Lo, the Poor Inventor!

Daniel DeLeon

The Daily People
Apr. 25, 1904

Whenever the position of a defender of capitalism against the attacks of socialism becomes desperate, he drags forth the inventor.

“What are you going to do with the inventor, the man whose genius has created the great machines which make wealth and civilization possible? Are you going to despoil him—to rob him?”

To this the socialist generally retorts by showing that it is capitalism that robs the inventor, and he proves his case by indisputable evidence culled from court records.

But times are changing, so much so that it may be said that the individual inventor had become as much of a myth as the individual captain of industry—the great overman, who, it is alleged, directs the work of thousands of wage slaves. Today industry is so ramified, so colossal, that it is an impossibility for one man to direct it. Corps of trained subordinates, executive, engineering, and other boards meet in frequent consultation to devise ways and means for the safe conduct of the consolidated industries over which they preside; so much so that when the great overman goes off to Monte Carlo on a carouse, industry continues as though he had never breathed.

And so it is with the inventor. Invention has become social in scope and methods. With the various branches of industry so closely related, the mechanical changes in one branch of production must be considered in their relation to other branches. The result is that today the inventor is no longer an isolated being, developing himself and his ideas in some dismal garret.

The inventor is today the product of a scientific school or a great establishment, which, while specializing in his abilities, has given him a well-rounded education. The inventor is today a part of a corps of technical experts, men rarely heard of outside their own spheres, who, with the finest mechanical equipments and extensive chemical laboratories at their command, work in cooperative unison for the production of new and interrelated inventions,a nd the improvement of old ones.

The inventor today is one of a multitude of workingmen who are asked to drop suggestions for improvement into boxes placed about the factories in which they work; suggestions that have, in the aggregate, produced new types of machines and so transformed the original inventions as to make them entirely new creations; suggestions that have immensely enriched the capitalists to whom they were given, while the reward of the workingmen making them was a few paltry prizes, which are far from being commensurate in value which the things they are supposed to represent.

The poor lone inventor whom socialism would rob is a myth, and, like all myths, is adorned with the poetry of bygone ages. Like modern industry, modern invention is social. And, since the social characteristic of industry demands the social ownership of the means of production and distribution forming its basis, so does the social nature of invention demand the social ownership of its creations.

Lo, the poor inventor! As a capitalist shield, he is played out!