The Condition of the Working Class in England

by Frederick Engels
A reading and discussion group convened with Lisa Maya Knauer
Four more Mondays, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
June 12, 19, 26 and July 3

Everywhere barbarous indifference, hard egotism on one hand, and nameless misery on the other, everywhere social warfare, every… house in a state of siege, everywhere reciprocal plundering under the protection of the law, and all so shameless, so openly avowed that one shrinks before the consequences of our social state as they manifest themselves here undisguised, and can only wonder that the whole crazy fabric still hangs together.

This sounds like a description of our contemporary moment, when so many communities around the globe are reeling from the havoc wrought by unfettered neoliberal capitalism, from structural adjustment to cuts in social spending to “free trade” agreements to the gig economy and the loss of affordable housing on a global scale.

But this paragraph was written by Frederick Engels, in his 1845 book, The Condition of the Working Class in England. This reading group will take a close look at Engels’ master work, to help understand how the formation of industrial capital and the industrial working class in the nineteenth century has led us to the current conjuncture in contemporary capitalism — characterized by growing inequality, increasing precariousness for nearly everyone except the capitalist elite, and incessant attacks on the most vulnerable — and explore its lessons for our revolutionary politics in the twenty-first century. This class is open to those reading Marx and Engels for the first time, and would provide an excellent background for in-depth study of historical materialism. While this is a self-contained five-week session, it will also serve as a prelude to an exploration of Marx and Engels’ political writings in the fall.

Lisa Maya Knauer is a lifelong radical who came of age politically in the 1960s and 1970s. She was active in the anti-war, civil rights, women’s, farmworkers support, anti-apartheid and other movements. She moved to New York in 1977 and quickly immersed herself in the New York left. She found the School for Marxist Education in the phone book and joined the Marxist Education Collective, and has been involved with this educational undertaking through its various incarnations, including the Marxist Education Project. In her day job, she is a tenured radical at a public university and does research on indigenous resistance in Guatemala and immigrant worker organizing in the U.S.

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