The capitalist system, as a specific way of ordering relationships in the socioeconomic field, won its clearest features when – during the 16th century – mercantile practices established themselves in the European world. Endowed with colonies spread around the world, mainly on American soil, these nations accumulated wealth through the practice of commerce.
In the specificity of its context, we will observe that British history had a series of experiences that made it the first country to transform the features of mercantilist capitalism. Among such historical transformations we can highlight the vanguardism of their liberal policies, the encouragement of development of the bourgeois economy and a set of technological innovations that put England at the forefront of the process now known as Industrial Revolution.
With the Industrial Revolution, the quality of labor relations in the manufacturing environment changed significantly. Before, artisans grouped themselves in the craft corporation environment to produce manufactured products. All artisans fully mastered the stages of the production process of a particular product. In this way, the worker was aware of the value, the time spent and the skill required in manufacturing a certain product. That is, he knew the value of the good he produced.
The technological innovations offered, mainly from the 18th century, provided greater speed to the process of transformation of raw materials. New automated machines, usually powered by steam engine technology, were responsible for this kind of improvement. However, in addition to speeding up processes and reducing costs, the machines also transformed labor relations in the manufacturing environment. The workers went through a process of specialization of their workforce, so they only had responsibility and control over a single part of the industrial process.
In this way, the worker was no longer aware of the value of the wealth he produced. He started to receive a salary for which he was paid to perform a certain function that did not always correspond to the value of what he was able to produce. This type of change was also only possible because the very formation of a bourgeois class – armed with a large accumulation of capital – began to control the means of production in the economy.
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Access to raw materials, purchase of machinery and availability of land represented some modalities of this control of the industrial bourgeoisie over the means of production. These conditions favorable to the bourgeoisie also sparked contradictions between them and the workers. Poor working conditions, low wages and the lack of other resources encouraged the appearance of the first strikes and workers' revolts that later gave rise to the movements unions.
Over time, the forms of action of industrial capitalism took on other features. In the second half of the 19th century, electricity, rail transport, the telegraph and the combustion engine gave rise to the so-called Second Industrial Revolution. From then on, capitalist advances significantly expanded its range of action. During this same period, Asian and African nations were included in this process with the outbreak of imperialism (or neocolonialism), led by the largest industrial nations of the time.
During the 20th century, other innovations brought different aspects to capitalism. Industrialist Henry Ford and engineer Frederick Winslow Taylor encouraged the creation of methods where time spent and the efficiency of the production process were increasingly improved. In recent years, some scholars claim that we are living in the Third Industrial Revolution. In it, the rapid integration of markets, information technology, microelectronics and nuclear technology would be its main achievements.
The Industrial Revolution was responsible for numerous changes that can be evaluated for both their negative and positive characteristics. Some of the technological advances brought about by this experience have brought greater comfort to our lives. On the other hand, the environmental issue (especially with regard to global warming) brings out the need to rethink our way of life and our relationship with nature. In this way, we cannot fix the urban way of life and integrated to the demand of the industrial world as a way, an immutable feature of our daily life.
By Rainer Sousa
Graduated in History
Would you like to reference this text in a school or academic work? Look:
SOUSA, Rainer Gonçalves. "Industrial Revolution"; Brazil School. Available in: https://brasilescola.uol.com.br/historiag/revolucao-industrial-1.htm. Accessed on June 27, 2021.