[Friedrich Engels was Karl Marx’s colleague.
Together they wrote many significant critiques of capitalism.
selection is taken from Friedrich Engels’ early writings (he had not yet met Marx).
It has become a classic
historical description of life among industrial workers in the British Isles.
Engels was the son of a German
He was sent to Manchester, England in 1842 to learn the family business.
Engels spent much of his
time, however, walking through the slums of the cities he visited, closely observing the living and working
conditions of the proletariat (the working class).
His observations became the basis of a book, The Condition of
the Working Class in England in 1844
The excerpts below are taken from the chapter, “The Great Towns.”
Selections from Friedrich Engels, “The Great Towns”
A town, such as London, where a man may wander for hours together without reaching the
beginning of the end, without meeting the slightest hint which could lead to the inference that
there is open country within reach, is a strange thing. This colossal centralisation, this heaping
together of two and a half millions of human beings at one point, has multiplied the power of this
two and a half millions a hundredfold; has raised London to the commercial capital of the world,
created the giant docks and assembled the thousand vessels that continually cover the Thames. I
know nothing more imposing than the view which the Thames offers during the ascent from the
sea to London Bridge. The masses of buildings, the wharves on both sides, especially from
Woolwich upwards, the countless ships along both shores, crowding ever closer and closer
together, until, at last, only a narrow passage remains in the middle of the river, a passage
through which hundreds of steamers shoot by one another; all this is so vast, so impressive, that a
man cannot collect himself, but is lost in the marvel of England's greatness before he sets foot
upon English soil.
But the sacrifices which all this has cost become apparent later. After roaming the streets of the
capital a day or two, making headway with difficulty through the human turmoil and the endless
lines of vehicles, after visiting the slums of the metropolis, one realises for the first time that
these Londoners have been forced to sacrifice the best qualities of their human nature, to bring to
pass all the marvels of civilisation which crowd their city; that a hundred powers which
slumbered within them have remained inactive, have been suppressed in order that a few might
be developed more fully and multiply through union with those of others. The very turmoil of the
streets has something repulsive, something against which human nature rebels. The hundreds of
thousands of all classes and ranks crowding past each other, are they not all human beings with
the same qualities and powers, and with the same interest in being happy? And have they not, in
the end, to seek happiness in the same way, by the same means? And still they crowd by one