Provisionary Alliances

Judith Raum

 

 

So we do not get rid of possessing. It is probably no coincidence that while the handcraft of weaving is extremely process-oriented, the house-weavers lived in economically poor and provisionary circumstances. At the same time, the textile industry functioned like a great motor for early capitalism and in global trading transactions. Together with the steal and engine building industry, it were the interests of the German textile industry that induced the German Empire to do all those colonial things. To penetrate the Ottoman Empire, to build the Bagdad Railway, not only to reach oil fields in order to motorize the army, but also to secure control over vast agricultural areas in Anatolia for cotton production. Then they started with an enormous export business. Fabrics were produced by house-weavers in the German province and exported to Turkey, to Bolivia, to North America, and other countries and continents. The economic dynamics in Germany at the end of the 19th century caused an aggressive search for markets and zones of economic influence in the rest of the world: this was the discovery of an imperialist destination.
Industrials, economic elites and great land owners shared one interest in common: to exclude all other groups of society from partaking in power. Militarism guaranteed this social order, disciplined the workers, hassled the democratic opposition and suppressed critical revolt. Since the unification of the German Empire, Preussian militarist values and a policy of suppression had been spread all over the country. Those who gained from the advance of industrialisation seeked to control the process of social change right from the beginning. Repressions against unionists and socialists were the norm. On the global scale, the aspiration for world-economic dominance relied on the wide fear and respect that the Preussian military machine produced. The house-weavers perform a craft where in the process of production, the fabric is subject to a constant flow. This mode of working historically meets imperial interests and notions of discipline and obedience: in 1913, 100% of the shawls and scarfs produced in a village of house-weavers in Northern Bavaria were exported, parts of them traded over the trading points alongside the Bagdad Railway, built with German machines and engineers and supported by German capital invested profitably by the Deutsche Bank group, founded in 1870. 
Contemporary sources characterise the house-weavers in a cliché way as modest people who patiently bear their burden, working days of 16 hours or more and a diet which often consisted of potatoes and coffee substitute all day long. You would observe an inner sereneness in them, a prosaic and pragmatic attitude paired with a strive for independence. Independence in this context means that they prefered a poor but independent life to the more secure, but rather dependent existence of the factory worker. You do not find much understanding of the slogan ‚Alone you are nothing, united everything’ among them. As individual workers and weavers’ families, they hardly organised in unions. They usually maintain a small lot of land on which they grow their aliments. In turn, owning nothing more than crofts, they could never survive from their agricultural activity and were forced into wage labour. It is exactly the existence of those farmers with small lots of land which created the profitability of the German industry. While the home-weavers took care of their subsistence on their own, the manufacturers could keep the wage level low. Fabricants favoured the tradition of house-weaving, for it enabled the unrestricted use of the labour force of women and children. At the same time, all entrepreneurial risk was shifted on to the weavers. If commissions stayed away, the weavers were without work.
Many textiles for the international market could only be produced on hand-looms, where it was possible to weave complex, changing patterns with more than 30 colors. Samples and patterns for traditional textiles were sent from the trading regions or collected in ethnographical museums. The weavers then variegated these patterns.

 

(printed and published as text on poster)