Thursday, 14 February 2013

Capital 1, Chapter 23 - Part 5

From this perspective then, any consumption by the worker over and above this minimum is unproductive consumption.

Fordism recognised that workers' consumption
is also a factor in the process of production.
If the accumulation of capital were to cause a rise of wages and an increase in the labourer’s consumption, unaccompanied by increase in the consumption of labour-power by capital, the additional capital would be consumed unproductively. In reality, the individual consumption of the labourer is unproductive as regards himself, for it reproduces nothing but the needy individual; it is productive to the capitalist and to the State, since it is the production of the power that creates their wealth.

From a social point of view, therefore, the working class, even when not directly engaged in the labour process, is just as much an appendage of capital as the ordinary instruments of labour. Even its individual consumption is, within certain limits, a mere factor in the process of production. That process, however, takes good care to prevent these self-conscious instruments from leaving it in the lurch, for it removes their product, as fast as it is made, from their pole to the opposite pole of capital. Individual consumption provides, on the one hand, the means for their maintenance and reproduction: on the other hand, it secures by the annihilation of the necessaries of life, the continued re-appearance of the workman in the labour-market. The Roman slave was held by fetters: the wage labourer is bound to his owner by invisible threads. The appearance of independence is kept up by means of a constant change of employers, and by the fictio juris of a contract” (p 537-8)

But, of course, even this legal fiction of freedom and equality for the worker is a sham. At the height of this age, revered by the Liberals and Libertarians like Hayek, the worker was far from free, let alone equal.

In former times, capital resorted to legislation, whenever necessary, to enforce its proprietary rights over the free labourer. For instance, down to 1815, the emigration of mechanics employed in machine making was, in England, forbidden, under grievous pains and penalties.” (p 538)

And later, in the 19th century, even when starvation was forcing workers into emigration, the representatives of capital sought to legally prevent their escape. Marx’s account of that is worth detailing in full as an expose of these Libertarian claims.

In consequence of the civil war in the United States and of the accompanying cotton famine, the majority of the cotton operatives in Lancashire were, as is well known, thrown out of work. Both from the working class itself, and from other ranks of society, there arose a cry for State aid, or for voluntary national subscriptions, in order to enable the “superfluous” hands to emigrate to the colonies or to the United States. Thereupon, The Times published on the 24th March, 1863, a letter from Edmund Potter, a former president of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce. This letter was rightly called in the House of Commons, the manufacturers’ manifesto. We cull here a few characteristic passages, in which the proprietary rights of capital over labour-power are unblushingly asserted.

He” (the man out of work) “may be told the supply of cotton-workers is too large ... and ... must ... in fact be reduced by a third, perhaps, and that then there will be a healthy demand for the remaining two-thirds.... Public opinion... urges emigration.... The master cannot willingly see his labour supply being removed; he may think, and perhaps justly, that it is both wrong and unsound.... But if the public funds are to be devoted to assist emigration, he bas a right to be heard, and perhaps to protest.”

Mr. Potter then shows how useful the cotton trade is, how the “trade has undoubtedly drawn the surplus-population from Ireland and from the agricultural districts,” how immense is its extent, how in the year 1860 it yielded 5/13 ths of the total English exports, how, after a few years, it will again expand by the extension of the market, particularly of the Indian market, and by calling forth a plentiful supply of cotton at 6d. per lb. He then continues:

Some time ...,one, two, or three years, it may be, will produce the quantity.... The question I would put then is this — Is the trade worth retaining? Is it worth while to keep the machinery (he means the living labour machines) in order, and is it not the greatest folly to think of parting with that? I think it is. I allow that the workers are not a property, not the property of Lancashire and the masters; but they are the strength of both; they are the mental and trained power which cannot be. replaced for a generation; the mere machinery which they work might much of it be beneficially replaced, nay improved, in a twelvemonth Encourage or allow (!) the working-power to emigrate, and what of the capitalist?... Take away the cream of the workers, and fixed capital will depreciate in a great degree, and the floating will not subject itself to a struggle with the short supply of inferior labour.... We are told the workers wish it” (emigration). “Very natural it is that they should do so.... Reduce, compress the cotton trade by taking away its working power and reducing their wages expenditure, say one-fifth, or five millions, and what then would happen to the class above, the small shopkeepers; and what of the rents, the cottage rents.... Trace out the effects upwards to the small farmer, the better householder, and ... the landowner, and say if there could be any suggestion more suicidal to all classes of the country than by enfeebling a nation by exporting the best of its manufacturing population, and destroying the value of some of its most productive capital and enrichment .... I advise a loan (of five or six millions sterling), ... extending it may be over two or three years, administered by special commissioners added to the Boards of Guardians in the cotton districts, under special legislative regulations, enforcing some occupation or labour, as a means of keeping up at least the moral standard of the recipients of the loan... can anything be worse for landowners or masters than parting with the best of the workers, and demoralising and disappointing the rest by an extended depletive emigration, a depletion of capital and value in an entire province?”

