In the political sphere also the industrial revolution had manifold impact. In the first place it led to colonization of Asia and Africa. Great Britain and other industrial countries of Europe began to look for new colonies which could supply them the necessary raw materials for feeding their industries and also serve as ready market for their finished industrial products. Therefore, the industrial countries carved out extensive colonial empires in the nineteenth century.
In fact these countries added so much territory to their empire that one historian has described it as “the greatest land grab movement in the history of the world.” It is well known that colonialism produced adverse effects on the local people and resulted in their uthless exploitation. However, it cannot be denied that it also paved the way for the industrialization of these territories because the European colonizers set up certain industries in these areas.
Secondly, industrial revolution sharply divided the countries. The industrially advanced countries which possessed necessary finances and technical know-how, invested their surplus capital in the backward countries and fully exploited their resources and crippled their industries. Thus the world came to be divided into two groups-the developed and the underdeveloped world, which is a cause of great tension even at present.
Thirdly, as a result of the Industrial Revolution a large number of Europeans went across the oceans and settled down in America and Australia and contributed to the Europeanization of these countries. It has been estimated that as against 145,000 people which left Europe in 1820’s, over 9 million people left Europe between 1900 and 1910.
Fourthly, the Industrial Revolution provided a fillip to the reform movement in England. A number of Factory Laws were enacted to improve the lot of the workers between 1833-45 which tried to limit the working hours for children under eleven-years of age to 9 hours a day and that of women to 12 hours a day. These Acts also prohibited employment of children in mines and laid down general rules for the health and safety of workers.
With the setting up of factories in northern parts of England larger number of people shifted from south and their population greatly declined. However, these de-populated cities continued to send same number of representatives to the Parliament whereas the new industrial towns were not represented in the Parliament. This led to demand for redistribution of seats.
A movement known as Chartist Movement was launched to demand reforms for improving the lot of workers and for introduction of universal suffrage, secret voting, equal electoral districts, no property qualifications for membership, payment of members, and annual elections.
Though these demands did not receive favourable response from the government but in course of time these demands were conceded one by one. In this way we can say that the Industrial Revolution strengthened forces of democracy in England.
Fifthly, the industrial revolution led to a strong trade union movement.
The working men in various trades and industries formed trade union to protect themselves against their employers. Though initially the English law forbade these unions but ultimately they were accorded recognition by law in 1824. However, the trade unions could not prove effective as they were divided and lacked national unity.
It was only towards the close of the nineteenth century that the General Federation of British Trade Union was established which established friendly relations with the unions of other European countries. Thus by the close of the nineteenth century the trade unions came to occupy important position in the political and economic structure of the society.
Finally, industrial revolution paved the way for the development of new social and economic doctrines.
While philosophers like Malthus, Ricardo and James Mill defended capitalist system and wanted the state to abstain from interfering in the economic and social sphere, on the other hand philosophers like Robert Owen, Karl Marx, William Godwin, Proudhon etc. advocated creed of socialism and insisted that the whole society ought to strive for the improvement of the moral and physical standards of the people. Robert Owen, a mill-owner, set up in his industries co-operative communities in which families could share in work and enjoyment of its products.
But more concrete contributions towards the development of socialism were made by Karl Marx who examined the reports of the Parliamentary Commissions on effects of industrial revolution and came to the conclusion that the only solution lay in socialization of means of production, the abolition of the rule of capitalists and transfer of power to hitherto powerless proletariat.