Army of the poor: William Booth, Karl Marx and the impact of the London residuum upon their thought

Woodall, Ann (2001) Army of the poor: William Booth, Karl Marx and the impact of the London residuum upon their thought. Doctoral thesis, London Guildhall University.


London and its poorest inhabitants, the residuum, became pivotal in the development of the thought of both William Booth and Karl Marx. Each was to identify the residuum as a potential army of the poor. The London residuum's impact came from its size and the level and duration of poverty suffered. Booth and Marx were among many people who would search for a solution to the problem of the poverty of London's underclass.

William Booth had been marked by the poverty he saw in his youth in Nottingham and was profoundly affected by the suffering of the London residuum. His interaction with this underclass was instrumental in the form his organisation, the Salvation Army, would take. The two crucial dates were 1865, when the size of the residuum led him to leave an itinerant evangelical ministry and remain in the East End of London, and 1890, when the intractability of the poverty of the submerged tenth caused Booth to publicise the problem and institutionalise his organisation's response.

Karl Marx had first been drawn to the study of economics by the plight of the poor in the Moselle region of his native Germany. It was London's residuum, its size the result of the development of capitalism, that caused Marx to recognise that its members were the necessary victims of capitalism's advance. In the size of London's surplus population he also recognised its complexity, with the reserve army of labour an economic condition for, and the lumpenproletariat a consequence of, capitalism.

Booth's organisation and Marx's economic theory began in their early encounters with poverty and were shaped in interaction with the London residuum, as each recognised that much of the suffering was caused by the working of laissez-faire capitalism and that its total solution required a challenge to the existing economic system.

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