Outline for talk on dialectics of technology revolution



K. Marx, "The development of machinery", Capital, Chapter XV, Section I

N.Peery, "Dialectics of the leap and the destruction of capitalism," Rally, Comrades!, December, 1991.

Supplemental Readings

L. Tesler, "Networked Computing the 1990's", Scientific American, Sept. 1991.

Chart (pdf)

I. Review of key elements of dialectics

Since dialectics describes the universal process of development and change, it can be applied to understanding any phenomena.

The central relationship in the process of history is that between the relatively mobile productive forces, and the relatively static productive relations.

The productive forces themselves develop dialectically.

By examining the process of the development of the productive forces, we can not only understand dialectics better, but we can also better understand the way that the productive forces come into conflict with productive relations, the precursor to the revolutionary moment.

Epoch summarizes the principles of dialectics as follows:

1) Nature is a connected and integrated whole.

2) Nature is in a state of constant change: development, disintegration, dying away and arising.

3) Internal contradiction, the basis of development, is inherent in all things.

4) Changes are from lower to higher order and occur as negations.

5) Qualitative changes begin with the quantitative introduction of the new quality into the quantitative development of the old. Qualitative changes occur as leaps.

6) Quantitative changes are definite and indispensable.

In his chapter on "Machinery and Modern Industry" in volume I of Capital, Marx demonstrates the application of the dialectical method to understanding the process of the technology revolution.

Each aspect of dialectics is evident in his description of the transformation from the manual-based manufacturing system to the industrial system.

We can borrow from his method to understanding a parallel, but perhaps more profound transformation from the industrial system to (for lack of a better term) the digital system.

The manufacture system was based on human or readily available natural power (e.g., animal, wind or water power). It's great advance over the earlier system of cooperation lay in the relatively sophisticated division of labor where the production process was broken into discrete tasks and parcelled out to different workers assembled under one roof.

Machinery develops, but is contstrained by the lack of a universal power source.

With the introduction of the double-acting steam engine into the process of production, a relatively rapid transformation begins.

The steam engine, as a universal power source, freed from the vagaries of nature, exploiting the energy stored in wood, coal and oil, lays the basis for a new way of organizing and carrying out production. The universal power source enables the development of machines into an "automatic system of machinery."

The new system leaps to connected or related industries, culminating in "a general revolution in the general conditions of the social process of production", i.e., in communications and transport. With the construction of machines by machines, modern machinery comes into its own ("stands on its own two feet").

There are several key themes which are useful for examining any technolody revolution.


1. Past and future are connected to the present (past as cause, future as effect). The old system lays the basis and provides the model (and rationale) for the initial deployment/implementation of the new technology. The old environment of production:

--> old system precondition for new: development from tools to machinery; increase in size of machinery needing bigger power source; need for dependable source, division of labor creating conditions for applying machinery (tasks broken down into discrete steps): From small machines cooperating (a la humans) to complexes of machinery handled all phases (or mulitple phases) of process.

-- the cooperation by the division of labor that characterises Manufacture, only now via combination of detail machines. "Manufacture furnishes the natural basis for the division and consequent organization of production." rapid spread through connected/related industries

2. The confluence of contemporary factors spurs on the development of new technology -- i.e., it is a product of historical circumstances. The inspiraton for invention comes, not from nowhere, but from existing technologies or natural phenomena.

3. Because of the interconnetedness of various parts of the economy, all sections of the economy must be and are transformed. "A radical change in the mode of production in one sphere of industry involves a similar change in other speheres."

4. Not only are production methods transformed, but with them, all of social relations. "But more especially , the revolution in the modes of production of indstry and agriculture made necessary a revolution in the general conditions of the scial process of production, i.e., in the means of communication and transport. In a society whose pivot... was agriculture on a small scale, with its subsidiary domestic industries, and the urban handicrafts, the means of communication and transport were so utterly inadequate to the productive requirements of the manufacturing period." (362-363) --> dmands of new comm & transport placed huge demands on production, and spurred development of modern industry.

