V. I. Lenin
Original publication: marxists.org
Translation: George Hanna

Capitalist Technology (1913)

3 minutes | English | The Soviet Union

Originally titled “A Great Technical Achievement.”

The world-famous British chemist, William Ramsay, has discovered a method of obtaining gas directly from a coal seam. Ramsay is already negotiating with a colliery owner on the practical application of this method. A great modern technical problem is thus approaching solution. The revolution that will be effected by this solution will be a tremendous one. At the present time, to utilise the energy contained in it, coal is transported all over the country and burned in numerous factories and homes. Ramsay’s discovery means a gigantic technical revolution in this, perhaps the most important, branch of production in capitalist countries.

Ramsay has discovered a method of transforming coal into gas right where the coal lies, without hauling it to the surface. A similar but much simpler method is sometimes used in the mining of salt: it is not brought to the surface directly, but is dissolved in water, the solution being pumped to the top. Ramsay’s method is to transform, as it were, the coal mines into enormous distilling apparatuses for the production of gas. Gas is used to drive gas engines which can extract twice as much energy from coal as steam-engines can. Gas engines, in their turn, transform the energy into electricity, which modern technology can already transmit over enormous distances. Such a technical revolution would reduce the cost of electricity to one-fifth or even one-tenth of its present price. An enormous amount of human labour now spent in extracting and distributing coal would be saved. It would be possible to use even the poorest seams, now not being worked. The cost of lighting and heating houses would be greatly reduced.

This discovery will bring about an enormous revolution in industry. But the consequences this revolution will have for social life as a whole under the present capitalist system will be quite different from those the discovery would yield under socialism.

Under capitalism the “release” of the labour of millions of miners engaged in extracting coal will inevitably cause mass unemployment, an enormous increase in poverty, and a worsening of the workers’ conditions. And the profits of this great invention will be pocketed by the Morgans, Rockefellers, Ryabushinskys, Morozovs, and their suites of lawyers, directors, professors, and other flunkeys of capital.

Under socialism the application of Ramsay’s method, which will “release” the labour of millions of miners, etc., will make it possible immediately to shorten the working day for all from 8 hours to, say, 7 hours and even less. The “electrification” of all factories and railways will make working conditions more hygienic, will free millions of workers from smoke, dust and dirt, and accelerate the transformation of dirty, repulsive workshops into clean, bright laboratories worthy of human beings. The electric lighting and heating of every home will relieve millions of “domestic slaves” of the need to spend three-fourths of their lives in smelly kitchens.

Capitalist technology is increasingly, day by day, outgrowing the social conditions which condemn the working people to wage-slavery.