The Christian Function of the Machine
Creative Labour is Still Possible
AT the risk 'of repetition, it is necessary to make clear what is meant by selfgovernment in industry.
It is all too evident that there is need to distinguish it from ownership of the means of production. It is this question of ownership that has obsessed the minds of Socialists and even to no small extent of Syndicalists. It might be argued that State ownership of the means of production—the State in this case meaning a democratic body representing the workers—would imply self-government. But this does not follow. The legal ownership of factories, mines and railways remains under war conditions untouched, but the work they perform is directed by the supreme authority. What State ownership might well mean in actual practice would be an industrial bureaucracy composed not of experts acquainted with the several processes involved but of officials concerned only with the correct filling in of innumerable forms and utterly oblivious of regional and craft differences.
The importance of securing a decentralised selfgovernment as regards the actual processes of production will be clearer if we bear in mind the
moral aspect of the question. We have got to spread the sense of responsibility over the whole working community. A morally irresponsible capitalism has created an irresponsible proletariat. And it is going to he a very difficult matter to change the mentality which has resulted. It cannot he said that the patriotic appeal, divorced as this is from self-government, has succeeded. In fact, only a system which delegates responsibility for its work to each group of workers can be effective.
THE MAKER OF THINGS THE revolt against nineteenth century commer cialism came largely from two men, and they were an artist and an art critic—William Morris and John Ruskin. That is significant. The inspiration of their efforts was the desire to free man, the maker of things, from the oppressive conditions which denied him the exercise of his creative functions. That was the beginning of the movement with which we are concerned, and, though it lost itself in the aridities of Socialism and the absurdities of romanticism, the teaching of these men still deserves study.
Much that is wise has been said concerning the added dignity which the possession of private pro
perty gives to personality. But, as sometimes Interpreted; the possession of private property is merely a static thing. To understand why it is so important it is necessary to remember that possession gives the right to control, it implies freedom to do as the owner (thinks fit with the object possessed. It is this ability to impress personality on the thing owned which gives property-rights their valuei And that is an active and dynamic thing which concerns man the doer or maker. In order to reach his full stature, man needs to exercise his mastery over things, and this can be done rightly only when the " things " are his own. The distribution of property is in effect the distribution of the right to creative labour.
That is a right inherent in human nature. It is this which distinguishes him—as Leo XIII pointed out—from the brute creation. For while animals can' within certain limits make what they need, they do this by instinct and not through the exercise of reason. It is by the use of his reason in dealing with his property that man's status is indicated.
MAN AND THE MACHINE THOSE whom we have termed romanticists, while A agreeing with what has been said up to this point, would argue that the exercise of his functions as a " maker of things " is denied modern man by the dominance of the machine.
The very term " skilled labour " should make us hesitate before endorsing this objection. It would be simply foolish to contend that the engineer is an unintelligent automaton. Not only is skill necessary in the control of machinery but it may be even said that this control allows for a measure of freedom in the expression of personality. No two men drive a motor-car or a tractor in the same way. The handling of a steamship may give as much free play for seamanship as does the navigation of a sailing vessel.
Regulation of machinery is, indeed, necessary; man should not be subordinated to the machine. It must not be allowed where it conflicts with the claims of personality or is injurious to health, or causes unemployment, or where it multiplies corn modities beyond what can be rightly used. These and other conditions were clearly laid down by the late A. J. Plenty in Means and Ends, but this view of the matter is only negative; a more positive approach to the subject is possible. • As personality is developed it becomes increasingly capable of expressing itself in and through an intractable medium. The machine yields to the touch Of the master. The crude performances of Ike early film-producing industry bear no cornparison with the truly artistic wo1-1( which can he now turned out. The transition !tom the illuminated manuscript to the printed page was at first devastating, but, by means of improved types and in other ways, the artistic spirit is recovering its mastery of the written medium. The pride which the modern compositor is sometimes able to take in his work is comparable to that of the handcraftsman in earlier days. The artistic spirit has, in the mastery of mechanism, a big job on hand, but it is not a hopeless job. To retreat from it to the studio is a form of defeatism.
And it must he at least admitted that the employment of mechanical methods multiply the opportunities for the unendowed to enjoy the products of genius. It is true that, as at present directed, the B.B.C. is often a purveyor of vulgarity, but that is no reason why it should not fulfil its true function in popularising what otherwise would be the exclusive possession of the cultured few. Similarly. for every one who can visit the art galleries where they are exhibited, tens of thousands can learn to appreciate the mechanically reproduced masterpieces of art.
THE UNSKILLED IT is, of course, true that much of the foregoing applies only to skilled labour. The real problem, we shall be told, is the individual whose work is so monotonous and requires so little intelligence that to demand of him anything in the nature of professionalpride is a mockery. This is true, however, only of those who are capable of more responsible work. The person whose abilities do not id beyond the standard demanded by mechanical performances does not suffer from having to do work of this kind, and, unfortunately, under Present conditions, educational and industrial, there is a considerable number of • people. ople. It is a positive fact that not a few wish for work that calls for no intelligence and would rather be employed on what can be done without thought.
In the second place, there are methods which can be used whereby even the most insignificant part of an industrial process can be made interesting. If it be viewed as part of a whole calculated to inspire interest, then, even the minute fraction of the process with which the individual is concerned acquires meaning. We are in the habit of saying that a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, and this is true of those complicated operations with which modern industrialism has familiarised us. But to grant this is to suggest that a knowledge of how much depends even upon his small part in the process might give the unskilled worker occasion for a co-operation that would not be wholly unintelligent. The view here expressed finds support in one of the conclusions registered by the Select Committee on National Expenditure and recorded in its Eighth Report. It declared itself " convinced from the evidence received that. looked • Stalely alely as a matter affecting production, it is of the greatest importance to take every possible step to enable the workers employed in factories to have a true understanding both of the general war position and also of the conditions affecting the work in which they are engaged. The significance of each piece of work should be made clear, as well as the reasons for changes or delays in production if these occur."
The individual acquires dignity from regarding himself as a part of the whole.
THE DIVISION OF LABOUR
T HIS question of industrial drudgery is closely A related to the division of labour. An excessive
been emphasis has placed on the speciaysation which has taken place and insufficient attention has been given to the fact that, though they may not realise it, the specialists constitute a co-operative whole. Moreover, what is true of one factory or workshop or of one industry is true of the working community viewed in its entirety. It is one of the hopes entertained by idealists that this co-operation may be extended to the whole world so that, in 'a sense different to that in which he intended it. Marx's appeal—" Workers of the world, unite "— may have fulfilment. •