Mary E. Marcy

The March of the Machine

(September 1913)

The International Socialist Review, Vol. 14 No. 3, September 1913, pp. 147–149.
Transcribed by Matthew Siegfried.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

ONLY a few years ago a traveler might go, sometimes under great difficulties, from one country to another, finding not only different peoples, but varied laws, customs, governments and industries. Turkey was unlike any other land on the globe. China was a country distinct unto herself. When anybody mentioned South Africa, curious minds immediately conjured up life in a semi-barbaric state and the jungles of Burmah and Siam had never been traversed by the feet of the white man.

Now all this is changed, and every day more rapidly changing, and traveling adventurers are complaining that all lands are taking. on a dreadful sameness and that it is with difficulty that we may now find any country still untouched by the hand of the Caucasian.

History, is being made all over the world at a pace never known before. Barbaric lands are being conquered by the “civilized” nations to make room for her growing population or to find new markets in which to dispose of her commodities. Great mining, oil and commercial interests have forced their way over the weaker peoples, under your flag or my flag or somebody’s flag, at the point of the gun, to snatch up the rich natural resources of the land and make them their own.

It is ECONOMIC INTEREST that has driven men into the fever infested swamps, over the deserts and through the jungles. And railroads have grown slowly over the roads they have traveled, railroads bearing new tools and strange commodities into the hearts of the new lands to the wondering people.

The telegraph is the natural corollary of the railroad, and at its feet have sprung up telephones and newspapers. And these bring, with a marvelous speed, new peoples, new customs – in fact, new blood throughout the old lands. Goods begin to be exchanged all over the changing countries; circulation is stimulated. And news that had taken months to reach the interior is flashed across the wires daily.

And it is the MACHINE that has made these things possible. The printing press is the father of the newspaper and the invention of the telephone and telegraph enables us to flash the news around the world in time for the morning paper. The steam engine renders the unknown places accessible. It banishes the wilds. It brings the machines that are the real history-makers. After it come the new geographies.

INVENTION has put the out-of-the-way and barbaric corners of the world in touch with civilized lands. It was not the message of Plato that traversed the deserts, crossed the rivers and mountains to change the face of the lands, nor the message of Jesus or Buddah, or even Karl Marx.

Pure, unadulterated IDEAS never moved a spool of thread or lifted a tea-cup. All the teachers and missionaries in the world could not change the face of the Celestial Empire one-half so much as one railroad has accomplished in one year.

On the heels of the railroad spring up the modern industries. Large machine production takes the place of hand and small tool production. The modern factory, mill and shop is the great tool that supplants the old hand tool. The hand workers cannot compete with the machine-made products which can be sold at lower prices, and the hand-worker gives way before the great machine, the factory, the shop and mill, where machines, tended by human workers, perform great tasks with incredible ease and celerity.

MACHINE PRODUCTION is making history everywhere today before our very eyes. It was the invasion of the Western MACHINES far more than the introduction of Western ideas that occasioned the great Chinese Awakening. It is the wholesale introduction into Russia of the most up-to-date farming machinery that is revolutionizing the old autocracy today more than any other factor. Modern farm tools are making it impossible for the peasants to work the lands profitably on a small scale. They are being freed from the soil and the great t rush toward the rapidly growing industrial centers has begun.

In China we see a small group of brilliant and noble-minded men headed by Dr. Sun Yat Sen trying to guide the Chinese Revolution into the safe harbor of Socialism by entrusting the affairs of the Empire to those who will avoid the evils of capitalism. Dr. Sun hopes to see the Chinese “skip” the Capitalist system of society through the education and public spirit of her elected officials. He is hoping to evolve a PLAN for the establishment of Socialism.

But already we hear rumors of the unfaithfulness of those in high office and we predict that the State Socialism for which the Chinese are now working will evolve into State Capitalism, and nothing more. Socialism presupposes an ORGANIZED WORKING CLASS. No education can weld the workers together in a militant class-conscious army, DRIVEN to fight, compelled to unite, as modern machine production does. Silently, steadily the factory system gathers the workers into large groups wherein their daily labors, their living conditions, their wrongs and interests are alike. Modern capitalist production. is the great preparer for Socialism. It organizes the proletariat into one great mass with like aims, ideals and interest as nothing else can ever hope to do.

