Apparently, Marx believed that mass industrialisation was a prerequisite for the proletarian revolution. Why did he believe this?
From his Communist Manifesto, Chapter 1, Marx believed that the industrial revolution brought about the existence of the proletariate, from the crises of Capitalism always needing new markets, greater exploitation of workers for more profits.
Modern bourgeois society, [...] It is enough to mention the commercial crises [...] In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity — the epidemic of over-production. [...] And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones.
But not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons —the modern working class —the proletarians. [...]
Marx didn't believe the previous classes, or class struggles were long lasting. Eventually, society would have to collapse to socialism with no more private property rights. Instead, the proletariat would do away with all national divisions for the ever increasing size and power of the union.
Of all the classes that stand face to face with the bourgeoisie today, the proletariat alone is a really revolutionary class. The other classes decay and finally disappear in the face of Modern Industry; the proletariat is its special and essential product.
The lower middle class, the small manufacturer, the shopkeeper, the artisan, the peasant, all these fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative.
Modern industry and its division of capital and labor, places ever increasing pressures on labor to reduce costs. The opening of new markets removes the isolation of laborers from one another. The proletariat, as the lowest class, sinking further and further into poverty has no choice but to revolution.
Hitherto, every form of society has been based, as we have already seen, on the antagonism of oppressing and oppressed classes. But in order to oppress a class, certain conditions must be assured to it under which it can, at least, continue its slavish existence. [...] The modern labourer, on the contrary, instead of rising with the process of industry, sinks deeper and deeper below the conditions of existence of his own class. He becomes a pauper, and pauperism develops more rapidly than population and wealth. And here it becomes evident, that the bourgeoisie is unfit any longer to be the ruling class in society, and to impose its conditions of existence upon society as an over-riding law. It is unfit to rule because it is incompetent to assure an existence to its slave within his slavery, because it cannot help letting him sink into such a state, that it has to feed him, instead of being fed by him. Society can no longer live under this bourgeoisie, in other words, its existence is no longer compatible with society.
The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labour. Wage-labour rests exclusively on competition between the labourers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the labourers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Marx had witnessed the effects of mass industrialization first hand, and believe that, at the time, societies were split to two main, and often hostile to each other, factions, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat:
Our epoch, the epoch of the bourgeoisie, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other -- bourgeoisie and proletariat.
He believed that mass industrialization was the key factor for the rise of the bourgeoisie, and the widening of the gap with the proletariat:
The discovery of America, the rounding of the Cape, opened up fresh ground for the rising bourgeoisie. The East-Indian and Chinese markets, the colonisation of America, trade with the colonies, the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally, gave to commerce, to navigation, to industry, an impulse never before known, and thereby, to the revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development.
The feudal system of industry, in which industrial production was monopolized by closed guilds, now no longer suffices for the growing wants of the new markets. The manufacturing system took its place. The guild-masters were pushed aside by the manufacturing middle class; division of labor between the different corporate guilds vanished in the face of division of labor in each single workshop.
Meantime, the markets kept ever growing, the demand ever rising. Even manufacturers no longer sufficed. Thereupon, steam and machinery revolutionized industrial production. The place of manufacture was taken by the giant, MODERN INDUSTRY; the place of the industrial middle class by industrial millionaires, the leaders of the whole industrial armies, the modern bourgeois.
Modern industry has established the world market, for which the discovery of America paved the way. This market has given an immense development to commerce, to navigation, to communication by land. This development has, in turn, reacted on the extension of industry; and in proportion as industry, commerce, navigation, railways extended, in the same proportion the bourgeoisie developed, increased its capital, and pushed into the background every class handed down from the Middle Ages.
He argued that mass industrialization was in a way the bourgeoisie's own revolution, and if taken too far it would destroy the proletariat:
A similar movement is going on before our own eyes. Modern bourgeois society, with its relations of production, of exchange and of property, a society that has conjured up such gigantic means of production and of exchange, is like the sorcerer who is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells. For many a decade past, the history of industry and commerce is but the history of the revolt of modern productive forces against modern conditions of production, against the property relations that are the conditions for the existence of the bourgeois and of its rule. It is enough to mention the commercial crises that, by their periodical return, put the existence of the entire bourgeois society on its trial, each time more threateningly. In these crises, a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed. In these crises, there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity -- the epidemic of over-production. Society suddenly finds itself put back into a state of momentary barbarism; it appears as if a famine, a universal war of devastation, had cut off the supply of every means of subsistence; industry and commerce seem to be destroyed. And why? Because there is too much civilization, too much means of subsistence, too much industry, too much commerce. The productive forces at the disposal of society no longer tend to further the development of the conditions of bourgeois property; on the contrary, they have become too powerful for these conditions, by which they are fettered, and so soon as they overcome these fetters, they bring disorder into the whole of bourgeois society, endanger the existence of bourgeois property. The conditions of bourgeois society are too narrow to comprise the wealth created by them. And how does the bourgeoisie get over these crises? On the one hand, by enforced destruction of a mass of productive forces; on the other, by the conquest of new markets, and by the more thorough exploitation of the old ones. That is to say, by paving the way for more extensive and more destructive crises, and by diminishing the means whereby crises are prevented.
The conclusion of the chapter posits that mass industrialization will inevitably lead to a proletariat revolution:
The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class is the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage labor. Wage labor rests exclusively on competition between the laborers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the laborers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.
Marx and Engels avoided dealing substantively with three of the major groups of proletarians in the societies surrounding them:
- Domestic workers and other servants
- Agricultural workers
- Urban non-factory system workers, other than frame knitters / weavers / spinners
In addition to these groups they dealt lightly with the "lumpenproletariat" or the completely disenfranchised, criminalised, workless poor. Their engagement with this group was considerably light.
The main reason for Marx's concentration on the industrial worker can be dealt with in two heads:
- Productive and non-productive labour
- "Leading sector" ideas
Firstly, in Capital Marx distinguishes productive and non-productive labour, in the sense that productive labour produces surplus value, whereas non-productive labour is merely involved in the accounting for and distribution of products. Marx includes logistics and retail display in "productive" labour, to the extent that labour makes a product fit for purchase it is productive. So an employed accountant is less significant than an employed shop assistant, is less important than a mechanical loom operative—in terms of their productive labour. Marx privileges productive labour because productive labour is capable of halting the production of surplus value itself, rather than merely blocking the distribution or exchange of existing embodied value. The reproduction of capital requires the reproduction of surplus value, so Marx would prefer to halt the thing at the start. Additionally, the alienation from control of labour is heightened in productive labour, which ought to Marx's mind lead to higher class consciousness. The evidence available to him in the form of the Chartists supported this.
Secondly, Marx tends to look at the "leading" sector of a change for new and interesting phenomena. Industrial workers experienced the increasing organic composition of capital (mechanisation) in a way in which servants didn't, and agricultural labourers barely did. Marx predicts that the whole of work will be transformed by the relationships imposed in the factory, and the mechanisation required in production. Thus Marx looks to the industrial worker for the general future condition of all workers. The new revolutionary consciousness and new revolutionary property relations will be derived, to Marx's thought, from the experience of factory workers as the most alienated and most modern workers.