Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/1112/31710

From The Socialist newspaper, 2 December 2020

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.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
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 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:

triangleEngels on the origins of women's oppression

triangle'Socialism - Utopian and Scientific' by Engels

triangleEast London Socialist Party: 'Socialism - Utopian and Scientific' by Engels

triangleEngels and the answer to the housing question

triangleThe Socialist Inbox

Working class:

triangleMass protests in Russia against Putin regime

triangleMay elections: Tories and Labour's Khan both vying to slash public services

triangleUSA in crisis - the need for a socialist alternative

triangleThe Tory blame game: scapegoating the working class - 100% pay for all now

Review:

triangleTV review: The Hidden Story of Disabled Britain

triangleTV Review: It's a Sin

triangleBook Review: Humankind - Dispelling the myth that humans are too selfish for socialism

Poverty:

trianglePoverty wages: When workers can't afford to self-isolate

triangleCovid spreading, poverty rising, rich get richer, fight for socialism!

Health:

triangleHealth worker cooperation in the face of the pandemic

Capitalism:

triangleTen years since the 'Arab Spring'

Healthcare:

triangleOverwhelmed, underfunded, underpaid, and still fighting for safe PPE

Britain:

triangleBiden, Labour, and the need for a new mass workers' party

Children:

triangleSchools: 'We have to fight for everything'

Reports and campaigns

Reports and campaigns

27/1/21

Hospital

Low-paid hospital workers strike

27/1/21

GMB

British Gas engineers continue strike against fire-and-rehire plans

27/1/21

Cardiff

Solidarity meeting with Mohamud Hassan

27/1/21

TUSC

Come to the TUSC local elections conference - 7 February

27/1/21

London

Sage care workers strike again: Billionaires refuse to pay up

27/1/21

Unison

Unison NEC elections: United left challenge needed to fight slaughter of jobs and services

27/1/21

Merseyside

Merseyside: DHL workers at Burton's Biscuits strike against half-baked pay deal and bullying bosses

27/1/21

Fighting Fund

Help fund a challenge to austerity at the ballot box - donate today!

27/1/21

Labour

Why I'm leaving Labour and campaigning for TUSC

27/1/21

Surrey

Councillors in Surrey resign from Labour and look to stand independently

27/1/21

DVLA

DVLA Covid outbreak: They only care about output and productivity

27/1/21

Waltham Forest

Save Our Square from New Labour gentrification

27/1/21

Martin Powell-Davies

Martin Powell-Davies for NEU DGS: "We need to use our collective strength"

26/1/21

Scunthorpe

Steel site scaffolders strike for the 'rate of the job'

20/1/21

Strike

Rolls-Royce Barnoldswick factory future secured following strike action

triangleMore Reports and campaigns articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party
Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

LATEST POSTS

CONTACT US

Phone our national office on 020 8988 8777

Email: [email protected]

Locate your nearest Socialist Party branch Text your name and postcode to 07761 818 206

Regional Socialist Party organisers:

Eastern: 079 8202 1969

East Mids: 077 3797 8057

London: 075 4018 9052

North East: 078 4114 4890

North West 079 5437 6096

South West: 077 5979 6478

Southern: 078 3368 1910

Wales: 079 3539 1947

West Mids: 024 7655 5620

Yorkshire: 077 0671 0041

ABOUT US

ARCHIVE

Alphabetical listing


January 2021

2020

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999