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SECTION 5 THE STRIFE BETWEEN WORKMAN AND MACHINE

The contest between the capitalist and the wage-labourer dates back to the very origin of capital. It raged on throughout the whole

manufacturing period. [112] But only since the introduction of machinery has the workman fought against the instrument of labour itself,

the material embodiment of capital. He revolts against this particular form of the means of production, as being the material basis of the

capitalist mode of production.

In the 17th century nearly all Europe experienced revolts of the workpeople against the ribbon-loom, a machine for weaving ribbons and

trimmings, called in Germany Bandmühle, Schnurmühle, and Mühlenstuhl. These machines were invented in Germany. Abbé

Lancellotti, in a work that appeared in Venice in 1636, but which was written in 1579, says as follows: "Anthony Müller of Danzig saw

about 50 years ago in that town, a very ingenious machine, which weaves 4 to 6 pieces at once. But the Mayor being apprehensive that

this invention might throw a large number of workmen on the streets, caused the inventor to be secretly strangled or drowned." In

Leyden, this machine was not used till 1629; there the riots of the ribbon-weavers at length compelled the Town Council to prohibit it.

"In hac urbe," says Boxhorn (Inst. Pol., 1663), referring to the introduction of this machine into Leyden, "ante hos viginti circiter annos

instrumentum quidam invenerunt textorium, quo solus plus panni et facilius conficere poterat, quan plures aequali tempore. Hinc turbae

ortae et querulae textorum, tandemque usus hujus instrumenti a magistratu prohibitus est." After making various decrees more or less

prohibitive against this loom in 1632, 1639, &c., the States General of Holland at length permitted it to be used, under certain conditions,

by the decree of the 15th December, 1661. It was also prohibited in Cologne in 1676, at the same time that its introduction into England

was causing disturbances among the workpeople. By an imperial Edict of 19th Feb., 1685, its use was forbidden throughout all Germany.

In Hamburg it was burnt in public by order of the Senate. The Emperor Charles VI., on 9th Feb., 1719, renewed the edict of 1685, and

not till 1765 was its use openly allowed in the Electorate of Saxony. This machine, which shook Europe to its foundations, was in fact

the precursor of the mule and the power-loom, and of the industrial revolution of the 18th century. It enabled a totally inexperienced boy,

to set the whole loom with all its shuttles in motion, by simply moving a rod backwards and forwards, and in its improved form produced

from 40 to 50 pieces at once.

About 1630, a wind-sawmill, erected near London by a Dutchman, succumbed to the excesses of the populace. Even as late as the

beginning of the 18th century, sawmills driven by water overcame the opposition of the people, supported as it was by Parliament, only

with great difficulty. No sooner had Everet in 1758 erected the first wool-shearing machine that was driven by water-power, than it was

set on fire by 100,000 people who had been thrown out of work. Fifty thousand workpeople, who had previously lived by carding wool,

petitioned Parliament against Arkwright's scribbling mills and carding engines. The enormous destruction of machinery that occurred in

the English manufacturing districts during the first 15 years of this century, chiefly caused by the employment of the power-loom, and

known as the Luddite movement, gave the anti-Jacobin governments of a Sidmouth, a Castlereagh, and the like, a pretext for the most

reactionary and forcible measures. It took both time and experience before the workpeople learnt to distinguish between machinery and

its employment by capital, and to direct their attacks, not against the material instruments of production, but against the mode in which

they are used. [113]

The contests about wages in Manufacture, pre-suppose manufacture, and are in no sense directed against its existence. The opposition

against the establishment of new manufactures, proceeds from the guilds and privileged towns, not from the workpeople. Hence the

writers of the manufacturing period treat the division of labour chiefly as a means of virtually supplying a deficiency of labourers, and

not as a means of actually displacing those in work. This distinction is self-evident. If it be said that 100 millions of people would be

required in England to spin with the old spinning-wheel the cotton that is now spun with mules by 500,000 people, this does not mean

that the mules took the place of those millions who never existed. It means only this, that many millions of workpeople would be

required to replace the spinning machinery. If, on the other hand, we say, that in England the power-loom threw 800,000 weavers on the

streets, we do not refer to existing machinery, that would have to be replaced by a definite number of workpeople, but to a number of

weavers in existence who were actually replaced or displaced by the looms. During the manufacturing period, handicraft labour, altered

though it was by division of labour, was. yet the basis. The demands of the new colonial markets could not be satisfied owing to the

relatively small number of town operatives handed down from the middle ages, and the manufactures proper opened out new fields of

production to the rural population, driven from the land by the dissolution of the feudal system. At that time, therefore, division of labour

and co-operation in the workshops, were viewed more from the positive aspect, that they made the workpeople more productive. [114]

