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Previous: Brief History of the Productive Forces

III. The Middle Ages


  1. Serfs
    The principal sphere of production in the Middle Ages continued to be agriculture. However, the relations of production have changed: from slavery to serfdom. A serf differed from a slave in that s/he only partially "belonged" to the "seigneur". S/he had to give only a part of his labor, and its products, to seigneur. A serf could not be sold or killed in the same way as a slave, s/he had a right to own a family, and had a right to own some property. Seigneur-vassal relationship, i.e. one of personal dependence, was the principal one that existed in the Middle Ages, and this relationship reproduced itself at all levels of social hierarchy.
  2. Artisan
    At latifundia artisans start to appear. First, they produce things specifically to order, then for a local market. When the Roman Empire falls, the artisans represent the most advanced sections of the serfs, who free themselves by running away from manor to the "burgh". In the burghs, or walled cities, they form numerous guilds, e.g. the shoemakers, the butchers, the traders, even the guild of beggars!
  3. In the Middle Ages, the needs of the Church (but not only) were driving the development of the productive forces. For example, the Church had need of stained glass windows, while the lay barons had to content themselves with windows out of wooden boards. Representatives of the Church were rewriting and preserving of ancient manuscripts, teaching literacy at schools, practicing medicine, building and playing the pipe organs, etc.
  4. In the Middle Ages, certain inventions were made that were immediately forbidden, as they were said to lead to unemployment, or production of fabric of worse quality, or simply sacrilege, e.g. imitation of God through invention of wings. Often, the inventors were killed in the most barbaric fashion. Similar kinds of objections are made today to such inventions as genetically-modified foods, e.g. that they lead to fattening of people, different diseases, etc.
  5. Carrack 1565

    A Portuguese carrack, depicted on a map of 1565

    Raymond H. Merritt, in article "Technology", for Encarta 2004, writes: "The development of the deep keel, the triangular lateen sail for greater maneuverability, and the magnetic compass (in the 13th century) made sailing ships the most complex machines of the age". The deep keel and the triangular sail allow sail ships to sail against the wind. This makes possible "the Age of Discovery " and appearance of the trade capital. 
  6. Raymond H. Merritt continues: "The invention of the printing press (around 1450), in turn, set off a social revolution that is still in progress". Here we note: 1) technological invention sets off a social revolutions. 2) A social revolution, like technological revolution, does not end, but rather evolves continually.  Revolutions are essentially permanent, involving both qualitative (revolutionary) and quantitative (evolutionary) changes.


