Pages 492-564 and 588-610
OK, so, whew, it is done, and sorry about the massive delay between notes in this series. There are some awesome projects on the horizon, that a group of us are hard at work on, and that has been a good amount of my time as of late (it will be totally worth it!).
In lieu of trying to break Chapter 15 down into the sections as they were read, I am just going to fuse all four weeks of sessions into this series of notes. Chapter 15 is a fascinating chapter, and one that is often not afforded its place of importance in the wider work of Capital. Ostensibly this chapter focuses attention on machines and factory production, but there is a lot more going on here than a superficial reading will allow us to see. Before diving into the content in detail, there are a few threads that I want to highlight.
The first theme that comes forward is related to the dynamic between worker and machine. In this discussion Marx delves into some of the ontology of the factory, and how this dynamic fundamentally undermines the structures of self-managed work that proliferated in handiwork, or craft, production. In the relationship to the machine the worker is not eliminated as such, is not destroyed or surpassed. Rather, the worker becomes reframed, not as an entity with skills and tools that produces an object, but as an industrial input, an element of the overall mechanistic system of the factory, where the workers becomes an appendage of the machine itself, as the machine becomes an appendage of the worker. In this construct the imperatives of efficiency and the extraction of surplus value drives the machine to a place of primacy, rendering the worker generic labor.
This dynamic of the machine rising to primacy fundamentally disrupts the directness of the concept of the labor theory of value, giving rise to a second theme centered around discussing how value is transmitted from the machine to the commodity. Within this discussion there is a fascinating discourse around obsolesence, and the rate in which machinery is replaced in the process of production. In this transferrence of value the machine runs into two limitations, both the necessity to save more labor than is expended in its production and operation, as well as the the overall cost of production, which must be less than production utilizing manual methods. The limits, in other words, center around force and velocity, active elements that come to form the core of how the factory is discussed.
The final thread in this selection is the way in which the advent of machinery fundamentally changes the character of labor in practical ways. With the advent of the machine, and the reduction of the worker to one that operates the machine, the specialization of labor implodes into a generic form of labor. As a result of this generic labor, increasing numbers of possible workers, including children, could be considered, causing a downward pressure on wages. This downward pressure on wages creates conditions which draft more of the family or community unit into the labor pool, further reshaping the dynamics between workers and control over the conditions of their labor.
Through these themes I am sure a number of parallels or lines of flight between these concepts and contemporary theory and experience will be noted. One of the more interesting connections here is one that exists between Zerzan, and attendant primativist tendencies, and this specific chapter from Capital. It is often forgotten that Zerzan started off as a Marxist, working alongside unions and leftists in the Bay Area in the 1970s, and during that time penned some works focused on anti-work theory. It is from these roots, though, that the arguments from Chapter 15 are taken on and extended out to some total narrative of history and technology. Now, I have a lot of issues with that reading, specifically the historical decontextualization and the reliance on anthropological assertions, as well as, you know, the whole utopianism angle, but it is always important to see where the roots of ideas that we will come into contact with really are.
It is with these notes that we will be closing this reading of Capital. As I stated at the beginning, this is not meant to be a comprehensive reading of all of Capital, Volume 1. Rather, as with a lot of the things I have been writing as of late, we are tracing a thread, a line of thought that passes through this work, and that has long tails into the present. So, without any additional waiting, here we go with Chapter 15:
- The machine functions within capitalism to achieve two things. The first is that the machine renders the work performed by a single worker more efficient, namely more can be produced with fewer workers in the same time. Secondly, as a result of this efficiency less labor is embodied in the object, which lowers its value, but may not necessarily lower the price. As such, the machine produced commodity can be a site in which increased surplus value can be extracted from the object than it could be in non-mechanized production. The presence of machines, therefore, necessitates a differentiation between manufacture, where labor is a starting point, and industry, where machines become the point of departure.
“John Stuart Mill says i n his Principles of Political Economy : ' It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being.'1 That is, however, by no means the aim of the application of machinery under capitalism. Like every other instrument for increasing the productivity of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities and, by shortening the part of the working day in which the worker works for himself, to lengthen the other part, the part he gives to the capitalist for nothing. The machine is a means for producing surplus-value.
In manufacture the transformation of the mode of production takes labour-power as its starting-point. In large-scale industry, on the other hand, the instruments of labour are the starting point. We have first to investigate, then, how the instruments of labour are converted from tools into machines, or what the difference is between a machine and an implement used in a handicraft. We are concerned here only with broad and general characteristics, for epochs in the history of society are no more separated from each other by strict and abstract lines of demarcation than are geological epochs.” (492)
- In order to ground this separation between manufacture and industry, one must be able to draw a line of demarcation between the tool and the machine. Superficially, it would seem as if one could derive this separation from a differentiation on the levels of complexity or locomotion, but the complexity of a thing is an arbitrary qualitative determination and the structures of locomotion change and shift between different objects. In order to be able to differentiate between a tool and machine, Marx lays out three characteristics that define a machine; the motor, the mechanism through which power is transmitted to the machine (at this time many machines operated from a single motor often, but mechanisms like drive belts, or even electrical and communications wires and things fulfill this category as well), and the tool manipulated by that transmitted power. If we notice, these categories are not mutually exclusive, in the sense that they can never interact, but, rather, the tool itself is contained within the machine. The inflection point of the difference, therefore, is not in the machine or the tool itself, but is in that which exists around the tool, whether that be human or whether mechanisms are added to the tool to displace it from the hand and render it operative by a mechanism. This connection between the tool and the mechanism removes the tool from the control of the operator, and inscribes the tool and its operation into the mechanism itself.
