Friday, October 9, 2009
It was interesting to me to see how the people of this time united together for a common goal. When the goal was finally reached, (overthrowing the government) it will also be interesting to see the poeple, who were once united for a common goal, "de-unite" when power is distributed among people of the same status.
My question is Do you think the development of the European Democracy was the most efficient way to mend the conflicting ideas of the bourgeois and the Proletariat's?
The transition of power lead to a change of government. Democracy was introduced, giving everyone a voice. Of course the old leaders were not going to turn over all their power to this new majority. The government remained corrupt and many elections were staged. Over time this majority of the working class, grew to be too large and the corrupt officials could no longer keep them down.
What I find interesting about this is the US's non involvement. In today's society I feel like the US is apart of every major world development. So why at this time were they so late to conform to democracy?
I found these readings interesting, a little dense, but interesting. I enjoyed the parts where is discussed the mobilization of the masses. He describes how the common people indirectly created: mass media, mass movements, mass parties, and mass propaganda. However, I disagree with one part of this section on the masses. On page 87, Hobsbawn says, “The western world, including after 1905 even tsarist Russia, was plainly moving towards system of politics based on an increasingly wide electorate dominated by the common people”. The idea of Russia, with its overtly socialist system, moving toward mass politics doesn’t make sense to me. Besides this question, I thought the rest of the chapters were extremely intelligent and well written.
What I find so fascinating about this is their inability to unite. It seems that all the workers shared a common goal for better treatment and representation, but they were never able to consolidate the masses. This is for a number of reasons. I think it’s mostly based on the religious, ethnic, geographic, and lingual lines that divided them. It’s similar to today’s world like in Belgium particularly. The nation is divided into Wallonia, the French-speaking area in the South, and Flanders, the Dutch-speaking area in the North. They’re united in one country technically, but their actions show no unification. In the Belgian political system, there’s basically two of every ideological party, a Walloon party and a Flemish party. This is just a small example of how difficult it is to unite over such cultural lines. Hobsbawn also mentioned that it was basically impossible for them to unite and overthrow the government since it was basically paradoxical to their unity.
But why was it impossible to unite? Why did it contradict their unity? With Marxism, the idea is for the entire world to unite and rise up in a violent overthrow. What about socialism prevented such a union or revolution?
I feel that the rise of democracy gave an opportunity for workers to involve themselves in politics as it was seen as a way to improve their circumstance. I feel as if the masses involved themselves in politics for purely personal reasons and that they cared more about issues directly related to them instead of national issues.
The Industrial Revolution increased the population in urban areas and decreased the amount of agricultural workers. I wonder however if agricultural production remained the same. Along the whole lines of “a man’s gotta eat”, wouldn’t production have to remain stable in order to feed the masses?
The interesting theme in these chapters was the part of democracy in the world. Today this idea or theory of political science seems to be the accepted or most efficient way to run a government. I would have to agree, in discussion with classmates this week during our class time; I found many people think we do not have a real democracy. In this day and age we have the right to govern ourselves, and the United States gives us every opportunity to do this. Our representative democracy might not be completely “pure” but it is only the citizen’s fault what happens in the country they reside in. The participation is far too low and people need to understand that the voice of the people is the most important thing in government; it is the blood of America. “All tyranny needs to get a foothold, is all good men to remain silent.” – Thomas Jefferson
I want to know more about how the cities played apart of this global expansion. I know they had to have grown and became more inhabited, what were the living conditions like? Were the cities crowded? What was happening in these European cities.
I was unaware of the relationship between nationalism and language during this time. For a long time language was a major contributor to a person’s identity but the rise of mass politics and nationalism had the power to unite various groups (even if they speak different dialects) under one identity. This made the whole nation of people seemingly more homogenous. Does anyone think that the role of nationalism is still stronger (as a means to create an identity) than language?
Government leaders became frightful of communism due to these masses. Democracy, however, was inevitable. Country by Country, governments democratised and attempted to give the massive working class a voice. Unfortunately, since the old leaders were still in power the governmental system was corrupt. The officials began fixing elections and rigging the electoral college from these new democratic ways.
The working class eventually began having say. The corrupt officals did not have a chance to stop them anymore because they were becoming the majority. In a democratic system the voice lies within the majority. Now, the working class was able to vote and have a part in government.
