Towards the end of the medieval era, feudalism was on the decline as an economic system. The Renaissance and other developments furthered the process. The growth in trade and the rise of new towns and cities had stimulated the production of manufactured goods. Traditional methods were inadequate to meet the need of time.
In the latter half of the 18th century, on this background began a series of changes that revolutionised production techniques and organisation. These developments resulted in the rise of an industrial economy, a new model altogether. The term ‘Industrial Revolution’ is used to describe these developments. The word ‘revolution’ is used since the changes were rapid and had far-reaching effects on society.
The Industrial revolution primarily began from the textile sector in the 1760s but soon spread during the 19th century to other sectors of the British economy like the Iron & steel sector and other consumer goods. Moreover, the 19th century also saw the Industrial revolution spreading to other parts of Europe, e.g. France, Prussia, the USA & Japan in the 1860s (second phase of the industrial revolution).
It took almost a century to bring a complete change in the methods of mass production. Many argue that though the Industrial revolution had profound consequences for the social, political and economic global order, it was more evolutionary (gradual change) than revolutionary.
Factors responsible for the industrial revolution :
1. Technological advances:
Machines began to take over some of the work of men and animals in the production of goods and commodities. This is also a reason the Industrial Revolution is said to be the beginning of a ‘machine age’.
New machines came to be increasingly used in the factory system in place of manual power and simple tools.
Steam engines made it possible to produce goods on a huge scale. Machines run by men, animals, or water power, could not compete with those driven by the steam engine.
The Power loom’s invention made it possible for England to produce a more delicate and cheaper thread than any that could be produced with older techniques.
Cotton Gin now could separate the seeds from cotton over three hundred times faster than that by hand.
As demands for machines grew, blast furnaces became busier. The invention of the blast furnace and later the methods of turning the low-grade iron into steel meant that now English industries could produce steel at a much cheaper cost. England had plenty of iron and coal resources to meet their demands, which aided the cause.
2. Political factors:
Politically, Britain’s colonial expansionist policies provided an assured market for the goods produced in these industries. It aided the rise of the British capitalist class, apart from providing an assured supply of raw materials. Moreover, the British political policies emphasised the rule of law, the right to property and a Laissez-faire approach, ensuring a safe political environment for the rise of Industries. Such conducive political factors were missing in South Asia and China with their largely monarchial set-up and little emphasis on the rule of law or right to property.
3. Economic affairs:
Europe and primarily Britain dealt with a high cost of labour which was often ten times higher than its South Asian counterpart. This increased production cost and forced them to look for methods to increase labour productivity, including mechanisation. However, such push factors were not visible in South Asia or China with an abundant, cheap supply of labour and raw materials. Moreover, with its ample supply of cheap good quality coal near the surface, Britain provided an assured supply of energy sources critical for the industrial revolution. Such reserves were missing in South Asia or China.
4. Social and cultural factors:
The enlightenment thinking often focused upon rationality and reason to pursue material growth as an end in itself. However, South Asia saw the rise of several culture or religions which emphasised the otherworldly beliefs. Moreover, with its emphasis on Confucianism, Chinese society emphasised textual knowledge and competence over material growth.
Though the advent of industrial revolution in Britain involved a series of technological advancements, its rise was facilitated by a variety of factors that prevailed in Europe but not in South Asia or China.
England as the first site of industrial revolution
Because of specific geographical and political factors, 18th century England was most favourably placed for an industrial revolution;
Through overseas trade, including the trade in slaves, the Kingdom of Britain had accumulated vast profits, which could provide the necessary capital to finance such ventures. In the trade rivalries of European countries, England had emerged as a winner. It had acquired colonies all over the world that ensured a regular supply of raw materials.
After the disappearance of the serfdom system, people were no longer tied to the land and master. They were free to do any job they could find. In the enclosure movement during the 18th century, big land-owners consolidated their land-holdings while small peasants were ousted. This created an unemployed on a vast scale; there was no shortage of labour to work in the factories.
As a result of the revolution of the 17th century, a stable system of government had been established. The government was no longer under the domination of the feudal classes. The capitalist class acquired more political power, and the danger of government interference was significantly reduced.
