Thursday, 20 September 2012

Capital I, Chapter 10 - Part 6



It is because the driving force, the purpose, of capitalist production is the creation of Surplus Value that the first and most striking attempts to extend the working day manifest themselves in those industries first “revolutionised by water-power, steam, and machinery, in those first creations of the modern mode of production, cotton, wool, flax, and silk spinning, and weaving. The changes in the material mode of production, and the corresponding changes in the social relations of the producers gave rise first to an extravagance beyond all bounds, and then in opposition to this, called forth a control on the part of Society which legally limits, regulates, and makes uniform the working-day and its pauses. This control appears, therefore, during the first half of the nineteenth century simply as exceptional legislation.” (p 282)

But, it was soon apparent that many types of production had now become dominated by Capitalistic relations, and so, instead of exceptional legislation, what was required was more general legislation.

When capitalist production has developed, the individual labourer selling his labour-power on the 'free market' essentially disappears, because they are forced to succumb to the massively greater power of capital. The individual workers can only obtain the value of their labour-power, including the establishment of a normal working day, if they combine and act collectively.

As the contest takes place in the arena of modern industry, it first breaks out in the home of that industry — England. The English factory workers were the champions, not only of the English, but of the modern working-class generally, as their theorists were the first to throw down the gauntlet to the theory of capital.” (p 283)

Other countries, therefore, lagged behind Britain. In the US, as Marx described in his debates with Weston, in the initial period, as it had been in Britain, prior to the Industrial Revolution, labour had the upper hand against capital. In the US, wages were relatively high, because labour was relatively scarce. As soon as workers saved enough to buy a cheap piece of land, they turned themselves back into peasants. But, when industrialisation in the US takes off, and when large scale immigration changes that situation, capital gains the upper hand. Moreover,

In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralysed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded. But out of the death of slavery a new life at once arose. The first fruit of the Civil War was the eight hours’ agitation, that ran with the seven-leagued boots of the locomotive from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New England to California. The General Congress of labour at Baltimore (August 16th, 1866) declared:

The first and great necessity of the present, to free the labour of this country from capitalistic slavery, is the passing of a law by which eight hours shall be the normal working-day in all States of the American Union. We are resolved to put forth all our strength until this glorious result is attained.” (p 284)

And the same demand for an 8 hour day was adopted by the First International at its Congress in Geneva.

It must be acknowledged that our labourer comes out of the process of production other than he entered. In the market he stood as owner of the commodity “labour-power” face to face with other owners of commodities, dealer against dealer. The contract by which he sold to the capitalist his labour-power proved, so to say, in black and white that he disposed of himself freely. The bargain concluded, it is discovered that he was no “free agent,” that the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not lose its hold on him “so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited.” For “protection” against “the serpent of their agonies,” the labourers must put their heads together, and, as a class, compel the passing of a law, an all-powerful social barrier that shall prevent the very workers from selling, by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their families into slavery and death. In place of the pompous catalogue of the “inalienable rights of man” comes the modest Magna Charta of a legally limited working-day, which shall make clear “when the time which the worker sells is ended, and when his own begins.”” (p 285-6)

Lessons of Marx's Analysis Of The Working Day

In general, capital proceeds on the basis of the extraction of Relative Surplus Value, the analysis of which Marx is coming to shortly. That is because relative surplus value is far more efficient a means of exploitation than absolute surplus value. Relative surplus value is more appropriate to the conditions of a more mature and developed form of of capitalism, which having used up a large amount of the labour reserve, has been led to replace labour with machines, and in the process has had to develop a more educated and skilled workforce. Moreover, relative surplus value arises naturally out of the drive of each individual capital, under the lash of competition to raise the level of productivity.

However, in the early stages of industrialisation, there is a large Latent Reserve Army of Labour, and capital only needs a large amount of unskilled labour. It begins by using that up, including its cheapest components, the women and children. In that respect it proceeds in a similar way to slavery when it has access to large numbers of cheap slaves.

It does so, not because the Capitalists themselves were necessarily greedy individuals. Often they were not. Marx refers sarcastically to those who were members of the RSPCA and other such charitable causes. Many 19th Century Capitalists like Carnegie were philanthropists. The point is that as representatives of capital, rather than as individuals, they were controlled, not by their own individual sentiments and morals, but by the needs of Capital and of competition, and its objective laws.

Marx quotes to this effect.

““The conduct of each of these classes (capitalists and workmen) has been the result of the relative situation in which they have been placed.” (Reports, &c., for 31st October, 1848, p. 113.)” (Note 1, p 282)

With suppressed irony, and in very well weighed words, the Factory Inspectors hint that the actual law also frees the capitalist from some of the brutality natural to a man who is a mere embodiment of capital, and that it has given him time for a little “culture.” “Formerly the master had no time for anything but money; the servant had no time for anything but labour” (l.c., p. 48).” (Note 1, p 286)

Marx makes this even clearer in Volume III, where he writes,

"It will never do, therefore, to represent capitalist production as something which it is not, namely as production whose immediate purpose is enjoyment or the manufacture of the means of enjoyment for the capitalist. This would be overlooking its specific character, which is revealed in all its inner essence." (Chapter 15)

