Socialism, Bolshevism, and the Red Scare

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How was socialism linked to the industrial revolution?

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The Industrial Revolution had many positive achievements, such as enlarging the consumer economy and making goods cheaper for all; however, one of the major downsides to the Industrial Revolution was that it created a class of impoverished workers with little to no skills. This class of workers appeared to be...

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The Industrial Revolution had many positive achievements, such as enlarging the consumer economy and making goods cheaper for all; however, one of the major downsides to the Industrial Revolution was that it created a class of impoverished workers with little to no skills. This class of workers appeared to be mired in their poor situation while their employers grew richer by the year. During the Industrial Revolution, the workers were treated like parts within a machine simply because they had no protections and the employers could exploit the workers in the name of profits. As a result, workers were placed in horrible working conditions for increasingly smaller wages as new groups joined the labor pool.

While some fought unfair employment practices through forming unions, others thought that the solution was to get rid of capitalism altogether. Socialism was viewed as the most fair way to distribute the fruits of the labor as everyone could take according to his/her need. By making the public the owners of the factors of production, one could abolish the exploitative factory owner and replace him with a system that was more fair.

Socialism grew from the workers' need to regain control over their lives and livelihoods. Many saw capitalism as one step on the evolutionary ladder to socialism since socialism was to be more fair for the masses. Socialism would make the people more productive since they would directly receive the fruits of their labor and the factory owner would cease to exist since he had no value in the system.

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The Industrial Revolution created the class structures which in turn generated the social tensions that led to the rise of socialism. With the abolition of feudalism, the main classes in industrial society were now the owners of the means of production, the bourgeoisie (in Marxist parlance), and the working classes (the proletariat).

The bourgeoisie, such as factory owners and captains of industry, became fantastically wealthy. At the same time, their workers were generally poor and were paid the barest minimum for their hard, back-breaking toil. Inevitably, this generated considerable tensions, with many working men and women becoming politically conscious as a result.

Radicals such as Marxists were only too willing to exploit these tensions to put forward their own ideas for abolishing capitalism once and for all and replacing it with a new system, Communism, which they argued would bring about genuine equality for everyone.

Though most working people simply wanted better pay and working conditions, the more radical socialists wanted to go one stage further and get rid of capitalism altogether. They argued that capitalism was an inherently exploitative system and that no amount of amelioration of its excesses in the form of higher wages and better conditions would ever change that simple fact.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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