And now we see the advent of the railroad and the machine in Burmah. Report has it that the great Standard Oil Company is gathering in the great oil wells. Great Britain is now building railroads through the hitherto inaccessible jungles, and the great Change has begun.

Not long ago an English traveler wrote of his journeyings in the Burmese interior. Within a few yards of the new English railroad in process of construction he came upon a tangle of vegetation and a little party of Burmans. These wore rude hats woven out of vines and stalks. Their rough skirts, jackets and breechclouts were made out of cloth woven by hand, the product of the homegrown plant. Joints of bamboo served as cooking utensils. Signs of a modern civilization there were none. In the surrounding forest chattered hundreds of scampering monkeys; the voice of the puma and other forest prowlers could be heard in the stillness of the night. But here, at the end of the slowly climbing railroad, he found the inevitable Standard Oil can.

At another village along the railroad, he found several of the natives had learned their first lesson in commercialism and were ready to sell food to any applicant. And the canned meats they bad stuck up in their booths bore the label of the great American Beef Trust.

Every day sees new changes along the railroads in Burmah. When Harry A. Franck, in company with a chance companion, made the first trip by foot through the Burmah and Siamese jungles ever attempted by a white man, a few years ago, the trained elephants, driven by mahouts, represented the height of native attainment in construction power. In railroad building, elephants were sometimes used to haul timber. Franck saw gangs of natives at work building the roadbeds. There were neither steam cranes, “slip” nor “wheelers” to scoop the earth out of the paddy fields. Men used small hand shovels and carried the earth in flat baskets on their heads. But the elephant still represented the acme of power in construction work.

Since Burmah has fallen under the rule of the British, the oil fields and ruby mines will be worked under modern processes, if the Standard Oil Company has not already some claim on the Burmese possessions. Railways will soon traverse the forests and the civilization of which he saw only the first indications will assume sway in Burmah.

In his travels in the interior of Burmah, Mr. Franck found it impossible to buy food of the natives. In many places they very generously fed him freely. Where food was scarce, they refused to sell or to give it away.

At one place he and his companion, being almost at the point of exhaustion, and having no money, decided that they would be compelled either to starve or exploit the shop-keepers – in other words, to eat their fill and run away. They chose a well stocked booth and eagerly devoured a bowl of rice and vegetable currie. They then hastened away, in momentary expectation of angry pursuit. But no alarm was raised. On the contrary, the fugitives beheld the shop-keeper and his family literally doubled up with mirth at the delightful joke they had played upon them.

Wherever fruit and food grows naturally in abundance, the Burmese may be found in large numbers in the jungle. But even in the swampy regions you may occasionally run across a hut or two where Burmans in attap leaf hats and short skirts may be seen clawing the mud of tiny gardens. Their huts are of bamboo and entrance to them is made by a bamboo ladder. Joints of bamboo are filled with a coarse salt and coarser brown sugar, in place of bowls.

Many natives raise a small patch of cotton. Rice, fruit, fish, bread cakes, with red ants for dessert, are popular foods to the Burmans. Baked frogs and green lizards are in great demand in some places, but the red ant is the greatest delicacy of all to the Burmans. No native banquet would be complete without it.

According to him, all the men, women and children of Burmah are inveterate smokers, indulging in the “whacking white cheroots” mentioned by Kipling. These cheroots or cigars are from one to two feet in length and about an inch in diameter. One cigar may be enjoyed by the entire family, being passed from father to children or the mother, impartially, until everybody is satisfied. Many of the Burmans wear heavy leaden washers in the lobes of their ears. These large holes are used by them as pockets in which to stow away half finished say bullys (cigars) or other dainties.

In a recent magazine article appears a long report of an Englishman’s overland journey through German East Africa.

“I have seen the latest automatic glassblowing machinery in operation within a stone’s throw of some of the savage tribes,” he said. “The natives take the keenest delight in being employed where they can watch or tend machinery. I have seen big black boys offer to trade their wives for a Singer sewing machine. The possession of a sewing machine is a source of pride and delight to the village that attains one.”

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