I did not understand how the working class went from being unheard, to having a massive voice. Hobsbawm did not go into depth enough, i dont think, on that part. It was as if it just happened over night, and that is definitely not possible.
Once established an idea can be replaced by the same methods. According to Hobsbawn, for an ideology or concept to survive unity, continuity, efficiency, and centrality of the masses are crucial. What I like about Hobsbawn is that he attempts to define and categorize what democracy was and became within that time period, but he makes it quite clear that it is a concept that has developed beyond what was perceived at that time. And the democracy we know today could potential be re-categorized as a completely different term. Do we cling to a term because it is what it always has been, because it is easier to convince people that the changes being made are less substantial because it is still democracy, or is it because democracy has become a symbol? Symbols are so important in our society. From an early age we are able to identify with things and support and protect symbols whether we know why or not. My four year old niece broke into hysterical tears at our Fourth of July picnic when my dad threw away the napkins. The napkins had the flag printed on them. She said to him with such gumption “You NEVER EVER EVER throw a flag away with the trash. No Grandpa Gene. That makes you anti- American.” We still aren’t quite sure how she learned patriotism. Not that my family are “anti-Americans,” but it was not an ideal we were pressing her to learn. Symbols are unifying. A flag, a pin, a pink ribbon, a cross, a Star of David, are all symbols that give individuals something tangible to represent the intangible.
Without symbols do you think as many people would be unified?
This reading of The Age of Empire by Eric Hobsbawm was an important fraction of this historical survey. Chapters 4 and 5 focused on democracy and work perceptively. One significant part to understand is the definition of democracy. What defines democracy? I believe democracy is social equality and economic freedom. I say economic freedom because within democratic systems, capitalism and other forms of economic methods bring about a class of people. Some might be rich and some might be poor. Therefore, although, through democracy, we are free socially, however, economic success is not guaranteed for everyone. Therefore, there is a direct connection between chapters 4 and 5. That is, that with the lack of economic freedom, everyone must gain their best position within the economy. Thus, everyone must work to gain their most out of the democracy. As they say, nothing in life is free.
The formation of the democratic politics was a long and tough process. Democratization was advancing, however, its transformations for politics had barely begun. The main problem was a lack of supporters for the ideas. Because of this, many states were disagreeing with each other, leading to tensions and a disturbance in unity. Unity is a critical aspect in order for any type of system to work. Unity involves the cooperation of all of the inputs for the output to be powerful. In other words, if unity is not there, something would not work. This was the problem because multinational politics confronted with the national movements. Each country or state had their own ideal and idea on how to run their government. If the spread of democracy was going to truly advance, all of the states must agree and incorporate their knowledge within the process, however, this situation was not advancing into success. There were many fears and dangers involved with democracy politics. Despite this, various states individually opened their minds to democracy and remove the limitless of other forms of political ideals.
The working class began to rise also during this time period. The numbers of wage workers throughout the world great extensively throughout the world. The number of people who earned their living by manual labor for a wage was increasing in most countries. With the rise in workers, the rise in organization of those workers increased significantly as well. I have a few inquiries for this section of the reading?
- What type of social revolution would the work force undergo?
- Why was unity between states and countries an important factor?
- What role did democratic politics have in the work system?
My personal opinion of this week was that I felt that Hobsbawm interestingly discussed the political and social aspects within these two chapters alone.