Long before the period of Modern Industry, co-operation and the concentration of the instruments of labour in the hands of a few, gave

rise, in numerous countries where these methods were applied in agriculture, to great, sudden and forcible revolutions in the modes of

production, and consequentially, in the conditions of existence, and the means of employment of the rural populations. But this contest at

first takes place more between the large and the small landed proprietors, than between capital and wage-labour; on the other hand, when

the labourers are displaced by the instruments of labour, by sheep, horses, &c., in this case force is directly resorted to in the first

instance as the prelude to the industrial revolution. The labourers are first driven from the land, and then come the sheep. Land grabbing

on a great scale, such as was perpetrated in England, is the first step in creating a field for the establishment of agriculture on a great

scale. [115] Hence this subversion of agriculture puts on, at first, more the appearance of a political revolution.

The instrument of labour, when it takes the form of a machine, immediately becomes a competitor of the workman himself. [116] The

self-expansion of capital by means of machinery is thenceforward directly proportional to the number of the workpeople, whose means

of livelihood have been destroyed by that machinery. The whole system of capitalist production is based on the fact that the workman

sells his labour-power as a commodity. Division of labour specialises this labour-power, by reducing it to skill in handling a particular

tool. So soon as the handling of this tool becomes the work of a machine, then, with the use-value, the exchange-value too, of the

workman's labour-power vanishes; the workman becomes unsaleable, like paper money thrown out of currency by legal enactment. That

portion of the working-class, thus by machinery rendered superfluous, i.e., no longer immediately necessary for the self-expansion of

capital, either goes to the wall in the unequal contest of the old handicrafts and manufactures with machinery, or else floods all the more

easily accessible branches of industry, swamps the labour-market, and sinks the price of labour-power below its value. It is impressed

upon the workpeople, as a great consolation, first, that their sufferings are only temporary ("a temporary inconvenience"), secondly, that

machinery acquires the mastery over the whole of a given field of production, only by degrees, so that the extent and intensity of its

destructive effect is diminished. The first consolation neutralises the second. When machinery seizes on an industry by degrees, it

produces chronic misery among the operatives who compete with it. Where the transition is rapid, the effect is acute and felt by great

masses. History discloses no tragedy more horrible than the gradual extinction of the English hand-loom weavers, an extinction that was

spread over several decades, and finally sealed in 1838. Many of them died of starvation, many with families vegetated for a long time

on 2 1/2 d. a day. [117] On the other hand, the English cotton machinery produced an acute effect in India. The Governor General

reported 1834-35: "The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce. The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the

plains of India." No doubt, in turning them out of this "temporal" world, the machinery caused them no more than "a temporary

inconvenience." For the rest, since machinery is continually seizing upon new fields of production, its temporary effect is really

permanent. Hence, the character of independence and estrangement which the capitalist mode of production as a whole gives to the

instruments of labour and to the product, as against the workman, is developed by means of machinery into a thorough antagonism. [118]

Therefore, it is with the advent of machinery, that the workman for the first time brutally revolts against the instruments of labour.