“On a closer examination of the working machine proper we rediscover in it as a general rule, though often in highly modified forms, the very apparatus and tools used by the handicraftsman or the manufacturing worker; but there is the difference that instead of being the tools of a man they are the implements of a mechanism, mechanical implements. Either the entire machine is only a more or less altered mechanical edition of the old handicraft tool, as for instance the power-loom, or the working parts fitted in the frame of the machine are old acquaintances, as spindles are in a mule, needles in a stocking-loom, saw-blades in a sawing-machine and knives in a chopping-machine. The distinction between these tools and the actual framework of the working machine exists from their moment of entry into the world, because they continue for the most part to be produced by handicraft or by manufacture, and are afterwards fitted into the framework of the machine, which is produced by machinery. The machine, therefore, is a mechanism that, after being set in motion, performs with its tools the same operations as the worker formerly did with similar tools. Whether the motive power is derived from man, or in turn from a machine, makes no difference here. From the moment that the tool proper is taken from man and fitted into a mechanism, a machine takes the place of a mere implement. The difference strikes one at once, even in those cases where man himself continues to be the prime mover. The number of implements that he himself can use simultaneously is limited by the number of his own natural instruments of production, i.e. his own bodily organs. In Germany they tried at first to make one spinner work two spinning-wheels, that is to work simultaneously with both hands and both feet. That proved to be too exhausting. Later, a treadle spinning-wheel with two spindles was invented, but adepts in spinning who could spin two threads at once were almost as scarce as two-headed men. The Jenny, on the other hand, even at the very beginning, spun with twelve to eighteen spindles, and the stocking-loom knits with many thousand needles at once. The number of tools that a machine can bring into play simultaneously is from the outset independent of the organic limitations that confine the tools of the handicraftsman.” (494-495)
- In this displacement of the tool from the worker, the character of labor shifts again, from the selling of ontological potential as labor time, still tied to the uniqueness of the worker, into a form in which the worker becomes an interchangeable element of the machine itself. At the point of mechanization, activity undergoes a process of constant modification to eliminate “inefficiencies”, which are nothing other than non-controllable contingencies of everyday life, from the imprecise activity of humans and mistakes, to the unevenness of “natural” forms of locomotion like wind, water or draft animals (we can also consider electricity supply in this calculus). The systemic element of the abstract conceptual structure of manufacture comes into direct collision with the particularity and deep historicity of the dynamism of existence, with the elimination of inefficiencies being an operation to attempt to force the world into the manufacturing model. As these modifications progress the agency of the worker if subsumed to the imperatives and repetitions of the machine.
“The machine, which is the starting-point of the industrial revolution, replaces the worker, who handles a single tool, by a mechanism operating with a number of similar tools and set in motion by a single motive power, whatever the form of that power. Here we have the machine, but first role as a simple element in production by machinery.
An increase in the size of the machine and the number of its working tools calls for a more massive mechanism to drive it; and this mechanism, in order to overcome its own inertia, requires a mightier moving power than that of man, quite a part from the fact that man is a very imperfect instrument fo reproducing uniform and continuous motion. Now assuming that he is acting simply as a motor, that a machine has replaced the tool he was using, it is evident that he can also be replaced as a motor by natural forces. Of all the great motive forces handed down from the period of manufacture, horse-power is the worst, partly because a horse has a head of his own, partly because he is costly and the extent to which he can be used in factories is very limited. Nevertheless,the horse was used extensively during the infancy of large-scale industry. This is proved both by the complaints of the agronomists of that epoch and by the way of expressing mechanical force in terms of 'horse-power', which survives to this day. The wind was too inconstant and uncontrollable and, apart from this, in England, the birthplace of large-scale industry, the use of water-power preponderated even during the period of manufacture. In the seven teenth century attempts had already been made to turn two pairs of millstones with a single water-wheel. But the increased size of the transmitting mechanism came into conflict with the water-power,
which was now insufficient, and this was one of the factors which gave the impulse for a more accurate investigation of the laws of friction. In the same way the irregularity caused by the motive power in mills that were set in motion by pushing and pulling a lever led to the theory, and the application, ofthe fly-wheel, which later played such an important part in large-scale industry. In this way, the first scientific and technical elements of large-scale industry were developed during the period of manufacturing.” (497-498)
- The factory emerges from this efficiency process through the medium of common mechanisms of power (one engine powering numerous machines), which in turn led to the chaining of machines together into complex processes grounded in the cooperation between elements within the assemblage. In order for this shift to occur the tasks involved in any act of production need to be separated, isolated from one another, reduced down to their simplest and most repeatable form, with the machine being developed to embody this simplified and isolated act. These atomized activities, now mechanized, are reformed into an assemblage of machines carrying out repeatable, simplified tasks. This functionally abolishes the division of labor, reducing labor to attending machines, a single task, while machines replace the formerly organic division of labor.
“A real machine system, however, does not take the place of these independent machines until the object of labour goes through a connected series of graduated processes carried out by a chain of mutually complementary machines of various kinds. Here we have again the co-operation by division oflabour which is peculiar to manufacture, but now it appears as a combination of machines with specific functions. The tools peculiar to the various specialized workers, such as those of the beaters, combers, shearers, spinners, etc. in the manufacture of wool, are now transformed into the tools of specialized machines, each machine forming a special organ, with a special function in the combined mechanism. In those branches in which the machine system is first introduced, manufacture itself provides, in general, a natural basis for the division, and consequently the organization, of the process of production. Nevertheless, an essential difference at once appears. In manufacture, it is the workers who, either singly or in groups, must carry on each particular process with their manual implements. The worker has been appropriated by the process ; but the process had previously to be adapted to the worker. This subjective principle of the division of labour no longer exists in production by machinery. Here the total process is examined objectively, viewed in and for itself, and analysed into its constitutive phases. The problem of how to execute each particular process, and to bind the different partial processes together into a whole, is solved by the aid of machines, chemistry, etcP But of course, in this case too, the theoretical conception must be perfected by accumulated experience on a large scale. Each particular machine supplies raw material to the machine next in line ; and since they are all working at the same time, the product is always going through the various stages of its formation, and is also constantly in-a state of transition from one phase of production to another. Just as in manufacture the direct co-operation of the specialized workers establishes a numerical proportion between the different groups, so in an organized system of machinery, where one machine is constantly kept employed by another, a fixed relation is established between their number, their size and their speed. The collective working machine, which is now an articulated system composed of various kinds of single machine, and of groups of single machines, becomes all the more perfect the more the process as a whole becomes a continuous one, i.e. the less the raw material is interrupted in its passage from the first phase to the last; in other words, the more its passage from one phase to another is effected not by the hand of man, but by the machinery itself. In manufacture, the isolation of each special process is a condition imposed by the division of labour itself, whereas in the fully developed factor the continuity of the special processes is the regulating principle.” (501-502)
- The advent of large scale industrial production also forced a shift in the broader social context of labor. As mass production developed an increase in demand for metals and ther materials, an increase in the capacity to produce power, a concentration of interchangeable workers and improvements to transportation and communication all became necessary. The process through which the social context of labor was modified to fulfill the needs of capital is termed, in contemporary history, as the Industrial Revolution. Not only did this build a necessity toward the expansion of the city, and the building of the slum, but also created a space in which machines needed to be constantly produced in order to make new and different machines to fulfill shifting needs, which necessitated machines to produce these machines and so on, fundamentally altering the character of labor as a whole.
