Invention of the Masses: The Consequences of the Industrial Revolution

Today, we are going to talk about how the capital and capitalism were originated, the human accumulations in the cities, in which circumstances did the commerce emerge, as well as how it was found out that the exploitation of other human beings could be a very profitable activity. We are going to walk through all the moments and circumstances when the urban population exploded, along with the technological revolution in the 19th century, and the new philosophical notions which started to value the human being as part of a social mass.

Gin Lane - William Hogarth, 1751




This century was also a golden age for inventors, without any doubt; the European and American industrial environment was boosted by imaginative inventors who provided ideas in order to change our world. Inventors with a name to whom we can attribute the construction of objects which created new technological "species", such as sewing machines, combustion engines or lightbulbs. In this post, we want also to focus on an intangible invention: the invention of the masses. Human masses, collectives formed by a large number of individuals who gathered in the same geographical area, around mining exploitations, industrial centers or in a city. It has been highly emphasized the great importance of the invention of "citizenship", a positive concept against the system of "orders" of the Ancient RĂ©gime, encouraged by the French Revolution. The citizenship forged the new emerging bourgeoisie in the 19th century states, but the social revolution is uncompleted if we don't mention the hundreds of thousands of people who joined the industrial revolution as apprentices or masters, such as factory workers without any money or net worth and the so-called proletariats, and as inhabitants of the new urban agglomerations which grew exponentially throughout the century. It can't be understood the industrial revolution if we don't take into account those human masses that were made up of the bourgeoisie and proletariats, two groups involved in the same industrial adventure.

The first British industrial revolution in the 18th century mobilized large collectives of people, many of them came from the rural areas to settle in the new urban agglomerations. But that mobilization was nothing if we compare it with the demographic growth in the 19th century and the increase in the number of industrial agglomerations. An interesting thing about this "population explosion" that took place in the 19th century was that it was accompanied by a spectacular increase in industrial production and the incorporation of new scenarios where the masses could contemplate the liturgy of the progress, successive universal exhibitions which started to take place in 1851. They were "universal" because the industry and its products were already the expression of universal human creativity and also because they were for everyone: some people would see them as very precious objects; other people would admire them as a product of collective work.

The process of demographic transformation and concentration could be observed in the increase of the population in cities. London contained less than a million inhabitants in 1800 and at the end of the century, its population reached 4.5 million people. In the same period, Paris went from having half a million to 2,700,000 inhabitants. Starting from less than 200,000 people, Berlin reached 3 million at the end of the 19th century. But all of these numbers were beaten by the ones from the city of New York. In 1800, New York only counted with 70,000 inhabitants in 1800, and at the end of the century, New York's population was about 3.5 million people. This demographic rise is a direct consequence of the improvements in hygiene that are reflected in the decline in deaths during childbirth and in the infant mortality rate; however, the boost of the urban population was not only fed by the vegetative growth, but also by the emigration influx, the collapse of the rural population due to industry and commerce's pressure, and by the attractiveness of emigrating to America in the 19th century.

The masses traveled, they needed means of transport, houses, they desired industrial products. The industry was the motor of those desires. The masses had formed at the rhythm of the enchant of progress. Masses and industry nurtured one another throughout the century, and at the end of the century, they formed a formidable mechanism with a life of its own. The production of elements that expressed the basic needs of the time increased radically. Some of these basic needs were hard coal and steel, and society was provided with hard coal and steel. The construction of the railway demanded a large quantity of iron and, in fact, Great Britain was producing 2.5 million metric tons of soft iron in 1850, in comparison with the 60,000 metric tons of steel; this metal was only used in the manufacture of cutlery and tools that needed a more resistant and stronger material. Henry Bessemer (1813-1898) introduced a way of obtaining steel in larger quantities, consisting in insufflating air in order for the iron to acquire the perfect amount of carbon and achieving this way the hardness of the steel and in 1856 he was able to register several patents to industrially exploit this technique. From 1860, the production of Bessemer steel was counted in millions of metric tons; the abundance of this metal allowed the construction of better railways, more effective traction geared machines, of larger and more resistant boat hulls, wider and cleaner constructions... The masses now disposed of their first revolutionary material: the steel.

