Since its start roughly two centuries ago, the Industrial Revolution, particularly from 1780 to 1850, has peaked the interests of scholars, historians, and economists alike. More specifically, the era itself sparked the ongoing debate as to whether or not these technological advancements and ideas of industrial capitalism attributed to the degradation of the laboring classes, as most history textbooks outline. Though there are players for both teams siding with either optimism or pessimism, it is revealed in an essay from Boyson that the pessimistic opinions towards the working conditions, pay, and overall treatment of the laboring classes have overpowered much of what the general public sees and thus believes..
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However, it is also exemplified through his essay that these are not the only claims to be made or heard, and that in the debate between optimism and pessimism, much statistical evidence exists supporting the former. Through this essay and the works and opinions of others, it becomes clearer to see that though the Industrial Revolution in Britain from 1780 to 1850 has become synonymous with overall pessimistic views and statistics, this essay will highlight that they are simply unfounded, as there is far more statistical evidence, tangible legislation, and professional historical analysis that airs to the side of optimism.
For any reader or member of the general population to not only make a decision on which side bears more resemblance to what actually happened during this time period and at whose expense, one must first examine and evaluate both sides. However, almost every history textbook, including our own, has already educated much of todays society on the harshness and cruelty synonymous with the Industrial Revolution and its laborers. Marked as a time period filled with capitalism making the rich richer and the poor poorer, this era has effectively been stained, but was there a reason behind this? Of course. The working conditions for most were in fact awful. Legislation to protect most of what went on did not yet exist, creating an environment that was not only unsafe, but at times inhumane. For some, though, these claims went further.
In The Communist Manifesto curated by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, laborers in the Industrial Revolution were spoken of in a way that insinuated that they were being taken advantage of by big business and privately owned factories thanks to the idea of industrial capitalism, and even mentioned the world slavery as a likeness to their treatment and wages.
They summarize This process has, to an ever greater degree, ruined the old middle class, especially the small handicrafts men; it has entirely transformed the condition of the workers (Marx, Engels, The Communist Manifesto 43). Not only do they believe that the Industrial Revolution came at the expense of the laboring classes, but that this era in particular was in fact the start of this kind of treatment and degradation. While these opinions and more may have merit, this seems to be a reiteration of the only opinions many have heard throughout past history classes and a good deal of primary sources from photos to journals and beyond. However, if this was the only argument to be made here, the debate on this topic surely would not have lasted more than two centuries: there is simply more to be said and more to be learned.
Despite all of the negativity that surrounds the Industrial Revolution itself, one must consider the world without it. This is what many historians and economists have done in defense of not only the revolution but of the workers behind it. However, this essay remains focused on the time period at hand, as the scholars who believe that there was more to this time period than capitalism and for lack of a better word, slavery.
Boysons essay opened the door to the possibility that valid viewpoints and statistics existed for the opposing side, pointing out positive working conditions in some of the newer factories as well as more fair pay by some of the bigger businesses after some time. He states that It was the same improvement in the standard of living, large factories, [and] growing urbanization which enabled the new working classes to improve their conditions by trade unions, co-operative societies, and self-help(Boyson, Industrialization and the Life of the Lancashire Factory Worker 85). Not only is he implying from this statement that these laborers played a part in something now much larger than they were in the time period in which they worked, but through the conditions they faced they were able to gain not only responsibility, but a voice and a purpose.
In addition, Ure is known for his opinions on industrial capitalism and the opportunities he believes the laboring classes were given to escape rural life and truly economic standstill. According to Ure, there just seemed to be no growth being made by these classes prior to the Industrial Revolution, and his views on the revolution itself are that there were countless positive effects that came out of the mechanization of Britain during this particular time period.
He stated in his work The Philosophy of the Manufacturers that The constant aim and effect of scientific improvement in manufactures are philanthropic, as they tend to relieve the workmen At every step of each manufacturing process described in this volume the humanity of science will be manifest….(Ure, Philosophy of Manufacturers 1). Overall, these points and more within the works themselves have made not only a strong case in favor of the Industrial Revolution, but a seemingly stronger case for the working class citizens who took part in such an enormous improvement to society.
In conclusion, although some argue that European governments may have made a point to degrade and take advantage of the laboring classes, the side that airs toward optimism is simply the one that best explains the environment surrounding the Industrial Revolution from 1780 to 1850 in Britain. Of course, looking at the bigger picture of the entire Industrial Revolution, there were many advancements made that benefited an even larger amount of people, so to compare the benefits of those who were not in the working class to those who were is simply apples to oranges.
These laboring classes could not have been looking for large changes to their life, but simply opportunity. A chance to migrate and make something of themselves, find a craft or service that they performed well, and thus make a life for either themselves or their family. Of course there were pieces of the era that were poorly acted upon and at times took advantage of these laborers, and that long list of facts on the opposing side is simply why this debate continues and why historians and economists continue to learn more about the environment in which they are studying. However, upon further review and careful evaluation of both sides of this debate, optimism prevails not only in fact but in overall scope: these laborers were given opportunities they may not have had before, some were given a craft, others were given hope, and in the end they all gave something to a bigger picture of industrialization, new legislation, a better nation and world as a whole.
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