If science were put in the service of capital,
the recalcitrant workers docility
would be guaranteed.
— Andrew Ure, Philosophie des manufactures, 1835
In the past, if anyone called a tradesman
a worker, he risked a brawl.
Today, when they are told that
workers are the best thing in the state,
they all insist on being workers.
— M. May, 1948
The term industrial revolution, which is commonly used to describe the period between 1750 and 1850, is a pure bourgeois lie that corresponds to the lie of political revolutions. It doesn’t include the negative and flows from a view of history solely as technological progress.
Here the enemy deals a double blow, legitimizing the existence of managers and hierarchy as unavoidable technical necessities, and imposing a mechanical conception of progress, considered as a positive and socially neutral law. It is the religious instance of materialism and the idealism of matter. Such a lie was obviously designed for the poor, among whom it has inflicted long-lasting devastation.
To refute it, it is enough to stick to the facts. Most of the technological innovations that allowed factories to develop had been discovered earlier, but remained unused. Their widespread application was not a mechanical consequence, but stemmed from a historically timed choice that was made by the ruling classes. And this choice was not so much a response to a concern about purely technical efficiency (which was often doubtful) as it was a strategy of social domestication. The industrial pseudo-revolution can thus be reduced to a project of social counter-revolution. There is only one type of progress: the progress of alienation.
Under the system that existed previously, the poor still enjoyed a considerable amount of independence in the work they were obliged to perform. Its dominant form was the domestic workshop: capitalists rented tools to the workers, provided them with raw materials and then bought the finished products dirt-cheap. For the workers, exploitation was only a facet of commerce over which they had no direct control.
The poor could still consider their work an “art” over which they exercised a considerable range of decision-making power. But above all, they remained masters of their own time. They worked at home and could stop whenever they felt like it. Their work escaped any calculation. Variety, as well as irregularity, characterized their work, since the domestic workplace was more often than not a complement to agricultural activities.
The consequent fluctuations in industrial activity were incompatible with the harmonious expansion of commerce. Thus the poor still possessed considerable leverage that they exercised constantly. The rerouting of raw materials was common practice and fed a parallel market. Above all, those who worked at home could exert pressure on their employers. The frequent destruction of looms was a means of “collective bargaining by riot” (Hobsbawm). Come up with the bucks, or we’ll break everything!
Factories modeled after prisons
In order to suppress the dangerous independence of the poor, the bourgeoisie felt obliged to directly control the realm of exploitation. So this is what governed the spread of factories. The work sphere was to be made independent in time and space from the rest of life. Already in 1725, Ashton had written, “It is not so much those who are absolutely idle who wrong the public, but those who only work half the time.” Military arts were applied to industry, and factories were literally modeled after prisons, which made their appearance at about the same time.
A huge, surrounding wall separated the worker from everything that was external to work, and guards were assigned to turn back those who, at first, found it natural to visit their less fortunate friends. On the inside, the first goal of draconian regulation was to civilize the slaves. In 1770, a writer envisioned a new plan for making the poor productive: the House of Terror in which inhabitants would be forced to work for fourteen hours a day and kept under control through a starvation diet. His idea was not far ahead of its time. A generation later, the House of Terror was simply called a factory.
Factories first became widespread in England. The ruling classes there had long since overcome their internal conflicts and could thus devote themselves to the passion of commerce without restraint. The repression that followed the millenarian assault by the poor had also paved the way for the industrial counter-revolution.
It was the sad fate of the English poor to be the first to be subjected to the unmitigated brutality of this developing social mechanism. It goes without saying that they considered this fate an absolute degradation, and those who accepted it were scorned by their peers. At the time of the Levellers, it was already commonly thought that those who sold their labor for a wage had abandoned all the rights of a “free-born Englishman”. Even before production began, the First factory owners were already experiencing difficulty in recruiting workers and often had travel long distances to find them.
Then it was necessary to force the poor to stay at their new jobs, which they deserted en masse. This is why Factory owners took charge of their slaves dwellings, which functioned as the antechambers of the factories. A vast industrial reserve army was formed, bringing about a militarization of the totality of social life.
Luddism was the response of the poor to this new order. During the First few decades of the 19th century, a movement dedicated to the destruction of rmachines developed in a climate of insurrectional fury. It was not merely a question of nostalgia for the golden age of the craftsman. Surely the advent of the reign of the quantitative, of mass produced, shoddy merchandise, was a major source of anger.
Henceforth, the time it took to accomplish a task became more important than the quality of the result. This devaluation of the contents of any work carried out led the poor to attack work in general, thus revealing its essence. But Luddism was above all an anti-capitalist war of independence, an “attempt to destroy the new society” (Matthias). As one of their tracts read, “All nobles and tyrants must be struck down.”
