History Derailed: Central and Eastern Europe in the Long Nineteenth Century

By Ivan T. Berend | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
SOCIAL CHANGES
“Dual” and “Incomplete” Societies

INDUSTRIALIZATION AND SOCIAL RESTRUCTURING
IN THE WEST

REVOLUTIONS OR RADICAL sociopolitical reforms and industrialization caused dramatic changes in traditional societies. The nobility, the former leading elite, lost its privileges and had to adjust to a new capitalist market economy. Its “natural” political and military power was eliminated or severely weakened. A new elite emerged in the form of the banking and industrial bourgeoisie, representing an overwhelming economic power. A similar transformation took place in the lower layers of the society: the peasantry became free, and its numbers and proportion in society rapidly decreased. The peasantry, which had made up two-thirds to three-quarters of the population of agrarian societies, began to disappear. Britain’s radical social transfiguration epitomized the future: by the early twentieth century, the agricultural-peasant population had faded to just 5 percent of Britain’s population. France, Germany, and other Western European countries remained far behind Britain, but the trend was the same. The real disappearance of the peasantry was only complete fifty to seventy years later, during the second half of the twentieth century.

The majority of the rural population shifted to industry and became blue-collar workers. Most of them worked in big factories. They formed a relative majority of the new society, often more than one-third, and in some cases even more than 40 percent, of the population. In midnineteenth-century Britain, at the height of this spectacular transforma

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