During the nineteenth century, the Industrial Revolution began in Manchester, England.
England was able to prosper because of increased food production, a supply of capital for
investment in new machines and factories, profits from foreign trade and the cottage
industry, and a well-developed bank and flexible credit facilities. New roads, bridges,
and canals made transportation throughout this small country easier and more efficient.
England was also supplied with coal and iron ore which made the steam engine and railways
important to new modes of transportation.
Belgium, France, and the German states experienced a similar
growth in prosperity as England but at a later date. Although the Industrial Revolution
brought prosperity to England, the only people that benefited from the proletariats
hard-work was a small group of capitalists. Middle class capitalists were the
representatives of the working class in government. The bourgeoisie only benefited by
getting legislation passed that would help their businesses and make them more money. The
working class, especially children, was exploited by their capitalist employers. Marxism
was a response to the failure of European society to address the problems created by
English Calvinist views were strong during the Industrial
Revolution. Employers followed Max Weber's "Protestant Work Ethic Theory" and
took pride in being strict with their employees, who worked long hours to keep their jobs.
They did anything for money and employers took advantage by paying low wages; if they did
not work, they did not eat and workers were disposable. Most of them had only one
forty-five minute break during the whole work day. The working class enjoyed little
relaxation or family time. Since "the work of the proletarians had lost all
individual character" and the work was very "monotonous," workers became
worn out and even mindless. Work became mechanical and workers lost their incentive to
work hard at their jobs. Working conditions were hazardous in the factories. Since only a
few small windows were located on the top of the factory, air couldn't circulate. Workers
breathed in tiny dust fibers from the fabrics. In the coal mines, workers suffered from
black lung disease from inhaling coal dust. they also faced the risk of cave-ins. Many of
them were dangerous to work with because they were unskilled.
Child labor was preferred by employers. Children adapted quickly to
the new machines and the factory system. Adults were used to the old cottage system and
learned at a slower pace than the children because of their old ways; therefore, they were
less productive and viewed by their employers to be slacking-off. Although their work was
lighter and less exhausting than the adults, they became extremely fatigued after many
hours of working. The Sadler Commission Report on Child Labor stated that to keep them
alert and awake "they were strapped quite frequently." Employers also threw
buckets of water on them to keep them attentive. Eventually in 1833, a commission of
medical examiners testified on the results of child labor in favor of the Factory Act. In
it they stated that they found many cases of "deformity," "stunted
growth," and "relaxed muscles." They concluded that the children worked too
many hours under cruel conditions. Infants, especially girls, worked in mining towns;
"they endured the punishment of the direst criminals" which substituted their
deaths. Some said that death would have been a better fate.
Since machinery was no longer driven by
water, factories no longer had to be built around rivers; factories moved to big towns.
"Clouds of smoke drifted across the country" and some "rivers ran purple
with ill-smelling dye." Workers lived in the overcrowded slums of those big towns.
They packed into tenements that were clustered together. Therefore, fires were a frequent
hazard. Living conditions were unsanitary and disease spread rapidly because they lacked a
sewer system; waste was thrown into the streets. Since many people were poor and
miserable, towns suffered a high crime rate.
Karl Marx, the founder of Marxism, believed
that history moved through phases, eventually resulting in socialism. The beginnings of
Marxism can be found with the publication of the Communist Manifesto as a response
to the failure of the 1848 revolutions. In it, he clearly intended to rouse the working
classes to action. From Hegel's dialectic he arrived at the idea that "the history of
all existing society is class struggle" between "oppressor and oppressed."
New classes took the place of old ones and create new forms of struggle. According to
Marx, a worldwide working class revolt was necessary, otherwise they would always be
neglected and poor. The ruling classes would be disposed and new rules would be adopted.
He wanted the workers of the world to unite to "face the last fight." The system
could be abolished by the opposition of those who suffered from it. "Having outlived
its usefulness, capitalism must give way to a new social order--a social order wherein
government shall rest on industry." Only by revolution could he achieve his goal of
no role of government and no private property. Everything was to be shared equally, and no
one was to make more money than necessary for survival. After their victory, the
proletariat would form a dictatorship to reorganize the means of production. A classless
society would emerge and the state would disappear since it no longer represented the
interests of a particular class; class struggles would then be over. Marx believed that
the emergence of a classless society would lead to progress in science, technology, and
industry and to greater wealth for all. Marx derived his doctrine of surplus value from
British classical economists. He maintained that it was the difference between a product's
real value and the wages of the worker who produced it. Mill owners were retarding
economic growth, causing depressions, and setting the stage for revolution by pocketing
this surplus value.
Early socialists were labeled by the Marxists as utopian.
They believed that human cooperation was superior to the competition of industrial
capitalism. To the Marxists, such ideas were impractical dreams. Marx had criticized the
utopian socialists for their failure to approach the labor problem scientifically. Despite
opposition from authority, he continued to write on the political economy. Marx only
finished one volume of Das Kapital because of his preoccupation with organizing the
working-class movement. After his death, the remaining volumes were edited by Friedrich
Engels. When they met in Paris in 1844, they discovered that they shared similar views and
were lifelong friends ever since. They joined the Communist League together in 1847. In
1864, Marx became the dominant personality on the "First International" General
Council and devoted much time to its activities. Marx also supported the Paris Commune as
a genuine proletarian uprising in 1871. Although Marx died in 1883, his ideas and support
To conclude, Marxism was a response to the
needs of the working class. It appealed to many because European society had failed to
recognize the problems created by industrialization. Workers were exploited; they were
underpaid, overworked, and impoverished. They made enough money to feed one person, not a
whole family. Even children suffered from the capitalist system. Working conditions were
hazardous and living conditions were just as harsh. Marx offered the proletariat a new way
of living and gave them new hope of survival.