Luddism was the heir to the millenarian movements of the previous centuries. Although it no longer expressed itself as universal and unifying, it remained radically foreign to every political outlook and to all economic pseudo-rationality. At the same time in France, the silk-worker uprisings, which were also directed against the process of industrial domestication, were on the other hand already contaminated by the political lie. “Their political understanding deluded them about the source of social misery and distorted their consciousness of their real goal,” Marx wrote in 1844. Their slogan was “live working or die fighting”.
Imposing industrial logic
In England, while the nascent trade union movement was half-heartedly repressed and even tolerated, the destruction of machinery was punished with death. The unwavering negativity of the Luddites made them socially intolerable. The state responded to this threat in two ways: it organized a modern, professional police force, and it officially recognized trade unions. Luddism was first defeated through brutal repression and then faded away as the trade unions succeeded in imposing industrial logic. In 1920, an English observer noted with relief that “bargaining over the conditions of change has prevailed over merely opposing change itself.” Some progress!
Of all the slander heaped on the Luddites, the worst came from labor movement apologists who regarded it as blind and infantile. Hence the following passage from Marx’s Capital, representing a basic misinterpretation of the era: “Time and experience were needed before workers learned to distinguish between machines themselves and the manner in which they were used by capital, and to direct their attacks against the specific social context in which they were used, and not against the physical instruments of production themselves.”
This materialistic conception of the neutrality of machines sufficed to legitimize the organization of production, iron discipline (on this point Lenin was a consistent marxist), and all that ultimately followed. Though the Luddites were supposedly backwards, at least they understood that the “material instruments of production” are first of all instruments of domestication with a form that is not neutral because it guarantees hierarchy and dependence.
The resistance of the first factory workers manifested itself primarily in one of the rare things that belonged to them, but of which they were being dispossessed: their time. There was an old religious custom of not working on either Sunday or Monday, which was called “Holy Monday”. Since Tuesdays were dedicated to recovering from two days of drinking, work could not reasonably begin until Wednesday! This holy custom was widespread at the beginning of the 19th century and subsisted until 1914 in some trades. The bosses employed various coercive methods to combat this institutionalized absenteeism, but without success. With the introduction of trade unions, Saturday afternoons off from work replaced “Holy Monday”. This glorious conquest meant that the workweek was extended by two days!
Holy Monday didn’t just bring the question of work time into play, but also the use of morzey, because workers didn’t return to work until they I had spent all their wages. From this time on, the slave was no longer considered merely a worker, but also a consumer. Adam Smith had theorized the need to develop the internal market by opening it to the poor. Furthermore, as Archbishop Berkeley wrote in 1755, “Wouldn’t the creation of needs represent the best means of making the nation industrious?”
In a way that was still marginal, the wages allotted to the poor were thus adapted to the needs of the market. But the poor did not use this additional cash as the economists had foreseen. The wage increase was time gained back from work (a nice twist on Benjamin Franklin’s utilitarian maxim time is money). Time gained by being away from the factory was spent in the well-named public houses (during this time, news of rebellion was communicated from pub to pub). The more money the poor had, the more they drank.
The spirit of commodities was first discovered in liquor, to the amazement of economists, who claimed that the poor would spend their money usefully. The temperance campaigns, jointly carried out by the bourgeoisie and the “advanced (and therefore sober) portions of the working class”, were mainly an exhortation to use their wages wisely rather than a response to a concern about public health. (The fact that work caused even greater damage did not induce the bourgeoisie to call for its abolition). One hundred years later, the same sectors were unable to fathom that the poor would deprive themselves of food in order to buy a “superfluous” commodity.
Savagery always returns
Propaganda to encourage saving was introduced to combat this propensity for immediate spending. And again, it was the “avant-garde of the working class” that instituted savings establishments for the poor. Saving increased both the dependence of the poor and the power of the enemy. Capitalists could rise above crises by lowering wages, and could accustom workers to the idea of accepting the minimum necessary to sustain life.
But Marx brings up an irresolvable contradiction in the Grundrisse: each capitalist requires his own slaves, as workers, to save, but only his own workers. He needs all the other slaves to be consumers who are obliged, as such, to spend. This contradiction couldn’t be resolved until much later when commodity development permitted the establishment of credit for the poor. ln any event, even if the bourgeoisie had succeeded in civilizing the behavior of the poor at work for the time being, it could never totally domesticate their spending. Through money, savagery always returns.
After the suppression of Holy Monday lengthened the workweek, “workers from then on enjoyed their leisure time at the work place” (Geoff Brown). Slowdowns became the rule. The introduction of piecework was the thing that ultimately imposed discipline in the workshops, forcing diligence and productivity to increase. The main result of this system, which began to spread in the 1850s, was to force workers to internalize industrial logic. To earn more, it was necessary to work more. However, this had a detrimental effect on everyone else’s wages, and the less zealous workers could even find themselves out of work.
