5) The Capitalistic Nature of Manufacture
Manufacture is premised on the bringing together of a large number of workers under the control of one capitalist. Its only on this basis that the additional productive power of co-operative labour, via the division of labour, can be harnessed. But, having done so, the division of labour then forces each capital to continue to expand.
As Marx described previously, this division of labour establishes fixed proportions in which different groups of workers in the factory must stand in relation to each other in order that production can continue to flow smoothly from one group to another. This means that output can only be expanded by increasing the number of workers in these proportions. But, an increased number of workers also requires an increased amount of tools and equipment for these workers to work with an increased quantity of material to process and so on. As with the glass factory, efficient use of a furnace implies each of its openings is used by a work group, but when this is done, then the output, and increase in workers, can only be achieved by introducing an additional furnace whose efficient use dictates that sufficient workers are employed to utilise all of its openings.
So, a minimum efficient level of capital is established. But, the additional productivity created by the division of labour, and from economies of scale mean that, in fact, the quantity of material processed increases in a greater proportion than the increase in the number of workers, so there is an in built necessity within capitalist production for the element of constant capital to grow compared to the number of workers. This aspect of what Marx means by the expansion of Capital is important for more recent debates in this regard. In fact, because capital is a social relation between capital and wage labour, the real expansion of capital can only be viewed in terms of an expansion of this relation i.e. an expansion of the quantity of abstract labour time employed, because it is only this expansion which is capable of achieving the real aim of capitalist production – the creation of Surplus Value.
“The quantity of it consumed in a given time, by a given amount of labour, increases in the same ratio as does the productive power of that labour in consequence of its division. Hence, it is a law, based on the very nature of manufacture, that the minimum amount of capital, which is bound to be in the hands of each capitalist, must keep increasing; in other words, that the transformation into capital of the social means of production and subsistence must keep extending.” (p 340)
In other words, what Marx means by the extension, expansion or accumulation of capital is not in relation to its price or value, but in relation to its physical amount. In fact, given what Marx has already said in relation to the production of Surplus Value, it could be no other. As he pointed out earlier, whether a capitalist works with a constant capital of £1 million or £10 is irrelevant, because it can only ever, at most, pass on this value to the end product. In either case, it is the size of the Variable Capital which works with either the £1 million or £10, which creates the Surplus Value, and the amount of that Surplus Value is the same in either case, if the variable capital remains constant in size.
Comparing the Constant Capital to the test tubes and containers used in science experiments, with Labour being the equivalent of the actual chemicals being experimented on, Marx wrote in Chapter 9,
“The circumstance, however, that retorts and other vessels, are necessary to a chemical process, does not compel the chemist to notice them in the result of his analysis. If we look at the means of production, in their relation to the creation of value, and to the variation in the quantity of value, apart from anything else, they appear simply as the material in which labour-power, the value-creator, incorporates itself.” (p 207)
If a capitalist produces yarn, for instance, and comes to start production, requiring to lay out £1,000 for cotton and £1,000 for labour-power = £2,000, but then, before they have done so, finds that the price of cotton has risen to £2,000, this does not mean that this capital has expanded! It only means that the capitalist has to provide an additional £1,000 of capital in order that production can proceed. It means diverting capital from elsewhere, or else mobilising potential capital, currently in the form of money hoards etc.
The same is true had they bought the cotton at £1,000 and its value then risen to £2,000. An expansion of capital as Marx defines it, in this regard, can only arise on the basis of the production of surplus value.
Because the workers are employed by, and are a part of capital, the additional creative force of their co-operative labour appears to be a product of capital itself. Capital subordinates labour to it, and within the ranks of labour, creates a hierarchy and gradation of workers that previously did not exist. Not only are workers divided into managers, supervisors, foremen, over lookers and so on, but they are divided into skilled and unskilled and so on each having a different value of labour-power.
Manufacture revolutionises production relations by forcing the workers to increasingly specialise in one specific function. This in itself acts to subordinate workers. In the past, the worker, say a carpenter, sold his labour-power to a capitalist, because he lacked the means of production to be able to produce and sell commodities himself. Now the carpenter was reduced instead to a worker whose skill was restricted to one particular task, which only had meaning as part of a process within the factory, and so he could then only sell his labour-power to fulfil this function to a capitalist who owns such a factory.
“By nature unfitted to make anything independently, the manufacturing labourer develops productive activity as a mere appendage of the capitalist’s workshop. As the chosen people bore in their features the sign manual of Jehovah, so division of labour brands the manufacturing workman as the property of capital.” (p 340-1)
This also brings about a division of labour between mental and manual labour. The handicraft worker brought together their mental faculties along with their manual skill in production. But, the factory worker reduced to one specific, manual function is reduced to an automaton themselves, simply a programmed organic cog in a larger machine, made up of similar cogs. Their subordination and control, in fact, requires that they abandon all individual mental contribution in the form of initiative, or will, or control, because that has become the prerogative and the function of other specialist workers – the supervisors and managers – who plan and control the production process as a whole.
