Peasants in the Industrial Revolution

Written by stuart robertson
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Peasants in the Industrial Revolution
Peasants who had worked the field began moving to the cities as the Industrial Revolution began. (Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images)

The Industrial Revolution was the catalyst for many significant changes in the lives of the peasantry, though their place within the socioeconomic order would not change all that much for many years. The Industrial Revolution was the beginning of the modern era, however, and the peasants were the backbone of that revolution.

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Factories

The Industrial Revolution was the impetus for a massive change in the daily lives of the peasantry. On the one hand, new inventions and knowledge concerning agriculture vastly improved crop yields, and reduced the need for so many people to work the land. On the other hand, new inventions, such as looms, created labour shortages in the cities and urban centres, which drew peasants in from the country. Living conditions and wages were often deplorable, however, and the lower class in general continued to suffer.

Changing Power Structures

The Industrial Revolution freed the peasantry, in many ways, from the system of serfdom which had preceded it. What followed, however, was not necessarily any kinder to the peasant. The revolution in farming techniques, technologies and practices made it possible for large-scale land owners, who had the necessary capital and expertise, to buy up large tracts of land and hire the working of the fields out, a system that was not all that different, it turned out, from the serfdom that had come before. The rise of large-scale land owners was not ubiquitous, however, and in certain countries and regions small-scale farming did flourish.

Russia and Eastern Europe

In Russia, and more generally in many parts of eastern Europe, the advent of the Industrial Revolution was much less pronounced, and many of the innovations and technologies that western European peasants benefited from were not seen in eastern Europe. Likewise, eastern European peasants remained under the same sorts of bondage that the Industrial Revolution had freed many of the peasants farther west from. Communism in 1917, and the practice of collectivisation, was devastating for the peasant class, and did little to improve their lives.

Paving the Way

Despite the failures of eastern Europe, the Industrial Revolution and the many innovations that followed did eventually raise the living standard of the peasantry. Unions were especially helpful in raising wages and improving the working and living conditions of labourers. The naked exploitation of lower classes did eventually end, and was a direct result of the lower classes advocating for social change.

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