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Social Mobility by the British way!

Stephen Hornsby-Smith
Stephen Hornsby-Smith

The 19th century was a century of change and expansion as Britain became the first to initiate the Industrial revolution. Indeed, the striking feature to me is that a growing urban working-class relied upon the burgeoning advantage of British Empire building to mobilize itself to drive social mobility via industrial and social self-transformation! Genuine employment as largely the muscle of the Empire industrialized British influence globally and contained the ingredients of 20th century celebrating social welfare in order to capitalize on Imperial longevity, It wasn't until Macmillan in the 1950's that the Empire and a Britain that contained a broadening social and ethnic base domestically could close a chapter on 'social Dickensianism ' that was often alleged to be a 19th century domestic flaw and a far reaching poverty that held back social promotion. Finally we could say good bye to poverty and relish the opportunity society that Macmillan claimed he could bring about where further social welfare intrusions on Britons had run its course.

So how did industrialization and the British Empire work in the indigenous white Working-classes favour? Being the trailblazer of mass urban employment regulated by industrial mobilization didn't just engender urban conformity but a sense of entitlement and social pride by a new social identity and purpose ! But there was more than a new sense of British patriotic superiority through out an unprecedentedly large Empire where the sun never set on such a paradoxical sense of social and economic superiority and achievement. 'Imperial entitlement' was not just a factor for the new middle-classes and landed aristocracy at all ! Industrial strength domestically had the purpose of serving the global Empire and not lining-up the wealthy to fill their pockets ! No wonder the industrial unrest of my generation in the 1960 to 1980's was so wide spread ! Industrial power houses of British heavy industry were in agony of losing their raison d'etre and their historical sense of achievement and identity that had emanated from a Empire being hastily wound-down !!!!

Indeed, it was a risk taken by the upper classes to produce industrialization in Britain by the largest social urban mass mobilization that was of an economic rather than military nature ever in British history ! Imagine the fears of mass revolt or allegations of new forms of slavery through the factory door buried in the toxicity of social breakdown on a mass scale degenerating into social chaos and economic collapse at home and abroad !?! By 1848 Marx and Engels stitched-up a few cliches and a few naive generalities that espoused revolution in industrialized Britain first ! They knew the risk Britain was taking too, and readied themselves for ...........actually, nothing...sorry Marx ! Tough shit! We didn't have a Russian Revolution here in blighty because the British working-classes had more to loose.....and yes the Brits were made of tough stuff too ! But the risks that Britain took were commensurate with the rewards that Britain rewarded the Empire with !

So the 19th century British working-classes were the experiment in the global arena. Yet it triumphed by over coming Dickensian urban poverty and not being victimized by it! Mass urbanization had never been tried before and neither had a century of gradualistic welfare concessions ! 'Urban Entitlement' radicalized the social agenda from welfare to entrepreneurial social mobility, and gave birth to a different generation of

demographics and skill sets that transformed all of society, beyond the crude Marxist model of Aristocracy/Bourgeoisie/Proletariat. Britain had defended against revolt by freeing up markets all over the world, often manned by the British administrators etc , which required a literal and metaphorical ' 'army' of the British working-classes given opportunities of service to the Empire. White working-classes enjoyed social betterment in all areas of the British Empire and 'had never had it so good ' in the heyday of the British Empire ! The British white working classes were not some shady underclass they were hero's of the British Empire who proved that with their great power and resources comes great responsibility; when the chips were down they fought-off a political disease of revolt by not being lured into self-destructive armed conflict against their own to put extremists in power !

This Empire and Industrial revolution didn't however manage to avoid many casualties in health,education,employment, housing and toxic environmental living conditions, an absence of health and safety in mass factory intensive hard labour often operating dangerous machinery without protection, exploitation of child and female labour etc ! But it is clear that the urban poor survived and generated its own agenda and values and identity, that once it had finally achieved (in my view from 1830s-1950s) its social and economic purpose it would shed its industrial skin. The fact that post-Industrial communities in Britain are still ready to defend its century of Imperial, and economic leadership and not just its welfare achievements, continues to show its commitment to its version and not handed-down or handed-up version form of social mobility by hard grind, some considerable degree of self-sacrifice and taking their 'opportunity society' by the scruff of the neck and making their lives and their children's better !

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