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Marx or the Union?. The Proletariat’s Choice. Karl Marx (1818-1883) - German journalist and writer - Collaborated with Friedrich Engels - Combined German philosophy, French revolutionary ideas, and knowledge of British industrial conditions

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marx or the union

Marx or the Union?

The Proletariat’s Choice


Karl Marx (1818-1883)

- German journalist and writer

- Collaborated with Friedrich Engels

- Combined German philosophy, French revolutionary ideas, and knowledge of British industrial conditions

- Expressed ideas in the Communist Manifesto (1848) and in great detail in Das Kapital (1867)


Marx saw history as a long series of conflicts between the social classes, the latest conflict being between property owners (the bourgeoisie) and workers (the proletariat)

- Argued that capitalist system allowed bourgeoisie to extract “surplus value” of worker’s labor

- According to Marx, surplus value was the difference between workers’ wages and the value of the goods they manufactured


Marx argued that as the bourgeoisie became wealthier and more powerful and the proletariat became more impoverished, conditions would lead to a worker’s revolution

- The workers would violently overthrow the bourgeoisie and afterwards would establish a communist society without classes


Marx offered an explanation of the causes of this conflict and ultimate revolution as well as the antagonism it bred

- But Marx did not count on a rising standard of living for workers and the efforts of unions


Beginning in the 19th century, workers had united for mutual assistance in times of illness, unemployment, or disability

- But anticombination laws forbade workers to strike

- However, these laws were abolished in Britain in the 1850s and the rest of Europe in subsequent decades


Unions sought better wages and improved working conditions as well as insurance against illness, accidents, disability, and old age

- Unions grew slowly because they required a permanent staff and a great deal of money to sustain their members during strikes


However, the nineteenth century saw a gradual extension of the right to vote through Europe and North America

- Universal male suffrage became law in the United States in 1870, in France and Germany in 1871, in Britain in 1885 and in the rest of Europe soon thereafter


Unlike Marx, who predicted that workers would seize power through revolution, the socialists expected workers to use their voting power to obtain concessions from government and eventually to form a government


However, working-class women, burdened with both job and family responsibilities, found little time for politics and were not welcome in the male-dominated trade unions or radical political parties


A few radical women, such as the German socialist Rosa Luxemburg and Emma Goldman in the United States, an anarchist who believed in the abolition of all governments, became famous but did not have a large following


In 1889, the German socialist Clara Zetkin wrote: “Just as the male worker is subjected by the capitalist, so is the woman by the man, and she will always remain in subjugation until she is economically independent. Work is the indispensable condition for economic independence.”