Friedrich Engels

If you have studied the history of Communism, you have probably heard of Marx. If you were particularly keen to learn the grand theory behind Communism as a political-economic system, you might have also encountered another philosopher, Friedrich Engels.

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Table of contents

    Despite Marx being the founder and more prominent figure in Communist thought, Engels is also one of the "fathers of Socialism", and The Communist Manifesto itself was written based on a book by Engels.

    So, who was Friedrich Engels? What is fundamentalist socialism? What is a socialist revolution? These are all questions we will be answering in this article.

    Friedrich Engels biography

    Friedrich Engels Picture of a Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx statue in Berlin, Germany StudySmarterFig. 1, Karl Marx and Friedrich ENgels statue in Berlin, Germany, Pixabay

    Friedrich Engels' biography starts in Prussia on 28 November 1820 where the German philosopher was born. He was closely connected to Karl Marx, known to many as the ‘Father of Socialism’. Engels grew up in a middle-class family. His father owned a business and expected him to continue the family’s business ventures.

    During his teenage years, Engels attended school but was pulled out early by his father to gain experience in the business world and spent three years as an apprentice.In terms of philosophy, his interest began with liberal and revolutionary writers. Eventually, he rejected them and moved on to more leftist writings, leading him to become an atheist and theorise what is referred to as Socialism. In particular, he was part of the "Young Hegelians", a group of philosophers who, based on the writings of the German philosopher Hegel, started theorising the concept of revolution as the basis of historical change.

    Hegelian dialectic

    Being part of the "Young Hegelians", Engels and Marx Hegelian tried to theorise Capitalism's demise.

    The Hegelian dialectic is a philosophical interpretive method that maintains that there is a thesis and antithesis, which stand in contradiction to one another. The contradiction must be resolved by going beyond the thesis and the antithesis to reach a synthesis.

    The dialectal difference can be seen between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

    Through class consciousness, the contradiction can be resolved, and a well-functioning society can be reached. To achieve this in a way that would benefit the proletariat, they needed to create their own class.

    Unlike the individualism that liberals embrace, Engels, therefore, believed in a unified society and that companionship and fraternity would connect the entire world, which would become known as socialist internationalism. He rejected the ideas of nationalism and patriotism, arguing that these false ideas were created to help establish differences within the proletariat and prevent them from identifying the exploitative character of the bourgeoisie.

    In 1842, Engels met Moses Hess, an early communist and Zionist thinker, who led his conversion to Communism. Hess maintained that England, with its pioneering industries, the large proletariat, and class structure, would play a crucial role in the birth of a class revolution and upheaval, the basis of what Marx and Engels will then see as a Communist Society. Indeed, during this time, he met Karl Marx and moved to Manchester, England, where his father owned cotton businesses.

    Friedrich Engels and modern social and political theory

    Engels had lots of important ideas about society and how it should function; because of these ideas, Friedrich Engels was instrumental in shaping modern social and political theory.

    Engels was a fundamentalist socialist both he and Marx viewed Capitalism as an economic model full of greed and selfishness that had ruined society.

    A fundamental socialist believes that Socialism cannot be achieved alongside Capitalism.

    As a fundamentalist socialist, Engels believed that a socialist revolution was crucial for the world’s survival. He argued that this revolution, which the proletariat would lead, needed to be a large-scale event. Following the revolution, Engels envisioned a proletariat takeover of the state, leading to a dictatorship of the proletariat. Eventually, he believed this dictatorship would wither away and cede to communist rule. Society would succeed and prosper under this new system.

    Examples of this Marxist being implemented are the Soviet Union and today's China, which justify running their respective countries under this political ideology. At the same time, to a certain extent, China bases its economy on hybrid neoliberal principles since it has free markets while the state still maintains a high level of control over the market and the population's welfare.

    Examples of non-fundamentalist Socialism today can be found in Northern European countries such as Finland, which base their economies on third-way Socialism, similar to China but with the maintenance of the rule of democracy.

    Find out more on the applications of Socialism in our explanation of Socialism!

    Human nature

    Like other socialist thinkers, Engels believed that human nature is rational, fraternal, and generous, but the greed and selfishness of Capitalism ruined it. He believes that Capitalism has forced human nature to adopt false ideas on how they should view their rights, and as a result, humans cannot discover their authentic selves.

    So, as a solution, Engels and Marx suggested a communist system in which there was no private ownership, class conflict, or exploitation of the working class, achieved through revolution.

    The state

    Engels believed the current state was being used to push and fulfil negative capitalist and bourgeoisie ideas to exploit the proletariat. He thought it would continue this way if the capitalists controlled the economy.

    What is good for the ruling class, is alleged to be good for the whole of society with which the ruling class identifies itself.1

    Engels was against the idea that a state was politically independent, as liberals believed.

    According to Engels, the only way to resolve this was through a revolution, leading to a dictatorship run by the proletariat, and then the eventual disappearance of the state, with the ideas of Communism running society.


    According to Engels, society was split into two classes: the middle (petit or petty bourgeoisie) and the proletariat. The aristocracy was above them but lost economic power and held power only through representative legitimacy.

    Today we might call the bourgeoisie the middle class, the proletariat the working class, and the aristocracy the upper class (or the 1%)

    These two classes were on opposite ends, with the bourgeoisie continuously exploiting the proletariat.

