Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution.

Although the Industrial Revolution had been on-going since the middle of the 18th century with every economy depending on production of clothes, tools and utensils, most of this work was done on a small scale in rural homes or small workshops. By the early 19th Century the banks system became sophisticated, transport systems elaborate and roads opened up to expand markets. Urbanisation was on the increase and as the population expanded so did the demand for manufactured goods. The number of people working in cities continued to rise and mechanised production meant faster and more efficient delivery to market of demanded goods.

Slowly but surely factory production transformed the way Europeans lived. Factory workers had to endure appalling hardships and abuse and they saw themselves as a class with interests defined by shared work experience. Workers demanded social and Political reform and proclaimed the equality of all people, the dignity of Labour and the evils of Capitalism. The first socials began to emerge and challenged the existing economy and the social and Political order. The transformation of the European economy is known as the Industrial Revolution.

The reality of the Revolution is a little different than the name suggests. The Revolution began, not in factories, but in small rural towns and villages around Europe. Increased agricultural productivity in rural areas helped sustain a larger population. In turn, an increase in population generated greater consumer demand for manufactured goods now transported with relative ease to Man places by trains and steamships across the Western continent. The rise in populations of all countries across Europe also contributed in a significant way to the Industrial Revolution. Agricultural production continued to sustain this rise in population and permitted the accumulation of wealth. More land came under cultivation and farm yields increased in most of Europe.

Remarkable improvements in Transportation also contributed to the transformations of the Industrial Revolution. In Britain Railway, construction and operation brought other benefits to the expanding British economy. It spurred the metallurgical industry, reduced shipping costs, increased tourism, and the hotel and hospitality business. The Industrial Revolution affected most of Western Europe, more than it did the countries of Southern and Eastern Europe. Countries that were densely populated and urbanised faired best.

The Revolution began in Britain when capital-intensive farming began to transform English agriculture. Britain was blessed with coal and iron ore deposits located near water transportation, which meant that raw materials could be transported with relative ease. Former rich colonial trade provided capital investment. British entrepreneurs were self-financed and it was easier to begin a company because Government ensured fewer social barriers by adopting a general policy of non-interference. Government also continued to invest in full transportation systems, which aided traders, Manufacturers, and merchants. Mechanisation led the Industrial Revolution and carried along other industries in its wake. Cotton clothing was in fashion and it accounted for a major part of Britain’s exports in the first half of the 19th Century.

France was the second leading economy in the world. Deprived of natural resources like coal and iron ore it was more expensive to transport goods. Population increases were not as big as in the United Kingdom so demand was not on the increase. The Banking system was rudimentary and the primary function of the French bank was to loan money to the state. Textiles were the catalyst for Industrial development with high fashion goods and fine furniture being in great demand by the middle classes.

Rural industry spurred by a modest level of urban growth remained essential to French economic growth. Taxes on commerce and industry remained low and Government provided a decisive push in the launching of railways in France, purchasing lands in which tracks were to pass. Bankruptcy laws became lenient eliminating the humiliation of incarceration as a penalty. ‘Anonymous Societies’ where investors could legally create investment partnerships with strangers were encouraged by new legislation and the Government also pleased the businessmen by crushing insurrections by republicans and strikes were kept illegal.

Germany had lagged behind Britain and France during the years of the Industrial Revolution. There were three main reasons for this; the multiplicity of independent states, the amounts of tolls and customs that had to be paid by wagons or boats carrying merchandise had to pay monopolies held over production of and distribution of goods. Yet, in the mid 1830s textile Manufacturing started to develop and berlin started to emerge as a centre of machine production. Coal mining and iron production developed and Prussia began to take a more active role in private enterprise. The bank of Prussia began extending credit, other German banks followed this move with sweeping changes to taxes, and tariffs that would encourage entrepreneurship and thus the Industrial Revolution in the German states came into being.

Elsewhere in Europe the Revolution was slow to arrive because most countries remained rural based small communities with undeveloped resources and insignificant Political attention. Entrepreneurs had great difficulty raising finance and there was little or no investment in these economies. There were some exceptions but none very significant. Spain was slow to industrialise itself because of inadequate transportation and laws that discouraged investment. There were few navigable rivers and an absent railway system prevented the Industrial Revolution from having any major impact on the Spanish economy.

