Daniel De Leon on the Tools of Production

The purpose of this page is to present literature quotations that will clarify: (1) the intended meaning of Daniel De Leon's references to "the tool", i.e., the modern means of industrial production; (2) De Leon's concept of the process by which the human being made the transition from being "the slave of nature" to being "the slave of the tool-holding individual." -- M.L., editor


"Confined to the use of his own physical power, man is one of the most helpless animals. In proportion to his size and requirements, he is unquestionably very weak and slow. But the superiority of his organism consists precisely in the aptitude of his brain, and the fitness of his hands, for the contrivance and use of mechanical devices, though which he may take from nature, by artifice, these forces in which he is naturally wanting. Every such contrivance is to him like a new organ by which his power of motion is increased. But the point is soon reached in the development of the artificial organs, where a single individual cannot produce or use them. Beyond the most primitive of hunting, fishing, and cultivating implements, every tool, not to speak of the more complex machine, requires, in its making, or in its handling, or in the purpose for which it is handled, the cooperation of several individuals."

-- Daniel De Leon, from the editorial "Social Character of Machinery", The People, September 9, 1894.
More at http://www.deleonism.org/text/18940909.htm

"The essence of Socialist theory, of Socialist philosophy, is simple. The combined economic law of Exchange Value, and sociologic law with regard to man's being a tool-using animal, can be put in a nut-shell. The former demonstrates that the man who produces with tools that render his labor more expensive than the labor socially necessary cannot possibly hold his own against the man, who, producing with improved machinery, devotes less labor upon the production of certain goods. The latter demonstrates that the tool is the weapon of man's supremacy over Nature: master of the tool, man harnesses Nature to his service, and maintains his freedom from his fellows; without it, he is the slave of him who is equipped therewith. Coupling these two laws, the philosophy of Socialism radiates in all the luminousness instinct in simple Truth, and, in its rays, the Socialist Republic rises in all its splendor, not as a mere Haven of Refuge, but as truly a Promised Land to the human race, freed at last from the nightmare of Class-Rule."

-- Daniel De Leon, from the public address Two Pages from Roman History, 1902, published as a pamphlet in 1903.
More at http://slp.org/pdf/de_leon/ddlother/two_pages.pdf

"Without the tool man is nature's slave. In the measure that the tool improves, the intensity of the slavery declines.

"The mere existence of the tool does not bring about man's Emancipation from the bondage of material necessities. The perfected tool only brings about the potentiality of man's emancipation.

"Toolless man being the slave of nature, it follows that the tool having come into existence, the toolless individual becomes the slave of the tool-holding individual. That is capitalist society."

-- Daniel De Leon, from the editorial "Father Gassoniana (XIX)", The Daily People, August 4, 1911.
More at http://www.deleonism.org/text/19110804.htm

"The trust is that device, that tool of production, which, incited by the law of value, enables production to be carried on more and more plentifully, with less and less waste. The trust, accordingly, is essentially a contrivance of production, a tool of production.

"The working class today is toolless. Their tool is owned by the class that has appropriated it, by historic methods that I shall not here go into. At any rate, the history of the tool establishes this principle, that the tool is the means for human emancipation from the thrall of nature, and he who owns that tool is a free man. He who does not is a slave, originally of nature and now of the class that does own it."

-- Daniel De Leon, from the De Leon - Berry Debate, January 27, 1913, published in 1915 as the pamphlet Capitalism vs. Socialism.
More at http://slp.org/pdf/de_leon/ddlother/cap_vs_soc.pdf

"When the tools needed for production were simple and cheap, everyone could employ himself. There was wealth, but there was no capital. In this country, at least, where everyone got an even start, there were no John D. Rockefellers, but neither were there any Henry Jacksons falling starving on the street. Everyone possessed the full value of his labor. He gave none of it up to any master.

"As soon, however, as the tool of production became too great for every man to acquire, wealth took on a new power. In the hands of those who possessed it, it became a means of purchasing the tool that all needed; it grew into an instrument of oppression; it became capital. Those who worked for the owner of the tool, the capitalist, no longer enjoyed the full product of their labor. The major part they had to turn over to him. The workman was now, as it were, put through the wringer. Whatever of wealth he could carry with him between the rollers, became his wages. What was wrung out in the process -- and this was always the greatest portion -- flowed into the boss' tub, labeled 'profits.' Every increase of capital amounted to a tightening of the screws -- more wealth stayed in the boss' tub, less dripped through into the pay envelope.

"Hence capital is not the workingman's friend. Its increased accumulation spells for him not cause for rejoicing, but increased suffering. And what he must do to save himself is just what the aristocratic Spectator warns him against doing: destroy capital -- not wealth, that is, but that especial function of wealth which consists of opening and sucking the juice out of him as an oyster is opened with a knife.

"That he only can do by organizing industrially and politically for the overthrow of capitalism, and the establishment of socialism. That, and that alone, is the worker's hope."

-- Daniel De Leon, from the editorial "The Worker's Hope", The Daily People, August 3, 1913.
More at http://www.deleonism.org/text/19130803.htm

"Ours is a a tool-using species. Cheated by nature of members such as other creatures use to obtain their needs, we have had to devise tools that would augment our puny native powers.

"For the human race, tools have been the pinions of a soaring rise from brutedom. But for the modern productive workers, tools -- epitomized in machinery -- have been the instrument of subjugation and degradation."

"The subjection of men by men traces back, of course, to the dawn of civilization. Historically, various factors enabled a few to dominate and exploit the many. It remained for capitalism to make the tool the sole scepter of class rule."

"Present society is divided into two classes. On the one side is the capitalist minority in possession of the means of production. On the other side is the worker majority possessing nothing but its productive abilities."

"Ownership of industry affords the capitalist class mastery over the nation. Lack of their own tools compels the workers to accept the role of capitalist subjects."

--Stephen Emery, from the article "Socialist Reconstruction Needed To Avert Evils of Automation",
The Weekly People, September 4, 1954, reprinted in The Weekly People, January 11, 1991,
More at http://www.deleonism.org/text/91011101.htm

Edited by Mike Lepore, 29 Redmond Way, Stanfordville, New York 12581, USA. Last page revision: April 12, 2008