How did Luddites, Chartists, Socialists, Marxists, and Classical Conservatives resist capitalism?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Most people have at least heard of the Luddites, thinking of them as people who were opposed to industrial technology---but that isn't quite right. They were actually opposed to the use of industrial technology to exploit workers; this question gets right that it was much more about opposing capitalism than it was about opposing technology. The Luddites saw that business owners were appropriating the additional wealth produced by more efficient machines rather than sharing it, and in protest destroyed those machines.

The Chartists, on the other hand, were not really opposed to capitalism. They were in favor of democracy. They were motivated in part by the sense that working people were being exploited by capitalists; but their main objectives were political---universal suffrage (well, for men), the right to run for office, fair elections with secret ballots. They weren't asking for an end to poverty, but for equal participation of the poor in the political system.

"Socialism" is one of those words that everyone uses and hardly anyone really understands. Marxism in particular is relatively well-defined, because Karl Marx himself clearly expressed his ideas about history and capitalism, and one can today decide whether they agree or disagree with those ideas. Marx's core idea was that capitalism was unsustainable; its inherent flaws and contradictions would eventually undermine it, and in the grand cycle of history (he clearly believed in some form of historical determinism) be replaced by a much better system that he called "scientific socialism", in which the means of production would be shared by all and there would be no private ownership of capital. (This is not to be confused with private property in general---Marx did not say that you could not own socks; he said that you could not own factories.)

But "socialism" in general has taken on a much broader meaning than that. When we look at modern "democratic socialism" in countries such as Denmark and Norway, they really do not resemble the system of collective ownership that Marx envisioned. They are more like capitalism plus a welfare state, or capitalism with taxation and redistribution of wealth. Democratic socialism is largely an attempt to mitigate the downsides of capitalism (increased inequality, poverty, economic instability) while still keeping most of the upsides (high productivity, high efficiency, high standard of living). In Denmark they try to have their capitalist cake and eat it too---and so far it seems to be working pretty well, as they're consistently rated among the happiest people in the world.

That leaves Classical Conservatives. Unlike neo-conservatives, classical conservatives are actually quite communitarian. They believe that tradition is the best source of morality, and eschew discussions of individual rights in favor of concepts such as loyalty, patriotism, and tradition. Their response to capitalism has been quite mixed; while some embrace it as part of their concept of tradition (we can hear this in ideas like "The American Dream"), others reject it in favor of an older way of life that is focused on family and religion rather than profit and efficiency. Many classical conservatives believe in sharing and redistributing wealth, but often prefer that redistribution be handled by charities and religious institutions rather than by government. They believe that the harms and excesses of capitalism can be rectified not by stricter government regulations, but by shared moral principles and collective grassroots action. Many even contend that poverty would not exist if the poor themselves had stronger moral principles such as work ethic and commitment to family.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial