The Industrial Revolution marked one of the biggest transitions in shaping the modern world during the 18th and 19th century; it was a period of transition from a feudal society to a modern industrial society. The Industrial Revolution caused dramatic changes in the social and economic structure of the factory system because inventions and technological innovations were being created which revolutionized the assembly line and increased productivity in factories. This Revolution of the factory system allowed capitalism to flourish, giving society increased productivity and wealth.
Although, the Industrial Revolution was a time of wealth, labour laws did not exist and this allowed for exploitation of workers in factories. Adam Smith and Karl Marx were both Enlightenment thinkers during the Industrial Revolution. Smith appraised the capitalist system during the Industrial Revolution strial Revolution because of the wealth it brought to society, whereas Karl Marx critiqued the capitalist system during the Industrial Revolution because of its exploitation. Throughout this paper, I will compare and contrast the different views of Karl Marx and Adam Smith’s written works which focus on the Industrial Revolution.
By comparing Karl Marx’s book, Capital and Adam Smith’s book, The Wealth of Nations, I will analyze the reasoning behind these thinkers’ different perspectives on the Industrial Revolution and focus on why their theory of the division of labour differs extensively. Firstly, to grasp why Adam Smith’s and Karl Marx’s worldviews on the Industrial Revolution are considerably different, one must understand the time period in which each author is living. Smith lived during the beginning stages of the Industrial Revolution whereas Marx lived during the later stages.
At this time Europe was at the eight of ‘The Age of Enlightenment, whereby there was an emphasis on exploration, innovation, and great optimism in questioning the past to gain a more enlightened future. Smith was a Classical Liberalist that welcomed the Industrial Revolution because it generated wealth and new opportunists for consumer society. The economic system shifted from a mercantilist economic based system to a capitalist system. Smith saw the inequalities in the mercantilist system and there was less production unlike the flourishing capitalist system that he witnessed during the Industrial Revolution.
During the Industrial Revolution Smith saw a fascinating change to a system where productivity and new innovations flourished. Smith also saw a massive increase in employment throughout Europe and this created a wealthier and stronger society. Smith having observed this wealthier society prompted him to write The Wealth of Nations. The Wealth of Nations lays out several theories, namely of specialization, trade, and the market associated principles that Adam Smith believed helped the Industrial Revolution to flourish and to make a richer society.
Therefore, Adam Smith’s view of the Industrial Revolution is a positive perspective because of the massive wealth it generated from increased production and the increased employment it brought to Europe during its earlier stages unlike Marx, who viewed the Industrial Revolution in its later stage. Karl Marx was alive during the later half of the Industrial Revolution and the difference of time periods is why Marx’s view is different from that of Adam Smith’s. What Marx witnessed shaped his world view of the Industrial Revolution because during its later stages, machinery began to play a large role in production.
Marx observed the Industrial Revolution at a time when people were working long days, sometimes up to sixteen hours in conditions that were extremely dirty and dangerous. Marx was a Socialist thinker who supported the working class and reacted against the rise of capitalism. He noticed the inequality and exploitation of the Industrial Revolution. Marx saw how machinery was able to greatly increase the speed of productivity which led to less labour costs. However, this caused unemployment and led to massive poverty throughout Great Britain.
As a result, Marx wrote about the negative aspects of the Industrial Revolution in his book Capital, he writes about the harsh conditions in factories, child and women labour, unemployment, and the drudgery of labour which he observed firsthand. Unlike Smith, who observed the Industrial Revolution when there was optimism and wealth, Marx’s negative perspective was the result of what he saw at a time of harsh labour conditions, unemployment, and poverty. Although both authors have ideas with regard to the division of labour, their ideas differ due to the time period in which they were writing.
One theory that both Adam Smith and Karl Marx write about is the theory the division of labour, particularly specialization in the trades which began during the Industrial Revolution. The division of labour is the specialization of certain tasks performed by labourers. According to Smith if a labourer specializes on a certain task, productivity will increased which benefits the factory system. Smith states three reasons as to why the division of labour is important to the production process: it increases dexterity, saves time, and it inspires new technology and innovation.
