Karl Marx’s Definition of Industrial Society Industrialization resulted in the simplification of the European social order. The dramatic economic transformations of the 18th and 19th centuries reduce

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Karl Marx’s Definition of Industrial Society

Industrialization resulted in the simplification of the European social order.  The dramatic economic transformations of the 18th and 19th centuries reduced the European class structure to three classes:

·       The bourgeoisie: industrial capitalists who owned the means of production

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·       The middle class: educated men who managed the means of production

·       The proletariat: the masses of working class who sell their labor

According to Marx however, industrialization was splitting society as whole into only two classes,—the bourgeoisie and proletariat.  As he explained, “the lower strata of the middle class—small trades-people, shopkeepers, handicraftsmen—sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which modern industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialized skill is rendered worthless” by the mechanization inherent to industrialization.  Marx further argued that these two camps were extremely hostile because the bourgeoisie (who were capitalists exploiting the factors of production to maximize profit) institutionalized the oppression of the proletariat.

Critical Thinking Questions:

1.      Explain modern Europe’s social class structure according to Karl Marx.

2.      How does industrialization lead to only two social classes?

3.      Remembering Marx’s definition of history, explain the characteristics of the relationship between these two classes?

3. Phase One of the Proletariat Revolution: the Luddites

According to Marx, the problems faced by the proletariat were a direct result of capitalism.  Marx further felt that the working classes of industrial society would eventually tire of being oppressed and therefore destroy the capitalist economic system that benefited only the bourgeoisie.  Marx believed that this proletariat revolution would evolve in stages, and the Luddites exemplified the first phase. During this initial phase, the proletariat does not direct their attacks at the bourgeoisie itself—they do not stage a revolution against the bourgeoisie.  Instead, they direct their aggression “against the instruments of production themselves; they destroy the imported wares that compete with their labor, they smash to pieces machinery, they set factories ablaze…”  In short, the skilled working class tried to restore their position in European society by destroying the factories, machines, and products that rendered their skills obsolete.

Critical Thinking Questions:

1. Explain the causes of the proletariat revolution.

2. Explain the first phase of the proletariat revolution.

3.  Why did the Luddites direct their attacks at industrial machinery?

4. Phase Two of the Proletariat Revolution: Trade Unions

As industry further developed, cities swelled and became more concentrated with the masses of proletariat that fueled the factories.  As their numbers grew so too did their strength.  Workers began to form trade unions against the bourgeoisie. They clubbed together on behalf of workers rights: secure and fair wages, safer working conditions, shorter hours etc.  They used the power of the strike (the refusal to work until demands are met) to remind the bourgeoisie of its dependence on the labor supplied by the proletariat.  Unfortunately the two branches of the bourgeoisie—the captains of industry and the government—considered unions and strikes illegal because they hindered production and economic growth.  Not surprisingly then, clashes and riots often ensued between the two classes.

Critical Thinking Questions:

1.      What is a trade union?  What is a strike?

2.      Why did workers form unions?  What were their demands?

3.      Why did the bourgeoisie declare unions and strikes illegal?

5. Phase Three of the Proletariat Revolution: Socialism

When the demands made by the proletariat were not met, the strikes and riots became increasingly violent.  Eventually, according to Marx, the proletariat would become more aware of its strength and turn its anger against the bourgeois order in its own nation.  They would realize that the only way their goals could be attained was through the “forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.”  In other words, the proletariat would realize that economic equality would only become a reality if the means of production (land, labor, & capital) were forcibly taken from the bourgeoisie.  As such, the proletariat would stage a violent overthrow of the existing government. They would replace the existing bourgeois government with a “Dictatorship of the Proletariat”—a socialist government that represents the interest of the working class.  The new, proletariat government would then collectivize the means of production under state control and redistribute the wealth equally to all members of the proletariat.

Critical Thinking Questions:

1.    Explain the means of production.

2.    How does the proletariat obtain the means of production?

3.    Thoroughly define Socialism.

6. Phase Four of the Proletariat Revolution: Communism

To increase profits, industrial capitalists exploited both natural resources and labor and were in constant pursuit of markets to consume their mass produced goods.  Furthermore, the new transportational technologies of the industrial era made possible the conquest of the globe by European powers in pursuit of these markets, labor sources, and resources.  In exporting its mode of production on a global level, the bourgeoisie therby created a global proletariat.  In one way or another, Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans were exploited both by bourgeoisie in their native country and Europe.  Marx felt that exploitation on a global level would eventually lead to revolution on a global level.  The workers of the world would one day recognize the fact that its allegience lied not to the nation/system that oppressed it, but to the global proletariat.  When Marx proclaimed: “WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!” he was calling on the global proletariat to come together and overthrow the global capitalist sytem that exploited it.  With this action, the final stage of the proletariat revolution—Communism—would come to fruition.  In place of the stratified, industrial, capitalist society of the nation-state, would emerge a global egalitaian, classless society.  The peoples of the world would live lives based on the following motto: “from each according to ability, to each according to need.”  Government would cease to exist as the global community realized that harmony arose from cooperation and global economic equality. The ancient battle between the classes would end as would history.

Critical Thinking Questions:

1.   What impact does industrialization have on the global economy?

2.   Thoroughly define communism.

3.   How does communism evolve?

4.   Explain the difference between socialism and communism.

5.  How/why does history “end”?

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