Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Tyrant Time-Tempus Fug'it

The creation of the clock is a defining moment in the history of capitalism. It allowed for the regimintation of work, and for the development of industrialization as clock works were applied to steam power.

The proletariat was created to work by the time of the clock. Prior to that the artisan and farmer who worked by hours of daylight. With the advent of the factory system in the late 18th Century, workers could be forced to work in the darkness with the help of kerosene lamps, and by the use of clocks to tell the time of the working day. Literally the working day as we know it today began back then. (EP Thompson, Past and Present (1967). Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism )

For generations, there has been no better illustration of the collective idiocy of the crowd than the story of the English calendar riots of 1752. At the trial of Henry Hunt and others for treason in 1820, James Scarlett, the prosecuting counsel, had this to say:
The ridiculous folly of a mob had been exemplified in a most humorous manner by that eminent painter, Mr. Hogarth. It was found necessary many years ago, in order to prevent a confusion in the reckoning of time, to knock eleven days out of the calendar, and it was supposed by ignorant persons that the legislature had actually deprived them of eleven days of their existence. This ridiculous idea was finely exposed in Mr. Hogarth's picture, where the mob were painted throwing up their hats, and crying out "Give us back our eleven days". Thus it was at the present time; that many individuals, who could not distinguish words from things, were making an outcry for that of which they could not well explain the nature. 'Give us our eleven days!': calendar reform in eighteenth-century England

The time of the clock is the historical moment when capitalism begins to supercede fuedalism. Clockworks were literally the mechanization of feudal society, hinting at the capitalism time to come. A vision of the future workers of Gothic Capitalism were first introduced with the creation of mechanical men, automatons, in the 17th century. As described in the Tales of Hoffman by Offenbach. They would presage the future proletariat of the machine age of the factories of the late 19th and early 20th century, where workers would become cogs in the machine.

But in the history of “clocks and culture” what is new in the development of Western horology is the application of mechanics in a system of economic production. Prior to their remarkable development in the course of the Renaissance, clocks were products of art and science.More than coincidence, a causal relationship can be seen in the invention of the mechanical clock in the period of early capitalism. The Renaissance Discovery of Time.

With the advent of further mechinization of work in the 20th Century skilled craft work was abolished in favour of the factory where work could be proportioned according to units of time, as developed by Fredrick Taylor. Hence the famous phrase 'Time is money" has been the essence of capitalism since the its inception with the development of the first mechanical clocks.

Representations of Capital interconnect with representations of space and time. E.P. Thompson, in his famous essay on the "Industrialization of Clock Time," showed how the transition from peasantry to wage labor -- from a feudal economy to a capitalist society -- entailed dramatic changes in the experience of time. Clock time was essential if industrialists were to measure output per a generalizable unit of labor. The capitalist organization of work made hours the constant variable needed to measure work and wages.

Today, the relationship between clock time and Capital is cast in terms of Investors. In this Fidelity ad, where the images are choreographed to the fast-paced rock pulse of the Rolling Stone's song, "Time," the focus is on the consumer or the retail investor who races against time.
As Marx observed, workers formally exchanged their labor-time for a wage -- hence the requirement for punching a time clock. Today, we still recognize the relative freedom offered by professionalized occupations where one sells a product or a service (rather than the hours that went into making it) -- the distinction between a salary and a wage

To this day native peoples who do not live in industrialized society do not live by the tyranny of the clock, which is why you will find in farmer and artisan cultures the idea of 'manyana' timelessness, as in 'later', we will do that later, or as it is known here in Canada as native time. Aboriginal peoples do not keep time the same way as those of us enslaved to the tyranny of the clock.

While the clock marks the time of capitalism in Europe its truimph was in the creation of the American nation. No other nation was so defined by the clock. A nation of shop keepers, artisans, and even the farmers, who lived worked and died by the clock. In particular by the pocket watch. Accounting practices were set by the clock, as were business deals, farmers no longered worked to the pace of the sun but to the time of the clock. And even in the darkest interiors of the east coast mills during the civil war, time was told by the hands of the clock, which ticked away the minutes of the newly industrialized proletariat lives.

