We have seen that the Spanish conquest of America established the conditions for the emergence of the modern world-economy and the modernization of agriculture in Western Europe, involving commercialization, consolidation, and conversion to pasture (“The origin of the modern world-economy” 8/06/2013; “Modernization of the West” 8/07/2013). And we have seen that from 1750 to 1850, there occurred a new peripheralization of vast regions of the world (“New peripheralization, 1750-1850” 8/20/2013). The new peripheralization stimulated a second wave of consolidation, conversion to tenant farming, and conversion to pasture in Western Europe. The displacement of peasants from land created the phenomenon of “pauperism,” in which there emerged “a large, mainly rural lower class only just capable of keeping itself alive” (Miller and Potthoff 1986:8). By the middle of the nineteenth century, nearly half the population was paupers.
The new peripheralization of 1750-1850 was integrally tied to the modernization of Western industry, for the peripheralization of vast regions of the world established greater access to the raw materials of the planet, and it provided world-wide markets for the manufactured goods of the expanding and modernizing industries of the West. The new factories of the West utilized the surplus labor produced by the consolidations of the countryside, converting displaced peasants into low-waged factory workers. The conditions of life and work were harsh. “Thirteen-, fourteen-, and in the 1840s seventeen-hour working days under the harshest condition, falling wages that families sought to bolster with the even lower-paid labor of women and children, appalling living conditions, and the absence of any provision against accident, illness, and old age were typical of this period” (Miller and Potthoff 1986:9).
We have seen that industrial workers were among the popular sectors that played an active role in the French Revolution, interpreting the concept of democracy in a radical form that proclaimed the social and economic rights of all citizens (“Bourgeois revolution in France, 1787-1799” 11/25/2013; “The French Revolution in Global Context” 11/26/2013; “Class and the French Revolution” 11/27/2013). After the consolidation of bourgeois control of the French Revolution, the popular sectors continued to be active, seeking to expand the scope of democratic rights to include the right to the social and economic conditions that are necessary for a decent human life. The popular movement attained a renewed height during the 1840s, and it particularly was advanced in France and Germany. A worker’s organization commissioned Karl Marx to write a pamphlet for the workers in order to help them to understand the events that were unfolding, and thus emerged The Communist Manifesto. It began with reference to the worker’s movement: “A spectre is haunting Europe—the spectre of communism.” It concluded by calling upon workers to play the role that history had conferred upon them: “Workers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.”
Karl Marx was born in 1818 in Trier in what is now Germany. Marx’s father was a lawyer, and Marx grew up in a middle class family that was not religious but Jewish by ethnic identity. In 1836 Marx entered the University of Berlin, where he studied German philosophy, which at that time was dominated by the thinking of the great philosopher Hegel, whose work analyzed the development of ideas throughout human history. At the University, Marx studied Hegel, and he fell under the influence of a group of intellectual rebels known as the Young Hegelians, who were anti-religious and atheistic. Marx had intended at this point to pursue a career in college teaching. However, a wave of reaction against the Young Hegelians emerged. Many were dismissed from their teaching posts, including Marx’s mentor, Bruno Bauer. This meant that Marx was not able to submit his dissertation at the University of Berlin. So he submitted it to the University of Jena, from which he was granted a Doctor of Philosophy in 1841. But a teaching career was closed to him.
Marx turned to working as an editor and a writer in a newspaper in Cologne. In October 1843, he moved to Paris in order to assume a position as editor of a new bilingual French and German newspaper. In late 1843 and 1844, Marx encountered intellectuals, artisans, and industrial workers who were activists in the working class struggle. He observed that there emerged from the working class movement an understanding of how capitalism works, an understanding rooted in the concrete experience of the worker. This worker’s point of view constituted a perspective different from that of British political economy, which Marx was simultaneously studying. Thus Marx came to understand that British political economy, while claiming to be objective and neutral, was actually written from the particular vantage point of the bourgeoisie. At the same time, Marx understood that the vantage point of the worker also was limited, in that it was rooted in concrete daily experience with insufficient development of an historical and global perspective. Marx therefore grasped the need to formulate a comprehensive understanding of human history and of the emerging capitalist political economic system, based on a synthesis of British political economy and German philosophy and written from the vantage point of the worker. This was the project to which Marx devoted his life (McKelvey 1991).
Marx’s connection to the emerging proletarian movement provided him with the experiential foundation to forge a class analysis that was a significant advance in social scientific understanding. Marx’s class analysis included two fundamental components: (1) understanding of the role of class exploitation in human history; and (2) awareness that political conflicts are the expression of struggles of class interests. In 1885 Engels wrote: “It was precisely Marx who had first discovered the great law of motion of history, the law according to which all historical struggles . . . are in fact only the more or less clear expression of struggles of social classes, and that . . . these classes are in turn conditioned by the degree of development of their economic position [and] by the mode of their production” (Engels 1963:14).
Engels, Frederick. 1963. “Preface to the Third German Edition” of Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. New York: International Publishers.
McKelvey, Charles. 1991. Beyond Ethnocentrism: A Reconstruction of Marx’s Concept of Science. New York: Greenwood Press.
Miller, Susanne, and Heinrich Potthoff. 1986. A History of German Social Democracy from 1848 to the present. Translated from the German by J.A. Underwood. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marx, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, proletariat, working class