Thursday, October 8, 2009

Age of the Empire: Workers of the World - Unite!

The radical changes seen in the European class system during the 18th and 19th centuries was indicated by the rapidly growing numbers of wage workers, as well as their organization of labor and trade unions and socialist political parties , as was discussed in yesterday's class. The rise of the working class occurred post-Industrial Revolution, and a large portion of Hobsbawm’s Chapter 5 discusses this organization of a previously segregated peasant class into a largely political and collective unit of working peoples. Yesterday's class discussion noted Hobsbawm’s observations concerning the rise of the collective working class, noting, “The masses would march on to the stage of politics, whether the rulers liked it or not.” This succinct description of the political power held by an uprising of previously oppressed peoples is further explored throughout pages 134-137, as Hobsbawm continues to note the mending of the lower class condemnation: “…all significant amelioration came primarily through their action and organization as a class,” (136). While they were motivated to improve their situation with the hopes of advancement for future generations, their individual, and realized collective, burdens and lack of humane treatment motivated the majority of their unified actions to rise against the rulers and improve their condition, whereby increasing their social mobility within society, despite the disapproval of the previously all-powerful political leaders. Their individual hopes for the future rested in their “hope in the movement,” (136), and Hobsbawn concludes this portion of the chapter, stating, “If the American dream was individualist, the European worker’s was overwhelmingly collective,” (136).

Indeed, the European working class could not have achieved their successes and the amelioration of their deplorable treatment and conditions without supporting the endeavors as a collective whole. The peasant population, once segregated by the land and as part of an overwhelmingly agriculturally-focused people, now had the opportunity to move towards urban areas, geographically, conditionally, and politically bound by similar interests. Their common resentment of the conditions for the newly arising working class built resentment towards those in power, and ultimately, a previously non-politically focused or involved portion of the population (at times, by no fault of their own) now founded power in the people to rise against their previously all-powerful heads.

I wonder, considering this newly-founded mobility, how the working class thought they might truly create this “worker’s utopia” of sorts, considering the long-standing oppression and unfavorable conditions they endured. Were they merely over-zealous in their attempts to amend their situations, or could their attempts to create this ideal scenario have succeeded given different circumstances, actors, etc. etc.?

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