فصل 36کتاب: تاریخی کوچک از جهان / فصل 36
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MEN AND MACHINES
Metternich and the pious rulers of Russia, Austria, France and Spain were indeed able to bring about a return to life as it had been before the French Revolution at least in its outward forms. Once again there was all the splendour and ceremony of courts, where the nobility paraded, their breasts covered in medals and decorations, and wielded much influence. Citizens were excluded from politics, which suited many of them very well. They occupied themselves with their families, with books and, above all, with music. For, in the last hundred years, music, heard mostly as an accompaniment to dancing, songs and hymns in earlier times, had become the art which, of all the arts, spoke most to people. However, this period of tranquillity and leisure, known to Austrians as the Biedermeier era that of the administrative or professional middle-class citizen was only the visible side of things. There was one Enlightenment idea that Metternich could not suppress not that he ever thought of doing so. This was the idea Galileo had had of a rational, mathematical approach to the study of nature, which had appealed so much to people at the time of the Enlightenment. And it so happened that this hidden aspect of the Enlightenment led to a far greater revolution and dealt a far more deadly blow to the old forms and institutions than the Parisian Jacobins ever did with their guillotine.
Mastering the mathematics of nature enabled people not only to understand the forces of nature, but to use them. And they were now harnessed and put to work for mankind.
The history of all the inventions that followed is not as simple as you might think. In most cases they began with an idea. This idea led to experiments and trials, after which it was often abandoned, only to be picked up again later, perhaps by somebody else. It was only when a person came along who had the determination and persistence to carry the idea through to its conclusion, and make it generally useful, that that person became known as the ‘inventor’. This was the case with all the machines which changed our lives with steam-driven machinery, the steamship, the steam engine and the telegraph and they all became important in Metternich’s time.
The steam engine came first. A learned Frenchman called Papin had already been carrying out experiments around 1700. But it wasn’t until 1769 that a Scottish engineer named James Watt was able to patent a proper steam engine. At first the engine was mainly used to pump water out of mines, but people soon saw the possibility of using it to drive carriages or ships. Experiments with steamships went on in England in 1802, and in 1803 an American engineer called Robert Fulton launched a steamboat on the Seine. Commenting on the event, Napoleon wrote: ‘This project is capable of changing the face of the world.’ Four years later, in 1807, the first steamship made its way up the Hudson River from New York to Albany, its huge paddle-wheel churning, with much puffing, clanking and belching of smoke.
At about the same time attempts were also being made in England to propel vehicles using steam. But it took until 1803 for a usable engine to be invented, one which ran on cast-iron railway lines. In 1814 George Stephenson built the first effective steam locomotive and named it Blücher after the great Prussian general, and in 1825 the first railway line was opened between the towns of Stockton and Darlington. Within thirty years there were railway lines all over Britain, America, throughout almost all of Europe, and even in India. These lines went over mountains, through tunnels and over great rivers, and carried people at least ten times as quickly as the fastest stagecoach.
It was much the same with the invention of the electric telegraph, the only means of rapid communication before the telephone. First thought of in 1753, there were many attempts from the 1770s onwards, but only in 1837 did an American artist called Samuel Morse succeed in sending a short telegraph to his friends. Once again, hardly more than ten years had passed before use of the telegraph was widespread.
However, other machines changed the world even more profoundly. These were the machines which made use of the forces of nature instead of manpower. Take spinning and weaving, for example work that had always been done by artisans. When the demand for cloth increased (around the time of Louis XIV), factories already existed, but the work was done by hand. It took a while for people to realise that their new knowledge of nature could be applied to the production of cloth. The dates are much the same as those of the other great inventions. People were experimenting with various sorts of spinning machines from 1740 onwards. The mechanical loom was introduced at about the same time. And again, it was in England that these machines were first made and used. Machines and factories needed coal and iron, so countries which had their own coal and iron were at a great advantage.
