Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Monday, August 14, 2006

15. The Industrial Revolution

'OUR last two Outlines have overlapped this remarkable event, or series of events, which is the great landmark in industrial history. The Industrial Revolution took place between the years 1760 and 1830, and, like other revolutions, it was the product of centuries of evolution. It neither abruptly started nor finished at the dates given; for previous inventions had been made, and the perfecting of the inventions therein made has never stopped. It was in these momentous years, however, that machinery and science were applied to industry in an unprecedented fashion.

Thus, again remembering the relativity of all beginnings, we can follow the development of manufacture into machinofacture—a process so important and powerful in its effects that it is rightly termed a revolution. The speeding of the labour processes, and the dilution of labour then made possible, is only faintly parallelled in our own day by the wonderful increase in the productivity of labour, secured by organized efforts made under the stress of war.

It should be clearly understood that the introduction of machinery into industry could only come after manufacture had instituted the division of labour inside the
workshop, and split up the old handicrafts into simple detail operations. "The Revolution of the 18th century began with the tool only because the preceding revolution began with the labourer." Only when the labourer performed a simple mechanical task could he be displaced by a machine. A machine could not take a piece of leather and make it into a boot; but when the process was divided up into stitching and other separate tasks, then machines were competent to perform the separated, simplified operations. Unlike the first simple original machines or automatic tools, modern machines tend to become more complex and often preform all the operations necessary to complete the product. Take, for example, the production of a modern daily paper.

Again, machinofacture would never have commenced if there had not been the need of supplying a world market. This was the great factor which made the old methods of production inadequate.

The Tool and the Machine.—Man’s tools are as old as himself; he is "the tool—making animal." Long before the science of mechanics had been thought of, unnamed inventors had discovered the use of the wheel, the lever, the pulley, the screw, the inclined plane, and the wedge, these simple mechanical powers of which the most complex machine is composed. It was a long time, however, before the tool—defined as "an instrument used by workmen" —was combined with these mechanical powers to form the machine as we now know it.

Viewed apart from their historic evolution, the difference between the tool and the machine is hard to define. For example, the plough drawn by oxen, according to the definition already given, would be a machine; while a complicated machine, if operated by human labour, would be a tool. As Marx puts it, a fully developed machine has three essentially different parts, the motor mechanism, where the driving power is generated, the transmitting mechanism, such as gearing, ropes, belts, fly-wheels, etc., and the tool or working part of the machine. The machine begins when the tool is taken out of the hands of the workman "and fitted into a mechanism." But here comes the great improvement. "The number of implements that man himself can use simultaneously is limited by the number of his own natural instruments of production, by the number of his bodily organs." (Try to imagine a collier using two mandrils or sledges at once and you will see the point.) With the coming of the machine, however, these "organic limits" are destroyed. "The spinning jenny, even at its very birth, spun with twelve to eighteen spindles, and the stocking-loom knits with many thousand needles at once." The man-drill has only one point in operation at a time; but the swiftly-revolving disc or bar of a coal cutter is armed with many points in simultaneous operation. When many ploughshares are combined for use we talk about ploughing by machinery.

The First Stage of the Machine.—Here man is still the generator and transmitter of the necessary motive power; only the function of handling the tool has been taken from him. This spells the further destruction of handicraft. The domestic producers had in their cottages simple machines. Later, when the machines grew bigger, man’s powers of strength and endurance were not sufficient, and animal power was tried. We read of Cartwright’s first power-loom being worked by a bull. But animal-power, too, had its limits and was expensive. The horse, even in transport and agriculture, is slowly making way for petrol-driven and other machines.

The Second Stage of the Machine.—In this stage the power of wind and water is utilised, the latter being, especially used by the new machines. Wind-power has never been used on a large scale in England. "In 1836, 12,000 windmills of 6,000 horse-power were still employed in Holland, to prevent two-thirds of the land being re-converted into morasses." Wind is too inconstant and variable to be a successful motive power for machinery. Water-power also has its drawbacks; it, too, is variable and uncertain. Available heads of water —Niagaras being scarce— are hard to find, and the factories are restricted to the local water-sides. "In the 17th century attempts had already been made to turn two pairs of millstones with a single water-wheel. But the increased size of the gearing was too much for the water— power, which had now become insufficient, and this was one of the circumstances that led to a more accurate investigation of the laws of friction." Arkwright’s mill was water-driven.

The Third Stage.—The ever-increasing size of the machines made imperative the finding of a reliable, sure, control1able power. The power was found in steam, a never-tiring, almighty giant, stopping only when its human attendants have exhausted themselves. The discovery came about gradually. In James Watt’s patent of 1769 culminated the efforts of a large number of scientists and inventors reaching back to a very crude pumping engine in 120 B.C. A century previous to Watt, Savery and Worcester, and in 1705 Newcomen also, had invented steam engines for pumping purposes. Besides having the much-mentioned benefit of noticing the lid of the boiling kettle, Watt had the advantage of being instrument maker to Glasgow University, of acquaintance with Dr. Black, the discoverer of latent heat, who, with Dr. Roebuck, helped Watt financially, and of having the opportunity of reading the books and examining and repairing the models of men like Papin, Savery and Worcester. Like other inventions, his was not an individual but a social product. He greatly improved the steam engine by introducing a separate condenser and making it double-acting. Later he joined with Boulton, and as purveyors of the means of power urgently needed by the new machinery, the firm of Boulton & Watt thrived.

Machinery and Textiles.—The mode of production in the textile industry—that industry, as usual, being in the forefront of development—was revolutionised in the 18th century by a succession of inventions of which the following are examples (different authorities give different dates; Gibbins’ are here followed) :—Kay’s flying shuttle (1730) greatly quickened the process of weaving. "Hitherto the weaver had passed the shuttle carrying the weft through the threads of the warp from hand to hand...Kay’s invention, by which the shuttle was mechanically propelled from side to side, not only enabled the weaver to work wide cloth as easily as narrow, but it more than doubled the pace at which the work could be done." It now became impossible for the spinners to supply the weavers with enough yarn. Machinery applied in one branch of the industry must needs be applied to other branches in order for them to keep step. (The coalcutter and the conveyor are close associates.) In 1770 Hargreaves invented "the spinning jenny," which, displacing the old single thread spinning-wheel, spun sixteen to eighteen threads at once, and supplied the weavers with the yarn they needed. Ark-wright’s "water frame" (1771) for carding, roving, and spinning, "first made possible the manufacture of true cotton goods in England."

Crompton (1779) combined the advantages of the last two inventions in his "mule." By 1811 we hear of 44 million spindles being worked; and in modern production, in striking contrast to the old methods, 12,000 spindles are often simultaneously worked by one spinner. Crompton died, as many inventors have died, in poverty, and he and his fellow inventors were often the victims of the violence of the workers, who feared that these new machines would destroy their livelihood.

The power-loom of Cartwright (1785) brought weaving up to spinning again. After many improvements it provided the chance of the first application of steam power in textiles. In 1813, 2,400 of these power-looms were in operation. Twenty years later that number had increased to 100,000.

Until Eli Whitney invented his gin for cleaning cotton by machinery, the cotton trade suffered from a lack of raw material. Before this machine came, five or six pounds of cotton per man were cleaned in one day; but after its coming one man could clean 1,000 lbs. per day, and the shortage of raw material disappeared.

These inventions in the cotton industry were afterwards applied to the woollen and linen trades, to hosiery, silk and lace-making. Hundreds of minor improvements were brought about in printing, bleaching and dyeing the fabrics produced. One example must suffice: Bell’s printing cylinder (1783), used to print calico goods, with the aid of one man and a boy, performed the work formerly done by 200 block-printers.

Moreover, progress was not confined to the textile industry; in the china and earthenware trades, similar advances were made. Inventions in one trade provoked inventions in others. Wedgwood, about 1763, began to produce the pottery which made his name famous.

Coal Mining.—It was the difficulties and necessities of the early miners which led to the first steam-driven pumping engines. Improved steam engines and machinery were soon used in sinking shafts and raising coal. The machine brought within reach its own fuel. The industrial centres shifted from the South and West of England to the North; from the riversides to the coalfields. Gibbins’ map (facing page 164) forcibly demonstrates how intimately linked together are the industrial towns and their large populations with the coal mining centres. The output of coal rapidly increased. 10 millions of tons in 1800 had increased to 49 in 1850 and to 272 in 1907, and keeping to about that level ever since.

Iron Mining and Smelting.—The machine, coal, and iron are inseparable, and they cannot be considered apart from each other. The superiority of iron machines over wooden ones did not take much finding out. Yet England for a long time could not use, on a large scale, her own supplies of ore because of the great amount of timber consumed in its smelting. The use of coke and, afterwards, by improved furnaces, of raw coal for smelting destroyed this barrier.

The end of the century saw the growth of gigantic iron works all over the country. In 1784 Colebrookdale had sixteen steam-engines, eight blast-furnaces, and nine forges. In 1765 Anthony Bacon had got a ninety-nine year’s lease of mineral rights over forty square miles of country round Merthyr Tydfil for £200 a year, but in less than twenty years he retired with a fortune, and from the sale of his rights began the great works at Cyfarthfa, Dowlais and Penydarren. Crawshay, of Cyfarthfa, who in 1787 had made forty tons of malleable iron in a month was, by l8l2 turning out twenty times as much.

In 1856 the Bessemer process of making steel was originated. With iron machinery in all the important industries, with iron engines running on iron rails over iron bridges, with houses built on iron girders, with iron vessels and armour-plated Dreadnoughts, and with the universal use of iron, in war as well as peace, in things
both small and great, ours can be truly called the age of iron and steel.

