The hour of the working class in the world revolution





Summary and aims of the lecture1

The aims of this lecture are to give to the delegates:

– a bird’s eye view of world evolution, in which the working class holds a position of ever increasing importance.

– the role of working youth in the whole development of the working class.

– the responsibilities of the working class (in essential spheres) and consequently of working youth, of all young workers.

– how the working class and working youth will be saved and deproletarianised only by a genuine worker laity.

– how the YCW has a specific mission to train future model workers, worker leaders who will be at the same time worker apostles, by putting them through an apprenticeship in their two fold responsibility as workers and Christians.



In your country, in all the countries of the world, 5,000 –10,000 – 50,000 – 100,000 – young boys and girls from working class homes leave school each year. They look for a job, then take up work. After a few days or a few weeks, they have become apprentices, future workers, workers. They are in this situation from the time of entry into work until marriage – from 14 – 15 roughly until they are 25. A numberless mass of young working boys and girls who share the same way of life, the same problems, the same aspirations.

Their working conditions may vary from one business to another, from one trade to another, from one district or country to another, but the problem remains fundamentally the same for all; they are workers; they are part of the Working Class; they make up that great world army of workers who assure by their life and daily labour, the very life of the world, living from day to day from the price of this labour: their wages.

The young workers – those who today are only 15-17-22 years old, will tomorrow be adult workers. In a few years they will make up the “working masses” the working class. Already they are living in the same conditions as adult workers. It is life at work primarily which introduced them into the working community, into the worker complex, into the evolution and the emancipation of the worker.

Starting with this fact one can readily assert that the problem of working youth – as we conceive it – is especially linked to the problem of the whole working class; that the young workers should seek and will find the possibility of their fullest development in the furthering of the working class as a whole.


In order to understand the workers problem as it is today we must try to trace at least its broad outlines, its origins and development.

Birth of the Working Class.

The working class was born from the discovery of the steam engine, which itself involved mechanical labour. As long as the products necessary for man’s life were made by hand, or by simple hand operated machines etc., production remained a family undertaking, a little workshop.

From the day when the steam engine introduced mechanical operations, production increased and multiplied very rapidly. Less workers were required and more manufactured good were produced.

Hence the birth of big workshops, of the first factories under the capitalist regime. The worker no longer worked at home, but he hired out his services to an employer for a daily wage. The employer laid out the capital and usually received the greater part – if not all – of the benefits and sought a continuous increase in his profit, in production and in the number of machines and workers capable of production.

Hence the birth also of huge industrial concentrations around the centres of production, often themselves installed in the vicinity of raw materials, energy, natural riches, means of communication, etc. Hence the Ruhr basin with its mines and metal industries, hence Detroit with its automobile works, hence Johannesburg, land of gold and diamond, hence the great ports of embarkation for commerce and industry: Calcutta, Liverpool, Montreal, etc.

Workers Life, Workers Problem, Workers Conscience.

The signs which marked the beginning of this new regime became apparent in Europe between 1600 and 1640. The industrial era settled in England, in Germany, Austria, Belgium, France and the majority of Western countries. It has not ceased to increase its influence and has ended by impressing its specific character on the whole of life. We see its result in the present day outlook on life. We are living today in the age of the machine and of money. An age governed by a liberal materialistic philosophy.

The working class was the first to be profoundly influenced by this state of affairs. Its whole life was bound up with technical development. The conditions of work imposed on workers were inhuman – especially at the beginning of the industrial era – they worked often for starvation wages, lived in unhealthy and overcrowded dwellings; their family life was made difficult by night work or employment a long way from home. They had no future security and were simply left defenceless to the power of money.

Where can be found, in all this, the dignity of man as a son of God? Few people cared; the worker became an instrument of production. His conditions of life and work, more and more mechanised, made him lose the sense of human and Christian values; conscientiousness and honesty at work, love of the home, faith in and practice of his religion etc.

It is these conditions of life of the working class, with all their consequences and contradictions, which make up the workers problem.

