react on its environment and even on the causes that have given rise to it (letter of 14 July 1893; Selected Correspondence no. 232, pp. 540—542).

The “ways and means” by which ideas come about will be similar to the ways in which they function: they mediate among the factors of human life, among needs, values, techniques, social contexts, and nature. Marx and Engels saw that scientific ideas, and the differentiated forms of scientific rationality, support developing capitalist society at each level, sustaining both the accelerating technologies and the appropriate ideology for the capitalist division of labor. In Capital and other writings, Marx had examined these aspects of the functions of science in bourgeois society, notably in his analysis of machinery and through his elucidating conception of the effects of fetishism of commodities and reification of human relations: things were seen to be human, while relations among human beings were reified — that is, seen and treated as relations among inanimate things, which is to say treated as “objective,” outside human control. To Marx and Engels, this delusive and indeed false objectivity carried the ideological burden of a spurious science, spurious because it brought a dangerous analogy of impersonal and objective laws into the ways people relate to one another.

Darwin’s work signaled the ambiguities of science to Marx and Engels. They welcomed Darwin for his insight into the nature of life, for taking the principal scientific step toward understanding nature as histórical and toward the defeat of fixity in scientific ideas and static metaphysical conceptions. Marx wrote to Lasalle: “Darwin’s book is very important and serves me as a natural—scientific basis for the class struggle in history… despite all deficiencies [in Darwin’s argument], not only is the death-blow dealt here for the first time to ’teleology’ in the natural sciences, but its rational meaning is empirically explained…”(16 January 1861). Engels observed: “The Darwinian theory [is] to be demonstrated as the practical proof of Hegel’s account of the inner connection between necessity and chance” (Dialectics of Nature, p. 402). But he also noted the social content of Darwin’s theory:

…Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind, and especially on his countrymen, when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest histórical achievement, is the normal state of the animal kingdom. Only conscious organization of social production… can lift mankind above the rest of the animal world as regards the social aspect, in the same way that production in general had done this for mankind in the specifically biological aspect… (Dialectics of Nature, p. 49).

Indeed, Engels went on to criticize the adoption of Darwinism by the “bourgeois Darwinists”:

The whole Darwinist teaching of the struggle for existence is simply a transference from society to living nature of Hobbes’s doctrine of bellum omnium contra omnes and of the bourgeois—economic doctrine of competition together with Malthus’s theory of population. When this conjurer’s trick has been performed… the same théories are transferred back again from organic nature into history and it is now claimed that their validity as eternal laws of human society has been proved… (letter of 12 November 1875 to P. Lavrov; Selected Correspondence, no. 153, pp. 366-370).

Marx and Engels had argued against Malthus for decades, notably in Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845), in which he bitterly pointed out that “poverty, misery, distress and immorality” prevail as a result of economic and political forces, not of any alleged natural necessity of a biological law of overpopulation.

Could it be that Darwin’s work was free of ideology, and that social Darwinism was quite simply spurious science? Could the Marxist historian distinguish sharply between the social conditioning of Darwin’s own work and the social forces that affected the various receptions of his theories? Engels did not, in the end, clarify the issue. He did, however, clearly maintain that one must hold fast to the Darwinian achievement, whatever its social and personal circumstances. He paid the highest compliment to Marx’s lifework in his funeral oration for his comrade in seeing Marx’s work on social nature as the true parallel to Darwin’s work on the origin and development of biological species. Moreover, evolutionary biology was, for Engels, the decisive connection between nature as a whole and mankind. Indeed, the species-specific properties of man —to labor, and thus through productive activity to dominate and transform nature, and thereby also to make and transform himself—were necessarily to be understood also as evolved natural properties, a materialist account of the idealist notion of nature transforming itself through the mediation of our novel species.

To Engels, it was inevitable that scientific truths would have ideological impacts and exploitation. Science existed in society, subject to social uses and understandings. When would it be opposed to the ruling class? Engels, throughout his writings, argued that the working-class interest lay in realistic judgment and illusion-free knowledge, ranging from economics to medicine, from history to chemistry — and, hence, that science was already an implicit ally, in method if not entirely in choice of investigation. Going further, the political interest of the modern industrial working class was to bring about a new society that had no ruling class, neither class distinctions nor exploitation. The implication for science was that precisely such working-class interest required an end to delusions about nature and about social nature, an end to metaphysical abstractions and to the ideological fantasies that flourish in the consciousness of class societies. Science could be taken over into the working class, he thought, and it would be science at its best. A later Marxist (Neurath) remarked hopefully that the proletariat would be the bearer of science without metaphysics. But Engels saw that science, like all social activities, would have its struggles—those about its findings, those about its direction, and those within its thought.

In the debates over Darwinism, Engels saw science being used to support a false consciousness through religious, political, philosophical, and even juridical interpretation and adaptation of scientific results: not only reconciliation between scientific novelty and existing social relations, but also support of the ideology of the ruling class. Of course, for Marx and Engels the struggle took place within social theory and social science as much as within the ideological marketplace. They never rejected the need for a genuine scientific analysis of human society, for knowledge of objective laws of social development —only the covert distortion of that analysis to fit the special interests of those who benefited from it. But such a genuine science of human society, in Engels’ analysis, must treat the essential novelty of the human species. Here the role of consciousness was central-the subjective feelings, intentions, thoughts, emotions, the mental life that emerged with mankind in the long course of evolution from objective chemical and biological nature.

To explain the strikingly novel phenomenon of the human mind in scientific terms without reductionist mechanisms was of greatest importance to Marx and Engels. Marx saw the causal link between nature and this new natural entity, man, to be labor. Labor was the chief explanatory category for understanding the genesis and history of man. Engels set forth his tentative account of this process in an essay entitled “The Part Played by Labor in the Transition From Ape to Man” (1876), with a sketch of the early inventions and uses of tools in the formation of new human physiological features and new social relations:

… the hand is not only the organ of labor, it is also the product of labor… (furthermore, the transformed larynx and the mouth developed when] men in the making arrived at the point where they had something to say to each other… first labor, after it and then with it, articulate speech-these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man…the reaction on labor and speech of the development of the brain and its attendant senses, of the increased clarity of consciousness, power of abstraction and of judgment, gave an ever-renewed impulse to the further development of both labor and speech… the animal merely uses external nature, and brings about changes in it simply by his presence [while] man by his changes makes it serve his ends, masters it.…

Engels concluded with a warning:

… at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature —but that we, with flesh, blood, and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to know and correctly apply its laws.… Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human conquests over nature. For each such conquest nature takes its revenge on us (as printed in Dialectics of Nature, 230 ff.).

Scientific ideas were both classless and class-situated for Engels. With Marx, he had written decisively about the role of ruling-class interests in the thought of an epoch:

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas; i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the material means of production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships… grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.… If now …we detach the ideas of the ruling class from the ruling class itself and attribute to them an independent existence… if we thus ignore the individuals and world conditions which are the source of the ideas, we can say, for instance, that during the time that the aristocracy was dominant, the concepts honor, loyalty, etc., were dominant, during the dominance of the bourgeoisie the concepts of freedom, equality, etc.… increasingly abstract ideas hold sway, ideas which increasingly take on the form of universality. For each new class which puts itself in the place of one ruling before it, is compelled … to represent its interest as the common interest of all the members of society, that is, expressed in ideal form: it has to give its ideas the form of universality, and represent them as the only rational, universally valid ones (German Ideology, 61 -62).

If this analysis bears upon scientific thought too, could Engels take a uniformly optimistic view of science as socially progressive? At times he equivocated: science and its interpretation were not automatically progressive, and science should not itself be a fetish; but there was, in Engels’ view, a particular optimistic world outlook based upon his critical interpretation of the ensemble of specialized sciences, of their methods of thought, and of their findings about the world. His dialectics of nature, and his project for placing radical social analysis and revolutionary practice within such a cosmology of emergent evolution, have been subject to vigorous debate on several counts (philosophical, scientific, political, ideological).

The question has also been pursued of whether Marx differed from Engels with respect to the place and role of science in human affairs, and in his conception of nature. For both, science as a social ideology in bourgeois society tended both to conceal social realities and to provide methods and findings to reveal those realities; Marx’s chief work was deliberately a critique of the previous works on the science of political economy, in part for their ideological, nonscientific character. Critique of what claimed to be social science was different from critique of natural science, for the critique of the “science” of political economy required a critique of the whole system of social reality. Furthermore, successful science in their time was limited by its analytic, specialized approach, which needed to be supplemented by a critical awareness of the whole that had been subjected to analytic abstraction, by what Marx intended to be a unity in concrete exposition.

Science, and all scientific theories of nature, were irrevocably social, and must be examined as such. Engels and Marx well understood Protagoras: man is the measure of all things. Their gloss was on “measure,” which was through human labor and was a transforming of “all things.” In that materialist sense, labor was constitutive of all things. For Marx, every practical or cognitive encounter with nature—to understand, to change and transform, even to obliterate —was mediated by human consciousness in its histórically determined state: and that state of consciousness had arisen along with the social metabolism that was the dialectic of the human species with nature through socially organized labor. Such mediation through consciousness, Engels’ “ways and means,” seemed to Marx inescapably to be through the several, and often conflicting, ideological presuppositions of class societies. Engels never denied this. Neither Marx nor Engels wrote about the nature of science in a future classless society, in a society with a minimum of necessary labor (but see Capital, III) and without the exquisite specialized division of labor that thus far had characterized industry and science alike; nor did they describe the classless society in any other respect.