Options – Fragmentation of the Working Class/Attempts of the Working Class/This now has more titles than it will ever need
(So this title is a reference to this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9aErrvpE9s&feature=PlayList&p=245E82E7642FF23F&playnext=1&playnext_from=PL&index=37 which I think of anytime someone mentions the proletariat)
During the late 1800s, the working class became increasingly organized, spurred on by a rise in urbanization, literacy, and nationalism. But if all of these factors simultaneously aided workers’ attempts to organize, and their efforts to recreate a political system that benefited them, in most cases, the workers failed in those attempts. Why did that happen? As with any historical event, many factors contributed to the lack of workers’ states and the lack of successful revolutions, or even peaceful takeovers through the political system. One of the main factors seen has to be the lack of organization by the working class. Workingmen of all countries (as Marx put it, slightly less catchy than workers of the world) unite was certainly a catchy and logical idea, but workers of different sectors found themselves unable to unite with one another. Not only were workers divided by trade, but, as so often happens on the left, members of the working class who differed on methods or slightly disagreed on the final goal worked separately, splitting their support. It can also be true that these similar groups often spent much of their time fighting each other, rather than their real enemies. (I imagine it being like this fair notice: not clean language: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iS-0Az7dgRY) This can be seen throughout history as Communist and Socialist Parties, as well as the mainstream party of the left frequently either did not work together, or, as seen most particularly during the Spanish Civil War, will actually fight one another (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barcelona_May_Days ). Another common issue is the division amongst various groups of workers. One merely needs to look at United States Presidential elections from the late 19th Century and early 20th Century (I recommend 1896 http://politicalmaps.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/1896-electoral-map.gif and 1892 [yellow is a Populist candidate] http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/images/elections/maps/1892.jpg ) when Populists (and Populist leaning Democrats) attempted to gain traction by winning the votes of the working class. While they were able to have a great deal of success in Western states among agrarian workers, yet were unable to connect with the industrial workers populating the East of the country. This disconnect often allowed conservative, anti-labor candidates to win the election, setting workers back further. Another reason for the failure of the labor movement is the success of the labor movement. Workers and organizers looking for a violent overthrow of the current political system were very disappointed when the anger tended to dissipate when they were able to win fair wages, collective bargaining, a safe working environment, and fair hours. The fact that the workers’ rights movement was so successful in improving the lives of workers lessened the demand for a violent overthrow of the entire system, if newly created labor unions could develop it. Finally, the workers of the world were not in control of the system. This severely hurt them, as those in power can often easily manipulate the power in order to maintain power. These was seen as workers organizing to take control of various electoral districts led to the abolishing of those districts in favor of proportional representation. I feel that all of these (and more) contributed, and can’t quite pick out one reason above the others. What do you think was most important/what do you think I’m neglecting to mention?
I was surprised at how violent the governments turned when dealing with their citizens. “Italian governments shot down Sicilian peasants in 1893 and Milanese workers in 1898” (99). Although Hobsbawm then describes how they changed courses, I am still baffled as to why the governments thought violent tactics would work. As we experienced with the G-20, violence only begets anger and more violence. It was also surprising to me that the nations felt that they could treat their citizens in that manner. I suppose it goes to show how scared they were by possible mass uprisings.
I think it would have been extremely interesting if Hobsbawm had described more of how the Great Depression affected the governments and political parties. He only mentions that “the predominance of the liberal bourgeoisie broke down” (98). Being able to see the interaction between the Depression and the emergence of the mass movements would likely have explained a lot about how political structures were affected. Also, since we previously studied dramatic and wide spread effects of a depression (coupled with the Black Death), it would have been interesting to be able to compare the two situations. It also probably would have enabled us to track the progression of the world system of trade better if Hobsbawm had elaborated more.
I found it interesting that there was not a very strong pull toward socialism, as their political parties remained small and minority. The second thing I found interesting that it was during this time that “tradition” was invented, combining old and new ways in government.
What I thought was interesting was the fact that the Church decided to stay out of politics. Hobsbawm states, “the political potential of Christian parties was enormous” but one of my questions is why did they resist (91). The Catholic Church in the previous decades and even centuries had been enormously powerful; one could say that they were one of THE largest powers in politics. Why now did they chose to refrain from gaining power? What changed? Also, what made the Protestants practically stay away from political parties all together?
Aside from the industrialization era rushing in a new style of workforce for many countries, it also introduced an all-too-well-known theory called “socialism.” Socialist Parties began to sprout up all across the world, but in particular – in Europe. Struggling against capitalism and motivated by the Marxist doctrine, these parties allowed the working class to be represented. Though no one clearly perceived what they meant, these socialistic parties strived for what they considered to be a “better future.” Much like the rapid embrace of the modern world, socialist parties spread like wildfire and certain took a large presence over the world.
Something that I would like to see further investigated is – why do you think everything always happened in such a “rush” manner?? Why were people so quick to embrace the modern world? Why were people so quick to leave their job (what they were good at) and seek out to join the workforce? Why were socialist parties so quick to form and why did they grow so quickly? Did nobody ever stop to question why they were doing what they were doing?
