The condition of the working class in England

by Friedrich Engels

Paper Book, 1968


Frederich Engels (1820-1895) was a German businessman and political theorist renowned as one of the intellectual founders of communism. In 1842 Engels was sent to Manchester to oversee his father's textile business, and he lived in the city until 1844. This volume, first published in German in 1845, contains his classic and highly influential account of working-class life in Manchester at the height of its industrial supremacy. Engels' highly detailed descriptions of urban conditions and contrasts between the different classes in Manchester were informed from both his own observations and his contacts with local labour activists and Chartists. Extensively researched and written with sympathy for the working class, this volume is one Engels' best known works and remains a vivid portrait of contemporary urban England. This volume is reissued from the English edition of 1892, which was translated by noted social activist Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky (1859-1932).… (more)



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Stanford, Calif : Stanford University Press, 1968


User reviews

LibraryThing member McCaine
Friedrich Engels' classic "The Condition of the Working Class in England" was written when he was only twenty-four, and had but recently abandoned his Calvinist upbringing for a more critical, socialist, point of view. Yet this book reads as if it were written by an experienced political
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commentator or a radical sociologist, without actually at any point becoming melodramatic or dense.

Engels' main purpose is to confront the bourgeoisie with the reality of their mode of production and to contrast this with the rhetoric of "free choice" and "civil liberties", as well as the capitalist apologia of the political economists of his day, in particular Andrew Ure. With great insight into both the causes and effects of the capitalist system, Engels catalogues the endless want, filth, despair and misery experienced by millions of labourers every day in 19th century England. He pays attention to housing, to factory safety, to unionism, to the physical condition of the workers, to alcoholism, the state of the Irish underclass, to prostitution and disease; in short, all the ills attendant on industrialization.

What gives this book such power is that Engels on the one hand proceeds in an analytical manner, making use above all of sources from the bourgeoisie itself and from Parliamentary reports, in explaining the functioning of the capitalist system and the competition between capitalists and between labourers. On the other hand, he writes in a particularly readable manner and at no point bores the reader with the mere summing-up of statistics. On the contrary, every analytical truth is accompanied by a vivid description, taken from Engels' excursions into working-class neighbourhoods, of the terrible state of humanity that the economic laws of capitalism cause for a great number of people.

For those interested in political economy, it may come as a surprise to see how much of the functioning of capitalism Engels already understood at such an early point in the development of theory. This gives the lie to the many theorists who would later claim that it was Marx only who worked on economics and that Engels was a mere epigone; this book should be a vindication of Engels. His later sketches of the political economy and of the historical development of capitalism would lay the foundation for both the Communist Manifesto and Marx' economic works. But the core insights that would create the modern theory of socialism are for the first time fully expressed here, and in a most appealing and shockingly effective manner.

In other words, an absolute must read for every person of intelligence.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
A harrowing and frightening book. Some things really have not changed over the past two centuries.

A grisly tour of the slums of the factory towns of the Industrial Revolution. Engels, an angry young man, details the blackened suffering of the workers there, their ignorance, poverty, sickness. I
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recall many similar details from Mike Davis' book on a 'planet of slums', and many things I've seen too. Beggars with severed and gnarled limbs, live wires, poisoned water. The narrow maze-like patch-work buildings. Except they're not in England now - many of the slum factory-workers now are in the 'developing' world. A specter haunts not only Europe.

Although one may have criticisms of his solution, and those who have claimed to follow it, it is not left to any level of doubt what was wrong with the old world. A fearsome social document in its own right.
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LibraryThing member encephalical
Gripping descriptions of working class conditions. Strong in utilizing statistics for population and production arguments about causation of same. Wasn't expecting a name drop of Faraday, that was a surprise. Also really interesting details on technology and its repercussions. Vivid sections on how
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the working conditions affected mental and physical health.

Long, dreary stretches going over the differences between Chartists and Socialists and their respective aims, though this might have been important for the intended German audience. Here's where the Penguin Classics edition could have helped the reader by supplying some background.

Exhuberant, youthful writing, that occasionally could have stood being reined in. His opinions on the Irish are unenlightened and cringe worthy.
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