At the same time as this explosion of steel production was occurring, a harder and more malleable metal, another social phenomenon was being developed for the masses, the zoological and botanical gardens to approach the fauna and flora to the citizens of the city. There were also industrial exhibitions to show people the local production of machinery and objects for their pleasure. Those exhibitions were not enough to satisfy the curiosity of both the people who loved and the people who hated the industrial environments. Between 1850 and 1900, near a hundred of the so-called "universal" exhibitions were inaugurated, although the main objective of these was not the realization but the intention. However, some of these exhibitions were truly international and managed to strongly influence the technology of the age thanks to the inventor's disposal of a complete overview of the innovations that technology had achieved in each of the countries which attended that gathering. Furthermore, the exhibitions became mass phenomena, the exhibition halls were flooded by attendants who could observe the progress of the technology at the time. The first universal exhibition in London took place in 1851, in the Crystal Palace, a fantastic building located in Hyde Park, made of iron and glass, designed by a greenhouse builder and botanist called Joseph Paxton (1801-1865). The structure was so fragile and delicate that the most pessimistic ones thought that the strength of the wind would destroy it. Against all the odds, Queen Victoria inaugurated the exposition on May 1st, 1851 and it turned out to be a great success. Although the bourgeoisie always saw with a lack of trust the presence of the workers around such an exclusive place as Hyde Park was, the masses behaved pretty well, both the London people and other people who came from other parts in England and France. Almost 14,000 exhibitors filled up the hall, half of them came outside Great Britain. The British got a double surprise: first, they could see the vitality of the American world, which showed an unsuspected industrial development in just two generations, and secondly, the German states, vying for joining the industrialized nations' club. The visitors were counted as millions, the masses attended the call of the flutists of progress. Later on, a lot of cities would imitate the exhibition in London; New York, Paris, Vienna, Philadelphia and Chicago became privileged places for these type of events where people celebrated the important dates in history, such as the discovery of America, the independence of the nations and the dates of the successful revolutions, such as the French.

Were the masses satisfied with the results of the industrial revolution? The literature and philosophy of the age reflected the convulsions from the less favored part of the society by a wild capitalism, by trade at any price, by the transformation of the labor force into goods, basic ingredient in every interpretation of a liberal economy. At the same time that slavery and servitude were being plotted, in Europe appeared a new proletariat class, exhausted, that disrupted the order of the industrial revolution, the ideal of the satisfied citizen and the Apollonian image of the fair competition among the most cunning businessmen. The most outstanding revolts against the authority took place in France, the place of the revolutionary tradition, and the events in 1830 deprived definitely the Bourbon Family from the nation's throne. In the following years, the rebellion in 1848 finished with the Orleans, who had encouraged the liberal enrichment against the majority's will, increasing the discontent within the proletariat class. Besides the fate of those movements, that same year, a German philosopher called Karl Marx wrote a manifesto to explain the destiny of those social movements, a consequence, from his point of view, of the transformation of the labour force into simple goods, considering the workers as economical assets of the processes of production. Influenced by pupils of philosopher Hegel, Marx extracted from the liberal economic doctrine, a series of conclusions that discouraged the satisfied bourgeoisie class. His interpretation of the industrial development supposed that the societies were dynamic units subjected to tensions, called "class struggles", encouraged by a concept included in all liberal doctrines, the existence of a "capital gain" obtained from the proletariat's work. In their convulsions and revolts, the masses found in Marx a great interpreter and they were for him the stimulus for his interpretations.

The Communists League was constituted by a lot of German artisans who had to emigrate due to the new forms of industrial production. Once the guilds were dismantled, the new industries needed some sort of "line production" workforce that didn't demand skilled artisans; lots of them became part of the new class that was called the "proletariat". These people organized in lots of cities from the newly industrialized countries, such as Paris or London, and finally, they formed the communist movement, joined by Karl Marx together with his friend Friedrich Engels in 1847. The demand for writing a manifesto in all languages spoken in the industrialized countries, shows the implication degree of these two thinkers in the communist movement, ending as inspirers of the communism and truly intellectual leaders. The mass phenomena acquired a new dimension which consolidated throughout the 20th century in the apotheosis before the Second World War.

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