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The most interesting part of this reading to me was how the working class grew so rapidly and how they managed to override the ruling class, even when there were many attempts to manipulate them. I also thought it was interesting when Hobsbawm explained how many controversies, horizontally and vertically, the working class had within it, but how they were still united under this universal notion of being a working class citizen. One thing I am not extremely clear on was how the working class expanded so quickly? I understand it had factors to do with urbanization, industrialization, and migration, but I wasn't sure if this was it or not?
Why did the masses become interested in politics during the 19th and 10th century and not 100 years ago? This is a great question. My own theory is: during this time the world was is in a great time of change and turmoil. WWI was happening, social problems were happening between the wealthy and the poor, and the economic turmoil was also a big part. All of this combine the laborers started to take notice and want better for themselves and family.
There were many working classes at that time, not as many as today, but there was still a latter to climb to get to the top. Each laborer had a job that defined their skill. The factories had hierarchies and your job is something that defines the amount of knowledge you have in that area. Also people, by nature, develop a hierarchy to try and get a better life for them and their children. Today there is an even more of a working class system. People who work in an office for example look down to the people that work on the machinery of a factory. There will always be a working class system in place in our world.
“A proletarian life, a proletarian death, and cremation in the spirit of cultural progress.” This was the motto of the Austrian Workers’ Funeral Association, ‘The Flame,’ in the early 1900s. A proletarian was used to describe a person who occupied the proletariat class in the late 19th century. This was the lowest or poorest class of people, who possessed no capital or property, and usually earned their living in the labor, or agriculture field. At the end of the 19th century, the labor class was rising at a rate that would soon become a majority, especially in the USA, where office, shop, and service workers outnumbered blue-collar workers. Also in the United States, agriculture was rapidly evolving and modernizing. This modernized farming meant fewer hands were needed, because industrialized forms of agriculture were in place. This proved problematic for the unmodernized agricultural lands in the back regions of the States that couldn’t provide sufficient land for the number of hands that would be required to farm the land.
Industry was also modernizing at this time, as machine and factory production replaced the handicraft methods that were used to make the majority of urban consumer goods. This considerably hurt the masses of artisans, as their presence in the labor force greatly declined. At the same time, however, the number of proletarians in the industrializing economies grew at a rapid rate; due to the limitless demand for labor in a period o economic expansion. It was easy to find workers for industrial labor at this time, because it was unmechanized and required no particular skills. Because of this, individuals with no experience in the industrial labor sector found work, and the numbers of such workers multiplied rapidly as output rose.
As the end of the nineteenth century neared, one thing was clear: there was a rapid advance of the armies of industry, and within each town, an advance of industrial specialization. There was an unprecedented growth of laboring people in industrial, industrializing, and urbanizing countries who formed a group that had potential to one day become a majority.
It is now the 21st century, and it is clear that industry did indeed continue to grow. In addition to this, unmodernized, or less modernized, agricultural lands continued to find hardships. An example of the struggle experienced by many agrarians can be seen by looking at the United States agriculture sector. With the recent economic turmoil of our economy, farms that used to thrived started to especially struggle because they relied on traditional methods of farming, and were unable to fund the more modern, technological methods that today’s agricultural sector requires. Because of this, farmers suffered economically and many had to cease farming as an occupation. Although the original quote of this blog references the life of a farmer in the late 19th century, “a proletarian life, a proletarian death, and cremation in the spirit of cultural progress,” very well sums up a lot of the struggles our population is still experiencing due to economic hardships and high demands of production that cannot be met in unmodernized areas of production.
Between 1880 and 1914 the dominant class found that parliamentary democracy worked well with the capitalist regimes. This was a very new concept in Europe. Social revolutionaries were very disappointed by it. Marx and Engels always favored the the democratic republic. They enjoyed this concept because it allowed for proletariat political mobilization and would eventually lead to the confrontation of their exploiters.In 1917 Lenin had an opposing view. He felt that a democratic republic would just lead to a "political shell of capitalism". He goes on to say that there would be nothing that could potentially shake that power. His argument is largely debated because he did not distinguish between both the economic and social circumstances that were able to protect states from social upheaval.
I find Lenin's argument very interesting. I would enjoy to see if Lenin or Marx and Engels were right. In my opinion I think Marx and Engels were right because I feel in a democratic republic the proletariat would have more of an opportunity to get into political power and then confront their exploiters.
