Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/598/8273

From The Socialist newspaper, 21 October 2009

Hard Times by Charles Dickens, reviewed by Linda Taaffe

IN 1854 Charles Dickens' weekly magazine Household Words serialised his novel Hard Times. People looked forward to each episode just as nowadays they await the latest edition of TV serials.

Workers' conditions 150 years ago were brutal. Dickens devoted his literary talent to making them central to this novel. People still use the term "Dickensian" to refer to the poverty-stricken lives of poor workers today.

Dickens was not a socialist. Hard Times makes deprecatory comments about the union agitator character Slackbridge, and features a non-union mill weaver as the main worker character. Neither did he pose a fundamental change in society.

But even this story, for popular consumption, would have been seen as an attack on the establishment and an open condemnation of capitalism.

Greedy employers such as Josiah Bounderby looked for the slightest signs of discontent that could lead to the "Hands" - real people reduced to mere units of labour - wanting "to be set up in a coach and six, and fed on turtle soup and venison with a gold spoon." Such men were marked out for transportation.

Karl Marx loved Dickens, who graphically highlighted working conditions and workers' efforts to form combinations (early trade unions). Dickens worked briefly in a Manchester shoe polish factory, experiencing the conditions that Friedrich Engels brilliantly documented in Conditions of the Working Class in 1844. Dickens vowed to "strike the heaviest blow in my power" to help those toiling there.

This wonderful short novel uses satire to comment on class, laws and parliament. Dickens presents two ways of seeing life - the mean, utilitarian, cash nexus, as opposed to treating people decently and letting human relations flower.

MPs were already getting a bad name. Dickens describes Thomas Gradgrind MP as "throwing of dust about into the eyes of other people," and described politicians as people in the service of the rich.

He was sickened by inhuman conditions in the factories where children's bodies were regularly mangled. Even the factory inspectors were shackled.

"Government gentlemen come and mak's report. Fend off the dangerous machinery, box it off, save life and limb, don't rend and tear human creeturs to bits in a Chris'en country. What follers? Owners sets up their throats, cries out 'Onreasonable! Inconvenient! Troublesome!' Gets to Secretaries o'State wi' deputations and nothing's done. When do we get there wi' our deputations..."

What about deputations on pay, housing, health today, let alone the petitions of millions who demonstrated against war? Cabinet ministers are still deaf to workers' pleas. Secretaries of State still cry "Onreasonable" over our cry for decent pensions.

Gradgrind wants to mould everyone and everything to serve self-interested capitalist exploitation for naked profit. His school in Coketown, "a town of machinery and tall chimneys," was founded on "facts". He advises the teacher Mr M'Choakumchild to "plant nothing else, and root out everything else." The "little vessels...are arranged in order, ready to have imperial facts poured into them until they were full to the brim."

Governments today still try to harness education strictly to employers' needs. Teachers talk about the Gradgrind curriculum when campaigning against Sats tests for young children, and against the use of numbers and scores in league tables as the crucial measure for educational institutions. Real education, most teachers agree, should be based on the ability to think for oneself.

This debate has been held for generations. Albert Einstein failed at school, but his enquiring mind pushed the boundaries of science and he came to the conclusion that "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

Dickens juxtaposed Sleary's Circus to Gradgrind and Bounderby. The circus characters empathise with others and help each other, despite their poverty. Imagination, emotions and colour make for real human relations. They show that life is about the common interest, and lending a helping hand. The circus girl Sissy Jupe helps sort out the problems in the story, not the wealthy, powerful or educated, for all their knowledge and vanity.

Dickens' novel reminds us how little has fundamentally changed. Workers are still exploited by employers as units to make profits - and brutally discarded when not needed. The cash nexus has penetrated every aspect of life, debasing human relations even more.

One character in Hard Times bemoans: "All's in a muddle," ie society is in a mess. It still is today.


Socialist Books

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
1.99 + 50p p&p

Available from Socialist Books, PO Box 24697, London E11 1YD.

