The Decay of Capitalism. What Machinery Means for the System

There is nothing to which the average man-in-the street appears so deplorably blind as the ever-increasing evidence of the rapid decay of the present system of society. In the agricultural labourer of the countryside this is more excusable, but for those always in contact with the symptoms of this decay, those whose labour takes them into workshop, factory, or business house, the charge carries double force.

The increasing introduction of machinery in the factory and workshop, and of mechanical appliances in the office, suggests to a working man rather the power and immensity of capitalism than its increasing inability to adapt itself to such rapidly changing conditions.

The great influx of machinery into industry is not the only evidence we have of the receding wave of capitalist supremacy. The growth of the modern trust, slowly crushing out that backbone of the “middle class,” the small shopkeeper, is significant. The introduction of “profit-sharing” and co-partnership schemes, though blessed by the master class as a tricky method of extorting more wealth from the wage-slaves under the guise of bettering their conditions, are further proof of the stranglehold that is being applied to this damnable system of society.

However, the present writer is not so much concerned with these latter illusions as with the growing insecurity of the working class, due to the astonishing rapidity of modern production as a sequence to the introduction of new, and improvements in existing, machinery.

Some not versed in Socialist philosophy might assume that the instability of the working class must presuppose the increased stability of the master class, but this is not true. Financially, of course, the position of the master class would be strengthened, but economically the reverse is the case.

In the various countries during the last 16 years considerably over 200,000 patents have been sealed. The effect of this remarkable mass of improvements in appliances, mostly tending to displace labour, can better be imagined than described. One authority. Chas. JR. Gibson, F.R.S.E., has compiled a book (“Twentieth Century Inventions.”) upon information supplied by inventors and engineering firms, in which he outlines many interesting facts. From information elicited from Messrs. Hattersley, of Keighley, regarding re-shuttling looms, some fairly firm conclusions may be made. Listen to this:

“One of these modern looms will not only stop when its weft thread is broken or exhausted, but it will throw out the empty shuttle, replace it with a full one, and restart the loom, the whole operation only taking a few seconds. Not only is this loom quite independent of the weaver watching its shuttles, but it must also look after its own warp in so far that it must not go on weaving while any warp threads remain broken.”

All, therefore, that remains for the female weaver to do is the mending of the broken warp ends—the loom meanwhile at work with a new shuttle—and the filling of the magazines with sew shuttles to keep the looms continually at work. Mr. Gibson says concerning a further invention (the automatic loom, differing somewhat from the re-shuttling device):

“As evidence of the reliability of such automatic mechanism it may be mentioned that while the weavers are absent during meal hours the looms continue weaving on their own account. In many factories, with the ordinary looms, it is a source of worry to see that all weavers are clear of the looms during meal hours, for no worker may mend a broken end or replace an empty shuttle at these times. With these automatic looms the weavers may leave them at work when they go home to breakfast, and about seventy per cent, of the looms will be found at work on the weavers’ return an hour later. Those looms that have stopped will be waiting for some warp threads to be mended.”

What the position of the weaver will be upon the not unlikely introduction of a warp-mending device can pretty well be guessed.

Since the coming of Crompton’s “mule” the history of the cotton trade has been one long story of labour displacement, and if records could be obtained of the number of operatives thrown out of employment during the past fifteen years the total would indeed be staggering. Yet what we witness taking place in Lancashire and Yorkshire is merely what is happening in every branch of industry. Machinery supplanting labour-power is certainly no new thing, but the impetus it has received during recent years has been great.

There is a biscuit-making firm in London who have installed an elaborate appliance for the simple function of dropping three currants into “fairy” cakes. If at anytime four currants are found on one cake there is a row, for the danger of permitting the consumer to make a beast of himself must at all costs be guarded against.

The automatic telephone invented by an American named Strowger is a clear indication of what is coming. Mr. Gibson says of it:

“In the Automatic Exchanges there are, of course, no operators at all; there are only mechanical selectors and connectors, which are under the control of the individual subscribers. Instead of a subscriber giving instructions to an operator the subscriber himself moves a lever on a dial attached to his telephone, and the automatons at the Exchange do the rest.”