IV. The Industrial revolution: capitalist and transitional society


  1. Midieval shop
    First, there is a shop of a Medieval master. Then, there is a simple enlargement of the shop, i.e. an increase in the number of workers working together under the guidance of one master. This is "cooperation". It's important to note: 1) that the shift is at first merely quantitative, 2) this leads to an increased cooperation between the workers in the same shop (Marx writes: "they start assisting each other, one doing one part of work, and another doing another part of work"). That means that a development of the productive forces involves not only a change in the objective basis of production (e.g. the tools of the artisan), but also changes in the forms organization for the purpose of production. There is a continuous interaction, or dialectic, between the objective side of the productive forces - the machine, the tools, etc. - and the subjective side of the productive forces - the manner in which humans organize for the purposes of production.
  2. Marx says that cooperation is "when numerous laborers work together side by side, whether in one and the same process, or in different but connected processes". "The colossal effects of simple cooperation are to be seen in the gigantic structures of the ancient Asiatics, Egyptians, Etruscans, etc." As cooperation is necessary for modern material production, so it becomes necessary for modern intellectual and human production.
  3. Manufacture
    After "cooperation" comes manufacturing, which lasts in England "from the middle of the XVI to the last third of the XVIII century". Manufacture is a form of cooperation basing itself on, and leading to, a greater division of labor. Due to specialization of labor: 1) pre-requisites are created for machine production; 2) the function of directing and controlling the production as a whole is more and more separated from the immediate production process. Let us note, that a change in the structure of organization of production process leads to creation of foundations for a whole different means of production. Thus, not only the means of production develop the relations of production, but the opposite is also true, and especially so in transitonal and socialist societies: the more advanced relations of production lead to development of the objective side of production.
  4. In the heyday of manufacturing, some machinery exists, but it plays a subordinate part in the production process. Hence, we see that in each epoch both the past, present and future means of production, and relations of production, exist, but only one pair is dominant, and forms what we call "the mode of production ". 
  5. Development of division of labor leads to appearance of skilled and unskilled labor. At the same time develops separation of intellect from labor. Marx says: "This separation begins in simple co-operation, where the capitalist represents to the single workman the oneness and the will of the associated labor. It is developed in manufacture which cuts down the laborer into a detail laborer. It is completed in modern industry, which makes science a productive force distinct from labor and presses it into the service of capital". Thus, we see appearance of science as a productive force. It is not yet the dominant productive force.
  6. Workers houses2
    Large towns appear with the rise of the "manufactures". In England, this happened around XVIII century. Thus, living patterns change with changes in the forms of organization of labor.
  7. After the period of "manufacture", we have machine production. What is a machine? The concept of a machine developed slowly, from the most primitive hand tools made of stone, to the mechanisms used in ancient Egypt to lift the large stones, to the watermill of the Middle Ages, one invention accumulating on top of another. Marx writes: "All fully developed machinery consists of three essentially different parts, the motor mechanism, the transmitting mechanism, and finally the tool or working machine". By this definition, a bike is a simple machine: the power of the human legs is transmitted by chain to the wheels.
  8. The period of machine production marks the beginning of Industrial revolution. What is the Industrial revolution? Peter N. Stearns, in "Global Consequences of the Industrial Revolution" (Encarta 2004), writes: "Industrialization involves the mechanization of manufacturing and an increase in the importance of manufacturing in the overall economy. Typically, it occurs in economies previously dominated by agriculture and usually involves important changes in food production as well. Before the Industrial Revolution, goods were chiefly manufactured manually...". Hence, industrialization is replacement of society based on agriculture and manual production by society based on methods which involve machines. Food production declines in importance, as a sphere of overall productiony. Similarly today, we see a decline in importance of traditional "industries", such as metal work. It seems we're exiting "the Iron Age", as new, scientifically produced materials appear and replace iron and metal. However, that doesn't mean that we've exited the period of Industrial revolution, as we're relying more and more on machines for both material and intellectual production (e.g. computers). This is against all those who say that we're living in "post-industrial" society, e.g. American sociologist Daniel Bell. These people divide up the societies into: 1) "traditional societies" (thus putting in into one heap both Louis XVI and the Neanderthal man); 2) "the industrial society" (from the middle of XIX century); 3) and "post-industrial society" (from 1960's). According to this theory, in "post-industrial" society, information or "creative knowledge" dominates the production.
  9. Steam engine
    The first period of Industrial revolution was based upon invention the "steam engine". The steam engine was invented by James Watt working in cooperation with advanced capitalist (Bolton) and workers. Here is what Marx has to say about the leaders of the Industrial revolution: "The inventions of Vaucanson (in 1780s, the French inventor of the industrial lathe), Arkwright, Watt, and others, were, however, practicable, only because those inventors found, ready to hand, a considerable number of skilled mechanical workmen, placed at their disposal by the manufacturing period... the invasion by machinery of fresh branches of production were dependent on the growth of a class of workmen, who, owing to the almost artistic nature of their employment, could increase their numbers only gradually, and not by leaps and bounds". Thus, a part of the leadership of the first phase of the Industrial revolution was due to workers, many of them mechanics, doing their jobs artistically. The other part of leadership belonged to bourgeoisie, as described by Marx in "The Communist Manifesto". It is for this reason we speak of "proletarian bourgeois revolution" in XIX century. In other words, revolution in methods of material production finds same protagonists in social revolution. Leaders in one type of revolution are also leaders in the other type - as a class, and sometimes even personally.
