The industrial revolution, which had its beginnings in eighteenth century England, is regarded as one of the most important events in modern history. The prevailing capitalist world order can be traced back to the revolution. With the onset of the industrial revolution, the then prevalent feudal social systems where gradually dismantled and a new economic dynamic was set in motion, which continues till this day. Of course, the neo-liberal economic system of today is very different from the earliest capitalist enterprises, but the core principles remain the same. The rest of this essay will present the problems and benefits of this important event as well as briefly explaining why industrial reform came slowly from 1815-1914.
Factories that produce goods on a massive scale are the most prominent symbols of the industrial revolution. Such a radical transformation was allowed to happen because it suited the interests of the aristocracy and nobility of the time. The ruling elite of England were also the owners of most the country’s wealth and it suited their interest to perpetuate a method that maintained status quo. This meant that the prevailing inequities in distribution of wealth accentuated further as the industrial revolution marched on. Some intellectuals have cited this as the major problem with the capitalist model and have hence condemned the revolution as socially unjust. The other criticism that is leveled against large-scale industries is their tendency to accelerate the process of urbanization and ultimately contribute to pollution and squalor. For example, the issues of overpopulation, petty crime, prostitution and pollution in the industrial city of Manchester are well documented by Kishlansky and other scholars.
While the unsavory aspects of the industrial revolution are real and valid, it has also brought about positive changes to people. As the scale of production of goods increased under the capitalist model, people from all sections of society were able to enjoy consumption of products that were previously considered an luxury for the few. Coming back to the city of Manchester, the numerous cotton mills set up there produced sufficient goods to supply to the local markets and also export the surplus to other countries. The other benefit brought on by the industrial revolution is the overall efficiency of the production process. Terms such as efficiency and quality were given emphasis, the benefits of which are transferred to the end consumer.
And finally, there is an interesting reason why the industrial reforms process was sluggish during the nineteenth century. One of the main reasons for this slowing down is the sprouting up of a new class of people called the bourgeoisie. In the feudal system that preceded the capitalist system, there were only two classes – the landowning class and the peasantry. But with the onset of the industrial revolution, a whole new social class was created, which made the capitalists feel insecure and vulnerable. Hence one could see during the period of the nineteenth century, an attempt by the capitalists to retain their power and influence over the rest, which slowed industrial reform. Moreover, the industrial revolution is precipitated by rapid strides in technological innovation. But scientific advancements that aided industrial production processes happened less frequently during the nineteenth century, which explains the sluggish pace of industrial reform. Moreover, the onset of the First World War in the year 1914 acted as a major stimulus for European powers to accelerate the process of industrialization as a way of gaining advantage over their warring opponents.
Kishlansky, Mark. Civilization in the West. 7th edition, 2008, Longman.