England had plenty of natural resources, such as iron and coal, essential for industries. This saved England from many difficulties the other regions faced. By the 18th century, England had developed a large shipping industry and had no transportation problem.
No other country enjoyed all these advantages at the time. While some regions suffered from a lack of capital or natural resources others had, an unfavourable political system. Many of the European countries had agrarian economies and lived under traditional political systems. Some regions like Italy and Germany were not even united and suffered from many economic restrictions.
Impact of the industrial revolution
An immediate consequence of the rise of the new industrial sector in Britain was that it gave a significant push to new Urban centres. However, this urbanisation was predominantly unplanned and marked by the proliferation of slums, lack of safe water supply, sanitation, and air pollution. All of this negatively affected the standard of living in these urban industrial centres, even though the production of consumer commodities increased significantly.
Growth of Railways:
Industrialisation in Britain also brought about a rapid expansion of the Railway network as a chief instrument to transport goods and raw materials cheaply over long distances. By 1860, Britain had a 6000-mile long Railway network. Moreover, the spread of the industrial revolution resulted in the rapid rise in the Railway network across major industrial economies.
The colonial rivalry and search for colonies intensified during the 1850s and 1900 between major European powers such as Britain, France, Italy, Germany, and even emerging Asian country like Japan in search of an assured market for their industrial economies.
There were changes in farming methods to produce more food. The cropping pattern also changed. The cash crops provided raw materials for industries and started gaining prominence. New farm machinery was invented. It included the steel plough and harrow for breaking the ground, the mechanical drill for seeding and the horse-drawn cultivator to replace the traditional hoe. There were also machines for reaping and threshing. The new methods of crop rotation, land consolidation came into practice.
The need to transport raw materials and manufactured products led to the improvement of roads and digging of canals in England and other countries. Mc Adam devised the method of making pakka or ‘macadamized’ roads. The canals were a big help in providing cheaper transportation, especially after steamboats came into use.
Growth of workers union:
A politically major push was seen toward the rise of militant trade unionism. The working class rose in protest against low wages, long work hours and the absence of pensions. Moreover, the working class also demanded political voting rights in Britain 1830s onwards with the Chartist movement.
Ethics of consumerism:
Industrial Revolution also gave a boost to the ethic of consumerism and upheld it as a valuable social ideal that was respected in western societies.
Impact of the industrial revolution in India :
Before the beginning of the industrial revolution, India used to shine in the world chart for its cotton textile industry. Its cloth used to get exported to different parts of the world, including today’s Europe, America, the Middle East, etc. India is documented to have dominated the world’s cotton textile markets during the 1750s. The production in India was of high quality and low price. It is not a matter of surprise that at the end of the 17th century, Indian calicoes were popular in Britain. However, things changed after the industrial revolution.
The discovery of steam power and its industrial use from the year 1815 created a threat to the Indian textile industry. The spinning mule and power loom became more efficient and effective because of steam power. It reduced the cost of British cotton by 85% and made it internationally competitive. By the year 1820, Britain had become the leading producer of cloth in the world.
The industrial revolution was not without severe consequences for society. Farmers were now forced to grow cash crops in place of food crops. Eventually, this resulted in awfully deadly famines in the subcontinent.
To increase production, the factory owners used to hire unskilled labour, particularly women and children, to run the machine. At the tender age of 6 years, many children were already working 14 hrs a day in factories.
Due to the industrial revolution, urban cities started getting overcrowded day by day.
However, there were also some positive effects of the industrial revolution. The introduction of the assembly line, usage of electricity, development of railroads etc., contributed to a faster and more economical production of goods. Funding for schools and the enactment of child labour laws also came into place eventually.
As a result, the industrial revolution enhanced both economic production and the new lifestyle of common people. It introduced modernity to a traditional society. Over the period, the impact of the industrial revolution has not faded and only becomes more pronounced as we move ahead.
To sum up, in the words of Karl Marx,
“The treasures captured outside Europe by undisguised looting, enslavement, and murder floated back to the mother country and were turned into capital.”