“The transformation of the mode of production in one sphere of industry necessitates a similar transformation in other spheres. This happens at first in branches of industry which are connected together by being separate phases of a process, and yet isolated by the social division of labour, in such a way that each of them produces an independent commodity. Thus machine spinning made machine weaving necessary, and both together made a mechanical and chemical revolution compulsory in bleaching, printing and dyeing. So too, on the other hand, the revolution in cotton-spinning called forth the invention of the gin, for separating the seeds from the cotton fibre ; it was only by means of this invention that the production of cotton became possible on the enormous scale at present required. But as well as this, the revolution in the modes of production of industry and agriculture made necessary a revolution in the general conditions of the social process of production, i.e. in the means of communication and transport. In a society whose pivot, to use Fourier's expression, was small scale agriculture, with its subsidiary domestic industries and urban handicrafts, the means of communication and transport were so utterly inadequate to the needs of production in the period of manufacture, with its extended division of social labour, its concentration of instruments of labour and workers and its colonial markets, that they in fact became revolutionized. In the same way the means of communication and transport handed down from the period of manufacture soon became unbearable fetters on large-scale industry, given the feverish velocity with which it produces, its enormous extent, its constant flinging of capital and labour from one sphere of production into another and its newly created connections with the world market. Hence, quite apart from the immense transformation which took place in shipbuilding, the means of communication and transport gradually adapted themselves to the mode of production of large-scale industry by means of a system of river steamers, railways, ocean steamers and telegraphs. But the huge masses of iron that had now to be forged, welded, cut, bored and shaped required for their part machines of Cyclopean dimensions, which the machine building trades of the period of manufacture were incapable of constructing.” (505-506)
- The Value Transferred by the Machine to the Product section of this chapter attempts to discuss an issue that arises in a superficial reading of the concept of the labor theory of value. In the labor theory of value, at a really high level, there is an assumption that labor, as performed by a human only in relation to the production of this specific commodity, adds all value to an object. That is not how Marx articulates this concept, or at least not a well rounded understanding of the concept, but this argument is thrown out there by pro-capitalist economists in the innumerable bad faith readings of this text that have been published over the years.
The issue that arises is relatively apparent. In the labor theory of value the imparting of value becomes a calculation of the total labor imparted into the object, at all parts of the supply chain, not just in the production of this specific commodity being produced in a moment. In economic terms this value becomes quantified into costs, wages and the quantifiable exchange value of the commodity. In the context of the machine, however, human labor-power, and thus the wage, is either absent or parrallelized into multiple processes at once, with machines connected to some central motor. So, the question shifts a bit, away from only being able to conceive of the labor theory of value in relation to labor, and now becomes this question of labor, as well as the question of how machines add value to the commodity. That is what Marx is trying to address in this section specifically.
- The factory is a form which is defined by the convergence of forces, working in tandem to construct a production process. In the cooperation formed in the factory the collective productive forces of all workers and machines comes to exceed the sheer sum of its parts, and begins to take on a multiplication effect. This multiplication effect generates additional productive capacity, essentially allowing the capitalist to obtain this additional productive force for free. However, even in this formation, the category of the human worker still comes to occupy a central role in the construction, operation and maintenance of the factory. Even if we are to assume a scenario of totally automated production, which we are starting to see emerge in new and more pervasive forms, there is still a human engaged at the beginning of any process, in the construction, shipping, instllation, maintenance, improvement, running and engineering of the machine, and therefore requires the capitalist to obtain that value as a necessary part of production. This means that all production begins with labor, the acquisition of this value in the form of the machine, or both, but none of this can function without labor being involved in various parts of the production process. This value of labor then fuses with the value imparted by the machine to generate the overall value of the commodity.
“Therefore, although it is clear at the first glance that large scale industry raises the productivity of labour to an extra ordinary degree by incorporating into the production process both the immense forces of nature and the results arrived at by natural science, it is by no means equally clear that this increase in productive force is not, on the other hand, purchased with an increase in the amount of labour expended. Machinery, like every other component of constant capital, creates no new value, but yields up its own value to the product it serves to beget. In so far as the machine has value and, as a result, transfers value to the product, it forms an element in the value of the latter. Instead of being cheapened, the product is made dearer in proportion to the value of the machine. And it is crystal clear that machines and systems of machinery, large-scale industry's characteristic instruments of labour, are incomparably more loaded with value than the implements used in handicrafts and in manufacture.” (509)
- The machine enters as a whole into the process, but the full value of the machine is not transferred to the commodity. If this full value were transferred into every commodity not only would the value of the machine be imparted to objects repeatedly, but those objects would exit the valorization process costing an astronomical amount of money to obtain. The value added to the commodity, therefore, must be tied to a portion of the machine that is consumable and non-repeatable. This consumption of the machine is referred to as depreciation, the loss of value of the machine itself, which is calculated as a quantifiable average of how much value the machine has concretized within it divided by the number of anticipated commodities that machine will help produce before replacement.
This construct of adding value based on the consumption of the machine, or to be more in line with the text, the consumption of the labor embodied in the form of the machine, allows for some mathematical magic to occur. During mechanized production the value of the machine, in part, is added to all commodities the machine produces in equal averages of value. As the machine depreciates in value it is imparting less and less value to each object. But, due to the ways that commodity production enforces an attempt to predict future conditions, and how that impacts projections of the life of a machine, the value imparted to the commodity from the machine does not change, even as the value imparted by the machine to the object decreases over time.
For example, say one is running a printshop, and they are factoring in the cost of wages, paper and toner to the cost to print, but are also adding in the cost of the machine divided by anticipated output. If one purchased the printer they are using for $10,000, and anticipate it to last for 10 years, with a $300/year maintenance budget. Therefore the printer is anticipating that the printer will be consumed at a rate of $1000 per year, which gets added to maintenance cost and then divided by the anticipated number of copies made on the machine in a year.
Now, at the beginning, when the machine is new, that value added to the commodity is significant; new machines degrade from this new state quickly upon use. But, as time goes on the rate of the degradation of the machine slows, and the value of the machine begins to drop at a much lower rate. In this scenario we are going to say that the printer lasted 12 years, rather than the 10 anticipated. That means that this average value of the machine consumed in production is added equally to every page printed, even after the full value of the machine has been recovered through value added in valorization. Essentially, that allows a capitalist to use averages to generate the potential of being able to manufacture the value of the machine out of nothing for two entire years of production.
