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

. . . With the need for the more extensive utilization of materials that were comparatively difficult to manipulate, such as iron instead of wood, followed the fuller development of the automatic system. But the solution of all those problems which spontaneously arose in the course of the development of machine production, encountered, in every instance, obstacles in the matter of individual limitations, which even the collective worker in manufacture could overcome regarding their extent but not regarding their qualitative essence. Such machines as the modern hydraulic press, the modern power loom, and the modern carding engine, for example, could not be made by the manufacturing process.

A revolution in the method of production in one sphere of industry involves a similar revolutionary change in every other sphere. . . . Thus machine spinning made machine weaving necessary; and both together necessitated a mechanical and chemical revolution in bleaching, printing, and dyeing. . . . The revolution in the method of production in industry and agriculture likewise necessitated a revolution in the general conditions of the social process of production, that is to say, in the means of communication and transport. . . .

Thus over and above extensive changes in the construction of sailing ships, the means of communication and transport were gradually adopted, by a system of river steamships, railroads, ocean steamships, and telegraphs, to the methods of production of large-scale industry. But now vast quantities of iron had to be forged, welded, cut, bored, and shaped. For this, in turn, huge machines were required, machines which the manufacturing system of machine production could not possibly provide.

Large-scale industry, therefore, had to gain control of its own most characteristic means of production, the machine itself; had to produce machines by machines. Thus only was it able to provide itself with an adequate technical foundation and to stand upon its own feet. With the growth of machino-facture, in the early decades of the nineteenth century, machinery did, in fact, by degrees, gain control of the fabrication of machine tools. But it was not until recent decades [c. 1850s-60s] that the construction of railways and the building of ocean steamers on a huge scale called into existence the gigantic machines now at work on the construction of prime motors.

The most essential condition for the fabrication of machines by machines was that there should be a machine competent to supply power to any extent and under perfect control. This condition existed in the steam-engine. But it was still necessary to achieve the ability to make, by machinery, the perfectly accurate geometrical forms required for the separate parts of machines -- straight lines, planes, circles, cylinders, cones, and spheres.

This problem was solved by Henry Maudslay in the opening years of the nineteenth century by the invention of the slide rest, a tool that was speedily made automatic, and, having been first designed for the lathe, was soon applied in a modified form to other constructive machines. This mechanical appliance does not replace another tool but the human hand itself, the hand which produces a particular form by holding, applying, and guiding the edge of cutting instruments against or over the material operated upon -- iron or something else. Thus it became possible to produce the geometrical forms required for the individual parts of machinery "with a degree of ease, accuracy, and speed, that no accumulated experience in the hand of the most skilled workman could give.". . . . .

When the instruments of labor assume the form of machinery, they acquire a kind of material existence which involves the replacement of human force by the forces of nature, and of rule-of-thumb methods by the conscious application of natural science. In manufacture the organization of the social labor process is purely subjective, is a combination of detail workers; in machino-facture, large-scale industry has a purely objective productive organism, in which the worker is nothing more than an appendage to the prevailing material conditions of production. In simple cooperation, and even in the cooperation founded upon the division of labor, the substitution of the collective worker for the isolated worker still seems more or less a matter of chance.

But machinery, with few exceptions, can be operated only by means of associated labor or joint labor. In the machine system, the cooperative character of the labor process has become a technical necessity dictated by the very nature of the means of labor.