Russia had a tiny middle class population and being that the majority of citizens were serfs bounded for life on land owned by others there was little enthusiasm for development. Their bondage made it impossible to develop as entrepreneurs and for the few entrepreneurs that did exist there was only a small workforce to choose from. The transport system was rudimentary and Government had issues with freedom of movement for citizens so little money was spent on transportation. Serviceable roads were designed and built for military purposes and boats were not steam driven. Hostility toward Industrialisation remained entrenched in Russia and this was mostly orchestrated by the Orthodox Church.

Most European middle class people were very much influenced by the Industrial Revolution. They were, for the most part, Liberals with the family as the basis for social order. Men and women had clear and distinct separate spheres. Frugality had little place in middle class life. They lived in a culture of comfort by comparison to the lower classes. Outside of Russia most middle class people across Europe had comfortable lives and held a great range of positions, occupations, educational levels and expectations.

Entrepreneurs were revered and emulated while the nobles were denounced for making money (from the land they owned) while sleeping. Hard work was seen as virtuous and the middle classes struggled to avoid shame of bankruptcy and so mostly prospered and created employment. The ‘self made Man’ was  a noble ideal but it remained difficult to be upwardly mobile and only a few elevated beyond upper middle class. Recession or ill health could mean overnight poverty for the self made Man and his family so they were perceived as ‘men of straw’ whose wealth and power could vanish in an instant. Crisis and disaster was a permanent threat to their position on the social ladder.

Urban growth led to an increase in demand for professionals who were held in high esteem but in reality earned very little money. Lawyers (Notary publics) charged fees up to ten per cent the value of property and estates and were very up to date with client’s financial circumstances. Doctors were limited in the treatments at their disposal, which also contributed to the professions lack of prestige. In Western Europe Doctors began to form professional associations to encourage standardised training and professional identity. Other professions such as Accountants and solicitors gradually commanded respect. As the growing reach of the state required more officials and bureaucrats the middle classes were provided with careers of prestige.

The middle classes believed that families offered the best guarantee of social order. Marriages of common class were desirable because they enhanced family wealth and position within Society. To ensure the future of the children parents began to practise contraception. Domesticity of women for 19th Century middle classes was standard. Women only worked outside of the house in their husbands businesses. Men provided for and assured the future for all the family. A woman’s status was tied to that of her father and husband. Middle class women cared for their children, planned and oversaw the preparation of meals, supervised the servants and attended to family social responsibilities. Middle class feminists began to challenge female legal and Political subordination and demanded the right to vote. Opponents of women’s rights identified the feminist movement with French Revolutionaries and militants and therefore unrespectable.

European middle classes gradually shaped a culture based on comfort. Homes were usually decorated elegantly with ornaments and furniture passed down from one generation to the next. Men were dressed in black suits and cashmere scarfs and women dressed simply but jewellery Demonstrated family wealth. Expanding readership encouraged a proliferation of novels, newspapers and journals. Travel for pleasure became more common for the middle classes and was seen as a means of self improvement.

Secondary education provided a common cultural background for the middle classes in Britain. The victory of the entrepreneurial ideal was reflected in school curriculums. However, many believed that the ‘college of life’ was the best education of all. In France some parents took their children from school at an early age (11 or 12) and considered academic education as being irrelevant to the common tasks of life. Private schools operated by the Clergy were strong in catholic countries and the middle classes sent their daughters to learn about the arts and domestic skills while boys went to learn about sport and Manual skills. France was opposed to religious influence in education and legislation demanded that schools taught secular, nationalistic values. Churches had greater control in Germany, Spain and Italy. Educational systems did teach reading and writing and literacy was consequently on the increase across Europe.

Religious ideals played an important part in the middle class view of the world. There was some strong disenchantment with organised Religion but Christianity and morality were permanently linked throughout Europe, middle class women manifested a much higher rate of religious observance than did men. Many men and women deplored the materialism that lured people away from the church. Religion was also perceived as a way of moralising workers by teaching them self respect. Charitable activities were also an important part of middle class life. Charities were often closely tied to Religion. Impressive efforts to aid the suppressed paupers suffering appalling conditions were common. Such charitable work, mostly aimed at children, also offered a chance at indoctrination.

