Engels was born on 28 November 1820 in Barmen, Province of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, Prussia (now Wuppertal, Germany). Barmen was an expanding industrial metropolis and he was the eldest son of a wealthy German cotton-textile manufacturer, Friedrich Sr. (1796–1860) and of Elisabeth "Elise" Franziska Mauritia von Haar (1797–1873). The young Friedrich's parents were Pietist Protestants and he was raised accordingly. However, as Engels grew up, he developed atheistic beliefs and his relationship with his parents became strained. His mother wrote to him of her concerns. She commented that he had "really gone too far" and "begged" him "to proceed no further". She continued:
You have paid more heed to other people, to strangers, and have taken no account of your mother's pleas. God alone knows what I have felt and suffered of late. I was trembling when I picked up the newspaper and saw therein that a warrant was out for my son's arrest.
When his mother wrote, Engels was in hiding in Brussels, Belgium, and soon to make his way to Switzerland. In 1849 he travelled to the Kingdom of Bavaria for the Baden and Palatinate revolutionary uprising.
At the age of 17, Engels had dropped out of high school due to family circumstances.Bremen. His parents expected that he would follow his father into a career in business. Their son's revolutionary activities disappointed them. It would be some years before he joined the family firm.
Engels spent a year in Barmen. In 1838 his father sent the young Engels to work as a nonsalaried office-clerk at a commercial house in
Whilst at Bremen, Engels began reading the philosophy of Hegel, whose teachings dominated German philosophy at that time. In September 1838 he published his first work, a poem entitled "The Bedouin", in the Bremisches Conversationsblatt No. 40. He also engaged in other literary and journalistic work. Also while at Bremen, Engels began writing newspaper articles critiquing the societal ills of industrialisation. He wrote under the pseudonym "Friedrich Oswald" to avoid connecting his Pietist industrialist family with his provocative writings. In 1841 Engels performed his military service in the Prussian Army as a member of the Household Artillery (German: Garde-Artillerie-Brigade). Assigned to Berlin, he attended university lectures at the University of Berlin and began to associate with groups of Young Hegelians. He anonymously published articles in the Rheinische Zeitung, exposing the poor employment- and living-conditions endured by factory workers. The editor of the Rheinische Zeitung was Karl Marx. Engels did not meet Marx until late November 1842.
Engels acknowledged the influence of German philosophy on his intellectual development throughout his career. He also wrote, "To get the most out of life you must be active, you must live and you must have the courage to taste the thrill of being young ... " (1840).
In 1842, his parents sent the 22-year-old Engels to Manchester, England, a manufacturing centre. He was to work in Weaste in the offices of Ermen and Engels's Victoria Mill, which made sewing threads. Engels's father thought that working at the Manchester firm might make his son reconsider some of his radical opinions. On his way to Manchester, Engels visited the office of the Rheinische Zeitung in Cologne and met Karl Marx for the first time. They were not impressed with each other. Marx mistakenly thought that Engels was still associated with the Berliner Young Hegelians, with whom Marx had just broken off ties.
In Manchester, Engels met Mary Burns, a fierce young working woman with radical opinions. They began a relationship that lasted 20 years until her death in 1863. The two never married, as both were against the institution of marriage. While Engels regarded stable monogamy as a virtue, he considered the current state and church-regulated marriage as a form of class oppression. Burns guided Engels through Manchester and Salford, showing him the worst districts for his research.
While in Manchester between October and November 1843, Engels wrote his first economic work, entitled "Outline of a Critique of Political Economy." Engels sent the article to Paris, where Marx published it in the Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher in 1844.
While observing the slums of Manchester in close detail, Engels took notes of its horrors, notably child labour, the despoiled environment, and overworked and impoverished labourers. He sent a trilogy of articles to Marx. These were published in the Rheinische Zeitung and then in the Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher, chronicling the conditions among the working class in Manchester. He later collected these articles for his influential first book, The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845). Written between September 1844 and March 1845, the book was published in German in 1845. In the book, Engels described the "grim future of capitalism and the industrial age", noting the details of the squalor in which the working people lived. The book was published in English in 1887. Archival resources contemporary to Engels's stay in Manchester shed light on some of the conditions he describes, including a manuscript (MMM/10/1) held by special collections at the University of Manchester which recounts cases seen in the Manchester Royal Infirmary, where industrial accidents dominate and which resonates with his comments on the disfigured persons seen walking round Manchester as a result of such accidents.
