Thursday, 18 October 2012

Capital I, Chapter 14 - Part 4

4) Division of Labour in Manufacture and Division of Labour in Society

The social division of labour is the foundation of all commodity production.

If we keep labour alone in view, we may designate the separation of social production into its main divisions or genera — viz., agriculture, industries, &c., as division of labour in general, and the splitting up of these families into species and sub-species, as division of labour in particular, and the division of labour within the workshop as division of labour in singular or in detail.” (p 331-2)

The division of labour arises in primitive societies because within the tribe or clan, and later, when the family arises within the tribe, within the family too, different individuals have different abilities based on physiological differences. But, similarly, different communities, in different environments, develop different means of production and subsistence so that when these tribes and clans meet, they have different products, which they can exchange.

Exchange does not create the differences between the spheres of production, but brings what are already different into relation, and thus converts them into more or less inter-dependent branches of the collective production of an enlarged society. In the latter case, the social division of labour arises from the exchange between spheres of production, that are originally distinct and independent of one another. In the former, where the physiological division of labour is the starting-point, the particular organs of a compact whole grow loose, and break off, principally owing to the exchange of commodities with foreign communities, and then isolate themselves so far, that the sole bond, still connecting the various kinds of work, is the exchange of the products as commodities. In the one case, it is the making dependent what was before independent; in the other case, the making independent what was before dependent.” (p 332-3)

The basis of a developed social division of labour is the separation of town and country. The social division of labour can only proceed on the basis of a certain minimum level and density of population. There must be enough people to provide a market for specific goods that makes it worthwhile developing production of them as a separate activity.

Just as a certain number of simultaneously employed labourers are the material pre-requisites for division of labour in manufacture, so are the number and density of the population, which here correspond to the agglomeration in one workshop, a necessary condition for the division of labour in society. Nevertheless, this density is more or less relative. A relatively thinly populated country, with well-developed means of communication, has a denser population than a more numerously populated country, with badly-developed means of communication; and in this sense the Northern States of the American Union, for instance, are more thickly populated than India.” (p 333)

A dialectical interaction exists between the division of labour in manufacture and in society.

Since the production and the circulation of commodities are the general pre-requisites of the capitalist mode of production, division of labour in manufacture demands, that division of labour in society at large should previously have attained a certain degree of development. Inversely, the former division reacts upon and develops and multiplies the latter. Simultaneously, with the differentiation of the instruments of labour, the industries that produce these instruments, become more and more differentiated. If the manufacturing system seize upon an industry, which, previously, was carried on in connexion with others, either as a chief or as a subordinate industry, and by one producer, these industries immediately separate their connexion, and become independent. If it seize upon a particular stage in the production of a commodity, the other stages of its production become converted into so many independent industries.2 (p 333-4)

Where manufacture consists of a number of separate parts that are assembled, this can lead to the production of the parts themselves by other outside producers, including handicraft producers. Something similar to this was identified in the 1980's and 90's by theorists of flexible specialisation, in regard to “The Third Italy”. But, from the 1980's onwards, there was a move by many large companies to focus on their core activity, and to delegate production, and provision of services, for non-core activities to external suppliers.

The social division of labour and the division of labour in manufacturing appear to be the same, but they are not. Under the former, a cattle breeder might provide hides, that the tanner turns into leather, that the cobbler turns into shoes. Each provides the next with the material required for their own production. But, each is produced and sold as a commodity. Within manufacture, the output of each worker is not immediately a commodity. It is merely a component, or the completion of a stage in a process in the production of a commodity.

The division of labour in the workshop implies concentration of the means of production in the hands of one capitalist; the division of labour in society implies their dispersion among many independent producers of commodities. While within the workshop, the iron law of proportionality subjects definite numbers of workmen to definite functions, in the society outside the workshop, chance and caprice have full play in distributing the producers and their means of production among the various branches of industry. The different spheres of production, it is true, constantly tend to an equilibrium: for, on the one hand, while each producer of a commodity is bound to produce a use-value, to satisfy a particular social want, and while the extent of these wants differs quantitatively, still there exists an inner relation which settles their proportions into a regular system, and that system one of spontaneous growth; and, on the other hand, the law of the value of commodities ultimately determines how much of its disposable working-time society can expend on each particular class of commodities.” (p 336)

But, it is precisely within this difference that the real nature and contradictions of Capitalism as a system are exposed. Within the factory, within the process of manufacture, everything proceeds in an orderly fashion, based on a preconceived plan, which is itself based on a scientific understanding of the necessary proportions in which each component is to be produced and so on. Within capitalism as a whole, no such rationality exists.

But this constant tendency to equilibrium, of the various spheres of production, is exercised, only in the shape of a reaction against the constant upsetting of this equilibrium. The a priori system on which the division of labour, within the workshop, is regularly carried out, becomes in the division of labour within the society, an a posteriori, nature-imposed necessity, controlling the lawless caprice of the producers, and perceptible in the barometrical fluctuations of the market-prices. Division of labour within the workshop implies the undisputed authority of the capitalist over men, that are but parts of a mechanism that belongs to him. The division of labour within the society brings into contact independent commodity-producers, who acknowledge no other authority but that of competition, of the coercion exerted by the pressure of their mutual interests; just as in the animal kingdom, the bellum omnium contra omnes [war of all against all – Hobbes] more or less preserves the conditions of existence of every species. The same bourgeois mind which praises division of labour in the workshop, life-long annexation of the labourer to a partial operation, and his complete subjection to capital, as being an organisation of labour that increases its productiveness that same bourgeois mind denounces with equal vigour every conscious attempt to socially control and regulate the process of production, as an inroad upon such sacred things as the rights of property, freedom and unrestricted play for the bent of the individual capitalist. It is very characteristic that the enthusiastic apologists of the factory system have nothing more damning to urge against a general organisation of the labour of society, than that it would turn all society into one immense factory.” (p 336-7)

The social division of labour can be witnessed in all kinds of society. Under the Asiatic Mode of Production, it assumes fixed legal forms. The Guilds too ensured their own monopolies by preventing capital from employing labour and was consistent with handicraft production.

While division of labour in society at large, whether such division be brought about or not by exchange of commodities, is common to economic formations of society the most diverse, division of labour in the workshop, as practised by manufacture, is a special creation of the capitalist mode of production alone.” (p 339)

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