020 8988 8789., bookshop@socialistparty.org.uk

www.socialistbooks.org.uk

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 21 October 2009:

Postal workers must win

Post - a battle that mass strike action can win


War and occupation

Afghanistan: Troops out!

Afghanistan - end the bloody occupation


Anti-racism

Protests at the BBC: No to the far-right, racist BNP

WDL racists chased out of town


International socialist news and analysis

Sri Lanka protest: Shut down the prison camps!

Chinaworker.info journalist refused entry into China


Socialist Party news and analysis

Tommy Sheridan - a socialist fighter on a worker's wage

Laughing all the way to the bank

Fast news


Socialist Party workplace news

FBU strike to defend fire service

Leeds bin workers fight on

Giant energy company hounds unemployed electrician

First bus drivers give bosses a 'fright'

400 jobs under threat at Leeds

Striking at London Metropolitan


Education

Primary education: Report slams government policy


Political representation

Union activists discuss pulling the plug on Labour

Conference on political representation


Socialist Party reviews

The Greatest Show on Earth: The evidence for Evolution

Hard Times by Charles Dickens, reviewed by Linda Taaffe


Marxist analysis: history

When Britain's spies backed Mussolini


 

Home   |   The Socialist 21 October 2009   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  




Related links:

Charles Dickens:

triangleRevolutionary themes in games

triangleModern-day Scrooges in a Tory council

Socialist:

triangleTheatre: 'Young Marx' shows growth in great platform for his ideas

triangleSocialist Party women's meeting brings together members to share experiences

triangleSouthampton Socialist Party: Is there a global nuclear threat?

triangleCardiff Socialist Party: Why Labour and Plaid councils must set no-cuts budgets

Education:

triangleSwansea Socialist Party: Fighting for free education

triangleNewham academy strikes spread to Cumberland school

triangleTeacher recruitment falls by a third - cut workload, not funding

Children:

triangleOpinion: foster care is work - carers deserve workers' rights

triangleBradford protest against children's service cuts

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns

17/1/18

Socialist Party

Southern Socialist Party conference: discussing the way forward in 2018

17/1/18

Women

Socialist Party women's meeting brings together members to share experiences

17/1/18

Newham

Packed Newham meeting against academies

17/1/18

Liverpool

Lobby pushes Liverpool council to oppose privatisation

17/1/18

Barking

Heating scandal on east London estate

17/1/18

Policing

Undercover policing legal challenge

17/1/18

Woolwich

No to the Woolwich monster block

17/1/18

Cuts

We must fight all council cuts!

17/1/18

Union

Workplace news in brief

17/1/18

Union

PCS union 2018 elections - nominate the left slate for a continued fighting leadership

17/1/18

Hackney

Hackney school cleaners strike

17/1/18

RMT

RMT strikes against driver-only operation continue

17/1/18

Yorkshire

Ferrybridge: Workers down tools over unpaid wages

16/1/18

Birmingham

Home care workers to strike

12/1/18

Waltham Forest

Outrage against 'monster block' plan

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...


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

triangle16 Jan Home care workers to strike

triangle15 Jan Carillion crisis: Demand action to save jobs and services

triangle12 Jan Outrage against 'monster block' plan

triangle12 Jan Mini-strike wave continues and intensifies

triangle10 Jan Strike wins biggest pay rise in ten years

triangle10 Jan Movement of workers and youth challenges Iranian regime

triangle10 Jan Cabinet chaos as shambolic reshuffle underlines Theresa May's...

More ...

triangle18 Jan Waltham Forest Socialist Party: How do we get Corbyn's policies into Waltham Forest council?

triangle18 Jan Southampton Socialist Party: Is there a global nuclear threat?

triangle18 Jan Swansea Socialist Party: Is there a threat of nuclear war?

triangle18 Jan Cardiff East Socialist Party: Building Socialism in Cardiff East

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

January 2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2