It’s 1848… pandemonium is about to grip Europe.
Continuing series on the history of socialism in the United States.
In France, the Orleans monarchy is overthrown, and the Second Republic under Louis Napoleon begins, succeeded by the Second Empire. Louis is crowned Napoleon III, nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. In a period reminiscent of the modern “Arab Spring”, revolution sweeps Europe – the German states, the Austrian Empire, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Italian states, Denmark, Wallachia, Poland,
all experience unrest and uprisings – mostly unsuccessful.
At the root of most of these was the idea that there was an uneven distribution of wealth, that the poor were trod upon by the rich, and had insufficient political and economic power.
Into this environment, Karl Marx, atheist professor, author, and philosopher publishes his landmark Communist Manifesto, outlining the struggle, he feels, between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Marx says: “By Bourgeoisie is meant the Class of Modern Capitalists, owners of the means of production and employers of wage labor. The proletariat is the class of modern wage laborers, who have no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live.” Marx claims that modern society is but a holdover from the feudal society of lords and serfs, substituting employers and wage earners. He says, “The discovery of America opened fresh ground for the bourgeoisie… Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America has paved the way.” Marx says the great expansion has served to blur class distinctions temporarily, but still the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Previous revolutions simply reallocated property in favor of the new ruling class. However, by the nature of their class, the members of the proletariat have no way of appropriating property. Therefore, when they obtain control they will have to destroy all ownership of private property, and classes themselves will disappear. Engles calls this “scientific socialism”, a term coined in 1840 by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in his “What is Property?”, to describe Marx’s economic system. The Manifesto argues that this development is inevitable and that capitalism is inherently unstable. The Communists intend to promote this revolution and will promote the parties and associations that are moving history towards its natural conclusion. They argue that the elimination of social classes cannot come about through reforms or changes in government. Rather, a revolution will be required.
These ideas, together with the Fourier philosophy already discussed in the Harmony cities (see last two weeks Thursday posts) swept the world, fueling the fires of discontent and anarchy. Most people today think they know Marx, but have never read him – you can find an English translation of the original German document here on books.google.com, Manifesto of the Communist_Party. It’s instructive to know where socialist ideas are coming from, and how the founders envisioned them working out.
When you’re struggling from paycheck to paycheck for the essentials of life – food, clothing, shelter – grabbing a piece of someone else’s pie sounds pretty good – having them hand it to you because the government makes them sounds even better.
Working conditions in the 19th century in America were often harsh in the cities, where hordes of immigrants flocked for jobs. Upton Sinclair, a socialist, chronicled the Chicago meat packing industry in “The Jungle”. The labor movement, searching for better pay, better hours, shorter work weeks, and generally better treatment of workers became fertile ground for the socialist ideas and movement. And it came to America …
Next week: Labor Day and Eugene Debs