Wide screen devices may view this page better by clicking here

2 December 2020

Facebook   Twitter

Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Review: Friedrich Engels - Condition of the working class in England

Friedrich Engels in his mid-20s, photo (public domain)

Friedrich Engels in his mid-20s, photo (public domain)   (Click to enlarge)

Young Engels catalogued poverty to make case to end capitalism

The second in our series on socialist pioneer Friedrich Engels, on the 200th anniversary of his birth. Socialist Party national committee member Helen Pattison reviews one of the first books he wrote.

"Insufficient satisfaction of the vital needs is what prepares the frame for contagion and epidemic", states Friedrich Engels' book, The Condition of the Working Class in England. It might be confusing language, but it's extremely eye-opening.

In a book written all the way back in 1845, the link is made between the poor living standards of the working class, poor health, and the easy spread of sickness and disease. Cholera, typhus, and smallpox repeatedly flared up in towns and cities.

A fever ravages through London thanks, in part, to "ill-built, ill-kept streets". Who would have thought such a book would hit so close to home today?

Another similarity is the discussion on air pollution. There is lots of talk today about levels of air pollution in big cities, but Engels was writing on the same subject over 170 years ago, and especially the impact on children's health.

These consequences of capitalism are not new. They continue to have a very real impact on people's health - the worst is faced by the poorest in society.

Difference today

There are clearly big differences between how most working-class people in Britain lived in the 19th century compared to today. Huge numbers of people without shoes, houses without furniture, instead piles of hay in the corner to act as a bed for whole families, families forced to break up chairs for fires to keep warm.

Sewage lined the streets and people ate rotting meat or starved. Extremely limited, if any, access to healthcare meant people died from preventable illnesses. Many children died before their first birthday.

Even by the 1895 edition of the book, working-class conditions had changed drastically. Over the following decades, technological, economic, and medical development - combined with the willingness of the working class to struggle - pulled people out of these conditions, in the main.

Sick pay, the NHS, weekends, and the welfare state were either won through battles with the bosses and government, or were granted through fear of mass revolt.

But extreme poverty hasn't been eradicated, even in the richest economies in the world. Billions of people live in appalling conditions globally. One in three people don't have access to safe drinking water.

Horrific cases such as Mercy Baguma starving to death in her Glasgow home, with her malnourished baby beside her, should not happen. In 2018, 600 homeless people died on the streets.

Since 2010, cuts to health and social care have been linked to 120,000 deaths. On top of that, we have had the pandemic - where the poorest areas have seen the highest death rates.

Engels said: "The fury of the plague has fallen almost exclusively on the working class", and the same is true today. Keyworkers, such as bus drivers, have seen deaths around three times the average.

Alongside poor living standards and overcrowding allowing disease to flourish, Engels assesses in detail the long-term health impact of poverty wages. The impact on people's height, development and health are all covered.

Many people couldn't work much past 45, because they worked such long hours on a poor diet. From the East End of London to northern towns, squalid living conditions are exposed.

There was so much sickness and disease that 'sanitary police' were introduced. But even if they closed and cleaned possible areas of outbreak, it couldn't solve the huge problems of poverty, overcrowding and lack of healthcare.

Compiled by Engels when he was just 24 years old, the book doesn't read as a manifesto. This piece of work is a thorough catalogue of the poverty that existed at the time, rather than a programme for workers to organise around.

His programme

Of course, Engels still points to the wealth and resources that could be used to alleviate poverty. Condemning the "social murder" committed by the ruling class - allowing workers to live in such poverty while the rich get richer - he said that the only real solution is to "surrender the administration of the common interests to the labouring class".

There could have been several reasons Engels thought this intense study of the living conditions in Britain would be useful. The industrial revolution produced a classic example of the development of industry and a growing working class, which Engels highlights.

This book exposed the dire living conditions of working people in the most advanced capitalist country at that time. It's a lesson for the working class that a struggle against capitalism is needed to change our living conditions.

Engels was utterly disgusted at the conditions people were being forced to live, and totally inspired by the resilience and solidarity of working-class people.