“In the first place, it must be observed that machinery, while always entering as a whole into the labour process, enters only piece by piece into the process of valorization. It never adds more value than it loses, on an average, by depreciation. Hence there is a great difference between the value of a machine and the value transferred in a given time by the machine to the product. Equally, there is a great difference between the machine as a factor in the formation of value and as a factor in the formation of the product. The longer the period during which the machine serves in the same labour process, the greater are those differences. It is no doubt true, as we have seen, that every instrument of labour enters as a whole into the labour process, while only piecemeal, in proportion to its average daily depreciation, into the process of valorization. But this· difference between the mere utilization of the instrument and its depreciation is much greater in the case of machinery than it is with a tool, because the machine, being made from more durable material, has a longer life ; because it can be employed more economically, from the point of view both of the deterioration of its own components and of its consumption of materials, as its use is regulated by strict scientific laws ; and, finally, because its field of production is incomparably larger than that of a tool. Both in the case of the machine and of the tool, we find that after allowing for their average daily cost, that is for the value they transmit to the product by their average daily wear and tear, and for their consumption of auxiliary substances such as oil, coal and so on, they do their work for nothing, like the natural forces which are already available without the intervention of human labour. The greater the productive effectiveness of the machinery compared with that of the tool, the greater is the extent of its gratuitous service. Only in large-scale industry has man succeeded in making the product of his past labour, labour which has already been objectified, perform gratuitous service on a large scale, like a force of nature.” (509-510)
- Machinery transfers value to the object in direct proportion to its force and velocity. The faster the machine operates, and the more force it can mobilize, the more productive the machine is. This allows the machine to contribute less of its total value to the object, until it begins to approach “free” natural forces like wind and water. This marks a dynamic of shifting labor value embodied in the machine and imparted to the object by the machine. To the degree that human labor enters the supply chain, and it always must, labor is still a source of value. Machines, therefore, multiply the value imparted in the production of the machine itself to the degree that this production consumes less labor than the labor saved by the operation of the machine itself.
“It is evident that whenever it costs as much labour to produce machine as is saved by the employment of that machine, all that has taken place is a displacement of labour. Consequently, the total labour required to produce a commodity has not been lessened, in other words, the productivity of labour has not been increased. However, the difference between the labour a machine costs and the labour it saves, in other words the degree of productivity the machine possesses, does not depend on the difference between its own value and the value of the tool it replaces. As long as the labour spent on a machine is such that the portion of its value added to the product remains smaller than the value added by the worker to the product with his tool, there is always a difference of labour saved in favour of the machine. The productivity of the machine is therefore measured by the human labour-power it replaces.” (513)
- On top of this necessity to produce more value than was consumed in its production, the machine also runs into a second limit; the value the machine produces in its use must exceed the value of the labor displaced by its use. In other words, the machine must produce greater value than would be produced by workers in the same time period or at the same cost. This, along with resale value, functions as indications of the end of life for the machine, the point in which the value added for the capitalist no longer exceeds that which could be added by workers or newer machines, if those newer machine can also be said to produce more value than was consumed in its production.
” The use of machinery for the exclusive purpose of cheapening the product is limited by the requirement that less labour must be expended in producing the machinery than is displaced by the employment of that machinery. For the capitalist, however, there is a further limit on its use. Instead of paying for the labour, he pays only the value of the labour-power employed ; the limit to his using a machine is therefore fixed by the difference between the value of the machine and the value of the labour-power replaced by it. Since the division of the day's work into necessary labour and surplus labour differs in different countries, and even in the same country at different periods, or in different branches of industry ; and further, since the actual wage of the worker some times sinks below the value of his labour-power, and sometimes rises above it, it is possible for the difference between the price of the machinery and the price of the labour-power replaced by that machinery to undergo great variations, while the difference between the quantity of labour needed to produce the machine and the total quantity of labour replaced by it remains constant. But it is only the former difference that determines the cost to the capitalist of producing a commodity, and influences his actions through the pressure of competition.” (515-516)
- The machine itself is, on a formal level, nothing other than an appendage, a prostheses for the human body. Traditionally, there is this simplistic understanding of prostheses, in which the tool is developed as a result of a problems that needs to be solved. This is only part of the discussion though, and one that assumes that tools themselves do not have effects outside of the specific problem it is developed to solve. Rather, as theorists like Manuel Delanda argue, technology and history cannot be separated from one another. Sure, tools are developed to solve problems, but the development of the tool changes the way activity itself functions, and, in turn, changing the totality of history. The machine in the factory is no exception; it functions both as an extension of the human, and as something that fundamentally alters the relationship between worker and work.
On a very simplistic level, the very first change is what we now refer to as the “deskilling of the workforce”, namely the elimination of the need for specific skills or training for a job. With the advent of the machine, and the factory, the machine took over the performance of the work, leaving the worker to operate the machine. The machine is able to leverage more force with fewer mistakes, and without rest or pay, than a human worker. This caused a simplification and standardization in production, and with it the pool of possible laborers increased dramatically. This, in turn, creates labor competition, and lowers the exchange value of labor as a result, which allows the capitalist to extract additional surplus-value from the commodity. It also led to the concentration of workers in industrial cities, and incredibly high rates of child mortality and injury in factory environments.
“In so far as machinery dispenses with muscular power, it becomes a means for employing workers of slight muscular strength, or whose bodily development is incomplete, but whose limbs are all the more supple. The labour of women and children was therefore the first result of the capitalist application of machinery! That mighty substitute for labour and for workers, the machine, was immediately transformed into a means for increasing the
number of wage-labourers by enrolling, under the direct sway of capital, every member of the worker's family, without distinction of age or sex. Compulsory work for the capitalist usurped the place, not only of the children's play, but also of independent labour at home, within customary limits, for the family itself.
The value of labour-power was determined, not only by the labour-time necessary to maintain the individual adult worker, but also by that necessary to maintain his family. Machinery, by throwing every member of that family onto the labour-market, spreads the value of the man's labour-power over his whole family. It thus depreciates it. To purchase the labour-power of a family of four workers may perhaps cost more than it formerly did to purchase the labour-power of the head of the family, but, in return, four days' labour takes the place of one day's, and the price falls in proportion to the excess of the surplus labour of four over the surplus labour of one. In order that the family may live, four people must now provide not only labour for the capitalist, but also surplus labour. Thus we see that machinery, while augmenting the human material that forms capital's most characteristic field of exploitation/9 at the same time raises the degree of that exploitation.” (517-518)
- The introduction of machinery also completely realigned the relationship between the worker and the structure of the working day. The machine functions as an independent instrument of labor, considered separate from the worker and their skills, unlike the tool, which is inherently tied to the one that wields the tool. Unlike this relationship of human and tool, the machine becomes operator agnostic, and functions regardless of the human standing in its proximity. This allows the machine to tend toward perpetual motion as a mechanism for the extraction of surplus value. The limitations that then arise become the purview of failures, rather than normal contingency in the production process; the failure of workers to work consistently or effectively, the failure of the machine itself, the failure of supply, etc. So, in this shift one moves from an assumption of a limited production quantity within a day confined by the limitations of human labor, to a form of production in which perpetual and constant motion is assumed, with all contingencies being portrayed as failings and forcing a standardization of work determined by the parameters of the machine, and not the worker that performs the actual labor. This necessitates the elimination of “human interference” and the reduction of labor to generic work.
