Working Conditions During The Industrial Revolution

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Chiderah Onyeukwu
Professor Henry Clark
HIST 1220
13 April 2014
Paper Option B
The characterization of working conditions during the Industrial Revolution has been a source of great debate for many since the early nineteenth century. Some have argued that working conditions during the period were despicable and unhealthy while others claim that the mere presence of factories was an indicator of social and economic growth, a welcome change to the agriculturally based and less affluent society of the past. No matter what side of the argument one falls under, everyone can agree that the technology of this period affected everything from the political and legal systems of Europe to the daily choices the average worker was forced to make. To better understand two of the opposing viewpoints on this argument, we will take an in-depth look on the writing of the communists Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels as well as the liberal theorist Frédéric Bastiat.

First, we will look at the writings of Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party written in 1848, which was during the height of the Industrial Revolution and specifically a time in which factories were becoming an integral part of European society. To begin with, Marx and Engels defend their credibility by protecting their communist views against apparent previous efforts to “exorcise” them as radical or off base: “It is high time that Communists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the Spectre of Communism with a Manifesto of the party itself (Marx and Engels Introduction).” By doing this, Marx and Engels are claiming that although everybody looked down on their views, from the “Pope and Czar” to the “French radicals and German police-spies”, they were still in a position to have an unbiased opinion on the plight of the factory worker during the period.

In Part 1 of the Manifesto, entitled “Bourgeois and Proletarians”, Marx and Engels explain that throughout time society has always been divided into social classes that have undergone changes either because of new technology or revolutionary pressures brought along by society. In their day, they claim that there are two classes. The bourgeois represent the private owners of the factories and other means of production while the proletariat represents the working class individuals. According to Marx and Engels, these two engage in a class struggle due mainly to the fact that as the oppressors in European society:

“The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society (Marx and Engels Part 1).” In other words, the factory owners and the like try to exploit their workers by constantly using new inventions and technology to change the skills required to succeed in society. As these skills constantly change over time, workers are eventually replaced by other workers or even machinery which keep the powerful bourgeoisie in control; a constant flow of new workers means that the old workers do not have time to get disgruntled and eventually challenge their authority. This sentiment has its roots in feudal society: “We see then: the means of production and of exchange, on whose foundation the bourgeoisie built itself up, were generated in feudal society…the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with the already developed productive forces; they became so many fetters. They had to be burst asunder (Marx and Engels Part 1).” In Part 2 of the Manifesto, entitled “Proletarians and Communists”, Marx and Engels argue that communism is a better system for the so-called proletariats than any other system that exists or has existed. They claim to “not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties” and “bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat,...
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