All of these developments produced a tremendous upheaval in people’s lives. Everything was turned upside-down and hardly anything stayed where it had been. Think for a moment how secure and orderly everything had been in the guilds of the medieval cities! Those guilds had lasted right up until the time of the French Revolution and longer. True, it was no longer as easy for a journeyman to become a master as it had been in the Middle Ages, but it was still possible and the hope was there. Now, all of a sudden, everything changed. Some people owned machines. It didn’t take much training to learn how to operate them just a couple of hours and then they ran themselves. This meant that anyone who owned a mechanical loom could, with the help of one or two assistants perhaps his wife and children do more work than a hundred trained weavers. So whatever became of all the weavers in a town into which a mechanical loom was introduced? The answer is that they woke up one day to discover that they weren’t needed any more. Everything it had taken them years to learn, first as apprentices and then as journeymen, was useless. Machines were faster, better and very much cheaper. Machines don’t sleep and they don’t eat. Nor do they need holidays. Thanks to the new machines, the money that had allowed a hundred weavers to live safely and comfortably could now be saved by the factory owner, or spent on himself. Of course, he still needed workers to manage the machines. But only unskilled workers, and not many of them.
But the worst thing was this: the city’s hundred weavers were now out of work and would starve, because one machine was doing their work for them. And naturally, rather than see his family starve a person will do anything. Even work for a pittance as long as it means he has a job to keep body and soul together. So the factory owner, with his machines, could summon the hundred starving weavers and say: ‘I need five people to run my factory and look after my machines. What will you charge for that?’ One of them might say: ‘I want so much, if I am to live as comfortably as I did before.’ The next would say: ‘I just need enough for a loaf of bread and a kilo of potatoes a day.’ And the third, seeing his last chance of survival about to disappear, would say: ‘I’ll see if I can manage on half a loaf.’ Four others then said: ‘So will we!’ ‘Right!’ said the factory owner. ‘I’ll take you five. How many hours can you work in a day?’ ‘Ten hours,’ said the first. ‘Twelve,’ said the second, seeing the job slipping from his grasp. ‘I can do sixteen,’ cried the third, for his life depended on it. ‘Fine,’ said the factory owner, ‘I’ll take you. But who’ll look after my machine while you’re asleep? My machine doesn’t sleep!’‘I’ll get my little brother to do it he’s eight years old,’ replied the luckless weaver. ‘And what shall I give him?’ ‘A few pennies will do, to buy him a bit of bread and butter.’ And even then the factory owner might reply: ‘He can have the bread, but we’ll see about the butter.’ And this was how business was done. The remaining ninety-five weavers were left to starve, or find another factory owner prepared to take them on.
Now you mustn’t think that all factory owners were as vile as the one I have just described. But the worst of them, who paid the least and sold at the lowest prices, could be the most successful. Then others, against their conscience and their natural instincts, often found themselves treating their workers in the same way.
People began to despair. Why bother to learn a skill and take pains to make beautiful things by hand? Machines could do the same job a hundred times more quickly, often more neatly and at a hundredth of the price. And so weavers, blacksmiths, spinners and cabinet-makers sank ever more deeply into misery and destitution, running from factory to factory in the hope of earning a few pennies. Many of them raged against the machines that had robbed them of their happiness. They broke into factories and wrecked the looms, but it made no difference. In England in 1812 the death penalty was introduced for anyone found guilty of destroying a machine. And then newer and better machines followed that could do the work, not of a hundred, but of five hundred workers, and the general misery increased.
Some people felt that things could not go on like this. It was simply not right that a person, just because he happened to own or had perhaps inherited, a machine, should be able to treat everyone else more harshly than many noblemen used to treat their peasants. It seemed to them that factories and machines and suchlike, which gave their owners such monstrous power over other people’s lives, shouldn’t belong to individuals, but to the community as a whole. This idea is called socialism. People had many ideas about how to organise work in a socialist way, so as to put an end to the misery of starving workers, and came to the conclusion that, instead of receiving a wage set by the individual factory owner, workers should have a share of the overall profits.
