Maurice Cornforth on William Blake, Marx, & Machines

Marx observed that at first a manufactory contained a number of separate machines set side by side, as in a weaving factory or a sewing factory. But in various branches of industry there was soon built up “a real machinery system . . . to take the place of these independent machines”. In this “the subject of labour goes through a connected series of detail processes, that are carried out by a chain of machines of various kinds, the one supplementing the other”. Finally, “as soon as a machine executes, without man’s help, all the movements requisite to elaborate the raw material, needing only attendance from him, we have an automatic system of machinery, and one that is susceptible of constant improvement in its details” (ibid). Marx concluded, in language perhaps slightly reminiscent of William Blake, that “an organised system of machines, in which motion is communicated by the transmitting mechanism from a central automation, is the most developed form of production by machinery. Here we have, in the place of the isolated machine, a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demon power, at first veiled under the slow and measured motions of his giant limbs, at length breaks out into the fast and furious whirl of his countless working organs.”

SOURCE: Cornforth, Maurice. The Open Philosophy and the Open Society: A Reply to Dr. Karl Popper’s Refutations of Marxism (New York: International Publishers, 1968), Part 3, Chapter 4, section 2: Social Implications of Modern Techniques; quote, p. 346.

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