But this mass of workers had in it a dynamic latent riches which could not remain forever stifled by this way of life. Crushed at first by the very conditions of its proletarian life, it gradually became aware of the force it represented, of the riches it produced, or the indispensable role it played in the process of production, of the flagrant injustice of which it was victim.

From that growing awareness was to come the birth of the whole movement for the advancement of the workers, of the whole organisation of the working class such as we see it today. We shall come back upon this later. (See Chap. II: “The spontaneous movement for the freedom of the worker” in the 20th century)

Not only in Europe.…

The workers problem which has just be an outline arose thus during the course of the 19th Century. But it has not been confined to the continent of Europe

– discoveries have been made everywhere (in Asia, Africa and South America) which have given birth to new and important industries: uranium, gold and diamond mines, nitrates, etc.

– in many countries, formerly less developed, technical facilities have given sudden rise in the past 25 years to now gigantic factories, vast industrial cities; heavy industries, exploitation of jute (India) or rubber (Congo) sugar industry (Cuba) preserve-factories (N. Africa) etc.

— even certain trades, certain produce, which formerly were associated with agriculture, stock breeding, etc., have passed to the most intense industrial stage, have become ‘mass production’. The coffee growing industry is well known (Sao Paulo and several districts in Brazil) so are the vast slaughter houses of Chicago, Buenos Aires and Sydney; and all the ports where even fishing is becoming industrial (Morocco) etc.

– finally certain countries or islands which are being considered as future strategic points, are selected fields for the promotion of industry, the installation of great ports, arsenals, etc.

Examples are the Phillipines, the North African Coast, Panama etc. (If desired one could here develop at greater length the aspects of the workers problem proper to the countries which make up the linguistic section)

A world-wide Proletariat

This is how for 25 years there has been a staggering increase in the number of wage-earners. There is no longer question of the working class of one district, one country, or even one continent; it is a world wide working class which has been formed as a consequence of the evolution of the world and events.

In the whole of this class – which today numbers many millions of workers – what is the position, what is the role of each worker? What is the meaning of his life and of that of all his fellow workers?

– is he a machine, an instrument of production, a slave, one of the earth’s condemned? – or a person, a human being, a son of God?

– his work, is it a thing of shame, a punishment – or a responsibility a service, a source of pride?

– his wages, are they just? How are they fixed? What are his conditions of work? Is he satisfied with than? Do they correspond to he status as a man, a son of God, the father of a family?

– what security can he foresee for his future?

– what do his family, his wife, his children mean to him?

– what are his relations with his comrades at work, with his foreman? with his employer?

– of what kind is his moral and religious life? Has he any beliefs, aspirations? Does he respect the woman, the girl working next to him?

– what are his responsibilities in the country, the nation? Does he really live within the community, or outside it? Does he think and act against it or for it and with it?

Such are the fundamental problems which face him, which call for a practical solution. This solution must provide the answers to such questions as what am I? Why was I made? what is my destiny as a human person and as a son of God? It must give to the worker an outlook, a philosophy of life which will deliver him from the underdog complex.


A reaction against injustice

At the beginning of the period of intense industrialisation (1825-40), the workers formed a disordered class, forced to accept the fact meted out to them. They themselves were exploited by the inexorable law of economic liberalism, and they suffered the consequences, which left them only the right not to die of hunger.

But gradually, under the Influence of leaders, and the spread of ideas, the workers reacted. A united drive gathered them more and more into homogeneous groups, into a class which they all experienced the same conditions of life and work, were struggling against against the same injustices, seeking the same liberation, sharing the same aspirations. This drive very soon showed itself in various ways: strikes, demands, manifestos, riots..…

Workers solidarity became the great principle of defence. As the conditions of life and work became increasingly similar, not only in the one profession or the one country, but all over the world, this solidarity, this movement for liberation became universal, like the working class itself. And it was Karl Marx who sounded the rallying call: “Workers of the world, unite! “

An organised working class

The aspirations of the workers did not remain at the stage of mere wishful thinking. In spite of opposition they went ahead in forming their own organisations, which became their chief means of combat and education.

These workers organisations varied:-

– in their immediate objectives and the stages of their development! unions, friendly societies, co-operatives, political parties etc.