England was the prototype for industrialization. The rest of the world could look to that country as an example of what to emulate and what to avoid. Some saw a land of power and prosperity and wondered aloud whether God might after all be an Englishman; others saw "dark, Satanic mills" and the "specter of Manchester" with its filthy slums and human misery. Americans in particular thought hard about industry and whether it could be reconciled with the republican virtues seemingly rooted in an agrarian order. "Let our workshops remain in Europe," urged Jefferson in his Notes on Virginia in 1785, and he was no happier for being wiser about the feasibility of that policy after the War of 1812. Nor did all his fellow countrymen agree in principle. Some saw vast opportunities for industry in a land rich in natural resources, including seemingly endless supplies of wood and of waterpower. The debate between the two views became a continuing theme of American literature, characterized by Leo Marx as The Machine in the Garden (NY, 1964).

The combination of abundant resources and scarce labor meant that industrialization in America would depend on the use of machinery, and from the outset American inventors strove to translate manual tasks into mechanical action. For reasons that so far elude scholarly consensus, Americans' fascination with machines informed their approach to manufacturing to such an extent that British observers in the mid-19th century characterized machine-based production as the "American System". Precisely what was meant by that at the time is not clear, but by the end of the century it came to mean mass production by means of interchangeable parts. The origins of that system lay in the new nation's armories, in particular at Harpers Ferry, where John H. Hall first devised techniques for serial machining of parts within given tolerances.The Machine in the Garden, John H. Hall and the Origins of the "American System"

All automation is clock driven and has been in conflict with human time, our subjective sense of being. With the advent of machining automation, as David Noble discusses in his book
Progress Without People, in the late fities, a further step was taken in moving the factory towards a robotic assembly line requiring less workers and more engineers.

And today as you read this in cyberspace, your time is created by clockworks, whether in your computer, look down in the right hand corner, there is the clock.
And it's time has now become autonomous from our time. In fact as you read this your computer has it's own time that it operates under, while you read your geographical time, whether it is MST, CST, or EST or Grenwich Mean Time.

Scientists had long realized that atoms (and molecules) have resonances; each chemical element and compound absorbs and emits electromagnetic radiation at its own characteristic frequencies. These resonances are inherently stable over time and space. An atom of hydrogen or cesium here today is (so far as we know) exactly like one a million years ago or in another galaxy. Thus atoms constitute a potential "pendulum" with a reproducible rate that can form the basis for more accurate clocks.

The development of radar and extremely high frequency radio communications in the 1930s and 1940s made possible the generation of the kind of electromagnetic waves (microwaves) needed to interact with atoms. Research aimed at developing an atomic clock focused first on microwave resonances in the ammonia molecule. In 1949, NIST built the first atomic clock, which was based on ammonia. However, its performance wasn't much better than the existing standards, and attention shifted almost immediately to more promising atomic-beam devices based on cesium.
The "Atomic Age" of Time Standards

In fact the Y2k crsis was all about the pending apocalyptic failure of the clockworks of millions of computers around the world, and it was a vision of the collapse of capitalism as we know it. That it did not come to pass, does not lessen its social impact for that historical moment five years ago when the hands of clockwork of capitalism touched 12 midnight ending one millinieum and begining another. For in that moment in space and time, humanity held its breathe waiting for the clocks to stop. And had they, capitalism itself would have stopped.

Far from being a mere hoax, or urban myth, it was a vision of a future without clocks or capitalism. For some it was the fear of the ensuing chaos of living in a distopia without the tyranny of the clock, just as those feared living in a society without kings, rulers or bosses. For others it was a hope for a different future, a utopian moment that allowed us to imagine living in our own time rather than the rule of the clock.

That it affected America more than anywhere else, and was driven by American fears, shows the power of the clock in America. America is literally a clockwork nation, whose existance is identified with the clock and clockworks.
For American capitalism Y2k was as fearful as Bolshevism had been at the turn of last century. But the moment passed, and all was well once again. Or was it.

The reason American capitalism cannot concieve of the importance of Global Warming, or any long term disaster scenario is that due to its internal clockworks it can only think in terms of quarters of time, the time it takes for the market to make a short term profit. Wall Street is driven by its own clock works, which determine that it cannot think in long waves or over long periods of time.

Global Warming is an issue that takes in decades, if not hundreds of years to imagine. And the clockwork nation of America can only think in terms of 24/7, the ever present moment.

The Luddite movement was all about challenging work time, the tyranny of the clock and its machinery. As the situationists said; "The only difference between my free time and my work time is that I don't get paid for my free time."

