Engels Friedrich


Also found in: Dictionary.

Engels Friedrich

(1820-95) German socialist. Born into a family engaged in the textile industry in Germany, as a student he was influenced by Hegelianism (see HEGEL) and became a socialist. He came to Manchester on family business and, in 1845, published The Condition of the Working Class in England, one of the most important contemporary analyses of the emergence of the working class with industrialization, in which he saw the working class as the revolutionary bearer of socialism. He began a long association with MARX in 1845 and, in collaboration with him, published The Holy Family in that year, The German Ideology in 1845-46, and The Communist Manifesto in 1848. These texts formed the basis of the development of Marx and Engels’ political work in the formation of the First International, in which Engels played a key organizational role. In the next two decades, Engels provided financial support for Marx and his family while Marx worked on his major political economy of capitalism, and Engels was important both as a confidant of Marx and as a disseminator of his analyses. He further elaborated the concept of DIALECTICAL MATERIALISM, and first used the phrase ‘materialist interpretation of history’, and is often seen as promoting a deterministic reading of Marx. After Marx's death, Engels edited to publication the second and third volumes of Das Kapital, and was working on the fourth when he died. He was active in the setting up of the Second International.

In recent years, within sociology and anthropology, his most influential work has been The Origin of The Family Private Property and the State, first published in 1884 (see MATRIARCHY). This is one of the few 19th-century analyses of history to incorporate the position of women and to attempt to understand the basis of gender inequality It has informed many recent attempts to understand the role of women in history, and the bases of their subordination to men in so many known societies. This is despite the empirical weakness of his argument that there was an historical process from ‘matriarchal societies’, with women dominant within the family, to ‘patriarchal societies’ with the emergence of private property and men exerting control over the marriage and sexuality of women to ensure the transmission of property to their heirs. Recent work has further questioned his assumption of a biological-based sexual division of labour. The value of his work lies, however, in the questions he posed about the relationship between socioeconomic and gender relationships (see Sayers et al. (eds), 1987).