In the late 19th century, the decentralizing potential of the Second Industrial Revolution — the introduction of electrical power into industry — was a common theme in social analysis.
The liberatory, decentralizing potential of electrical power was the theme of works like Pyotr Kropotkin’s “Fields, Factories and Workshops,” which envisioned a world of small-scale relocalized industry integrated into village economies with raised-bed intensive horticulture.
This would have been the most natural use of electrically powered machinery — what Lewis Mumford called the “Neotechnic” revolution, in contrast to the Paleotechnic Era of coal, steam, iron and Dark Satanic Mills.
The Second Industrial Revolution, which offered an opportunity to destroy the factory system, free labor from the domination of capital, decentralize production to the neighborhood and village, and abolish the divisions between both town and country and hand-work and brain-work, was instead co-opted into the institutional framework of the First Industrial Revolution. The technology that should have made the old system of power obsolete was instead harnessed to serve it.
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