The Industrial revolution had led to a total revolution. As Elizabeth Wilson mentions; ‘Under the impact of the industrial revolution, the cities of Europe entered a period of explosive growth. Victorian Britain became the world’s first urbanised society’ (1991:26). Engels focused on a particular sub-group of working-class weavers in order to look at the making of the English Proletariat. Prior to the Industrial revolution, weavers lived ‘righteous and peaceful’ lives, devoid of excessive change or transformation.
However, after the invention of the spinning jenny in 1764, the demand for woven goods increased as it allowed for the production of yarn in far greater volume. Consequently more weavers were needed and weaver’s wages rose, leading to a process driven by competition. Engels argues that this competition is produced by capitalism, which generates the proletariat in its working sense. As Steven Marcus notes; ‘with the increased mechanization of the spinning processes, the work of spinning was further rationalized by having the machines driven by mechanical rather than human power’ (1974: 9).
This power creates a de-humanising effect as workers lose their independence and just become ‘cogs’ in the factory. The workers are no different to slaves as they have to sell their livelihood. Although there is the appearance of acting from free choice, the individuals have to work to live as they depend on the cash economy. As a result, Engels noted that the proletariat becomes a permanent class when large capital is needed for production. Engels noted that the social effects of capitalism produced three tendencies; centralisation, polarisation and atomisation.
These explain the way that traditional socialisation had broken up and individuals existed as separate from one another. He notes; ‘the brutal indifference, the unfeeling isolation of each in his private interest becomes the more repellent and offensive, the more these individuals are crowed together, within a limited space… the dissolution of mankind into monads, of which each one has a separate essence and a separate purpose… ‘ (Engels, 1996, 54). Engels argues that social organisation is to blame for the lack of connection between individuals.
Society exerts a constant violence which no one sees until a social critique makes it visable. In conclusion, Engel’s description of different parts of London and Manchester illustrate his critical arguments about modern capitalism. Engel’s interest in how technology impacted on political changes led him to regard England as advanced in the arena of political study. The changes that were taking place in society at that time caused a divide in society and Engels saw this as capitalism in its classic form.
Engels chronicled how the seemingly chaotic Manchester was in fact a carefully planned expression of middle class power. He noticed how ‘the members of this money aristocracy can take the shortest road… without ever seeing that they are in the midst of the grimy misery… ‘ (Engels, 1996:49). However I feel that Engel’s description of England in the 1840s resembles the chasm between rich and poor seen in London today. An article printed in the Guardian in 2007 illustrates this comparison as Tristram Hunt notes; ‘such patterns have long been the case in developing and postcolonial nations’ (2007:1).
Similarly, in her book World City, the geographer Doreen Massey describes Ken Livingstone’s London as ‘the most unequal place in the country, and the effects of this wealth reverberate throughout the capital’ (2007:47). Today’s extremities of greed and need appear to have created a bigger gap between neighbourhoods that were once a mixture of professionals, students, working-class communities and migrants.
Bibliography Bocock, R. and Thompson, K. , (1992) Social and Cultural Forms of Modernity. London: Polity Engels, F., ‘The Great Towns’ in The Conditions of the Working Class in England (1845). Re-printed in LeGgates, R. ; Stoud, F. (eds) (1996) The City Reader. London: Routledge. Hunt, T. , (2007) ‘Urban Britain is heading for Victorian levels of inequality’ The Guardian, July 2007. Marcus, S. , (1974), Engels, Manchester and the Working Class. New York: Random House. Massey, D. , (2007) World City. London: Polity Roberts, R. , (1976) A Ragged Schooling. Manchester: University Press. Wilson, E. , (1991) The Sphinx in the City. London: Virago.