Marx’s dialectic within social nature arose fully from within his critical examination of the social science of his time: economics, political theory, and related social thought; by contrast, while Engels’ dialectic accepted that, his writings carried it further, to interpret the theories and empirical findings of the natural sciences. This interpretive process was from without, external to the scientific activities. Whether Engels’ dialectic was external to the object of such scientific investigations — to nature — is an open question for philosophers and scientists; but it was not posed, nor was it implicitly answered, by Marx. At any rate, nature is dialectical by bringing men into existence, since for Marx human beings were at once forces of nature and social subjects. For Marx too the dialectic of labor was a natural process. But Marx set his limit in 1845 in the second of his Theses on Feuerbach: “The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking which is isolated from practice is a purely scholastic question.”

Practical social mediation applies to all knowledge; this is the beginning of Marxist epistemology. The social context is the same for ideas of nature and for ideas of society. Analysis of the social context of ideas, by the Marxist history of science, is joined with analysis of content, because social context, being mediated by practice and by cultural forms, is in any case constitutive of ideas and of their objects. “One can look at history from two sides and divide it into the history of nature and the history of men. The two sides are, however, inseparable; the history of nature and the history of men are dependent on each other so long as men exist” (German Ideology, Collected Works, V. 28).

The historian of science is laboring, too, working in a determinate time and place, bringing understanding to the works of scientists and to their lives in history. The historian is also embedded in the values, metaphors, criteria, conflicts, and false consciousness of his time. He must, in Engels’ mode, both praise and query science. He should puzzle out the dialectical interaction of anthropomorphic projection onto nature and objective knowledge of nature — meditate, for example, upon Darwin’s great metaphor (Young, “Darwin’s Metaphor”) and ask: Does Nature select?

History of Nature and Philosophy of Science. Engels wrote of his dialectical conception in sweeping but somewhat heuristic terms: “…the dialectic is nothing more than the science of the general laws of motion and development of nature, human society, and thought.” Throughout his notes, and in his Anti-Dühring and other publications, he gave illustrations from the natural sciences, the social sciences, philology, philosophy, and even mathematics. Engels took Hegel’s logic as the most suggestive result of classical philosophical investigations, in contrast with the inadequacies, as he saw them, of empiricism and its purely inductive generalizations. But Engels himself believed that scientific investigators abstract dialectical laws (for the greater part unknowingly) from “the history of nature and human society.” He agreed with his understanding of Hegel, that there are primarily three such laws: transformation of quantity into quality, and vice versa; interpenetration of opposites; and negation of the negation.

Engels was writing in broad strokes, in an exuberant and serious critical style. Is it popular science or philosophical critique? He plunged into his examples, as in his criticism of Haeckel’s claims on behalf of induction:

The concepts with which induction operates: species, genus, class have been rendered fluid by the theory of evolution and so have become relative: but one cannot use relative concepts for induction.

… Light corpuscles and caloric were the results of induction. Where are they now? Induction taught us that all vertebrates have a central nervous system differentiated into brain and spinal cord, and that the spinal cord is enclosed in cartilaginous or bony vertebrae—whence indeed the name is derived. Then Amphioxus was revealed as a vertebrate with an undifferentiated central nervous strand and without vertebrae… (Dialectics of Nature, 303).

Engels’ work is a lively exploitation of nineteenth-century science. He praises the method of abstraction, so far as it goes, but not its product; and he adopts Hegel’s remark “We can eat cherries and plums, but not fruit, because no one has so far eaten fruit as such.” Engels also adds that the eternal abstract laws of nature become historical and, hence, concrete: “That water is fluid from 0°-100°C is an eternal law of nature, but for it to be valid, there must be (1) water, (2) the given temperature, (3) normal pressure. On the moon there is no water, in the sun only its elements, and the law does not exist for these heavenly bodies” (Dialectics of Nature, 316). Moreover, whole bodies of science are exclusively geocentric: “The moon has no atmosphere, the sun one of glowing metallic vapors; the former has no meteorology, that of the latter is quite different from ours.” And “The geocentric standpoint in astronomy is prejudiced and has rightly been abolished. But as we go deeper in our investigations, it comes more and more into its own. The sun, etc., serve the earth (Hegel). Anything other than geocentric physics, chemistry, biology, meteorology, etc. is impossible for us, and these sciences lose nothing by saying that they hold good for the earth and are therefore only relative. If one takes that seriously and demands a centerless science, one puts a stop to all science” (Dialectics of Nature, 317).

Engels’ range was great, for he was sensitive to puzzles, polarities, and contrasts:

On simple and compound: “An animal is neither simple nor compound.”

On linguistic polarization: “… Frankish is a dialect that is both High German and Low German.”

On chance and necessity: “As long as we are not able to show on what the number of peas in the pod depends, it remains just a matter of chance, and to say that the case was foreseen already in the primordial constitution of the solar system does not get us a step further… . The one [individual] pea-pod would provide more causal connections for following up than all the botanists in the world could solve.… Hence chance is not explained here by necessity, but rather necessity is degraded to the production of what is merely accidental.”

On nature at large: “The whole of nature accessible to us forms a system, an interconnected totality of bodies, and by bodies we understand here all material existences extending from stars to atoms, indeed right to ether particles, in so far as one grants the existence of the last named.” … “Among the Greeks–just because they were not yet advanced enough to dissect, analyze nature—nature is still viewed as a whole… the universal connection of natural phenomena.”

As his examples and briefly stated observations accumulate, the chief characteristics of Engels’ approach come into focus.

First, while scientific methods are said to be implicitly dialectical and may be understood as such, Engels’ objective materialism goes considerably further, beyond method to the hypothesis of a universal dialectical content in all that exists. For Engels this old ontological theme, held by thinkers from Heraclitus to Hegel, requires materialist meaning and empirical demonstration; but his own articulation is substantially and admiringly— often literally—that of Hegel: “There is no motion without matter, so also there is no matter without motion” (Hegel, Philosophy of Nature, sec. 261) becomes “Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter” (Dialectics of Nature, 86).

Second, dialectical thought, or the dialectical method, applies to the development of concepts. It is carried out by the thinker, who is, however, merely bringing conceptual development into awareness. It also applies to the historical evolution of cultural forms, including scientific ideas; but in either realm, the dialectical process presupposes the working out, the “unfolding,” of tensions, contradictions, and oppositions within the meaningful content of the concepts and the cultural forms. Evidently only man, among the thinking animals, can think dialectically: this is so, as Engels sees it, because only man’s brain, developed in size and function, makes it possible for him to abstract, to universalize, to engage in self-critical analysis of the concepts that have been formed by that ability to generalize, and to perform what Marx called “universal labor.”

Third, dialectics of a subject matter clearly describes and requires indeterminateness, vagueness, transitional states and critical points, the simultaneous and reconciled presence of polar opposites. On the other hand, the everyday life of crafts and technology, and the specialized sciences for the most part also—Engels calls it “for daily use, for scientific retail” —can get along with the approximations of fixed, at times naively metaphysical, notions and categories that have only relative validity and artificial, even arbitrary and conventional, standing.

Fourth; whatever the subject matter, a dialectical theory requires interaction forces, an idea supported by Engels’ optimistic reading of contemporary science, which he saw as engaged in seeking and understanding “universal reciprocal interactions.”

Fifth, Engels argues for the power of hypothetical thinking, which he sees too little respected by empiricist philosophers and historians of science:

The form of development of natural science, in so far as it thinks, is the hypothesis. A new fact is observed which makes impossible the previous method of explaining the facts belonging to the same group. From this moment onwards new methods of explanation are required —at first based on only a limited number of facts and observations. Further observational material weeds out these hypotheses, doing away with some and correcting others, until finally the law is established in pure form… (Dialectics of Nature, 318-319).

It is easy to see Engels’ desire for a sensible fusion of the strikingly imaginative achievements of modern scientific thought (hypotheses), based on empirical findings, with the flexibility, dynamics, and self-critical analytic power of dialectical logic. But he had other goals to pursue in his reflections on science and nature. In view of one penetrating theme of historical materialism —that all knowledge, without exception, is a function of human labor, socially situated—how was Engels to understand the continuing component of materialism? Human labor is both biological and sensuous activity and socially mediated throughout. Engels sought a materialist explanation of the objective source of the active, sensuous, laboring qualities; and he pressed for causal (and no doubt dialectical) hypotheses to account for praxis and morality.

This revival of some goals of French materialism was deliberate, but not reductionist. Materialist explanation is not biologism; but, similarly, a socially mediated biology should not eliminate biologically given natural limits —that is, it must not be Utopian and idealist. For Engels this problem of material causation of human actions bore upon human choice and moral questions, since human decisions are the end results of multiple causes — the vector sum of social, biological, and other forces. At one point he complained, “Ideal driving forces are recognized but… the investigation [is] not carried further back behind these into their motive causes.” However inadequately developed materialist psychology must have seemed to him at that time, Engels believed in the determinism of a materialist account of subjective events —acts of will, cognitive processes, emotional dynamics, evaluating and choosing values, evaluating and choosing the means. Human subjectivity is educable, and thereby responsible–often unpredictable in the individual case, not because there are no determining causes but because there are too many! Marx’s delight in Darwin, after all, was in Darwin’s causal account of telos.

The draft of Dialectics of Nature, together with Anti-Dühring and the book on Feuerbach, sketch out Engels’ concerns with science, which are deep and subtle despite his powerfully clear and simple style:

(1) Nonhuman nature is not fixed in its states of existence, but historical; not merely moving, but genuinely changing, since novel entities and properties come into existence.