“This separation begins in simple co-operation, where the capitalist represents to the single workman, the oneness and the will of the associated labour. It is developed in manufacture which cuts down the labourer into a detail labourer. It is completed in modern industry, which makes science a productive force distinct from labour and presses it into the service of capital.” (p 341)
This became even more the case with machine industry, where the worker was reduced to becoming merely an adjunct of the machine. Its most recent variant is the development of the cybernetic arm, which the worker attaches to their own arm, and which speeds up the process of picking and selecting from the conveyor.
Marx quotes Adam Ferguson - Adam Ferguson -
“Ignorance is the mother of industry as well as of superstition. Reflection and fancy are subject to err; but a habit of moving the hand or the foot is independent of either. Manufactures, accordingly, prosper most where the mind is least consulted, and where the workshop may ... be considered as an engine, the parts of which are men.” (p 341)
And Adam Smith,
“The understandings of the greater part of men,” says Adam Smith, “are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations ... has no occasion to exert his understanding... He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.” (p 342)
As an antidote, Smith proposed, “education of the people by the State, but prudently, and in homeopathic doses”. (p 342)
Marx is also right to point to the role that this plays in the development of industrial diseases, as well as the crippling of the worker as a human being. We see it readily today in the form of Repetitive Strain Injuries, but also as mental labour has replaced manual labour in the increase of various mental illnesses, related to workplace stress etc.
“Co-operation based on division of labour, in other words, manufacture, commences as a spontaneous formation. So soon as it attains some consistence and extension, it becomes the recognised methodical and systematic form of capitalist production.” (p 343)
The division of labour creates a necessary gradation within the factory and within society. In so doing it creates its own specific organisation of labour in society. It not only raises productive potential via this organisation and the co-operative labour it engenders, but by creating the need for specialised tools, for specialised workers, in turn revolutionises the means of production themselves.
“In its specific capitalist form and under the given conditions, it could take no other form than a capitalistic one manufacture is but a particular method of begetting relative surplus-value, or of augmenting at the expense of the labourer the self-expansion of capital usually called social wealth, “Wealth of Nations,” &c. It increases the social productive power of labour, not only for the benefit of the capitalist instead of for that of the labourer, but it does this by crippling the individual labourers. It creates new conditions for the lordship of capital over labour. If, therefore, on the one hand, it presents itself historically as a progress and as a necessary phase in the economic development of society, on the other hand, it is a refined and civilised method of exploitation.” (p 344)
Within manufacture, as opposed to modern machine industry, although the division of labour creates the gradation of workers, because it continues to be based upon handicraft skills, the majority of workers continue to be skilled rather than unskilled. This is particularly the case in respect of male workers, which, in turn, leads to women and children brought in to undertake unskilled work, creating yet another gradation.
The continuance of the importance of skilled labour under manufacture bestows some power on the male workers to resist the encroachment of capital, and so skilled male workers attempt to defend these positions by demands for the continuation of the 7 year apprenticeship periods and so on. This raises the Value of Labour Power at the same time as more efficient production of commodities reduces it.
“Hence throughout the whole manufacturing period there runs the complaint of want of discipline among the workmen. And had we not the testimony of contemporary writers, the simple facts, that during the period between the 16th century and the epoch of Modern Industry, capital failed to become the master of the whole disposable working-time of the manufacturing labourers, that manufactures are short-lived, and change their locality from one country to another with the emigrating or immigrating workmen, these facts would speak volumes. “Order must in one way or another be established,” exclaims in 1770 the oft-cited author of the “Essay on Trade and Commerce.” “Order,” re-echoes Dr. Andrew Ure 66 years later, “Order” was wanting in manufacture based on “the scholastic dogma of division of labour,” and “Arkwright created order.”” (p 347)
Manufacture, as a productive system came up against its own limits, which caused its demise. But, in the process, it created specialised factories, creating specialised tools for specialised workers.
“One of its most finished creations was the workshop for the production of the instruments of labour themselves, including especially the complicated mechanical apparatus then already employed.
A machine-factory, says Ure, “displayed the division of labour in manifold gradations the file, the drill, the lathe, having each its different workman in the order of skill.” (P. 21.)
This workshop, the product of the division of labour in manufacture, produced in its turn machines. It is they that sweep away the handicraftsman’s work as the regulating principle of social production. Thus, on the one hand, the technical reason for the life-long annexation of the workman to a detail function is removed. On the other hand, the fetters that this same principle laid on the dominion of capital, fall away.” (p 347)
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