Thursday, 25 October 2012

Capital I, Chapter 15 - Part 1

Machinery and Modern Industry

1) The Development of Machinery

The aim of capital in introducing machinery is to reduce the value of commodities, to reduce the portion of the day devoted to reproducing labour-power, and thereby increase surplus value.

Under manufacture, the revolution in the mode of production starts with labour-power via co-operative labour and the division of labour. In modern industry, it starts with the changes wrought in the means of production.

In what way do machines differ from tools such as those used by the handicraft worker? At what point does a tool become a machine?

We are only concerned here with striking and general characteristics; for epochs in the history of society are no more separated from each other by hard and fast lines of demarcation, than are geological epochs.” (p 351)

According to Marx,

All fully developed machinery consists of three essentially different parts, the motor mechanism, the transmitting mechanism, and finally the tool or working machine. The motor mechanism is that which puts the whole in motion. It either generates its own motive power, like the steam-engine, the caloric engine, the electromagnetic machine, &c., or it receives its impulse from some already existing natural force, like the water-wheel from a head of water, the wind-mill from wind, &c. The transmitting mechanism, composed of fly-wheels, shafting, toothed wheels, pullies, straps, ropes, bands, pinions, and gearing of the most varied kinds, regulates the motion, changes its form. where necessary, as for instance, from linear to circular, and divides and distributes it among the working machines. These two first parts of the whole mechanism are there, solely for putting the working machines in motion, by means of which motion the subject of labour is seized upon and modified as desired. The tool or working machine is that part of the machinery with which the industrial revolution of the 18th century started. And to this day it constantly serves as such a starting-point, whenever a handicraft, or a manufacture, is turned into an industry carried on by machinery.” (p 352-3)

In essence the tools used in handicraft become part of the machine even if in changed form. For example, a lathe or milling machine contains a cutting or shaving tool similar to that of a chisel, but it is adapted to the particular motion and operation of the machine. A drilling machine continues to use a drill-bit, a mechanical saw a saw blade and so on.

Originally, these tools continued to be made by handicraft or manufacture, and were then fitted to the machine, which was itself machine made. From around 1850, the making of the tools themselves transferred to machine production, tool-making becoming an industry itself. Even in modern times, the job of toolmaker has been a specific skill within engineeering.

The machine proper is therefore a mechanism that, after being set in motion, performs with its tools the same operations that were formerly done by the workman with similar tools. Whether the motive power is derived from man, or from some other machine, makes no difference in this respect. From the moment that the tool proper is taken from man, and fitted into a mechanism, a machine takes the place of a mere implement. The difference strikes one at once, even in those cases where man himself continues to be the prime mover. The number of implements that he himself can use simultaneously, is limited by the number of his own natural instruments of production, by the number of his bodily organs. In Germany, they tried at first to make one spinner work two spinning-wheels, that is, to work simultaneously with both hands and both feet. This was too difficult. Later, a treddle spinning-wheel with two spindles was invented, but adepts in spinning, who could spin two threads at once, were almost as scarce as two-headed men. The Jenny, on the other hand, even at its very birth, spun with 12-18 spindles, and the stocking-loom knits with many thousand needles at once. The number of tools that a machine can bring into play simultaneously, is from the very first emancipated from the organic limits that hedge in the tools of a handicraftsman.” (p 353-4)

It is generally those tasks that required manual dexterity that continued to be undertaken by workers and their tools, whereas those things which required humans merely to provide motive power were transferred to other sources.

For example, a potter uses his hands to create and shape the ware, but his feet to power the wheel. Similarly, for the spinner and weaver. What first provides the alternative motive power depends on conditions. In England, water wheels are employed to power mills because of ample sources of rapidly flowing water. In the Netherlands, the lack of such leads to the employment of windmills.

The introduction of steam, hydraulic, internal combustion or electric forms of power merely enable capital to operate free of the restrictions that natural sources of power impose. However, the introduction of these other forms of motive power does have another consequence. That is that production must proceed on the basis of a much greater scale than where purely human motive power is provided. Without that machine production is not rational.