Donate to the Socialist Party

Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.

We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to click here to donate to our Fighting Fund.

Please donate here.

All payments are made through a secure server.

My donation

 

Your message: 

 


In The Socialist 2 December 2020:


What we think

Spending Review. Unions must resist return to austerity


Spending Review

What will the spending review mean for me?

Napo kickstarts fight against pay freeze


News

Better for billionaires. Worse for workers

Arcadia and Debenhams closures: Nationalise to save jobs and pensions

Scotland: Campaign wins end to period poverty

NHS: Underfunded, understaffed, underpaid

News in brief


Devolution

Where is devolution heading?


Workplace News

Don't let the festive season be one of misery for retail workers

Equity union conference calls for radical change - now lead a fight!

Solidarity with Brighton UCU strike - we won't pay for Covid crisis

East London teachers strike in support of victimised union rep

Heathrow workers strike against 'fire and rehire' plans

Hackney: Stop plan to halve school support staff!

Pay freeze protest Homerton Hospital

Unison general secretary ballot closes


Environment

'Building back greener' - yet more Tory greenwash


International News

Conflict in Ethiopia: ethnic-linguistic divisions are the historical product of capitalist inequality


Marxism

Review: Friedrich Engels - Condition of the working class in England


Campaigns

Socialism 2020 feedback

Wales TUSC plans to mount an electoral challenge

Rent strikers' victory in Manchester student halls

Labour meeting lets MP get away with 'Spycops' abstention

Selling the Socialist

Fighting fund target smashed!


Reader's opinion

TV: The Social Dilemma

Fast fashion, big profits, low pay

Diego Maradona - Working-class rebel, football genius

Socialist Inbox


 

Home   |   The Socialist 2 December 2020   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate   |   Audio  |   PDF  |   ebook






Related links:

Engels:

triangleYork Socialist Party: Engels' book 'Socialism - Scientific and Utopian'

triangleThe Communist Manifesto - A guide to understanding society, and how to change it

triangleHackney & Islington Socialist Party: The May 2021 London elections

triangleEngels on the origins of women's oppression

triangle'Socialism - Utopian and Scientific' by Engels

Working class:

triangleJustice for Moyied Bashir

triangleThe struggle needs an electoral arm

triangleSNP's independence referendum 2 'roadmap'

triangleA tragically missed opportunity

Review:

triangleFilm Review: The White Tiger

triangleFilm Review: Dear Comrades!

triangleTV review: The Hidden Story of Disabled Britain

Poverty:

triangleThe Socialist Inbox

triangleLaunching a political alternative to cuts, poverty and job losses

Health:

triangleWest London Socialist Party: The fight for women's health to be a trade union issue

Capitalism:

trianglePride flag is about unity in struggle

Healthcare:

triangleBoot private companies out of our NHS

Britain:

triangleTories tout toilet tensions

Children:

triangleW. Sussex children's centres on the chopping block

Article dated 2 December 2020

Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

MEMBER RESOURCES

Pay in Fighting Fund

Pay in paper and book sales

Leaflets

Bulk book orders

New member submission

WHAT'S ON

triangle2 Mar Bristol North Socialist Party: The National Question - Scotland, Wales & N Ireland

triangle2 Mar Caerphilly & RCT Socialist Party: How can peace be achieved in Israel/Palestine?

triangle3 Mar Hackney & Islington Socialist Party: Financing the Socialist Party

More...


The Socialist, weekly newspaper of the Socialist Party

Covid

What we think

News

Lessons from history

Workplace news

TUSC

Campaigns news

LGBT+ history month

International news

Readers' opinion

Subscribespacer|spacerebook / Kindlespacer|spacerPDF versionspacer|spacerText / Printspacer|spacer1122 onlinespacer|spacerBack issuesspacer|spacer Audio files


International Women

International Women's Day rally, Sunday 7th March, 3pm. Click here for Facebook and Zoom links.

What We Stand For
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Platform setting: =

Desktop version