European Political Thought, 1815-1989

By Spencer M. Di Scala; Salvo Mastellone | Go to book overview

7
THE CLASS STRUGGLE: SOCIALISM, COMMUNISM, AND SOCIAL DEMOCRACY

Liberalism, the theory that had challenged absolute monarchy, began by justifying the rule of the few, but by the end of the nineteenth century it had developed sufficiently to include large numbers of people in the art of government. Throughout the century and stretching into the twentieth, however, the industrial workers--a class created by the accelerating industrialization of Western society--challenged liberalism and liberal democracy for supremacy.

The term "labor" assumed doctrinal importance during the early part of the century. With the expansion of industry came increasing conflict between employers and workers, and labor took on a social in addition to an economic dimension. Swiss author Simonde de Sismondi stated in his 1819 Nouveaux principes d'économie politique [New Principles of Political Economy] that mechanical labor had replaced manual and individual labor, thus profoundly altering the relationship between wages and profit to the detriment of workers. For many thinkers, workers had to remove themselves from the mechanics of the free market so dear to liberals, because it gave employers complete power to make decisions about wages and the methods of production. In this case, a new social organization became necessary.

After 1830, workers' demands for improvement of their lot began to find justification on the doctrinal plane: They had to associate in order to fight for their rights, for increased wages, for a reduction of working hours, and above all, to defend their condition. Labor and association were the main themes developed by the early working-class movements,

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