Loyola University Chicago, USA
For Marx, the defining moment of the nineteenth century was the rise of industrial capitalism, which had transformed the nature of work, governance, values, and indeed the routines of everyday life. Capitalism spread throughout the world; it overthrew dynastic rule, battered down traditions, ended the “idiocy of rural life,” and, above all, created vast wealth – at least for capitalists. However, this wealth was based on the sale of commodities that were produced by workers who sold their labor to capitalists for wages; thus labor became a commodity that greatly increased the value of raw materials turned into commodities for markets. But workers received very little of that increased value as wages; indeed, workers lived in poverty and destitution. Marx's fundamental concern was not simply the exploitation or poverty of the workers, but the alienation, objectification, and estrangement that left workers powerless, without recognition or dignity as human beings, bereft of community, and incapable of realizing their nature as members of the human species.
Marx believed that given the contradictions of capitalism, and its vast inequality, workers would eventually organize, mobilize, and overthrow the system. But that never happened. By the early twentieth century, capitalism itself had undergone a number of fundamental transformations, not least of which was the mass production of ...