While the Industrial Revolution changed the way people lived these changes were by no means fast to occur. Most rural people in Europe were not landowners and only had occasional work on farms. Rural protest increased as farm machinery took over jobs and rendered local workers obsolete. Rural poverty weighed heavily across the continent. Property owners were murdered to avoid payment of taxes and duties. Rural people were hungry and angry as they lost their land, livelihoods and families.

The first half of the 19th Century brought about a marked urbanisation of the European populations. The percentage of people who lived in towns and cities rose rapidly as work in rural areas lessened a mass exodus to the cities and employment took place. Smaller towns started to grow too and Industrial towns grew rapidly but commercial and administrative centres too gained population. The poorer districts quickly became over crowded as cheaper properties were constructed to house workers in the inner city where they can be put to work nearby. The middle class elite lived away from the inner city and densely populated suburbs and opted for country life on the outskirts of the cities and alienated themselves from the common workforce. To these upper classes urban growth seemed threatening. Social segregation intensified within cities. Industrial pollution altered residential patterns and the wealthy moved away from the city to enjoy vast country gardens.

Death outnumbered birth in most large European cities and immigration of peasants and unskilled workers meant that Native residents were a minority. Immigrants lived in areas sharing with others from their own countries. Between 1916 and 1850 at least Five million Europeans travelled across seas, particularly during ‘the hungry Forties’ which hit Europe hard and Ireland even harder. One and a half million people left Ireland from 1835 to 1850 while over two million people died during the Potato famine. Following the Irish were the Germans, Norwegians and Russians. Improvements in transportation meant further distances could be travelled and consequently the phenomenon of ‘seasonal migration took men even further while leaving families at home.

Domestic service was the largest category of female employment in Western Europe. Country women spun and wove wool, linen and cotton and worked in fields or gardens while taking care of their children. Urban women tended to work in fabric mills using skills they learned in their rural homes. Women worked for half of what their male counterparts earned and that was a major reason for their employment, in short, if a woman could do the job then a Man would not be hired. Wage Labour changed the dynamics of Society and broke down the old rules of sphere and traditional views of a woman’s place being in the home. Women with families who could not work or could only work part time had to supplement their income by becoming prostitutes. They could earn more money for sexual favours and many women were therefore attracted to the profession.

Children had always worked in agriculture and from a young age they were sent to work in factories too. Factory work often employed entire families with the adult male supervising other family members. Long days of labor were perceived by many as instilling discipline instead of idleness, which encouraged sin and criminality. There were numerous attempts to impose new laws to protect children but these were difficult to enforce as employers and willing cash-strapped parents flouted the laws without fear of chastisement.

The ‘happy’ view of the Industrial Revolution was that it improved life for everybody by increasing employment and lowering prices. The ‘unhappy’ view is that Industrial Capitalism was making life miserable for workers and their families as the number of people needing jobs and wages grew faster than jobs and pay. Mechanisation all but terminated artisanship and work was so seasonal that many suffered for extended periods throughout the year. The gap between rich and poor widened as upper class people earned quadruple the amounts of their lower class counterparts. For immigrants from rural societies the sense of community spirit that helped them through lean periods was now gone. Inexpensive housing for workers was constructed to maximise profits for capitalists. Families lived in vile environments with smells of raw sewage, garbage and, in many cases, Industrial sewage. Seasonal climate changes caused serious ailments and many people died of contagious diseases.

Workers began to think of themselves as ‘working classes’ with different interests to other classes. They had a sense of community based on a belief in the dignity of Labour. Artisans and specialists started to form Guilds that restricted entry into certain trades without apprenticeships. Gradual mechanisation of trades brought protest. The response was a number of illegal secret societies determined to destroy the machinery that deprived them of their livelihood. The so-called ‘Luddies’ wanted a return to the old ways and thought obliteration of machinery was the way to achieve this. Machinery was ‘the Devil’s invention’ and the committed secret societies were oblivious to the pointlessness of their moral campaign against evil. However, the existence of such secret societies across Europe suggests that artisans and workers were becoming united in a common cause.

