Central Indiana Radical Reading Group & LiberationSchool.org
Notes for Class 3 (ch. 10-14)
Chapter 10: The working-day
What are the limits to the working day?
- Absolute or natural limits: 24 hours in a day, and only so many hours one can work without preventing them from returning to work the next day
- Moral limits: workers need to satisfy “intellectual and social wants, the extent and number of which are conditioned by the general state of social advancement” (223) [note: by “social advancement” Marx means “class struggle”]
The working day has to be less than a day, but how much less? Here Marx lays out exactly how the length of the working day is determined, opening with a dialogue between worker and capitalist:
“As capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one single life impulse, the tendency to create value and surplus-value, to make its constant factor, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus-labour… Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks” (224). If the worker takes “disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist.”
According to the laws of exchange, capital as a buyer of a commodity wants to get the maximum use out of it. But in response, the worker says
“The commodity I have sold to you differs from the crowd of other commodities, in that its use creates value, and a value greater than its own. That is why you bought it. That which on your side appears a spontaneous expansion of capital, is on mine extra expenditure of labour-power” (224).
This again all has to do with the difference between the EV and UV of labor-power: “You pay me for one day’s labour-power, whilst you use that of 3 days. That is against our contract and the law of exchanges. I demand, therefore, a working-day of normal length, and I demand it without any appeal to your heart, for in money matters sentiment is out of place” (225).
This is a contradiction that can’t be solved within the framework of the law of exchanges. Each has a right that directly conflicts with the other. “There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides” (225).
The conclusion, then, is that the length of the working day is ultimately determined by class struggle (strikes, slow-downs, stoppages, political legislation, etc.; in addition to individual acts of sabotage and disobedience).
While surplus labor-power is unique to capitalism, surplus-labor existed before. “Whenever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the labourer, free or not free, must add to the working-time necessary for his own maintenance” (226).
When capitalism enters the picture, the lust after surplus-labor is intensified beyond bounds. When they “are drawn into the whirlpool of an international market” and motivated by exchange-value and not use-value, “the civilised horrors of over-work are grafted on the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom” (226). He uses slavery in the U.S. as an example. Once cotton was produced for export “the over-working of the Negro and sometimes the using of his life in 7 years of labour became a factor in a calculated and calculating system” (226).
Marx shows how the corvee system “made 56 days out of 12,” and then argues that the English Factory Acts that limit the working day “are the negative expression of the same greed. These acts curb the passion of capital for a limitless draining of labour-power, by forcibly limiting the working-day by state regulations, made by a state that is ruled by capitalist and landlord” (229).
Why is this a “negative expression of the same greed”? It is an example of how the state manages both inter-class conflict and intra-class conflict. For one, working-class movements seek to limit the working day. For two, the capitalists themselves need management because, in their own self-interest, they will exhaust the supply of labor-power and inhibit capitalist production. Thus, the state will intervene to limit the length of the working day on behalf of the collective capitalist class in order to further capital accumulation.
Marx then turns to reports by factory inspectors, especially Horner, which clearly documents how appalling conditions and hours are driven by capitalist greed. Even when there are regulations, many capitalists decide it is better to break the law and bet on not being caught than to abide by it. There are also “small thefts,” like shortening meal and break times (232).
Capital’s tendency is of “the were-wolf’s hunger for surplus-labour” and “monstrous extractions,” which “caused capital at last to be bound by the chains of legal regulations” (233). What about industries where capital is free of these chains? This is where Marx goes now, again relying on testimony and commissioner reports, which document “indignation… at the sight of poor children whose health has been sacrificed to gratify the avarice of either parents or employers” (235). Marx writes that children are often treated “as merely auxiliary material to the instruments of labour” (237) in that they are totally subjected to constant capital. Note that this is also a time when childhood is being invented, in part through these kinds of acts and reports (but also through things like developmental sciences). A few other points jump out:
When Marx looks at the baking industry there is a mention on p. 238 of what Marx will later call “formal subjection” (in the Penguin edition it is “formal subsumption”). In a quote beginning on the bottom of 237, Marx says that capital is “at first indifferent as to the technical character of the labour-process; it begins by taking it just as it finds it.” This will be important when we go into the next section on relative surplus-value.
Remember that the value of labor-power is determined by the socially-necessary labor-time required for its re/production, and that this is represented by the wage, which in turn represents a bundle of commodities. If capital can cheapen these commodities it can drive down the value of labor-power. Thus, the reports note “the incredible adulteration of bread” (238).
