The Industrial Revolution changed life as we know it forever. As Robert Marks points out in “The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative from the Fifteenth to the Twenty-First Century”, the Industrial Revolution replaced what he terms our “biological” society, that is, one that was dependent on energy produced by humans themselves, with one that was able to function in an artificial context, using tools like coal, steel, and other artificial sources of energy and production. But can it be considered an international phenomenon?
Adam Smith provides a concise overview on the nature of the Industrial Revolution in “The Wealth of Nations”, in which he explains that through specialization and early assembly line-like techniques, workers could produce exponentially more goods than before, leading to exponentially more wealth. However, while this increased concentration of wealth had repercussions on a global scale, fueling agricultural production in the American South, for example, to feed the cotton mills of Manchester or depressing the traditionally-oriented cotton trade in India, it should be noted that while the Industrial Revolution caused certain people to prosper, the conditions in many of the industrial centers, for example, Manchester, were utterly inhumane. Engels himself would probably argue that the Industrial Revolution led to further suffering and a separation of the classes, causing the rise of a proletariat which, as he outlined with Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto, would ultimately rise up against their masters. It is noteworthy that Edouard Bernstein, a contemporary of Engels, writing at a much later date, would argue that Engels himself had abandoned the idea of an actual uprising, and toward the end believed that the conditions of social warfare had changed alongside the conditions of actual warfare, and that ultimately, the revolution would not come as a military action, but rather through social action. Indeed, in the United Kingdom, it would appear that this is what has actually at least partially happened, with the acceptance of trade unions and the now long-standing system of social welfare, including the National Health Service, which have become part and parcel of the country’s way of life. This can, however, be directly contrasted with the United States, where while some of these protections exist, they exist in a much more limited form. One might even make the argument that, because the United States was never an economy solely dedicated to industrialization per se, that they did not have an organized proletariat large enough to force such changes, while the United Kingdom, with its concentrations of industrial workers in cities such as Manchester and Birmingham, did.
The question as to whether industrialization is a global phenomenon, however, is a thorny one. There can be little doubt, for example, that India was affected by the rise of textile mills in England and the decrease in purchase of their cotton that came with it. But they did not react by building textile mills themselves. Indeed, today, India is considered an “’industrializing” nation and an “’emerging” economy, much as perhaps Manchester would be seen if transplanted from 1850 to modern Punjab today. So it would seem that, while there are global repercussions of any industrialization, it also does not lead directly to immediate industrialization of all nations. Certainly, most parts of Sub-Saharan Africa today are still light-years behind modern India and China, for example, who also remain behind the nations that were first to industrialize, though they are catching up, as many of those nations are now switching to service-based economies rather than production-based ones in light of now, in turn, being able to purchase goods more cheaply from India and China.
We see quite clearly that industrialization is a phase that countries go through, but while they may be affected by industrialization in other countries, it does not immediately spurn industrialization within them. The factors that govern industrialization are quite complex, and certainly merit further study.
Bernstein, Edouard. “Evolutionary Socialism.” (1899). Retrieved from
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Engels, Friedrich. “Industrial Manchester, 1844.” The Condition of Working Class
England in 1844. (1844). Retrieved from
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1844engels.asp on 04/08/2013.
Marks, Robert. The Origins of the Modern World: A Global and Ecological Narrative
Littlefield Publishers. (2007).
Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. (1776). Retrieved from
http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/adamsmith-summary.asp on 4/08/2013.