5.8I: Communism and Unionization

team (2)

AP Theme

Social Interactions and Organization

Learning Objective 5I

Explain the causes and effects of calls for changes in industrial societies from 1750 to 1900.

Historical Development 1

In response to the social and economic changes brought about by industrial capitalism, some governments, organizations, and individuals promoted various types of political, social, educational, and urban reforms.

Historical Development 2

In industrialized states, many workers organized themselves, often in labor unions, to improve working conditions, limit hours, and gain higher wages. Workers’ movements and political parties emerged in different areas, promoting alternative visions of society.

Historical Development 3

Discontent with established power structures encouraged the development of various ideologies, including those espoused by Karl Marx, and the ideas of socialism and communism.


Key ideas

Industrial capitalism created difficult living and working conditions for the poor urban working classes.

Reforms movements sought to improve conditions for people by expanding political rights and improving access the education and better living and working conditions.

Communism arose as a response to the harsh conditions of industrial capitalism on urban working classes.

Communism advocated for the elimination of private profit and an expanded role for government in the economy.

Unions supported workers and advocated for better working conditions, wages, and benefits.

Unions became active politically and in some places formed political parties.

Industrial Capitalism Resulted in Difficult Working and Living Conditions for the Working Classes

Industrial capitalism resulted in difficult living conditions and working conditions that were often unsafe and unsanitary. These conditions were a part of everyday life for the poor and working classes. By the mid 19th century, individuals, groups, and governments began calling for improvements in working and living conditions. 

Groups advocated for change by 

  • pressuring governments to change laws
  • starting charitable organizations, and 
  • forming community groups and unions to advocate for change.
Difficulties That Resulted From Industrial Capitalism
Public health
Disease epidemics like cholera, typhoid, smallpox, and tuberculosis were common, and most people had little access to healthcare.
Working conditions
Working conditions in industrial factories were extreme. People worked 12-16 hours workdays. Factory pay was low, and working conditions were dangerous.
Lack of political rights
The working classes had Limited political rights. Nonwhite men had no political rights and could not vote or run for political office.
Lack of education
There was no formal public education for the lower classes.
Child labor
The children of the working classes often began working as young as six. It was common for young children to lose hands and arms in industrial machines.
Industrial factories openly dumped industrial waste into poorer neighborhoods polluting the water supply. Coal-powered factories also emitted toxic fumes into the air. Because the poor and working classes lived closest to the factories, they experienced the worst impacts of pollution.

Reform movements fought to improve the living and working conditions of the lower classes.

Various reform movements fought for political, social, educational, and urban reforms to improve the worst conditions created by industrial capitalism. These reform movements focused on improving living and working conditions for the poor and working classes.

Reforms to expand political rights

Before the 19th century, in democratic industrial nations, the lower classes lacked political equal political rights and representation. Voting and running for political office were restricted mainly to the middle and elite classes.

The lower classes fight for political rights: Working-class movements, such as the Chartists in Britain, protested for voting rights for the lower classes. These movements were largely successful throughout the 19th century in expanding suffrage (voting rights) to all white men. 

Timeline of the expansion of voting rights

  • 1800 to the 1850s: voting rights in different states in the United States granted to all white men regardless of property ownership and social class
  • 1832 Political Reform Act in Britain: extended the right to vote to the middle classes
  • 1848: France grants universal suffrage to all adult males
  • 1867 Political Reform Act in Britain: voting rights granted to all male adults living in towns and cities
  • 1872 Political Reform Act in Britain: voting made a secret process
  • 1884 Political Reform Act in Britain: voting rights extended to poor farmers and laborers living in the countryside

Men of color: Non-white men did not see their political rights expanded, especially in the United States, where attempts to limit voting rights for non-white men were largely successful.

  • 1890: The American state of Wyoming joined the union with women having the right to vote in the state constitution. 
  • 1893 Electoral Act: adult females granted voting rights in New Zealand
  • 1893: Citizens in Colorado in the United States vote to give women the right to vote. 
  • 1906: Finland becomes the first European country to grant women the vote. 
  • 1907: Finland elects the world’s first female members of parliament. 
  • 1920: The United States Constitution gives all women the right to vote and run for political office.
Reforms to improve social conditions

The Settlement Movement: The Settlement Movement started in the 1880s in London and worked to connect society’s wealthy and poor communities. Its main object was the establishment of “settlement houses” in poor urban areas, in which volunteer middle-class “settlement workers” would live, hoping to share knowledge and culture with low-income neighbors. The settlement houses provided services such as daycare, English classes, and healthcare to improve the lives of the poor in these areas. The goal was to alleviate the poverty of low-income people by providing them with skills and services.