“In the first place, in machinery the motion and the activity of the instrument of labour asserts its independence vis-a-vis the worker. The instrument of labour now becomes an industrial form of perpetual motion. It would go on producing for ever, if it did not come up against certain natural limits in the shape of the weak bodies and the strong wills of its human assistants. Because it is capital, the automatic mechanism is endowed, in the person of the capitalist, with consciousness and a will. As capital, therefore, it is animated by the drive to reduce to a minimum the resistance offered by man, that obstinate yet elastic natural barrier. This resistance is moreover lessened by the apparently undemanding nature of work at a machine, and the more pliant and docile character of the women and children employed by preference.” (526)
- As the machine degrades through its operation, that value is transferred to the product. This occurs, as we discussed earlier, through an averaging of the total value of the machine divided between the anticipated number pf products produced before its replacement, with all additional commodities produced beyond this number getting value added for free. Therefore, in this scenario, the more quickly the machine can be consumed, the more value is transferred to the commodity. For example, a capitalist running a machine shop can transfer three times as much value in the same period if the machine operates all day, as opposed to only operating eight hours a day. As these machines degrade and become more obsolete, however, their resale value also drops. These dynamics generate an incentive to utilize machines as fast as possible, both to accelerate the transfer of value, but also to maximize resale value of the machine. The result of a drive toward the elongation of the work day.
“The productivity of machinery is , as we saw, inversely proportional to the value transferred by it to the product. The longer the period during which it functions, the greater is the mass of the products over which the value transmitted by the machine is spread, and the smaller is the portion of that value added to each single commodity. The active lifetime of a machine, however, is clearly dependent on the length o( the working day, or the duration of the daily labour process multiplied by the number of days for which the process is carried on. The amount of deterioration suffered by a machine does not by any means exactly correspond to the length of time it has been in use. And even if it were so, a machine working 16 hours a day for 7 years covers as long a working period as the same machine working only 8 hours a day for 15 years and transmits to the total product no more value. Notwithstanding this, the value of the machine would be reproduced twice as quickly in the first case a sin the second, and the capitalist, using the same machine, would absorb in 7 years as much surplus-value as he would in 15 in the second case.
The physical deterioration of the machine is of two kinds. The one arises from use, as coins wear away by circulating, the other from lack of use, as a sword rusts when left in its scabbard. This second kind is its consumption by the elements. Deterioration of the first kind is more or less directly proportional, and that of the second kind to a certain extent inversely proportional, to the use of the machine.
But in addition to the material wear and tear, a machine also undergoes what we might call a moral depreciation. It loses exchange-value, either because machines of the same sort are being produced more cheaply than it was, or because better machines are entering into competition with it. In both cases, however young and full of life the machine may be, its value is no longer determined by the necessary labour-time actually objectified in it,
but by the labour-time necessary to reproduce either it or the better machine. It has therefore been devalued to a greater or lesser extent. The shorter the period taken to reproduce its total value, the less is the danger of moral depreciation; and the longer the working day, the shorter that period in fact is. When machinery is first introduced into a particular branch of production, new methods of reproducing it more cheaply follow blow upon blow, and so do improvements which relate not only to individual parts and details of the machine, but also to its whole construction. It is therefore in the early days of a machine's life that this special incentive to the prolongation of the working day makes itself felt most acutely.” (527-528)
- Machinery also creates a multiplication effect. As long as the machine is being used it generates value. Traditionally, to expand production required capital investment in workers and facilities. However, the same effect can be generated by elongating the time machines function. Workers have a limit to the number of hours that can be worked, and only so many can fit within a workshop before it needs to expand. But, with machines one can exceed the limits of the worker, create shifts of workers to operate machines in continuous motion and, in doing so, expand productive capacity. To the degree that machines only add value in their operation, a tendency toward acceleration and a maximalist approach develops.
This generates a tension, however, at this point of maximalization; at the point the machine cannot produce more the addition of more workers does not increase the production of value. The result of this tension is a tendency toward maximalizing productive capacity, to then attempt to further automate and eliminate the worker to the degree possible. This fundamentally reconstructs the imbuing of objects with value, shifting the entity that value resolves around from the worker to the machine. We can see here how capitalist production creates a drive toward automation (which is the single biggest source of industrial job loss in the US since 1973, by a wide margin), but this in itself generates a tension as well. If workers are eliminated then this also begins to contract the pool of possible consumers. Just like capital accumulation, the drive toward automation creates conditions in which workers no longer have money with which to purchase things. As these dynamics approach their theoretical limit, they run into a practical limitation that presents a choice between this maximalism or the continued existence of capitalism as such. We see issues like this arising with growing wealth inequality, and the ways that this leads to a contraction of the consumer pool.
“As machinery comes into general use in a particular branch of production, the social value of the machine's product sinks down to its individual value, and the following law asserts itself: surplus value does not arise from the labour-power that has been replaced by the machinery, but from the labour-power actually employed in working with the machinery. Surplus-value arises only from the variable part of capital, and we saw that the amount of surplus value depends on two factors, namely the rate of surplus-value and the number of workers simultaneously employed. Given the length of the working day, the rate of surplus-value is determined by the relative duration of the necessary labour and the surplus labour performed in the course of a working day. The number of workers simultaneously employed depends, for its part, on the ratio of the variable to the constant capital. Now, however much the use of machinery may increase surplus labour at the expense of necessary labour by raising the productive power of labour, it is clear that it attains this result only by diminishing the number of workers employed by a given amount of capital. It converts a portion of capital which was previously variable, i.e. had been turned into living labour, into machinery, i.e. into constant capital which does not produce surplus-value. It is impossible, for instance, to squeeze as much surplus-value out of two as out of twenty-four workers. If each of these twenty-four men gives only 1 hour of surplus labour in 12, the twenty-four men give together 24 hours of surplus labour, while 24 hours is the total labour of the two men. Hence there is an immanent contradiction in the application of machinery to the production of surplus-value, since, of the two factors of the surplus-value created by a given amount of capital,one, the rate of surplus-value, cannot be increased except by diminishing the other, the number of workers. This contradiction comes to light as soon as machinery has come into general use in a given industry, for then the value of the machine-produced commodity regulates the social value of all commodities of the same kind ; and it is this contradiction which in turn drives the capitalist, without his being aware of the fact, 71 to the most ruthless and excessive prolongation of the working day, in order that he may secure compensation for the decrease in the relative number of workers exploited by increasing not only relative but also absolute surplus labour.” (530-531)
- Prior to this discussion the extraction of surplus value was related to the duration of labor. In this discussion of the machine, however, we now need to consider the intensity of labor during that duration. The machine already produces an intensification of labor in its operation. This tendency continues, and drives a process by which labor specialization and the inertia toward maximizing machine use and replacement creates increases in this intensification. This intensification will eventually create an inverse relationship with work duration, where increases in intensity only become viable in shorter work durations. As such, the tendency has been to fix the length of the work day (the shift) and increase the intensity and density of labor within that period.