Today modern capitalism is all about the speed up, whether its in the factory, or on the farm (feedlots are a form of speeding up of the fattening of cattle for the market, chemical fertilizers to enhance the growth of crops in a shorter time, the green revolution, genetic modification of crops, etc.). It's about having no time for ourselves as we are forced to work two jobs to make ends meet. In the last decade work time across Canada has increased. The average hours of work in Alberta is a 44 hour work week before overtime is considered to apply. Gone is the eight hour day for most of us.

Yet we know that if we all worked less more of us would work. The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) has successfully challenged the big three auto companies to reduce forced overtime in favour of hiring more workers.

One hundred years ago the IWW called for the 4 hour day. And we are no closer to that achievment today then we were then. But if it seemed impossible then, it is an even more utopian vision today to most people. Just as they cannot concieve of ending wage slavery and abolishing the wages system, which is not based on our labour but our 'time' at work.

The revolutionary struggle of the proletariat has never been about 'abolishing work' nor has it been about embracing the 'revolutionary worker who gives her all for the party and state'. It has been about challenging work time, challenging the tyranny of the clock, of the regimination of life, work and play, free time and work time , have no meaning without King Clock.

That is the revolutionary struggle, to end the tyranny of time as we know it.

It is the secret of the childrens rhyme about Humpty Dumpty, who was not an egg but a clockwork machine.

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

`The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master -- that's all.'

Humpty Dumpty is a historically important pinball machine released by Gottlieb in October 1947. It is considered to be the first true pinball machine ever produced, distinguishing it from earlier bagatelle game machines. Humpty Dumpty had six flippers, but, unlike modern pinball tables, they faced outward instead of inward and were not placed at the bottom of the table near the main outhole. Like all early pinball tables, Humpty Dumpty was constructed with wood and had backlit scoring in preset units of scoring rather than mechanical reel or electronic LED scoring.

Now the movement of the clock sets the tempo men's lives - they become the servant of the concept of time which they themselves have made, and are held in fear, like Frankenstein by his own monster. In a sane and free society such an arbitrary domination of man's functions by either clock or machine would obviously be out of the question. The domination of man by the creation of man is even more ridiculous than the domination of man by man. Mechanical time would be relegated to its true function of a means of reference and co-ordination, and men would return again to a balance view of life no longer dominated by the worship of the clock. Complete liberty implies freedom from the tyranny of abstractions as well as from the rule of men.
George Woodcock
First published in War Commentary - For Anarchism mid-march 1944.

A Revolution in Timekeeping

In Europe during most of the Middle Ages (roughly 500 CE to 1500 CE), technological advancement virtually ceased. Sundial styles evolved, but didn't move far from ancient Egyptian principles.

During these times, simple sundials placed above doorways were used to identify midday and four "tides" (important times or periods) of the sunlit day. By the 10th century, several types of pocket sundials were used. One English model even compensated for seasonal changes of the Sun's altitude.

Then, in the first half of the 14th century, large mechanical clocks began to appear in the towers of several large Italian cities. We have no evidence or record of the working models preceding these public clocks, which were weight-driven and regulated by a verge-and-foliot escapement. Variations of the verge-and-foliot mechanism reigned for more than 300 years, but all had the same basic problem: the period of oscillation of the escapement depended heavily on the amount of driving force and the amount of friction in the drive. Like water flow, the rate was difficult to regulate.

Another advance was the invention of spring-powered clocks between 1500 and 1510 by Peter Henlein of Nuremberg. Replacing the heavy drive weights permitted smaller (and portable) clocks and watches. Although they ran slower as the mainspring unwound, they were popular among wealthy individuals due to their small size and the fact that they could be put on a shelf or table instead of hanging on the wall or being housed in tall cases. These advances in design were precursors to truly accurate timekeeping.

Accurate Mechanical Clocks
In 1656, Christiaan Huygens, a Dutch scientist, made the first pendulum clock, regulated by a mechanism with a "natural" period of oscillation. (Galileo Galilei is credited with inventing the pendulum-clock concept, and he studied the motion of the pendulum as early as 1582. He even sketched out a design for a pendulum clock, but he never actually constructed one before his death in 1642.) Huygens' early pendulum clock had an error of less than 1 minute a day, the first time such accuracy had been achieved. His later refinements reduced his clock's error to less than 10 seconds a day.