Who do you feel was right in regards to democratic republic? Why? If you believe Lenin was right what imporvements would you make to his argument?
Working class parties began to grow powerful with the goal of emancipation of the workers and what seems as enslaving the exploiters. Revolution being the number one priority, made capitalists and their states increasingly worried. We can see clearly the rise of the working class but unifying the working class into one homogeneous party is nearly impossible. Hobsbawm describes the riffs between these labor parties and how disputes constantly undermined their ultimate goals. One example of this is equivalent groups trying to monopolize in a certain kind of work, causing uninvolved workers in inter-occupational strikes. This is just one of many, as nationality, culture, language, and religion also played significant roles in fragmenting the working class.
Another reason consisting of nationality, language, culture, and religion played another role in crushing the hope of having one unified working class. Hobsbawm refers to several incidents of these barriers. An example of this is Bohemia Czech workers resisting integration in pan-Austrian movement, primarily involving workers of German speech. This only serves to re- illustrate how culture, nationally, and language server to split the working class. This however did not make it an impossible thought to unify a working class, but did set forth great difficulties. Reasons mentioned before and conflicts that crossed class lines, seemed to make for the impossibility.
One last possibility is the formation of trade unions, which serve as a political class consciousness. Basically the political pressure that helped in utilizing workshop strength essentially was the only method used; coupled along with this are the strikes in the transportation field, and metal working. They were large and thinly populated making it hard to unite. The transportation sector did not actually have labor unions, but when on a strike dramatically affected economies. My main point is working class is all but impossible to unify in one homogeneous socialist group.
The workers of the world had the potential to accomplish their goals, yet they fell short. A few key components to their failure of “workers utopia” are religion, culture, nationality, labor unions, strikes, divisions between labor classes and many more led to the non-homogenous system. A system in which many socialist labor parties existed in fragmentation of the evolving world. My next question then would be, how the world would differ today had they accomplished in making a “workers utopia?”
I thought it was funny how the upper class thought that even with a democracy, that they would still be able to rule. They must have really thought of the lower class as being insignificant even though their numbers were high. They truly must not have understood what a democracy was to believe that the majority wouldn't be favored.
I'm just wondering why, even with a democracy, it seems that the minority of the society (upper class) still happens to get their way. The poor still are poor and the rich are still rich. With more poor people than rich, how come a balance is hard to obtain?
I decided to supplement this week's readings by perusing the wikipedia articles on Marxist Theory. In my four years of college I managed to never take a class relating to communism, although it was referenced in other classes plenty of times. I guess everyone just assumed that the knowledge of it is pervasive enough that the constant allusions to communism in academia are enough that I should know what it is by now.
Here are the founders of Marxism:
In high school in tenth grade we had a two-part class called "World History." One part was for half the year and attempted to condense the history of the world in that time span. The other part was just geography. Needless to say, the teacher, Mrs. Lopez, managed to fit in a whole week about Russia before and after the Revolution, and we had something called "Communist Week," in which, basically, Mrs. Lopez would run the classroom like it would have been run in Communist Russia and we had to all wear something red and she taught us about the actual history of Communism. In our tiny rural high school it was the most exciting thing that happened academically in our whole high school career.
Sadly, as "experiential learning" it did not really teach us about communism, only that it was really annoying that we had to actually sit up straight and not lean our arms or our heads on our desks in any way or risk getting "demerits." But this brief lesson did put that one question into my head that have been rattling around in there for a while and I've never really tried to answer in any depth except with the statement "because humans are greedy, selfish jerks.": Why didn't communism work? Why didn't the workers of the world unite and overthrow the bourgeoisie? (fun trivia fact sidenote: I keep copy-pasting that word because I'll be damned if I can spell it remotely right on my own) For that matter, why didn't anyone ever really manage to abolish social class systems?
But really, the more I think about it, any depth of an answer, in all honesty, really just stems off the "humans are greedy, selfish jerks" thing. In any complex political socio-economic system you're going to have a clear divide between the "haves" and the "have-nots." That's just how modern society works. In fact, any modern system practically requires some group of people to be oppressed or subjugated.