Increase in the size of the machine, and in the number of its working tools, calls for a more massive mechanism to drive it; and this mechanism requires, in order to overcome its resistance, a mightier moving power than that of man, apart from the fact that man is a very imperfect instrument for producing uniform continued motion. But assuming that he is acting simply as a motor, that a machine has taken the place of his tool, it is evident that he can be replaced by natural forces. Of all the great motors handed down from the manufacturing period, horse-power is the worst, partly because a horse has a head of his own, partly because he is costly, and the extent to which he is applicable in factories is very restricted. Nevertheless the horse was extensively used during the infancy of modern industry. This is proved, as well by the complaints of contemporary agriculturists, as by the term “horse-power,” which has survived to this day as an expression for mechanical force.” (p 355-6)

And, to this day, motive power is still measured in horse power, though it is far removed from the actual power provided by horses.

Marx refers to the way this process has a dialectical interaction with scientific discovery. For example, attempts to power additional millstones, using water power, foundered, leading to further scientific analysis into the laws of friction. Similar investigation led to the discovery of the fly-wheel.

The development of the steam engine also meant that the motive power and, therefore, location of industry was urban rather than rural.

As soon as tools had been converted from being manual implements of man into implements of a mechanical apparatus, of a machine, the motive mechanism also acquired an independent form, entirely emancipated from the restraints of human strength. Thereupon the individual machine, that we have hitherto been considering, sinks into a mere factor in production by machinery. One motive mechanism was now able to drive many machines at once. The motive mechanism grows with the number of the machines that are turned simultaneously, and the transmitting mechanism becomes a wide-spreading apparatus.” (p 357)

Marx notes that machines do not proceed on the same basis as division of labour. The latter divided a process into a series of functions to be undertaken by different workers serially. However, machines tend to incorporate this series of processes into a single operation. For example, Marx quotes the production of envelopes that had been undertaken by four different workers, but for which, “one single envelope machine now performs all these operations at once, and makes more than 3,000 envelopes in an hour.” (p 358)

What we meet again here then is factories in which a large number of the same kind of machines churn away, day after day, in the same production. The rhythm of these machines, throughout the factory, is now determined by the simple motive power.

Just as a number of tools, then, form the organs of a machine, so a number of machines of one kind constitute the organs of the motive mechanism.” (p 359)

A real machinery system, however, does not take the place of these independent machines, until the subject of labour goes through a connected series of detail processes, that are carried out by a chain of machines of various kinds, the one supplementing the other. Here we have again the co-operation by division of labour that characterises Manufacture; only now, it is a combination of detail machines. The special tools of the various detail workmen, such as those of the beaters, combers, spinners, &c., in the woollen manufacture, are now transformed into the tools of specialised machines, each machine constituting a special organ, with a special function, in the system. In those branches of industry in which the machinery system is first introduced, Manufacture itself furnishes, in a general way, the natural basis for the division, and consequent organisation, of the process of production.” (p 358-9)

Under manufacture, the process of production is geared to conform with what is possible for the artisans. With machine production, the machine is designed on the basis of resolving how to most efficiently perform each detail of the production process. This also requires the rise of science and experimentation as well as the application of accumulated knowledge, on a large scale.

In manufacture the co-operation of the detail workers establishes the proportion of each to be employed to ensure material flows from one process to another. The same applies with machine production as each set of machines acts to supply the next in the process so that the outputs of the process are continuously and simultaneously the inputs of the next.

In the same way that the co-operative labour turned the workers into a single collective worker, so the detail machines operate as part of one single, collective machine.
The collective machine, now an organised system of various kinds of single machines, and of groups of single machines, becomes more and more perfect, the more the process as a whole becomes a continuous one, i.e., the less the raw material is interrupted in its passage from its first phase to its last; in other words, the more its passage from one phase to another is effected, not by the hand of man, but by the machinery itself. In Manufacture the isolation of each detail process is a condition imposed by the nature of division of labour, but in the fully developed factory the continuity of those processes is, on the contrary, imperative.” (p 359-60)

Machines frequently required human involvement, but increasingly, that too was removed as new inventions fully automated the machines, and thereby opened the potential for their continual improvement. This reduced the worker to the function of mere machine minder for when it broke.