Around 1675, Huygens developed the balance wheel and spring assembly, still found in some of today's wristwatches. This improvement allowed portable 17th century watches to keep time to 10 minutes a day. And in London in 1671, William Clement began building clocks with the new "anchor" or "recoil" escapement, a substantial improvement over the verge because it interferes less with the motion of the pendulum.


The clock is a particularly emblematic piece of technology.The invention of the mechanical clock in the thirteenth century inaugurated a new representation of time. For the West, the clock symbolized regularity, predictibility, and control. A clock serves to produce a correspondence between events and vertices of time moments.

The disciplining of labor and of social relations through time is another profound function of the clock. Monasticism asserted the originally Jewish thesis that work is an essential kind of worship, that God's command to labor six days of the week was as binding as that to rest on the seventh. The regulation of the day, which started in the ringing of the bells in the monastery, was extended to society at large through the tyranny of the clock. cf orrery. Lewis Mumford described the relation between the clock and the monastery in Technics and Civilization. For Mumford, "The clock, not the steam-engine, is the key machine of the modern industrial age." Mumford notes that the clock changes our perception of time as quantity. Deleuze and Guattari describe this process as striation. The model for an analysis of the clock would be Foucault's examination of the Panopticon in Discipline and Punish. (see diagram.)

It is important to keep in mind the socially coercive function of the clock. (see E.P. Thompson, "Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism" in Giddens and Held, Classes, Power, and Conflict.) Thompson distinguishes between the "natural" rhythms of "task time" and "clock time," in which time becomes currency that in not passed but spent, which is marked by "time thrift" and a clear demarcation between work and life. Time obedience can be distiguished from time discipline: an internalization of social discipline, away from public spectacle (the clocktower) in favor of the personal (the pocket watch.)
Contents Under Pressure - A Hypertext in Progress by Christian Hubert

On Time
by Carlene E. Stephens and The Smithsonian Institution

Increasingly, after about 1820, the cadences of the ticking clock echoing in industry, railroads, and cities grew more insistent. Very much in demand, clocks and watches began to spill from American factories. More people found themselves governed by the mechanical regularity and pace of the clock.

By about 1880, the American railroads had knit together a national economy, and late in 1883 they abandoned the fifty-some regional operating times to voluntarily impose five time zones on their routes across the continent. Clocks, no longer set to the sun overhead, were instead synchronized to the new system. Some people enjoyed the conveniences of the new national standard time, but others resisted the change.

As the twentieth century dawned, the country became obsessed with using time efficiently. Like it or not, people found themselves pressured by the clock, especially in the form of factory time clocks and stopwatches. Experts in "scientific management" segmented, streamlined, and standardized both factory and office work to increase productivity. They advocated timesaving efficiencies for nearly every aspect of American life, including the home. Even leisure - time off - became defined by the clock. It was divided up, measured out, not to be wasted.

Alexis McCrossen

Current Research

Between the Civil War and the Great Depression civic and business interests across the nation erected thousands of public timepieces. Using an array of sources, including local histories, the papers of the Seth Thomas and E. Howard Clock companies, and the Historic Engineering and Buildings Surveys, I am at once assessing when, where and under what circumstances public timepieces were installed and considering what life was like under them.
The second part of the project considers the distribution and ownership of pocket watches during the transition to widespread watch ownership (1870s and 1880s). I am using the watch register of David Edwards Hoxie, who repaired watches in Northampton, Massachusetts between 1863 and 1884. By using census schedules, tax records, city directories, and other demographic data I can construct a picture of watch ownership during a critical moment in the “reformation of time consciousness.” (Michael O’Malley Keeping Watch: A History of American Time 1990)

