Even before the beginning of the twentieth century, the debate between socialists and capitalists has raged. In The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, he portrays capitalism as the cause of all evils in society. Sinclair shows the horrors of capitalism. In The Gospel of Wealth, by Andrew Carnegie, he portrays capitalism as a system of opportunity. However, both Carnegie and Sinclair had something to gain from their writings; both men had an agenda. Capitalism and socialism both have advantages and pitfalls; when capitalism is adopted using certain socialist ideals, a truly prosperous society exists.
A major theme of The Jungle is socialism as a remedy for the evils of capitalism. Every event that takes place in the novel is designed to show a particular failure of capitalism. Sinclair attempts to show that capitalism is a “system of chattel slavery” and the working class is subject to “the whim of en every bit as brutal and unscrupulous as the old-time slave drivers”(Sinclair 126). Sinclair portrays this view through Jurgis, a hardworking Lithuanian immigrant and his family. Sinclair uses the hardships faced by this family to demonstrate the effect of capitalism on working people as a whole.
Jurgis’ philosophy of “I will work harder” is shown not to work in this system. No matter how hard Jurgis worked, he and his family were still stuck in the same squalor. These characters did not overcome the odds and succeed. That would defeat the purpose of the novel; to depict capitalism as an economic and social system that ignores the plight of the working class and only cares for the wealthy, as well as furthering his socialist agenda. The main purpose for The Jungle is to promote Sinclair’s socialist agenda. In Sinclair’s views socialism is the cure for all the problems that capitalism creates.
Sinclair sees capitalism as a system in which the wealthy exploit the working class for their material benefit. In chapter 28 when Ostrenski, a staunch socialist, is introduced Jurgis is transformed into the socialist way of thinking. Ostrenski tells Jurgis that his condition of poverty is not the result of his action or destiny; it is the result of him being oppressed by the wealthy merchants in Chicago. However, in a socialist society the plight of the working class s addressed. In chapter 31, Nicholas Schliemann is introduced.
Schliemann is a socialist leader who acts as a voice for Sinclair in the novel. Schliemann claims once the public owns the means of production (socialism), inefficiencies will be eliminated. Thus, the working class will have to work less, in better conditions, and be paid more for their work. In the last few chapters of the novel, the story is abandoned. It turns into a socialist manifesto designed to show the evils of capitalism and illuminate how socialism can rectify those evils.
In “ The Gospel of Wealth” Andrew Carnegie sings the praises of the capitalist system. Carnegie came from poor background and turned himself into one of the largest industrial tycoons of the day. According to Carnegie everyone had an individual responsibility to, as well as the opportunity to rise, thus poverty should be temporary. The “Gospel of Wealth” argues that someone that has initiative, works hard and has ability should be able to overcome poverty. The socialist is regarded as someone who “is attacking the foundation upon which civilization itself rests”(Marcus and Burner 89). Carnegie implies that the differences created by capitalism are what drive improvement.
Without disparity, there would be no drive for advancement. In Communist or socialist societies things remain constant. There is no desire for improvement and progress is staled. An example of this is in Cuba. If one walks down the streets of Havana, it will look the same now as it did in the 1950’s, when Castro took over. In fact, Cuba basically is the same. There has been little or no technological advances coming into Cuba and the overwhelming majority of the people are still stuck in the same poverty that Communism was supposed to solve.
Even though people have an education, there is no place for them to use it (Nucifora 24). However, Carnegie does not talk about the abhorrent conditions in his steel mills. That would defeat the purpose of the essay; to show that “ not evil, but good has come out of the race from the accumulation by those who have the ability and energy to produce it” (Marcus and Burner 89). Both the socialist and capitalist systems have advantages and pitfalls. The Jungle is symbolic for the competitive nature of capitalism. This is both an advantage and a pitfall.
The competitive nature of capitalism leads to rapid progress. In this generation the world had items “of excellent quality at prices which even the previous generation” would think was incredible (Marcus and Burner 88). However, this competitive nature also inevitably leaves people behind. In this system much of the working class lives in poverty, not because they do not have the ability to get ahead, because they have not had the opportunity. Capitalism does lead to a great disparity in wealth. In a socialist society the government controls the means of production.
The working class is taken care of. However, the desire to get ahead will always be prevalent. Especially in America, with her staunch individualism, a purely socialist or communist system will not work. America has the strongest economy in the world. Industry is what has driven the economy to where it is today. The reason the USSR collapsed is because its economy collapsed (Mau 207). If America turned to socialism or communism our output would decrease because goods would not go to their most useful purpose. Thus, the economy would stop growing.
Therefore, a purely communist or socialist system would not work in America The blend of capitalism with some socialist ideals leads to a truly prosperous society. The description of capitalism in The Jungle and “The Gospel of Wealth” are polar opposites. In The Jungle, the horrors of capitalism are exaggerated and its promise is non-existent. For example, Sinclair describes capitalism as a system that is “ relentless, remorseless … and cruel” and if someone tried to get in its way, it would “cut his throat and watch him gasp for life” (Sinclair 41).
A character like Andrew Carnegie does not exist. There is not one single character that was impoverished and made it in the capitalist system. However, in “The Gospel of Wealth a person like Jurgis is scoffed at. He implies that anyone can climb out of poverty. He makes it seem like there are no faults with the capitalist system and everything is wrong with the socialist system. With both authors exaggerating their claims, the truth lies somewhere in between. Thus, a society that accentuates both systems strengths and minimizes its failures will be a prosperous one.
In modern America, there is the necessary blend of capitalist and socialist ideals that leads to a prosperous society. Our basic economic system is still capitalist, but there are some elements of socialism. It harder businesses blatantly exploit their workers, consumers or competitors in America, because of government regulation. Even though exploitation still exists, it is on a much smaller scale and not as extreme. Exploitation on the same scale as in The Jungle, now mainly exists overseas. Laws now allow collective bargaining, which gives unions and in turn workers power.
Another element of socialism in American society is the minimum wage law, as well as overtime laws. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Welfare are all socialist ideals that have infiltrated our capitalist society. Our uneven tax scale and universal healthcare for children are other examples. With this blend of capitalism with socialist ideals, the working class can be taken care of, but not at the expense of losing America’s capitalist identity. In other countries socialism or communism has blended with capitalism. Capitalism has infiltrated China.
Even though the politics of China are still Communist, its expansion of trade with the west as well as its open markets are capitalist ideals. This has enabled China to become a more prosperous nation. In Europe, almost every country has a government run national airline, a socialist principal. In Norway capitalism has been combined with socialism. There is universal health care, as well as free education through college. (“Remodeling Scandinavia: will economic recovery make the nordic countries’ famous welfare states look good; only after further reform” 37). Both of these are socialist principals.
This combination of socialism and capitalism has recently gotten Norway elected the most desirable country in the world to live in. Thus, combining socialism with capitalism leads to a prosperous society. Capitalism and socialism are two opposite and unique economic and social systems. In Sinclair’s The Jungle and in Carnegie’s “ The Gospel of Wealth” one system is shown to be glorious, while the other is evil. However, both systems have merits and disadvantages. By adapting socialist ideals into a capitalist economic and social system a prosperous society results.