Nature of Industrial Society

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Nature of Industrial Society

Capital accumulation in the countryside and erosion of common communal rights led to significant class formation within the peasantry in most areas of Europe. All over Europe, the development of capitalism and modern class society meant the breakup of peasant societies and the differentiation of the peasantry into classes ranging from the peasant petty bourgeoisie to the rural proletariat. More than anywhere else in Europe, the peasantry in Russia became responsive to political appeals and played a significant role in the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the socialist regime. With the development of capitalism in Europe that rural conflicts became subsumed into the fundamental dichotomy of Capital and Labour, even as peasant agriculture remained alive and the landlords remained privileged strata of European societies.

This entire process of social restructuring that ensured a smooth and profitable  integration  of the landed aristocracy into the capitalist economy and bourgeois society was helped along by the political victory of the land-owning gentry, for example, in the ‘Glorious Revolution’ after the English Civil War, followed by the land enclosures of the 18th century. Only from the 1880 ’s that we can seriously speak of the declining wealth or political influence of the landed gentry in England. Landlordism actually vanished in Russia with the destruction of capitalism itself.

The second half of the nineteenth century can be characterized as the age of the bourgeoisie in Western Europe, although in the eastern parts the bourgeoisie having attained its own identity and wealth, was yet to exert its hegemony. Throughout Western Europe, the wealthiest and the most influential section of the bourgeoisie were now bankers, factory owners and mine owners, i.e. capitalists particularly after the 1850’s. The merchants lost their eminence as their class gained hegemony. Commercial bourgeoisie invested in urban property and land participated as actors on the political stage.

The virtues of the capitalist ethos- individualism, thrift, hard work, competition, use of money power, family, valued basically promoted by the middle class and came to dominate industrial society as a whole. The bourgeoisie also included the professional salaried component that grew with the growth of bureaucracies, the sectors of health and medicine, law and order, education, publishing, printing and mass media, and culture as an industry, with a new system of patronage linked to mass production.

This entire bourgeoisie shared a critical distance from the landed aristocracy and the monarchies in their countries as they grew in strength and significance, and despite the clear differentiation among themselves were united in their opposition to privilege and despotism. Social democracy and the women’s movement, which questioned the status quo, were born as a result of these.

Numbers increased rapidly with the expansion of services of various kinds under capitalism: Retailing, marketing, distribution, banking, and finance. This led to the emergence of lower middle class. The lower middle class, though highly stratified, can be divided into two main groups – the classic petty bourgeoisie of shopkeepers and small businessmen, and the new white-collar salaried occupations, mostly clerks but also commercial travelers, schoolteachers, and certain shop assistants.

They stood for the broad features of the capitalist economy, strongly defended the right to private property and their goals were to aspire to bourgeois status and climb higher in the social ladder. They did not agitate to overthrow the bourgeois social order or to challenge the right to private property, even as they suffered the consequences of increasing concentration of production and trade, and lost out badly in the ensuing competition. In the labor market to their situation was precarious.

Industrialization may have reduced the barriers between the landed classes and the wealthy middle classes, but it sharpened the differences between the middle class and the labor class. This is one of the reasons for their emerging as a political and social class despite their varied composition. The city and social life reflected the strong division between the rich and poor. They had different spaces in the city to live in, and the amenities and the facilities were quite different.

The industrial revolution destroyed the traditional world of the new factory worker. The new worker was now entirely dependent on a cash wage, subjected to a totally different work rhythm dictated by the factory discipline and the machine. Working conditions were terrible. The new industrial working class bore the brunt of the early industrial growth. Long hours of work (15-16 hours, later 12 hours), unending grind and terrible behavior by the supervisors often led to series of spontaneous worker riots.

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