For example did you know that pretty much the whole basis of the awakening of "modern thought" was to subjugate women? Millions of "scholarly" articles and essays and books since Ancient Greece were written about the "scientific basis" of women being weak, stupid, gross, and just basically inferior to men in pretty much all ways possible. People like to leave this out of the history books but it's pretty dumb to talk about the oppression of the working class without mentioning that one group of people was being oppressed across all classes in all societies based solely on the fact that they had wombs.
*Ahem.* Sorry. Back to Marx. What I'm trying to say is, knowledge was often used as a weapon. The "bourgeoisie" didn't like to think that the only reason they were successful was because they had rich parents who could afford to pay for their schooling, so they liked to rationalize their success (and to eliminate having to feel guilty by sitting in a cushy desk job while others were dying doing back-breaking labor for them) by saying it was based of Nature, not Nurture, that is, they'd like to think they have literally more brains than the people working in the factories or staying at home cleaning their kitchens, not just that they were lucky enough to be granted better opportunities for them. Thus, peasants were just born dumb, women were born dumb, black people were born dumb, etc.
It's almost impossible to separate nature-from-nurture in these cases, because growing up in an environment that does not foster mental creativity and growth (child labor, no time for learning, malnutrition, mentally-harmful disciplinary techniques from uneducated parents and a whole host of other issues) can actually cause a child born in a lower or working class family to grow up to be "dumber" than a child growing up in a more nurturing, safe, educationally beneficial environment. But, just like health care in America, it developed really quickly so long ago that it's become such a tangled mess that there's no hope of ever fixing it, even though Karl Marx (and President Obama) tried.
So even though the proletariat tried to unite, this was still a group of people who had grown up in an environment where the only way to survive is to just do what you're told, and even if they were smart enough to know that something was wrong and that they wanted change and they wanted things to be better for them, they were still a mostly uneducated mass of people and therefore very susceptible to, for lack of a better word, persuasion. All that greedy leaders like Lenin, Stalin, and Mao really had to do was stir up some strong logic-blinding passionate emotions like anger, pull out a few brainwashing tricks, and recite some fancy rhetoric, and voila! Instant communist-dictatorship using angry workers to further your own goals.
At least, that's my reading of how it happened. But what do I know, I'm just an amateur psychologist.
The causes behind the rise of the proletariat particularly interested me. There are two major factors behind the rise of the proletariat, literacy and urbanization. In class, we mentioned an interesting statistic: that several major revolutions occurred as the population reached literacy rates near 50%. There is a clear connection between literacy rates and political awareness. The common people were also flooded with new sources of information in the form of newspapers, magazines and pamphlets. The mass migration of people from the country into the city also affected the working class. There were more people interacting and sharing ideas in the cities than ever before, and this allowed for the spread of new political ideas. This combination of information and proximity created a hothouse of political activity, and the rise of the working class.
This brought me to consider the affect of the Internet and other modern media on today’s politics. New trends like blogging and social network sites have revolutionized the way ideas are shared. Just think about how different political coups are today, for example, over the summer Iran’s elections were protested across the country, and word was spread mainly through sites like twitter and facebook. Even in on our own campus, with all the events of the G20 the internet has played a major role. Basically, my question is, how has the Internet affected modern democracy?
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?
Chapter 5 of The Age of Empire is mostly concerned with the rise of the proletariat classes into a political force that had not been previously represented. Their numbers were rapidly growing, and they quickly became an important part of the social, economic, and political systems of every industrial nation in the world. They represented the maintaining force behind every major city in the world, as they provided maintenance on gas, water, sewage, railways, and telegraphs. They made civil life possible for all of the classes above them.
By the end of the 19th century, urbanization was occurring at a rate faster than it ever had before, and massive currents of migration flooded the city. Of the workers that had migrated to America, a small amount returned to the old country, but most stayed, to fill any sort of job created by the industrial world that comprised of manual labor. The number of people among this class formed a growing proportion, and it became obvious that one day, they would comprise a majority. It cast a shadow over that established order of politics. The ruling classes began to wonder to themselves exactly what would happen if the workers were to organize themselves politically, and what impact t his would have.