“It is self-evident that in proportion as the use of machinery spreads, and the experience of a special class of worker – the machine-worker – accumulates, the rapidity and thereby the intensity of labour undergoes a natural increase. Thus in England, in the course of half a century, the lengthening of the working day has gone hand in hand with an increase in the intensity of factory labour. Nevertheless, the reader will clearly see that we are dealing here, not with temporary paroxysms of labour but with labour repeated day after day with unvarying uniformity. Hence a point must inevitably be reached where extension of the working day and intensification of labour become mutually exclusive so that the lengthening of the working day becomes compatible only with. a lower degree of intensity, and inversely, a higher degree of intensity only with a shortening of the working day. As soon as the gradual upsurge of working-class revolt had compelled Parliament compulsorily to shorten the hours of labour, and to begin by imposing a normal working day on factories properly so called, i.e. from the moment that it was made impossible once and for all to increase the production of surplus-value by prolonging the working day, capital threw itself with all its might, and in full awareness of the situation, into the production of relative surplus-value, by speeding up the development of the machine system. At the same-time a change took place in the nature of relative surplus-value. In general, relative surplus-value is produced by raising the productivity of the worker, and thereby enabling him to produce more in a given time with the same expenditure of la, bour. The same amount of labour-time adds the same value as before to the total product, but this unchanged amount of exchange-value is spread over more use-values. Hence the value of each single commodity falls. But the situation changes with the compulsory shortening of the hours of labour. This gives an immense impetus to the development of productivity and the more economical use of the conditions of production. It imposes on the worker an increased expenditure of labour within a time which remains constant, a heightened tension of labour-power, and a closer filling-up of the pores of the working day, i.e. a condensation of labour, to a degree which can only be attained within the limits of the shortened working day. This compression of a greater mass of labour into a given period now counts for what it really is, namely an increase in the quantity of labour. In addition to the measure of its ' extensive magnitude ', labour time now acquires a measure of its intensity, or degree of density.” (533-534)
- The shortening of the work day, the fixing of its duration and the fixed efficiency of machines creates conditions for the constant acceleration of machinery in the form of new machines and increasingly dense labor. As a result of this dynamic of fixing labor duration emphasis was placed on increased, and increasingly efficient, mechanization as a medium of labor condensation, and concentration. We see this in the rejection of safety controls and in the focus on computer monitored efficiency, the Taylorist micro-measurement of tasks, increased workplace surveillance and the drive toward automation.
“The shortening of the working day creates, to begin with, the subjective condition for the condensation of labour, i.e. it makes it possible for the worker to set more labour-power in motion within a given time. As soon as that shortening becomes compulsory, machinery becomes in the hands of capital the objective means, systematically employed, for squeezing outmore labour in a given time. This occurs in two ways : the speed of the machines is in creased, and the same worker receives a greater quantity of machinery to supervise or operate. Improved construction of the machinery is necessary, partly to allow greater pressure to be put on the worker, partly because it is an inevitable concomitant of intensification of labour, since the legal limitation of the working day compels the capitalist to exercise the strictest economy in the cost of production. The improvements in the steam-engine have increased the piston speed and at the same time have made it possible, by means of a greater economy of power, to drive more machinery with the same engine, while consuming the same amount of coal, or even a smaller amount. The improvements in the transmitting mechanism have lessened friction and reduced the diameter and weight of the shafts to a constantly decreasing minimum, some thing which strikingly distinguishes modern machinery from the older type. Finally, the improvements in the operative machines have, while reducing their size, increased their speed and efficiency, as in the modern power-loom ; or, while increasing the size of their frames, they have also increased the extent and number of their working parts, as in spinning-mules, or added to the speed of those working parts by imperceptible alterations of detail, such as those
which ten years ago increased the speed of the spindles in self acting mules by one-fifth.” (536-537)
- Thus far, as we get into sections four and five of the chapter, we have discussed machines and factories without much of a discussion about the specifics of those terms and how they are being used here. In a simplistic understanding a machine is a device that does a task and a factory is a place where production happens. But, thus far, Marx is marking a difference between the workshop and the factory which has been largely implicit. Now we get into the discussion of how they are different and what this means for the structure of work and production.
The factory is a system, namely a dynamic between component elements in which a series of operations are undertaken in a necessary and intentionally defined structuring of coordination. This definition, though seemingly straight forward, has a number of possible implications, of which Marx discusses two here. In this first mode the factory is thought as an assemblage. The assemblage is not a unity. Rather, to use the autonomist sense of this term, the assemblage is a dynamic between elements, with individual elements maintaining shape and the possibility of autonomy. In this dynamic the factory is thought as a convergent dynamic between humans, tasks, tools and machines. Within this assemblage every element, in its participation in the construction of the assemblage, becomes critical to the particular momentary shape. In other words, the assemblage is thought of as a convergence of parts, all of which change, which in turn changes the whole assemblage. From this perspective the worker maintains status as an essential and primary subject within the assemblage itself.
The second understanding that I want to discuss here views the factory as a sort of Hobbesian automaton. While in this first understanding the components of the assemblage remain able to be differentiated and removed, within this conception the entire apparatus is considered as a subject in itself. As such, the components are removed from their particularity, and inserted into the factory only as components defined by their insertion; this not only includes machines, but also workers, tasks and so on. In this view all elements are component parts of a large living machine, raising the factory-as-machine to a position of primacy. This is the view that one finds articulated in the Five Year Plans under Stalin; the worker became nothing other than the energy and component element of the factory for the “new man”; this is how they justified purges, gulags, forced labor, wave attacks during the war and surveillance within the factory itself. While this first mode, the factory as assemblage, can speak to the factory as such, the second view can only speak to the realities of capitalist production.
“Dr Ure, the Pindar of the automatic factory, describes it, on the one hand, as ' combined co-operation of many orders of work people, adult and young, in tending with assiduous skill a system of productive machines continuously impelled by a central power' (the prime mover) ; and on the other hand as ' a vast automaton, composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs, acting in uninterrupted concert for the production of a common object, all of them being subordinate to a self-regulated moving force ' . These two descriptions are far from being identical. In one, the combined collective worker appears as the dominant subject [iibergreifendes Subjekt], and the mechanical automaton as the object ; in the other, the automaton itself is the subject, and the workers are merely conscious organs, co-ordinated with the unconscious organs of the automaton, and together with the latter subordinated to the central moving force. The first description is applicable to every possible employment of machinery on a large scale, the second is characteristic of its use by capital, and there fore of the modem factory system. Ure therefore prefers to present the central machine from which the motion comes as not only an automaton but an autocrat. ' In these spacious halls the benignant power of steam summons around him his myriads of willing menials.'” (544-545)
- The reduction of the worker to the position of an appendage to the machine begins with the displacement of the tool from the hand. In capitalist production the machine becomes the means of creating surplus value, and, as such, the machine is primary. The tool gets displaced from the hand and given to the machine, which both exists as a product of, and mechanism for the advancement of automation. This distance between the worker and the tool creates a space for a prime mover, or machine attached to a prime mover, to determine the entirety of how that tool gets used within the production process conceived of as a whole. Through this displacement all possible workers are reduced, not to generic workers, but to generic elements of the mechanistic process, of the factory itself. This reduction also ties the worker to the machine, fragmenting the cooperation between workers in production. Cooperation, then, is replaced with a simple relationship between generic workers, who are components of the mechanistic system of the factory, workers with skills to maintain the machines and capitalists, all of which become atomized elements of the production process as a whole.