(2) Even novelty is relative (to its causal origins).

(3) Scientific thinking about nature plausibly introduces useful but ultimately superficial abstractions, essences, fixed species, unchanging atoms, static instincts; and these must be criticized as only relatively valid.

(4) The knowledge of various levels of nature cannot, in their separate qualities, show them to be accountable for each other; neither mechanism, nor vitalism, nor a sociocentric account of all human knowledge will suffice.

(5) Philosophical presuppositions and interpretations of science are unavoidable and only foolishly denied: philosophical clues, heuristics, and anticipations have occurred throughout European history.

(6) The natural environment sets ultimate boundaries to mankind, limits to social and individual growth, pleasure, and age.

(7) Natural and human history alike bring dreadfully painful as well as progressive qualities to evolutionary advances—as portrayed in Engels’ vivid account of the original initiation of class society out of so-called gentile society, in The Origin of the Family (indebted to the research of L. H. Morgan). Engels went so far as to say. “Each advance in organic evolution is at the same time a regression, fixing one-sided evolution and excluding evolution along many other directions.”

(8) The relation of man to nature is active, through labor, but also passive; the causal influences of nature upon man stimulate action, no doubt, but set his abilities and inabilities. Here, for example, Engels thought of heredity and of thermodynamics, but his point was general.

(9) The achievement of science must be winnowed into what is objective and what is not. Part of the superstructure yet part of the base, transcending historical limits of class societies, science gives cognitive and practical mastery that cannot be wholly understood as ideological; it must also be understood that the scientific achievements of slave, feudal, and capitalist societies are not slave, feudal, or capitalist truths.

(10) Hence the history of science is not simply a sector of the history of culture; science is qualitatively different from religion or jurisprudence, for example.

In his final contemplation of man within nature, Engels’ view might seem to be unresolved. The natural limitations of disease, accident, and span of life are eternally there, to be treated and coped with. No doubt a socialist society will no longer let the improvements due to science cause alienation and exploitation. But scientific coping with natural limits causes no revolutionary transformation in the laws of nature, and apparently cannot. This is no justification for being anti-science, in Engels’ view. Revolutionary action is wholly a matter of human history. In the end it seems clear and not troublesome to him that communism cannot defeat the inexorable qualities of the natural order.

Engels writes tentatively of the origin of our “island universe,” of the solar systems of 20 million stars and their gradual, though certain, extinction. He does not know whether the ashes of our planetary system will be the raw material for a new one: but he remarks that either there is a divine creator or there is the possibility of a new planetary system arising in accordance with the “nature inherent in moving matter, and the conditions for which, therefore, must also be reproduced by matter, even if only after millions and millions of years and more or less by chance, but with the necessity that is also inherent in chance” (Dialectics of Nature, 52). Speculating upon the mutual collapse of the heavenly bodies and the resultant vast temperature increase, Engels sees as yet unknown forces responsible for energy storage, for recombination of novel forms of motion, and for the “reconversion of extinct suns into incandescent vapor” with new galaxies, suns, and planets once more evolving.

Like his contemporary T. H. Huxley, and Arthur Eddington, fifty years later, Engels wrote a scientific epilogue to Mephistopheles:

…“all that comes into being deserves to perish.” Millions of years may elapse, hundreds of thousands of generations be born and die, but inexorably the time will come when the declining warmth of the sun will no longer suffice to melt the ice thrusting itself forward from the poles; when the human race, crowding more and more about the equator, will finally no longer find even there enough heat for life; when gradually even the last trace of organic life will vanish; and the earth, an extinct frozen globe like the moon, will circle in deepest darkness… instead of the bright, warm solar system with its harmonious arrangement of members, only a cold, dead sphere will still pursue its lonely path through universal space. And what will happen to our solar system will happen sooner or later to all the other systems of our island universe; it will happen to all the other innumerable island universes, even to those the light of which will never reach the earth while there is a living human eye to receive it.

And when such a solar system has completed its life history and succumbs to the fate of all that is finite, death, what then? Will the sun’s corpse roll on for all eternity through infinite space, and all the once infinitely diversely differentiated natural forces pass for ever into one single form of motion, attraction? (Dialectics of Nature, 49-50).

But no, Engels sees a scientific truth in ancient wisdom. The mechanism of chance and the emergence of structures is the materialist source of a dialectic in nature, the eternal source of the renewal of life. Engels concludes the sole completed section of his Dialectics of Nature with serene cosmic optimism:

It is an eternal cycle in which matter moves, a cycle that certainly only completes its orbit in periods of time for which our terrestial year is no adequate measure … a cycle in which every finite mode of existence of matter, whether it be sun or nebular vapour, single animal or genus of animals, chemical combination or dissociation, is equally transient, and wherein nothing is eternal but eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws according to which it moves and changes. But however often, and however relentlessly, this cycle is completed in time and space; however many millions of suns and earths may arise and pass away, however long it may last before, in one solar system and only on one planet, the conditions for organic life develop; however innumerable the organic beings, too, that have to arise and to pass away before animals with a brain capable of thought are developed from their midst, and for a short span of time find conditions suitable for life, only to be exterminated later without mercy—we have the certainty that matter remains eternally the same in all its transformations, that none of its attributes can ever be lost, and therefore, also, that with the same iron necessity that it will exterminate on the earth its highest creation, the thinking mind, it must somewhere else and at another time again produce it (Dialectics of Nature, 54).


I. Original Works. For information on the published and unpublished writings of Marx and Engels see the article on Karl Marx elsewhere in this volume. In addition see the extensive bibliography by L. Stohr, Fricdrich Engels, which is Bibliographische Kalendar-blatter, 30. Sonderblatt (Berlin [Stadtbibliothek], 1970), 1-72.

A chronological list of the principal works by Engels, including those written with Marx, includes the following. The date of composition is indicated in parentheses. Letters From Wuppertal (1839); Outlines [Umrisse] of a Critique of Political Economy (1843); The Holy Family (1844), written with Marx; The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844- 1845); The German Ideology (1845-1846), written with Marx; Principles of Communism (1847); Manifesto of the Communist Party (1847-1848), written with Marx; The Peasant War in Germany (1850); Dialectics of Nature (1873-1883; incomplete); Herr Eugen Düihring’s Revolution in Science, known as Anti-Düihring (1876- 1878); The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884); Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy (1886); population studies, especially on Malthus, collected in Marx and Engels on Malthus, translated and edited by D. I and R. L. Meek (London, 1953); and military studies, collected in Engels as a Military Critic, W. O. Henderson and W. H. Chaloner, eds. (London, 1959).

II. Secondary Literature. The vast literature on Karl Marx usually extends to important aspects of the life and work of Friedrich Engels. Biographical studies of Engeis include the standard and pioneering work of Gustav Mayer, Friedrich Engels, eine Biographic, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (The Hague, 1934), which has a drastically edited English trans, in 1 vol. by G. and H. Highet and R. H. S. Crossman, Friedrich Engels, a Biography (London-New York, 1936); Auguste Cornu, Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels, Lehen and Werk, 3 vols. (Berlin, 1954- 1962), a detailed work on the early Marx and Engels; H. Gemkow et al., Friedrich Engels. Fine Biographie (Berlin, 1970; English trans., Berlin, 1972); H. Hirsch, in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten(Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1968); and a long “Profil” (Wuppertal, 1970); L. F. Ilyichov et at., Frederik Enacts. Biografia (Moscow, 1970; English trans., Moscow. 1974); and W. O. Henderson. The Life of Friedrich Engels, 2 vols. (London. 1976). Also see Steven Marcus. Engels, Manchester and the Working Class (New York, 1974), a study of the young Engels; and M. Klein et al., eds., Geschichte der Marxistischen-Leninistischen Philosophie in Deutschland (Berlin, 1969). A major and invaluable portion of Yvonne Kapp, Eleanor Marx, II. The Crowded Years 1884-1898 (London. 1976), is devoted to Engels.

Among the many commentaries, expositions, and debates concerning Engels’ work, the following (as well as those listed in the Marx article) bear particularly in whole, or at least in significant parts, on his analysis of nature, science, methodology, and the history of science: F. Adler, “Friedrich Engels und die Naturwis-senschaft,” in O, Jenssen, ed., Marxismus und Naturwissenschaft (Berlin, 1925), 146-177; M. Adter, Engels der Denker (Berlin, 1920); F. Baptiste, Studien zu Engels’ ’Dialektik der Natur’ (Bonn, 1971); J. D. Bernal, The Social Relations of Science (London, 1939); and Science and Industry in the Nineteenth Century (London, 1953); E. Bloch, Das Materialismusprohlem, Gesamtausgabe, VII (Frankfurt. 1972); F. Borkenau, Der (Jbergang vom feudalen zum biirgerlichen Weltbild (Paris, 1934; repr. Berlin, n.d. [ca. 1970])–see critique by H. Grossmann. “Die gesellschaftlichen Grundlagen der mechanistischen Philosophie und die Manufaktur,” in Zeitschrift fur Sozialforschung, 4 (1935), 161-231 (also bound in the Berlin reprint); R. S. Cohen, “Dialectical Materialism and Carnap’s Logical Empiricism,” in P. A. Schilpp. ed., The Philosophy of Rudolf Carnap (La Salle, I11., 1963), 99-158; Lucio Colletti, From Rousseau to Lenin: Studies in Ideology and Society (London, 1972), trans, of Ideologia e societa (Rome, 1969); Marxism and Hegel (London, 1973), trans, of pt. II of ll Marxismo e Hegel (Bnri 1969); and “Marxism and the Dialectic,” in New Left Review, no. 93 (1975), 3-29; S. Coontz, Population Theories and the Economic Interpretation (London, 1957); A. Debor-in, “Materialistische Dialektik and Naturwissenschaft,” in Unter dem Banner des Marxismus, I (Berlin - Frankfurt. 1925- 1926), 429 ff.; also in Russian, “Materialisticheskaya dialektika i estestvoznanie,” in Voinstvooyushchy materialist, no. 5 (1925); and in A. Deborin. Dialektika i estestvoznanie(Moscow -Leningrad. 1929-1930), 22-25; repr. from 1925 German trans, in A. Deborin, N. Bukharin, et al.,, Kon-troversen iiber dialektischen und mechanistischen Materialismus. O. Negt, ed. (Frankfurt, 1969), 93- 134; G. Delia Volpe, Logica come scienza storica (Rome. 1969); and E. Fiorani, Friedrich Engels e il materialise mo dialettico (Milan, 1971).