– in their doctrines and tendencies which were sometimes opposed to each other: the Labour Movement, Marxist Movement, Christian Movements, Nationalist Movements etc.

– in the tactics and methods of action, which were adapted to the historical background and customs or the different countries.

Various in its expressions, the movement for the liberation of the working class is fundamentally one and the same. It is the movement which is the dynamic leaven of the working masses which transforms them into an organised class with a consciousness, a solidarity and aspirations in common, it is, as it were, a powerful impulse, a broad river in which appear different currents all tending towards an advance common to the whole working class of the world.



Just as we are considering the problem of working youth within the whole framework of the problem of the working class, so we shall not separate the working class from the evolution in ideas and techniques which have brought about its birth into the world and have governed its development through the course of history. The working class is only the central phenomenon of what is justly termed the World Revolution of our time.

Granted, the elements of this revolution are so numerous and so complex, with their mutual interactions, that your lecturer cannot hope to illustrate them all. However, let us try to analyse certain essential characteristics and to draw from the certain lessons of major importance.

Scientific and technical revolution

Each day we witness stupendous technical advances which shatter every aspect of our personal lives and of the life of the world. Indeed, all this seems normal to us: but when we try to picture to ourselves man’s life a century ago, we grasp more readily the distance that has been covered.

– In scientific research: to the eyes of the scientist whose work la made easier today by a vast range of instruments, the universe is growing beyond all bounds. At the same time man is continuing his researches and his hold on the microscopic he is already freeing and utilising the formidable reserves of internal energy in matter, which have to this day remained hidden.

– think of the progress achieved in the medial world, in the realms of the psychological sciences: the fight against sickness and death, the development of the psychological technique etc.

– man is making electronic machines, genuine mechanical brains, which solve in a few seconds intricacies of calculation which it would take the best mathematician several months to work out.

– in production speed and precision is such as to cause the circulation of goods to reach the largest possible portion of mankind (today everyone is able to wear shoes and socks, whereas they went barefoot 150 or 200 years ago)

– in transport; an extraordinary advance in speed, increase in the numbers of cars, trams, railways, ever greater perfection in the development of aviation etc.

Such progressive mastery over matter is essentially the fruit of man’s work. All the progress achieved indicated the greatness of the work which is being done each day by workers, from the young pit boy to the expert, is changing the face of the earth, making it potentially more beautiful and more fitted to the service of humanity.

But to come down to hard facts, what is the real aim, what is the real advantage of such scientific research? where does the wellbeing of the human person enter into it? Is it for its benefit that progress is desired and achieved, or is it really the person who is the servant of progress?

The whole of humanity seems to us like a vast dockyard at work.

The meaning and the greatness of work is pointed out to us by the Creator Himself: “Take the earth and master it”. He calls us to complete creation with Him. Work is a law which St Paul has also brought to our notice: “He who refuses to work has no right to eat.”

Economic and Social Revolution

Examples of this are the invention of new instruments and machines of ever greater speed and power, which cause constant upheavals in the economic and social life of the world: overproduction, unemployment, redistribution of workers etc.

– the concentration of financial power in the hands of email groups which results in a few controlling the means of production, the creation of great industrial centres.

– the enormous boosting af colonial or backward countries, with the consequent awakening of national consciousness.

– recent social and political progress with its increasing call to the masses to undertake the control of public affairs (the franchise) and of economic affairs (joint works committees)

And in the economic and social sphere, as in that of scientific and technical achievement, is it the person who in the final reckoning is the primary object of such effort, such progress?

Cultural, moral and religious revolution

– the fight against illiteracy, ignorance and insecurity; general elementary instruction, with the possibility of opportunities for higher studies for an increasing number of individuals.

– the mass diffusion at great speed of the means of information and culture: press, radio and now television, which make all the most distant events enter almost immediately into the lives of each one of us.

– the popular spread of the cinema, magazine, book, of all the means of leisure now increasingly within everyone’s reach

– the international cultural exchanges, individual and collective, by the exchange of correspondence, educational travel, grants for Study.

