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La greve au Creusot (1899), Jules Adler
Teachers Main Page Lesson One Lesson Two Lesson Three Lesson Four


Grade Level 9-12


Socialism and Marxism in the Industrial Revolution
Focus on Robert Owen, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Eduard Bernstein

Familiarize students with the ideas that shaped socialism and Marxism in the 19th century.

Relevant Standards
This lesson meets the following standards set by the Mid-Continent Research for
Education and Learning (http://www.mcrel.org/compendium/search.asp):

World History

Standard 35
Understands patterns of nationalism, state-building, and social reform in Europe and the Americas from 1830 to 1914.
3. Understands factors that led to social and political change in 19th century Europe (e.g. the interconnections between labor movements, various forms of socialism, and political or social changes in Europe; the influence of industrialization, democratization, and nationalism on popular 19th century reform movements; the extent to which Britain, France, and Italy become broadly liberal and democratic societies in the 19th century; the broad beneficial and detrimental effects of the industrial revolution on specific European countries).

Standard 37
Understand major global trends from 1750 to 1914.
1. Understands the importance of ideas associated with republicanism, liberalism, socialism, and constitutionalism on 19th century political life in such states as Great Britain, France, the United States, Germany, Russia, Mexico, Argentina, the Ottoman Empire, China, or Japan (e.g. how these movements were tied to new or old-class interests).

Historical Understanding
  Standard 2
Understands the historical perspective.
1. Analyzes the values held by specific people who influenced history and the role their values played in influencing history.
2. Analyzes the influences specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history and specifies how events might have been different in the absence of those ideas and beliefs.
3. Analyzes the effects that specific “chance events” had on history and specifies how things might have been different in the absence of those events.
4. Analyzes the effects specific decisions had on history and studies how things might have been different in the absence of those decisions.
5. Understands that the consequences of human intentions are influenced by the means of carrying them out.
7. Knows how to avoid seizing upon particular lessons of history as cures for present ills.

Print out or have students read online the interviews with scholars on the website. For this lesson, have students read the interviews with Manfred Steger, Sheri Berman and Gareth Stedman Jones. Watch the video segments in Heaven On Earth focusing on Robert Owen, Marx and Engels, and Eduard Bernstein. Students can also read the profiles in the Leaders and Thinkers section.

Estimated Lesson Time
3x60 minute lessons. Teachers may choose to show the segments all together or split them up and pause for discussion after each. Play the DVD chapters listed below. The links will take you to that chapter's location within the program transcript.

Background for Teachers
At the beginning of the 19th century reformers like Robert Owen were concerned with the social conditions that the factory system seemed to be creating. Owen created New Lanark in Scotland as a model factory community. It is widely regarded as one of the earliest examples of open primary education, limited work hours, disabled worker compensation, and other innovations of labor movements in the 19th century.

Owen believed that if you could change the environment you could change the person. This instinct to help his fellow man and a consciousness that class was not inherent in the person but a result of the conditions in which the person lived, formed central themes in socialist thought throughout its development. From this root, socialism evolved through the 19th century and into the 20th. The principal divisions in the movement pivoted two central questions. How do you change human nature: through democratic choices or some degree of state control? And who owns property: the individual, the state or the community? Most nations answered these questions with a spectrum of policies, retaining centralized economic control for some key nationalized industries at the same time promoting free markets in others.

Owen believed that the root evils in society were the institutions of religion, marriage, and most importantly private property. He attempted to create a community without these institutions, hoping that it would change the way people behaved. His attempt to create a utopian community in New Harmony, Indiana failed for a number of reasons. According to many observers, the new settlers lacked the skills to survive on the frontier, and the community’s egalitarian structure removed any incentive to work.

Marx predicted that dire working conditions would lead to a series of revolutions that would transform human beings and ultimately remove the need for a state. The personal relationship between Marx and Engels is a fascinating part of the story of socialism. It is not coincidental that as with most intellectual and political movements, the privileged leisure time afforded by Marx’s and Engels’ class status enabled them to write the definitive critique of class status.

Bernstein believed that Marx’s revolutions would never come because working conditions were improving not worsening as predicted, and that a more realistic path was incremental change within a democratic system.

Teaching Strategy
Play the segments from the film. Guide students through a discussion of the key issues raised by each. Between lessons, have students take home and read interview transcripts for additional perspectives. Divide the students into small groups of 3-4 and have them design their own utopian community in which they decide for themselves how they would answer the key questions that Owen, Marx and Bernstein raise.

Discussion Questions

    A.   Robert Owen

    1. What were working conditions in the early 19th century like?
    2. How was life different if you were a worker versus a factory owner like Robert Owen?
    3. Why do you think Owen came to America to create his utopian community?
    4. What did Owen believe caused society’s problems and why?
    5. Why do you think New Harmony failed?
    6. What institutions did Owen create that continue to influence how we think about work and the workplace?

    B.   Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels

    1. What did Marx and Engels believe was the problem with the capitalist system?
    2. How did they think those problems could be alleviated?
    3. Why did they believe revolution was inevitable?
    4. Why do you think Marxism was attractive to labor movements across Europe?
    5. What does the phrase, “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs” mean?
    6. How did the relationship between Marx and Engels and their respective backgrounds make the creation of the Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital possible?
    7. How do you think history might have been different if they had not met?

    C.   Eduard Bernstein

    1. What changed between the time when Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto and the time that Bernstein was writing?
    2. What is “revisionism”?
    3. Do you think social change comes incrementally or suddenly through revolution?
    4. Can economies share aspects of both Capitalism and Socialism?

Design a new community like Robert Owen's New Harmony and present it to Congress. All over the United States during the 19th century, small groups of Americans founded "utopian" communities. They were organized around a wide range of ideas and religions. Each thought they could reinvent society from the ground up and create a "heaven on earth." Many of these communities broke up after a short time because they failed to address the practical demands of survival on the frontier. Divide into small groups and design your own community. Come up with a name and draw a simple map of the layout of your community. As a group, answer the basic questions below to determine how your community will be governed and how the economy will function.

  1. Who owns property, the individual, the state, or the community?
  2. How are decisions made about prices, production, and the availability of commodities?
  3. How would you provide and distribute basic necessities like food and clothing?
  4. What skills would the residents need? What encourages them to work?
  5. What products would the community make?
  6. Is there a central belief system or religion that the community would be organized around and what happens if people disagree?

Each group should present its community plan to the rest of the class playing the role of Congress. Presentations should emphasize why settlers would likely move to the new community and why it is likely to succeed. After all the plans have been presented, "Congress" should vote on which plan to endorse.


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