Friedrich Engels

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What is the historical context for The Condition of the Working Class in England?

The historical context for The Condition of the Working Class in England was Friedrich Engels's time in Manchester, England during the Industrial Revolution. There, he witnessed the various labor abuses, such as low wages and poor working conditions, that ultimately led to his radical views on economic class warfare.

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While German political theorist Friedrich Engels is best known for co-writing The Communist Manifesto with Karl Marx in 1848, his views on capitalism versus socialism and labor/management class conflict had been cemented several years earlier during his time living in Manchester, England, one of the birthplaces of the Industrial Revolution.

Engels was the son of a wealthy German industrialist. His father tried to separate him from the radical anti-capitalists he was hanging out with in Berlin by sending him to England for an apprenticeship, but he spent more time with the workers than with the management, which further ingrained in him a socialist mindset.

From 1842 to 1844, Engels observed the working conditions, living conditions, and wages of workers in factories, plants, and other industrial settings. He was appalled by the allegedly high death rates, poor worker health, environmental damage, hazardous workstations, rampant child labor, and various other abuses.

Engels came to believe that peers in the pre-industrial age had higher incomes and healthier work environments than industrial workers. Moreover, he found mortality rates in the city from diseases like smallpox, whooping cough, and scarlet fever to be quadruple that of rural areas and further attributed it to the adverse effects of industrialization.

This led him to write The Condition of the Working Class in England, published in 1845, which drew the attention of intellectual soulmate Karl Marx and eventually led to their collaboration three years later on The Communist Manifesto. It was here that they expounded on their views, hypothesizing that the world could only be understood through economic class struggle and that a working-class revolution was the only way to right such injustices.

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