“In so far as the division of labour re-appears in the factory, it takes the form primarily of a distribution of workers among the specialized machines, and of quantities of workers, who do not however form organized groups, among the various departments of the factory, in each of which they work at a number of similar machines placed together ; only simple co-operation therefore takes place between them. The organized group peculiar to manufacture is replaced by the connection between the head worker and his few assistants. The essential division is that between workers who are actually employed on the machines (among whom are included a few who look after the engine) and those who merely attend them (almost exclusively children). More or less all the ' feeders ' who supply the machines with the material which is to be worked up are counted as attendants. In addition to principal classes, there is a numerically unimportant group whose occupation it is to look after the whole of the machinery repair it from time to time, composed of engineers, mechanics, joiners etc. This is a superior class of workers, in part scientifically educated, in part trained in a handicraft ; they stand outside the realm of the factory workers, and are added to them only to make up an aggregate. This division of labour is purely technical.” (545-546)
- The advent of the factory completes a process, inherent in capitalist production, to render the worker as an appendage of the production process. When combined with the creation of generic labor and the strenuousness of a mode of production centered on acceleration, capital comes to completely subsume the worker into itself, making the deskilled worker wholly independent on it for resources. This also allows capitalists to replace workers at any time, for any reason, which further fragments cooperation between workers, places them in competition and increases the drive of workers to attempt to produce more in less time.
“Factory work exhausts the nervous system to the uttermost; at the same time, it does away with the many-sided play of the muscles, and confiscates every atom of freedom, both in bodily and in intellectual activity. Even the lightening of the labour becomes an instrument of torture, since the machine does not free the worker from the work, but rather deprives the work itself of all content. Every kind of capitalist production, in so far as it is not only a labour process but also capital's process of valorization, has this in common, but it is not the worker who employs the conditions of his work, but rather the reverse, the conditions of work employ the worker. However, it is only with the coming of machinery that this inversion first acquires a technical and palpable reality. Owing to its conversion into an automaton, the instrument of labour confronts the worker during the labour process in the shape of capital, dead labour, which dominates and soaks up living labour-power. The separation of the intellectual faculties of the production process from manual labour, and the transformation of those faculties into powers exercised by capital over labour, is, as we have already shown, finally completed by large-scale industry erected on the foundation of machinery. The special skill of each individual machine-operator, who has now been deprived of all significance, vanishes as an infinitesimal quantity in the face of the science, the gigantic natural forces, and the mass of social labour embodied in the system of machinery, which, together with those three forces, constitutes the power of the ' master '. This ' master ', therefore, in whose mind the machinery and his monopoly of it are inseparably united, contemptuously tells his ' hands ', whenever he comes into conflict with them; ' The factory operatives should keep in wholesome remembrance the fact that theirs is really a low species of skilled labour ; and that there is none which is more easily acquired, or of its quality more amply remunerated, or which by a short training of the least expert can be more quickly, as well as abundantly, acquired . . . The master's machinery really plays a far more important part in the business of production than the labour and the skill of the operative, which six months' education can teach, and a common labourer can learn.' The technical subordination of the worker to the uniform motion of the instruments of labour, and the peculiar composition of the working group, consisting as it does of individuals of both sexes and all ages, gives rise to a barrack-like discipline, which is elaborated into a complete system in the factory, and brings the previously mentioned labour of superintendence to its fullest development, thereby dividing the workers into manual labourers and overseers, into the private soldiers and the N.C.O.s of an industrial army.” (548-549)
- To finish out our discussion of Chapter 15 we will be focusing on Section 8, The Revolutionary Impact of Large-Scale Industry on Manufacture, Handicrafts and Domestic Industry. In prior sections we began a discussion of the social implications of the factory structure and the labor implications of the use and expansion of machinery. To begin to analyze these shifts it makes sense to discuss them through the lens of how labor flows through a specific structure of production within specific circumstances. for example, one can argue that there is cooperation in handicraft production, but this cooperation is not some total expression of that mode of production. Instead, that mode of production takes on specific characteristics in relation to the historical context of its operation. In other words, certain modes and contexts of production will facilitate specific modes of production As such, the structuring of this discourse around mode of production, history and labor flows allows us to add resolution to this discussion.
Handicraft production is defined as a mode of production in which nodes in the production process operate as atomized acts. For example, one person may just make latches, and makes the whole latch, while another may make the whole wooden trunk, and then a third person may make drawers or dividers for the trunk. Individually all of these objects are complete products, but they are joined together as an act in itself, not as a necessary part of the production process. Cooperation, in this context, functions not through the act as such, but through that which exists between and through these acts, or the collectivity of the entire production process. With the machine both the act and the linkage between acts are abstracted away from labor. This not only shifts the mode of production, but also the relationality and the dynamics of labor that both contribute to and result from this mode of production.
This transition between handicraft and the factory often proceeds through a manufacture phase, where machines are in use but collaboration still exists. At all points, however, the tendency within capitalism is to adopt factory production as a way to elongate total working hours, concentrate production, lower labor costs and increase surplus value extraction. It is here that we can see the connection between mode of production and context of production, in this case the factory and capitalism.
