The Condition of the Working Class in England

The work begins with a brief sketch of that Industrial Revolution which transformed British society and created, as its chief product, the proletariat (chapters I—II). This is the first of Engels’ pioneering achievements, for the Condition is probably the earliest large work whose analysis is systematically based on the concept of the Industrial Revolution, which was then novel and tentative, having only been invented in British and French socialist discussions during the 1820s. Engels’ historical account of this transformation lays no claim to historical originality. Though still useful, it has been superseded by later and fuller works.

Socially Engels sees the transformations brought about by the Industrial Revolution as a gigantic process of concentration and polarisation, whose tendency is to create a growing proletariat, an increasingly small bourgeoisie of increasingly large capitalists, both in an increasingly urbanised society. The rise of capitalist industrialism destroys the petty commodity producers, peasantry, and petty-bourgeoisie, and the decline of these intermediate strata, depriving the worker of the possibility of becoming a small master, confines him to the ranks of the proletariat which thus becomes ‘a definite class in the population, whereas it had only been a transitional stage towards entering into the middle classes’.

—Eric Hobsbawm, How to Change the World, (London: Little, Brown, 2011), 91-92.

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