MACHINERY AND LARGE-SCALE INDUSTRY: struggle between the worker and the machine
The war between the capitalist and the wage worker dates back to the very origin of capital. It continues to rage throughout the manufacturing period. But only since the introduction of machinery has the worker been at war with the instrument of labor itself, with the material embodiment of capital. He revolts against this particular form of the means of production, as being the material basis of the capitalist method of production.
In the seventeenth century, almost all over Europe, there were revolts against the ribbon loom, a machine for weaving ribbons and braid. The ribbon loom was invented in Germany. An Italian abbé, named Lancellotti, in a work published at Venice in the year 1636, but written in 1579, says: "about fifty years ago, Anton Müller, of Danzig, saw in that town a very ingenious machine, which weaves four to six pieces at once. But the town council, being afraid that the invention might throw a large number of workmen on the streets, had the machine destroyed, and the inventor secretly strangled or drowned." In Leyden, this machine did not come into use until 1629. At first there were riots among the braid workers, so that there, too, the town council was compelled to prohibit its use. . . .
About 1630 a sawmill driven by windpower, which had been erected near London by a Dutchman, was destroyed in a riot. Even as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century sawmills driven by water-power encountered widespread popular hostility. This was supported by Parliament, and was overcome only with great difficulty.
In 1758 Everet constructed the first wool-shearing machine driven by water-power. It was burned by a hundred thousand workpeople who had been thrown out of work. Fifty thousand workers, who had made their living by the carding of wool, petitioned Parliament against Arkwright's scribbling mill and carding engines. In the English manufacturing districts during the first fifteen years of the nineteenth century, the increased use of machinery (chiefly in the form of the power-loom) was followed by widespread machine-breaking riots. These disturbances, known as the Luddite movement, gave the anti-Jacobin government, consisting of such men as Sidmouth, Castlereagh, etc., an excuse for forcible and extremely reactionary measures against the working class.Time and experience were needed before the workers could learn to distinguish between machinery itself and the use of machinery by capital; and until they could come to direct their attacks, not against the material instruments of production, but against the particular social form in which these instruments are used. . . .
In the form of machinery, the instrument of labor immediately enters into competition with the worker. The self-expansion of capital by means of machinery is directly proportional to the number of the workers whose means of livelihood have been destroyed by this machinery. The whole system of capitalist production is based upon the fact that the worker sells his labor power as a commodity. Thanks to the division of labor, this labor power becomes specialized, is reduced to skill in handling a particular tool. As soon as the guiding of the tool becomes the work of the machine, the use-value and the exchange-value of the worker's labor power disappear. The worker becomes unsaleable, like paper money which is no longer legal tender. That portion of the working class which machinery has thus transformed into superfluous population (this meaning a population which is no longer immediately required to promote the self-expansion of capital), either goes to the wall in the unequal struggle of the old handicraft and manufacturing industry against machine industry, or else floods all the more easily accessible branches of industry, glutting the labor market, and consequently reducing the price of labor power below its value. . . .
But machinery does not merely function as a mighty competitor, every ready to make the wage earners "superfluous." It is also a power directly hostile to the wage worker, is proclaimed to be such by capital, and is manipulated by capital in a sense hostile to the worker. It is utilized as the most powerful weapon in the capitalist arsenal, as the best means for overcoming the periodical revolts of the working class against the autocracy of capital. According to Gaskell, the steam-engine was from the very first an antagonist of human power, an antagonist that enabled the capitalist to offer a successful resistance to the growing claims of the workers, which were threatening to involve the commencing factory system in a crisis. A whole book could be filled with the history of inventions since 1830, inventions which were made as weapons for capital to use against working-class revolts. . . .