The Luddites, Neo-Luddism, and Technophobia

The Luddites,
Neo-Luddism, and
Cyborg Millenium
Winter 2009
Tim Sheard
England’s Distress in 1811-1813
• In 1812 the government probably had reason to
be fearful:
– a large part of the army was overseas, mainly in the
Peninsular with Wellington;
– the country was fighting not only the French but also
the Americans
– England was experiencing the worst trade depression
since the 1760s and people were suffering great
hardship. as evidenced by the Sheffield riots of 1812
• Source:
• Poverty – Harsh economic times because of
the Napoleonic wars
• Non-enforcement of laws meant to protect
– Minimum wage bill 1808 (decreased wages)
– Deteriorating working conditions
• Combination Acts – Banned trade unions
• Mechanical Looms and spinners replacing
skilled craftsman
Conditions in
the Mills
What did
Who were the luddites
• 19th Century English
• Ned Ludd –
apprentice who
smashed his bosses
shearing frame with
a hammer
Mythic Hero?
• Ned Ludd mythical person?
• Ned Ludd was reputed to
live in Sherwood Forest.
They said Ned Ludd was an idiot boy
That all he could do was wreck and destroy,
He turned to his workmates and said: Death
to Machines
They tread on our future and they stamp on
our dreams. -- Robert Calvert
The cause of it all?
The type of instrument
destroyed by Ned Ludd
A Stocking frame was a
machine that knitted stocking
or socks.
1812 – Frame-Breaking Act
(capital crime)
Riots and battles of the luddite rebellion
• Riots
– Nottinhamshire – Nov 1811
– West Riding of Yorkshire – Jan 1812
– Lancashire – March 1813
Luddites smashing looms in a factory during the riots of 1811–16.
The Granger Collection, New York
Sutton’s Mill, Nottinghamshire
Middleton Guardian report
"AT LEAST seven people have been killed after a day of Luddite rioting that brough terror to the
poplace of Middleton. Until now the town has been spared the attention of the followers of
the infamous Ned Ludd from Leicestershire, whose resentment of the coming of the power
driven loom has spawned bands of machine wreckers.
It has been feared for some time that Middleton could become the target for these agitators, for
many of the town's loomhouses have fallen silent - the men have gone to work at the power
looms that Daniel Burton has installed at his calico printing mill in Wood Street.
But no one could have forseen the mayhem that ensued today, 2nd April 1812.
Men armed with clubs, staves and rakes came into the town from all directions. They congregated
at Th' Top o' Middleton, entered the shops and began to fill their pockets with the goods on the
shelves, throwing the flour and sugar about the floor and generally causing havoc.
Government Response
Felt it had to establish control
Provide good business climate
Repress and control unruly labor groups
No attempt to alleviate cause of social
• “The FRame Breakers” by Nicols Fox
Frame Breaking Act
National Archives Catalogue reference: HO42/119. f.135
Lord Byron’s Speech against
The Frame Breaking Act
• Lord Byron, made a passionate speech against the Act in the House of
Lords at the end of February, 1812:
• During the short time I recently passed in Nottingham, not twelve hours
elapsed without some fresh act of violence; and on that day I left the the
county I was informed that forty Frames had been broken the preceding
evening, as usual, without resistance and without detection.
Such was the state of that county, and such I have reason to believe it to
be at this moment. But whilst these outrages must be admitted to exist to
an alarming extent, it cannot be denied that they have arisen from
circumstances of the most unparalleled distress: the perseverance of
these miserable men in their proceedings, tends to prove that nothing but
absolute want could have driven a large, and once honest and industrious,
body of the people, into the commission of excesses so hazardous to
themselves, their families, and the community.
An Appeal
Luddite Battles
– Burton’s Mills – Middleton
– Westhoughton Mill, Lancashire
– At the time there were more men under arms fighting the Luddites
than fighting Napoleon
Were the Luddites Provoked?
• Samuel Whitbread, an MP, after the riots were
put down, said of the riots
As to the persons who had blackened their faces, and disfigured
themselves for the purposes of concealment, and had attended the
meeting on Deanmoor, near Manchester, it turned out that ten of
them were spies sent out by the magistrates... These spies were the
very ringleaders of the mischief, and incited the people to acts which
they would not otherwise have thought of. [Parliamentary Debates, lst
Series, Vol. 23, Col.1000, (l8l2)]
• Part-time journalist John Edward Taylor investigated the story and
"This outrage was debated at a meeting which took place on Dean Moor,
near Bolton, the 9th of April, sixteen days before the scheme was put in
"At this meeting there were present, during the greater part of its duration,
and up to the time of its close, not more than about forty persons, of
whom no less than ten or eleven were spies, reputed to be employed by
Colonel Fletcher.
"The occurrence of circumstances like these, sixteen days before the burning
of the factory took place, renders it not a matter of presumption, but of
absolute certainty, that that alarming outrage might have been prevented,
if to prevent it had been the inclination of either the spies or their
The end of Luddism
• Male workers gained the right to vote
• Trade unions became legal
• 49 luddites killed in riots by government
• 24 were executed
• 34 transported to Australia
• More than 20 others given long term prison
Political Consequences
• Changed the views of many influential people
– Especially Lord Byron who spoke at the trials of
several luddites, and Earl Fitzwilliam, Lord Lieutenant
of the West Riding of Yorkshire.