Among the many socialists in France and Britain in the 1830s there was one who became particularly famous. He was a scholar from Trier in Germany, and his name was Karl Marx. The ideas he had were rather different. In his view it was pointless wondering how things might be if only the machines belonged to the workers. If they wanted the machines, the workers would have to fight for them, for the factory owners would never give up their factories voluntarily. And it was equally pointless for groups of workers to go round destroying mechanical looms now that they had been invented. What they should do was stick together. If each of those hundred weavers had not gone out looking for work for himself, and instead they had all got together and said with one voice, ‘We won’t work for more than ten hours in the factory, and we each want two loaves of bread and two kilos of potatoes’, the factory owner would have had to give in. True, that in itself might not have been enough, since the factory owner no longer needed skilled weavers for his mechanical looms, and could take his pick from men so destitute that they would accept the lowest wages. But this, said Marx, was precisely why unity was so vital. For in the end the factory owner would be unable to find anyone who would do the job for less. So the workers must support each other. And not just those from one district, or even one country. All the workers of the world must unite! Then they would not only have the power to say how much they should be paid, but they would end up by taking over the factories and the machines themselves, and so create a world that was no longer divided into haves and have-nots.
For, as Marx went on to explain, the truth of the matter was that weavers, shoemakers and blacksmiths didn’t really exist any more. A worker who did nothing but pull a lever on a machine two thousand times a day hardly needed to know what the machine produced. His only interest was in his weekly pay packet and in earning enough to prevent him from starving like his unhappy fellows who had no work. Nor did the owner need to learn the trade which gave him a living, for the work was all done by machines. Which meant, in fact, said Marx, that there were no longer any real occupations. There were just two sorts or classes of people: those who owned and those who didn’t. Or as he chose to call them, capitalists and proletarians. These classes were in a constant state of war with one another, for owners always want to produce as much as possible for the smallest amount of money, and therefore pay the workers the proletarians as little as they can get away with, whereas workers seek to force the capitalists the owners of the machines to part with as much of the profit as they can be made to. This battle between the two classes of people, so Marx thought, could only end in one way. The many dispossessed would one day seize the property of the owning minority, not in order to own it themselves, but to get rid of ownership altogether. Then classes would cease to exist. This was the goal of Karl Marx, one that he thought was near and quite simple to achieve.
However, when Marx published his great appeal to the workers (The Communist Manifesto, as he called it) in 1848, the situation was very different from what he had expected. And things have gone on being different, right up until today. In those days few factory owners had any real power. Most of it was still in the hands of those much-decorated noblemen whose authority Metternich had helped to restore. And it was these noblemen who were the real adversaries of rich citizens and factory owners. They wanted a secure, orderly and regulated state in which each had his appointed place, as people had always had in the past. This meant that, in Austria for example, peasants were still tied to inherited estates, and were hardly less bound to the landowners than the serfs of the Middle Ages. Artisans were still governed by many strict and ancient regulations dating back to the time of the guilds as, to some extent, were the new factories. However, citizens who had become wealthy as a result of the new machines and factories were no longer willing to take orders, either from the nobility or from the state. They wanted to act as they saw fit, and were convinced that this would be best for everyone. All that was needed was for able people to be given a free rein, unimpeded by conventions, rules or regulations, and in time the whole world would be a better place. The world looks after itself as long as it isn’t interfered with, or so they thought. Accordingly, in 1830, the citizens of France rose up and threw out Louis XVIII’s successors.
In 1848 there was a new revolution in Paris, which spread to many other countries, in which citizens tried to obtain all the power of the state so that nobody could any longer tell them what they might or might not do with their factories and their machines. In Vienna, Metternich found himself dismissed and the emperor Ferdinand was forced to abdicate. The old regime was definitively over. Men wore black trousers like drainpipes that were almost as ugly as the ones we wear today, and stiff white collars with complicated knotted neckties. Factories were allowed to spring up everywhere and railways transported goods in ever increasing quantities from one country to another.