Growing industrialization produced radical changes in the West and created challenges in society that had never emerged. The sheer volume of human labor required to support rapid industrialization created a historically unparalleled need for wage workers.
With these changes came emerging needs for worker’s rights to fair conditions and a broad philosophical basis upon which states could their class and political systems to adapt to a society that was more geared towards working masses versus rural or isolated clusters. To this end, tracts such as The Book of the New Moral World by Robert Owen, the observations by the nobleman Alexis de Tocqueville upon witnessing the culmination of class struggles in Paris during the June Days, and The Communist Manifesto, which proposed a mainstream answer to some of the problems brought about by industrialization and its subsequent effects on class structures.
One of the first recognized problems with the new capitalist-based system that was emerging with mass industrialization in Europe, followed by the United States, was there was a wide chasm in the class divides rapidly occurring. Instead of a less drastic set of classes, with increasing industrialization, the capitalist, owning classes were receiving a large share of profit while the workers were receiving relatively little of the share.
It is in large part due to these ever-widening divisions that socialism began to emerge as a movement, gaining popularity as industrialization grew more prominent. It should also be noted that these class struggles and other problems of rapid industrialization and its ills were occurring against a backdrop of other significant changes. A dramatic increase in Europe’s population and problems associated with that (illnesses, overcrowding in urban centers, crime, etc.) took place and was most prominent in urban areas such as London and Berlin. Additionally, technological advances such as railroads, for instance, were allowing new possibilities for existing manufacturing to be exported, which increased demand for labor.
The time of rapid industrialization was a period that witnessed subsequent rapid changes, especially socially, politically, and ideologically. To best isolate issues that spawned from the new emphasis on production and worker-based economic and social system, the focus will be on the adjustments in envisioning and creating society in the context of industrialization and the new constraints of high urban populations, deep class divides, and unsteady political footing that could not equally address the needs of the workers and the owners of production. Following the Revolutions of 1848, more cohesive ways of reconciling grievances by workers and the current political and social systems began to emerge into the mainstream, as opposed to being present in smaller, experimental contexts such as in the works of Robert Owen, for instance.
To provide background to the worker’s and socialist movements, one of the early pioneers in a rudimentary form of socialism was Robert Owen. He saw the deepening divide and sought to create a new paradigm for workers. Frustrated with the European system of industrialization and hoping to introduce new ideas in America, he moved to New Harmony, Indiana in the early 1800s to set up a community that was distinctly industrial as production-oriented, but that emphasized worker’s cooperatives and co-ownership of holdings.
While it failed for reasons that may be well outside of the general viability of the idea itself, the book that outlines many of Owen’s views is helpful in understanding the foundational ideology of socialism. In his text The Book of the New Moral World, Owens states and explains what he views as twenty-five facts about human nature, all which culminate in the idea for a more equal society with a basis in share means of production (among other things, of course). Owens suggests that, “the whole external circumstances relative to the production and distribution of wealth…must be changed; the whole of these parts must be remodeled and united into one system, in which each part shall contribute to the perfection of the whole; nothing must be left to the ignorance or inexperience of individuals or of individual families, whose apparent interests oppose those of their fellows and neighbors” (41). What this means in the context of the sum of his writings, is that far too much power behind the means and benefits of production was resting in the hands of too few people. Furthermore, he suggests that the few people who did hold considerable power were often corrupted by such an act (42) or that they were simply unqualified (morally and otherwise) to have such power.
With this in mind, Owens is one of the first to suggest the main tenants of the growing movement of socialism, which concerned this very notion of too few people holding a disproportionate amount of control and benefit from production. These sentiments would be echoed by fellow writers in Europe and America with even greater levels of industrialization. Related writers and thinkers include, as noted in The Making of the West (675), Claude Henri Saint-Simon and Charles Fourier, both of whom were in France where intense class struggles were brewing again as a result of the class and social strains caused by industrialization. Many of the most persistent problems caused by and related to industrialization, such as the overcrowding in urban areas caused by the influx of rural citizens and rising unemployment, which led to food shortages and other social problems, all culminated in the Revolutions of 1848. It was only after this point in time, which revealed a lack of cohesive and widely-accepted courses of action for workers especially, that a more generally-accepted approach to these problems could be proposed.