5 SEPTEMBER 1992, Page 19

One hundred years ago

THERE ARE men who lack the courage of their convictions. Of these is not Mr. Frederick Engels. He has the courage both of his convictions and his predictions. In 1845 he wrote a book*, from the communistic point of view, on the condition of the working class in England, which he described as being so bad that it could not well be worse, imputing all their woes to the greed of capitalists and the selfishness of the bourgeoisie, meaning thereby all who do not earn their bread by the sweat of their brow. This book, which has been long out of print, is now republished, with a preface dated January, 1892, wherein the author reaffirms his opin- ions, and protests anew that what he calls the capitalistic system is alone responsible for the evils which he exag- gerates and deplores; the inference, of course, being that if this system were replaced by State Communism, violently or otherwise, the working classes would be made happy as by the stroke of an enchanter's wand, and everything be for the best in the best of possible worlds. This conclusion, be it observed, is unsupported either by argument or evi- dence; for, like the traditional judge, Mr. Engels offers no reasons for his judgments, and lays down the law with the unhesitating confidence of an infal- lible Pope delivering himself of a new dogma. Nevertheless, his book is well- timed and was perhaps worth republish- ing, if only to show what foolish things a clever man may say. Mr. Engels has a swift and vigorous style; he testifies in many instances as an eye-witness, and his description of the condition of the working classes at the period in ques- tion, though not always accurate, is vivid and picturesque.

*The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844.

The Spectator 3 September 1892