Class consciousness - "The working class not only increases in number, it becomes concentrated in greater masses, its strength grows, and it feels that strength no more... the workers begin to form combinations... they club together... they found permanent associations." -Karl Marx In the 1880's one hundred American communities grew by 100% or more. Cities drew people who were dissatisfied with their present lives and were craving new opportunities. Who in particular? Immigrants from other cultures "Farm Lads" Late 1800's Most only had enough money to get them to New York, Boston, etc.
Cheap labor required in cities Construction of roads, houses, buildings Manufacturing The groups who encountered the most hardships Irish - 1840's & 50's French Canadians - 1870's Italians and Eastern Europeans - 1880's on Low expectations for a better life, filling the least attractive and rewarding positions. Another group with low expectations for a better life Linguistically and culturally set apart Namely the Kansas to Chicago immigrants Main reasons for moving from the "idealized agrarian way of life.".. Brutal work Miserable profits "Psychologically murderous isolation" A firm sense of class is hard to come by where people don't speak each other's language. Even when groups obtained high expectations and stage riots it's extremely difficult to organize troops. Plus, there were always more immigrants (and negroes) to replace the dissenters. Native born immigrants More urban experience Immigrants from other lands Better prepared for discomfort; even the bottom of the urban heap was better than the farms they had left behind.
But alas, they were all viewed equally: "We must steer clear as far as we can of Englishmen, who are great sticklers for high wages, small production and strikes. My experience has shown that Germans and Irish, Swedes and what I denominate 'Buckwheats'... make the most honest and tractable force you can find." - Andrew Carnegie Lower and Middle classes experienced impressive mobility geographically, occupationally and in terms of property. Geographically mobile meaning to have the opportunity to physically move from place to place. Common thought of Americans being restless, footloose people Lower class would move mainly because of unemployment, middle class more to seek greater opportunities.
Marxist model of class consciousness could not develop because few Americans stayed in one place long enough to discover a sense of common identity and grievance between others. Those who survived the city generally succeeded economically and socially. Skilled workmen began well until Industrialization hit and they became obsolete, when they then began other skilled trades developing from the technological changes, regaining their positions in the labor aristocracy. Occupations changing rapidly, and un- and semi- skilled workers were able to catch the train, especially in the second generations. Many were even able to become entrepreneurs. Despite incredibly low (but generally increasing) wages and heavy unemployment, many were able to build significant property holdings and were able to establish themselves in the stable working class.
It seems as though many Americans were rising and few were falling, but we overlook the portion of the population that floated around without leaving stories to trace; those who were unsuccessful were also invisible. The occupational structure reapportioned itself to create disproportionally more positions in the middle and upper ranges. Also, there were important sources of social mobility obtainable without changing occupations, example: property mobility Differential fertility of social classes: 19 th Century Estimate: In 200 years: 1, 000 Harvard graduates would have 50 living descendants 1, 000 Italians would have 100, 000 High-status groups failed to reproduce themselves, thus opening up vacancies which had to be filled by new men from below. The absence of collective working-class protest Working class was drawn into society with encouragement of accommodation which made protest difficult. Within the urban city the working class found modest opportunities to feel they and their children were edging upwards.
Those who didn't feel this way moved from city to city, alienated but invisible to others. Marx and Engels derive the lack of class consciousness comes from the absence of a feudal past and consequent lack of a rigid status system in contrast to most of Europe. They also note that "though classes, indeed, already exist, they have not yet become fixed, but continually change and interchange... in a constant state of flux." -early 1850's The American ideal that hard work, ambition, education, and ability hold more importance in success than social background adds to absence of a feeling of being stuck in a "class." Recent Study: 3/4 of Americans believe they have a good chance of improving their standard of living Only 2/5 of Europeans have the same optimistic point of view web > web > web > web > Stephan Thernstrom, "Urbanization, Migration, and Social Mobility in Late Nineteenth-Century America" in Towards a New Past (1968) ed. Barton J.
Bernstein H. V. N elles, 'American Exceptionalism: A Double Edged Sword', AHR 102 (June 1997).