  10. This logic should be applied by all thinking persons to modern times to see that "workers" are no longer leading the revolution in methods of production. "Proletariat" has long ago lost its revolutionary "élan" (leadership), both in the matter of production and in social revolution. This has important consequences for revolutionary strategy. 1) Many honest young Marxists go to the factories "to join the working class", "to be among the people", "not to rot at the university", etc. For example, a ukrainian worker activist, a Trotskyist, Oleg Dubrovsky, in a letter dated from 1999, writes: "The question of 'What is to be done practically?' - you're asking. Answer: go to the factories, be in immediate contact with workers, and strive towards enlightenment and again towards enlightenment: ideological, political, political-economic - circles, discussions, literature... Second, at the factories, help to initiate and create independent class organization - workers' trade unions, strike committees, etc. Third, get involved in all class struggles, giving them a more organized, radical and widespread character. This is the main thing". Thus, we see that honest Marxists who, however, remained in their conception of development of productive forces in late XIX - early XX century, lead younger comrades towards getting involved in factories. However, this leads only towards disorganization of socialist forces, their disappointment and confusion, as the young comrades do not find a responsive ground for their agitation. 2) If a person really wants to understand social revolution, s/he must first study the revolution in methods of production, or revolution of the productive forces. In what direction are they moving, and which class of people leads this movement? Thus, dialectical approach to the study of productive forces involves understanding a revolutionary protagonist.
  11. Science and technology constantly interact to develop each other. E.g. development of a gadget for measuring temperature in 1650, by Drebbel (a Dutchman), and development of the concept of heat by a Scottish professor Black in 1760 were necessary for invention of steam engine by Watt in 1777. As Condorcet wrote in 1794, constant interaction of industry and sciences upon each other leads to the constant improvement of condition in which human race lives.
  12. Application of science leads to automation of production, so that the role of a man is finally reduced to watching over the production process and controlling it. But here is a hypothesis: the greater the automation of production, the greater is the role of science in the process, hence, the less we can speak of "proletariat as the vanguard". Hence, the role of "vanguard" passes to scientific cadres. And this is both true for material production and social revolution. 
  13. "Theoretical knowledge" is knowledge only potentially. When knowledge is manifested in action, it is "actual knowledge". This is the main productive force of modernity. That means it is not simply "scientific" cadres who are the vanguard, but those who do not merely THINK, but also DO. Nicola Tesla is one example of such scientist.  
  14. Steam2
    The steam engine finds its first application in mining, and then in textile industry. Then, the steam engine is applied to a variety of spheres, the most famous, perhaps, being a steam ship, and a steam locomotive. Such technology meant that feudal separatism, e.g. a customs office every couple of kilometers, could not last. Today, we see that national boundaries are being overcome through air transportation and Internet. Unification of the world society on global scale is a necessary tendency. 
  15. Industrial revolution involves a large growth of population. Peter N. Stearns writes: "Increased food production in Europe in the first stage of its agricultural transformation—particularly the growing reliance on the potato, imported from the Americas in the 1500s—generated massive population growth. Western Europe’s population rose between 50 and 100 percent between 1730 and 1800". We may suppose that population dynamic is an indicator of development of productive forces in general. Thus, a decrease in population, as in the republics of the former USSR, coincides with destruction of the main productive forces.
  16. According to book "Cyber Marx", published in 1999, capitalism has three distinctive phases, marked by 3 major developments in productive forces. The first one is the steam-driven machinery (around 1840's), the second is electric and internal combustion engines (starting in 1890's), and the last one is the nuclear power and "information technologies" (starting in 1940's). The three stages of capitalism, corresponding to each, are: 1) market capitalism; 2) monopoly capitalism; 3) "late capitalism".
  17. Wright2
    Internal combustion engine was an innovation based upon the steam engine. The internal combustion engine is much more efficient than the steam engine, since the fuel is not used to make steam first, and afterward to do some work, but immediately is injected into a cylinder, where it burns up and produces work. Almost immediately, the new kind of engine made the automobile and airplane possible. The first airplane of brothers Wright flew in December 1903.
  18. Electrical power has a very interesting history. We read that a book by J. Priestley (1733-1804) "on the history and modern state of knowledge of electricity, published in 1767, has made a big impression and was a cause of accepting him as a member of the 'Royal London Society'". First we notice the date: 1767. That is more than 100 years in advance of the time when electricity has become a a factor in industry. Second, basing ourseleves on research in electricity, we notice that the algorythm of knowing a subject appears to be the following: 1) formulation of a question, or a subject; 2) a study of the history of the subject; 3) a study of its current state; 4) an experimental study of the subject (e.g. Franklin's kite).
  19. Electricity2
    Electrical power centralizes the source of energy much more than steam power. Electricity is produced at electrical power stations, central to each region, whereas steam power was provided locally for each factory.
  20. Further progress in development of productive forces deals with discovery of nuclear energy and development of transistor, which is at the heart of information technologies. This will be discussed in the next part. But here, we would like to point to summarize the main effects of industrialization, up to the first half of XX century: 1) increase in productivity of labor; 2) development of monopolies; 3) colonization of the world by world's leading industrial countries; 4) imperialism and two imperialist world wars; 5) appearance of non-capitalist, transitional states, as result of these wars; 6) women join social workforce, and hence "women liberation" movement.

Next: the information revolution

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