Thursday, April 01, 2010

Engels and the conditions of the working class

I am still reading my biography of Engels by Tristram Hunt and he has just arrived in Manchester in the 1840s. I always knew the conditions were bad in that time but they were 'very bad'. In fact even in terms of Europe, Manchester was renowned as being considerably bad and attracted a favela tourism by traveling writers. Alexis de Tocqueville described it as a 'new hades':

"fetid, muddy waters, stained with a thousand colours by the factories they pass' and yet, 'from this fould drain the greatest stream of human industry flows out to fertilize the whole world. From this filthy sewer pure gold flows."

Dr Richard Baron Howard, Assistant Poor Law commissioners describes it as follows:

"whole streets were unpaved and without drains or mini-sewers and were so covered with refuse and excrementitious matter as to be almost impassable from depth of mud, and intolerable from stench."

One of the districts of Manchester decided to name a block of flats after Engels. In November 2007 the Salford Star went to interview the residents of Engels House to ask their thoughts on the man who gave his name to their tower block. Resident Gordon Langlands was having terrible problems with the damp. 'The Council just seem to be deafing me on it, they're just a bunch of commedians. But it's getting beyond a joke now. Someone told me to move out but I've built this place up. This Engels, he would have sorted it.' Salford Star 6/11/07


Igneos said...

Later on in this chapter we see that Engels found his first love in Manchester - an Irish girl called Mary Burns. Good to see the Irish connection.

Engel's friend Weerth wrote a poem about Mary:

From Ireland with the tide she came,
She came from Tipperaru;
Warm, impetuous blood in her vein,
The young lass, Mary,
And when she boldly sprang ashore,
A cry from the sailors arose:
'The lass Mary, thank the Lord,
Is just like a wild rose!

jose said...

Hi Rod,

Not a comment on Engels and the Manchester of old. Just to chip in a quote by CS Lewis from his introduction to "On the Incarnation", by St Athanasius (quote that I've found in another blog):

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. … To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.

Best wishes,


Igneos said...

Hi Jose,

Very true and perhaps even Engels is trying to say something to us today ... perhaps don't try to earn things that you haven't produced ... perhaps we have to value our workers more, respect those people who work with their hands to add value whilst most of the economy depends on people who re-arrange information. What crisis or revolutions await us?