Dixon and Eberhart, in surveying this period: state: 31Next Page
But while colossal new industrial fortunes were being built large urban populations were being subject to a new type of pauperism. In the early days of competition capitalists used all their power to oppress the laborers, driving wages down to the starvation point.
This is a different story from the one mentioned above, wherein it is said that "opportunities for working in the cities gave the peasant and the serf a chance to escape the obligations to lord and master." Knight, et al., are convinced that 22
real misery does not seem to have been very general on the eve of the Industrial Revolution. Conditions were likely to be worse where the workers were land-less . . . What the new machinery did was to increase the amount of dislocation and the movement of population toward the centers where the workers were subject to more discipline and regimentation.
"Escape the obligations" but fall into misery and regimentation?
The handicraftsmen, instead of rising with the tide of production, found themselves displaced by the new techniques. Tobis traces the trend in these words: 23
The new freedom brought, as the handicraftsmen had feared, a rapid expansion of the larger factories had a diminution of the production by craftsmen. Many skilled artisans fell into need and into a difficult economic position; they were compelled to enter the factories as workers . . . .
Heath is similarly quoted as saying that "a considerable number of the artisans are driven to an unskilled trade through the pressure of economic forces." 24 Heath's study was based on the occupational census at the end of the nineteenth century, after most of this particular kind of dislocation had taken place. Briefs refers the proletarianization which "has gone on at an increasing rate." 25
The social structure of the age of individualism. It has been characteristic of some writers to presume that because one hierarchical organization (the four estates) gave way to another (the industrial-financial system with its many occupational categories) that these new functions brought "up" with them new personnel, people not only new in the function but also new in the status that it represented. The fact that new class alignments around functions took place is not proof that those families long associated with the older economic system necessarily failed to make the transference and to play an equivalent part in controlling the new organization. Anyone familiar with the roster of leading family names in either France, England, or Germany will recognize how swift they were in adjusting themselves to the new situations.
The social class problem in the nineteenth century is confused (1) by political changes and new franchise privileges, (2) by economic changes in every sphere, (3) by changes in fashions, especially in dress, and (4) by the widespread social and philosophical reverberations of the politico-industrial class struggle. In the franchise sphere and in the realm of fashion, democracy led to a certain amount of egalitarianism. At least it seemed so on the surface. Every man had a vote, and every man could, theoretically, dress according to the fashions of the season. However, by watching the social classes at play and at work, what happened to the nobility, the haute bourgeoisie, the middle classes, and the masses of working men can be seen.
One must, of course, be aware of the tremendous amount of propaganda that has been and still is issued in praise of the age of individualism and capitalism. Except for some churchmen and their spokesmen (and except for the socialist criticisms), it has only recently been openly stated that the industrial system failed to bring opportunity to the people. In fact, there exists a school that preaches loudly the virtues of feudalism as over against the modern age. Nothing is revealed and nothing is proved by the glowing and damning words on each side. A search for the truth involves ignoring propaganda for and against the capitalist system and a conscientious seeking after the facts themselves.
21. Dixon and Eberhart, op. cit., p. 459.
22. Melvin M Knight, et al., Economic History of Europe in Modern Times (Boston, 1928) pp. 394 - 395.
23. H. Tobis, Das Mittelstandproblem der Nachkriegszeit und seine Statistische Erfassung (Grimmen, 1930) p. 3; translation ours.
24. Quoted in Sorokin, op. cit., p. 448.
25. Goetz A. Briefs, The Proletariat (New York, 1937) p. 186.