Socialism and The JungleIn 1906, Upton Sinclair’s Book The Jungle was published in book form; it had previously been published as a newspaper serial in 1905.Few works of literature have changed history in the United States so much as The Jungle did when it was published.It has been said that the book led to the direct passage of the “Pure Food and Drug Act” of 1906 (Dickstein) and that it lead to a decades long decline in meat consumption is the United States.
The book is set in the early 1900’s in Chicago; a time when true industrialization had come to the United States, and immigrant populations soared (numbersusa.com).The story begins with the traditional Lithuanian wedding of Jurgis and his sixteen year old bride, Ona.The wedding is one that they can barely afford, and sets the backdrop for the changes that they are just beginning to encounter in their new country.Immigrants with peasant backgrounds had begun to arrive in the United States en masse during the late 1890’s from places such as Ireland, Poland, Italy, and Lithuania (numbersusa.
com).These people were ill equipped to deal with the harsh realities of urban living in America at the time.In his book Sinclair shows how capitalism creates pressures that undermine the traditional family life, cultural ties, and moral values that these immigrants had brought with them.
With “literally not a month’s wages between them and starvation” workingmen are under pressure to abandon their families, woman must sometimes choose between starvation and prostitution.Children are forced to work rather then attend school, just to keep starvation away for one more day.The Socialist Party of America was founded in 1901, and for over a decade after that saw enormous growth, by 1912 they had over 1,200 elected public officials in the country, and during the election of that year had very good election results by their candidate Eugene Debs for President (Dickstein).The growth of the Socialist movement primarily took place in the vast heartland of the United States, as it was undergoing the strains of industrialization. The roots of this movement were based on reforms to the social and economic systems that were keeping the immigrants enslaved by the current systems that were in place.The 19th century saw rapid industrial expansion in America.
Between 1800 and 1900 the per capita income rose from $200 to more then $1200 (numbersusa.com).However, the distribution of wealth was uneven, 1% of the population owned 54% of the wealth.It is in the background that socialism flourished.Socialism was a message of hope, when the workers could see no hope for their lives.During the early 20th century, working conditions were basically unregulated.The workers were at the mercy of the industrialists and how they felt they should treat their workers.The growing immigrant population assured them that they would always have a large labor pool willing to work for low wages.If a worker complained or was injured, there were many others waiting in line to take the job.In 1886 workers united in Chicago, during the famous Haymarket Riots.Workers went on strike for an 8-hour work day and better working conditions.Workers at the time were required to work twelve to fourteen hour days, six days a week, often in dangerous conditions.There was no government oversight, so employers were free to make up the rules as they went along.The riots started after two strikers were killed by police, supposedly at the request of factory owners, causing outrage among the working class in the city.A rally was called for at Haymarket Square to protest the killings, the rally turned violent when the police were called in to disperse the crowds.During the Haymarket riots eleven people were killed and dozens wounded when police, at the request of factory owners, opened.