Mention of a railway accident caused by the overwork of railway men appears on p. 242, and it has resonances with today’s overwork of pilots and truck drivers.
Capitalism’s tendency is “to appropriate labour during all the 24 hours of the day.” Since it can’t work the same person for that time, “an alteration becomes necessary between the workpeople whose powers are exhausted by day, and those who are used up by night” (245).
The last two sections of the chapter are a historical-materialist analysis of the struggle for a normal working day, and Marx begins by pointing out a contradiction inherent in capital. On the one hand, “capital cares nothing for the length of life of labour-power. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer’s life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility” (253). On the other hand, if “the unnatural extension of the working day, that capital necessarily strives after in its unmeasured passion for self-expansion, shortens the length of life of the individual labourer, and therefore the duration of his labour-power, the forces used up have to be replaced at a more rapid rate and the sum of the expenses for the reproduction of labour-power [NOTE: the value of labor-power] will be greater… It would seem therefore that the interest of capital itself points in the direction of a normal working-day.”
In other words, capital is torn between using up as much LP as possible and keeping the value of LP down. The state will play an important function in managing this, and it also drives political coalitions between otherwise competing class interests. This intra-class antagonism can be understood as that between capitalists individually and capitalists collectively, or as a class.
However, capital doesn’t just produce the LP it employs but demands a surplus-pool, “an excess in relation to the momentary requirements of surplus-labour-absorbing capital, although this excess is made up of generations of human beings stunted, short-lived, swiftly replacing each other, plucked, so to say, before maturity” (256).
This is not the result of bad capitalists, but is structural, and to explain this Marx introduces “the coercive laws of competition.” On page 257, he writes: “Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society… But looking at things as a whole, all this does not, indeed, depend on the good or ill will of the individual capitalist. Free competition brings out the inherent laws of capitalist production, in the shape of external coercive laws having power over every individual capitalist.”
To discipline peasants into wage-labor, a series of laws were passed to regulate the working day through fixing wages (the first Marx brings in is from 1348). Wages were regulated to ensure that time was spent working. As Postlethwayt says, “if the industrious poor can obtain enough to maintain themselves in five days, they will not work the whole six” (261).
The workhouse “must be made a ‘House of Terror,’ and not an asylum for the poor” and paupers (according to Postlethwayt). This was realized, Marx says, with the factory.
Workers fought back against this in increasingly organized ways and helped pressure parliament to pass a series of labor laws limiting working-hours, especially for children. 1846-7 are important, “epoch-making” in the history of capitalism in England because of the repeal of the Corn Laws (tariffs on imported wheat), and the Chartist movement’s agitation for the 10-hour work day. The 10-hour work day passed on May 1, 1848, but with the leaders of the Chartist party were in prison, which “had shaken the confidence of the English working-class in its own strength” (270). The June uprising that year in Paris and its bloody suppression united England and Europe all factions of capitalists and ruling classes to rebel against the legislation:
“They broke out in open revolt not only against the Ten Hours’ Act, but against the whole of the legislation that since 1833 had aimed at restricting in some measure the ‘free’ exploitation of labour-power. It was a pro-slavery rebellion in miniature, carried on for over two years with a cynical recklessness, a terrorist energy all the cheaper because the rebel capitalist risked nothing except the skin of his ‘hands’” (271).
In the last section Marx consolidates his inquiry into two parts.
“First. The passion of capital for an unlimited and reckless extension of the working-day, is first gratified in the industries earliest revolutionized by water-power, steam, and machinery… The changes in the material mode of production, and the corresponding changes in the social relations of the producers, gave rise first to an extravagance beyond all bounds, and then in opposition to this, called forth a control on the part of Society which legally limits, regulates, and makes uniform the working-day and its pauses” (282).
“Second. The history of the regulation of the working-day in certain branches of production, and the struggle still going on in others in regard to this regulation, prove conclusively that the isolated labourer, the labourer as ‘free’ vendor of his labour-power, when capitalist production has once attained a certain stage, succumbs without any power of resistance. The creation of a normal working-day is, therefore, the product of a protracted civil war, more or less dissembled, between the capitalist class and the working-class” (283).
England is the motor, France lags behind. The U.S. here “was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded” (284). Marx is a bit too optimistic about the end of slavery (a revolution that as Harry Haywood writes was overthrown by counterrevolutionary forces). But the point here is that limiting the working day is essential for the working-class struggle (285).
