Monday, 1 October 2012

Capital I, Chapter 13 - Part 1


A greater number of labourers working together, at the same time, in one place (or, if you will, in the same field of labour), in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the mastership of one capitalist, constitutes, both historically and logically, the starting-point of capitalist production.” (p 305)

At first, capitalist production varies only quantitatively from handicraft production. A number of workers are employed by a single capitalist, first through the putting-out system, whereby material is provided to workers to work up in their cottages, and then by bringing them together in factories. The mass of surplus value increases because it is extracted from a greater number of workers. But, the labour-power of workers is not homogeneous. Taken as a whole, an average can be calculated, but this implies that some workers will be more productive than the average, and others less.

If a group of workers is taken as the basis, these differences are averaged out, so that any one group will be much the same as another. Marx quotes Edmund Burke on this point.

"“Unquestionably, there is a good deal of difference between the value of one man’s labour and that of another from strength, dexterity, and honest application. But I am quite sure, from my best observation, that any given five men will, in their total, afford a proportion of labour equal to any other five within the periods of life I have stated; that is, that among such five men there will be one possessing all the qualifications of a good workman, one bad, and the other three middling, and approximating to the first, and the last. So that in so small a platoon as that of even five, you will find the full complement of all that five men can earn.” (E. Burke, 1. c., pp. 15, 16.)” (Note 1, p 306)

If say 12 workers are employed by a single capitalist, then by definition, taken as a whole, they produce at the average level, because the average is their total output divided by 12. The differences between them are cancelled out. But, if the same 12 were employed by 6 capitalists, employing 2 workers each, it would be surprising were that to be the case. One capitalist might employ the 2 most productive workers, and another the 2 least productive workers.

The total product of these 12 workers would still have its value determined by the average of the socially necessary labour-time required for its production (i.e. the time taken by all 12, divided by 12), but the individual value of the production of capitalist 1, would be below this level, and that of Capitalist 2 above it.

If one workman required considerably more time for the production of a commodity than is socially necessary, the duration of the necessary labour-time would, in his case, sensibly deviate from the labour-time socially necessary on an average; and consequently his labour would not count as average labour, nor his labour-power as average labour-power. It would either be not saleable at all, or only at something below the average value of labour-power. A fixed minimum of efficiency in all labour is therefore assumed, and we shall see, later on, that capitalist production provides the means of fixing this minimum. Nevertheless, this minimum deviates from the average, although on the other hand the capitalist has to pay the average value of labour-power. Of the six small masters, one would therefore squeeze out more than the average rate of surplus-value, another less. The inequalities would be compensated for the society at large, but not for the individual masters. Thus the laws of the production of value are only fully realised for the individual producer, when he produces as a capitalist, and employs a number of workmen together, whose labour, by its collective nature, is at once stamped as average social labour.” (p 306-7)

Capitalist production brings other changes as a consequence of bringing larger numbers of workers together. Buildings, stores, and tools are now shared for the total production, and therefore, used more efficiently, what orthodox economics calls “Economies of Scale”.

A room where twenty weavers work at twenty looms must be larger than the room of a single weaver with two assistants. But it costs less labour to build one workshop for twenty persons than to build ten to accommodate two weavers each; thus the value of the means of production that are concentrated for use in common on a large scale does not increase in direct proportion to the expansion and to the increased useful effect of those means. When consumed in common, they give up a smaller part of their value to each single product; partly because the total value they part with is spread over a greater quantity of products, and partly because their value, though absolutely greater, is, having regard to their sphere of action in the process, relatively less than the value of isolated means of production.” (p 306-7)

So, the value of Constant Capital in the product falls, and the value of the product itself falls. This is before any further advantages arising from large numbers of workers assisting in each others production. It provides capitalist production with a huge advantage over handicraft production, spelling the end of the latter.

There are many tasks which can only be done if a large number of workers combine their efforts. For example, lifting some heavy or large object. Moreover, it is apparent that, in co-operating, to achieve this task the combined power of all these workers is greater than the sum of their individual efforts. This fact has meant that co-operative labour has been a feature of human activity from the beginning of Man's history. I have described some examples of this elsewhere – The Economics Of Co-operation.

In orthodox economics, this feature is known as Increasing Returns To Scale.

In such cases the effect of the combined labour could either not be produced at all by isolated individual labour, or it could only be produced by a great expenditure of time, or on a very dwarfed scale. Not only have we here an increase in the productive power of the individual, by means of co-operation, but the creation of a new power, namely, the collective power of masses.” (p 308-9)

Hence it is that a dozen persons working together will, in their collective working-day of 144 hours, produce far more than twelve isolated men each working 12 hours, or than one man who works twelve days in succession. The reason of this is that man is, if not as Aristotle contends, a political, at all events a social animal.” (p 309)

The natural extension of this principle of co-operative labour is the division of labour, so that one overall task is divided into a series of subordinate tasks, which different workers or groups of workers perform.

For instance, if a dozen masons place themselves in a row, so as to pass stones from the foot of a ladder to its summit, each of them does the same thing; nevertheless, their separate acts form connected parts of one total operation; they are particular phases, which must be gone through by each stone; and the stones are thus carried up quicker by the 24 hands of the row of men than they could be if each man went separately up and down the ladder with his burden.” (p 309)

Here, each worker performs the same task in sequence, thereby reducing the time required, which means reducing the value of the end product. But, the division of the task could also mean its division into different tasks.

It is owing to the absence of this kind of co-operation that, in the western part of the United States, quantities of corn, and in those parts of East India where English rule has destroyed the old communities, quantities of cotton, are yearly wasted.” (p 310-11)

The irony is that in the USSR, which was supposed to be a highly planned economy, where, therefore, such co-operation should have been highly developed, such wastage was massive. In agriculture, huge quantities rotted for lack of adequate storage, or transport to take it to market at the right time. In fact, the market proved far better at organising such co-operation than did attempts at detailed planning.

On the one hand, co-operation allows of the work being carried on over an extended space; it is consequently imperatively called for in certain undertakings, such as draining, constructing dykes, irrigation works, and the making of canals, roads and railways. On the other hand, while extending the scale of production, it renders possible a relative contraction of the arena. This contraction of arena simultaneous with, and arising from, extension of scale, whereby a number of useless expenses are cut down, is owing to the conglomeration of labourers, to the aggregation of various processes, and to the concentration of the means of production.” (p 311)

This is one reason why, early on, when small capitals are inadequate to take on the scale of such undertakings effectively, it is the State which does so. It is one reason, as Marx and Engels described, for the development of the bureaucratic-collectivist state of the Asiatic Mode Of Production, which arises to undertake huge hydraulic and irrigation works. Similarly, the State took responsibility at the outset of the Industrial Revolution for road building. It has done so for the Space Industry, for Nuclear Power etc.

Whether the combined working-day, in a given case, acquires this increased productive power, because it heightens the mechanical force of labour, or extends its sphere of action over a greater space, or contracts the field of production relatively to the scale of production, or at the critical moment sets large masses of labour to work, or excites emulation between individuals and raises their animal spirits, or impresses on the similar operations carried on by a number of men the stamp of continuity and many-sidedness, or performs simultaneously different operations, or economises the means of production by use in common, or lends to individual labour the character of average social labour whichever of these be the cause of the increase, the special productive power of the combined working-day is, under all circumstances, the social productive power of labour, or the productive power of social labour. This power is due to co-operation itself. When the labourer co-operates systematically with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species.” (p 311-12)

No comments: