Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
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Hugo Gellert: Karl Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs

Development of Machinery

MACHINERY AND LARGE-SCALE INDUSTRY: development of machinery

In his Principles of Political Economy, John Stuart Mill writes: "It is questionable whether all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being."

After all, that is not the aim of the capitalist use of machinery. As with every other advance in the productivity of labor, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities, and to diminish the part of the working day in which the worker works for himself while increasing the part of the working day which he gives to the capitalist for nothing. Machinery is a means for producing surplus value.

In manufacture the revolution in the method of production begins with labor power; in large-scale industry that revolution begins with the instruments of labor. . . .

All fully developed machinery consists of three essentially distinct parts: the motor, the transmitting mechanism, and the mechanized tool or working machine. . . .

The machine which begins the industrial revolution is one which replaces the worker handling a single tool, by a mechanism operating simultaneously a number of identical or similar tools, and driven by a single motor power, whatever the form of that power may be. Here we have a machine, but only as an elementary factor of machino-facture. . . .

Horses were still extensively used as motor power during the early days of large-scale industry, as is shown by the complaints which the agriculturists of those days made about the matter, and also by the fact that the term "horse-power" has survived to this day as the traditional measure for the quantity of mechanical force.

Wind was found to be uncertain and difficult to control. In England, the birthplace of modern large-scale industry, the use of water-power predominated over that of wind-power even during the manufacturing period. . . . For all that, the use of water-power as the chief form of power was beset with difficulties.

It could not be increased at will; it was liable to fail at certain seasons of the year, and above all, it was of a purely local nature. Not until the invention of Watt's second steam-engine, the so-called double-action engine, had a motor been discovered able to generate its own force out of the consumption of coal and water; whose powers were fully under human control; which could be moved from place to place, and made to serve as a means of locomotion; which was urban and, unlike the water-wheel, rural (so that production could be concentrated in the towns instead of being scattered over the countryside); which was universal in its technological applicability, and was, comparatively speaking, little affected by local conditions.

The greatness of Watt's genius is shown in the specifications of the patent he took out in April, 1784. Here he describes the steam-engine, not as a discovery made for particular purposes, but as an agent universally applicable in mechanical industry. He foreshadows many applications, such as the steam-hammer, which were not to be made until half a century later. . . .

An organized system of working machines which are all set in motion by the transmitting mechanism from a central automaton constitutes the fully developed form of machino-facture. In place of the individual machine, we now have a mechanical monster whose body fills the whole factory and whose demoniac power, hidden from sight at first because of the measured and almost ceremonious character of the movement of its giant limbs, discloses itself at length in the vast and furious whirl of its numberless working organs.

There existed mules, steam-engines, and the like, before there were workers whose sole business it was to make steam-engines, etc. -- just as men wore clothing before there were tailors. But the discoveries and inventions of Vaucanson, Arkwright, Watt, and others, were possible only because these inventors found ready at hand a suitable number of skilled mechanics at their disposal, thanks to the manufacturing period. . . .