At the end of part 2 of the book, Marx said we were going to follow “Mr. Moneybags” and the laborer, who are equals in the world of exchange, into production. Now, on page 285, he says “our labourer comes out of the process of production other than he entered. In the market he stood as owner of the commodity… the Bargain concluded, it is discovered that he was no ‘free agent,’ that the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not lose its hold on him.”
In response, Marx pleas that “the labourers must put their heads together, and, as a class, compel the passing of a law, an all-powerful social barrier that shall prevent the very workers from selling, by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their families into slavery and death” (285). This is interesting for several reasons, but primarily for us because it shows us the importance of reforms. Here is Marx, after detailing all these horrors, writing that we need a “modest Manga Charta of a legally limited working-day” (286). The working class needs to struggle for reforms that will be implemented by the state. It will be important to keep this in mind when we read the second to last chapter of the book.
Chapter 11: Rate and mass of surplus-value
This brief chapter is a set-up for the part 5 of the book on relative surplus value. The mass of surplus value is the rate of exploitation times the number of laborers. There are limits on not only the number of laborers one can employ but also on the quantity of means of production they can be set to work on. There is, in other words, a limit to the mass of surplus value the capitalist can acquire. It is for this reason that we turn next to relative surplus value.
Because capital is value in motion, self-expansion, it compels all producers to become capitalists. Quantitative changes lead to qualitative changes (p. 292).
There is another mention of formal subjection on page 293, and formal subjection here is defined as “the production of surplus-value.” This will be opposed to “real subjection,” which is the production of relative surplus-value. So let’s go there now.
Chapter 12: The concept of relative surplus-value
Here Marx is asking how surplus-value can be increased without elongating the working day? The answer is “an alteration, not in the length of the working-day, but in its division into necessary labour-time and surplus labour-time” (297). There has to be a way to drive down necessary labour-time, which is otherwise put as a fall in the value of labour-power. In order to do this “the increase in productiveness of labour must seize upon those branches of industry whose products determine the value of labour-power, and consequently either belong to the class of customary means of subsistence, or are capable of supplying the place of those means” (299).
This can happen through state legislation (removing taxes, trade barriers, or tariffs; funding research and development in certain industries). But it also happens as a result of the coercive laws of competition themselves and without the intention of the capitalists. “Whenever an individual capitalist cheapens shirts, for instance, by increasing the productiveness of labour, he by no means necessarily aims at reducing the value of labour-power and shortening, pro tanto, the necessary labour-time. But it is only in so far as he ultimately contributes to this result that he assists in raising the general rate of surplus-value” (299-300).
There is a difference between the social and individual value of a commodity. The real value is its social value (socially-necessary labor time). If, however, a capitalist applies a new method (or technology, or arrangement of labor) and “sells his commodity at its social value… he sells it… above its individual value, and thus realizes an extra surplus-value” (301). For this reason “there is a motive for each individual capitalist to cheapen his commodities, by increasing the productiveness of labour” (301).
Ultimately, however, this new technique becomes generalized, which erases “the difference between the individual value of the cheapened commodity and its social value” (302). The law of value makes the individual capitalist apply a new technique, but also forces the competitor to apply it as well.
Marx will now explore the various ways capitalists pursue relative surplus value.
Chapter 13: Co-operation
Cooperation separates capitalism from earlier modes of production. Capitalism begins with “A greater number of labourers working together, at the same time, in one place… in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the mastership of one capitalist” (305). This concentrating of workers has profound effects on productivity of labor and consequently the value of commodities and labor-power.
First, the means of production are consumed in common, not in isolation (307). What this means is that, under conditions of cooperation under capitalism, the rate at which the value of constant-capital is transferred to the commodity decreases.
Second, cooperation results in increased productivity for each individual laborer owing to the division of labor. When each individual labor is confined to performing the same task over and over again, their proficiency, skill, and speed is likely to increase.
Third, there is a new power brought about by cooperation: the collective power of labor, a collective of workers working together eliminates any gaps in the production process.
This, in turn, necessitates “the work of directing, superintending, and adjusting” which “becomes one of the functions of capital” (313). As he notes later, “An industrial army of workmen, under the command of a capitalist, requires, like a real army, officers (managers), and sergeants (foremen, overlookers), who, while the work is being done, command in the name of the capitalist. The work of supervision becomes their established and exclusive function” (314).