  • Hull House: The movement quickly spread to the United States, where social reformers such as Jane Adams started Hull House in a heavily immigrant neighborhood in Chicago. Hull House provided kindergarten classes, daycare, a library, and citizenship classes to residents in the neighborhood. 
Reforms to expand educational opportunities

The common Schools movement: The Common Schools Movement began in the United States in the 1830s. The movement’s goal was to set up education for all paid for with public funding (taxes). 

  • Horace Mann, the head of the newly established Massachusetts State Board of Education, established Common schools that educated the children of lower-middle and working classes. 
  • Within decades the idea of Common Schools spread outside the Northeastern United States into other areas of the country and internationally into Western European countries. 
  • By the 1850s, Japan had a semi-public system of education that taught around 750,000 students. Industrialization led the Japanese also to reform their education system and establish a system modeled upon newly formed public education in western nations.

Timeline of the expansion of public education

  • 1837: Horace Mann becomes first Secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education.
  • 1839: The first school for the training of teachers opens in Lexington, Massachusetts
  • 1852: Massachusetts makes attendance in primary education mandatory
  • 1854: First free public library opens in Boston
  • 1870 British Education Act: Sets up local public primary (elementary) schools
  • 1902 British Education Act: government funds for secondary (high) school
Reforms to urban living conditions

As urban populations grew, working-class neighborhoods became increasingly congested and polluted with waste. Citizens formed groups to tackle conditions and pressure governments to clean up urban neighborhoods. As pressure to improve urban conditions increased, governments responded by passing laws regulating public health and beautifying neighborhoods. 

Public health regulations: Before the late 19th century, governments had minimal public health roles. Early regulations established public health boards and institutions to track health conditions and the spread of disease. Over time, public health regulations expanded access to health care to members of the working classes. 

Timeline of western public health regulations

  • 1838: British Poor Law Commission begins studying sanitary conditions in London
  • 1872 British Public Health Act: set up government health authorities
  • 1879: Medical professionals established the United States National Board of Health to prevent the spread of contagious diseases
  • 1884: Massachusetts passes legislation making reporting of contagious disease by doctors mandatory
  • 1906: The British Public Health Act provided government money to conduct health screenings and treatment in public schools

Urban beautification: As urban areas became increasingly polluted with industrial waste and smog from coal-fired factories, reformers sought to clean up and beautify cities by building public gathering spaces and parks for recreation. 

Timeline of western urban beautification movements 

  • The 1850s-1870s: Building of Central Park in New York
  • 1869: Chicago establishes the South, West, and Lincoln Park Commissions responsible for setting up public parks in their districts. 
  • The 1890s: The City Beautiful Movement sought to beautify urban areas through urban planning that incorporated parks and monumental architecture like outdoor theatres plazas into urban areas. 
  • 1898: Garden city urban planning movement was founded in Britain to incorporate the countryside environment into the city by surrounding individual communities and neighborhoods with parks and green space. 

The Communist Philosophy Resulted from the Inequalities of Industrial Capitalism

Discontent with established power structures encouraged the development of various ideologies, including socialism and communism. 

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels: The most famous socialist writing is the Communist Manifesto written by Karl Marx(1818-1882) and Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). Marx and Engles analyzed the economic class struggle and the conflicts between social classes in industrial capitalist societies in their manifesto. 

What does communism believe?: Marx and Engels theorized that capitalist society would eventually convert to a socialist society in which the lower classes revolt against the capitalist class. According to Marx, in the communist society that followed, economic classes would cease to exist. Profit would no longer go to a few capitalists but be distributed among the people by the state.

Comparing capitlaism and Communism
Capitalism is an economic system in which private individuals own and control business, trade, and commerce for personal profit.
Communism is a system in which the state controls trade and industry and holds onto any profits from trade and commerce.
Individual rights
Group and community rights
Government interference in society
Wealth distribution
Wealth is unequal
The goal is to equalize wealth between people
Factors of production (land, labor, and capital)
Privately owned
Owned by the state
Free and competitive in theory
Government owned monopolies
Source of capital in business (investment)
The state
Impacts of communism

Communism led to massive global changes.  

