Throughout history, a divide has always existed between the rich and poor in society. However, during the Industrial Revolution in Victorian England, this rift reached its peak. The working class labored for long hours and received miniscule wages, whereas the bourgeoisie grew abundantly wealthy through the labor of the working class. Published in 1848 and 1854 respectively, Karl Marx’s The Communist Manifesto and Charles Dickens’ Hard Times both comment on these troubles.
While Hard Times is a novel which tells a story and The Communist Manifesto is a short publication which tries to bring about social change, both writings offer a sharp critique of the class antagonism brought about by capitalism at the height of the Industrial Revolution. From the opening of Hard Times, the setting of Coketown offers a sharp critique of the consequences involved with industrial capitalism. The town existed solely for the benefit of the bourgeoisie; however, this was brought about at the expense of the factory workers, or proletarians.
Dickens described the town as “several large streets all very like one another, and many small streets still more like one another, inhabited by people equally like one another. ” Dickens recognized that the proletarians had no individuality. Before the Industrial Revolution, independent production was the norm, not the exception; therefore, the types of laborers were much more diverse. Any given laborer could have been a farmer, a nail-crafter, etc. This gave the laborer a much greater sense of individuality since there were different jobs within the working class.
However, with the introduction of factories and mass production, the proletarians had no choice but to work in factories. Since almost the entire working class lived in factories, they began to be viewed more as one large group rather than as individuals. The sameness of Coketown illustrates this sameness among the working class. In the same way, Marx claims that the bourgeoisie has taken away all individuality from the proletarians. In Marx’s view, capitalism causes money to be more important than the actual person.
For example, Marx states, “In bourgeois society capital is independent and has individuality, while the living person is dependent and has no individuality. ” According to Marx, the proletarian is dependent, or a slave, to money. Most proletarians had no desire to work long hours inside of a factory under horrid conditions, but they were forced to. While their wages were very meager, the workers still needed some wages. The only jobs available during the Industrial Revolution were grueling factory jobs. Since the proletarians had no choice on what type of job that they could hold, they had no individuality.
Ironically, money not only controls the lives of the proletarians, but it also greatly influenced the lives of the bourgeoisie. For many members of the bourgeoisie, money was the driving force in their lives. Marx lashed out against this when he stated, “The bourgeoisie…has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest. ” Men no longer cared about respecting the rights of other men. The bourgeoisie simply wanted to do was to accumulate more and more wealth. The fact that this accumulation of wealth was accomplished through the suffering of other humans was of little importance.
A man was judged by how much money he had; therefore, these men would do anything to acquire more of it. Traits like honor and being just no longer mattered to these members of the bourgeoisie. The primary antagonist in Hard Times, Josiah Bounderby, would be classified as one of these members of the bourgeoisie. Bounderby is a man that would Marx would condemn emphatically since Bounderby focuses entirely on his own betterment. For instance, Bounderby frequently recounts how he was born to a very poor mother that abandoned him and through his own hard work, built his fortune.
He tells this story for the sole reason of impressing others, yet the story turns out to be a falsehood. Bounderby cares more about improving his position than being an honest individual. Furthermore, like many members of the bourgeoisie, Bounderby tries to better himself at the expense of the proletarians. While Bounderby was a member of the lower class in his youth, he has completely turned his back on them. He treats the proletarians with contempt, and he believes that all the proletarians desire “to be fed on turtle soup and venison, with a gold spoon. ” Dickens is creating an irony here.
Bounderby believes that all the proletarians want to get rich without working, yet the proletarians are actually doing all the excruciating work in the society. However, the wealth is not going to the proletarians but to Bounderby himself. In contrast, the protagonist of the novel is Stephen Blackpool, who represents the average proletarian. He is not very educated, he works long hours at a difficult factory job, and he gets paid very little for this job. Blackpool is a tragic character who is constantly being taken advantage of by members of higher classes.
Bounderby takes advantage of Blackpool through wage labor, and Tom Gradgrind takes advantage of him by framing him for the bank robbery. This all leads to a life full of sufferings, including exile from Coketown and an untimely death. Blackpool would be a perfect model for Marx in order to showcase the sufferings of the proletarians in Victorian England. Bounderby had complete control over Blackpool. Bounderby could decide his wages, fire Blackpool, and even forbid Blackpool from divorcing his wife. Just as Blackpool was taken advantage of by Bounderby, Marx believes that capitalism takes advantage of the labor of the proletariat.