    Engels argued that the continued exploitation would only lead to the demise of Capitalism. Engels again rejected the idea that Capitalism helped everyone in society prosper. Instead, he believed Capitalism created an unstable, volatile environment, which the proletariat would eventually revolutionise, leading to a communist state.

    Friedrich Engels books

    Friedrich Engels' books were extremely influential and remain important to Socialism and Communism today. Perhaps most famous is he Communist Manifesto (1848), which both Engels and Marx wrote.

    Another of Engel’s notable works he collaborated on with Marx was Das Kapital (1867). After Marx died, Engels helped to complete the 2nd and 3rd volumes of Das Kapital using Marx’s notes. This publication explored Capitalism's negative impact on economics and is the basis of most Neo-Marxist theories today.

    Friedrich Engels Picture of The Communist Manifesto StudySmarterFig. 2, The Communist Manifesto (1848) by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Pixabay

    Principles of Communism Friedrich Engels

    Friedrich Engels also wrote the Principles of Communism in 1847, which served as a draft for The Communist Manifesto. This book contains 25 questions and answers about Communism that introduce central ideas of Marxism.

    Here is an overview of the main points.

    • Communism is the only way to liberate the proletariat from capitalist exploitation.

    • The Industrial Revolution is the origin of the proletariat and bourgeoisie as classes. Under a capitalist system, everyone must be classified into social classes.

    • With the abolition of private property, one can end the exploitation of the proletariat. This is because Capitalism requires human labour to be separated from the control of the means of production.

    • Since the Industrial Revolution provided the technical capacity for mass production, private property can be abolished. This would consequently require reorganising the world on cooperation and communitarian property, contrarily to competition for survival.

    • This revolution must be violent because capitalists will not give up their property.

    • The abolition of private property will lead to a disappearance of any construction of difference: racial, ethnic, or religious (because there will be no religion under Communism).

    To help understand some of the concepts in these points, see the deep dive below!

    Marxism defines social classes according to their relationship with the means of production. Again, the three classes are the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, and the aristocracy. The bourgeoisie owns the means of production, i.e. the technologies, instruments, and resources through which production can happen. A historical example is the cotton spinning machine. The proletariat does not own the means of production and therefore owes its survival to the bourgeoisie, grant of the standards in exchange for labour and a living wage. For example, if a single group of individuals owns coal, those whose work requires burning coal do not own the means of production.

    Friedrich Engels political economy

    Friedrich Engels Picture of an 1855 advertisement for a free trade ship service StudySmarterFig. 3, Advertisement from 1855 for a free trade ship service, Wikimedia Commons

    Engels has strong ideas about the political economy of states. In particular, he rejected the liberal idea that Capitalism would help the economy and benefit all in society, along with the capitalist belief that there would be more to spend on welfare if more money were coming in through private businesses.

    Engels believed that the current capitalist system banked on keeping wages low to create a surplus value, i.e. profit for the owners, only leading to its end, as it causes too much conflict within society.

    Friedrich Engels' Political Economy critiques

    Moreover, in an article named Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy (1843), Engels criticised the Mercantile System as one of the origins of the faultiness of Capitalism.

    This is because this system thrives on the idea of balance of trade, which maintains that an enterprise makes a profit when exports exceed imports. This was the origin of the concept of surplus.

    To learn more about theories behind free markets, check out our explanation on Adam Smith!

    Therefore, Engels believed that the principles of political economy that governs Capitalism will always lead to the suffering of 'labour', i.e. the proletariat, while the capitalists will always profit.

    Friedrich Engels - Key takeaways

    • Fredrick Engels was a German philosopher born on 28 November 1820 and was closely connected to Karl Marx.
    • Engels was a fundamentalist socialist as he believed that Socialism cannot be achieved alongside Capitalism.
    • Engels believed in a socialist revolution led by the proletariat to create a dictatorship of the proletariat which would eventually wither away, leading to Communism.
    • Engels believed that human nature is rational, fraternal and generous, but the greed and selfishness of Capitalism ruined it.
    • Some of Friedrich Engel's most famous books are The Communist Manifesto, Das Kapital, coauthored with Karl Marx, and Principles of Communism.
    • Engels critiqued the Mercantile system and Adam Smith's theories of political economy as the basis of the exploitation of the proletariat for the gains and profit of the bourgeoisie.


    1. Engels, F. (1884) 'The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State'.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Friedrich Engels

    Who is Friedrich Engels?

    Fredrick Engels was a German philosopher and fundamental socialist, born on 28 November 1820 in Prussia. Alongside Marx, he theorised Communism and the fall of capitalism.  

    What did Friedrich Engels believe?

    He believed in the necessity of a communist revolution for the liberation of the proletariat from capitalistic exploitation. 

    What is Engels famous for?

    Engels is famous for developing socialism with Karl Marx. In particular, his book Principles of Communism is the foundation of The Communist Manifesto

    What is Friedrich Engels’ quote on capitalism?

    ‘What is good for the ruling class, is alleged to be good for the whole of society with which the ruling class identifies itself'. This is one of Engels' most famous quotes. 

    What are Friedrich Engels’ theories?

    Engels was a fundamentalist socialist and hence believed that socialism cannot be achieved alongside capitalism.  

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which of the following statement is true? 

    How is Principles of Communism structured? 

    What did Engels co-author alongside Marx? 


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