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Ponedeljak, 17 Maj 2021 11:19

The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels Istaknut

Book cover design for The Condition of the Working Class in England Book cover design for The Condition of the Working Class in England

As the rebellious eldest son of a family of German industrialists, Friedrich Engels was sent in 1842 to Manchester to oversee his father's textile business, and he lived in the city until 1844. Manchester was then at the very heart of the Industrial Revolution. There, he spent spare time talking to the workers and collected data for his first work, which was originally written in German as Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England. That sociological study was first published in Leipzig in 1845. The English edition The Condition of the Working Class in England (authorized by Engels) was published in 1887 in New York and London in 1891.

From 1842-44, Friedrich Engels worked during the day at the Ermen & Engels mill in Salford, before plunging after hours into the Manchester underworld. He visited Owenite Halls of Science, spent time with Chartists, watched a brickmakers' riot, and with his Irish lover Mary Burns sought out the human detritus of capitalist society. He explained: "I forsook the company and the dinner parties, the port-wine and champagne of the middle classes, and devoted my leisure-hours almost exclusively to intercourse with plain working men."

The work The Condition of the Working Class in England begins with a brief sketch of the Industrial Revolution which transformed British society and created, as its chief product, the proletariat. Socially, Friedrich Engels saw those transformations as a gigantic process of concentration and polarisation which made workers worse off. 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. The workers' wages fluctuated between a minimum subsistence rate, which is set by the workers' competing with one another but limited by their inability to work below subsistence, and a maximum, set by the competition of capitalists with one another in times of labor shortage. The workers lived in more unhealthy and unpleasant environments. Engels described the living conditions in English industrial towns as 'the highest and most unconcealed pinnacle of social misery existing in our day". The workers faced their situation in different ways. Some succumb, others submit passively, take no interest in public affairs and thus actually help the middle class to tighten the chains.

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