Chapter Five of Hobsbawm discusses the rise of the proletariat, the working class party. At the time of the Industrial Revolutoin, “the class whose numbers were most visibly growing…whose presence became ever more escapable, and show class consciousness seemed most directly to threaten the social, economic and political system of modern societies, was the proletariat” (112). All over the world, as urbanization increased, so did the number of jobs requiring physical labor in an urban setting (not agriculture).While the number of people in cities working labor jobs increased, improved machine and factory production hurt the business of the masses who handmade consumer goods, both contributing to the rapid rise of the proletariat class, as each contributed to the endless demand for industrial labor. Despite their apparent lack of homogeneity, these large classes of workers, united around the fact that they worked in large factories and the resultant maltreatment they received. This unity led to a point “wherever democratic and electoral parties allowed it, mass parties based on the working class, for the most part inspired by an ideology of revolutionary socialism…appeared on the scene and grew with startling rapidity” (116). Dominated by the Marxist doctrine, these parties were represented the worker class in its struggle against the capitalist state. Driven by propaganda and mass media and motivated by progress, these parties pushed toward a “better future,” though the specifics were often unclear. Regardless, while never a majority, these socialist parties quickly grew into a sizeable threat against existing governments.
Interestingly, socialist parties ran into problems with additional growth. “As soon as socialist parties acquired a mass basis, ceasing to be propagandist and agitational sects…it became evident that that they could not confine their attention exclusively to the working class” (137). Also, because the proletariat could most often be outvoted by a unity of opposing classes, the need for expansion was evident. This expansion, however, proved difficult because of the difficulty to appeal to social classes outside the proletariat, whose heavy identification with the party was not shared. Things like political slogans were too specific to the proletariat, leaving other classes indifferent. There are examples where the socialist party had brief widespread success, with socialist candidates receiving upward of 25% in parts of the U.S. Some reasons for this advance were militant combat for voting rights in places with restricted franchise, status as opposition to the rich, and devotion to progress. These concepts were accepted by people from all classes, leading to expanded growth in some regions. In the end, though, Hobsbawm mentions that socialism did not have a huge impact within government because joining governmental systems meant abandoning revolutionaries. It seemed that everywhere they met success it was paired with an equally strong failure.
Even today, the socialist party in the United States remains very much in the background while socialist ideals have grown and been accepted elsewhere in the world, even among developed countries. What are some of the reasons for this and does the relative absence of socialist impact affect the growth of a nation?