The Industrial Revolution first began in Britain in the 18th century and had a profound effect on the world. Some of the impacts of the Industrial Revolution were incredibly positive for the world, such as the numerous inventions. However, the revolution also had many negative effects for people, including aspects such as: child labor, dangerous working conditions, and horrible living conditions. As a result of many of these negative impacts, people throughout Britain began to fight back against what they perceived to be injustices. One such group that responded to the impacts of the Industrial Revolution were the Luddites.
Who were the Luddites? The Luddites were industrial workers in the British textile industry that were known for their destruction of machinery in textile factories. The term ‘Luddite’ comes from the name of Ned Ludd, who was a weaver during the Industrial Revolution in Britain. In 1779, he supposedly smashed two knitting machines, referred to as stocking frames, in a fit of anger. When the Luddite movement began on March 11th, 1811 in Nottingham, England, they took the name of Ned Ludd to represent their views. In general, the Luddites were textile workers who would break into factories and smash textile machines. They were protesting the use of the machines in the production method because the factory owners had begun to replace their skilled labor with these inexpensive machines. As a result, the Luddites felt as though they were losing their jobs and livelihoods. Soon, the Luddite movement spread throughout England and many other communities experienced their own protests; however, it officially came to an end in 1816.
While not technically an example of a socialist ideology, the Luddites emerged alongside socialism. For example, other responses to the inequalities of the Industrial Revolution included socialist ideologies, such as: utopian socialism, Marxism, and democratic socialism. The Luddites movement was similar to these ideologies in that they sought to improve the conditions of the working-class people throughout the 19th century.
Throughout the time period of the Luddites movement (1811-1816) the British government generally responded in favor of the factory owners. For example, during the early years of the movement, the British government committed thousands of British soldiers to combating the Luddites. As well, they eventually passed legislation, such as the Frame Breaking Act of 1812, which made machine breaking a capital offence. As a result, several prominent Luddites were put on trial and executed for their roles. These actions by the government eventually helped to deter other Luddites from carrying out similar actions.