• Brought rights of workers to the attention of the
• Began debate about industrialization
• Look at both the positive and negative effects of
• Govt. could no longer ignore the plight of workers
• Technology is never neutral
Luddites in Song
The Luddite riots led to many songs that were sung for
years afterwards, and made the Luddites popular heroes
General Ludd's
Tune "Poor Jack"
Chant no more your old rhymes about bold Robin
His feats I but little admire
I will sing the Achievements of General Ludd
Now the Hero of Nottinghamshire
Brave Ludd was to measures of violence unused
Till his sufferings became so severe
That at last to defend his own Interest he rous'd(3)
And for the great work did prepare(4)
Now by force unsubdued, and by threats
Death itself can't his ardour repress
The presence of Armies can't make him afraid
Nor impede his career of success
Whilst the news of his conquests is spread far and
How his Enemies take the alarm
His courage, his fortitude, strikes them with fear
For they dread his Omnipotent Arm!
More Songs
Hunting a Loaf
Good people I pray, now hear what I say,
And pray do not call it sedition;
For these great men of late they have cracked my poor
I'm wounded, in a woeful condition.
And sing fal lal the diddle i do,
Sing fal the diddle i do,
Sing fal the lal day.
For in Derby it's true and in Nottingham too,
Poor men to the jail they've been taking;
They say that Ned Ludd, as I understood,
A thousand wide frames has been breaking.
"The Cropper's Song"
Come, cropper lads of high renown,
Who love to drink good ale that's brown,
And strike each haughty tyrant down,
With hatchet, pike, and gun!
Oh, the cropper lads for me,
The gallant lads for me,
Who with lusty stroke,
The shear frames broke,
The cropper lads for me!
What though the specials(14) still advance,
And soldiers nightly round us prance;
The croppers lads still lead the dance,
With hatchet, pike, and gun!
Oh, the cropper lads for me,
The gallant lads for me,
Who with lusty stroke
The shear frames broke,
The cropper lads for me!
Luddite Fallacy
• Labor saving technologies increase un-employment by
reducing the demand for labor
• The Fallacy
Cost of goods decreases
Demand for goods rises
So more people are hired.
At the macro-economic level, production increases while
keeping workforce levels constant
– Micro-economically, real people are out of a job. Modern day
wisdom says the cure for this is job training
• If the Luddite fallacy were true we would all be out of work
because productivity has been increasing for two centuries
– Alex Tabarrok, economist
The Making of the English Working Class,
E. P. Thompson
• Luddites were not opposed to new technology
so much as the economic order that arose
with it that destroyed their lively hood
• Research suggests that the frames destroyed
were often those of owners and mills that
tried to cut proces and wages, while others
were often left un touched
• The Luddites acted from a sense of self
Neo Luddites
• Kirkpatrick Sales
– Author – Rebels against the Future
• Advance of technology will bring about the
downfall of the world
Sale’s Lessons
• Technologies are never Neutral, and some are positively
• Industrialism is a traumatic and cataclysmic process.
• Only a people serving an apprenticeship to Nature can be trusted
with machines
• The nation state, intertwined with industrialism, will always come
to its aid and defence, making revolt futile and reform ineffectual.
• Resistance to the industrial system, based on moral principles and
moral revulsion, is not only possible, but necessary.
• Resistance to industrialism must ultimately be embedded in an
analysis - better, a philosophy that is widely shared and carefully
• The industrial civilisation so well served by its potent technologies
cannot last, and will not last: its collapse is certain within not more
than a few decades.
Book Review of Sales book
• Luddism and its Discontents by Paul Lindholdt
• “Scholars who hope to understand the hermeneutics of
suspicion now known as Luddism or neo-Luddism--who
want to learn more than the newspapers can offer
about what went into the Unabomber's world view-would do well to read these important works by
Kirkpatrick Sale and Chellis Glendinning. ‘’
The Unabomber
Ted Kaczynski
Ph.D. Mathematics, U Mich
Social Critic
The Bombings
The Manifesto
• Industrial Society and Its Future
• In 1995 he sent a letter to the NY Times saying he would desist from
terrorism if they printed his manifesto
• A quote from the manifesto
The Industrial Revolution and its consequences have been a disaster for the human
race. They have greatly increased the life-expectancy of those of us who live in
"advanced" countries, but they have destabilized society, have made life
unfulfilling, have subjected human beings to indignities, have led to widespread
psychological suffering (in the Third World to physical suffering as well) and have
inflicted severe damage on the natural world. The continued development of
technology will worsen the situation. It will certainly subject human beings to
greater indignities and inflict greater damage on the natural world, it will probably
lead to greater social disruption and psychological suffering, and it may lead to
increased physical suffering—even in "advanced" countries.
A Tale of two brothers