The instrument of labour strikes down the labourer. This direct antagonism between the two comes out most strongly, whenever newly

introduced machinery competes with handicrafts or manufactures, handed down from former times. But even in Modern Industry the

continual improvement of machinery, and the development of the automatic system, has an analogous effect. "The object of improved

machinery is to diminish manual labour, to provide for the performance of a process or the completion of a link in a manufacture by the

aid of an iron instead of the human apparatus." [119] "The adaptation of power to machinery heretofore moved by hand, is almost of

daily occurrence ... the minor improvements in machinery having for their object economy of power, the production of better work, the

turning off more work in the same time, or in supplying the place of a child, a female, or a man, are constant, and although sometimes

apparently of no great moment, have somewhat important results." [120] "Whenever a process requires peculiar dexterity and steadiness

of hand, it is withdrawn, as soon as possible, from the cunning workman, who is prone to irregularities of many kinds, and it is t)laced in

charge of a peculiar mechanism, so self-regulating that a child can superintend it." [121] "On the automatic plan skilled labour gets

progressively superseded." [122] "The effect of improvements in machinery, not merely in superseding the necessity for the employment

of the same quantity of adult labour as before, in order to produce a given result, but in substituting one description of human labour for

another, the less skilled for the more skilled, juvenile for adult, female for male, causes a fresh disturbance in the rate of wages." [123]

"The effect of substituting the self-acting mule for the common mule, is to discharge the greater part of the men spinners, and to retain

adolescents and children." [124] The extraordinary power of expansion of the factory system owing to accumulated practical experience,

to the mechanical means at hand, and to constant technical progress, was proved to us by the giant strides of that system under the

pressure of a shortened working-day. But who, in 1860, the Zenith year of the English cotton industry, would have dreamt of the

galloping improvements in machinery, and the corresponding displacement of working people, called into being during the following 3

years, under the stimulus of the American Civil War? A couple of examples from the Reports of the Inspectors of Factories will suffice

on this point. A Manchester manufacturer states: "We formerly had 75 carding engines, now we have 12, doing the same quantity of

work.... We are doing with fewer hands by 14, at a saving in wages of £10 a-week. Our estimated saving in waste is about 10% in the

quantity of cotton consumed." "In another fine-spinning mill in Manchester, I was informed that through increased speed and the

adoption of some self-acting processes, a reduction had been made, in number, of a fourth in one department, and of above half in

another, and that the introduction of the combing machine in place of the second carding, had considerably reduced, the number of hands

formerly employed in the carding-room." Another spinning-mill is estimated to effect a saving of labour of 10%. The Messrs. Gilmour,

spinners at Manchester, state: "In our blowing-room department we consider our expense with new machinery is fully one-third less in

wages and hands ... in the jack-frame and drawing-frame room, about one-third less in expense, and likewise one-third less in hands; in

the spinningroom about one-third less in expenses. But this is not all; when our yarn goes to the manufacturers, it is so much better by

the application of our new machinery, that they will produce a greater quantity of cloth, and cheaper than from the yarn produced by old

machinery." [125] Mr. Redgrave further remarks in the same Report: "The reduction of hands against increased production is, in fact,

constantly taking place, in woollen mills the reduction commenced some time since, and is continuing; a few days since, the master of a

school in the neighbourhood of Rochdale said to me, that the great falling off in the girls' school is not only caused by the distress, but by

the changes of machinery in the woollen mills, in consequence of which a reduction of 70 short-timers had taken place." [126]

The following table shows the total result of the mechanical improvements in the English cotton industry due to the American Civil War.

Number of Factories 1857 1861 1868

England and Wales 2,046 2,715 2,405

Scotland 152 163 131

Ireland 12 9 13

United Kingdom 2,210 2,887 2,549

Number of Power Looms 1857 1861 1868

England and Wales 275,590 368,125 344,719

Scotland 21,624 30,110 31,864

Ireland 1,633 1,757 2,746

United Kingdom 298,847 399,992 379,329

Number of Spindles 1857 1861 1868

England and Wales 25,818,576 28,352,125 30,478,228

Scotland 2,041,129 1,915,398 1,397,546

Ireland 150,512 119,944 124,240

United Kingdom 28,010,217 30,387,467 32,000,014

Number of Persons Employed 1857 1861 1868

England and Wales 341,170 407,598 357,052

Scotland 34,698 41,237 39,809

Ireland 3,345 2,734 4,203

United Kingdom 379,213 452,569 401,064

Hence, between 1861 and 1868, 338 cotton factories disappeared, in other words more productive machinery on a larger scale was

concentrated in the hands of a smaller number of capitalists. The number of power-looms decreased by 20,663; but since their product

increased in the same period, an improved loom must have yielded more than an old one. Lastly the number of spindles increased by

1,612,541, while the number of operatives decreased by 50,505. The "temporary" misery inflicted on the workpeople by the cotton-crisis,

was heightened, and from being temporary made permanent, by the rapid and persistent progress of machinery.