– the expansion of youth movements which foster international understanding and the knowledge of other peoples and cultures by repeated personal contact.

– on the one hand the very great dechristianisation of the people formerly solid in their faith, and on the other hand, the spread by an active elite of the missionary spirit of the Gospel with the birth of a lay movement which aims at giving a fully Christian interpretation of all the aspects of the present world scale resolution.

And yet this cultural effort too may have very different, very imperfect results, if the uplift of the human person itself is not its primary aim. What sort of influence do the press, the radio, the cinema exercise today?

This revolution is crystallising into Institutions of International Scope

We are witnessing the birth of a new world made up of many element of brutal transformations, with breath-taking rapidity, this unprecedented resolution is creating a new humanity.

These aspirations and changes are being increasingly crystallised and approved by international institutions seeking to canalise, to orientate these manifold trends in order to give tomorrow to this new world laws that will guarantee its flowering harmoniously.

It is sufficient to recall the action of UNO, of the Council of Europe etc. in the sphere of political action, of UNESCO in that of education, of the I.O.I. (International Organisation of Industries) in that of work, etc.; among the private organisms, the birth and development of the international Trades Union organisations (The World Federation of Trades unions, the International Confederation of Christian Trades Unions, the International Free Trade Union), of the WAY (World Assembly of Youth,) etc.

A vanguard mission

The working class is not alien to this drive towards world unity; it is not unaware of it, it is not living on the fringe of the revolution. On the contrary, it is completely immersed in it, living itself in its own evolution and its own revolution, in the heart of and at the same time as the universal change.

Much more, the working class is today the most important factor both in numbers and dynamic force – in the Revolution of our time; it is like its pivot: you could even say that it is the working class which is giving this Revolution its tone and its direction, leaving on it the imprint of its own individual character.

The working class is today charged with an advance guard mission, that confers on it a heave responsibility. The world of tomorrow will be what the working class will be.

But what will the working class of tomorrow be? Will it be able of its own accord to accomplish its liberation, its complete advance? Will it be materialist or Christian? Is it going to lead who world by hatred or by love? Is it going to reject Cod or follow and spread the law of the Gospel? Is the Church going to find, amidst the millions of workers who are her members, the countless leaders and apostles whom She needs, the workers lay apostolate which must be the true Christian leaven of the working masses?

It is truly the Hour of the Working Class: the hour of its human and Christian redemption; the Hour of its responsibility.


A Positive Solution

It is not enough to ascertain that the working class exists, endures inhuman conditions of life, aid forms today a force of extraordinary dynamism – full both of promise and of danger, according to the use it makes of this force. What is really needed is the discovery that the problem of the working class urgently requires a positive solution, and the indication of the nature of this solution in answer to the needs of the problem.

Many were and are still afraid of the workers problem, of the movement born of the workers aspirations; they see only the danger of the teaching and lines of action which have been the outstanding features of the course taken by the workers! Marxism, socialism, Communism. A defensive instinct has taken rise among them, shutting out from view the basis of the lawful aspirations of the workers and preventing the giving of just satisfaction thereto in a total advance of the workers.

This attitude is particularly dangerous, because it is negative. It reduces itself to a barren struggle, abusing policial authority, and propaganda, which la not only anti-Communist (arresting Communist leaders, outlawing the Communist party etc.) but at the same time anti-worker (suppressing the right to strike, restricting trades union freedom etc.) Measures of this kind will never succeed in meeting the danger of subversive doctrines and organisations.

Anti-Communism does not solve the workers problem; it makes it worse.

The workers problem will find its true solution only in and through the workers themselves in a total and positive advance – human, social, spiritual and Christian – of each worker and of the whole working class.

Improvement of the conditions of working life

To achieve this, we must first of all have the courage to denounce the inhuman conditions of working life in order to win in an ever increasing measure the improvements which will allow the workers to live to the full their daily life according to the requirements of their dignity as men and as sons of God.

In the following report, the nature of these conditions of life will he brought out (for working youth) and the Manifesto which will be given out at the end of this International Conference will set forth the ore fundamental improvements which we expect from all those who hold responsibility in this sphere. The Natural Law and the social teaching of the Church supply us with all the basic elements necessary to form a sound and positive judgement on the situation of the working masses.