Also see J. Habermas, “Technology and Science as ‘ideology,’” in Toward a Rational Society (London-Boston, 1971), 81-122; A. R. Hall, “Merton Revisited, or Science and Society in the Seventeenth Century,” in History of Science, 2 (1963), I - 16; B. Hessen, “Social and Economic Roots of Newton’s Principia,’” in Science at the Crossroads (London. 1931). 149-212 (repr. 1971), also repr. separately, R. S. Cohen, ed. (New York, 1971); D. C. Hodges, “Engels’ Contribution to Marxism,” in R. Miliband and J. Saville, eds.. Socialist Register 1965 (London. 1965). 297-310; S. Hook, “Dialectic and Nature.” in his Reason, Social Myths and Democracy (New York, 1940), 183-226; J. H. Horn, Wiederspiegelung und Begriff(Berlin, 1958); Z. A. Jordan, The Evolution of Dialectical Materialism (London-New York, 1967); B. M. Kedrov, Über Engels Werk Dialektik der Natur (Berlin, 1954), trans. from the Russian (Moscow, 1950); and Klassifizierung der Wissenschaften,I (Cologne-Moscow, 1975), Russian ed., including vol. II (Moscow, 1961); M. Klein and H. Ley, eds., Friedrich Engels und modern Probleme der Philosophie des Marxismus (Berlin, 1971), Russian ed., M. T. Jowtschuk, ed. (Moscow, 1971); K. Korsch, Marxism and Philosophy (New York-London, 1970; 1st German ed., Berlin, 1923); W. Leiss, The Domination of Nature (New York, 1972); H. Ley, Friedrich Engels’ philosophische Leistung und ihre Bedeutung für die Auseinandersetzung mit der bürgerlichen Naturphilosophie (Berlin, 1957); G. Lichtheim. “Engels” and “Dialectical Materialism,” in Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study (London. 1961). 234-258: S. Lilley, “Social Aspects of the History of Science,” in Archives internationales d’histoire des sciences. 28 (1949), 376-443; E. Lucas, “Marx’ und Engels’ Auseinandersetzung mit Darwin,” International Review of Social History, 9(1964), 433-469; and G. Lukacs. Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein. Studien über marxistische Dialektik (Berlin, 1923), translated by Rodney Livingstone as History and Class Consciousness (London-Cambridge. Mass., 1971).

Additional works are S. F. Mason, A History of the Sciences, (New York, 1962); H. Mehringer and G. Mergner, eds., Debatte urn Engels, 2 vols. (Reinbek bei Hamburg, 1973); M. Merleau-Ponty, “Marxisme et philosophic” in his Sens et non-sens (Paris, 1948), 253-277; J. Needham, Time the Refreshing River (London, 1948); relevant chapters newly edited as Moulds of Understanding. Gary Werskey, ed. (London, 1976); The Grand Titration (London-Toronto, 1969): H. Pelger. ed., Friedrich Engels 1820-1970. edited proceedings and documents from the International Conference in Wuppertal. 25-29 May 1970 (Hannover, 1971): G. Prestipino, Natura e società: Per una nuova lettura di Engels (Rome, 1973); K. Reiprich, Die philo-sophisch-naturwissenschaftlichen Arbeiten von Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels (Berlin, 1969); J.-P. Sartre. “Materialisme et revolution,” in his Situations, I (Paris. 1947), 135-225, trans, as “Materialism and Revolution,” in J.-P. Sartre, Literary and Philosophical Essays (London, 1955), 185-239; Alfred Schmidt, “Toward a Critique of Engels’s Dialectics of Nature,” in his The Concept of Nature in Marx (London, 1971), 51-62, trans, of the rev. German ed. (Frankfurt, 1971), 45-58; S. Timpanaro, On Materialism (London-Atlantic Highlands, N. J., 1975), trans, of sul materialismo (Pisa, 1970); R. M. Young, “The Historiographic and Ideological Contexts of the 19th Century Debate on Man’s Place in Nature,” in M. Teich and R. M. Young, eds., Changing Perspectives in the History of Science (London-Dordrecht-Boston, 1973). 344-438; and “Darwin’s Metaphor: Does Nature Select?” in Monist. 55 (1971). 442-503; and E. Zilsel, “The Sociological Roots of Science.” in American Journal of Sociology. 47 (1942). 544; and “The Genesis of the Concept of Physical Law.” in Philosophical Review,51 (1942). 245-279.

See the coordinate article on Karl Marx in this volume of the Dictionary.

Robert S. Cohen

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Engels, Friedrich." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Engels, Friedrich." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . (April 27, 2017).

"Engels, Friedrich." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

Engels, Friedrich

Engels, Friedrich



Friedrich Engels was born in Barmen, Germany, in 1820 and died in London in 1895. He was the closest friend of Karl Marx and cofounder of so-called scientific socialism.

Engels was the oldest son in a family of eight children. His father owned a cotton-spinning mill in Barmen and was a partner in another spinning mill, Ermen and Engels, of Manchester and Engels-kirchen. Engels attended the Realschule in Barmen and the Gymnasium in Elberfeld. To prepare himself for the study of jurisprudence, he studied mercantile problems, first in his father’s firm, and then, from 1838 to 1841, in Bremen. Engels then did a year’s military service.

He was greatly impressed in his youth with the contrast between the pietistic Calvinism of the middle class in his native city and the misery of the working class, demoralized by drink. Using the pseudonym of Oswald he wrote about this situation in his “Briefe aus dem Wuppertal” (1839), a vivid description of these conditions that shows how early his literary and journalistic ability developed. Little by little he turned away from pietism and religion, strongly influenced by David Friedrich Strauss’s critique of the Gospels in Das Leben ]esu and, above all, by Ludwig Feuerbach’s Wesen des Christentums. He affirmed his radical break with religion in his Schelling und die Offen-barung (1842a) and in his spirited, witty satire, Schelling, der Philosoph in Christo (1842&). These were writings in part aimed at the king of Prussia, who had appointed Schelling to the University of Berlin as Hegel’s successor, hoping that he would become the intellectual exponent of his “Christian state.” Engels read political criticisms by the members of the “Junge Deutschland,” particularly those of Ludwig Börne, and he began to write as a Young Hegelian, one of that group of left-wing intellectuals in Berlin that included the brothers Edgar and Bruno Bauer and the anarchist Max Stirner. Karl Marx also belonged to this group while he was a student in Berlin. Engels’ satirical Christian epic, “Die frech bedräute, jedoch wun-derbar befreite Bibel: Oder Triumph des Glaubens” (1842c), which was published anonymously, reflected the views of this group. Engels wrote this work when the king of Prussia withdrew Bruno Bauer’s venia legendi at the University of Bonn because of his criticism of the Gospels. It was Moses Hess who guided Engels to the work of the early French socialists such as Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier and boasted that he had transformed this “revolutionary of the year 1” (i.e., 1793) into a communist.

Engels moved to Manchester in October 1842 to complete his commercial training. He criticized English political and social conditions in the Rhei-nische Zeitung, to which he had contributed since March 1842. At the same time he also wrote for the periodicals of the Chartists and Owenites, describing the development of socialism on the Continent. He supplemented his empirical observations by studying the English economists. In his brilliant “Umrisse zu einer Kritik der Nationalökonomie” (1844), which appeared in the Deutsch-Franzo-sische Jahrbücher, edited by Marx and the Young Hegelian Arnold Ruge, there is, according to Marx, an early formulation of the general principles of scientific socialism. Engels here demonstrated the contradictions in liberal economic doctrine and showed that all economic phenomena are, in the end, based on private property. He demanded that private property be abolished. After the publication of this essay, Marx and Engels began to correspond. When they met in Paris in the autumn of 1844, they found, according to Engels, that they were in “complete agreement in all theoretical areas.”

