The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels

The Frock-Coated Communist: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels

Tristram Hunt

Language: English

Pages: 450


Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Friedrich Engels is one of the most attractive and contradictory figures of the nineteenth century. Born to a prosperous mercantile family in west Germany, he spent his career working in the Manchester cotton industry, riding to the Cheshire hounds, and enjoying the comfortable, middle-class life of a Victorian gentleman. Yet Engels was also the co-founder of international communism - the philosophy which in the 20th century came to control one third of the human race. He was the co-author of The Communist Manifesto, a ruthless party tactician, and the man who sacrificed his best years so Karl Marx could write Das Kapital. Tristram Hunt relishes the diversity and exuberance of Engels's era: how one of the great bon viveurs of Victorian Britain reconciled his raucous personal life with this uncompromising political philosophy. Set against the backdrop of revolutionary Europe and industrializing England - of Manchester mills, Paris barricades, and East End strikes - it is a story of devoted friendship, class compromise, ideological struggle, and family betrayal.

















stages, a materialist theory of history (in which the struggle of classes replaces Hegel's struggle of ideas in humanity's ascent), an economic and moral critique of capitalist civilization (embodied in the exploitation and alienation theses), an economic demonstration that capitalism was bound to collapse (because of its contradictions), a call to revolutionary action, and a prediction (perhaps more an assurance) that communism would be the next—and final—historical stage.166 At the

since the Communist Party, which to all intents and purposes meant the will of Stalin, necessarily embodied the true interests of the proletariat, every policy it pursued logically enjoyed the ideological imprimatur of Marxist sanctity. Cornelius Castoriadis explains the Soviet rationale best: ‘If there is a true theory of history, if there is a rationality at work in things, then it is clear that the direction this development takes should be left to the specialists of this theory, to the

eager to fulfil their industrious enthusiasms. Fourier, contra the Catholic Church, did not think human beings were born to suffer. Instead, all that was needed was the creation of new communities to allow man to flourish in accordance with his innate passions. Nowhere in Saint-Simon and Fourier are there demands for radical equality (‘a social poison’ in Fourier's words) or calls for the violent seizure of power in the name of ‘the people’. Their socialism was a noble, frequently eccentric but

included himself), ‘contended for the insufficiency of political change and declared their opinion to be that a social revolution based upon common property, was the only state of mankind agreeing with their abstract principles’.61 What was equally obvious was that England – with its vast manufactories, wealthy mill owners and hideously brutalized proletariat – was all set to stage the Approaching Catastrophe. ‘The English are the nation of praxis, more than any other nation. England is to our

laying industry prostrate, desolating families, and spreading abroad discontent and misery where recently happiness and content were enjoyed,’ reported the Manchester Times.2 But such accounts of despair in Lancashire's cotton slums had little impact on the landowners, industrialists and merchants sitting in session at Westminster. Three months earlier MPs had summarily rejected a million-strong National Petition from the working-class Chartist movement and, with it, their demand for universal

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