My research project, a book-length study entitled “A Republic in Time: History, Modernity, and Social Imagination in Nineteenth-Century America,” investigates how transformations in the perception of time shaped American conceptions of democratic society and modern nationhood. The fundamental premise of the study is that time is not a transhistorical phenomenon, an aspect of nature existing outside of human society, but rather a historical artifact produced by human beings acting within specific historical circumstances. I focus upon the central role that time played in the nineteenth-century United States in linking the economic transformations wrought by developing capitalism with the political imperative to define American national identity. New technologies and scientific discoveries made it possible to imagine new forms of time, including clock time and geological “deep time,” but it was American writers, pundits, and political thinkers who gave these new temporalities their significance. Theories of American nationality emphasized how the United States, as a revolutionary “modern” nation, represented a rupture with all past examples of nationhood. But despite the widespread consensus that America was different from older nations, the precise nature of America’s modernity remained to be defined. This question was a historical one, and hence it is appropriate that time itself became the most important medium through which American thinkers debated this crucial issue. Industrial capitalism and market-oriented forms of commerce seemed to demand that Americans adjust their perception to the time of the clock. Clockwork rationality became a compelling way of defining a modern way of life, but Americans critical of capitalism and those less closely linked to the market proposed other possible versions of modernity based on other modes of temporality. It is only retrospectively that clockwork rationality has come to seem an inevitable foundation of modernity. Recovering alternate ways of defining America as a modern nation helps us to avoid imposing an artificial teleology upon our national history, and reveals instead a history created by human beings in response to the contingencies of circumstance.

Reading Hamilton's Clocks: Time Consciousness in Early National and Antebellum Urban Commercial Culture

Julia Ott
Department of History
Yale University

Historians of early American labor and time consciousness have largely ignored these social and cultural consequences of an accelerating credit clock. Inspired by E.P. Thompson's seminal essay, scholars have extensively analyzed the transition from task-orientation to time-discipline, as well as the tensions between a notion of divinely originating natural time and clock time. [3] According to Thompson, "mature industrial societies of all varieties are marked by time-thrift and by a clear demarcation between 'work' and 'life'." [4] The advent of industrialism "entailed a severe restructuring of working habits," including alterations "in the inward notation of time." [5] Where men controlled "their own working lives . . .alternate bouts of intense labor and idleness" characterized labor.

[6] In contrast, factory organization of labor demanded synchronization through internalization of the mechanical clock. "Time-sense" represented "technological conditioning" while "time-measurement" embodied "a means of labor exploitation." [7] Herbert Gutman's "Work, Culture, and Society in Industrializing America" initiated the application of Thompsonian analysis to labor relations and work culture in the United States. Gutman posited "a recurrent tension" throughout the course of the nineteenth century between the "diverse pre-modern native and foreign peoples" entering the factory system "and the demands placed upon them by the regularities and disciplines of factory labor," particularly clock-discipline. [8] Building on Gutman, subsequent scholarship noted clock-regulation's mitigation by the retention of piece-work and family systems of labor in early American factories and mills, as well as the clock's use as an instrument of planter hegemony in the South. [9]

But to fully understand capitalism's central temporal conflict, we need to know more about the origins of capitalists' "modern time/money calculus." [10] What implanted this underlying temporal logic? The answer lies in the escalating exigencies of credit in the early national period. Certainly the profit motive contributed to capitalist desires to discipline and control workers, but the credit clock provided the model for the specific selection of the time-discipline solution. Some historians have correctly accredited capitalist temporality to a legacy of mercantile notions of time-thrift and recognized both its continuity and its intensification during the course of the nineteenth century. [11] Yet the ascendancy of the credit value of time over the labor value of time and the associated development of commercial temporal anxiety remain unexamined. Historians generally prefer to see long continuities in mercantile temporality, originating in the Middle Ages with an urban, commercial break from seasonal, cyclical, natural notions of time. [12] But the recognition of the credit value of time represented an crucial step for capitalists, for it ascribed a market value to time independent of labor performed and the exploited worker performing the labor.


Kevin Carson said...

Amazing post--you should try publishing it as an article. I'm curious, though: how do you envision worker-controlled production dealing with issues of time-keeping?

William Morris and G.K. Chesterton could probably say quite a bit about the craftsmen who produced those clocks in the early 14th century. Suppose they had remained free to develop industrial production through decentralized guilds, controlled by the work-force? How would clocks have been integrated into such an economy?


Well lets use the example of the school custodian. Our social labour time neccasary for the community is probably about 4 hours per week not 4 hours per day if we go by Bookchins theory. So even if it was say more than that say 10 - 14 hours per week. I would go in to my neighbourhood school to check the boilers and mechanical systems as well as coordinate the cleaning schedule for the volunteers who clean the school.
Students, staff and volunteers would clean their school. Just as neighbours would come in for classes with grade school students, instead of having a school that was only for children it would be the centre of community learning. Teaching would be coordinated in the same way, that is those who know or have a skill teach, ala Summerhill.
Utopian I know but we have to be realistic and demand the impossible.
I just had to get that in there.

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