The General Introduction of Machinery Did Not Bring About the Era of Happiness and Prosperity Which Had Been Predicted by the Generation Which Saw the Stage Coach Replaced by the Railroad. Several Remedies Were Suggested But None of These Quite Solved the Problem
I N the year 1831, just before the passing of the first Reform Bill Jeremy Bentham, the great English student of legislative methods and the most practical political reformer of that day, wrote to a friend: "The way to be comfortable is to make others comfortable. The way to make others comfortable is to appear to love them. The way to appear to love them is to love them in reality." Jeremy was an honest man. He said what he believed to be true. His opinions were shared by thousands of his countrymen. They felt responsible for the happiness of their less fortunate neighbours and they tried their very best to help them. And Heaven knows it was time that something be done!
The ideal of "economic freedom" (the "laissez faire" of Turgot) had been necessary in the old society where mediaeval restrictions lamed all industrial effort. But this "liberty of action" which had been the highest law of the land had led to a terrible, yea, a frightful condition. The hours in the factory were limited only by the physical strength of the workers. As long as a woman could sit before her loom, without fainting from fatigue, she was supposed to work. Children of five and six were taken to the cotton mills, to save them from the dangers of the street and a life of idleness. A law had been passed which forced the children of paupers to go to work or be punished by being chained to their machines. In return for their services they got enough bad food to keep them alive and a sort of pigsty in which they could rest at night. Often they were so tired that they fell asleep at their job. To keep them awake a foreman with a whip made the rounds and beat them on the knuckles when it was necessary to bring them back to their duties. Of course, under these circumstances thousands of little children died. This was regrettable and the employers, who after all were human beings and not without a heart, sincerely wished that they could abolish "child labour." But since man was "free" it followed that children were "free" too. Besides, if Mr. Jones had tried to work his factory without the use of children of five and six, his rival, Mr. Stone, would have hired an extra supply of little boys and Jones would have been forced into bankruptcy. It was therefore impossible for Jones to do without child labour until such time as an act of Parliament should forbid it for all employers.
But as Parliament was no longer dominated by the old landed aristocracy (which had despised the upstart factory-owners with their money bags and had treated them with open contempt), but was under control of the representatives from the industrial centres, and as long as the law did not allow workmen to combine in labour-unions, very little was accomplished. Of course the intelligent and decent people of that time were not blind to these terrible conditions. They were just helpless. Machinery had conquered the world by surprise and it took a great many years and the efforts of thousands of noble men and women to make the machine what it ought to be, man's servant, and not his master.
Curiously enough, the first attack upon the outrageous system of employment which was then common in all parts of the world, was made on behalf of the black slaves of Africa and America. Slavery had been introduced into the American continent by the Spaniards. They had tried to use the Indians as labourers in the fields and in the mines, but the Indians, when taken away from a life in the open, had lain down and died and to save them from extinction a kind-hearted priest had suggested that negroes be brought from Africa to do the work. The negroes were strong and could stand rough treatment. Besides, association with the white man would give them a chance to learn Christianity and in this way, they would be able to save their souls, and so from every possible point of view, it would be an excellent arrangement both for the kindly white man and for his ignorant black brother. But with the introduction of machinery there had been a greater demand for cotton and the negroes were forced to work harder than ever before, and they too, like the Indians, began to die under the treatment which they received at the hands of the overseers.
Stories of incredible cruelty constantly found their way to Europe and in all countries men and women began to agitate for the abolition of slavery. In England, William Wilberforce and Zachary Macaulay, (the father of the great historian whose history of England you must read if you want to know how wonderfully interesting a history-book can be,) organised a society for the suppression of slavery. First of all they got a law passed which made "slave trading" illegal. And after the year 1840 there was not a single slave in any of the British colonies. The revolution of 1848 put an end to slavery in the French possessions. The Portuguese passed a law in the year 1858 which promised all slaves their liberty in twenty years from date. The Dutch abolished slavery in 1863 and in the same year Tsar Alexander II returned to his serfs that liberty which had been taken away from them more than two centuries before.
In the United States of America the question led to grave difficulties and a prolonged war. Although the Declaration of Independence had laid down the principle that "all men were created equal," an exception had been made for those men and women whose skins were dark and who worked on the plantations of the southern states. As time went on, the dislike of the people of the North for the institution of slavery increased and they made no secret of their feelings. The southerners however claimed that they could not grow their cotton without slave-labour, and for almost fifty years a mighty debate raged in both the Congress and the Senate.
The North remained obdurate and the South would not give in. When it appeared impossible to reach a compromise, the southern states threatened to leave the Union. It was a most dangerous point in the history of the Union. Many things "might" have happened. That they did not happen was the work of a very great and very good man.