There are similarities in the early development of Marx and Engels that seem, on the surface, astonishing: a common literary and poetic bent, a common concern with religious problems, and a similar involvement in juridical-political discussion that led both of them from left-wing Hegel-ianism to communism. But it was, of course, the situation in Germany during that time that largely determined their common concerns, especially the authoritarianism of Friedrich Wilhelm iv and the political radicalization of the German intellectuals that was a reaction to it. Marx and Engels went beyond bourgeois-liberal criticism, however, thus parting from their former friends, whom they subjected to merciless criticism in The Holy Family (1845a), mainly written by Marx, and The German Ideology (1845-1846), published posthumously. Their reasons for becoming communists were not identical, to be sure. Engels was brought to the point of revolutionary outrage by his observation of the workers’ misery, while Marx, the rationalist, identified the proletariat as the only class that might be fitted by its extreme misery to effect a revolutionary transformation. More subject as Engels was to intense personal and emotional impressions, he always remained second in achievement to Marx. He phrased this aptly himself: “I could never have achieved what Marx did. Marx stood higher, saw farther, and had a broader and quicker grasp of a situation than all the rest of us. Marx was a genius; we others were at best talented” ([1886] 1941, p. 292).

This estimate, however, should not let us overlook the fact that at the beginning of their collaboration it was Engels who was the leading partner, precisely because he assimilated knowledge readily and because his occupation brought him much closer to economics. This is illustrated by The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845fo), which was planned as a chapter of a comprehensive social history of England. This work by the “doubtless most talented and well-informed of all German writers on sociology,” as Hildebrand called him ([1848] 1922, p. 170), is according to Lorenz von Stein, “a picture of the deepest poverty, taken from the dirtiest district of the dirtiest factory town in England, full of incontrovertible facts from this most miserable sphere of the industrial world, beyond any question the best invective ever written in Germany against industrial society and its conditions, a partisan book like no other. That is why the book had so powerful an effect, much more convincing by its exaggerations and errors than by its truths, as is the fate of all such works” (1852, p. 538).

After he and Marx began to work together, Engels seems intentionally to have left to Marx theoretical work, thus acknowledging (and later expressly emphasizing) that the elaboration of the materialist conception of history was essentially Marx’s work. He himself took credit for only a “very small part” thereof, asserting that most of the basic ideas, especially in the economic and historical fields, and more particularly their final acute formulations, were due to Marx. While Marx was writing the important theory sections of The German Ideology and was criticizing Proudhon in The Poverty of Philosophy (1847a), Engels was engaged as an agitator. As early as 1843 he had established contact in London with the leaders of a German secret society, the League of the Just. At the end of 1844 he and Moses Hess held communist meetings in the Rhineland, until such meetings were suppressed. In Brussels, where he moved in April 1845 in order to be close to Marx, he was mainly active in the International Communist Committee of Correspondence, founded by Marx and himself. In August 1846 he went to Paris, where after prolonged discussions he succeeded in weaning the local group of the League of the Just from the influence of Wilhelm Weitling, the early German socialist, and P. J. Proudhon, the French anarchist. At the first congress of the League in London in June 1847, he succeeded in transforming it into the Communist League. The second congress, in the fall of 1847, commissioned him and Marx to draw up a party program. Engels prepared a draft of such a program, Principles of Communism (1847i>), written in the form of a catechism. It is significant as a draft of the famous Communist Manifesto (1848), but the Manifesto itself clearly bears the intellectual and stylistic stamp of Marx.

After the outbreak of the Revolution of 1848, Engels and Marx went to Cologne. There Engels worked as editor of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (published by Marx), since journalism was easier for him than for Marx. At various times there was a warrant out for his arrest because of his journalistic activity. He also participated in the Elberfeld civil insurrection, but its leaders repudiated him as a “Red.” After the suspension of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in May 1849, he vainly endeavored, together with Marx, to expand the armed uprising in Baden and the Palatinate into a general German revolution. After the uprising collapsed he left for Switzerland and, in October 1849, for London. He portrayed these events in series of articles published in 1849 and 1850.

In London Engels wrote The Peasant War in Germany (1850). He hoped that the revolutionary traditions of the peasants might pave the way for a new German revolution, and he was convinced that the success of such a revolution depended on supporting the proletarian revolution by some second edition of the peasants’ war of the sixteenth century. Engels’ characterization of Thomas Mün-zer, one of the leaders of that revolt, reveals his insight into his own position. He believed that Mϋnzer had been in a hopeless position: he was the leader of an extremist party, forced to take over a government prematurely, before the dominance of the class he represented could be accepted, and before the measures that the rule of his party implied could successfully be carried out ([1850] 1956, pp. 138-139).

Engels, nevertheless, made a very intensive study of the wars of the French Revolution after 1792 to prepare himself for the military leadership of the future revolution. He expounded principles of revolutionary action in a series of articles, Germany: Revolution and Counter-revolution (1851-1852), the authorship of which was wrongly attributed to Marx. Engels’ maxims were never to play with insurrection and always to act with the greatest resoluteness and to seize the offensive.

The defensive is the death of every armed rising; surprise your antagonists while their forces are scattering, prepare new successes, however small, but daily; keep up the moral ascendancy which the first successful rising has given you; rally those vacillating elements to your side which always follow the strongest impulse, and which always look out for the safer side; force your enemies to retreat before they can collect their strength against you; in the words of Danton, the greatest master of revolutionary policy yet known: “de I’audace, de Vaudace, encore de I’audace.” (Engels [1851-1852] 1933, p. 100)

From 1854 until 1870, when Engels was an employee and then a partner in his father’s firm in Manchester, his writings dealt primarily with military science and earned him the sobriquet “General” among his friends. In the future proletarian revolution he was presumably cast for a role comparable to that of Carnot, the organizer of the levee en masse and the army of the French Revolution. He contributed articles to the New American Encyclopedia on the army, cavalry, fortifications, infantry, the navy, and so on. As a journalist he repeatedly described the armies of the various countries and evaluated their combat effectiveness. However, his writings went beyond topical journalism. He also concerned himself, in detail, with armaments, with the radical changes in warfare produced by the new industrial technology, and with the political implications of these developments (1859-1861). Thus he advocated expansion of the war of France and Italy against Austria into a German war against Napoleon in, whom he saw as the main adversary of the revolution. His Die preussische Militdrfräge und die deutsche Arbeiter-partei (1865) was also primarily political: in the Prussian constitutional conflict over expansion of the army, he opposed Ferdinand Lassalle’s complete dissociation of the interests of the workers from those of the middle class.

The most important evidence for Engels’ activities in this period is his correspondence with Marx, which shows Engels’ continuing financial assistance to Marx as well as his encouragement of Marx’s writings. Engels’ loyal friendship even led him to assume the paternity of Marx’s illegitimate son, although this was also an expression of his unconventional conception of relations between the sexes. He himself lived for nearly twenty years with Mary Burns, an Irish working girl, and after her death in 1863 he lived with her sister Lizzy, marrying her only on her deathbed in 1878.

After he moved from Manchester to London in the autumn of 1870, Engels became a member of the General Council of the First International (founded in 1864) and its corresponding secretary for Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and for a time, Belgium. He played a prominent part in the dispute with Bakunin. He wrote L’alliance de la démocratic socialiste et I!association Internationale des travail-leurs (1873b) together with Marx and “Die Baku-nisten an der Arbeit” (see 1873a) by himself. Anti-Dühring: Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (1878) was aimed at Dühring’s strong influence on German social democracy. Notwithstanding its polemics, it was the first popular exposition widely to promote the teachings of Marx. His Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880), a summary of the first three chapters of the Anti-Dühring, was even more popular.

Up to the death of Marx on March 14, 1883, Engels’ major effort was devoted to the incomplete Dialectics of Nature (1873-1883). Conceived initially as an argument with Ludwig Büchner, it became an attack on the kind of metaphysics in the natural sciences that regarded natural phenomena as immutable, instead of considering them as ever-flowing, changing facts. By including the natural sciences, Engels made dialectics a “science of all interrelationships” and went beyond Marx’s materialist conception of history to the Weltanschauung of “dialectical materialism.” Engels extended the original concept yet further to include prehistory in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884a). This work, written after Marx’s death, was based on L. H. Morgan’s Ancient Society of 1877 and on Marx’s synopsis of Morgan’s book—in fulfillment of a legacy, so to speak.

After Marx’s death Engels edited Volume 2 of Capital and prepared Volume 3 for the press, using the outlines left by Marx and making some studies of his own. No critical analysis of the extent of Engels’ contributions to Capital has yet been made.

Engels took care of Marx’s works in general, arranging new editions, providing them with his own prefaces, and defending Marx against learned attacks. This greatly overshadowed his own literary activity. Yet he did make important contributions to the history of Marxism: “Marx und die Neue Rheinische Zeitung” (1884i>); “History of the Communist League” (1885); and Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy (1886). In the last years of his life, Engels wrote an important series of letters to Conrad, Schmidt, Bloch, Mehring, and Borgius in which he admitted the possibility that the superstructure could affect the economic infrastructure and thus opposed an overemphasis upon the regularity of historical events. This significant theoretical clarification had a considerable influence upon developments in the Soviet Union.

Engels was Marx’s political as well as his literary heir. He played a very important part in the genesis of the Second International in 1889. He continued to act as an adviser to the various socialist parties, through Marx’s son-in-law Lafarge in France and through Liebknecht, Bebel, and Bernstein in Germany. His forcing the party to publish Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875-1891), which condemned the theoretical concessions of the Lassalleans, led to violent intraparty disputes. In his “Introduction” to Marx’s The Class Struggles in France (1895), Engels still defended revolutionary tactics despite the great successes achieved by social democracy after the establishment of universal suffrage. To be sure, he did stress that they must be different from earlier tactics: “The time is past for a revolutionary surprise attack carried out by small conscious minorities at the head of the uncomprehending masses.” He attributed special importance to the problem of disarmament (1893) and foresaw the possibility of a future world war. He was stricken with cancer of the esophagus in the midst of his work.

