Together with the triumphalism of technological progress from the 17th century Scientific Revolution to the 19th century positivists and beyond existed a darker view of increasingly mechanistic production, which polluted the environment, radically destabilized the global economy, and fundamentally changed the nature of work. In addition, in the 1930s another legacy of industrial mass production loomed large—the potential for it to be bent in the service of modern war. The First World War was still fresh in people’s minds. It had resulted in tens of millions of casualties, over 200,000 Americans. Rivera gestures toward this on the west wall, depicting technology as a potentially destructive force (military aircraft). The most negative portrayal of technology comes in a small panel outside of the main scene on the North Wall. Here, Rivera depicts a laboratory preparing bombs with poisonous gas.
Despite this link between technology and war, Rivera’s murals are a celebration of the capacity of human beings to develop and harness machines—and to fit themselves seemingly into the rhythms of their movements. Such a portrait of technology and industry crossed political divides. Industrial capitalism embraced technology—as did state-planned communism—as did fascism. Hybrid regimes like Japan’s new constitutional monarchy and Turkey’s authoritarian republic set out to promote domestic production. In Japan, a few hybrid industrial-financial behemoths (zaibatsu) came to dominate the country’s economy from their beginnings during the Meiji Restoration until the end of WWII. This sanguine view of industrialism grew to become a forceful economy principle, so much so that a main thrust of the international economic system constructed after WWII was to promote large-scale industrialization among non-industrial countries. Rarely did these projects achieve lasting success. For an illuminating analysis of Rivera's mixed view of technological progress and its connection to politics and society, check out this detailed look at Rivera's Man, Controller of the Universe by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker: