Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2

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Author: Karl Marx

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MARX, Capital (London, 1900), I, 379 sqq. World History

207.

The Way in Which Machinery Invades All Industries (Condensed)

A radical change in the mode of production in one sphere of industry involves a similar change in other spheres. This happens at first in such branches of industry as are connected together by being distinct steps in the manufacture of a single article, cloth for instance, and yet are separated by the division of labor, in such a way that at each step an independent commodity is produced. Thus spinning by machinery made weaving by machinery a necessity, and both together made imperative the mechanical and chemical revolution that took place in bleaching, printing, and dyeing. So too, on the other hand, the revolution in cotton spinning called forth the invention of the gin for separating the seeds from the cotton fiber; it was only by means of this invention that the production of cotton became possible on the enormous scale at present required.

Modern industry makes a revolution in transportation necessary

But more especially, the revolution in the modes of production of industry and agriculture made necessary a revolution in the means of communication and of transportation. These, in the form in which they had been handed down from the earlier period, became unbearable trammels on modern industry, with its feverish haste of production, its enormous extent, its constant flinging of capital and labor from one sphere of production into another, and its newly established connections with the markets of the whole world. Hence, apart from the radical changes introduced in the construction of sailing vessels, the means of communication and transportation became gradually adapted to the modes of production of mechanical industry, by the creation of a system of river steamers, railways, ocean steamers, and telegraphs. But the huge masses of iron that had now to be forged, to be welded, to be cut, to be bored, and to be shaped, demanded, on their part, monster machines, for the construction of which the methods of the manufacturing period were utterly inadequate.

The use of machinery to make machinery

Modern industry had therefore itself to take in hand the machine, its characteristic instrument of production, and to construct machines by machines. It was not till it did this, that it built up for itself a fitting technical foundation and stood on its own feet. Machinery, simultaneously with the increasing use of it, in the first decades of this century, appropriated by degrees the fabrication of machines proper. But it was only during the decade preceding 1866 that the construction of railways and ocean steamers on a stupendous scale called into existence the cyclopean machines now employed in the construction of "prime movers," or motors.

The slide rest for the turning lathe

The most essential condition for the production of machines by machines was a prime mover capable of exerting any amount of force, and yet under perfect control. This condition was already supplied by the steam engine, but at the same time it was necessary to produce the geometrically accurate straight lines, planes, circles, cylinders, cones, and spheres, required in the detail parts of the machines. 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 must, in order to produce a given form, hold and guide the cutting tool along the iron or other material operated upon. Thus it became possible to produce the individual parts of machinery with a degree of ease, accuracy, and speed that no accumulated experience of the hand of the most skilled workman could give.

The machine only a giant tool

Thus when we fix our attention on the machinery employed in the construction of machines, we find the manual implements reappearing, but on a grand scale. For instance, the cutting part of the boring machine is an immense drill driven by a steam engine; without this machine, the cylinders of large steam engines and of hydraulic presses could not be made. The mechanical lathe is only a gigantic reproduction of the ordinary foot lathe; the planing machine, an iron carpenter, that works on iron with the same tools that the human carpenter employs on wood; the instrument that, on the London wharves, cuts the veneers, is a gigantic razor; the tool of the shearing machine, which shears iron as easily as a tailor’s scissors cut cloth, is a monster pair of scissors; and the steam hammer works with an ordinary hammer head, but of such a weight that not even the god Thor himself could wield it. These steam hammers are an invention of Nasmyth, and there is one that weighs over six tons and strikes with a vertical fall of seven feet, on an anvil weighing thirty-six tons. It is mere child’s play for it to crush a block of granite into powder, yet it is no less capable of driving, with a succession of light taps, a nail into a piece of soft wood.

1 See The Development of Modern Europe, Vol. II, pp. 396 sqq.

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Chicago: Karl Marx, "The Way in Which Machinery Invades All Industries (Condensed)," Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2 in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, ed. James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard (Boston: Ginn and Company, 1908), 55–58. Original Sources, accessed August 12, 2020, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5FKEHGFYUV6HM7J.

MLA: Marx, Karl. "The Way in Which Machinery Invades All Industries (Condensed)." Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2, in Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, edited by James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) and Charles A. Beard, Vol. 2, Boston, Ginn and Company, 1908, pp. 55–58. Original Sources. 12 Aug. 2020. originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5FKEHGFYUV6HM7J.

Harvard: Marx, K, 'The Way in Which Machinery Invades All Industries (Condensed)' in Readings in Modern European History, Vol. 2. cited in 1908, Readings in Modern European History: A Collection of Extracts from the Sources Chosen With the Purpose of Illustrating Some of the Chief Phases of the Development of Europe During the Last Two Hundred Years, ed. , Ginn and Company, Boston, pp.55–58. Original Sources, retrieved 12 August 2020, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=5FKEHGFYUV6HM7J.