In the influence exerted by Marxism, Engels’ work continues to play its part. The extent of the effect of his military-scientific writings on, say, the Russian or the Chinese revolutions cannot yet be assessed, nor has scholarly work distinguishing between his specific views and those of Marx proceeded very far; in view of the decisive influence of Marx and the way in which these thinkers stimulated each other, this distinction is extremely difficult to draw. However, in the intellectual history of Marxism one might say that Engels represented its descent from early socialism, especially early French socialism, while Marx gave it the imprint of classical German philosophy.

Thilo Ramm

[For the historical context of Engels’ work, seeMARXISM; REVOLUTION; SOCIALISM; and the biographies ofBAKUNIN; FOURIER; MARX; MORGAN, LEWIS HENRY; PROUDHON; SAINT-SIMON. For discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, see the biographies ofBERNSTEIN; KAUTSKY; LENIN; TROTSKY.]


(1839) 1930 Briefe aus dem Wuppertal. By F. Oswald [pseud.]. Section 1, volume 2, pages 23-118 in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Historisch-kritische Ge-samtausgabe: Werke, Schriften, Briefe. Berlin: Marx-Engels Verlag. → First published in Telegraph für Deutschland.

(1839-1895a) 1927-1935 MARX, KARL; and ENGELS, FRIEDRICH Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe: Werke, Schriften, Briefe. 12 vols. Edited by David Riazanov; commissioned by the Marx-Engels Institute, Moscow. Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, and Moscow: Marx-Engels Verlag. -> Includes manuscripts published posthumously.

(1839-1895b) 1956 MARX, KARL; and ENGELS, FRIEDRICH Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels: Werke. Volume 1. Berlin: Dietz. → The first volumes of a projected 36-volume edition.

1842a Schelling und die Offenbarung. Leipzig: Bamberg. → Published anonymously.

1842b Schelling, der Philosoph in Christo: Oder die Verklärung der Weltweisheit zur Gottesweisheit. Berlin: Eyssenhardt. → Published anonymously.

(1842c) 1930 Die frech bedräute, jedoch wunderbar be-freite Bibel: Oder Triumph des Glaubens. Section 1, volume 2, pages 173-281 in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe: Werke, Schriften, Briefe. Berlin: Marx-Engels Verlag. → Published anonymously.

(1843-1895) 1956 MARX, KARL; and ENGELS, FRIEDRICH Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Correspondence. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House.

(1844) 1930 Umrisse zu einer Kritik der Nationalokono-mie. Section 1, volume 2, pages 379-404 in Historisch-kritische Gesamtausgabe: Werke, Schriften, Briefe. Berlin: Marx-Engels Verlag. → First published in the Deutsch—Franzijsische Jahrbücher.

(1845a) 1956 MARX, KARL; and ENGELS, FRIEDRICH The Holy Family. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. → First published as Die heilige Familie.

(1845b) 1958 The Condition of the Working Class in England. Oxford: Blackwell. -> First published as Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England.

(1845-1846) 1939 MARX, KARL; and ENGELS, FRIEDRICH The German Ideology. Parts 1 and 3. With an introduction by R. Pascal. New York: International Publishers. → Written in 1845-1846, the full text was first published in 1932 as Die deutsche Ideologic and re-published by Dietz Verlag in 1953.

(1847a) 1963 Introduction. In Karl Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy. New York: International Publishers. → First published in French. A paperback edition was published in 1964.

(1847b) 1952’ Principles of Communism. New York: Monthly Review. -> Written in 1847; first published posthumously in 1914 as Grundsatze des Kommunis-mus, edited by Eduard Bernstein.

(1848) 1963 MARX, KARL; and ENGELS, FRIEDRICH The Communist Manifesto. New York: Russell. → A paperback edition was published in 1964 by Washington Square Press.

(1848-1898) 1962 MARX, KARL; and ENGELS, FRIEDRICH Selected Works. 2 vols. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. -> Includes works published posthumously.

(1850) 1956 The Peasant War in Germany. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. → First published as “Der deutsche Bauernkrieg” in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung: Revue.

(1851-1852) 1933 Germany: Revolution and Counterrevolution. New York: International Publishers. -> First published as a series of articles in the New York Daily Tribune.

(1852) 1960 MARX, KARL; and ENGELS, FRIEDRICH Die grossen Manner des Exils. Volume 8, pages 233-335 in Kari Marx, Friedrich Engels: Werke. Berlin: Dietz. → First published in 1930, in Russian. Written in 1852.

(1859-1861) 1915 Po und Rhein; Savoyen, Nizza und der Rhein. Edited by Eduard Bernstein. Stuttgart (Germany): Dietz. -> Published anonymously.

(1865) 1963 Die preussische Militärfrage und die deutsche Arbeiterpartei. Berlin: Dietz.

(1870-1871) 1923 Notes on the War. Vienna: Wiener Volksbuchhandlung. → Contains sixty articles reprinted from the Pall Mall Gazette.

(1873a) 1957 Internationales aus dem Volksstaat (1871-1875). Berlin: Dietz. -> See especially Chapter 2 on “Die Bakunisten an der Arbeit.”

1873b L’alliance de la démocratic socialiste et Vassocia-tion Internationale des travailleurs. London and Hamburg. → A leaflet.

(1873-1883) 1960 Dialectics of Nature. New York: International Publishers. → First published in German.

(1875-1891) 1959 MARX, KARL; and ENGELS, FRIEDRICH Critique of the Gotha Programme. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. → Written by Marx in 1875 as “Randglossen zum Programm der deutschen Arbeiterpartei.” First published with notes by Engels in 1891.

(1878) 1959 Anti-Dühring: Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. → First published as “Herrn Eugen Dührings Umwalzung der Wissenschaft” in Vorwdrts (Leipzig).

(1880) 1935 Socialism: Utopian and Scientific. New York: International Publishers. → First published in French.

(1884a) 1942 The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. New York: International Publishers. → First published as Der Ursprung der Familie, des Privateigentums und des Staats.

(1884b) 1934 Marx und die Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Volume 2, pages 27-37 in Karl Marx, Ausgewählte Schriften. Edited by V. Adoratskij. Zurich (Switzerland): Ring. → First published in Der Sozialdemo-krat.

(1885) 1933 History of the Communist League. Pages 120-131 in Friedrich Engels, Germany: Revolution and Counter-revolution. New York: International Publishers. → First published as “Zur Geschichte des Bundes der Kommunisten” in Der Sozialdemokrat and added to the 1933 edition of Engels 1851-1852.

(1886) 1941 Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy. New York: International Publishers. → First published in German.

(1891) 1963 Introduction. In Karl Marx, The Civil War in France. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House. → First published in German. A paperback edition was published in 1964 by International Publishers.

1893 Kann Europa abrüsten? Nürnberg (Germany): Worlein.

(1895) 1964 Introduction. In Karl Marx, The Class Struggles in France: 1848-1850. New York: International Publishers.


Adler, Max (1920) 1925 Engels als Denker. 2d ed. Berlin: Dietz.

Berlin, Isaiah (1939) 1963 Karl Marx: His Life and Environment. 3d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Bollnow, Hermann 1954 Engels’ Auffassung von Revolution und Entwicklung in semen Grundsätzen des Kommunismus (1847). Volume 1, pages 77-144 in Marxismusstudien. Schriften der Evangelischen Stu-diengemeinschaft, No. 3. Tübingen (Germany): Mohr.

BÜNGER, SIEGFRIED 1962 Friedrich Engels und die bri-tische sozialistiche Beivegung, 1881-1895. Berlin: Rütten & Loening.

Coaxes, Zelda (KAHAN) (1920) 1945 The Life and Teachings of Friedrich Engels. London: Lawrence & Wishart. → First published as The Life and Work of Friedrich Engels.

Cornu, Auguste 1955-1962 Karl Marx et Friedrich Engels: Leur vie et leur oeuvre. Paris: Presses Uni-versitaires de France.

Fetscher, Iring 1957 Von der Philosophic des Proletariats zur proletarischen Weltanschauung. Volume 2, pages 26-60 in Marxismusstudien. Schriften der Evangelischen Studiengemeinschaft, No. 5. Tübingen (Germany): Mohr.

Friedrich Engels: Der Denker. (1935) 1945 Basel: Mun-dus. → First published in Bol’shaia sovetskaia entsiklo-pedüa.

[GOLDENDACH, DAVID B.] 1927 Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, by D. Riazanov [pseud.]. London: Lawrence & Wishart.

Hildebrand, Bruno (1848) 1922 Die Nationalökonomie der Gegenwart und Zukunft, und andere gesam-melte Schriften. Jena: Fischer.

Kautsky, Karl (1895)1899 Friedrich Engels: His Life, His Work and His Writings. Chicago: Kerr. -> First published in German.

Lucas, Erhard 1964 Die Rezeption Lewis H. Morgans durch Marx und Engels. Saeculum 15:153-176.

Lucas, Erhard 1964 Marx’ und Engels’ Auseinander-setzung mit Darwin: Zur Differenz zwischen Marx und Engels. International Review of Social History (Amsterdam) [1964]:433-469.

Marek, Franz (1950) 1953 Friedrich Engels: Denker und Kiimpfer. Leipzig: Fachbuch Verlag.

Mayer, Gustav (1920-1934) 1936 Friedrich Engels: A Biography. Introduction by G. D. H. Cole. London: Chapman. → First published in German. The best biography of Engels.

