Capitalism And Class Ecdriesbaugh Capitalism Term Paper

Length: 15 pages Sources: 10 Subject: Economics Type: Term Paper Paper: #20389238 Related Topics: Working Class, Egyptian Revolution, Marx Engels, Socialism
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52). Furthermore, Marx felt that money had "deprived the whole world, both the human world and nature, of their own proper value. Money is the alienated essence of man's work and existence; this essence dominates him and he worships it..." (Strathern, 2001, p. 52). From Marx's point-of-view, owners or holders of capital were in a position to exploit workers because of their "systematically privileged position within the market" (Pierson, 1995, p. 94). The system was structured in favor of the owners of private property. If private ownership were abolished, the opportunity to exploit workers would disappear. A cornerstone of Marxism, then, was the prevention of large scale capital holdings.

Labor as a Commodity

Marx also thought that labor had become a commodity in and of itself, and that this concept further dehumanized the worker. Capitalists had no feeling for laborers as human beings but saw them merely as something to be bought -- a necessary expense of doing business and making money. This meant that the worker had become an article or object of trade; therefore, he had to sell himself to a market that was ruled by the "minimum cost of maintenance" (Kolakowski, 2005, p. 114). Marx speculated that wages would predictably fall to the lowest point possible that could keep the worker alive and able to bear children. Such was the economic plight of his time, and such is still the economic plight of present day capitalistic America in which Trade Unions have lost much of their clout -- partly due to globalization with capitalists moving into developing countries where they can buy labor more cheaply (including child labor) -- and American workers with little job security are pretty much at the mercy of the corporations they work for.

History of Values and Attitudes

In order to understand this modern affliction, a brief review of the attitudes and values before the Industrial Revolution will help. Before the Industrial Revolution, early America was mostly agricultural comprised of working class people. People sustained themselves on farms, raising their own food, making their own clothes, candles, pottery, etc., with crude but effective handmade tools. Most people lived simply with fewer possessions and worked hard among people they had known all their lives.

The transition into an industrialized society was difficult, but the promise was more money and a better life with a higher standard of living. Pollard (1963) states, "The worker who left the background of his domestic workshop or peasant holding for the factory, entered a new culture as well as a new sense of direction. It was not only that 'the new economic order needed part humans: soulless, depersonalized, disembodied, who could become members or little wheels rather, of a complex mechanism'. It was also that men who were non-accumulative, non-acquisitive, accustomed to work for subsistence, not for maximization of income, had to be made obedient to the cash stimulus, and obedient in such a way as to react precisely to the stimuli provided..." (p.254). One could say it was rather like going from being a competent human being to a robot, from having a place of belonging in a small community among people that knew and cared about you, to alienation and loss of individual identity. Instead of being seen as an individual, workers were placed into categories as soon as they were hired.

Industrialists, compelled by rapid expansion, looked either for white migrants from the countryside or European immigrants. Industrial managers hired according to a "theory of race," one that improperly presumed that each race had particular abilities. African-Americans were virtually omitted from the selection. Steel managers read in the Iron Trade, "Negro character made for poor industrial workers. Blacks were 'lazy,' 'unreliable,' 'slow,'" they couldn't be trusted to handle machinery, they wouldn't show up for work on time, or, as the New Republic put it, 'the Negro gets a chance to work only when there is no one else...'" (Grossman, 2002, p. 9).

In large cities, employers began to ponder about the aptitudes of white women. Beliefs about gender were in many ways even more prevalent than prejudices about race, and women could be hired much more cheaply than men. So industrialists thought a lot about what work was suitable for which man;...


This type of work required the largest numbers of unskilled and semiskilled male labor. Thus, the factory gates opened, black men walked in and would work for cheap "like slaves," many of them after a long train ride north in an attempt to escape poverty and racism in the South (Grossman, 2002).