Potter, the chosen mouthpiece of the manufacturers, distinguishes two sorts of “machinery,” each of which belongs to the capitalist, and of which one stands in his factory, the other at night-time and on Sundays is housed outside the factory, in cottages. The one is inanimate, the other living. The inanimate machinery not only wears out and depreciates from day to day, but a great part of it becomes so quickly superannuated, by constant technical progress, that it can be replaced with advantage by new machinery after a few months. The living machinery, on the contrary gets better the longer it lasts, and in proportion as the skill, handed from one generation to another, accumulates. The Times answered the cotton lord as follows:

Mr. Edmund Potter is so impressed with the exceptional and supreme importance of the cotton masters that, in order to preserve this class and perpetuate their profession, he would keep half a million of the labouring class confined in a great moral workhouse against their will. ‘Is the trade worth retaining?’ asks Mr. Potter. ‘Certainly by all honest means it is,’ we answer. ‘Is it worth while keeping the machinery in order?’ again asks Mr. Potter. Here we hesitate. By the ‘machinery’ Mr. Potter means the human machinery, for he goes on to protest that he does not mean to use them as an absolute property. We must confess that we do not think it ‘worth while,’ or even possible, to keep the human machinery in order-that is to shut it up and keep it oiled till it is wanted. Human machinery will rust under inaction, oil and rub it as you may. Moreover, the human machinery will, as we have just seen, get the steam up of its own accord, and burst or run amuck in our great towns. It might, as Mr. Potter says, require some time to reproduce the workers, but, having machinists and capitalists at hand, we could always find thrifty, hard, industrious men wherewith to improvise more master manufacturers than we can ever want. Mr. Potter talks of the trade reviving ‘in one, two, or three years,’ and he asks us not ‘to encourage or allow (!) the working power to emigrate.’ He says that it is very natural the workers should wish to emigrate; but he thinks that in spite of their desire, the nation ought to keep this half million of workers with their 700,000 dependents, shut up in the cotton districts; and as a necessary consequence, he must of course think that the nation ought to keep down their discontent by force, and sustain them by alms — and upon the chance that the cotton masters may some day want them.... The time is come when the great public opinion of these islands must operate to save this ‘working power’ from those who would deal with it as they would deal with iron, and coal, and cotton.”

The Times’ article was only a jeu d’esprit. The “great public opinion” was, in fact, of Mr. Potter’s opinion, that the factory operatives are part of the movable fittings of a factory. Their emigration was prevented. They were locked up in that “moral workhouse,” the cotton districts, and they form, as before, “the strength” of the cotton manufacturers of Lancashire.” (p 539-41)

Parliament did not vote a single farthing in aid of emigration, but simply passed some Acts empowering the municipal corporations to keep the operatives in a half-starved state, i.e., to exploit them at less than the normal wages. On the other hand, when 3 years later, the cattle disease broke out, Parliament broke wildly through its usages and voted, straight off, millions for indemnifying the millionaire landlords, whose farmers in any event came off without loss, owing to the rise in the price of meat.” (Note 1, p 541)

Capitalist production, by its very operation, reproduces itself, not just in ensuring that the constant capital and variable capital are physically reproduced, but by ensuring that the social relation between the worker and capital is reproduced. The worker is increasingly deprived of capital, and the possibility of owning capital, as the minimum scale of efficient production continues to rise.

The worker is thereby continually led to have to sell their labour-power in order to live, and in doing so, enables the capitalist to buy that labour-power, extract surplus value, and thereby expand his capital and power over the worker.

It is no longer a mere accident, that capitalist and labourer confront each other in the market as buyer and seller. It is the process itself that incessantly hurls back the labourer on to the market as a vendor of his labour-power, and that incessantly converts his own product into a means by which another man can purchase him. In reality, the labourer belongs to capital before he has sold himself to capital. His economic bondage is both brought about and concealed by the periodic sale of himself, by his change of masters, and by the oscillations in the market-price of labour-power.

Capitalist production, therefore, under its aspect of a continuous connected process, of a process of reproduction, produces not only commodities, not only surplus-value, but it also produces and reproduces the capitalist relation; on the one side the capitalist, on the other the wage labourer.” (p 541-2)

Back To Part 4

Forward To Chapter 24

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