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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most powerful indictment of 19th century capitalism in existence, 11 May 2009
This review is from: The Condition of the Working Class in England (Classics) (Paperback)
Friedrich Engels' classic "The Condition of the Working Class in England" was written when he was only twenty-four, and had but recently abandoned his Calvinist upbringing for a more critical, socialist, point of view. Yet this book reads as if it were written by an experienced political commentator or a radical sociologist, without actually at any point becoming melodramatic or dense.

Engels' main purpose is to confront the bourgeoisie with the reality of their mode of production and to contrast this with the rhetoric of "free choice" and "civil liberties", as well as the capitalist apologia of the political economists of his day, in particular Andrew Ure. With great insight into both the causes and effects of the capitalist system, Engels catalogues the endless want, filth, despair and misery experienced by millions of labourers every day in 19th century England. He pays attention to housing, to factory safety, to unionism, to the physical condition of the workers, to alcoholism, the state of the Irish underclass, to prostitution and disease; in short, all the ills attendant on industrialization.

What gives this book such power is that Engels on the one hand proceeds in an analytical manner, making use above all of sources from the bourgeoisie itself and from Parliamentary reports, in explaining the functioning of the capitalist system and the competition between capitalists and between labourers. On the other hand, he writes in a particularly readable manner and at no point bores the reader with the mere summing-up of statistics. On the contrary, every analytical truth is accompanied by a vivid description, taken from Engels' excursions into working-class neighbourhoods, of the terrible state of humanity that the economic laws of capitalism cause for a great number of people.

For those interested in political economy, it may come as a surprise to see how much of the functioning of capitalism Engels already understood at such an early point in the development of theory. This gives the lie to the many theorists who would later claim that it was Marx only who worked on economics and that Engels was a mere epigone; this book should be a vindication of Engels. His later sketches of the political economy and of the historical development of capitalism would lay the foundation for both the Communist Manifesto and Marx' economic works. But the core insights that would create the modern theory of socialism are for the first time fully expressed here, and in a most appealing and shockingly effective manner.

In other words, an absolute must read for every person of intelligence.
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Showing 1-1 of 1 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 13 Sep 2009, 18:03:29 BST
Lark says:
I like a lot of your reviews and I'm reading through them all but reading this one I wondered if you where aware of any of Mayhew's books on London Labour and London Poor or The Victorian Underworld?
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