Revolution was an astronomical term for the rotation of heavenly bodies. It was adopted in 1688 to negatively describe the rapid overthrow of society in an upheaval, but used positively in 1837 by Adolphe Blanqui, the French economist who coined the expression industrial revolution to mean significant industrial transformation or take-off; perhaps inspired by his brother Auguste Blanqui – a revolutionary before Engel’s notion of social revolution came out in 1845.
Industrial Revolution specifically refers to dramatic transformation from agriculture reflected in the demographic pattern of employment, the items of external trade, techniques of production and the channels for providing capital. Contrary to general impression (spread by the Soviet experiment), industrial revolution is too much a drawn-out and complex process to be deliberately and consciously planned and executed by society as such; if only because it cannot be directed by one singular momentary goal. It manifests from multiple spontaneous developments in different areas not amenable to control for one goal. It results from an outburst of initiatives not running in the same direction nor coordinated by the same people at the same time. Its three essential components – capital for industry initiative, commercial facilities and instruments for market viability, and smooth flow of finance – do not lend themselves to deliberate control by a closed group. It could be accelerated by centralised planning, but at the cost of the very wider individual initiative characteristic of such productive revolution. Industrial Revolution has been succeeded by the rise of the service sector – so-called tertiary sector in total output, now dominated by information technology (computer and the internet).
Revolution in the positive sense may not take off if it is isolated rather than be widely accepted and adopted. Inventiveness, investment and wider commercial distribution are required conditions for industrial acceptance on the scale of industrial revolution. Hero invented a steam turbine in Egypt’s Alexandria by 50 BC for remotely opening and closing a temple door in an age that also produced the suction pump, some thermometer and the theodolite. Alexandria not only had a school of engineering by the third century BC, in that city, Dicaearchus already drew a line of latitude from Gibraltar through the Taurus mountains and the Himalayas to the Pacific ocean, and the water wheel was put to industrial use for irrigation and to grind grain. Yet industrial revolution did not reach the scale of wider adoption because invention was not followed by capital investment and commerce on an adequate scale. Over-emphasis of the British industrial revolution tends to overlook these earlier revolutionary developments.
British industrial revolution also benefited in no small measure from years of English spies active in Italy’s mechanised silk and textile factories in Milan, Bologna and other towns where special looms, bobbins, spindles and winders were used and modified. Britain also benfited from copying equipments (gears, pumps) used in German mines and blast furnaces, and from French works processes and Dutch (including Flemish lace makers) textile works.
The mutual dynamic growth of interdependent product lines plus the impacts on productivity and on social, demographic and economic structure was first termed industrialisation at a conference in Lyon in 1970. Interestingly enough, this was later also to apply to extensive, intensive farming aided by mechanised planting and harvesting, scientifically assisted crop rotation, fertilisation, irrigation and packaging – all called high farming. The latter started in northern Italy and was later adopted by the Dutch. It was the coincidence of capital lending covered by the Bank of England and private banks, plus access to markets and commercial facilities like the Clearing House (created in 1773) that enabled innovative ideas to reach the proportions of the industrial revolution in Britain. These made innovative improvements visible to the public who thus adopted them.
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Tags: agriculture, economics, farming, government, history, planning, technology