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Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844

By: Friedrich Engels

The Condition of the Working Class in England is an 1845 book by the German philosopher Friedrich Engels, a study of the industrial working class in Victorian England. Engels' first book, it was originally written in German as Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England; an English translation was published in 1885. It was written during Engels' 1842–44 stay in Manchester, the city at the heart of the Industrial Revolution, and compiled from Engels' own observations and detailed contemporary reports.

In Condition, Engels argues that the Industrial Revolution made workers worse off. He shows, for example, that in large industrial cities such as Manchester and Liverpool, mortality from disease (such as smallpox, measles, scarlet fever and whooping cough) was four times that in the surrounding countryside, and mortality from convulsions was ten times as high. The overall death-rate in Manchester and Liverpool was significantly higher than the national average (1 in 32.72, 1 in 31.90 and even 1 in 29.90, compared with 1 in 45 or 46). An interesting example shows the increase in the overall death-rates in the industrial town of Carlisle was before the introduction of mills (1779–87), 4,408 out of 10,000 children died before reaching the age of five, and after their introduction, the figure rose to 4,738. Before the introduction of mills, 1,006 out of 10,000 adults died before reaching 39 years old, and after their introduction, the death rate rose to 1,261 out of 10,000.

 

Engels' interpretation proved to be extremely influential with British historians of the Industrial Revolution. He focused on both the workers' wages and their living conditions. He argued that the industrial workers had lower incomes than their pre-industrial peers and they lived in more unhealthy and unpleasant environments. This proved to be a very wide-ranging critique of industrialization and one that was echoed by many of the Marxist historians who studied the industrial revolution in the 20th century.

 

Originally addressed to a German audience, the book is considered by many to be a classic account of the universal condition of the industrial working class during its time. The eldest son of a successful German textile industrialist, Engels became involved in radical journalism in his youth. Sent to England, what he saw there made him even more radical.

 

In 1844, in Paris, Engels met and formed his lifelong intellectual partnership with Karl Marx. Engels showed Marx his book; convincing Marx that the working class could be the agent and instrument of the final revolution in history.

 

W. O. Henderson and W. H. Chaloner, who edited a recent edition of The Condition of the Working Class in England, say that the book was based on incomplete evidence but that it established Engels's reputation among socialists.

Book Details

Language

English

Original Language

German

Published In

1845

Author

Friedrich Engels sometimes anglicised as Frederick Engels (28 November 1820 – 5 August 1895), was a German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist and revolutionary socialist. He w...

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