Ramm, Thilo 1957 Die kiinftige Gesellschaftsordnung nach der Theorie von Marx und Engels. Volume 2, pages 26-60 in Marxismusstudien. Schriften der Evangelischen Studiengemeinschaft, No. 5. Tübingen (Germany): Mohr.

Rubel, Maximilien 1956 Bibliographie des oeuvres de Karl Marx: Avec en appendice un répertoire des oeuvres de Friedrich Engels. Paris: Riviére. → A 74-page supplement was published in 1960.

Seeger, Reinhard 1935 Friedrich Engels als “junger Deutscher” …. Halle (Germany): Klinz.

Stein, Lorenz Von 1852 Der Sozialismus in Deutsch-land. Gegenwart: Eine encyklopädische Darstellung der neuesten Zeitgeschichte für alle Stände 7:517-563. → Translation of the extract in the text was provided by Thilo Ramm.

Thier, Erich 1954 Etappen der Marxinterpretation. Volume 1, pages 1-38 in Marxismusstudien. Schriften der Evangelischen Studiengemeinschaft, No. 3. Tübingen (Germany): Mohr.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Engels, Friedrich." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Engels, Friedrich." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . (April 27, 2017).

"Engels, Friedrich." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

Friedrich Engels

Friedrich Engels

The German revolutionist and social theorist Friedrich Engels (1820-1895) was the cofounder with Karl Marx of modern socialism.

Friedrich Engels was born on Nov. 28, 1820, in Barmen, Rhenish Prussia, a small industrial town in the Wupper valley. He was the oldest of the six children of Friedrich and Elisabeth Franziska Mauritia Engels. The senior Engels, a textile manufacturer, was a Christian Pietist and religious fanatic. After attending elementary school at Barmen, young Friedrich entered the gymnasium in nearby Elberfeld at the age of 14, but he left it 3 years later. Although he became one of the most learned men of his time, he had no further formal schooling.

Under pressure from his tyrannical father, Friedrich became a business apprentice in Barmen and Barmen, but he soon called it a "dog's life." He left business at the age of 20, in rebellion against both his joyless home and the "penny-pinching" world of commerce. Henceforth, Engels was a lifelong enemy of organized religion and of capitalism, although he was again forced into business for a number of years.

While doing his one-year compulsory military service (artillery) in Berlin, Engels came into contact with the radical Young Hegelians and embraced their ideas, particularly the materialist philosophy of Ludwig Feuerbach. After some free-lance journalism, part of it under the pseudonym of F. Oswald, in November 1842 Engels went to Manchester, England, to work in the office of Engels and Ermens, a spinning factory in which his father was a partner. In Manchester, the manufacturing center of the world's foremost capitalist country, Engels had the opportunity of observing capitalism's operations—and its distressing effects on the workers—at first hand. He also studied the leading economic writers, among them Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Robert Owen in English, and Jean Baptiste Say, Charles Fourier, and Pierre Joseph Proudhon in French. He left Manchester in August 1844.

On his way back to Germany, Engels stopped in Paris, where he met Karl Marx for a second time. On this occasion a lifelong intellectual rapport was established between them. Finding they were of the same opinion about nearly everything, Marx and Engels decided to collaborate on their writing.

Engels spent the next 5 years in Germany, Belgium, and France, writing and participating in revolutionary activities. He fought in the 1849 revolutionary uprising in Baden and the Palatinate, seeing action in four military engagements. After the defeat of the revolution, he escaped to Switzerland. In October 1849, using the sea route via Genoa, he sailed to England, which became his permanent home.

In November 1850, unable to make a living as a writer in London and anxious to help support the penniless Marx, Engels reluctantly returned to his father's business in Manchester. In 1864, after his father's death, he became a partner in the firm, and by early 1869 he felt that he had enough capital to support himself and to provide Marx with a regular annuity of £350. On July 1, 1869, Engels sold his share of the business to his partner. He exulted in a letter to Marx: "Hurrah! Today I finished with sweet commerce, and I am a free man!" Marx's daughter, Eleanor, who saw Engels on that day, wrote: "I shall never forget the triumphant 'For the last time,' which he shouted as he drew on his top-boots in the morning to make his last journey to business. Some hours later, when we were standing at the door waiting for him, we saw him coming across the little field opposite his home. He was flourishing his walking stick in the air and singing, and laughing all over his face."

In September 1870 Engels moved to London, settling near the home of Marx, whom he saw daily. A generous friend and gay host, the fun-loving Engels spent the remaining 25 years of his life in London, enjoying good food, good wine, and good company. He also worked hard, doing the things he loved: writing, maintaining contact and a voluminous correspondence with radicals everywhere, and—after Marx's death in 1883—laboring over the latter's notes and manuscripts, bringing out volumes 2 and 3 of Das Kapital in 1885 and 1894, respectively. Engels died of cancer on Aug. 5, 1895. Following his instructions, his body was cremated and his ashes strewn over the ocean at Eastbourne, his favorite holiday resort.

Personality and Character

Engels was medium-height, slender, and athletic. His body was disciplined by swimming, fencing, and riding. He dressed and acted like an elegant English gentleman. In Manchester, where he maintained two homes—one for appearances, as befitted a member of the local stock exchange, and another for his Irish mistress—he rode to hounds with the English gentry, whom he despised as capitalists but by whose antic behavior he was sardonically amused.

Engels had a brilliant mind and was quick, sharp, and unerring in his judgments. His versatility was astonishing. A successful businessman, he also had a grasp of virtually every branch of the natural sciences, biology, chemistry, botany, and physics. He was a widely respected specialist on military affairs. He mastered numerous languages, including all the Slavic ones, on which he planned to write a comparative grammar. He also knew Gothic, Old Nordic, and Old Saxon, studied Arabic, and in 3 weeks learned Persian, which he said was "mere child's play." His English, both spoken and written, was impeccable. It was said of him that he "stutters in 20 languages."

Engels apparently never married. He loved, and lived with successively, two Irish sisters, Mary (who died in 1863) and Lydia (Lizzy) Burns (1827-1878). After he moved to London, he referred to Lizzy as "my wife." The Burns sisters, ardent Irish patriots, stirred in Engels a deep sympathy for the Irish cause. He said of Lizzy Burns: "She came of real Irish proletarian stock, and the passionate feeling for her class, which was instinctive with her, was worth more to me than all the blue-stockinged elegance of 'educated' and 'sensitive' bourgeois girls."

His Writings

Engels published hundreds of articles, a number of prefaces (mostly to Marx's works), and about half a dozen books during his lifetime. His first important book, written when he was 24 years old, was The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844, based on observations made when he lived in Manchester. It was published in German in 1845 and in English in 1892. His next publication was the Manifesto of the Communist Party (Communist Manifesto), which he wrote in collaboration with Marx between December 1847 and January 1848, and which was published in London in German a month later. An anonymous English edition came out in London in 1850.

Engels also collaborated with Marx on The Holy Family, an attack on the Young Hegelian philosopher Bruno Bauer, which was published in Germany in 1845. Another collaboration with Marx, The German Ideology, was written in 1845-1846, but it was not published in full until 1932.

In 1870 Engels published The Peasant War in Germany, which consisted of a number of articles he had written in 1850; an English translation appeared in 1956. In 1878 he published perhaps his most important book, Herr Eugen Dühring's Revolution in Science, known in an English translation as Anti-Dühring (1959). This work ranks, together with Marx's Das Kapital, as the most comprehensive study of socialist (Marxist) theory. In it, Engels wrote, he treated "every possible subject, from the concepts of time and space to bimetallism; from the eternity of matter and motion to the perishable nature of moral ideas; from Darwin's natural selection to the education of youth in a future society."

Engels's Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science was published in German in 1882 and in English, under the title Socialism, Utopian and Scientific, in 1892. In 1884 he brought out The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, an indispensable work for understanding Marxist political theory. His last work, published in 1888, was Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy. Both of these last books are available in English. Two works by Engels were published posthumously: Germany: Revolution and Counter-Revolution (German, 1896; English, 1933) and Dialectics of Nature, begun in 1895 but never completed, of which an English translation appeared in 1964.

Engels's Ideas

In his articles and books Engels elaborated and developed, both historically and logically, basic ideas that go under the name of Marxism. His work was not an limitation of Marx but constituted a consistent philosophy at which both men had arrived independently and had shared in common. Engels refined the concept of dialectical materialism, which Marx had never fully worked out, to include not only matter but also form. He stressed that the materialist conception takes into consideration the whole cultural process, including tradition, religion, and ideology, which goes through constant historical evolution. Each stage of development, containing also what Engels called "thought material," builds upon the totality of previous developments. Thus every man is a product both of his own time and of the past. Similarly, he elaborated his view of the state, which he regarded as "nothing less than a machine for the oppression of one class by another," as evolving, through class struggles, into the "dictatorship of the proletariat."

Further Reading

Although Engels's writings are available in English, there is no good biography of him in English. Some biographical information can be found in Gustav Mayer, Friedrich Engels: A Biography (1934; trans. 1936), a dated and incomplete work; Grace Carlton, Friedrich Engels: The Shadow Prophet (1965), a superficial biography not based on original sources; and Oscar J. Hammen, The Red 48'ers: Karl Marx and FriedrichEngels (1969). Good general works which discuss Engels are Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History (1940); George Lichtheim, Marxism: An Historical and Critical Study (1961); and Bertram D. Wolfe, Marxism: One Hundred Years in the Life of a Doctrine (1965). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Friedrich Engels." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Friedrich Engels." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . (April 27, 2017).