Smith noticed that when people are working repeated hours of the same task, they master that activity which increases their dexterity and speeds up production. Smith also uses the example of a pin-maker to describe how specialization works and saves a loss in time; he states that if you have multiple people doing specific jobs in making certain parts of the pin, instead of one person making the entire pin by themselves, there will be greater productivity.
Lastly, Smith states that when men are working long hours doing repetitive work they find ways to make that task easier by solving problems by being innovative and creating technology. Adam Smith describes in the Wealth of Nations that the division of labour in the trades is what made the Industrial Revolution a success because it increased production and supply and this led to a richer and wealthier society. Karl Marx would rebuttal this last point because he saw the rise of machinery during the Industrial Revolution and this led to several problems that he outlines in his book Capital.
Although Karl Marx writes about the division of labour during the Industrial Revolution his theory is different from that of Adam Smith because he argues that the division of labour is not being specialized by the labourer like Adam Smith thinks: Marx believes that machines are taking over the div of labour and specializing in production. Marx writes about the troubles occurring from the introduction of machines in factories and observes that machines are able to produce specific functions of a worker and that they are also faster and more efficient than the worker.
Marx also argues that science costs the capitalist nothing and the capitalist will stop at nothing to exploit it, so therefore because machines can produce more and it is cheap for the capitalist, the capitalists used more machines throughout Great Britain. The main argument Karl Marx makes is that because you have to pay workers for their labour and you don’t have to pay machines for their work capitalists are choosing to use machines and replace workers to cut costs, and as Karl Marx observes this causes massive unemployment and poverty throughout Great Britain.
In Section 5 of Karl Marx’s book Capital he observes the mechanical improvement of the cotton industry due to the American Civil War. The statistics taken from the cotton industry shows in England and Wales that when there was an increase in the amount of spindles from 1861 with 28,352,125 spindles to 1868 with 30,478,228 spindles there is a reduction in the amount of people employed from 407,598 in 1861 to 357, 052 in 1868. Therefore from analysing the table Marx makes a direct correlation between the rise in unemployment and the increase in the use of machinery in factories.
Karl Marx also critiques that as machinery takes over the division of labour it creates a form of drudgery where the labourer sees it almost as torture because it deprives the work of all interests and does not free the labourer of work. This theory is linked to the alienation of ones labour because of the harsh, repetitive, and immoral conditions that one faced during the Industrial Revolution. Karl Marx’s and Adam Smith’s theory of the division of labour differs because of the way each viewed society.
Marx observes the rise of machinery during the Industrial Revolution and how machines were taking over the division of labour. As machines took over specialization, large scale unemployment happened because workers were less productive than machines and this led to poverty throughout Great Britain. Smith viewed the Industrial Revolution when there was less machinery available, unlike Marx who saw the rise of machinery. He appraises the division of labour because he believes that when people specialize in labour, increased productivity occurs and this leads to a wealthier and happier society.
It is possible that if Adam Smith viewed the Industrial Revolution in the time period of Karl Marx and he saw the exploitation and harsh labour then his view on the Industrial Revolution would have changed and could have been more in line with some of Karl Marx’s theories. To conclude, the way we could differentiate between the world views of Adam Smith and Karl Marx is significant mainly because of their perspectives in relation to their time period.
Adam Smith was a Classical Liberalist who praised the rise of the middle class in Britain and he welcomed the changed of the Industrial Revolution because it generated new wealth and opportunities for a new consumer society. Smith based this on capitalizing on economic growth and freedom of trade. His life was set in an expanding and optimistic socio-economic background that was evident in his push for infrastructure and economic growth in society.
Conversely, Marx was a Socialist thinker who championed the working class in a different way as he reacted against the rise of capitalism. His idea of change was rooted in an ideology that promoted a more classless society i. e. equality for all workers and shared wealth and that labour was a commodity that could be exploited by the built-in inequalities of capitalism. Marx was only too aware of the pitfalls and potential negative effects of Industrialization as he had been a witness to the later excesses that industrial capitalism could generate.