Thursday, January 17, 2008

Joe Liu's Graded Blog # 1

The idea of the worker as being a cog in the machine on the basis of Marxism and Communism is definitely an interesting point to make. If one thinks about it, in order to produce mass amounts of products and at the same time employ as many people as possible, it only works if the factory machine “makes use of him.” Many are used to operate one large piece of machinery in a big assembly line, and the factory is indeed a “lifeless mechanism which is independent of the workers, who are incorporated into it as its living appendages.” Just like in the movie Modern Times, Charlie Chaplain and his other co-workers all worked together at the factory and each person had his own individual task to maintain. Although it was very humorous, whenever Charlie Chaplain would stop even for a split second, the rest of the assembly line would clog up, and no progress would be made.

In the Life in the Iron-Mills, by Rebecca Harding Davis, it is very interesting to note that the author contains the same view of the factory/worker relationship that Marxism/Communism embodies. Davis states:

“Not many even of the inhabitants of a manufacturing town know the vast machinery of system by which the bodies of workmen are governed, that goes on unceasingly from year to year. The hands of each mill are divided into watches that relieve each other as regularly as the sentinels of an army. By night and day the work goes on, the unsleeping engines groan and shriek, the fiery pools of metal boil and surge. Only for a day in the week, in half-courtesy to public censure, the fires are partially veiled; but as soon as the clock strikes midnight, the great furnaces break forth with renewed fury, the clamor begins with fresh, breathless vigor, the engines sob and shriek like “gods in pain.””

She even explicitly gives the description of the watches that relieve one another as “sentinels of an army,” which is definitive evidence of her similar views with Marx. As a cog in a machine, a worker in a factory would need to eventually be relieved (which wasn’t quite portrayed in Modern Times); however, it is very clearly described in Davis’ “Sentinel” comparison. Just like the factory workers, guards protecting a castle or prison cannot be alert and awake all day and night. They are routinely relieved of their post by well rested guards, and only does this efficient cycle ensure that the sentinels properly keep watch over a piece of property. Indeed, the author indicates her view that the workers are part of the living mechanism of the factory that is incorporated into its “living appendages.”

However, Davis’ concept of industrial labor may differ in one crucial aspect when in comparison with Marx’s ideas. In Marx’s writings, he describes the machine and worker relationship as one that must occur for the machine to operate. The workers are the machine’s appendages and must be in place for proper operation. Therefore, the machine does not show any evidence of wanting to harm the workers in any way. Just like we have arms and legs, since they allow us to walk and finish various tasks, we would not want to damage our appendages in any way. However, Davis states that the “great furnaces break forth with renewed fury, the clamor begins with fresh, breathless vigor, the engines sob and shriek like “gods in pain.” These images provide a negative and evil feeling within someone. The diction includes words such as “shriek” and “pain,” which give the impression that the machines do not give the working environment a positive feeling for the workers. It almost seems as if the machines suck the workers in and consume them, as can happen in Iron-Mills, and if this unfortunate situation does occur, then just like a sentinel, he can be replaced very readily with someone else.

Davis’ writings give a very interesting outlook on industrial labor when compared with Marxism/Communistic ideas. Through various sections in her work, similarities and differences can be seen which almost can be viewed as contradictory. Workers are crucial for a machine to operate. It seems as if Marx believes that the machine treats the workers as parts of its own body in order to maximize its production; therefore, the machine would try to protect the worker. However, through Davis’ statements, it seems as if the machine tries to consume the workers, knowing that relief is readily at hand due to the fact that during the time, many people were in need of employment. With these thoughts in mind, it is quite interesting to think about how a machine/factory is in a way alive with its own thoughts and intentions.

1 comment:

Adam Johns said...

You use Davis well, and you open up an interesting and compelling point of contrast between Marx and Davis (although, as a point of style, you repeat your argument far more than you should). I buy into it enough that I don't have any objections as such. Rather, I have a question - one which could have been pursued, at least minimally, if you'd trimmed down the repetitions here.

_Why_ do they differ in this way? Or, alternatively, what consequences does this difference have?

I'll note that Davis was writing from a strongly Christian perspective, is interested in aesthetics (including in relationship with salvation). I'll also note that Marx certainly didn't believe that industrialization as such was a bad thing - the exploitation of the workers in the factory, not the factory itself, was basically the problem.

You could have opened a small space, at least, in which to explore some of these issues.