Workers associations helped shape working class consciousness and militancy. They also became the foundations of fledgling trade unions. Members sought to protect wages and improve conditions. Most unions found membership in skilled workers because unskilled could not afford dues. Skilled workers were also more anxious to protect their trades. Liberty, fraternity and equality was the battle cry of the Unions, which was a heritage from the French Revolution. In Britain, as a result of the pressures on Government placed by the Unions, the ‘Reform Bill’ (1832) which expanded the number of those eligible to vote (but not common workers) was introduced. The exclusion of workers from voting only served to unite them even more in their struggle for equality. Soon, many people accepted the inevitability of Capitalism and were now demanding their fair share of the profit pie.

Advancing Industrialisation transformed economy and Society along with transformations in thoughts and attitudes. One of the most salient results of this was the emergence of the movement known as Socialism. Essentially there were two distinct types of socialist; Utopian and Practical. Utopian Socialism was a consequence of economic Liberalism, according to some analysts of the Industrial Revolution. Utopian socialists were critical over the living conditions of the poor. Egotistic individualism of acquisition, say the Utopians, is wrong because it lacked cooperation. They championed the power of science and technology to construct new social and Political institutions.

One French theorist, Henry De Saint Simon, suggested, “If all nobles and elite were wiped out in a ship wreck the consequences for France would be inconsiderable. However, if France lost its artisans, learned men and productive farmers the consequences for France would be disastrous. He further postulated that Mankind could anticipate a better future where science would solve material problems in harmony with an era of moral improvement. For this to occur; people of talent should be freed from the shackles of restraints placed upon them by nobles. De saint Simon contemporary, Charles Fourier (1772-1837) argued that the art of selling was the practise of lies and deception. He claimed that history moves in cycles toward a more perfect future. He proposed a commune (Phalanx) type of lifestyle where people could live and work together in one unit to survive and live life to its best. British Utopian, Robert Owen, believed that Education and environment could share a spirit of cooperation. He built a mill in Scotland, provided decent housing and established schools for children.

The most popular Utopian socialist was Frenchman Etienne Cabet who sought to apply the principles of Christianity to problems of the day. His imaginary city and vision of economic and social organisation that would covert to principles of cooperation and association. He moved to America with some of his supporters and set up colonies in Texas and Iowa. Cabet was a Communist and had been involved in Communistic publications prior to his departure and thus saw Communism as the Utopian ideal.

Practical Socialists saw the bourgeois as ‘non-producers and workers as producers. Feminists believed that emancipation of women could only come with the emancipation of their ‘kindred spirits’ the workers. One feminist socialist, Flora Tristan (1801-1844) campaigned against women’s inequality in marriage and in law. She linked feminism and socialism and campaigned for female emancipation. Louis Blance (1812-1882) wanted Governments to give scientists a free hand in applying their talents to the betterment of the human condition. The state should also guarantee workers the ‘right to work’, employment in times of stress and a decent wage in the face of unchecked competition. Pierre Joseph Prouduor (1804-1865) wanted the state abolished. The existence of the state was the reason why Capitalism exploited workers. “Property is theft” he declared. Property to him was unearned (by Manual Labour) profit. He wanted workers to organise themselves into small autonomous groups Governing themselves.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) and the Origins of Scientific Socialism: Marx studied the Utopian Socialists but thought them naïve. He thought of Capitalism as no more than a stage in History. Ideas and institutions were opposing forces to the progression of world history. His theory that proletariat struggle against bourgeois was only the latest round in an on-going war. When the proletariat achieved power then socialism would prosper. The end of private property and pure communism would follow. This victory for proletariats would come in time. He argued that a workers Revolution would come if the proletariat organised themselves. “Workers unite; you have nothing to lose but your chains.”

Europeans were impressed with the rapid pace of change. Trains brought places closer together. Cities grew and prospered and more and more people worked in industry while the upper classes were worried about urban chaos. The Industrial Revolution generated material progress, opulence abounded but so did wrenching poverty. The European powers (Britain, Prussia, Austria and Russia) tried to restore old ways with new rules but Liberalism was for the rich at the cost of the growing poor. The year of reckoning came for the Conservatives in 1848.

Primary Source:

John Merriman

History Of Modern Europe.


Posted on March 30, 2012, in European History. and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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