John Green is soon to publish a biography of Friedrich Engels and it appears that he is making a convincing case that poor old Fred has been a bit unjustifiably overshadowed by the life and legacy of his great friend Karl Marx. This role was some would say positively embraced by Engels, as he said " All my life I did what I was made for, that is playing second fiddle, and I believe I acquitted myself tolerably well.And I was happy in having so excellent a first violin as Marx"...well thats such a tour de force of self effacement that its hardly surprising that he was a bit prone to over-looking by future chroniclers...In John Green's book there are revealed a number of things that are largely unknown about Engels..
1) His early life bore an uncanny resemblance to that of Che Guevara, they both rejected comfortable privileged backgrounds espousing the cause of the poor and oppressed. He even physically resembled Guevara physically in his early years.
2)In his twenties Engel's dashed around the countryside on horseback and swimming rivers for the challenge, and fought a number of duels for the sheer hell of it.
3)In his twenties he joined a band of guerilla's in the wooded hills of southern Germany, fighting the Prussian army during the unsuccesful revolution of 1848-9. He was then hounded across Europe by the Prussian state, placed top of its most wanted list, after he had retreated across the Swiss border.
4) From the mid 1850's onwards Engels was the acknowledged undisputed leader alongside Marx, of the burgeoning revolutionary movement in Europe, seting up cells across Europe.
5) For many years he lead two seperate lives, one as a respectable middle class businessman in Manchester and the other as a semi-conspiratorial militant. Accepting his role as a capitalist, since that was the dominant mode of production, he conspired nevertheless with tireless enthusiasm for the socialist revolution that he and Marx lived for.
6)Engels was undoubtedly Marx's intellectual equal, he made a significant contribution not only through his own writings, and those that they jointly published. In fact it was a pamphlet by Engel's devoted to a critique of political economy that inspired Marx to turn his attention to economics.It was also Engel's that who wrote many of Marx's articles for the New York Tribune, because Marx's english at that point in his life was not up to scratch.
7)Engels had an amazing capacity for languages, speaking several fluently, and having at least a smattering of at least 26. He told Marx on one occasion 'I have set myself a maximum of three weeks for learning Persian", and that was when he was managing the family cotton mill in Manchester.
8)He was a supporter of Irish liberation and became fascinated with Ireland, being strongly influenced by his successive partners Mary and Lizzie Burns, both being born into an Irish immigrant family,working in the Cotton mills and living in Manchester.
9) His book 'Conditions of the Working Class in England' which he wrote as a 24 year old in 1844 after a years sojourn in Manchester became a classic sociological study, catlaoguing the extreme squalor of the lives of workers in Manchester, paying particularly close attention to the conditions of the many immigrant Irish workers in the slums of Manchesters poorest areas.
10)In his 'The Origin of the Property Family and the State', Engels examined the devlopment of human societies and how private property led to class differentiation and oppression . He was one of the first to show how the emergence of private property led to the oppression of women and the negative impact of this on social health, in this respect he was an early contributor to feminist thinking.