Socialist Reconstruction Needed To Avert Evils of Automation


Socialist Reconstruction Needed To Avert Evils of Automation
By Stephen Emery

from The Weekly People, September 4, 1954 as reprinted in The People, January 11, 1991, page 5

Socialist Reconstruction Needed To Avert Evils of Automation

This early article on automation from the pages of the Weekly People, while not an in-depth treatment of the subject, nevertheless demonstrates that the SLP's Marxist analysis of what automation would mean for the American working class was absolutely correct.

Gone today are the promises of capitalism's so-called "economists," who so glibly assured workers that automation would mean more jobs, better jobs, cleaner and healthier jobs, and usher in an age of tremendous productivity in which we would all enjoy the fruits of these marvelous technological advances as they were applied to industry. Any dislocations that might arise and result in workers being thrown out of work would be "temporary." Eventually automation would mean an era of unprecedented prosperity for the American working class, or so the story went.

Now the truth is known, and it is far from being the fulfillment of the forgotten promises of the 1950s. But workers should not forget what they were told then, who told it to them, and why. They should learn from the experience, and for their own sakes, and for the sake of the generation to follow, take a closer look at why the SLP was right when all the "experts" were wrong.

-- R.B.


Socialist Reconstruction Needed To Avert Evils of Automation

(Weekly People, Sept. 4, 1954)

By Stephen Emery

Ours is a a tool-using species. Cheated by nature of members such as other creatures use to obtain their needs, we have had to devise tools that would augment our puny native powers.

For the human race, tools have been the pinions of a soaring rise from brutedom. But for the modern productive workers, tools -- epitomized in machinery -- have been the instrument of subjugation and degradation.

The subjection of men by men traces back, of course, to the dawn of civilization. Historically, various factors enabled a few to dominate and exploit the many. It remained for capitalism to make the tool the sole scepter of class rule.

Present society is divided into two classes. On the one side is the capitalist minority in possession of the means of production. On the other side is the worker majority possessing nothing but its productive abilities.

Ownership of industry affords the capitalist class mastery over the nation. Lack of their own tools compels the workers to accept the role of capitalist subjects.

The relationship of capitalist masters and worker-subjects has prevailed since the inception of capitalism. The degree of the capitalists' mastery and the workers' subjection, however, has varied accordingly as historic circumstances permitted, or barred, the escape of any appreciable number from the status of wage slavery.


The long-term trend has been toward a steady intensification of the capitalist-worker relationship, principally because unceasing improvements in tools have spurred unceasing growth in the scale of production and unceasing concentration of industrial ownership. Thus, while capitalists' ranks have diminished and those of the workers swollen, the mounting power of the former has been attended by the increasing dependence of the worker.

From its earliest introduction machinery undermined the workers' social position. Each refinement in the mechanical arts has aggravated their plight. Today, industrial development is entered upon a phase that promises to complete the workers' ruin.


This latest phase in industrial progress is automation-the science of almost entirely replacing the human agent in production with automatic tools and controls. Automation is rapidly invading one American industry after another, and, wherever it marches in, all but a relative handful of the workers formerly employed are "automated" out of jobs.

So, capitalist production, which has long made of the worker a dumb appendage of the machine, is now moving to restrict the "privilege" of being an appendage to a small fraction of the working class. The "superfluous" remainder of us face a future of miserable subsistence as some sort of helots of the capitalist state.


Now, economic events invariably have political and social effects. And the current process of ultimate economic concentration and vast unemployment of labor is certain to visit profound consequences on the American people. Indeed, it will bring to a head the conditions requisite for the establishment of an industrial feudalism here, at the same time that it places the surviving capitalists under compulsion to impose a fascist tyranny in order that they may preserve their wealth and rule.

Accordingly, the history of machinery as private property is evolving to a logical climax. A means of exploitation and oppression from the outset of its capitalist career, the more perfect the privately owned machine becomes, the closer it approaches to being the instrument of a total despotism.

Yet humanity is a tool-using species, whose contemporary existence would be utterly impossible without the array of mechanical implements we have contrived. Does this mean that we are caught on the horns of a dilemma? Not at all.


The evils which have accompanied the progress of mechanical invention are not in the least inherent in machinery itself. They are inherent, rather, in the private ownership of the tools upon which society's life depends. If freed of the fetters of private ownership and converted into social property, machinery-especially the marvelous automatic plants presently being constructed-would immediately become an unmixed blessing. Collectively owned, these super-efficient industries could be cooperatively operated to produce for our collective use, and an abundance for everyone, readily turned out with but a little labor contribution from each.

And the same concentrated, giant units of production that, while they are capitalist-controlled, menace us with industrial feudalism, would, when socially controlled, serve ideally as the constituencies of a modern industrial democracy, a self-government of free producers unmatched in the previous experience of the race.

Socialism -- social ownership of every facility and resource needed for social production -- is the only answer to the grave problems raised by the advent of the automatic factory. The socialist industrial republic alone can bring social good and freedom out of the gigantic concentration of industry.