The Condition of the Working Class in England
The Condition of the Working Class in England (German: Die Lage der
arbeitenden Klasse 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's
1842–44 stay in Manchester, the city at the heart of the Industrial
Revolution, and compiled from Engels' own observations and detailed
After their first meeting in 1844,
Karl Marx read and was profoundly
impressed by the book.
2 The German original
3 English editions
5 Further reading
6 External links
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
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 where 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 industrialisation 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
The German original
In the original German edition he said:
The condition of the working class is the real basis and point of
departure of all social movements of the present because it is the
highest and most unconcealed pinnacle of the social misery existing in
our day. French and German working class Communism are its direct,
Fourierism and English Socialism, as well as the Communism of the
German educated bourgeoisie, are its indirect products. A knowledge of
proletarian conditions is absolutely necessary to be able to provide
solid ground for socialist theories, on the one hand, and for
judgments about their right to exist, on the other; and to put an end
to all sentimental dreams and fancies pro and con. But proletarian
conditions exist in their classical form, in their perfection, only in
the British Empire, particularly in England proper. Besides, only in
England has the necessary material been so completely collected and
put on record by official enquiries as is essential for any in the
least exhaustive presentation of the subject.
We Germans more than anybody else stand in need of a knowledge of the
facts concerning this question. And while the conditions of existence
of Germany's proletariat have not assumed the classical form that they
have in England, we nevertheless have, at bottom, the same social
order, which sooner or later must necessarily reach the same degree of
acuteness as it has already attained across the North Sea, unless the
intelligence of the nation brings about in time the adoption of
measures that will provide a new basis for the whole social system.
The root-causes whose effect in England has been the misery and
oppression of the proletariat exist also in Germany and in the long
run must engender the same results.
The book was translated into English in 1885 by an American, Florence
Kelley (also known as
Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky). Authorised by
Engels and with a newly written preface by him, it was published in
1887 in New York and in London in 1891. These English editions had the
qualification in 1844 added to the English title.
Engels in his 1892 preface said:
The author, at that time, was young, twenty-four years of age, and his
production bears the stamp of his youth with its good and its faulty
features, of neither of which he feels ashamed. The state of things
described in this book belongs to-day, in many respects, to the past,
as far as England is concerned. Though not expressly stated in our
recognised treatises, it is still a law of modern Political Economy
that the larger the scale on which capitalistic production is carried
on, the less can it support the petty devices of swindling and
pilfering which characterise its early stages.
Again, the repeated visitations of cholera, typhus, small-pox and
other epidemics have shown the British bourgeois the urgent necessity
of sanitation in his towns and cities, if he wishes to save himself
and family from falling victims to such diseases. Accordingly, the
most crying abuses described in this book have either disappeared or
have been made less conspicuous.
But while England has thus outgrown the juvenile state of capitalist
exploitation described by me, other countries have only just attained
it. France, Germany and especially America, are the formidable
competitors who, at this moment – as foreseen by me in 1844 – are
more and more breaking up England's industrial monopoly. Their
manufactures are young as compared with those of England, but
increasing at a far more rapid rate than the latter; and, curious
enough, they have at this moment arrived at about the same phase of
development as English manufacture in 1844. With regard to America,
the parallel is indeed most striking. True, the external surroundings
in which the working class is placed in America are very different,
but the same economical laws are at work, and the results, if not
identical in every respect, must still be of the same order. Hence we
find in America the same struggles for a shorter working-day, for a
legal limitation of the working-time, especially of women and children
in factories; we find the truck-system in full blossom, and the
cottage-system, in rural districts, made use of by the 'bosses' as a
means of domination over the workers.
It will be hardly necessary to point out that the general theoretical
standpoint of this book – philosophical, economical, political –
does not exactly coincide with my standpoint of to-day. Modern
international Socialism, since fully developed as a science, chiefly
and almost exclusively through the efforts of Marx, did not as yet
exist in 1844. My, book represents one of the phases of its embryonic
development; and as the human embryo, in its early stages, still
reproduces the gill-arches of our fish-ancestors, so this book
exhibits everywhere the traces of the descent of Modern
one of its ancestors, German philosophy.
The book has recently been reissued by Oxford University Press.
^ Griffin, Emma. "Liberty's Dawn. A People's History of the Industrial
Revolution". Academia.edu. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
^ Mansel, Philip: Paris Between Empires, p. 390 (St. Martin Press, NY)
^ Frederick Engels, "The Condition of the Working Class in England",
contained in the Collected Works of
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels:
Volume 4 (International Publishers: New York, 1975) pp. 295–596.
^ T. B. Bottomore (1991). A Dictionary of Marxist thought.
Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 108–. ISBN 978-0-631-18082-1.
Retrieved 5 March 2011.
^ P. N. Fedoseyev, Karl Marx: A Biography (Progress Publishers:
Moscow, 1973) p. 82.
Friedrich Engels and the England of the 1840s - History Today".
Historytoday.com. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
^ Engels, Frederick. "Preface". Marxists.org. Retrieved 11 November
^ Engels. "The Condition of the Working Class in England".
Marxists.org. Retrieved 11 November 2017.
Steven Marcus, Engels, Manchester, and the Working Class. Piscataway,
NJ: Transaction Publishers, 2015.
Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 (Full text at the
Marx/Engels Internet Archive.)
A letter from Engels to
Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky
Engels, Friedrich. "The Condition of the Working-Class in England in
1844 with a Preface written in 1892". Project Gutenberg.
Condition of the Working-Class in England public domain audiobook at
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