The response to the resulting all-out competition was the establishment of collective bargaining to decide the amount of work to be done, its distribution and remuneration. This led to the implementation of trade union mediation. Having won the victory with regard to productivity, capitalists consented to a decrease in the hours worked. The famous ten-hour law may have effectively been a victory for trade unionism, but it was a defeat for the poor, cementing the defeat of their long resistance to the new industrial order.
The ever-present dictatorship of necessity was thus established. Once the vestiges of the former social order were suppressed, nothing remained that could not be reduced to the imperatives of work. The “struggle for existence” was all the poor had to look forward to. But the absolute reign of necessity cannot be understood merely as a quantitative increase in scarcity. It is above all the colonization of the mind by the trivial and crude principle of utility, a defeat for thought itself.
Here is where we measure the consequences of the crushing of the millenarian spirit that inspired the poor during the first phase of industrialization. During this period, the reign of brutal necessity was clearly conceived as the work of one world: the world of the antichrist based on property and money. The idea of the suppression of necessity was inseparable from the idea of the realization of the Garden of Eden for humanity, “the spiritual Canaan where wine, milk and honey flowed, and money did not exist” (Coppe). With the defeat of this attempted reversal, necessity attained an appearance of immediacy. Henceforth, scarcity appeared to be a natural calamity that only a more extensive organization of work could remedy. With the triumph of the English ideology, the poor, who were already completely dispossessed, were deprived of even the idea of plenitude.
Puritans — scum
The cult of utility and progress found its source and legitimacy in Protestantism, and more precisely in its Anglo-Saxon Puritan variant. Having made religion a private affair, the protestant ethic confirmed the social atomization caused by industrialization. Individuals found themselves alone before god just as they found themselves isolated in the face of commodities and money. This ethic also professed precisely the values that were required of the poor: honesty, frugality, abstinence, thrift and work.
The Puritans were scum who relentlessly fought against parties, games, debauchery and everything that was opposed to the logic of work, and saw the millenarian spirit as the “stifling of the spirit of enterprise” (Webb, 1644). They paved the way for the industrial counterrevolution. Moreover, one could say that the Reformation was the prototype for reformism: as the product of dissent, it, in turn, favored all dissenting points of view. It “did not demand that one become a Puritan; it demanded that one be a believer. Any religion would do.”
In France, in 1789, these principles were to be fully realized, as they definitively shed their religious form and took on a universal one through law and politics. France was a latecomer to the industrial process. There was an irreconcilable conflict between the bourgeoisie and a nobility that was wary of any mobilization of money. Paradoxically it was this delay that led the bourgeoisie to advocate the most modern approach.
In Great Britain, where the ruling classes had long ago merged along a common historical path, “the Declaration of Human Rights took form dressed not in a Roman toga, but in the robe of the Old Testament prophets” (Hobsbawm). This is precisely the limit, the incomplete nature of the English theoretical counterrevolution. Citizenship was still ultimately based on the doctrine of election, according to which the elect recognized each other by the fruits of their labor and their moral adherence to this world. This excluded the rabble, who could still dream of a land of plenty.
The initial goal of forced labor in the factories was, above all, to limit this threatening potential, and to integrate it through a powerful social mechanism. The lies of the English bourgeoisie still lacked the refinement that characterized their counterpart on the other side of the Channel. This refinement allowed the latter to dispossess the poor, first of all, through ideology. Even today, the English defenders of the old world put forth their moral rectitude rather than their political opinions. The particularly visible and arrogant boundary that separates the rich from the poor in France is on par with the feeble penetration of the concept of the individual and legal equality.
While Puritan moral indoctrination had the initial effect of unifying and comforting everyone who had a particular interest to defend in a changing and uncertain world, it devastated the lower classes, who were already bent under the yoke of work and money, and put the f1nishing touches on their defeat. Thus, Ure recommended that his peers maintain the “moral machinery” as carefully as the “mechanical machinery”, in order to “make obedience acceptable”. But this moral machinery would reveal its harmful effects particularly when it was adopted by the poor, stamping its imprint on the nascent labor movement.
The Campaign to Civilize the Poor
Working class sects multiplied. Methodists, Wesleyans, Baptists and other sects recruited as many faithful as the Church of England, a state institution. In the hostile environments of the new industrial sites, shivering workers withdrew to the solace of the chapel. There is always a tendency to rationalize insults when revenge does not take place. The new workers morality turned poverty into a state of grace and austerity into a virtue.
In industrial areas, the union was the direct offspring of the chapel, and lay preachers were transformed into union representatives. The campaign to civilize the poor, carried out by the bourgeoisie, gained the upper hand over social hatred only on the rebound, once it was relayed by the workers’ representatives, who now spoke the same language as their masters in their struggles against them. But the religious form that the domestication of thought might still take on was only a secondary aspect. Its most effective basis was the economic lie.