Nor is this all, for more subscribers are able to speak simultaneously than has been possible with the manual Exchange. The automatic charge boxes in connection with the automatic exchange, too, are of remarkable ingenuity, charging only time spent and “handing” back any coins above those demanded. The coins fall as the distant speaker replaces his telephone upon the hook.

The newer type of match-making machine used by Messrs. Bryant and May is another example of labour-cutting. Imagine blocks of pine accepted at one end of the machine, cut into sticks, dipped, dried, boxed, and wrapped in dozens all ready for despatch “in so human a fashion as to be almost uncanny.” One machine turns out 144,000 boxes per day.

Not alone in the factory, but throughout every department we see man superseded by the machine, from the automatic time-keeper to the newer type of lightning calculator. Those among the “middle” class who have long basked in comparatively soft jobs are beginning to feel a draught. The German automatic hide-measurer is going to prove a bitter pill for the civil engineer. This machine will calculate the exact measurement in square inches of a hundred hides while an expert civil engineer is calculating half-a-dozen such. All holes the hides may contain are allowed for by the machine. Mr. Gibson tells us that some machines measure 3,000 to 4,000 skins per working day. Such a slashing attack upon those whose delight it seems to be to ape their masters will cause as much fright as did the suggestion that women, should dispense “chloroform” from the pulpit.

To realise the astonishing effect the rapid introduction of machinery brings about we have but to consider the millions of men engaged in the present gigantic war, who could only have been taken from industry in circumstances that, prove conclusively the insecurity of their livelihood consequent upon enormous increases in mechanical production. The present writer was given some details a couple of years back of a new lightning post-card printing machine about to be introduced in America, capable of printing up wards of 500,000 post-cards per hour. Regarding this appliance Mr. Gibson says :

“The cards are cut automatically by the machine, and then dropped in eight stacks until there are twenty-five post-cards in each pile. The eight stacks then move forward and are bound automati­cally with a paper band and the finished packets are dropped into a box.”

In printing, the introduction of the Monotype and Linotype machines and the Harris Automatic Press is perhaps sufficiently known to require no further mention. Speaking of the Harris Press, however, Mr. Gibson says :

“When once set up ready for printing, any intelligent boy may attend to the machine, which is quite capable of taking care of itself so long as it has a stock of paper within its reach.”

And yet despite all this we have the amusing spectacle of Direct-Actionists still following their blind-alley schemes of the great strike, while each succeeding year finds the master more independent of his wage-slaves. The further capitalist society develops the more clearly does the remedy—control of the political machine for the purpose of seizing the masters’ only weapon—As we see here, the whole of the great mass at present fighting might in “peace” times absent themselves from production without seriously affecting the stability of capitalist domination.

There is much evidence to prove, however, that the working class are gradually recognising the futility of knocking their heads against a brick wall. The scaling-ladders of the Marxian philosophy are ready when the workers are fit to use them. And as Marx and Engels say in the Manifesto :

“The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet, the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie, therefore, produces above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

Those who know, and acknowledge, the remarkable accuracy of Karl Marx’s reasonings regarding the inevitable phases of capitalist decay already endured, and what they must certainly lead to, will accept such a deduction because, not only does it meet with the approval of their own intelligence, but the truth of it has already manifested itself throughout the civilised world in a way that no man can deny.

There is one solution and one only. The working class must take control of the political machine and use it in order to release themselves from the menace of capitalism. All the enormous mass of machinery now operating against our class will then be used to lighten the labour of all men, irrespective of race or colour, instead of to further enrich a class already choking itself with its own fat.

Socialism, therefore, is the only remedy, and only through Socialism can working-class freedom be achieved. Take heart, therefore, ye who by arduous toil create all riches, for, by and through these many inventions which make your lot harder to-day, to-morrow shall your poverty, misery, and degradation be banished never to return.

B. B. B.

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