The Strife between Workman and Machine

Today marks the day where Marx’s influential and widely-read book Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 1: The Process of Production of Capital (1867) was published 150 years ago:

Cover of the original first edition

“But machinery not only acts as a competitor who gets the better of the workman, and is constantly on the point of making him superfluous. It is also a power inimical to him, and as such capital proclaims it from the roof tops and as such makes use of it. It is the most powerful weapon for repressing strikes, those periodical revolts of the working-class against the autocracy of capital.[127] According to Gaskell, the steam-engine was from the very first an antagonist of human power, an antagonist that enabled the capitalist to tread under foot the growing claims of the workmen, who threatened the newly born factory system with a crisis.[128] It would be possible to write quite a history of the inventions, made since 1830, for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working-class. At the head of these in importance, stands the self-acting mule, because it opened up a new epoch in the automatic system.[129] 


From Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. I, Chapter 15, “Machinery and Modern Industry,” Section 5, “The Strife between Workman and Machine.” [Emphasis and underlining my own. Marx’s notes below.]

127. “The relation of master and man in the blown-flint bottle trades amounts to a chronic strike.” Hence the impetus given to the manufacture of pressed glass, in which the chief operations are done by machinery. One firm in Newcastle, who formerly produced 350,000 lbs. of blown-flint glass, now produces in its place 3,000,500 lbs. of pressed glass. (“Ch. Empl. Comm., Fourth Rep.,” 1865, pp. 262-263.)

128. Gaskell. “The Manufacturing Population of England,” London, 1833, pp. 3, 4.

129. W. Fairbairn discovered several very important applications of machinery to the construction of machines, in consequence of strikes in his own workshops.

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