Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On Friedrich Engels

About 15 months ago, I posted a link to a review of a then new biography of Friedrich Engels, Marx's General by Tristram Hunt. In the interim I received the book as a gift and just finished reading it. It was excellent.

I am not endorsing the book merely as one who studies the history of economics and the lives of economists. I also applaud the book for its historical and personal insights. Engels was a tireless, committed worker in the fields of the socialist movement of the mid-19th century. And he was a paradox.

The son of a wealthy manufacturer, Engels spent time on the barricades in the uprisings in the mid-1840s. But he would return to the world of commerce in order to finance Marx's writing. After Marx's death, Engels continued to move the socialist agenda forward, continuing to support members of Marx's family. All the while, his own life-style seemed to more closely parallel the bourgeoisie than the proletariat.

In fact, a quote from the epilogue may describe his view best:
"Neither a leveler or a statist, this great lover of the good life, passionate advocate of individuality, and enthusiastic believer in literature, culture, art and music as an open forum could never have acceded to the Soviet communism of the twentieth century, all the Stalinist claims of his paternity notwithstanding."
If you are looking for an interesting read to start off the New Year, I would recommend Marx's General. If you're still hesitant, I would suggest you might want to listen to a podcast of a lecture by the author on the London School of Economics (LSE) podcast series in April 2009.

For those of you who want go more deeply, here's Friedrich Engels' Conditions of the Working Class in England. I read it as a graduate student some (mumble mumble) years ago. It provides insights, not only into the impact of the Industrial Revolution in 19th-century Manchester, but provides a framework for The Communist Manifesto, of which Engels was a coauthor.

I welcome comments by anyone else familiar with Hunt’s book.

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