Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Capital I, Chapter 14 - Part 3

3) The Two Fundamental Forms Of Manufacture: Heterogeneous Manufacture, Serial Manufacture

William Petty

Manufacture can be divided into two forms, though they are sometimes combined. Firstly, there is the kind of manufacture where a number of individual components are assembled. Marx gives the example provided by William Petty of watch making. A whole series of components are made by separate detailed workers, and then assembled by another set of specialised workers. The individual components can be produced as separate products, in separate factories or even industries, or may be produced in parallel by groups of workers all working in one factory.

The second type of manufacture is where a series of processes are undertaken to bring about a transformation that creates the final product. An example would be wire being transformed into needles, but various chemical processes, such as brewing, are of this type too. By bringing together all of the scattered trades required for such production, such manufacture shortens the time required for moving from one stage to another. On the one hand, the division of labour requires the various tasks involved in each stage to be separated, and kept independent, on the other the need to exploit the additional productivity from co-operative labour, requires that the work pass incessantly from one worker to the next in each stage of the process.

Looking at some particular raw material its progress can be viewed as occurring through a series of stages. However, standing back and looking at the production process as a whole, the situation appears differently. From this viewpoint, the same raw material is being used simultaneously at all stages of production. What is an output of one stage of the process, appears simultaneously as an input of the next stage and so on.

On the other hand, if we look at the workshop as a whole, we see the raw material in all the stages of its production at the same time. The collective labourer, with one set of his many hands armed with one kind of tools, draws the wire, with another set, armed with different tools, he, at the same time, straightens it, with another, he cuts it, with another, points it, and so on. The different detail processes, which were successive in time, have become simultaneous, go on side by side in space. Hence, production of a greater quantum of finished commodities in a given time. This simultaneity, it is true, is due to the general co-operative form of the process as a whole; but Manufacture not only finds the conditions for co-operation ready to hand, it also, to some extent, creates them by the sub-division of handicraft labour. On the other hand, it accomplishes this social organisation of the labour-process only by riveting each labourer to a single fractional detail.” (p 326)

This is another example of where the Temporal Single System Interpretation (TSSI) is wrong, because it denies the possibility of the simultaneity described here by Marx.  Working with a syllogistic rather than dialectical logic, it can only see in these production processes, discrete tasks being undertaken in discrete periods of time, rather than production as a continual flow as described by Marx.  Remember that for Marx, as he described in the first Chapters, every individual commodity is merely a representative of its class, and so he is not bound by the fetishism of trying to identify the price or value of any particular individual commodity within the production process.  Remember too that for Marx, raw material means any material that has been the subject of past human labour, so when he speaks of raw material here, he means the cloth that makes the clothes, as much as he means the cotton that makes the cloth.  Moreover, as Marx does repeatedly throughout Capital, he provides an analysis here at the level of "Many Capitals", in other words he is looking at how this process works at the level of particular firms or industries, but that can also be scaled up to the level of "Capital In General", that is the way in which Capital operates at an economy wide level.  At that level, the same kinds of interaction, with one industry providing the raw material for another, and so on, the same kind of analysis, of the "collective worker" performing all of these functions with his/her many hands, applies equally as his description here.

The workers in this process are made increasingly dependent on each other.

The result of the labour of the one is the starting-point for the labour of the other. The one workman therefore gives occupation directly to the other.” (p 326)

Experience dictates how much labour-time is required for each stage so that sufficient supply can be built up to ensure that material is passed to the next stage without any interruption or delay. This has been raised to new heights with today's production systems based around “Just In Time”.

This dependence produces other results.

It is clear that this direct dependence of the operations, and therefore of the labourers, on each other, compels each one of them to spend on his work no more than the necessary time, and thus a continuity, uniformity, regularity, order, and even intensity of labour, of quite a different kind, is begotten than is to be found in an independent handicraft or even in simple co-operation. The rule, that the labour-time expended on a commodity should not exceed that which is socially necessary for its production, appears, in the production of commodities generally, to be established by the mere effect of competition; since, to express ourselves superficially, each single producer is obliged to sell his commodity at its market-price. In Manufacture, on the contrary, the turning out of a given quantum of product in a given time is a technical law of the process of production itself.” (p 326-7)

Because of the point made earlier that a sufficient supply of components is required to ensure a constant flow and because each stage requires different amounts of labour-time, more workers have to be employed on certain stages of the process than others. This establishes given proportions of the numbers of workers and equipment required for the greatest efficiency. Marx quotes Charles Babbage,