Many of these people landed in Pittsburgh during the Industrial Revolution. The introduction of the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800s to Pittsburgh was dramatic. The iron industry was beginning to take shape due to the low cost of iron and coke and the wealth of coal in Western Pennsylvania. In 1812, the first rolling mill for iron powered by the steam engine was established, many steam mills were built, and this made Pittsburgh the largest urban area west of the Allegheny Mountains by 1815. "In addition to its iron mills, the city soon boasted four glass factories, three breweries, two potteries, a grist mill, a steam engine factory, a nail mill, cotton and woolen factories, and four printing offices..." (Westmoreland, 1999, p. 1).

Pittsburgh's three rivers were crowded with steamboats transporting every type of iron manufactured by 1830. Needless to say, people came by the thousands in search of work. Pittsburgh became a major American center of the Industrial Revolution, with its wealth of raw materials, river channels for transportation, and an abundance of cheap labor.

The city grew exponentially but was not a pretty sight. American values were so focused on wealth and capitalism that they had no regard for environmental waste and poor living conditions. The streets were filthy and inadequately lit. Buildings (and people, including their lungs) were covered in black soot from the smokestacks. The arrival of large numbers of immigrants and people relocating from rural areas in the South and from the east led to overcrowding. "Pittsburgh's population tripled between 1810 and 1830. By 1860, there were more than 50,000 people residing in the city, and another 100,000 living in the suburbs of Allegheny County..." (Westmoreland, 1999, p. 2) the poverty stricken, unsanitary living conditions caused rampant spread of cholera. Fires were lit in the streets in an effort to kill the organisms causing the disease. These fires along with the smoke and waste from the industry resulted in a filthy, soot-covered atmosphere for the people living there. Well into the first half of the twentieth century, Pittsburgh was labeled the "smoky city."

This state of affairs did not end the steady arrival of immigrants, however, and it did not hinder the continual growth of the steel industry. "The black community of Pittsburgh, while not large, was one of the wealthiest in the nation during the 1920's thanks to jobs in the steel industry. However underpaid they were by white standards, and despite hiring practices that kept African-Americans in the most menial and dangerous work, steel industry employment (like the auto industry in Detroit) paid higher wages than were common in other cities..." (Gregory, 2005, p. 128).

During the Great Migration period, cultures and subcultures were most affected by rapid population growth. "Negroes of culture, education, and some financial means, 'resented the generally uneducated and untrained' newcomers and blamed them for upsetting what the old settlers remembered as equitable relations with the whites..." p. 129)

In other words, the middle class harbored some resentments towards (what would have been considered) the lower class "invaders." All new immigrants were automatically categorized as lower class, but as long as they were white, they were never quite as low down as blacks.

Only a couple of northern black communities (most notably Pittsburgh) were structured in ways where a selected few could rise economically. Native (white) settlers were sometimes so statistically overwhelmed and outnumbered, that whatever their personal anxieties or resentments, there was little or nothing they could do about them. In circumstances where the need for labor was greatest, community leaders were dedicated to the migration of blacks into their communities in theory and practice. This happened in Philadelphia and in Pittsburgh where the largest African-American communities before World War I developed (Gregory, 2005).

With all of capitalism's defacement, corruption, and greed, one decent shift in social consciousness arose from it: The Industrial Revolution brought about changes in philanthropy. The needs were greater, and rich private citizens now had a greater means for attending to the disadvantaged. Poverty did not end, of course. "Private fortunes were few and wealth neither widely enough distributed nor sufficiently fluid to permit large-scale or sustained private giving" (Ellens, 2007, p. 2). The Industrial Revolution did create wealth for more people, though, and offered better distribution of help through improved communication and transportation. The establishment…

Sources Used in Documents:


Ellens, S. (2007). Relationship of philanthropy to the Industrial Revolution. Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. Retrieved on 9 November 2007 at

Gregory, J. (2005). The southern diaspora. The University of North Carolina


Grossman, J. (2002) the great migration: James Grossman lecture. The Digital Library: Social Studies. Retrieved on 12 November 2007 at

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