Karl Marx gets all the press, but it is important to realize that much of the writing which established the communist ideology was either co-written by Friedrich Engels or based on concepts and research established and conducted by Engels. Then there are those essential sociological studies which served to explain and describe the real-life historical conditions and situations that facilitated Marx to formulate his theses for an economic system capable of addressing his various critiques of capitalism. One of those formulary studies conducted by Engels examined the manner in which capitalist expansionism as a result of the Industrial Revolutionary concretely impacted the lives of the greater majority of the population most impacted by it. That sociological study would eventually be published under the title The Condition of the Working Class in England.
The stimulus behind this historical analysis conducted by Engels was a mass immigration into urban centers from the outlying rural areas in Britain. That populated migration had resulted from a wholesale revolution in the economic structure of the country resulting from harnessing of the power of steam to power engines capable of turning the potential of new inventions into machines capable of doing in less than half the time what used to take more than twice the labor force to accomplish. With The Condition of the Working Class in England Engels helped to reveal that the effects of the Industrial Revolution were not limited merely to the business world, but had also forever altered the domestic situation of the population.
The term that would eventually come to be used to describe the impact of the Industrial Revolution on the way people lived is “urbanization.” His book is one of the earliest—if not the earliest—description of the effects of urbanization on workers, their families, communities and entire cities. Within The Condition of the Working Class in England Engels also expands his sociological study into the realm of psychology. Ultimately, the effects of urbanization contributed to an alteration not just of the outward means in which those who moved into the city from the outskirts reacted to the change, but to an altered consciousness. Urbanization was more than just a population and immigration issue, it was a lifestyle issue. Many of those who came into the big city looking for work in factories had lived their entire lives primarily through a system of self-sustainment and low-level socialism. In other word: they were used to providing for themselves and when they couldn’t, a system of neighborly support took up the slack. Upon moving into the city, this very sense of identity through independence was lost overnight. Every aspect of daily living from eating from to getting water to waste removal had been either entirely or mostly within their control. Tenement living stripped people of their very sense of autonomy and such a loss inevitably results in a psychological toll.
That toll was discontent. One of the central theories developed by Engels from his investigation into the decline in living conditions faced by those forced to move into constricted living conditions in order to live where the jobs were is that discontent would be the singular element that could possibly lead to future improvement in conditions related to waste management, public transportation, education and health. The owners of the factories and the tenements and the city managers beholden to those interests had no motivation to improve living conditions as they were enjoying a buyer’s market as far the labor force went. Only social discontent, large-scale activism guided by small-scale radicalism was ever going to motivate the capitalist system becoming ever more firmly in place to address the conditions of the working class in England.