Marx says that these laborers “are a commodity like every other article of commerce. ” Machines have taken away all need for skilled labor. Without skilled labor, the bourgeoisie have complete control over the proletariats since any job in a factory can be performed by any person. Mass production causes the worker to be nothing more than an “appendage of the machine. ” This devalues the proletarians to nothing more than commodities, whose wages can be determined by the bourgeoisie. While life for the proletariat may have been a struggle at this time, Marx believed that it was inevitable for the proletariat to gain political power.
According to Marx, “What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. ” While class antagonism has existed throughout the history of societies, the ruling class in previous eras would at least try to keep the oppressed class in certain conditions. However, with the continuing rise of industry, the living conditions of the proletarians are only getting worse and worse. Moreover, with the increase of industry, classes of people like the petty bourgeoisie are becoming part of the proletariat. Therefore, the proletariat is living under worse and worse onditions, yet it is getting larger and larger. Eventually, Marx is sure that these workers will unite and will start a revolution. In Hard Times, the earliest stages of unity among the working class can be seen. The workers at Bounderby’s factory decide to unionize. They do this in order to improve their working conditions. While the orator Slackbridge is dishonest according to Dickens, the workers cause was honest and legitimate. Since the bourgeoisie only cared about each other, they would not listen to the complaints of the workers.
Therefore, the workers had to band together in order to bring about change. Each at Bounderby’s factory “felt his only hope to be in his allying himself to the comrades by whom he was surrounded. ” However, in Marx’s mind, this was only the beginning. While unions in factories were a good start to the proletarians banding together, Marx believed that all the proletarians throughout a country would unite. Modern industry allowed for better communication between workers in different areas. This communication would centralize all the local struggles with the bourgeoisie into one national struggle.
Eventually, each country’s proletariat would gain control of their respective country, and there would be no more class struggle since there would be no classes. With no class struggle, there would be no more hostility between nations, and national differences would vanish. While the bourgeoisie and the proletariat are the primary classes at this time in society, remnants of the aristocracy still remain from the feudal times. Throughout history, family status had always been the primary factor to determine a person’s social standing. This all changed with the Industrial Revolution.
Wealth now determined a person’s social standing, and the bourgeoisie, not the aristocracy, was accumulating all the wealth. The bourgeoisie became the ruling class during this time period. To combat the growing power of the bourgeoisie, many aristocrats created a form of socialism that proclaimed the plight of the proletarians. However, this is ironic since the aristocrats used to be the ruling class who exploited the other classes. The downfall of the aristocracy is illustrated in Hard Times through the character of Mrs. Sparsit. She came from a long line of aristocrats, and she married into another aristocratic family.
However, her husband wasted away all of his money, and he left Sparsit poor after he died. In this new social order, it did not matter that Sparsit came from a “high-standing” family. She had no money; therefore, she had no social standing. Even though, she was equal to the proletariat economically, she was so accustomed to being supported by others that she refused to work and must be provided for by Bounderby. Marx explained that many aristocrats were trying to return the social order to the way it was during the feudal times, and Sparsit is one of these aristocrats.
She refuses to acknowledge that times are changing and that her aristocratic family means nothing in the social order. In conclusion, the Industrial Revolution was a boom in production throughout the Western world. However, it was also a time of many injustices. While the bourgeoisie grew vastly wealthy, they did this through the exploitation of the proletariat. Through they used different methods, both Dickens and Marx publicized the class antagonisms between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat during the mid-1800s. ——————————————- [ 1 ]. Charles Dickens, Hard Times (London, 1854), 27. [ 2 ]. Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto (London, 1848), 22. [ 3 ]. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 9. [ 4 ]. Dickens, Hard Times, 72. [ 5 ]. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 13. [ 6 ]. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 14. [ 7 ]. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 19. [ 8 ]. Dickens, Hard Times, 138. [ 9 ]. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 16 [ 10 ]. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 26. [ 11 ]. Marx, The Communist Manifesto, 29.
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