However, those objective laws themselves indicated to capital that the wasteful using up of labour could not continue, which is why individual capitalists themselves recognised the need for regulation e.g. the petition by Wedgwood and others to limit the working day. The Capitalist State as the Executive Committee of the ruling class acts to provide regulation in the interests of Capital in General rather than at the level of Many Capitals.  As Marx put it,

"And the first birthright of capital is equal exploitation of labour-power by all capitalists.” (p 276)

But, the size of the Latent Reserve moves up and down, and the need of capital to preserve labour varies with it. The progress towards a normal working day, is protracted and reflects these fluctuations, and the relative strength of the contending classes that goes with it. It takes the form of class struggle, but it is not just a labour-capital class struggle. It encompasses the class struggle that was taking place between capital and landed property. So, at one point, where capital needs the support of workers for repeal of the Corn Laws, it offers the reforms of the Factory Acts. When that is won, and the reality of a Long Wave downturn set in, reducing the demand for Labour, Capital reneges on the deal, and attempts to claw back a greater portion of the working day for profit. Now, landed property strikes back at Capital by trying to make an alliance with the workers to impose restrictions on Capital.

Nor is the battle between Labour and Capital simply one fought out at an industrial level via the Trades Unions. In fact, Marx set out the limitations of that in his debates, in the First International, with Weston - Value, Price and Profit . Capital would always have the upper hand.

But, labour during this period had also established its own co-operative factories and shops. Robert Owen in the mills at New Lanark, had introduced a 10 hour day as far back as 1810, along with many other reforms, which demonstrated that factories could be operated more efficiently and profitably where workers were not overworked etc. The workers textile co-operatives in Lancashire, as Marx demonstrated, were more efficient and profitable than their privately owned competitors, despite the obstacles placed in their way.

Robert Owen, soon after 1810, not only maintained the necessity of a limitation of the working-day in theory, but actually introduced the 10 hours’ day into his factory at New Lanark. This was laughed at as a communistic Utopia; so were his “Combination of children’s education with productive labour and the Co-operative Societies of Workingmen", first called into being by him. To-day, the first Utopia is a Factory Act, the second figures as an official phrase in all Factory Acts, the third is already being used as a cloak for reactionary humbug.” (Note 2, p 283)

As Marx put it in his Inaugural Address to the First International,

After a 30 years’ struggle, fought with almost admirable perseverance, the English working classes, improving a momentaneous split between the landlords and money lords, succeeded in carrying the Ten Hours’ Bill. The immense physical, moral, and intellectual benefits hence accruing to the factory operatives, half-yearly chronicled in the reports of the inspectors of factories, are now acknowledged on all sides. Most of the continental governments had to accept the English Factory Act in more or less modified forms, and the English Parliament itself is every year compelled to enlarge its sphere of action...

But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labour over the political economy of property. We speak of the co-operative movement, especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold “hands”. The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart. In England, the seeds of the co-operative system were sown by Robert Owen; the workingmen’s experiments tried on the Continent were, in fact, the practical upshot of the theories, not invented, but loudly proclaimed, in 1848.”

But, the fluctuations in demand for labour-power, which led to the ebb and flo of progress towards a normal working day have not ceased.  In the 25 years prior to 1890, the economy once again entered a Long Wave downturn, what became known as the First Great Depression.  As the demand for Labour-power declined, so capital attempted to add to relative surplus value extraction, by once more using absolute surplus value to raise the mass of profits.  This tendency is more pronounced as Engels points out in his Preface to the Condition of the Working Class, amongst the small Capitalists, who frequently cannot survive without these "penny-pinching" methods.

It is seen once again in the Long Wave Downturn of the 1920's and 30's, where presented with a mass of surplus labour-power, Capital once again uses it up wastefully to produce Absolute Surplus Value.  In fact, this is not surprisingRelative Surplus Value depends upon the introduction of new technologies, systems and other means of raising productivity.  This is also a precondition for the Long Wave Boom, which assists in raising the rate of profit, provides a series of new Use Values to be produced and sold as commodities, and so on.  It is, precisely the fact that the new technologies from the previous Innovation Cycle, have run their course, that productivity can no longer be increased rapidly, that the range of new commodities has declined, which brings the Boom to a close.  But, it is also what means that the ability of Capital to increase Surplus Value via, Relative Surplus Value declines, forcing it to look once more to means of Absolute Surplus Value extraction such as getting people to start work on their mobile phone or laptop, before they get to work, to intensify the pace of work, to increase multi-tasking, to extend the working life via the increase in the pension age and so on.

The main lesson of the struggle over the working day, as set out by Marx in his debates with Weston is that although there are periods of Long Wave Boom, when the balance of forces may tip in the direction of Labour, enabling it to at least obtain the Value of Labour Power, so long as Labour works for Capital, Capital will have the upper hand, and so these Trades Union, and even reformist parliamentary struggles, will be severely limited in their potential.  Only by workers ceasing working for Capital, and instead making the means of production once more work for them, can that be stopped.  That is why, as Marx pointed out above, the example of the Workers Co-operatives,

"By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labour need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the labouring man himself; and that, like slave labour, like serf labour, hired labour is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart."

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