Karl Marx Industrial Revolution
Why was Karl Marx important to the Industrial Revolution?
As others have pointed out, Karl Marx was a critic of the excesses and abuses of industrialism. In books like Capital, he gathered documents that outlined some of industrialism's exploitation of women and children in the British textile mills. He writes in 1867's Capital:
Children of nine or ten are dragged from their squalid beds at four a.m. and compelled to work until ten, eleven, or twelve at night, their limbs wearing away, their frames dwindling, their faces whitening
Other groups critical of industrialism emerged in the nineteenth century. The chartists, for example, focused on extending the vote to more people. The trade unionists struggled to establish collective bargaining. Marx, however, believed that the only way the system could be permanently freed from the grasp of predatory capitalists was through violent revolution. He believed reform movements would fail because the owner classes would ruthlessly undermine any compromises with workers as quickly as possible. The only solution was to get rid of the owners (by which he meant the extraordinarily wealthy top industrialists, bankers, and landowners) once and for all.
Clearly, this was not popular with the very wealthy owner class, who feared and loathed Marxism. After the success of the 1917 Russian Revolution, which established a communist state in the USSR for 74 years, Marxism was taken seriously as an alternative political system. Industrial leaders decided, especially after the crisis of the Great Depression, that it was best to offer workers some rights within the context of a system of private ownership in order to stave off possible revolutions in their own countries. As a result, the plight of industrial workers improved in many places.
Marx was important to the Industrial Revolution in that he criticized the greed of it. He looked at history and he noticed how craftsmen received the benefit of their own labor and took pride in their work because they owned the means of production and were very involved in the production process. He noticed that in industrial production processes, man was just another component of the machine; he toiled to make a boss rich, and the boss often performed the least amount of labor of anyone in the system. Marx saw this as unfair and he stated that it was only a matter of time before workers overthrew their bosses, whether it was in the factory, government, or religion. To Marx, these three things put pressure on workers to work harder and to accept a smaller share of their profits. The Industrial Revolution made a small number of people very wealthy; Marx was critical of the industrial system that, to him, only ensured that more people would be poor.
Karl Marx was not important to the Industrial Revolution in the same way that a person like James Watt was. In other words, Marx did not help to begin the Industrial Revolution or to keep it going. Instead, Marx is important because he originated a major criticism of the Industrial Revolution. He was the man who created the ideas that we now refer to as Marxism, socialism, and communism.
Marx believed that the Industrial Revolution was unfair to the workers. It took away their independence and their pride in their work. At the same time, it took wealth that they created with their work and gave it to other people (the owners of the factories). To Marx, this was an unjust system.
In this way, Marx became a major critic of the Industrial Revolution.
Karl Marx is important because of his ideas about the exploitation of the working class, and his plans for a workers revolution which would end in a dictatorship of the Proletariat. He had witnessed the exploitation of workers during the Industrial Revolution and his writings indicated as much. Since the Industrial Revolution began in England, Marx had anticipated that the worker's revolution and was somewhat disappointed that the plight of workers in that country improved without violent revolution.
Marx's ideas were in large part a product of and reaction to the abuses of the Industrial Revolution. It is safe to say that if it were not for the revolution, Marx would have had no impact on history.