But machinery not only acts as a competitor who gets the better of the workman, and is constantly on the point of making him

superfluous. It is also a power inimical to him, and as such capital proclaims it from the roof tops and as such makes use of it. It is the

most powerful weapon for repressing strikes, those periodical revolts of the working-class against the autocracy of capital. [127]

According to Gaskell, the steam-engine was from the very first an antagonist of human power, an antagonist that enabled the capitalist to

tread under foot the growing claims of the workmen, who threatened the newly born factory system with a crisis. [128] it would be

possible to write quite a history of the inventions, made since 1830, for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the

revolts of the working-class. At the head of these in importance, stands the self-acting mule, because it opened up a new epoch in the

automatic system. [129]

Nasmyth, the inventor of the steam-hammer, gives the following evidence before the Trades' Union Commission, with regard to the

improvements made by him in machinery and introduced in consequence of the wide-spread and long strikes of the engineers in 1851.

"The characteristic feature of our modern mechanical improvements, is the introduction of self-acting tool machinery. What every

mechanical workman has now to do, and what every boy can do, is not to work himself but to superintend the beautiful labour of the

machine. The whole class of workmen that depend exclusively on their skill, is now done away with. Formerly, I employed four boys to

every mechanic. Thanks to these new mechanical combinations, I have reduced the number of grown-up men from 1,500 to 750. The

result was a considerable increase in my profits."

Ure says of a machine used in calico printing: "At length capitalists sought deliverance from this intolerable bondage" [namely the, in

their eyes, burdensome terms of their contracts with the workmen] "in the resources of science, and were speedily re-instated in their

legitimate rule, that of the head over the inferior members." Speaking of an invention for dressing warps: "Then the combined

malcontents, who fancied themselves impregnably entrenched behind the old lines of division of labour, found their flanks turned and

their defences rendered useless by the new mechanical tactics, and were obliged to surrender at discretion." With regard to the invention

of the self-acting mule, he says: "A creation destined to restore order among the industrious classes.... This invention confirms the great

doctrine already propounded, that when capital enlists science into her service, the refractory hand of labour will always be taught

docility." [130] Although Ure's work appeared 30 years ago, at a time when the factory system was comparatively but little developed, it

still perfectly expresses the spirit of the factory, not only by its undisguised cynicism, but also by the nalveté with which it blurts out the

stupid contradictions of the capitalist brain. For instance, after propounding the "doctrine" stated above, that capital, with the aid of

science taken into its pay, always reduces the refractory hand of labour to docility, he grows indignant because "it (physico-mechanical

science) has been accused of lending itself to the rich capitalist as an instrument for harassing the poor." After preaching a long sermon

to show how advantageous the rapid development of machinery is to the working-classes, he warns them, that by their obstinacy and

their strikes they hasten that development. "Violent revulsions of this nature," he says, "display short-sighted man in the contemptible

character of a self-tormentor." A few pages before he states the contrary. "Had it not been for the violent collisions and interruptions

resulting from erroneous views among the factory operatives, the factory system would have been developed still more rapidly and

beneficially for all concerned." Then he exclaims again: "Fortunately for the state of society in the cotton districts of Great Britain, the

improvements in machinery are gradual ' " "It" (improvement in machinery) "is said to lower the rate of earnings of adults by displacing

a portion of them, and thus rendering their number superabundant as compared with the demand for their labour. It certainly augments

the demand for the labour of children and increases the rate of their wages.' On the other hand, this same dispenser of consolation

defends the lowness of the children's wages on the ground that it prevents parents from sending their children at too early an age into the

factory. The whole of his book is a vindication of a working-day of unrestricted length; that Parliament should forbid children of 13

years to be exhausted by working 12 hours a day, reminds his liberal soul of the darkest days of the middle ages. This does not prevent

him from calling upon the factory operatives to thank Providence, who by means of machinery has given them the leisure to think of

their "immortal interests." [131]