Engels continued his involvement with radical journalism and politics. He frequented areas popular among members of the English labour and Chartist movements, whom he met. He also wrote for several journals, including The Northern Star, Robert Owen's New Moral World, and the Democratic Review newspaper.
An early photograph of Engels, which has been asserted as showing him at age 20–25 (c. 1840–45)
Engels decided to return to Germany in 1844. On the way, he stopped in Paris to meet Karl Marx, with whom he had an earlier correspondence. Marx had been living in Paris since late October 1843, after the Rheinische Zeitung was banned in March 1843 by Prussian governmental authorities. Prior to meeting Marx, Engels had become established as a fully developed materialist and scientific socialist, independent of Marx's philosophical development.
In Paris, Marx was publishing the Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher. Engels met Marx for a second time at the Café de la Régence on the Place du Palais, 28 August 1844. The two quickly became close friends and remained so their entire lives. Marx had read and was impressed by Engels's articles on The Condition of the Working Class in England. Marx adopted Engels's idea that the working class would lead the revolution against the bourgeoisie as society advanced toward socialism, and incorporated this as part of his own philosophy. In late May 1845 Engels published his new book. He wrote, "A class which bears all the disadvantages of the social order without enjoying its advantages … Who can demand that such a class respect this social order?"
Engels stayed in Paris to help Marx write The Holy Family. It was an attack on the Young Hegelians and the Bauer brothers, and was published in late February 1845. Engels's earliest contribution to Marx's work was writing for the Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher, edited by both Marx and Arnold Ruge, in Paris in 1844.
During this time in Paris, both Marx and Engels began their association with and then joined the secret revolutionary society called the League of the Just. The League of the Just had been formed in 1837 in France to promote an egalitarian society through the overthrow of the existing governments. In 1839, the League of the Just participated in the 1839 rebellion fomented by the French utopian revolutionary socialist, Louis Auguste Blanqui.
However, as Ruge remained a Young Hegelian in his belief, Marx and Ruge soon split and Ruge left the Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher Nonetheless, following the split, Marx remained friendly enough with Ruge that he sent Ruge a warning on 15 January 1845 that the Paris police were going to execute orders against him, Marx and others at the Deutsch–Französische Jahrbücher requiring all to leave Paris within 24 hours. Marx himself was expelled from Paris by French authorities on 3 February 1845 and settled in Brussels with his wife and one daughter. Having left Paris on 6 September 1844, Engels returned to his home in Barmen, Germany, to work on his The Condition of the Working Class in England, which was published in late May 1845. Even before the publication of his book, Engels moved to Brussels in late April 1845, to collaborate with Marx on another book, German Ideology. While living in Barmen, Engels began making contact with Socialists in the Rhineland to raise money for Marx's publication efforts in Brussels. However, these contacts became more important as both Marx and Engels began political organising for the German Workers Party.
From 1845 to 1848, Engels and Marx lived in Brussels, spending much of their time organising the city's German workers. Shortly after their arrival, they contacted and joined the underground German Communist League. The Communist League was the successor organisation to the old League of the Just which had been founded in 1837, but had recently disbanded. Influenced by Wilhelm Weitling, the Communist League was an international society of proletarian revolutionaries with branches in various European cities. The Communist League also had contacts with the underground conspiratorial organisation of Louis Auguste Blanqui. Many of Marx's and Engels's current friends became members of the Communist League. Old friends like Georg Friedrich Herwegh, who had worked with Marx on the Rheinsche Zeitung, Heinrich Heine, the famous poet, a young doctor by the name of Roland Daniels, Heinrich Bürgers and August Herman Ewerbeck all maintained their contacts with Marx and Engels in Brussels. Georg Weerth, who had become a friend of Engels in England in 1843, now settled in Brussels.
Karl Wallau and Stephen Born (real name Simon Buttermilch) were both German immigrant typesetters who settled in Brussels to help Marx and Engels with their Communist League work. Marx and Engels made many new important contacts through the Communist League. One of the first was Wilhelm Wolff, who was soon to become one of Marx's and Engels's closest collaborators. Others were Joseph Weydemeyer and Ferdinand Freiligrath, a famous revolutionary poet. While most of the associates of Marx and Engels were German immigrants living in Brussels, some of their new associates were Belgians.
Phillipe Gigot, a Belgian philosopher and
Victor Tedesco, a lawyer from Liège, both joined the Communist League. Joachim Lelewel a prominent Polish historian and participant in the Polish uprising of 1830–1831 was also a frequent associate. The Communist League commissioned Marx and Engels to write a pamphlet explaining the principles of communism. This became The Manifesto of the Communist Party, better known as the Communist Manifesto. It was first published on 21 February 1848 and ends with the world-famous phrase: "Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communistic revolution. The proletariat have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win ... Working Men of All Countries, Unite!"
