Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Capital I, Chapter 15 - Part 2

2) The Value Transferred By Machinery To The Product

In the same way that Capital can, without cost, appropriate the additional power of Labour that arises from co-operation and division of labour, so capital appropriates natural forces. However, these natural forces still require the expenditure of human labour before they can be harnessed. The power of flowing water requires a water wheel before it can be harnessed; steam a steam engine; petrol an internal combustion engine and so on.

By harnessing all of these productive forces the productive potential of labour is raised massively, but it requires an increased expenditure of labour to bring it about.

The machine creates no new value, but, like all constant capital transfers a portion of its own value to the product. Machines clearly have much more value than the tools which were used under manufacture. The machine, like a tool, has to be present in its complete form in the production process, but, like the tool, only gives up a portion of its value in wear and tear to the product. The difference between the portion given up, and the total value is much greater for the machine than the tool, because machines are made more durable and so have have longer lives. In addition, the machine is constructed so that its use is regulated according to scientific principles, so the wear and tear is more even and regulated. Finally, the amount of production, undertaken by a machine is vastly greater than that of a tool.

But, having allowed for the value of the machine, transferred to the product, by wear and tear, and the value of ancillary materials required for it to run, capital acquires all of the productive power of the machine derived from its harnessing of science and natural forces for free, just as it does the power of co-operative labour.

The greater the productive power of the machinery compared with that of the tool, the greater is the extent of its gratuitous service compared with that of the tool. In modern industry man succeeded for the first time in making the product of his past labour work on a large scale gratuitously, like the forces of Nature.” (p 366)

The amount of value added to the individual product depends upon the quantity of that product.

Mr. Baynes, of Blackburn, in a lecture published in 1858, estimates that

each real mechanical horse-power will drive 450 self-acting mule spindles, with preparation, or 200 throstle spindles, or 15 looms for 40 inch cloth with the appliances for warping, sizing, &c.”

In the first case, it is the day’s produce of 450 mule spindles, in the second, of 200 throstle spindles, in the third, of 15 power-looms, over which the daily cost of one horse-power, and the wear and tear of the machinery set in motion by that power, are spread; so that only a very minute value is transferred by such wear and tear to a pound of yarn or a yard of cloth. The same is the case with the steam-hammer mentioned above. Since its daily wear and tear, its coal-consumption, &c., are spread over the stupendous masses of iron hammered by it in a day, only a small value is added to a hundred weight of iron; but that value would be very great, if the cyclopean instrument were employed in driving in nails. (p 367)

The amount of product depends on the speed of the machines. Finally,

Given the rate at which machinery transfers its value to the product, the amount of value so transferred depends on the total value of the machinery. The less labour it contains, the less value it imparts to the product. The less value it gives up, so much the more productive it is, and so much the more its services approximate to those of natural forces. But the production of machinery by machinery lessens its value relatively to its extension and efficacy. (p 368)

Marx continues,

An analysis and comparison of the prices of commodities produced by handicrafts or manufactures, and of the prices of the same commodities produced by machinery, shows generally, that, in the product of machinery, the value due to the instruments of labour increases relatively, but decreases absolutely. In other words, its absolute amount decreases, but its amount, relatively to the total value of the product, of a pound of yarn, for instance, increases. (p 368)

I might misunderstand him here, but this seems to me the wrong way around. Because machinery is much more expensive, the amount spent on instruments of labour will rise absolutely, but precisely because the machinery increases output so greatly, the relative cost of those instruments must surely fall as a proportion of the value of each commodity, because that higher cost is spread across a much larger number of items.

He also notes,

This portion of value which is added by the machinery, decreases both absolutely and relatively, when the machinery does away with horses and other animals that are employed as mere moving forces, and not as machines for changing the form of matter.” (Note 2, p 368)

The efficiency of a machine is measured by the human labour-power it replaces.

Before Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, the separation of the seed from a pound of cotton cost an average day’s labour. By means of his invention one negress was enabled to clean 100 lbs. daily; and since then, the efficacy of the gin has been considerably increased. A pound of cotton wool, previously costing 50 cents to produce, included after that invention more unpaid labour, and was consequently sold with greater profit, at 10 cents.” (p 369)

Marx emphasises that this saving of labour-power is not the same as the saving in wages. That is because wages only represent that part of the day for which capital pays. Suppose 1 hour of labour-time = £1. A machine costing £3,000, therefore, costs 3000 hours of labour-time. Suppose the machine does the same work as 150 workers, paid £20 each = £3000. However, if these 150 workers produce Surplus Value at a rate of 100%, then the total value they create is £6000 = 6000 hours. So, the machine, which costs 3000 hours to produce, does the work of 6000 hours of human labour-time.


The use of machinery for the exclusive purpose of cheapening the product, is limited in this way, that less labour must be expended in producing the machinery than is displaced by the employment of that machinery, For the capitalist, however, this use is still more limited. Instead of paying for the labour, he only pays the value of the labour-power employed; therefore, the limit to his using a machine is fixed by the difference between the value of the machine and the value of the labour-power replaced by it.” (p 370)

This demonstrates why, for example, the workers at Ralahine had an incentive to introduce a reaping machine, whilst capitalists were still thinking about it. When workers themselves own the means of production, all labour-time expended in production is their own. Any saving in that time is an immediate gain for them. For the capitalist, however, it is only a saving in the paid for labour-time that counts. That is why worker co-ops always have an incentive to introduce machinery ahead of capitalist enterprises. The more labour is exploited by capital, i.e. the higher the rate of surplus value, the more that is the case.

Since the division of the day’s work into necessary and surplus-labour differs in different countries, and even in the same country at different periods, or in different branches of industry; and further, since the actual wage of the labourer at one time sinks below the value of his labour-power, at another rises above it, it is possible for the difference between the price of the machinery and the price of the labour-power replaced by that machinery to vary very much, although the difference between the quantity of labour requisite to produce the machine and the total quantity replaced by it, remain constant.” (pp 370-1)

Ironically, the introduction of machinery in some branches of industry can create such a level of unemployment in others that wages are forced so low, beneath the value of labour-power that it makes it uneconomic to introduce machinery into them.

Generally, capital introduces machines to replace labour where wages have risen. An example would be the introduction of new technology in the print industry in the 1980's, or today the introduction of driverless trains on the London Underground.

Marx writes,

Hence in a communistic society there would be a very different scope for the employment of machinery than there can be in a bourgeois society.” (Note 1, p 371)

Marx gives various examples of how the Factory Acts raised the cost of employing women and children, and thereby led to them being replaced by machines.

In England women are still occasionally used instead of horses for hauling canal boats, because the labour required to produce horses and machines is an accurately known quantity, while that required to maintain the women of the surplus-population is below all calculation. Hence nowhere do we find a more shameful squandering of human labour-power for the most despicable purposes than in England, the land of machinery.” (p 372)

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