““When (from the peculiar nature of the produce of each manufactory), the number of processes into which it is most advantageous to divide it is ascertained, as well as the number of individuals to be employed, then all other manufactories which do not employ a direct multiple of this number will produce the article at a greater cost.... Hence arises one of the causes of the great size of manufacturing establishments.” (C. Babbage. “On the Economy of Machinery,” 1st ed. London. 1832. Ch. xxi, pp. 172-73.)” (Note 2, p 327)

As these proportions are scaled up there are other economies of scale to be achieved. For example, in supervision or the transport of components from one stage to another. In fact, only at a certain scale of production does it become economic to make these functions the task in turn of specific workers.

Some processes, for example glass making, require workers each having different functions to work as a team simultaneously on the same task. The driver and fireman on a steam locomotive operate in a similar manner. None can achieve the end result without the other, and so each is like a part of a single organism. But, similarly, such processes can be scaled up. The glass furnace, for example, has six openings, each having its own work group, whilst the factory itself can have several furnaces.

Different types of such manufacture can expand so that different types of manufacture are combined. For example, because glass manufacture required earthenware pots, to contain the molten glass, the manufacturers expanded into ceramics manufacture, to ensure quality. Various glass products, like mirrors, had brass fittings, so glass makers expanded into brass founding. These only develop into separate types of production with the introduction of machine industry.

The development of manufacture on an increasing scale, and the recognition, early on, of the need to economise on the labour-time required for production, leads to the sporadic introduction of machinery. Marx points out that the Roman Empire had provided the “elementary form of all machinery in the water-wheel.” (p 329)

In the handicraft period, prior to manufacture, it is the division of labour, rather than machinery, which plays the most significant role.

The sporadic use of machinery in the 17th century was of the greatest importance, because it supplied the great mathematicians of that time with a practical basis and stimulant to the creation of the science of mechanics.” (p 329)

Under manufacturing, it is the collective labourer, which acts like a machine.

The collective labourer, formed by the combination of a number of detail labourers, is the machinery specially characteristic of the manufacturing period. The various operations that are performed in turns by the producer of a commodity, and coalesce one with another during the progress of production, lay claim to him in various ways. In one operation he must exert more strength, in another more skill, in another more attention; and the same individual does not possess all these qualities in an equal degree. After Manufacture has once separated, made independent, and isolated the various operations, the labourers are divided, classified, and grouped according to their predominating qualities. If their natural endowments are, on the one hand, the foundation on which the division of labour is built up, on the other hand, Manufacture, once introduced, develops in them new powers that are by nature fitted only for limited and special functions. The collective labourer now possesses, in an equal degree of excellence, all the qualities requisite for production, and expends them in the most economical manner, by exclusively employing all his organs, consisting of particular labourers, or groups of labourers, in performing their special functions. The one-sidedness and the deficiencies of the detail labourer become perfections when he is a part of the collective labourer. The habit of doing only one thing converts him into a never failing instrument, while his connexion with the whole mechanism compels him to work with the regularity of the parts of a machine.” (p 330)


Since the collective labourer has functions, both simple and complex, both high and low, his members, the individual labour-powers, require different degrees of training, and must therefore have different values. Manufacture, therefore, develops a hierarchy of labour-powers, to which there corresponds a scale of wages.” (p 330)

Manufacturing then creates a class of unskilled workers whose function is separated off from all those specific functions that require a degree of skill or specialisation. Such a group did not exist under handicraft production.

If it develops a one-sided speciality into a perfection, at the expense of the whole of a man’s working capacity, it also begins to make a speciality of the absence of all development. Alongside of the hierarchic gradation there steps the simple separation of the labourers into skilled and unskilled. For the latter, the cost of apprenticeship vanishes; for the former, it diminishes, compared with that of artificers, in consequence of the functions being simplified. In both cases the value of labour-power falls. An exception to this law holds good whenever the decomposition of the labour-process begets new and comprehensive functions, that either had no place at all, or only a very modest one, in handicrafts. The fall in the value of labour-power, caused by the disappearance or diminution of the expenses of apprenticeship, implies a direct increase of surplus-value for the benefit of capital; for everything that shortens the necessary labour-time required for the reproduction of labour-power, extends the domain of surplus-labour. “ (p 331)

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