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Karl Marx is one of the most interesting philosophers of the 19th century, and his teaching have contributed immensely to the discussion of political organization for the past 150 years. The social conditions of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were of the utmost significance to the development of sociology. The chaos and social disorder that resulted from the series of political revolutions ushered in by the French Revolution in 1789 disturbed many early social theorists. While they recognized that a return to the old order was impossible, they sought to find new sources of order in societies that had been traumatized by dramatic political changes.
The circumstances of Europe in the 19th century determined that state institutions and statecraft, in other words a consistent bureaucracy looking out for the interests of the state, have the best chance at monopolizing power, as was evident by the mighty British Empire. This belief worked well for capitalism, since state power was expanded by the commercial trade expansion and industrial revolution changes in technology. Karl Marx was raised in this period of tumult, and thus his philosophies are inspired by the massive changes he could see. Marx, like many, believed that Capitalism was an evolution in the condition of mankind, but Marx looked beyond capitalism, at a period when power could be dispersed amongst the proletariat. (Kolakowski, 2008) This change that Marx predicted would foresee significant social changes as well as political changes that would change the fate of Europe forever.
The Industrial Revolution was a set of developments that transformed Western societies from largely agricultural to overwhelmingly industrial systems. Peasants left agricultural work for industrial occupations in factories. The move to urbanize completely changed how cities were built and how they adapted to the migration. Within this new system, a few profited greatly while the majority worked long hours for low wages, in terrible conditions in coalmines, on the high seas, or in rudimentary factories. A reaction against the industrial system and capitalism led to the labor movement and other radical movements dedicated to overthrowing the capitalist system. While Marx would never see a successful Socialist nation in his lifetime, the popularity of his ideas had taken root in many areas of his native Germany. As a result of the Industrial Revolution, large numbers of people moved to urban settings and contributed to pollution and resource shortages. The expansion of cities produced a long list of urban problems that attracted the attention of early sociologists, like Thomas Malthus, whose early work on population growth and urban expansion greatly enhanced the prestige of the social sciences. (Malthus, 1960)
Socialism, and more accurately Communism, emerged as an alternative vision of a worker's paradise in which wealth was equitably distributed. This change represented an evolutionary form of change, a very idealistic position that could only be attained with an immense amount of trust. The idea of equal distribution of wealth was terrifying to the wealthy capitalists and remaining aristocrats of Europe, however, since it implies a completely change in their historic privileges. Karl Marx was highly critical of capitalist society in his writings and engaged in political activities to help engineer its fall. Marx's friend and financier, Friedrich Engels, provided a more reserved, yet equally enthusiastic support for the ideas of social revolution. Other early theorists recognized the problems of capitalist society but sought change through reform because they feared socialism more than they feared capitalism. Their reforms included ideas like raising income taxes in order to distribute wealth to the disadvantaged of society, mostly children, the disabled, and the elderly. These social programs would ease the pains of the lower classes, while still maintaining the power structure that is advantageous to the upper classes.
Karl Marx believed that socialism was both an evolutionary step, and at the same time could only be achieved through a revolutionary process. He believes that capitalism is simply a stage on the way towards socialism, and ultimately communism. As humans would evolve through the industrial revolution, they would tire of being controlled by their capitalist masters. As a result, the evolutionary course of the workingman would inevitably be in an effort to take control of the system for equal benefit. On the way, a form of socialism would take over for Capitalism, a short period of time when society reorganizes itself in order to best take advantage of communism and the idea of collective production. Marx knew that capitalists would not give up their power so easily however, and he also knew that they controlled both the resources that empowered their actions, as well as the knowledge of how to control populations that had been inherited from the aristocracy. Because of this, Marx believed it was his duty to lay out exactly why communism was such a powerful ideology, and exactly what needed to take place in order to pursue communism in all established democracies. The revolutionary change that Marx talked about never happened, however, except in nations that were far from being industrial powers.
Many other social theories emerged from 19th century Europe as a result of the industrial revolution that had an effect on the writings of Marx and the resulting pursuit of socialist societies. Feminists became active during the French and American Revolutions. They also gained power during the abolitionist movements and political rights mobilizations of the mid-nineteenth century, and especially during the Progressive Era in the United States, eventually gaining the right to vote. But feminist concerns filtered into early socialism as a core belief, since all were created equally and are allowed a certain share of the world's wealth. In spite of their marginal status amongst most in society, however, early women sociologists like Harriet Martineau and Marianne Weber wrote a significant body of socialist feminist theory that is being rediscovered today. (Weber, 1988) All of these changes also had a profound effect on Christianity, changing the role of the church from traditionally serving the wealthy, to now being far more concerned about the concerns of the poor and starving. Many sociologists came from religious backgrounds and sought to understand the place of religion and morality in modern society, using the ideas of the Bible as their battle cry.
Throughout this period, the technological products of science were permeating every sector of life, and scientists were acquiring enormous prestige. The important innovations in medicine and transportation, especially the train, had first been created in Britain, yet expanded throughout Europe during the time of Marx. When he wrote the Communist Manifesto, Germany was in the midst of militarization and infrastructure building that would completely change the balance of power in Europe. (Marx, 1848) France was undergoing considerable changes as the monarchy, republic, and empire were in constant motion during the 19th century. The incredible rise in education coincided with a change in the nature of education itself, away from being for the privileged classes and moving towards a generalized education system for the common man. This meant the increase in literacy, math skills, and critical thinking that would usher in an ever-growing process of technological advancement. An ongoing debate developed between sociologists who sought to model their discipline after the hard sciences and those who thought the distinctive characteristics of social life made a scientific sociology problematic and unwise.
Socialism ultimately has not come to be a favored political system by nearly anyone in the modern world. Socialism is, however, an important aspect of some democracies, which still feel that distributing wealth, and power to the common good of the people is an important right that the citizens have voted for. The most obvious examples of this would be in a country like Venezuela, or to a lesser extent Sweden. These nations believe socialism does have a place in society, and that it is a legitimate political framework that needs to be accounted for by political actors. In other democracies, however, particularly those with a high amount of success economically, such as the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, socialism has never been taken seriously as a form of government or even as a political principle. The level of welfare that these three nations give out is in support of those who are most in need, but this welfare is not remotely considered to be a facet of socialism, but rather a gesture of wealth under the capitalist system. Therefore, Marx's ideas of socialism have lost favor in the modern era as a revolutionary concept; there is, however, the possibility that in some countries at least, socialism as a theory of societal bounty-sharing, may continue to be pursued in a form of evolutionary social change, particularly in culturally homogenous societies with shrinking populations in Europe. (Marx, 1867)
In conclusion, Karl Marx's ideas of Sociology and Communism shook the establishment of Europe, and continued to present a problem through the rest of the 20th century during the Cold War. Socialism, as Marx wrote about it, has never been truly implemented, and will never be, because…[continue]
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