Each Christian worker should be the champion of these workers claims, which should make it possible for all his brothers to achieve their temporal vocation and their eternal destiny.

Educating the Worker

But all the improvements which may be obtained in the sphere of material conditions of life by social laws are nothing if the workers are not taught to make use of them for their own freedom and emancipation.

For example, it is not enough to give each worker a better wage, if he is not taught to make an appropriate use of it; for the disposal of his household, for the improvement of his children’s nourishment, for his own culture etc. – not to drink it away at the pub or go round with women. The same principle applies to all workers claims: holidays with pay, hours of work, hygienic installations at work, etc.

On the contrary, these material advantages – excellent through they may be in themselves – become a new means of downfall and enslavement for the working class, the day they turn the workers aside from their true mission and vocation.

Hence the importance of a progressive education of the worker, which is inseparable from any action by the worker to win his demands.

Workers Responsibilities

For a long time the working class has had to be content with demands for material, social and political progress: social security, the eight hour day, the universal franchise etc.

Today the time has come when it can and should itself share in the direction of production, in the management of its own interests.

It is no longer possible to imagine a world which continues to advance towards progress and unity, without this working class, universally distributed and organised, having its true share of tie responsibility.

The working class cannot withdraw from tills responsibility without abandoning the world of today, with all its unsuspected future perspectives, to anarchy or sterility.

But above all, it cannot accept or lay claim to these responsibilities without facing up to them with the greatest care.

It must, by a super human effort, prepare competent workers leaders, wielding influence and capable of shouldering and bringing to fruition the glorious and heave tasks that lie upon them. It would be a crime against the working class itself and against humanity to demand the direction of the key levers, in so shattered a world, and at so serious a moment, without preparing to use them with the conscientiousness, the competence and the will to promote the common good required by a task of such magnitude. It would be deliberate suicide and an open invitation to dictatorship, from whatever side it might arise.

A worker Lay Apostolate

If it is the hour of workers responsibilities, it is still more the hour of the workers lay apostolate.

The working class does not need material progress only, nor even an education in its use. Each worker and the whole working class in its entirety must find and rediscover the true meaning of its life in the plan of Divine Providence: rediscovery of God and His love, dignity of the workers person, deep realisation of his divine vocation, the Sacred character of work which is a share in the mystery of Creation, the role of the working class in the universal work of Redemption and its place in the Church of Christ, the apostolic mission of each worker responsible for the spread of the Gospel in the world of work…

It is not enough to ‘cultivate’ in the working class a vague aspiration to something greater, mysterious, even infinite. No.

The working class laity has, in the heart of the whole working class, a definite apostolic mission of Redemption and Christianisation, entrusted it by Christ and the Church.

“As the Father has sent me, I also send you…” – “The workers apostles will themselves be workers.” This mission consists precisely in making known to the workers their own destiny in time and eternity, in permeating their whole life with it, and in bringing them without exception to Christ and the Church, whatever their colour, race, tongue or religion.

Hence the necessity of a constant increase in the number of militant Christian workers among the masses, not set apart, outside their class, ‘exiles of the interior’, but genuine workers from the working class, parts of the one whole; workers who live with the same life, the same aspirations and sufferings, as the mass of their working companions; fighting units who, in the midst of the masses and their daily life, form that living leaven, that irresistible ferment which spreads the spirit of the (Gospel, witnesses to the love of Christ Himself, and assures the permanent presence of the Church among the workers, in order to transform, Christianise and save them.


The problem of Working Youth

The advance of the workers just mentioned, its history and needs, brings out clearly the importance, urgency and scope of the problem of working youth.

The staggering increase in the number of wage earners almost always takes place at the lower end of the scale, among the young workers. In the new countries it is the young people who are breaking with ancestral traditions in order to take up work in nascent industry. Today there are millions between school-leaving and marriage who, without any preparation, come to experience proletarian life.

Further, they are at the most critical age: at the age of preparation for life, the age when their personality takes shape and direction, the age of education, during which they have their initial training in a conception and in fundamental habits of life.