Machine-Made Machinery.—But the smelting difficulty was not the only one to be overcome. When Watt was labouring with his early engine, "Beelzebub," he thought himself "fortunate if the cylinder bored by the Canon workmen were not more than three-eighths of an inch out of truth." Besides this lack of accuracy, there was the inability of manufacture to produce "the cyclopean machines" needed, owing to their size. The limits of manufacture blocked the way until machinery
was produced by machinery. In his brilliant chapter on Machinery and Modern Industry, Marx writes:-

The most essential condition to the production of machines by machines was a prime mover capable of exerting any amount of force, and yet under perfect control. Such a condition was already supplied by the steam engine. But at the same time it was necessary to produce the geometri cally straight lines, planes, circles, cones, and spheres required in the detail parts of the machine. This problem Henry Maudsley solved in the first decade of this century by the invention of the slide-rest, a tool that was soon made automatic, and in a modified form was applied to other
constructive machines besides the lathe, for which it was originally intended. This mechanical appliance replaces not some particular tool, but the hand itself, which produces a given form by holding and guiding the cutting tool alone the iron or other material operated upon. Thus it became possible to produce the forms of the individual parts of machinery, "with a degree of speed, accuracy and ease that no accumulated experience of the most skilled work man could give."

Much better should we be able to appreciate the immense effects of the Industrial Revolution, if we could make an extended tour throughout England’s modern workshops, see the gigantic steam-hammers and hydraulic presses at work; follow the iron ore through its processes until it is forged, welded, bored and planed as if it were clay, into the required shapes; watch the cranes swinging easily about their heavy burdens; visit the dockyards where the mammoth floating palaces and the huge ships of war have their birth; enter the factories where the production of textile commodities proceeds ceaselessly, or the engineering shops where forests of quickly moving belts connect the individual machines to the central driving automaton. After such a tour the Industrial Revolution would assume added significance - "Man is the master of things".

Transport.—A revolution in the ways of transport now became necessary to meet the new methods of production. How could industry proceed without efficient transport facilities on sea and land? The roads, formerly with ruts in winter 4 ft. deep, in which waggons were often stranded, and having only a narrow causeway for the use of the pack—horses, were improved, and new roads engineered by Metcalf, Telford, Macadam and others. These improvements made the comparatively swift stage-coach possible.

In addition canals were made. Gibbins furnishes in formation of the boom in canal-making which reached its height in 1791—4. Space forbids us to follow the story of the application of the steam engine to transport. However, from the canals of 1761, from Trevithick’s railroad-engine of 1803 (which is not without strong Welsh local associations), from the steam-driven vessels on the Clyde in 1812, and from Stephenson’s "Rocket" of 1814, and its application to passenger traffic in 1825, right on down to our own day, we see these very necessary transport facilities developing; they now connect market with factory, town with country, and link the whole world together. The first Atlantic steam-crossing in 1837, the beginning of the penny post in 1840, the first telegraph wires of 1844, the railway speculation mania of 1845 —which would have turned the country into a gridiron and made transport impossible if all its projected railways had been laid down— and the laying of the first submarine cable from Dover to Calais in 1850— these are only a few of the many developments which followed.

England’s Start.—Reference has already been made to the need of the world market for supplies as the chief cause of the Industrial Revolution. Having won commercial supremacy, and owning the markets, England was able to achieve industrial supremacy over her rivals. Thanks to her insular position, which kept her Unravaged by European wars, her natural stores of coal and iron, and her early application of the new powers and machinery, England became "the workshop of the
world." She was "the world’s factory, the world’s carrier, and the world’s money-market" for many years. Such a splendid start did she have that only within recent years have her competitors caught her up.

Agricultural Effects.—After a while farming benefitted, too, from the Industrial Revolution, and adopted new methods. The destruction of the class of domestic producers encouraged large-scale farming. The large proprietors completed the decay of "the open field system" and the peasant small-holder. New roots and grasses, rotation of crops, and better breeds of cattle were introduced. The great increase of population and the increasing difference between town and country enlarged the demand for agricultural produce. Agricultural machinery helped to displace the labourer. From 1750 onwards, there begins that depopulation of
the country and that crowding into the towns which has left so many problems as unenviable legacies of the past to the present. Three-quarters of England’s inhabitants are now town-dwellers.

This brings our Outline to a close. The student should read carefully the chapters listed. To examine the birth of the machine is the first step to understand its logic. "Our knowledge of Nature is still in its infancy." Invention nas only just begun. Next we shall see how machinery, "which is in itself a victory of man over the forces of nature," extended and intensified labour, brought new and untold, horrors in its train, and made a large section of mankind less free than they had ever been before. But these are the effects of the Industrial Revolution only so long as its fruits are privately owned. Our efforts should be directed to rise to possession and control, so that machinery shall no longer work against us, but for us. The social forces, as well as the natural forces, must be consciously conquered.

Books.—Gibbins, Period V. Warner, Chaps. XV. and XVI. Capital. Vol. I., Chap. XV. Craik’s Modern Working-Class Movement, Section II. Beard’s Industrial Revolution.'

From A Worker Looks At History, by Mark Starr.



At 6:45 pm, Blogger Joie said...

Does anyone know of a good specialty metals company that can produce custom made metal parts at a reasonable price?


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