Capital class 4: Notes for ch. 15

Central Indiana Radical Reading Group &
Notes for class 4 (ch. 15)

Chapter 15: Machinery and modern industry

Machinery under capitalism is meant only to cheapen commodities, not to make “lives easier,” as John Stuart Mill wonders (unless we are speaking of the lives of the bourgeoisie).

Manufacture was brought about by a change in labor relations. Modern industry was brought about by a revolution in the instruments of labor. The dialectic is at work here, specifically the negation of the negation: as labor relations produce manufacture and erase handicraft production, they produce the need for machinery, which finally does away with the core of handicraft and manufacture. Marx refers to this as a revolution in the mode of production. On page 361, Marx summarizes the process: “Here, then, we see in Manufacture the immediate technical foundation of Modern Industry. Manufacture produced the machinery, by means of which Modern Industry abolished the handicraft and manufacturing systems in those spheres of production that it first seized upon.”

Marx distinguishes machines from tools, noting that he is only paying attention to generalities, not “hard and fast lines of demarcation” (351).

Fully developed machinery consists of 1) motor mechanism 2) transmitting mechanism and 3) the tool or working machine.

We arrive at a definition of machinery on p. 353: “The machine proper is therefore a mechanism that, after being set in motion, performs with its tools the same operations that were formerly done by the workman with similar tools.”

Machinery can employ any number of tools simultaneously, unlike human labor-power.

In the period of manufacture, industry was dispersed along water, which was its energy source. This is where towns develop. With the invention of steam power, there is the possibility for centralization in the factory and the city (357).

Marx looks at the cooperation of machines vs. one complex system of machinery beginning on page 357. In the first case, a variety of machines work together to produce something, but the labor process is carried along by a series a detail labor. This is still manufacture. In the latter, the machines take on the labor detail work. As such, machinery takes the place of the worker, assuming the workers’ tasks, and making labor “redundant.”

Changes in one branch of production facilitates changes in others (e.g., machine spinning makes machine weaving necessary, and these provide the impetus for “the mechanical and chemical revolution that took place in bleaching, printing, and dyeing” (362). The revolution in machinery produces a revolution in communication and transportation, “a system of river steamers, railways, ocean steamers, and telegraphs” (363).

Section 2: The value transferred by machinery to the product

Marx reminds us that, as constant capital, machinery produces no value. As such, “Instead of being cheapened, the product is made dearer in proportion to the value of the machine” (365). In other words, constant capital takes up more of the finished value. The longer the machinery lasts, the less value per unit of time is transferred (366). The less value (social labor) the machine contains, the less value is transferred to the product (368). Here we can see crises generating, as the capitalist has to produce more use-values in order to attain the same exchange-value.

Marx notes that in order for the capitalist to invest in machinery, it has to more than offset the value of the labor the machine displaces. This entails a general transfer of production away from workers and toward machines. Again, as labor is the source of surplus value, there is a tendency toward crisis.

Section 3: The proximate effects of machinery on the workman

Marx explores 3 ways machinery impacts the working class.

First is the appropriation of supplementary labour-power by capital (e.g., the employment of women and children). Because machines replace muscular power, women and children can be employed to produce what formerly only a grown and developed male body could produce (372). This also decreases the value of labor-power, as Marx notes on page 373: “The value of LP was determined.. by that necessary to maintain his family (and him). Machinery, by throwing every member of that family on to the labour-market, spreads the value of the man’s labour-power over his whole family.”

This undermines our assumption that worker and boss enter into an equal juridical relation as children are now sold by parents; workers become “slave dealers” (373). This gives the English Parliament justification for intervening in factories” (375).

Marx makes reference to Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England (1845). There is an intellectual “desolation artificially produed by converting immature human beings into mere machines for the fabrication of surplus-value, a state of mind clearly distinguishable from that natural ignorance which keeps the mind fallow without destroying its capacity for development” (377). This is why England’s Factory Acts introduce compulsory elementary education, which however “provides nothing more than that the children shall on certain days of the week, and for a certain number of hours (three) in each day, be inclosed within the four walls of a place called a school” (377).

Second is the prolongation of the working-day

Machines enable the extension of the working-day beyond natural means. Machines can move and work independent of man.

Machines wear and tear, two kinds: 1) from use, 2) from non-use (rust). Also, machines suffer “moral depreciation,” whereby the lose EV b/c machines of the same sort are being produced cheaper than it, or better machines enter into competition with it (381). Also, because machines transfer value to the commodity, it makes more sense for capitalist to use machines quicker, to get that value transferred over more quickly. “The shorter the period taken to reproduce its total value, the less is the danger of moral depreciation” (381).

While machinery cannot produce value, it can produce relative surplus-value in two ways. First, by “directly depreciating the value of labor-power, and by indirectly cheapening the same through cheapening the commodities that enter into its reproduction [value of labor-power],” and second, when it is first introduced, “by converting the labour employed by the owner of that machinery, into labour of a higher degree and greater efficacy, by raising the social value of the article produce above its individual value” (383).