Constant motion/change: (General climate of scientific and cultural achievement is environment for productive forces?) "Spontaneous" development of technology (a specialized form f production (of scientific knowledge)). Constant well-spring of innovation, incessant human activity, circulation of commodities, etc.

Contradiction: Between "motor mechanism" and "working machine" [machinery and motive power]. Organization of production and tools of production. (Modes of production of industry and agriculture) and (social process of production) (Means of production) and (means of communication) Between capitalist and worker ; between (owner of means of production) and (owner of means of labor, skill bearer)

Introduction of new quality

--> independent power source (steam) "Not till the invention of Watt's second and so-called double-acting steam-engine, was a prime mover found, that begot its own force by he consumption of coal and water, whose power was entirely under man's control, that was mobile and a means of locomotion, that was urban and not, like the waterwheel, rural, that permitted production to be concentrated in towns instead of like the water-wheels, scattered up and down the country, that was of universal technical applcation, and .. little affected by its choice of residence by local circumstances." (357)

(1) a prime mover capable of exerting any amount of force, and yet under perfect control (supplied by steam engine)

(2) a means of producing the detail parts of machines (supplied by the "slide rest", produces a given form by holding and guiding the cutting tool "replaces, not some particular tool, but the hand itself"

Stages of development:

Division of labor/manufacture

Use of machinery based on human or found natural power

Introduction of a universal power source [steam engine]

Growth and integration of system of machines

"Automatic system of machinery" [and incompatibility with system of Manufacture, and so destruction of Manufacture]

Rapid spread through connected/related industries

"A general revolution in the general conditions of the social process of production" (communications and transport)

Construction of machines by machines

Negation of manufacture:

-- susbtitution of human force by natural force.

-- conscious application of science, instead of rule of thumb

-- in Manufacture, organization of production is purely subjective (combination of detail labourers); in Modern Industry, organization is objective, in which the labourer becomes a mere appendage to an already existing condition of production)

-- in simple cooperation, suppression of the isolated by the collective workmen appears to be more or less accidental. Machinery, with a few exceptions, operates only by means of associated labor, or labor in common. the co-operative character of the labour-process is, in the latter case, a technical necessity dictated by the instrument of labor itself.

--> But machinery is not just replicated human activity --> need to reorganize production to take advantage of efficiencies and capabilities of machinery etc. (see fn on 362) this system is perfected over time, until all phases are done by machinery.

Manufacture stresses the separateness of each act; the "fully developed factory" the continuity of processes is "imperative".

(p. 360) "Manufacture produced the machinery by means of which Modern Industry abolished the handicraft and manufacturing systems in those spheres of production that it first siezed upon." p. 361

"Modern Industry was crippled in its complete development, so long as its characteristic instrument of production, the machine, owed its existence to personal strength and personal skill..." (361)

"Modern Industry became incompatible with the basis furnished for it by handicraft and Manufacture." (increasing size of prime movers, the transmitting mechanism, the machines proper, greater complicationm etc. departed from model of originally made by manual labor, and demanded new forms"

Modern industry has therefore itself to take in hand the machine, its charactersitic instrument of production, and to construct machines by machines. It was not until it did this, that it built ip for itself a fitting technical foundation, and stood on its own feet...[I] was only during the decade ppreceding 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." [363]

[Also, uneven-ness of development - not all, simultaneously, but in stages. Time lags -- invention of steam engine in 1770's/80's; widespread use in manufacture maybe some 20 - 50 years later. Ditto for electric motor/dynamo -- invented in 1840's, not used widely until end of century. Dependent of development of network of infrastructure to support it?]

Culmination in "a general revolution in the general conditions of the social process of production", i.e., in communications and transport."


IV. The electronic revolution


Automata (medieval --> [clockwork figures])

Adding machines (1642/Blaise Pascal)

Jacquard loom (late 18th century)

Hollerith punched cards (1890)

Babbage's Difference Engine (1820's) (concepts, but tech of time not capable of translating ideas into practice) ["store" for saving data, "mill" for arithmetic operations,...]