  • New political ideologies like democratic socialism arose from communism. Social democratic parties are politically influential across Europe and other democratic nations. 
  • Communism inspired many workers groups and unions in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 
  • Communism inspired revolutions globally in the 20th century—the most notable were Russia, China, and Cuba. 
  • Communist revolutions resulted in conflicts between communist and noncommunist states. The Cold War between Russia and the United States is the best-known example.

The Rise of Unions

In industrialized states, many workers organized themselves, often in labor unions, to improve working conditions, limit hours, and gain higher wages. As union membership grew in Europe, political parties arose that represented the interests of workers. As workers gained a more prominent voice in government, new laws limited working hours, regulated safety conditions, and outlawed child labor. Unions also successfully fought for increased pay and benefits for unionized workers.

Unionization in Britain

Before 1824 trade unions were illegal in Britain. After their partial legalization in that year, increasing numbers of workers joined their ranks. 

  • Labor unions in Britain fought for improvement in working conditions and pay and expanded voting rights. 
  • In the latter half of the 19th century, some British labor unions began to identify with the ideas of Karl Marx. The most extreme wing of the labor movement believed that the revolutionary overthrow of industrial capitalism should be their goal. More moderate elements of the labor movement believed that democratic socialism and incremental improvements in conditions for the working-class were the better paths.

The Labour Party: The moderate wing of the movement founded the British Labour Party in 1900 to compete in elections and advocate for the interests of workers in the British Parliament. By the 1920s, the Labor party was one of the two leading political parties in England. In 1924 the Labour party formed its first government in Britain. The Labour party is one of the two most powerful political parties in modern Britain. 

The Combination Act
Trade unions and collective bargaining by British workers were prohibited.
Limited unionization
Trade unions were partially legalized in Britain though their rights to strike were severely limited.
Merthyr Riots
During the Merthyr riots, working-class protestors flew a red flag for the first time. The red flag is the color of international communism.
Trade Union Act
Unions were fully legalized in Britain.
Labour Party founded
The British Labour Party was founded to represent the working classes.

Unionization in the United States

American workers began unionizing in large numbers in the 19th century. As unions gained bargaining power with employers, like in Europe, wages rose, and industrial conditions improved. 

American labor unions were less radical than European labor unions: Unlike in Europe, no political parties, such as European Labour Parties, emerged from the union movement. American unions were also more conservative than their European counterparts. Most unions rejected both Karl Marx’s revolutionary ideas and more moderate democratic socialism. 

  • One reason for the moderate nature of American unions was the idea of American individualism. The collectivist nature of unions to many seemed unamerican to many. 
  • American society, with its racial divisions and large immigrant population from many different locations, also prevented many American working-class individuals from identifying with fellow working-class individuals from different communities.
1st American unions
Shoemakers organized the first union in Philadelphia.
Strikes become illegal
The court decision in Commonwealth v. Pullis makes striking a crime.
Massachusetts legalizes union
The court case of the Commonwealth v. Hunt legalized labor unions in Massachusetts.
The American Federation of Labor founded
American Federation of Labor (AFL) was founded. The AFL is today one of the largest unions in the United States.
Erdman Act
The Erdman Act prohibited discrimination against railroad workers because of union membership.
1st Secretary of Labor
Woodrow Wilson takes office as president and appoints the first secretary of labor.

Unionization in Japan

Japanese industrial workers also worked in harsh industrial conditions. Japanese unionization began in mines and textile factories. However, throughout the 19th century, the number of unionized Japanese workers remained small. Modern trade unions did not emerge in Japan until 1897. Due to the lack of support for unions in the Japanese government, union membership remained small. Complete legalization of unions did not take place in Japan until after the end of World War II.

Unionization in Russia

Russian factories were some of the most brutal in the industrialized world. Russian workers’ attempts to unionize were also brutally suppressed by the Czar’s government. Union and union political party formation was illegal. 

Brutal conditions led to revolution: In the first two decades of the 20th century, multiple revolutions broke out against the Russian Czar. By the end of World War One, the Czar was overthrown in a communist revolution that ended with the execution of the entire royal family by the new communist government.

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