Happy Birthday! Friedrich Engels

It’s Friedrich Engels’ 190th birthday.

He said of the area where I now live:

“My description.. is far from black enough to convey a true impression of the filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness, the defiance of all considerations of cleanliness, ventilation, and health which characterise the construction of this single district, containing at least twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. And such a district exists in the heart of the second city of England, the first manufacturing city of the world. If any one wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air – and such air! – he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither. True, this is the Old Town, and the people of Manchester emphasise the fact whenever any one mentions to them the frightful condition of this Hell upon Earth; but what does that prove? Everything which here arouses horror and indignation is of recent origin, belongs to the industrial epoch.”

Engels was sent to Manchester to stop him bothering his head with silly notions like sneaking into philosophy lectures. He was, I’m sure, a terrible disappointment to his parents.

I love this story, from the Radical Manchester blog because without Mary Burns The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 would never have been written. No really, you think gentrified young German men could just wander about Manchester’s hovels taking notes and going ‘you lot live like pigs, oops sorry just stepped on your pig there’.  It was written because Mary took her lover off the beaten track and showed him what life was really like for her people.

Engels says:

“The town itself is peculiarly built, so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working people’s quarter or even with workers, that is, so long as he confines himself to his business and to pleasure walks”

it still is.  Happy Birthday Mr Engels. We still need you.

Or we need you. Step off the beaten track, open your eyes. Make friends with someone your parents and your society wouldn’t approve of. Mr Engels would approve.


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