As was said at the beginning of this lecture, the young workers are already today and will be tomorrow the working class. They share its life and are influenced – even more than adults – by all the circumstances in which it is brought to light; tomorrow they are going to take responsibility for it; it is through them that the working class of the future must realise its two fold vocation, human and Christian.

At the same time we observe that working youth has a life of its own, which must be brought to light, transformed and permeated with a strong and Christian ideal. To change the world, to change the working class, we must start by changing, transforming, making Christian the working youth. Although influenced by the whole and immersed therein, it can and must from this very moment forge a new working class among young working men and women. It is the working youth which is the reservoir of the most novel and daring aspirations, which unleashed the great potential of idealism and generosity necessary for the transformation of the world, which is still at the age when judgement, strength of will and habits of life are acquired.

The special mission of the YCW

For this reason, the YCW today can be said to have a two fold mission;

(a) to form an active lay movement among the young workers, i.e. to give to working youth at the present time active leaders capable of transforming the masses and their life surroundings. What the young workers, the militant Christian young workers need is an independent training adapted to their age, which will help them even now to exercise their responsibilities as workers and apostles among their young working companions,

(b) to prepare and direct the young workers for the part they are going to play AS FUTURE WORKER LEADERS AND MILITANT lay folk.

It is precisely in the YCW that the young workers will be able to find concrete training for their future mission in the working class, by a complete entering into worker action and by an active share in the efforts of all workers for their advance.

This lay apostolate supposes a movement which is a school of formation, a service of mutual help, a representative body, a movement simultaneously young, working and apostolic, completely orientated towards this definite, basic end.

All subsequent lectures will be the expression of the formation which the YCW aims to give young workers.

The YCW needs us in order to achieve this mission.

This mission entrusted to the YCW must first of all be realised and desired by each one of us, by every militant and member of the movement,

This mission can be fulfilled only by those who direct, lead fight for, are members of the YCW. Without us the YCW cannot achieve it.

Finally, this mission is a proof of the extraordinary confidence placed by the Church and the working class in our movement and in working youth.

It is up to us not to disappoint their hopes. Let us weigh our responsibilities and accept them generously. Relying on these responsibilities, upon the strength of Christ, living in his apostles, and finally upon the inexhaustible riches of the working youth and class, let us the greatest effort to form ourselves in the light of the tasks which face us today and tomorrow.


– Is your country, considered as a whole, looked on as an industrial or agricultural country? Or rather has it certain heavily industrialised areas with a wage-earning population, or again, is it in a transition period, in the process of industrialisation?

– How did your working class take rise? Has the face of your country changed during the past 20 years? Do the people live a different life than before? Has religious life been notably affected by this evolution?

– Do movements of workers take place in your country? Immigration? Emigration? Does this influence the life of the working class?

– What are the present signs of working life: are there workers demands? Strikes? What was the issue which caused the main ones?

– Are there any educational or mutual assistance movements etc., which arose from them?

– Has your country got workers organisations: Trades union, co-operatives, benefit societies, etc.? Are these organisations one or many? Are these Christian, Marxist? What is their present position are they free, autonomous, or under patronage? (whose?) What influence to they exert? What have they been able to achieve?

– Has your country many women wage-earners? Do they take part in workers organisations?

– Are the young workers in unions? Are they interested in united action for the workers advance?

– Does public opinion, do institutions recognise the aspirations of the working class towards emancipation? Is there a tendency to accord it its rights and responsibility? How is this tendency manifested?

(in legislation for example) Explain.

– Does the YCW in your country direct the young workers towards this workers action? towards workers organisations? Explain how.

– Are there other young workers movements? What importance have they? What influence?

1Obviously the whole of this general plan cannot receive thorough treatment in one lecture. Reference may profitably be made to the following texts:

“The Hour of the Working Class”

“The Church in the face of the world revolution”

“The Missionary Problem in a New World.”


Joseph Cardijn, The hour of the working class in the world revolution, 1950 (IYCW Archives (Joseph Cardijn Digital Library)