When one considers the effect that the Industrial Revolutions of the 19th and early 20th century, the workers whose backs bore it are seldom reflected upon. It becomes ponderous whether the revolution was a boon or a malediction upon the working class and if they were truly aided by the great rise in standard of living that hallmarked this time. Those who would defend the period would cite pre-Industrialization scenarios, toiling under feudal lords with no future beyond death and an unmarked grave. An opponent of this idea, such as the renowned Karl Marx, would state, 'The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of feudal society has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of struggle in place of the old ones.' (Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto)
Though the great revolutions lead to many hardships for the working class, it can be said that they benefited from it equally. As historian Walter Wallbank noted in his Living World History, there was a significant improvement of the diet of the average worker. 'Meat was a rarity in the 18th century. By 1830 meat and potatoes were staples for the artisan and wheat took the place of coarser rye and oats.' (Wallbank, 491) The cheaper goods that were one of the hallmarks of industrial revolution also served as a significant increase in the standard of living for the working class. Because textiles had dropped drastically in price, the average worker was able to afford them, which were " easily washable and thus more sanitary.' (Wallbank, 491) Departing from morality, David Ricardo suggested his 'Iron Law' of wages. This thesis stipulated that improving the lifestyle of the average worker would harm them in the long run, as higher wages would lead to an increase in the population of the working class and thus a drop in wages. In summary, the Industrial Revolutions brought the common worker several convinces which sought to overhaul the general standard of living.
On the other hand, evidence of abject suffering which the proletariat had to endure would seek to prove that the Industrial Revolution was indeed a curse. While the average life expectancy all around Europe, that of the average factory worker decreased. There were "almost no safety devices on machines, accidents were common.' (Wallbank, 490) Edwin Chadwick?s Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Laboring Population of Great Britain penned in 1842 provides a terrifying look inside the workplaces of the period. 'That the annual loss of life from filth and bad ventilation are greater than the loss from death or wounds in any wars in which the country has been engaged in modern times. That of the 43,000 cases of widowhood, and 112,000 cases of destitute orphanage relieved from the poor's rates in England and Wales alone, it appears that the greatest proportion of deaths of the heads of families occurred from the above specified and other removable causes; that their ages were under 45 years; that is to say, 13 years below the natural probabilities of life as shown by the experience of the whole population of Sweden.' (Chadwick, available online at: http://landow.stg.brown.edu/victorian/history/chadwick2.html) One begins to understand the abject poverty in which these people were forced into when the dwellings they lived in are examined. They almost always consisted of a single room, no plumbing, a haven for infection and disease to run rampant. It is clear to see that the living and working conditions of the working class could best be described as squalid or destitute.
In some situations it is best to allow history to speak for itself. It is quite obvious that the cost of the Industrial Revolution in terms of blood and suffering outweighed the gains in relation to the peoples who served as the vehicle. When viewed on the whole, the gains of the revolution seem miniscule in comparison to the anguish suffered by the...
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