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

The Frock-Coated Communist - The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels
Published by Penguin on 29th April 2010

Friedrich Engels is one of the most attractive and contradictory figures of the nineteenth century. Born to a prosperous Prussian mercantile family, he spent his career working in the Manchester cotton industry, riding to 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 twentieth 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. His searing account of the industrial revolution, The Condition of the Working Class in England, remains one of the most haunting and brutal indictments of the human costs of capitalism. Far more than Marx’s right-hand man, Engels was a profound thinker in his own right – on warfare, feminism, urbanism, Darwinism, technology and colonialism. With fierce prescience, he predicted the social effects of today’s free-market fundamentalism and unstoppable globalization.

Tristram Hunt relishes the diversity of Engel’s story and shows us how one of the great bon viveurs of Victorian Britain reconciled his exuberant 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 tale of devoted friendship, class compromise, ideological struggle and family betrayal. And Hunt tackles head-on the question of Engels’ legacy: was Engels, after Marx’s death, responsible for some of the most horrible turns of twentieth-century history, or was the idealism of his thought perverted by those who claimed to be his followers?

The Frock-Coated Communist combines history and ideas in an exceptionally enjoyable biography which at last brings Engels out from the shadow of his famous friends and collaborator.