How was socialism linked to the industrial revolution?

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rrteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While we can see some thinkers arguing for what might be called a proto-socialist society prior to the Industrial Revolution, it was really this worldwide historical development that led to socialism's rise. Socialism was a reaction to the inequalities that grew as a direct result of industrial growth. While we cannot reduce socialism to the writings of Karl Marx, his belief that the rise of industrial capitalism was creating a huge working class that was seeing less and less of the profits their labor generated was fundamental to socialism. By the late nineteenth century, it was clear that while industrialization had generated tremendous wealth and rapid technological advances, it had done so at a tremendous human cost. Millions in factories, mills, and mines in Europe and the United States labored under very difficult conditions for little pay. They lived in squalor in cities that, as a consequence of the urbanization that accompanied industrial development, had become highly crowded and very visible examples of the inequalities generated by the Industrial Revolution. Socialism came in many different forms, but each represented an attempt to better the lives of working people and to create a more just and equal society. Revolutionaries like Marx believed this would come about only through violent class revolution. Others, like the utopian socialists of the mid-nineteenth century, thought that socialism could be established in small communities. Still others sought to implement socialistic reforms through the political process and through labor unions. But all were a direct response to industrialization. 

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Marx is one of the first thinkers on the scene to link the profiteering off of human labor as creating the conditions for a post- capitalist world.  The idea he put forth was that the industrial revolution was capitalism gone unchecked.  Essentially, few were becoming extremely wealthy at the cost of the many.  The industrialist would own a factory and employ workers at low wages, resulting in large sums of money for himself.  As capitalism increased, the exploitation of workers increased.  At some point, the belief is that these workers would call for change.  The change would involve a transformation from a private ownership of wealth and means of production to a public, or social, one.  It is from this idea that socialism emerges, an economic system where there is a public ownership of wealth and that the workers, or those who were previously oppressed, are now able to be in a position of economic autonomy and freedom.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In general, socialism came as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution.  It sprang up as workers reacted to the new conditions in which they had to work.

As the Industrial Revolution began, workers started having to work in different conditions.  They had to work for someone else instead of for themselves.  They had to come to work when they were told and leave when they were told.  They stopped having any kind of control over their working lives.

Socialism sprang up as a reaction to this.  It said that workers ought to be their own bosses.  It said that they should not have to work for others and make others rich instead of working for themselves.

So socialism started as a backlash against the changes in workers' lives.  It wanted to give them back the control over their work that they used to enjoy.