About the only good thing Karl Marx had to say about the industrial revolution was that it was an integral phase in the evolution of man towards the ideal society he envisioned. Other than that, he viewed industrialization as merely representing a further stage in the dehumanization of workers and as an essential stepping stone towards the revolutionary processes he was certain would come. In his preface to the first volume of Das Kapital, he wrote that “[t]he country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future.” If the feudal, agrarian society exploited the lower classes by enslaving them, the process of industrialization enabled the holders of capital to attain greater wealth through a more productive economic system, but always at the expense of the poor. He had written his 1847 Poverty of Philosophy, in the chapter titled The Metaphysics of Political Economy, that “[i]n acquiring new productive forces men change their mode of production; and in changing their mode of production, in changing the way of earning their living, they change all their social relations. The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist,” meaning industrialization was just another form of exploitation, but one that would transform the relationship between labor and capital. In his most purely political tract, The Communist Manifesto, he wrote:
“The feudal system of industry ... now no longer sufficed for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed on one side by the manufacturing middle class; division of labor between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labor in each single workshop.”
Marx viewed economic history through the prism of an absolute zero-sum game in which the owners of capital profited through the labors of an underpaid and wholly exploited working class. The industrial revolution was both a natural and essential phase in human evolution that would contribute to the benefit of mankind by developing a more educated, productive work force better able to ultimately equalize the balance of power between it and the elites above them. Industrialization itself was dehumanizing and exploitative, but as much a part of history as the development of earlier agrarian models.