Workers' organizations

Chila Kumari Singh Burman, Red Riots on Indian Paper, 1981


In socialist revolutions in the 20th century, popular participation was intense, with workers, peasants and soldiers playing central roles in the revolutions.


O Communist Manifesto it was drafted by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and first published on February 21, 1848. The context in which it was written is crucial to understanding its message and impact.

The Revolutions of 1848 became known together as the People's Spring because they included popular participation by urban workers. In major European cities, workers participated in uprisings and demonstrations. In several rural regions, peasants revolted against the living and working conditions imposed by feudal structures.

The historical, social and economic context influenced the elaboration of the Marxist manifesto. The Industrial Revolution, which emerged in Britain at the end of the 18th century, had spread to Europe and was transforming the economy and society. Factories were emerging, and new technologies were changing production and work.

Industrialization brought with it extremely precarious working conditions for workers. Long hours, low wages, child labor, and unsanitary conditions were common.

Rapid industrialization created an urban working class, known as the proletariat – only possessing offspring, that is, children. These industrial workers lived in miserable conditions and had little power or rights.

Marx and Engels observed that workers were being super-exploited by capitalists. They accumulated wealth at the expense of the proletariat's labor force, alienated from the products of their work.

Europe was experiencing a series of social and political upheavals. There was growing discontent among the working and peasant classes, as well as among the bourgeoisie in search of more political power over the nobility with the aim of restoring monarchical power.

The tensions culminated in the Revolutions of 1848, also known as the Spring of the Peoples, in several regions of Europe. These revolutions sought political, social, and economic change, and although many were suppressed, they demonstrated a widespread desire for reform.

The intellectual context is important to consider to verify the philosophical influences, for example, of Hegelianism. Marx was influenced by the philosophy of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, especially his dialectics, adapted by him to develop his theory of historical materialism.

In political economy, Marx and Engels contributed to the critique of the classical economics of Adam Smith, David Ricardo and others. They argued that it was not capable of explaining the relations of exploitation intrinsic to capitalism.

There were a variety of socialist and communist movements in Europe, many of which influenced Marx and Engels. They were in contact with other socialist theorists and actively participated in debates and organizations seeking to transform society.

They were tasked by the League of Communists, an international socialist organization, to draw up a manifesto to explain their goals and ideals. The League, previously known as the League of the Just, sought a classless society based on common ownership of the means of production.

The initial publication of the Communist Manifesto it was in London, just before the Revolutions of 1848, and quickly spread throughout Europe and beyond. The manifesto is a critical analysis of capitalism and a call to action for the working class. It advocates the abolition of private ownership of the means of production, the creation of a classless society and the end of the capitalist system.

O The Manifest it became one of the most influential texts in the history of political thought, inspiring countless revolutions and socialist movements throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. To this day, it is studied and debated as a fundamental document of Marxist theory and criticism of capitalism.

Therefore, it was drawn up in a period of great turbulence and social transformation in Europe, marked by industrialization, exploitation of the working class, and growing political unrest. Marx and Engels sought to provide an analysis and program for the emancipation of the proletariat and the creation of a classless society, reflecting and contributing to the revolutionary movements of their time.

Subsequently, more unions and parties of labor origin emerged in different countries and at different times throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. They played fundamental roles in the fight for better working and living conditions for workers.


The first workers' organizations that could be recognized as “unions” were the guilds and trade associations. Although distinct from modern trade unions, in the late Middle Ages and early Modern Era they provided some form of organization and protection for workers.

The first modern unions began to emerge at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, especially in emerging industries such as textiles, mining and construction. In many countries, unions have faced resistance and repression from governments and employers, with anti-union laws and strike bans.

There was an expansion of struggles for labor rights and consolidation in the 1864th century, when unions became more organized and effective in fighting for fair wages, safe working conditions and reasonable working hours. International trade union movements, such as the International Workers' Association (First International), founded in XNUMX, sought solidarity between workers from different countries.

Pressure from unions and labor movements led to the introduction of labor laws with various regulations, such as the prohibition of child labor. They established limits on working hours, introduced compensation for workplace accidents, and established safety standards in the workplace.

Unions gained power through collective bargaining with employers, guaranteeing better wages and working conditions for their members. In many countries, unions played an important role in creating social security systems, including unemployment insurance, pensions, and health care.


In the 19th century, before the emergence of modern socialist parties of labor origin, there were movements such as utopian socialism and anarchism. They also defended the ideals of social justice and equality.

In the mid-19th century, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels developed scientific socialism, providing a theoretical basis for socialist parties. The International Workers' Association, also known as the First International, was a forum for different currents of socialism and the labor movement.

The German Social Democratic Party was only founded in 1875 as the first modern socialist party to gain significant representation in parliament. The British Labor Party emerged in 1900 as a coalition of trade unions and socialist groups, becoming one of the main political parties in the United Kingdom.

The bourgeois revolutions from the 17th to the 19th centuries involved the participation of different layers of society, including the bourgeoisie, small landowners, artisans, urban workers and peasants. Popular participation was crucial to mobilize support and legitimize political and social changes.

In the socialist revolutions of the 20th century, popular participation was even more intense, with workers, peasants and soldiers playing central roles in the revolutions. Socialist movements often drew on popular organizations such as soviets, peasant militias and workers councils to coordinate and implement the revolution.

In both revolutionary traditions, popular participation was essential, but the nature of this participation varied depending on the context and specific objectives of each movement. In bourgeois revolutions, the focus was on ending feudalism and establishing capitalism, while in socialist revolutions, the goal was to replace capitalism with a system based on collective ownership and social equality. It is a long systemic re-evolution.

*Fernando Nogueira da Costa He is a full professor at the Institute of Economics at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Brazil of banks (EDUSP). []

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