This is precisely what happened in Europe, on an extraordinary scale. Socialist and labor parties appeared almost everywhere they were permitted, and they were growing quite quickly as well. Never before had there been such hope for those who labored in the factories, workshops, and mines. Their power lay in the elementary simplicity of their appeal. The represented the working class in all its struggles against the capitalists and the state. The doctrine of Marxism dominated the majority of these new parties. Its members considered themselves proletarians, and aspired to bring about a revolution much like the one Marx wrote about. However, the proletarian were not a homogenous group like the one Marx described, but rather a diverse group of different kinds of workers, from very different backgrounds. They differed in respect to nationality, language, culture, and religion, and about everything else. This made a global unity very difficult to execute among the proletariat, and hindered the progress many revolutionaries stood for. Organization I n its theory might have been national, but in practice it was extremely localized and decentralized. In nations like Italy and France, the only effective groupings were the alliances of small local unions grouped around local labor halls. Railways were the largest enterprise in the economy, and were virtually impossible to organize.
Most interesting to me was the impact of Marxism on the proletariat classes. The entire class decided to base most of their political views on a man who was not even a proletariat himself was quite interesting. The change from a capitalist to socialist system would indeed revolutionize life, but many of the members of labor parties were unclear on exactly how.
My question is how did the working class become educated in socialist and Marxist thought so vastly and quickly? How did they learn about this new way of thought, and begin to align themselves with it so quickly?
What caused the proletariat to become enfranchised? In Table 2 (p343) we see that the number of cities in Europe grew from a mere 364 in 1800, to 878 in 1850. This total doubled again to reach 1,709 cities with populations of over 10,000 in the year 1890. It is obvious that the Industrial Revolution changed the face of society drastically, enticing peasants to move into the urban areas to search for labor opportunities; 29 percent of the population lived in cities in 1890.
I think that Hobsbawm hints that the enfranchisement of the labor classes was not as spectacular as it seems (with a perspective from the future). He seems to hint that the labor classes were slowly enfranchised by the aristocracy for the sake of the aristocracy more than that of the proletariat. The ruling classes gave laborers the right to vote slowly, like letting pressurized air out of a bottle, so that the working classes would not explode into revolution. If we look at the Age of Empire from a Nietzschean point-of-view we can say that--even when the working class was granted suffrage--the ruling class were still the masters and the working class were still the slaves. Just as Jurgis' embittered ears were soothed by the socialist orator's words in Sinclair's Jungle, so too were the embittered labor classes enticed by the allures of democracy and socialist action. But the massive class movement that Marx had died hoping for would never be fully realized because the Masters at the top still controlled everything below.
Why was there no massive socialist movement in the United States? One reason is that the electoral system was/is not proportional (Anibal). But I think the status quo was unwilling to let the workers of the country enact change on a large scale. For example, the government used the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to break up labor unions. One just needs to read Zinn's A People's History of the United States to find countless more examples where the government and John Galt used cunning as well as force to subdue labor and socialist movements.
Questions: It can be said that most of the industrialized countries today are becoming more and more socialistic. What will the repercussions be? If socialist parties were allowed more access to the democratic system, what would happen?
-Stefan Larson (Post #5)
After reading this part of the book I understand the inevitability of industrialization and thus a new class of workers. I would expect these workers to demand power since they are such a vital part of the economy. It makes sense how workers gravitated to the socialist party since it represented the common worker best. I question the political makeup of Europe today if it weren’t for this event in history. Would there be less socialist influence?
Hobsbawm makes many points clear in his book with the rise of democracy in the 19th century. I think the points he makes about how capitalism and democracy work together. Although, I think it would be interesting if he argued this form of government as a mistake bound to fail as we have seen in the past, and that this is just another piece of a long cycle. Once again the wealthiest people in society have the greatest influence on politics getting what they want. This reminds me of the 19th century when people began to unite and demand more for their hard work. Today, we might not storm the Bastille, but it will not be long to people demand more from their government’s decisions.
One thing I think would be an interesting discussion would be based on the fact Hobsbawm says that the United States was slow in adopting these ideas. What I would like to know is if we were slow in adopting democracy why did we fly past most countries, and why are we trying to implement it onto other countries. Also, when will we realize how flawed our democracy and capitalism is, and when will it change to benefit the majority, not the one percent that has all the money. Oh yeh, LETS GO PENS!!!
Certainly, gradual democratic-like changes were being made all over. Workers everywhere were drawn together by their similar economic conditions and inhumane treatment. Laborers were motivated to improve their situation for their own well-being and for the future of their children. Marxist ideas flourished throughout the west.