Machines make the capitalist want to lengthen the working-day because, at least when a machine is first in use and the capitalist has a monopoly of sorts on it, he is able to sell below the social and above the individual value.

For the capitalist, relative surplus-value is the “sunny time of his first love,” but it cannot last. As machinery is generalized across the branch of industry, variable capital is transformed into constant capital, so the rate of profit decreases: “It converts what was formerly variable capital, invested in labour-power, into machinery which, being constant capital, does not produce surplus-value” (383-384).

Lengthening the working day is preferable to employing more workers: the former requires less C to be laid out in advance.

The third impact on workers is the intensification of labor.

Machinery is a product of class struggle, emerging in response to working-class revolt and the limits of the production of absolute surplus value (383). As the working day is shortened, the machine is employed to squeeze “out more labour in a given time” (388). There are two ways this happens. The first is “increasing the speed of the machinery” and the second is “giving the workman more machinery to tent” (388).

We see the dialectic emerge again—in particular the negation of the negation—at the end of this section: “the tendency that urges capital, so soon as a prolongation of the hours of labour is once for all forbidden, to compensate itself, by a systematic heightening of the intensity of labor… must soon lead to a state of things in which a reduction of the hours of labour will again be inevitable” (393).

Section 4: The factory

What is a factory? Marx cites Ure’s two definitions: “Ii one, the collective labourer, or social body of labour, appears as the dominant subject, and the mechanical automation as the object; in the other, the automation itself is the subject, and the workmen are merely conscious organs, co-ordinate with the unconscious organs of the automation, and together with them, subordinated to the central moving power” (395-396). The second definition is the capitalist factory.

The machine takes over not only the tool of the worker, but also the skill. “The capabilities of the tool are emancipated from the restraints that are inseparable from human labour-power. Thereby the technical foundation on which is based the division of labour in Manufacture, is swept away” (396). Machinery deskills labor and, in dialectical fashion, negates the division of labor upon which manufacture was built.

Machinery deskills the laborer. The worker is “taught from childhood” to “adapt his own movements to the uniform and unceasing motion of an automaton.” A change of place of workers can take place without interrupting the work (relay system), and you learn the skill quickly (397). This also decreases the value of labor-power, as its value is determined in part by the education and training necessary to carry out the work.

Workers become “appendages” of the machine: “The life-long specialty of handling one and the same tool, now becomes the life-long specialty of serving one and the same machine. Machinery is put to a wrong use, with the object of transforming the workman, from his very childhood, into a part of a detail-machine” (398). Machinery, in other words, becomes the driving force of production: “By means of its conversion into an automaton, the instrument of labour confronts the labourer, during the labour-process, in the shape of capital, of dead labour, that dominates, and pumps dry, living labour-power” (399).

Again, Marx notes that the examination is of machinery under the capitalist mode of production, which deploys it “into systematic robbery of what is necessary for the life of the workman… robbery of space, light, air, and of protection… not to mention the robbery of appliances for the comfort of the workman” (402).

Section 5: The strife between workman and machine

The struggle between capital and labor predates machinery of course, but now workers revolt against “the instrument of labour itself, the material embodiment of capital” (403). They also rebel against the inventors of machinery.

Eventually they revolt against capitalism in general: “It took both time and experience before the workpeople learnt to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital and to direct their attacks, not against the material instruments of production, but against the mode in which they are used” (404).

Workers thrown out, made “superfluous” by machinery, are thrown out, and sink the value of labor-power lower (406).

There is an incentive for capitalists to introduce machinery slowly: it helps the shock be absorbed, rather than throwing masses out of work all at once. In other words, it prevents a rebellion (406).

Productive machinery allows capitalists to concentrate wealth in fewer and fewer hands.

Machinery is competition to the worker, but “is also a power inimical to him, and as such capital proclaims it from the roof tops and as such makes use of it. It is the most powerful weapon for repressing strikes, those periodical revolts of the working-class against the autocracy of capital” (410). Marx says we could write “a history of the inventions, made since 1830, for the sole purpose of supplying capital with weapons against the revolts of the working-cass” (411).

Section 6: The theory of compensation as regards the workpeople displaced by machinery

Bourgeois political economics argued, “all machinery that displaces workmen, simultaneously and necessarily sets free an amount of capital adequate to employ the same identical workmen” (412). This is false, as it does not “free up” any capital; it merely results in a shift in the composition of capital (from variable to constant) (413). Instead of being “free,” capital is locked in place in machinery.

If workers “set free” find new work, it is because of the introduction of new capital. “And even should they find employment, what a power look-out is theirs! Crippled as they are by division of labour, these poor devils are worth so little outside their old trade, that they cannot find admission into any industries, except a few of inferior kind, that are over-supplied with underpaid workmen” (415).

