Condition of the Working Class in England, by Engels, 1845


The book prefaced by the following pages treats of a subject which I originally intended to deal with in a single chapter of a more comprehensive work on the social history of England. However, the importance of that subject soon made it necessary for me to investigate it separately. 

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. 

Twenty-one months I had the opportunity to become acquainted with the English proletariat, its strivings, its sorrows and its joys, to see them from near, from personal observation and personal intercourse, and at the same time to supplement my observations by recourse to the requisite authentic sources. What 1 have seen, heard and read has been worked up in the present book. I am prepared to see not only my standpoint attacked in many quarters but also the facts I have cited, particularly when the book gets into the hands of the English. I know equally well that here and there I may be proved wrong in some particular of no importance, something that in view of the comprehensive nature of the subject and its far-reaching assumptions even an Englishman might be unable to avoid; so much the more so since even in England there exists as yet not a single piece of writing which, like mine, takes up all the workers. But without a moment's hesitation I challenge the English bourgeoisie to prove that even in a single instance of any consequence for the exposition of my point of view as a whole I have been guilty of any inaccuracy, and to prove it by data as authentic as mine. 

A description of the classical form which the conditions of existence of the proletariat have assumed in Britain is very important, particularly for Germany and precisely at the present moment. German Socialism and Communism have proceeded, more than any other, from theoretical premises; we German theoreticians still knew much too little of the real world to be driven directly by the real relations to reforms of this "bad reality". At any rate almost none of the avowed champions of such reforms arrived at Communism otherwise than by way of the Feuerbachian dissolution of Hegelian speculation. The real conditions of the life of the proletariat are so little known among us that even the well-meaning "societies for the uplift of the working-classes", in which our bourgeoisie is now mistreating the social question, constantly start out from the most ridiculous and preposterous judgments concerning the condition of the workers. 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. In the meantime, however, the established fact of wretched conditions in England will impel us to establish also the fact of wretched conditions in Germany and will provide us with a yardstick wherewith to measure their extent and the magnitude of the danger -- brought to light by the Silesian and Bohemian disturbances -- which directly threatens the tranquillity of Germany from that quarter. 

Finally, there are still two remarks I wish to make. Firstly, that I have used the word Mittelklasse all along in the sense of the English word middle-class (or middle-classes, as is said almost always). Like the French word bourgeoisie it means the possessing class, specifically that possessing class which is differentiated from the so-called aristocracy -- the class which in France and England is directly and in Germany, figuring as "public opinion", indirectly in possession of political power. Similarly, I have continually used the expressions workingmen (Arbeiter) and proletarians, working-class, propertyless class and proletariat as equivalents. Secondly, that in the case of most of the quotations I have indicated the party to which the respective authors belong, because in nearly every instance the Liberals try to emphasise the distress in the rural areas and to argue away that which exists in the factory districts, while the Conservatives, conversely, acknowledge the misery in the factory districts but disclaim any knowledge of it in the agricultural areas. For the same reason, whenever I lacked official documents for describing the condition of the industrial workers, I always preferred to present proof from Liberal sources in order to defeat the liberal bourgeoisie by casting their own words in their teeth. I cited Tories or Chartists in my support only when I could confirm their correctness from personal observation or was convinced of the truthfulness of the facts quoted because of the personal or literary reputation of the authorities I referred to. 

Barmen, March 15, 1845