The increasing number of inventions could only take off because there existed skilled workers, from the manufacturing period, to bring these inventions to practical reality. This leads to the development of machine making as a separate industry in its own right.

Here, then, we see in Manufacture the immediate technical foundation of modern industry. Manufacture produced the machinery, by means of which modern industry abolished the handicraft and manufacturing systems in those spheres of production that it first seized upon. The factory system was therefore raised, in the natural course of things, on an inadequate foundation. When the system attained to a certain degree of development, it had to root up this ready-made foundation, which in the meantime had been elaborated on the old lines, and to build up for itself a basis that should correspond to its methods of production. Just as the individual machine retains a dwarfish character, so long as it is worked by the power of man alone, and just as no system of machinery could be properly developed before the steam-engine took the place of the earlier motive powers, animals, wind, and even water; so, too, modern industry was crippled in its complete development, so long as its characteristic instrument of production, the machine, owed its existence to personal strength and personal skill, and depended on the muscular development, the keenness of sight, and the cunning of hand, with which the detail workmen in manufactures, and the manual labourers in handicrafts, wielded their dwarfish implements.” (p 361)

The growth of machine industry, especially into new areas was limited both by the constraints of expanding the number of skilled workers, capable of building machines, and by the limited nature of manufacture as a mode of production.

The increasing size of the prime movers, of the transmitting mechanism, and of the machines proper, the greater complication, multiformity and regularity of the details of these machines, as they more and more departed from the model of those originally made by manual labour, and acquired a form, untrammelled except by the conditions under which they worked, the perfecting of the automatic system, and the use, every day more unavoidable, of a more refractory material, such as iron instead of wood-the solution of all these problems, which sprang up by the force of circumstances, everywhere met with a stumbling-block in the personal restrictions, which even the collective labourer of Manufacture could not break through, except to a limited extent. Such machines as the modern hydraulic press, the modern power-loom, and the modern carding engine, could never have been furnished by Manufacture.” (p 362)

Necessarily, the introduction of machines, in one sphere, brings their introduction elsewhere. A huge increase in demand from weaving raises prices for spun cotton and wool, promoting the need for more mechanised spinning. Similarly, the revolution of dyeing and bleaching, combing etc. promotes mechanisation.

In like manner, these developments made necessary a revolution in communication and transport.

Hence, apart from the radical changes introduced in the construction of sailing vessels, the means of communication and transport became gradually adapted to the modes of production of mechanical industry, by the creation of a system of river steamers, railways, ocean steamers, and telegraphs. But the huge masses of iron that had now to be forged, to be welded, to be cut, to be bored, and to be shaped, demanded, on their part, cyclopean machines, for the construction of which the methods of the manufacturing period were utterly inadequate.

Modern industry had therefore itself to take in hand the machine, its characteristic instrument of production, and to construct machines by machines. It was not till it did this, that it built up for itself a fitting technical foundation, and stood on its own feet. Machinery, simultaneously with the increasing use of it, in the first decades of this century, appropriated, by degrees, the fabrication of machines proper. But it was only during the decade preceding 1866, that the construction of railways and ocean steamers on a stupendous scale called into existence the cyclopean machines now employed in the construction of prime movers.” (p 363)

Having solved the problem of controllable power via the steam engine, this still required the need to replace the skill of the artisan in order to produce accuracy and precision, for straight lines and angles. That was first resolved by Henry Maudslay with the slide rest, originally designed for the lathe.

This mechanical appliance replaces, not some particular tool, but the hand itself, which produces a given form by holding and guiding the cutting tool along the iron or other material operated upon. Thus it became possible to produce the forms of the individual parts of machinery

'with a degree of ease, accuracy, and speed, that no accumulated experience of the hand of the most skilled workman could give.'” (p 364)

In simple co-operation, and even in that founded on division of labour, the suppression of the isolated, by the collective, workman still appears to be more or less accidental. Machinery, with a few exceptions to be mentioned later, operates only by means of associated labour, or labour in common. Hence the co-operative character of the labour-process is, in the latter case, a technical necessity dictated by the instrument of labour itself.” (p 364-5)

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