While machines displace workers, they may bring about an increase in employment in other industries (417). Specifically, it will increase production in the other industries that furnish the first with means of production, or raw materials. We see the need for expanded markets appear on page 419.

Section 7: Repulsion and attraction of workpeople by the factory system

Bourgeois political economists say that machinery increases number of workers employed. Marx says that this is because industries tend to fold together, so cotton mills also employ linen-looms, ribbon-looms, etc… When compared with pre-machinery production, it is still fewer workers (423).

As machinery drives down social values, and as it propels developments in transportation and communication, it “furnish[es] the weapons for conquering foreign markets. By ruining handicraft production in other countries, machinery forcibly converts them into fields for the supply of its raw material” (424).

Marx summarizes the crises of modern industry succinctly: “The enormous power, inherent in the factory system, of expanding by jumps, and the dependence of that system on the markets of the world, necessarily begets feverish production, followed by over-filling of the markets, whereupon contraction of the markets brings on crippling of production. The life of modern industry becomes a series of periods of moderate activity, prosperity, over-production, crisis and stagnation” (427). These cycles continually both attract and repel workers.

Example: Cotton industry

From 1770-1815 this trade was depressed or stagnant for 5 years (monopoly). From 1815-1821: depression, 1822-1823: prosperity, 1824: abolition of the laws against Trades’ Unions, great extension fo factories everywhere, 1825: crises, 1826: great misery and uprisings, 1827: slight improvement, 1828: great increase in power looms and exports… and on and on. – 428. Periods of crisis can be beneficial to capitalists, it can result in the further conglomeration of businesses, the wiping out of minor players in industry. The consolidation of productive forces in fewer and fewer hands (429).

Section 8: Revolution effected in manufacture, handicrafts, and domestic industry by modern industry

A: overthrow of cooperation based on handicraft and on the division of labour (ex: Mowing machine replaces cooperation between mowers. Needle making machine replaces cottage industry).

B: reaction of the factory system on manufacture and domestic industries. As these are forced to compete with machine factories, they have to transform, often by increasing exploitation (435).

C: This also happens in manufacture.

D: Increases the “horrors” of modern domestic industry (438).

Section 9: The factory acts

Sanitary clauses in Factory Acts are meager. “What could possibly show better the character of the capitalist mode of production, than the necessity that exists for forcing upon it, by Acts of Parliament, the simplest appliances for maintaining cleanliness and health?” (452).
– covered ventilation, whitewashing walls.
– These types of regulations put smaller capitalists out of business -453. This is known as regulatory capture.

Education: showed possibility of combining education with gymnastics and manual labor. Marx here approvingly cites Robert Owen. What he is after here is breaking down the division between mental and manual labor.

Marx notes that modern industry is revolutionary by nature, never settling for the existing form of production. “The technical basis of that [modern] industry is therefore revolutionary, while all earlier modes of production were essentially conservative” (457). Marx cites The Communist Manifesto here.

There is an “absolute contradiction between the technical necessities of Modern Industry, and the social character inherent in its capitalistic form” that “dispels all fixity and security” (457). It always threatens to take away work as it creats “that monstrosity, an industrial reserve army, kept in misery in order to be always at the disposal of capital.”

Capitalism takes “economic progress” and turns it “into a social calamity” (458).

As machinery reduces us to “appendages” of machines, it is met with resistance, and “through its catastrophes imposes the necessity of recognizing, as a fundamental law of production, variation of work… It becomes a question of life and death for society to adapt the mode of production to the normal functioning of this law” (458).

Child’s rights: “It was not, however, the misuse of parental authority that created the capitalistic exploitation whether direct or indirect, of children’s labour; but, on the contrary, it was the capitalistic mode of exploitation which, by sweeping away the economic basis of parental authority, made its exercise degenerate into a mischievous misuse of power” (459-460).

On page 472 Marx summarizes a series of contradictions that point to a transition from capitalism to socialism, ending with: “By maturing the material conditions, and the combination on a social scale of the process of production, it matures the contradictions and antagonisms of the capitalist form of production, and thereby provides, along with the elements for the formation of a new society, the forces for exploding the old one.”

Section 10: Modern industry under agriculture

Capitalist mode of production subsumes agricultural production process (473).

On page 474 Marx runs through a series of contradictions and transitions relating to the town/country, class, soil fertility, and population changes. Modern industry, he says, has a more profoundly revolutionary impact on agriculture because it “annihilates the peasant, that bulwark of the old society, and replaces him by the wage-labourer” (474).

As a result, the antagonisms present in the city spread to the towns, as the working class is united through the same wage relation. Capitalism, meanwhile, collects “the population in great centres… on the one hand concentrates the historical motive power of society; on the other, it disturbs the circulation of matter between man and the soil.”

Machinery means farm workers can work more plots of land, it therefore disperses them, breaking their power of resistance (474).

Marx ends by noting that the more firmly a country’s development is built on modern industry, the greater will be “this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore, develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth—the soil and the labourer” (475).

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