Working Class Radicalism

953 Words 4 Pages
Contemporary academia traditionally argues working class radicalism emerged in America from the importation of European Marxist doctrines. Sean Wilentz contends the idea of foreign influence; instead, he claims that revolutionary tendencies of postbellum proletarians originated from how antebellum artisans understood their role in the Republic. Furthermore, Wilentz argues American proletarians became class conscious while defining themselves in relation to evolving mode of production. Nevertheless, contrary to Wilentz’s argument that the predominance of artisanal experience with industrialization spurred working class radicalism, foreign revolutionary doctrines undoubtedly influenced and shaped the revolutionary tendencies of the late-nineteenth …show more content…
Early industrialization fractured the artisanal system. The hierarchy of skill, which formed the structure of the profession, splintered as former masters of craft joined with merchants to manage the means of production. Additionally, the change in the mode of production forced journeymen and apprentices to, for the most part, debase their expertise; they begrudgingly joined the pool of unskilled labor. As Wilentz claims, this fracture was the beginning of class consciousness. However, artisans, both masters and those of the lower tier, championed a political philosophy which Wilentz calls artisan republicanism. For the budding bourgeois master this ideology was a defence of the rights of the individual, whereas the proto-proletariat critiqued industrialism and defended equality. Though artisans divided along class lines, journeymen and apprentices of the lower-tier artisans gravitated towards republican egalitarianism, undoubtedly influencing antebellum workers. Yet, lower-tier artisans defended the artisanal system because they understood it to be a vital component to American republicanism. Crucially, as a reaction to early industrialization, antebellum artisans drifted towards using the language of equality to reform and restore the Republic to its ideal …show more content…
The New York based Working Men’s Party, which was the political extension of lower tier artisans, made vague attacks at forces which threatened republican equality. In the organization’s 1829 Declaration of Independence, George Henry Evans composes his piece in a way that structurally evokes the original document. Beyond the preamble, within the list of grievances, artisans contend the legality of laws protecting “private incorporations” that wholly “favor one class of society at the expense of the other, who have no equal participation.” These artisans are extremely aware of the inequality which pervade at the socioeconomic level. Not only do they see favoritism in law, the New York Working Men identify with a class of people who are not privy to these privileges. Nevertheless, for all their class consciousness, the artisans were hardly revolutionary. Evans advocated for a “constitutional means to reform the abuses.” While the document is an invocation of the Declaration of Independence, the essence of the text is not. At heart, through the espousal of a reformist platform, the artisans remain a loyal opposition instead of a revolutionary force. While not entirely complacent, they still hold value in the institution of government, adhering to their beloved belief in artisan

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