Quite appropriately, John and Paula Zerzan bring up this contradiction: It was during the second third of the 19th century, when the poor were subjected to the most degrading and mutilating conditions in all aspects of their lives, and when all resistance to the founding of the new capitalist order was defeated, that Marx, Engels and their followers greeted the birth of “the revolutionary army of work” with satisfaction, and believed that the objective conditions for a victorious assault had finally come together.
In his famous 1864 address to the International Workingmen’s Association, Marx began by drawing a detailed portrait of the appalling situation of the English poor and went on to applaud “marvelous successes” like the ten-hour workday law (we’ve already seen what that was worth) and the establishment of manufacturing cooperatives, which represented “a victory of the political economy of work over the political economy of property”! If marxist commentators have amply described the horrifying fate of 19th century workers, they consider this fate to be to some extent inevitable and beneficial. It was inevitable because it was the unavoidable consequence of the demands of science and of a necessary development of “production relations”. It was beneficial to the extent that “the proletariat was united, disciplined and organized by the mechanisms of production” (Marx).
The workers’ movement was founded on a purely defensive basis. The first workers’ associations were “associations of resistance and mutual aid”. But if the poor in revolt had always previously seen themselves negatively, and had identified with their enemies, class, it was in and through work, which they had been forced to make the center of their existence, that workers came to seek a positive community. But they did not produce this community themselves; it was the product of an external mechanism.
The “aristocratic minority” of skilled workers was the first incarnation of this ideology — the sector that interested politicians, and from which came those who society was only too pleased to greet as the representatives of the working class (as Edith Simcox fittingly noted in 1880). The huge mass of still intermittent and unskilled workers couldn’t be part of this. When the trade union doors opened, these workers were the only ones who still maintained the wild and combative spirit of English workers, beginning a long cycle of social struggle that was at times violent, but lacked a unifying principle.
“Although the revolutionary initiative will probably begin in France, only England can serve as the lever for a serious economic revolution. (…) The English have all of the material for social revolution. What they lack is the generalizing spirit and revolutionary passion.” This late 19th century declaration of the General Council of the International Workingmen’s Association contains both the true and false consciousness of an epoch. From a social viewpoint, England has always been an enigma. It is the country that gave birth to modern conditions of exploitation, and was thus the first to produce large masses of the modern poor. But it is also the country where institutions have been left unchanged for three centuries, having not been shaken by a revolutionary assault.
Ready to Take to the Barricades
This is what distinguishes England from the nations of the European continent and contradicts the marxist concept of revolution. Commentators have tried to explain this enigma as a British atavism. This led to the endless repetition of tall tales about the reformist and anti-theoretical character of the English poor as compared to the radical consciousness that animated the poor in France, who were always ready to take to the barricades. This sort of ahistorical outlook forgets the abundance of theory that came out during the years of the civil war in the 17th century along with the persistence and violence that have always characterized the social struggles of the English poor, struggles that have continued to grow since the middle of this (20th) century. ln reality, the enigma is resolved like this: the revolt of the poor always depends on what it confronts.
In England, the ruling classes carried out their enterprise of domestication through the brutal force of a social mechanism and without flowery phrases. English historians often find it deplorable that the “industrial revolution” was not accompanied by a “cultural revolution” that would have integrated the poor into the “industrial spirit” (such considerations multiplied in the ’70s when the spread of wildcat strikes sharply revealed how important this was).
In France, the bourgeois counterrevolution was first of all theoretical; domination was exercised through politics and law, “the miracle that has kept people in a state of abuse since 1789” (Louis Blanc). These principles represented a universal project: the promise that the poor would be able to participate when they adopted the existing structures. Around 1830, a sector of the poor took on the role of spokespeople for this promise, demanding that “men who have been made inferior be given their dignity as citizens” (Proudhon). Beginning in 1848, the same principles were invoked against the bourgeoisie in the name of the “republic of work”. The extent of the role played by the dead weight of 1789 in crushing the Paris commune is common knowledge.
This social project split in two in the 19th century. In England, the capital of capital, social struggles weren’t able to merge into a unified assault, and so became travesties that remained at the level of “economic” struggles. In France, the cradle of reformism, the unitary assault was restricted to a political form, leaving the last word to the state. The secret of the absence of a revolutionary movement across the Channel is therefore identical to that of the defeat of revolutionary movements on the continent.
We have described the beginning of a process that is now reaching its completion: the labor movement is definitively integrated into civil society, and a new project of industrial domestication is underway. Today the magnitude and the limits of the movements of the past that inevitably bring about social conditions in every region of the world have become completely clear.
Via: A Crime Called Freedom: The Writings of Os Cangaceiros (Volume One)