Feedback mechanism: Flyball governor, thermostat

Developments in philosophy, math (e.g Boolean algebra), electronics (Turing)

Electronics: field of engineering and applied physics dealing with design and applicaiton of devices, usually electronic circuits, the operation of whixh depends on the flow of electrons for the generation, transmissin, reception, and storage of information.



Division of labor --> mechanization (machines that duplicated actions of worker) (with cheapening of power sources, motorized) --> factory system --> transfer machines --> integrated system of production (assembly line)

Demand for better switches, military needs, need to process more info, [break power of trade unions]

WWII, need for faster switches

Air Force --> numerical control

Navy --> containerization

Vacuum tube

Transistors (invented 1948), (late 1950s) (used less power, lasted longer, smaller, computers less expensive to build) (second generation) developed at Bell Labs by Shockley et al.

Integrated circuits (late '60's)-- many transistors to be fabricated on one silicon substrate. (further reduction in size, price and failure rate. Led to microprocessor (early '70's).

Other siginificant and related technologies: Commercial jets, lasers, satellite & fiber optice communications, genetic engineering, new "smart" materials.


Use of computers (Sci Am, 9/91)

Batch (1960s)

Cost and nature of computer equipment required it to be centralized, air conditioned room tended by computer specialists. Work had to be done in batches to justify cost of setting up job. Only large organizations could generate the batches, hence afford or effectively use technology.

<-- intro of microprocessor

Time sharing (1970s)

Cheaper, better equipment means that new way of using technology is possible. Cost of computing could be distributed among many users. Terminals within reach of more users --> demand for communications infrastructure to support terminals

GM finances MIT research on robotics "programmable universal manipulator for assembly"

Desktop (1980s)

Microprocessor allows entire computer operation to fit on desktop. New tasks could be pushed to worker at desktop. Networking to allow machines to communicate.

Network (1990s)

Growth of computer networks. Especially internet. Distributed computing

Numeric control (1950's/60's)

Automated bookkeeping, billing

Craft --> Fordism --> Toyotaism

Industrial --> Information intensive

IBM --> DEC --> Apple/MSFT --> Netscape/Java

"Computers, Network and the Corporation": Significance of computers as "coordinating technology": 1st, 2nd and 3rd order effects.

1st order: reducing coordinating costs (usually associated with layoffs, as workers are replaced by technology) Same work process, but with fewer workers, and the difference being made up by technology. Example: replacement of back office clerks; factory expediters; middle management (1980's)

2nd order: Reduced cost allows for greater coordination. More products with shorter product cycles, smaller production runs.

3rd order: Shift to "more coordination-intensive structures" -- negation of old system, reconstruction on new basis. Related industries compelled to follow suit (e.g. suppliers compelled by auto companies to adope electronic data interchange systems, Walmart)

Allows for destruction of vertically-integrated industries, and construction of "friction-free markets", competitive advantage, contracting out, focus on "core competencies", destruction of traditional heriarchies, replacement with "adhocracy".



Old process of industry continues to develop, constrained in its development by limited info processing, inefficiencies in production, [strength of trade unions?]

[role of labs]

Development of independent info processing device <really, only with microprocessor>

Development of related technologies.

Introduced into production

Spread to connected industries.

Negation of industrial system.

General revolution in communications and transport.

Interconnectedness --> past methods, ideas, technologies. One industry to another. One technology to another. Various national economies to each other. Technology to economy to productive relations.

In definite stages --

stages of technology, (batch/timeshare/desktop/network

industry by industry (manufacturing --> transpo --> construction --> ag --> info processing

strata by strata (mech of ag --> automation of production --> info processing)

Destruction of industrial system

--- has had a direct impact on people involved in this process, in distinct stages --> "working class" --> retail / distribution / "professions"