Although there was attempt to unify under 1 labor union calling for wage increases and working condition regulations, 1 union was impossible due to different regions/ cultures/ and languages. Also, although both agrarian and industrialized groups were in the same situation; their needs were different; therefore, unifying was an impossible task. Instead, many small labor unions formed, slowly change was conceived. Eventually, rulers were overthrown/ voting became more easily accessible, leaders were addressing the proletariats. This was the beginning of democracy the way we know it today.
Yesterday (Wednesday), in class we discussed how never before in history people took such drastic action to change their government/ way of life. It wasn’t as if conditions were never this bad, think; famine, slavery, etc., I just don’t understand WHY now? We discussed religious impact, and a few other factors, yet I think there is more than just that.
During this weeks reading of The Age of Empire, Eric Hobsbawm focused on nineteenth century politics. More specifically, he detailed the start of Europe’s political democratization. It seemed that Hobsbawm felt the emergence of European democracy was the result of a national desire to simultaneously please the rich and the poor’s, or the bourgeois and proletariat’s, contrasting ideologies. Hobsbawm describes this modernization of politics as inevitable, despite the opinions of powerful leaders. Europe’s democratization was an unstoppable force; the rhetoric of the popular vote and the modern and industrial setting of the nineteenth century catered to a democratic reform.
As a sociology major, I appreciated how Hobsbawm tied in key sociological theorists to his historical analysis of democratization in Europe. Durkheim and Weber stick out to me as very important people because of how they historicized this era, subsequently forming our interpretation and understanding of political Europe.
Hobsbawm describes the biggest issue of democracy to be fulfilling both the low and high class society’s political needs. In what ways or in what areas of Europe were the political needs of peasants more fulfilled? Where did the elites have more power?
I enjoyed the talk of mobilization in the reading. It is interesting that with peasants moving to urban areas came the mobilization of new ideas, and the stirring of the masses. It makes sense that as the lower classes moved closer to each other that ideas spread more quickly. Not to mention the birth of mass media, that led all information to be passed even faster.
I wonder why it was only at this point that the working conditions became unbearable. Serfdom was not better, and yet the peasants before this time had no thought to unite and overthrow their rulers. Was this a completely new idea? Are new ideas even possible?
Of course, the new formation of these groups drifted into political influence, bringing socialist and workers parties into play throughout Europe. This was then mirrored by American labor Unions, but never quite made the same ground as the movement in Europe.
Why is this? Even today, we see a much stronger Socialist existence across the pond, while we in the US seem to reject it at every turn. We are one of the only world powers without a major Socialist Party. How does this factor into the success of a nation?
Something I found interesting was the connection made by Hobsbawm regarding the political mobilization of the masses in society and how they put pressure on their national governments. This mobilization gives birth to political parties, as well as the developing mass propaganda and mass media. Hobsbawm also adds a section which I feel represents modern day politicians. He states, “What statesman, surrounded by reporters carrying his words to the remotest corner tavern, would actually say what he meant?” This mirrors politicians of today, each of whom are our elected voice have their own agenda to what they want to accomplish in their term. The working class had the power to elect but that is really it. The policies were left up to the politician.
My question is do you think this world wide spread of democracy cam about after the American Revolution of the late 1770’s? Would this emergence of democratic governments still have taken place if we would have lost?
One topic I found interesting after the reading dealt with how long it took the masses to get involved in their governments. Thinking back not even a hundred years ago, most people around the world could not even vote in elections although most countries claimed to be democratic. Take the US for instance; in the 1900' s we were democratic although women and African Americans could not vote. I understand some places had dictatorships making revolts hard but in democratic countires such as the US and Britain it suprised me how long the upper class ruled. I thought more commoners would have taken an interest in their government before this time period.
After reading what I did not quite understand was the objections the ruling class had to the masses voting in elcections. I understand them fearing what issues the lower class wanted to focus on but the government was already corrupt. I would have thought some politicians would have pushed for a wider electorate because they could then gain votes from the masses while having their own agenda. Broken promises and corruptions were prevolent and although the aftermath could have been a bit dirty I would have geussed some people would have used the masses for their own personal agendas. Maybe thats just me, and although its not a nice thing to do to people, in politics anything can happen. For some people moral boundaries go out the window.