The Condition of the Working Class by Friedrich Engels | Free Essay Example

The Condition of the Working Class by Friedrich Engels

Words: 2222
Topic: Business & Economics


When it comes to assessing the significance of a particular literary work, concerned with the matters of political economy, it is important to define the measure of the contained ideas’ systemic integrity, in the sense of how they correlate with the ’cause-effect’ (or dialectical) principle of analytical reasoning. The reason for this is apparent – the stronger is the author’s commitment to this principle, the more likely will it be for the concerned literary piece to continue representing high discursive value for centuries to come. After all, the application of the ’cause-effect’ principle, within the context of how a particular author goes about expounding on the subjects of socio-economic importance has always been considered indicative of his or her argumentation’s scientific soundness. In my paper, I will explore the validity of this suggestion at length, regarding the provided Extract Two (from the 1845 book The Condition of the Working Class in England by Friedrich Engels), as such the illustrates the sheer measure of the author’s analytical genius. After all, as it will be shown later in this paper, Engels’ insights into the conceptual and practical inconsistencies of Capitalism remain thoroughly legitimate even today.

Body of the Paper

The content of the Extract Two is concerned with exposing the actual mechanics of Capitalist exploitation. As one can infer from this Extract, there are no objective reasons to expect that those rich and powerful that control the means of capitalist production would ever be willing to act on behalf of workers – especially if this may only come at the expense of reducing the amount of generated profits, on the former’s part. Quite to the contrary, as it appears from Engels’ text, the very paradigm of capitalist production is predetermined to remain insensitive to what may be the scope of the associated human costs. As Marx once aptly observed, “With adequate profit, capital is very bold… 100 percent (profit) will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 percent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, nor a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged” (Feinberg 2013, par. 12). What this means is that there can be no ‘human face’ to Capitalism by definition – at least for as long as the socio-economic model in question is not being challenged by a more progressive one.

The Extract Two testifies to the soundness of this suggestion, because of the numerous accounts of capitalist brutality (in the 19th century’s Britain), contained in it. Throughout the Extract, Engels focuses on the used-to-be practice of hiring women and small children to perform mentally and physically exhaustive tasks at the cotton mill factories, “At the power-looms women, from fifteen to twenty years, are chiefly employed… Besides all these, the factories employ numbers of children – doffers – for mounting and taking down bobbins” (Extract Two 1845, p. 3). According to the author, this practice has been objectively predetermined by the mechanisation of the country’s textile industry, which took place around the time when Engels was working on his book. Because the introduction of machines within the industry removed the requirement for workers to be physically strong, this naturally resulted in prompting mill owners to choose in favour of hiring women and children as the most ‘cost-effective’ employees. The author insists that the concerned practice cannot possibly be considered appropriate because it results in depriving both categories of workers of a chance to have a better life in the future, as well as in causing great damage to their health. Moreover, it also results in undermining the society’s integrity from within, “The employment of women at once breaks up the family; for when the wife spends twelve or thirteen hours every day in the mill… what becomes of the children?” (Extract Two 1845, p. 4).

One would naturally assume that this should have led mill owners to reconsider the described employment policy. After all, the textile industry’s long-term profitability can only be ensured in the continually evolving and yet stable society. And yet, for such a society to exist, its ordinary members must be qualified for a considerable share of national wealth – something that naturally results in providing a powerful boost to the pace of the scientific progress and increasing the measure of the society’s functional resilience. However, as it appears from the Extract, such a commonsensical thought never even occurred to mill owners – all because while facing the prospect of a quick and easy enrichment, these individuals ended up becoming effectively deprived of their ability to rationalise life challenges. Allegorically speaking, they became the puppets of their own irrational sense of greed. Therefore, instead of adopting a more socially responsible stance, with respect to the discussed practice, mill owners choose to manipulate with the relevant statistical data so that their exploitive policies would not look quite as grim.

In this respect, the author mentions, “Falsehoods, perversions, crooked statements, with calculations of averages, that prove a great deal for the uninitiated reader and nothing for the initiated, and the suppressions of facts bearing on the most important points” (Extract Two 1845, p. 4). What is particularly notable about the above-quoted suggestion is that people not aware of its authorship will be likely to assume that it refers to the current state of economic affairs in the West. After all, it was specifically the intentional manipulation of the data relevant to the seemingly amazing growth of the US economy through the early 1990s and late 2000s that resulted in the blowing and sub-sequential bursting of the so-called ‘housing bubble’ in 2008 – hence, plunging the country into yet another economic recession (Arshanapalli & Nelson 2008). As we are well aware now, this development has been brought about by the fact that those who controlled the economy’s banking and real estate segments through the historical period could not help allowing their irrational sense of greed to take charge of the executive decision-making, on these people’s part.

One may choose to think of the fact that the provided quotation could not have had a more contemporary sounding in terms of an oddity. There is, however, nothing truly odd about it – having proven himself capable of grasping the dialectical essence of the laws of political economy, Engels established many objective preconditions for his work to remain just as discursively sound as it used to be the case at the time of its first publishing in 1845.

Probably the main consideration that supports the soundness of this suggestion has to do with the Extract’s apparent ability to enlighten readers about the sheer fallaciousness of many Neoliberal claims, which people in the West are expected to regard as such that represent some undisputed truth-value. For example, it now became a commonplace practice among the advocates of Neoliberalism to promote the idea that the ‘wild Capitalism’ of the 19th century has very little to do with the contemporary post-industrial dynamics in the domain of global economy (Zuidhof 2014). To justify such their suggestion, these individuals often evoke the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The main theoretical premise of CSR is that by choosing in favour of conducting their operations in a socially responsible manner, companies can contribute towards increasing the rate of these operations’ long-term commercial sustainability. This premise, however, has nothing to do with how the real economy works.