“We have seen how machinery does away with co-operation based on handicrafts, and with manufacture based on the handicraft division of labour. An example of the first sort is the reaping machine ; it replaces co-operation between reapers. A striking example of the second kind is the needle-making machine. According to Adam Smith, ten men in his time, using the system of the division of labour, made 48,000 sewing-needles every day. A single needle-making machine, however, makes 1 45,000 needles in a working day of 1 1 hours. One woman or one girl superintends four such machines, and so produces nearly 600,000 needles in a day, and over 3 ,000,000 in a week.6 8 A single machine, when it takes the place of co-operation or of manufacture, may itself serve as the basis of an industry of a handicraft character. But this reproduction of the handicraft system on the basis of machinery only forms a transition to the factory system which, as a rule, makes its appearance as soon as human muscles arereplaced, for the purpose of driving the machines, by a mechanical motive power such as steam or water. Here and there, but in any case only for a time, an industry may be carried on, on a small scale, by means of mechanical power. Wherever the nature of the process has not necessitated production on a large scale, the new industries that have sprung up in the last few decades, such as envelope making, steel pen making, etc., have, as a general rule, first passed through the handicraft stage, and then the manufacturing stage, as short phases of transition
to the factory stage. The transition is very difficult. in those cases where the production of the article by manufacture consists of a series of graduated processes, but of a great number of disconnected ones. This circumstance formed a great hindrance to the establishment of steel pen factories. Nevertheless, about fifteen years ago a machine was invented that automatically performed six separate operations at once. The first steel pens were supplied by the handicraft system, in the year 1820, at £7 4s. the gross ; in 1 30 they were supplied by manufacture at 8s.,and today the factory system supplies them at a wholesale price of from 2d. to 6d. the gross.” (588-589)
- The introduction of the machine involves a paradoxical reconstruction of the labor process. To construct the possibility of mechanization each constituent act of the production process must be extracted, isolated and simplified in order to render it performable by a machine, repeatable and with rapidity. This involves taking the whole production process, breaking that object down into component parts, then breaking apart the process of producing these parts down to individual operations that need to occur. For example, say we were making stitch bound notebooks. The manual process involves getting paper, cutting that paper, finding cover material, perforating that material to accept a needle, threading the needle, performing the stitching, finishing the stitch and tying it off, and so on. In a mechanization procedure the making of the paper, for example, is isolated into its parts, each of which can be done by a machine; the same for the cover, the stitching, so on. Then, following this fragmentation of the acts of production, all of these component actions are individually mechanized but, and this is what defines the factory, those actions are structured to flow into one another, constructing a singular production process. This is how an assebly line works, for example.
In this process a discourse of methods and skills, the craft of the individual act, the connection of the worker to the object, are all replaced with a generalized discourse on design and engineering, with the worker reduced to a part of the overall process. This entire approach necessitates, and is necessitated by, the removal of the tool from the hand, and its displacement into the machine. This construct requires large numbers of generic workers concentrated into densely populated areas, while at the same time fragmenting that same body of workers through wage competition and the atomization of the worker as machine attendant; mechanistic linkages come to replace cooperation. As such, when combined with the enclosure of the commons (which displaced tens of thousands from their land and forced them into cities), the factory begins to almost take on an ontological dimension, structuring the very shape of existence.
“With the development of the factory system and the revolution in agriculture that accompanies it, production in all the other branches of industry not only expands, but also alters its character. The principle of machine production, namely the division of the production process into its constituent phases, and the solution of the problems arising from this by the application of mechanics, chemistry and the whole range of the natural sciences, now plays the determining role everywhere. Hence machinery penetrates into manufacture for one specialized process after another. The solid crystallization of a hierarchy of specialized processes, which arose from the old division of labour, ceases to exist; it is dissolved, and makes way for constant changes. Quite apart from this, a fundamental transformation takes place in the composition of the collective labourer or, in other words, the combined working personnel. In contrast with the period of manufacture, the division of labour is now based , wherever possible, on the employment of women, of children of all ages and of unskilled workers, in short, of ' cheap labour', as the Englishman typically describes it. This is true not only for all large-scale production, whether machinery is employed or not, but also for the so-called domestic industries, whether carried on in the private dwellings of the workers, or in small workshops. This modern ' domestic industry ' has nothing except the name in common with old-fashioned domestic industry, the existence of which presupposes independent urban handicrafts, independent peasant farming and, above all, a dwelling-house for the worker and his family. That kind of industry has now been converted into an external department of the factory, the manufacturing workshop, or the warehouse. Besides the factory worker, the workers engaged in manufacture, and the handicraftsmen, whom it concentrates in large masses at one spot, and directly commands, capital also sets another army in motion, by means of invisible threads.: the outworkers in the domestic industries, who live in the large towns as well as being scattered over the countryside.” (590-591)
- Though it is a bit of an odd place to stop, this is where we are going to end this reading of Capital. So, for the sake of closure I will add some quick closing remarks.
This reading of Capital is not meant to be comprehensive. It is not THE reading of Capital, or even what some would call a “better” or “correct” reading; those categories don't really mean anything. Rather, this is an instrumental reading of capital, through the lens of autonomism and autonomist readings of Marx. Within this reading we uncover a number of elements that are almost always missing from more traditional, more Leninist, readings of Capital, and this allows us to help realign our tactical and strategic orientations.
Anti-capitalism in the US has largely been typified by a discourse on bad outcomes; that we need to overthrow capitalism because of sweatshops, environmental degradation, poverty, starvation, etc. While all of these things are heinous, focus on these outcomes displaces the rejection of capitalism into a discourse on bad results. This discourse is specifically flawed in two ways. Firstly, it is a narrative that is inherently reformist. There are ways that capital can still function while generating better outcomes, this is the whole concept behind “ethical capitalism” or “social enterprise”. But, even with better outcomes capitalism remains a form of existence which nullifies our particularity, necessitates the construction of the state and functions based on an ontology of quantification. Secondly, as a result most resistance to capitalism takes on the form of reformist campaigns, and not systemic disruptions.
In this reading we went through a series of way-points that can assist in a reorientation away from a liberal, reformist reading of capitalism.
Capitalism is based on an impossible ontology, in which the material particularity of the object is fused with this abstract quantifiable generality to form the commodity. Within capitalism this results in a structuring of existence that is not only based on atomization (the existence of one as an economic unit), but also which is grounded in the dynamics of the convergence of abstract values within the artifice of “the market”.
As such, capitalism does not function as a system, as much as it functions as a condition of possibility for existence in itself. In other words, capitalism does not only force certain actions to occur, it structures the very basis in which we determine normality, and in which we understand the categories we use to make sense of existing.
As a result of this ontology, all life and existence becomes defined. This requires an elimination of existential difference and the construction of a mechanism to eliminate contingency and disruption. None of that just functions, it all involves action, and the logistics of defining action through force through the elimination of difference is called policing.
Therefore, the struggle against capital is far from abstract and conceptual. What is at stake is the materiality of capital, and how those material conditions structure limitations to existence itself. As a result, anti-capitalism must move away from the activist mass movement mentality, which attempts to disrupt “systems”, and into a mode grounded in the disruption of material logistics through interventions in everyday life, where we are, when we are there. This approach is more closely aligned with insurrectionism than some sort of workerist context.
Those conclusions are minimal on purpose. There is a lot to dig out of this text, but, as a number of thinkers have discussed, there is no point in the analysis without that resulting in effects. We construct our understandings of the world through making sense of our actions, but the actions themselves have their own dynamics. If our conceptual understandings do not lead to effective forms of revolt, then they must be jettisoned. As such, the goal of this reading is effectiveness, the repositioning of modalities of fighting and whatever material outcomes may result.
Hopefully this has been useful. If I return to this text in the future I will make sure to keep these notes coming. For now though, on to other things.