This all is another example of quantitative changes leading to qualitative shifts.
This is a contradictory movement. On the one hand, this increases the rate of surplus value and relative surplus value. On the other hand, it also brings workers together. “When the labourer co-operates systematically with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality and develops the capabilities of his species” (312).
And for this to happen, we have to be “brought together: their assemblage in one place is a necessary condition of their co-operation” (312). This facilitates communication between workers, and makes organizing workers easier. “As the number of co-operating labourers increases, so too does their resistance to the domination of capital, and with it, the necessity for capital to overcome this resistance by counterpressure” (313).
Marx notes that this increase in productivity is given to the capitalist freely, and “appears as a power with which capital is endowed by Nature—a productive power that is immanent in capital” (315).
Chapter 14: Division of labor and manufacture
Two ways manufacture develops out of handicraft production. The first is when the capitalist brings together different industries, or different handicrafts people who produce parts that end up making one commodity (318). The second is one capitalist employs a number of handicrafts people who do the same thing (319).
The worker thus becomes specialized, and methods of production are perfected further. “The workman’s continued repetition of the same simple act, and the concentration of his attention on it, teach him by experience how to attain the desired effect with a minimum of exertion” (321). But these tricks are generalized because people work together. “Manufacture, in fact, produces the skill of the detail labourer” (321). This, of course, is ultimately produced by the workers themselves, but again credit is given to the capitalist.
Manufacture thus also reduces any gaps in the production process because people do not change tools or positions. Although “constant labour of one uniform kind disturbs the intensify and flow of man’s animal spirits, which find recreation and delight in mere change of activity” (322), although the capitalist cares none about this.
Manufacture also propels the development of specialized tools (for increasingly specialized tasks) (323).
There are two kinds of manufacture: Heterogeneous and serial (these correspond to the two ways manufacture arises). Heterogeneous is when different products are produced under the same roof and assembled into one thing. He gives the example of a watch, wherein the work of “mainspring makers, dial makers, spiral spring makers, jeweled hole makers, ruby level makers, hand makers, case makers” etc. are joined together. In the second, the same production process happens but passes through different hands.
Manufacture “lessens the space by which the various phases of production are separated from each other. The time taken in passing from one stage to another is shortened, so is the labour that effectuates this passage” (325).
Workers become “the social collective labourer” (327) but also become increasingly alienated from production, relegated to doing the same task over and over. “The habit of doing only one thing converts him into a never failing instrument, while his connexion with the whole mechanism compels him to work with regularity of the parts of a machine” (330).
Next Marx looks at the division of labor in manufacture and the division of labor in society. The division of labor in manufacture is when the production process is divided into separate parts. The division of labor in society in the division of labor processes across society: “Division of labour in society is brought about by the purchase and sale of the products of different branches of industry, while the connexion between the detail operations in a workshop, is due to the sale of the labour-power of several workmen to one capitalist, who applies it as combined labour-power” (336). Both of these depend on the concentration of the means of production in one set of hands, or one class.
Marx points out a hypocrisy of capitalism here: “The same bourgeois mind which praises division of labour in the workshop, life-long annexation of the labourer to a partial operation, and his complete subjection to capital, as being an organisation of labour that increases its productiveness—that same bourgeois mind denounces with equal vigour every conscious attempt to socially control and regulate the process of production, as an inroad upon such sacred things as the rights of property, freedom and unrestricted play for the bend of the individual capitalist” (337). In other words, the capitalist wants planning in the factory, but anarchy in society.
In the last section Marx examines the capitalist character of manufacture, revisiting and summing up some of his previous work. Again this can be seen through the change of quantity into quality. Manufacture seizes handicraft production and revolutionizes it, “converts the labourer into a crippled monstrosity, by forcing his detail dexterity at the expense of a world of productive capabilities and instincts” (340). In other words, “in order to make the collective labourer, and through him capital, rich in social productive power, each labourer must be made poor in individual productive powers” (341).
At some point, however, “the narrow technical basis on which manufacture rested, came into conflict with requirements of production that were created by manufacture itself” (347).
Manufacture, that is, reorganized society and introduced division of labor into the workplace and intensified it in society, but it couldn’t shake the core of production. The final product of manufacture is “the production of the instruments of labour themselves, including especially the complicated mechanical apparatus then already employed… This workshop, the product of the division of labour in manufacture, produced in its turn—machines. It is they that sweep away the handicraftsman’s work as the regulating principle of social production” (347).