As Doane (2010) noted, “Investments (in CSR) are particularly unlikely to pay off in the two to four-year time horizon that public companies, through demands of the stock market, often seem to require” (p. 25). What this means is that CSR is nothing but yet another capitalist myth, which is there to help to legitimise the complete deregulation of the economy-sector in the West, so that there would be no obstacles in the way of the rich growing even richer and the poor becoming even poorer – pure and simple. Just as it used to be the case in the 19th century’s Britain, the contemporary representatives of the ruling elites in Western countries (in control of the means of production) continue to apply a great effort into keeping the general public utterly unaware of their highly egoistic and consequently anti-social agenda. Within this agenda, there are only three atavistic objectives – food (enrichment), sex, and domination.

The legitimacy of the paper’s initial thesis can be illustrated even further, regarding the fact that the provided Extract contains a number of the logically sound clues as to what is the main force behind the qualitative fluctuations of the free-market economy over the specific period. According to Engels, this force is nothing but the earlier mentioned sense of blind greed in capitalists. For example, the reason why in the mid-19th century the British textile industry attained the status of the world most technologically advanced is that this development enabled the industry’s owners to intensify the already merciless exploitation of workers while switching to victimise women and children this time. The fact that the well-being of women and children within the society is the factor that positively relates to the overall measure of this society’s socio-economic competitiveness has never been taken into consideration by mill owners.

This could not be otherwise because Capitalism presupposes that hired employees are out there to be ‘squeezed dry’ and that there is no room for sentiments within the context of how this is being done, “This (machine-enhanced) work requires no muscular strength, but only flexibility of finger… and as women and children work more cheaply, and in these branches better than men, they take their places” (Extract Two 1845, p. 3). What this means is that it is always only a matter of time before the integration of new technologies into the operational paradigm of a privately owned factory proves detrimental to the interests of the employed workforce – regardless of what may be the eventual development’s specifics. Moreover, Engels’ suggestion also implies that, contrary to the provisions of economic Liberalism, there is no reason to assume that the freedom of private entrepreneurship guarantees the continuation of the socio-economic and scientific progress.

As indicated by the process of outsourcing, which until very recently continued to gain momentum, the capitalists’ endowment with the profiteering type of mentality is quite capable of erecting obstacles on the way of such progress. After all, the mentioned process did result in the dramatic weakening of the US economy’s industrial segments (Choat 2016). If it is much cheaper to have a particular product manufactured by foreign workers in a sweatshop (as compared to the prospect of organising the production in the US), there can be very little rationale in investing into technology. This once again goes to show that Engels’ view on the very nature of Capitalism (as one can infer from the Extract) does deserve to be considered fully applicable even today.

What has been mentioned earlier poses a natural question – how is it possible for the suggestions contained in the 19th century’s book to continue remaining thoroughly valid? The chosen Extract Two provides a good (although rather implicit) answer to this question, as well – all, because Engels’ ideas stress out the systemic essence of the economy’s functioning, concerned with the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ principle. The following quotation from the discussed Extract exemplifies the full soundness of this statement, “The employment of the wife dissolves the family utterly and of necessity, and this dissolution, in our present society, which is based upon the family, brings the most demoralising consequences for parents as well as children” (Extract Two 1845, p. 5).

Apparently, the philosopher understood perfectly well that, whereas it is natural for people to be preoccupied with the thoughts of enrichment, it is even more natural for an individual to derive much pleasure from being able to contribute to the society’s well-being as something that has the value of a thing-in-itself. The quoted suggestion also implies that, as opposed to what it is the case with today’s advocates of economic Liberalism, Engels knew that people are not in the position to go about achieving personal freedom at the expense of refusing to obey the basic laws of communal coexistence. The reason for this is best discussed in conjunction with the author’s earlier mentioned ability to assess the significance of the socio-economic phenomena within the methodological framework of the materialist ’cause-effect’ reasoning.


I believe that the deployed line of argumentation, with respect to the discursive significance the chosen Extract Two, is fully consistent with the paper’s original thesis. Apparently, there is indeed much rationale in deeming the selected text utterly insightful – despite the fact that it was written more than two centuries ago. Partially, this explains why the Marxist ideology was able to attain much popularity with people through the 20th century’s first half and implies that it is much too early brushing this ideology aside as hopelessly outdated. Quite to the contrary – the current socio-economic and geopolitical dynamics in the world, associated with the process of more and more countries enacting the policy of economic protectionism and with the ongoing decline of the West as the Capitalist ‘centre of the world’, establish many objective preconditions for Marxism to begin regaining its former appeal to the ordinary working people throughout the world.

Reference List

Arshanapalli, B & Nelson, W 2008, ‘A cointegration test to verify the housing bubble”, International Journal of Business and Finance Research, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 35-43.

Choat, S 2016, ‘Marxism and Anarchism in an age of Neoliberal crisis”, Capital & Class, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 95-109.

Doane, D 2010, ‘The myth of CSR’, Stanford Social Innovation Review, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 23-29.

Extract Two 1845. Friedrich Engels, The condition of the working class in England.

Feinberg, L 2013, In defense of peoples’ power, Web.

Zuidhof, P 2014, ‘Thinking like an economist: The Neoliberal politics of the economics textbook”, Review of Social Economy, vol. 72, no. 2, pp. 157-185.