Return to Prussia
There was a revolution in France in 1848 that soon spread to other Western European countries. These events caused Engels and Marx to return to their homeland of the Prussian Empire, specifically to the city of Cologne. While living in Cologne, they created and served as editors for a new daily newspaper called the Neue Rheinische Zeitung. Besides Marx and Engels, other frequent contributors to the Neue Rheinische Zeitung included Karl Schapper, Wilhelm Wolff, Ernst Dronke, Peter Nothjung, Heinrich Bürgers, Ferdinand Wolf and Carl Cramer. Friedrich Engels's mother, herself, gives unwitting witness to the effect of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung on the revolutionary uprising in Cologne in 1848. Criticising his involvement in the uprising she states in a 5 December 1848 letter to Friedrich that "nobody, ourselves included, doubted that the meetings at which you and your friends spoke, and also the language of (Neue) Rh.Z. were largely the cause of these disturbances."
At the time of this letter, Engels's even more dangerous involvement in the revolutionary uprisings in Baden and the Palatinate in 1849, still lay ahead of him. Engels's parents hoped that young Friedrich would "decide to turn to activities other than those which you have been pursing [sic?] in recent years and which have caused so much distress." At this point Friedrich's parents felt the only hope for their son was to emigrate to America and start his life over. They told him that he should do this or he would "cease to receive money from us." However, the problem in the relationship between Friedrich and his parents was worked out without Engels having to leave England or being cut off from financial assistance from his parents. In July 1851, Friedrich Engels's father arrived to visit him in Manchester, England. During the visit his father arranged for Friedrich to meet Peter Ermen of the office of Ermen & Engels, to move to Liverpool, and to take over sole management of the office in Manchester.
Starting with an article called "The Magyar Struggle", written on 8 January 1849, Engels, himself, began a series of reports on the Revolution and War for Independence of the newly founded Hungarian Republic. Engels's articles on the Hungarian Republic became a regular feature in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung under the heading: "From the Theater of War."
However, during the June 1849 Prussian coup d'état the newspaper was suppressed. After the coup, Marx lost his Prussian citizenship, was deported, and fled to Paris and then London. Engels stayed in Prussia and took part in an armed uprising in South Germany as an aide-de-camp in the volunteer corps of August Willich. Engels also brought two cases of rifle cartridges with him when he went to join the uprising in Elberfeld on 10 May. 1849. Later when Prussian troops came to Kaiserslautern to suppress an uprising there, Engels joined a group of volunteers under the command of August Willich, who were going to fight the Prussian troops. When the uprising was crushed, Engels was one of the last members of Willich's volunteers to escape by crossing the Swiss border. Marx and others became concerned for Engels's life until they finally heard from him.
Engels traveled through Switzerland as a refugee and eventually made it to safety in England. On 6 June 1849 Prussian authorities issued an arrest warrant for Engels which contained a physical description as "height: 5 feet 6 inches; hair: blond; forehead: smooth; eyebrows: blond; eyes: blue; nose and mouth: well proportioned; beard: reddish; chin: oval; face: oval; complexion: healthy; figure: slender. Special characteristics: speaks very rapidly and is short-sighted." As to his "short-sightedness", Engels admitted as much in a letter written to Joseph Weydemeyer on 19 June 1851 in which he says he was not worried about being selected for the Prussian military because of "my eye trouble, as I have now found out once and for all which renders me completely unfit for active service of any sort." Once he was safe in Switzerland, Engels began to write down all his memories of the recent military campaign against the Prussians. This writing eventually became the article published under the name "The Campaign for the German Imperial Constitution."
Back in Britain
In order to help Marx with the new publishing effort in London,
Neue Rheinische Zeitung Politisch-ökonomische Revue, Engels sought ways to escape the continent and travel to London. On 5 October 1849, Engels arrived in the Italian port city of Genoa. There, Engels booked passage on the English schooner, Cornish Diamond under the command of a Captain Stevens. The voyage across the western Mediterranean, around the Iberian Peninsula by sailing schooner took about five weeks. Finally, on 10 November 1849 the Cornish Diamond sailed up the River Thames to London with Engels on board.
Once Engels made it to Britain, he decided to re-enter the Manchester company in which his father held shares, in order to be able to support Marx financially, so that Marx could work on his masterpiece Das Kapital. Engels didn't like the work but did it for the good of the cause.
Unlike his first period in England (1843), Engels was now under police surveillance. He had "official" homes and "unofficial homes" all over Salford, Weaste and other inner-city Manchester districts where he lived with Mary Burns under false names to confuse the police. Little more is known, as Engels destroyed over 1,500 letters between himself and Marx after the latter's death so as to conceal the details of their secretive lifestyle.
Despite his work at the mill, Engels found time to write his monumental work on Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation and the 1525 revolutionary war of the peasants. This work was entitled The Peasant War in Germany. Engels also wrote some important newspaper articles such as "The Campaign for the German Imperial Constitution" which he finished in February 1850, and "On the Slogan of the Abolition of the State and the German 'Friends of Anarchy'" written in October 1850. In April 1851, Engels wrote the pamphlet "Conditions and Prospects of a War of the Holy Alliance against France".
When Louis Bonaparte carried out a coup against the French government and made himself president for life on 2 December 1851, Marx and Engels, like many people, were shocked. In condemning this action, Engels wrote to Marx about the coup on 3 December 1851. Engels characterised the coup as "comical" and referred to it as occurring on "the 18th Brumaire"—the date of the coup according to the 1799 republican calendar of France under Napoleon I. Marx was later to incorporate this comically ironic characterisation of Louis Bonaparte's coup into his essay about the coup. Indeed, Marx even called the essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte again using Engels's suggested characterisation. Marx also borrowed Engels characterisation of Hegel's notion of the World Spirit that history occurred twice, "once as a tragedy and secondly as a farce" in the first paragraph of his new essay.
Meanwhile, at the mill owned by his father in Manchester, Engels started working as an office clerk, the same position he held in his teens while in Germany where his father's company was based. However, Friedrich worked his way up to become a partner of the firm in 1864. At this time, Marx was living in London but they were able to exchange ideas through daily correspondence. One of the ideas that Engels and Marx contemplated was the possibility and character of a potential revolution in the Russias. As early as April 1853, Engels and Marx anticipated an "aristocratic-bourgeois revolution in Russia which would begin in "St. Petersburg with a resulting civil war in the interior." The model for this type of aristocratic-bourgeois revolution in Russia against the autocratic czarist government in favour of a constitutional government had been provided by the Decembrist Revolt of 1825. Although an unsuccessful revolt against the czarist government in favour of a constitutional government, both Engels and Marx anticipated a bourgeois revolution in Russia would occur which would bring about a bourgeois stage in Russian development to precede a communist stage. By 1881, both Marx and Engels began to contemplate a course of development in Russia that would lead directly to the communist stage without the intervening bourgeois stage. This analysis was based on what Marx and Engels saw as the exceptional characteristics of the Russian village commune or obshchina. Although doubt was cast on this theory by Georgi Plekhanov, Plekhanov's reasoning was based on the first edition of Das Kapital (1867), which predated Marx's interest in Russian peasant communes by two years. Later editions of the text demonstrate Marx's sympathy for the argument of Nikolay Chernyshevsky, that it should be possible to establish socialism in Russia without an intermediary bourgeois stage provided that the peasant commune were used as the basis for the transition.
Five years later, Engels retired from the business and could focus more on his studies.
In 1870, Engels moved to London where he and Marx lived until Marx's death in 1883. His London home during this period and until his death was 122 Regent's Park Road, Primrose Hill, NW1. Marx's first London residence was a cramped apartment at 28 Dean Street, Soho. From 1856, he lived at 9 Grafton Terrace, Kentish Town, and then in a tenement at 41 Maitland Park Road from 1875 until his death.
Mary Burns suddenly died of a heart disease in 1863, after which Engels became close with her younger sister Lydia ("Lizzie"). They lived openly as a couple in London and married on 11 September 1878, hours before Lizzie's death.
After Marx's death, Engels devoted much of his remaining years to editing Marx's unfinished volumes of Capital. However, he also contributed significantly in other areas. Engels made an argument using anthropological evidence of the time to show that family structures changed over history, and that the concept of monogamous marriage came from the necessity within class society for men to control women to ensure their own children would inherit their property. He argued a future communist society would allow people to make decisions about their relationships free of economic constraints. One of the best examples of Engels's thoughts on these issues are in his work The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State.
Fredrich Engels died of throat cancer in London on 5 August 1895, at the age of 74. Following cremation at Woking Crematorium, his ashes were scattered off Beachy Head, near Eastbourne as he had requested.