Posted: March 18th, 2023
industrialization that started in the early eighteenth century and in Britain and swept first Europe and then spread through North America and then most of the countries of whole world by the turn of the twentieth century completely changed the life style of the human kind. Domestic and international relations adapted to a new order that set the tone for globalization in an era that brought along better, faster and more effective ways of transportation, increased the migration of the working force to a level never seen before in the history of humanity and forced nations to change their policies regarding international relationships. Some historians considered that the technological changes produced by the invention of the steam engine and the mechanical means of production that were set in place in manufactories to name only a few created the opportunity for an industrial revolution to take place.
The debates over the benefits and the disadvantages brought along by the industrial era in the early eighteenth century continue today among historians, anthropologists, sociologists and other scholars and scientists concerned with the topic. Beyond certain indisputable facts that indicate the level of development western countries and their trading partners reached through industrialization, there is the problem of other parts of the world that remained behind and did not benefit at all from the radical changes the industrialization produced in the early nineteenth century.
Ray Kiely tackles the subject of industrialization from the point-of-view of development, progress and growth and analyses the pros and cons of the phenomena of industrialization in this context, in his book Industrialization and Development: A Comparative Analysis. His analysis of the literature based on the topic of the industrialization, from both sides provides an overview of the debates over its positive aspects and more especially, it provides an interesting point-of-view related to the policies used as a result of the industrialization and their results on the generations to come.
Most scholars agree that industrialization cannot be analyzed out of the context of social and political change. Looking for the sources of industrialization, Kiely quotes Eisenstadt as one of the theorists that considered the British model one that could be replicated all over the world: “Historically, modernization is the process of change toward those types of social, economic and political systems that have developed in Western Europe and North America from the seventeenth century”(Eisenstadt, cited by Kiely, pag. 25). The common denominator: technological advancement of the production means and transportation applied differently in the European countries, where it first started and spread. The particularities of each country made the modernization model uneven and produced imbalances that led to dramatic outcomes by the early twentieth century. Clive Trebilcock points out that cultural, political and social differences as well as human and material resources created disproportionate differences between countries and classes: “clearly enough, industrialization did not possess the same value wherever it touched. A machine-shop in Budapest did not possess the same significance as a machine-shop in Birmingham or Berlin. Despite the outward similarities, industrialization in Europe was a phenomenon of very variable pace and intensity, offering radically different prospects of wealth and power as it crossed frontiers and resource areas” (Trebilcock, 1). The decline of imperialism and the end of a colonial system produced changes on the world map as well as shifts in power and domination, producing the need for new strategies. The United States became to rise economically, providing an industrial Eden for those who were escaping famine in their home countries. Some European countries concentrated exclusively on their domestic growth and problems brought by the shortening of the working force though the aging of the population, while others concentrated on the recovery of past imperial glory, craving for world domination. As emphasized by Trebilcock, by the beginning of the First World War, after having overcome their lag before Great Britain, Germany and on the second place, France, came to join the British among the most important economic European powers. Other countries, like Russia, the Habsburg Empire, and Italy moved slower toward modernization and development. The rapid pace of industrialization came upon the slower pace of the feudal socio-economic relations that were still very much in place in certain parts of these regions. Spain and Hungary remained among the last to overcome the feudal era thanks to the industrial change, by the outbreak of the First World War (Trebilcock). Considering the different levels of intensity the industrialization came to have during the eighteenth century and up until the First World War and the variations in the way modernization and a global trade system manifested in different parts of Europe, an industrial revolution may be considered an exaggeration in terms of its achievement at a continental level. “it is obvious that nothing so monolithic as ‘an industrial revolution in Europe’ occurred in the nineteenth century. The experience of industrialization was most certainly not uniform between countries; instead, there was an immense variety of growth rate, technological advance, and managerial expertise” (idem, 2). Feudal and Capitalist societies coexisted for a while after the industrialization phenomenon spread in Europe, producing inequalities and major differences not only between nations, but also between different regions of the same country.
Trebilcock quotes R.W. Goldsmith in his assessment of the situation in Russia, among the huge European economies that were left behind in the dawn of the industrial era: “still an underdeveloped country”(Goldsmith, quoted by Trebilcock, 205) in 1917, at the time of the Revolution. If the autocracy, the feudal structure that left little place for development and modernization kept Russia from a real advancement due to industrialization until the Revolution, the situation in Germany was completely different. Considered by some as the model of everything against backwardness, by the early twentieth century, the German Empire had its obstacles to overcome during the eighteenth century. By the mid eighteenth century, there was a poor movement between the states that composed the German Empire, exchange of any nature being rendered almost impossible. Feudal social relations in states that were functioning as mini-autocracies were still functioning in the eighteenth century. These conditions only increased the separatism promoted by such relations between states and cities, making progress difficult and encouraging uneven development throughout the empire. Moreover, war between the German states kept the empire away from real progress: Deprived of the ‘commercial revolution’ which had provided some of the basic materials for British industrialization, the German states forfeited the improvements in commercial skills, transportation, and the free movement of goods which it could have been expected to encourage. Yet if location discouraged the trader, it attracted the soldier all too effectively. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries war appeared as an endemic phenomenon for the German states, imposing high defence costs on strained budgets, souring relations between governments, and thus the prospects for economic integration, and creating -especially in the Thirty Years War — a measure of urban devastation which greatly limited the possibilities for the growth of an indigenous bourgeoisie (Trebilcock, 24). Still, toward the second half of the eighteenth century, the German states will gradually start to allow investment in the military in sectors other than the military, such as the industry. They started by focusing on the improving of that transportation means between the states and then spread the toward the development of industrial means destined not only to produce armament, but also mass consumption goods.
Russia and Germany, two major powers involved in both World Wars were two examples that always provided material for historians, sociologists and politicians who analyzed the effects of the industrialization at global level, in the context of the tremendous changes that marked the turn of the twentieth century. Foreign policies had to take into account such examples since the explosion of the industrial era came to culminate with the First World War. Richard Sylla and Gianni Toniolo consider the early nineteenth century as the period that definitively marked the changes brought by the industrialization: “Industrialization, a synonym for modern economic growth that focuses on its essential ingredient, changed forever the ways in which people lived and worked, usually for the better but not without attendant political, social, and ideological strains” (Sylla, Toniolo, 2).
Kiely, Ray. Industrialization and Development: A Comparative Analysis. London: UCL Press, 1998
Sylla, Richard, and Gianni Toniolo, eds. Patterns of European Industrialization: The Nineteenth Century. London: Routledge, 1992
Trebilcock, Clive. The Industrialization of the Continental Powers, 1780-1914. London: Longman, 1981
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