On the sixth of November of the year 1860, Abraham Lincoln, an Illinois lawyer, and a man who had made his own intellectual fortune, had been elected president by the Republicans who were very strong in the anti-slavery states. He knew the evils of human bondage at first hand and his shrewd common-sense told him that there was no room on the northern continent for two rival nations. When a number of southern states seceded and formed the "Confederate States of America," Lincoln accepted the challenge. The Northern states were called upon for volunteers. Hundreds of thousands of young men responded with eager enthusiasm and there followed four years of bitter civil war. The South, better prepared and following the brilliant leadership of Lee and Jackson, repeatedly defeated the armies of the North. Then the economic strength of New England and the West began to tell. An unknown officer by the name of Grant arose from obscurity and became the Charles Martel of the great slave war. Without interruption he hammered his mighty blows upon the crumbling defences of the South. Early in the year 1863, President Lincoln issued his "Emancipation Proclamation" which set all slaves free. In April of the year 1865 Lee surrendered the last of his brave armies at Appomattox. A few days later, President Lincoln was murdered by a lunatic. But his work was done. With the exception of Cuba which was still under Spanish domination, slavery had come to an end in every part of the civilised world.
But while the black man was enjoying an increasing amount of liberty, the "free" workmen of Europe did not fare quite so well. Indeed, it is a matter of surprise to many contemporary writers and observers that the masses of workmen (the so-called proletariat) did not die out from sheer misery. They lived in dirty houses situated in miserable parts of the slums. They ate bad food. They received just enough schooling to fit them for their tasks. In case of death or an accident, their families were not provided for. But the brewery and distillery interests, (who could exercise great influence upon the Legislature,) encouraged them to forget their woes by offering them unlimited quantities of whisky and gin at very cheap rates.
The enormous improvement which has taken place since the thirties and the forties of the last century is not due to the efforts of a single man. The best brains of two generations devoted themselves to the task of saving the world from the disastrous results of the all-too-sudden introduction of machinery. They did not try to destroy the capitalistic system. This would have been very foolish, for the accumulated wealth of other people, when intelligently used, may be of very great benefit to all mankind. But they tried to combat the notion that true equality can exist between the man who has wealth and owns the factories and can close their doors at will without the risk of going hungry, and the labourer who must take whatever job is offered, at whatever wage he can get, or face the risk of starvation for himself, his wife and his children.
They endeavoured to introduce a number of laws which regulated
the relations between the factory owners and the factory
workers. In this, the reformers have been increasingly
successful in all countries.
But there were other men who also contemplated the sight of all the belching smoke-stacks, who heard the rattle of the railroad trains, who saw the store-houses filled with a surplus of all sorts of materials, and who wondered to what ultimate goal this tremendous activity would lead in the years to come. They remembered that the human race had lived for hundreds of thousands of years without commercial and industrial competition. Could they change the existing order of things and do away with a system of rivalry which so often sacrificed human happiness to profits?
This idea—this vague hope for a better day—was not restricted to a single country. In England, Robert Owen, the owner of many cotton mills, established a so-called "socialistic community" which was a success. But when he died, the prosperity of New Lanark came to an end and an attempt of Louis Blanc, a French journalist, to establish "social workshops" all over France fared no better. Indeed, the increasing number of socialistic writers soon began to see that little individual communities which remained outside of the regular industrial life, would never be able to accomplish anything at all. It was necessary to study the fundamental principles underlying the whole industrial and capitalistic society before useful remedies could be suggested.
The practical socialists like Robert Owen and Louis Blanc and François Fournier were succeeded by theoretical students of socialism like Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. Of these two, Marx is the best known. He was a very brilliant Jew whose family had for a long time lived in Germany. He had heard of the experiments of Owen and Blanc and he began to interest himself in questions of labour and wages and unemployment. But his liberal views made him very unpopular with the police authorities of Germany, and he was forced to flee to Brussels and then to London, where he lived a poor and shabby life as the correspondent of the New York Tribune.
No one, thus far, had paid much attention to his books on economic subjects. But in the year 1864 he organised the first international association of working men and three years later in 1867, he published the first volume of his well-known treatise called "Capital." Marx believed that all history was a long struggle between those who "have" and those who "don't have." The introduction and general use of machinery had created a new class in society, that of the capitalists who used their surplus wealth to buy the tools which were then used by the labourers to produce still more wealth, which was again used to build more factories and so on, until the end of time. Meanwhile, according to Marx, the third estate (the bourgeoisie) was growing richer and richer and the fourth estate (the proletariat) was growing poorer and poorer, and he predicted that in the end, one man would possess all the wealth of the world while the others would be his employees and dependent upon his good will.
To prevent such a state of affairs, Marx advised working men of all countries to unite and to fight for a number of political and economic measures which he had enumerated in a Manifesto in the year 1848, the year of the last great European revolution.
These views of course were very unpopular with the governments of Europe, many countries, especially Prussia, passed severe laws against the Socialists and policemen were ordered to break up the Socialist meetings and to arrest the speakers. But that sort of persecution never does any good. Martyrs are the best possible advertisements for an unpopular cause. In Europe the number of socialists steadily increased and it was soon clear that the Socialists did not contemplate a violent revolution but were using their increasing power in the different Parliaments to promote the interests of the labouring classes. Socialists were even called upon to act as Cabinet Ministers, and they co-operated with progressive Catholics and Protestants to undo the damage that had been caused by the Industrial Revolution and to bring about a fairer division of the many benefits which had followed the introduction of machinery and the increased production of wealth.