"Friedrich Engels." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

Engels, Friedrich

Engels, Friedrich (1820–95) A nineteenth-century philosopher, socialist, manufacturer, and co-founder of Marxism. The best introduction to his life and work is Terrell Carver's Engels (1981).

Born into a family of well-to-do mill-owners in Rhineland, Engels very soon took up a critical stance against the conservatism of his background, and went on to establish the intellectual partnership with Karl Marx for which he is most well-known. So close was the cooperation between them that it is often difficult to be sure what should be attributed to either partner. Their early influences in the radical Young Hegelian circle, and conversion to socialism and communism in the early 1840s, ran in close parallel. It seems to have been Engels 's ‘Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy’ (1844)
which set Marx off on his life-long researches into that subject. The culmination of this research was Marx's Capital. Only one volume of this was published in Marx's lifetime, and it was Engels's contribution, after Marx's death, to prepare for publication the drafts of the remaining two volumes.

Following their (relatively minor) involvement in the unsuccessful uprisings of 1848, both Marx and Engels went into exile in England. Until 1869 Engels was preoccupied with the family business in Manchester, but he was at least able to offer Marx's family desperately needed financial support, while Marx continued with his studies. From the 1870s onwards Engels was able to give more time to intellectual and political work. His advice was much sought by the leaders of the international working-class movement, and he was particularly closely involved with the development of the German socialist movement from 1875 onwards. The books and pamphlets in which he expounded his and Marx's approach to history, politics, and philosophy were extremely widely read, and were more influential even than Marx's own work in forming the image of Marxism as a systematic world-view held by successive generations of socialist and communist militants.

However, Engels's contribution went well beyond merely popularizing the work of his mentor. His Condition of the Working Class in England (1845) remains a classic work of social and economic investigation. It is particularly noteworthy for its pioneering exposition of the links between poverty, environmental degradation, and ill-health, consequent upon modern industrialism. Engels's late work also contained much originality. His Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884) extended the range of historical materialism to engage with current work in anthropology. This work was especially significant in its attempt to explain the history of women's subordination ‘materialistically’ in terms of the institutions of private property and monogamy. Despite its flaws, this work is still considered worthy of serious attention by many contemporary feminists. Engels's later years were also much taken up with following developments in the natural sciences and engaging with the political and philosophical implications of those developments. Dialectical materialism was the term invented by Engels to encapsulate his attempt to sustain a form of materialism which was sufficiently open and flexible to address these new developments. Ironically, Engels's ideas were subsequently converted into a dogmatic ideology by the leadership of the Soviet state. See also EMBOURGEOISEMENT; MATRIARCHY.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Engels, Friedrich." A Dictionary of Sociology. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Engels, Friedrich." A Dictionary of Sociology. . (April 27, 2017).

"Engels, Friedrich." A Dictionary of Sociology. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

Engels, Friedrich


(18201895), German socialist theoretician; close collaborator of Karl Marx.

Friedrich Engels is remembered primarily as the close friend and intellectual collaborator of Karl Marx, who was the most important socialist thinker and arguably the most important social theorist of the nineteenth century. Engels must be regarded as a significant intellectual figure in his own right. Engels's writings exerted a strong influence on Soviet Marxist-Leninist ideology. Engels was born in Barmen in 1820, two and a half years after Marx. Ironically, Friedrich Engels worked for decades as the manager of enterprises in his family's firm of Ermen and Engels; this necessitated his move to Manchester in 1850. Engels contributed substantially to the financial support of Marx and his family. He survived Marx by twelve years, during an important period in the growth of the socialist movement when Engels served as the most respected spokesman for Marxist theory.

In recent decades there has been a lively debate over the degree of divergence between Marx's thought and that of Engels, and therefore over whether the general scheme of interpretation known as "historical materialism" or "dialectical materialism" was primarily constructed by Engels or accorded with the main thrust of Marx's intellectual efforts. George Lichtheim and Shlomo Avineri, distinguished scholars who have written about Marx, see Engels as having given a rigid cast to Marxist theory in order to make it seem more scientific, thus implicitly denying the creative role of human imagination and labor that had been emphasized by Marx. On the other hand, some works, such as those by J. D. Hunley and Manfred Steger, emphasize the fundamental points of agreement between Marx and Engels. The controversy remains unresolved and facts point to both convergence and divergence: Marx and Engels coauthored some major essays, including The Communist Manifesto, and Engels made an explicit effort to give Marxism the character of a set of scientific laws of purportedly general validity. The well-known laws of the dialectic, which became the touchstones of philosophical orthodoxy in Soviet Marxism-Leninism, were drawn directly from Engels's writings.

See also: dialectical materialism; marxism


Carver, Terrell. (1989). Friedrich Engels: His Life and Thought. London: Macmillan.

Hunley, J. D. (1991). The Life and Thought of Friedrich Engels: A Reinterpretation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Steger, Manfred B., and Carver, Terrell, eds. (1999). Engels after Marx. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Alfred B. Evans Jr.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Engels, Friedrich." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Engels, Friedrich." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . (April 27, 2017).

"Engels, Friedrich." Encyclopedia of Russian History. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

Engels, Friedrich

Friedrich Engels (frē´drĬkh ĕng´əls), 1820–95, German socialist; with Karl Marx, one of the founders of modern Communism (see communism). The son of a wealthy Rhenish textile manufacturer, Engels took (1842) a position in a factory near Manchester, England, in which his father had an interest, where he saw child labor and other examples of the exploitation of workers. In 1844, while passing through Paris, he met Marx, and their lifelong association began. His experiences in Manchester led to Engels's first major book, The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (1845, tr. 1887), which attracted wide attention. From 1845 to 1850 he was active in Germany, France, and Belgium, organizing revolutionary movements and collaborating with Marx on several works, notably the Communist Manifesto (1848). The failure of the revolutions of 1848 caused his return (1850) to England, where he lived the rest of his life. He was a successful businessman, and from his income he enabled Marx to devote his life to research and writing.

Engels played a leading role in the First International and the Second International. After Marx's death, Engels edited the second and third volumes of Das Kapital from Marx's drafts and notes. The intimate intellectual relationship between Marx and Engels leaves little doubt that there was complete harmony of thought between them, although critics have sometimes questioned their full agreement. Marx's personality has overshadowed that of Engels, but the influence of Engels on the theories of Marxism, and particularly on the elaboration of dialectical materialism, can scarcely be overestimated. Engels's Anti-Dühring (1878, tr. 1934) and The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884, tr. 1902) rank among the fundamental books in Communist literature and profoundly influenced Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Among his other works is The Peasant War in Germany (tr. 1926).

See selected correspondence with Marx, ed. by D. Torr (1942); the collected works of Marx and Engels (50 vol., 1975–); his Socialism, Utopian and Scientific (1883, tr. 1892) and Dialectics of Nature (1925, tr. 1940); R. C. Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader (1972); biographies by G. Mayer (1936, repr. 1969) and T. Hunt (2009); S. Marcus, Engels, Manchester and the Working Class (1974); J. Sayers et al., ed., Engels Revisited: New Feminist Perspectives (1987); W. O. Henderson, Marx and Engels and the English Workers and Other Essays (1989).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Engels, Friedrich." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Engels, Friedrich." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (April 27, 2017).

"Engels, Friedrich." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

Engels, Friedrich

Engels, Friedrich (1820–95). Engels was the lifelong collaborator of Karl Marx and systematizer of Marxism. Son of a German textile manufacturer, Engels worked in a family-owned cotton mill in Manchester. He met Marx in 1842, forming a close working partnership with him, and together they wrote the Communist Manifesto during the revolutionary unrest of 1848. Engels, who gave Marx generous financial help, was closely involved with all of Marx's writings (their complete works are generally published together), and functioned as the authentic voice of Marxist views after Marx's death. In addition, Engels contributed a distinctive dimension to Marxist ideology—what has been termed ‘dialectical materialism’. In his Socialism, Utopian and Scientific (1892) he applied the laws of dialectical materialism to history; in Dialectics of Nature (post-1927) he applied them to natural science. Whatever Marx himself would have thought of these crudities, they were incorporated into the official Marxist creed that flourished in the USSR and eastern Europe for most of the 20th cent.

Tim S. Gray

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Engels, Friedrich." The Oxford Companion to British History. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Engels, Friedrich." The Oxford Companion to British History. . (April 27, 2017).

"Engels, Friedrich." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

Engels, Friedrich

Engels, Friedrich (1820–95) German political philosopher. Engels and Marx formulated the theory of dialectical materialism and co-wrote the Communist Manifesto (1848). Engels' materialist reworking of Hegel is most evident in Anti-Dühring (1878) and Socialism, Utopian and Scientific (1882). From 1870 until Marx's death in 1883, Engels helped financially with Marx's research and continued to assist him with his writings, particularly Das Kapital. His works include Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (1845) and The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Engels, Friedrich." World Encyclopedia. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Engels, Friedrich." World Encyclopedia. . (April 27, 2017).

"Engels, Friedrich." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from

Engels, Friedrich

Engels, Friedrich

(b. Barmen, Germany, 28 September 1820; d. London, England, 5 August 1895)


For a detailed study of his life and work, see Supplement.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Engels, Friedrich." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . 27 Apr. 2017 <>.

"Engels, Friedrich." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . (April 27, 2017).

"Engels, Friedrich." Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. . Retrieved April 27, 2017 from