Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Capital I, Chapter 15 - Part 4

b) Prolongation Of The Working Day

At the same time that machinery provides a powerful means of reducing the labour-time required for producing commodities, it also produces for Capital, an incentive to lengthen the working day, and the increased power over labour to bring it about. Machinery sets up an incessant rhythm of production that the human body cannot match. The latter always acts as a limit on the productiveness of machinery, and thereby encourages capital to push human labour up to and beyond those bounds. Compared to previous forms of production, reliant on manual labour, as a motive force, machine industry is much lighter, and opens the way for the employment of women and children, who are more easily dominated by capital.

The productiveness of machinery is inversely proportional to the value transferred by it to the product. In other words, a highly productive machine will produce a lot of products. The value it transfers, in a given time, will be spread over this larger number, and therefore, less in each item. For example, a machine which transfers £1,000 a year, and which produces 10,000 items, will transfer 10p to each item. A machine transferring the same £1,000, in that time, but producing 20,000 items, will transfer only 5p to each item.

The life of a machine is dependent on how extensively it is employed. A machine, run at the same rate, will wear out twice as quickly if it is run 20 hours a day rather than 10 hours a day. However, this is not strictly proportional, and capital has an incentive to work the machine for as long as possible in a day as possible. A machine worked 20 hours a day, for 5 years, transfers as much value to the product as the same machine worked 10 hours a day for 10 years. As was seen in previous chapters, as well as wear and tear of machines, they lose value due to depreciation, which, unlike the former, is not recovered in the value of the product. Because depreciation is a function of time, the capitalist has an incentive to minimise it by recovering the value of the machine in the shortest time possible.

The material wear and tear of a machine is of two kinds. The one arises from use, as coins wear away by circulating, the other from non-use, as a sword rusts when left in its scabbard. The latter kind is due to the elements. The former is more or less directly proportional, the latter to a certain extent inversely proportional, to the use of the machine.

But in addition to the material wear and tear, a machine also undergoes, what we may call a moral depreciation. It loses exchange-value, either by machines of the same sort being produced cheaper than it, or by better machines entering into competition with it. In both cases, be the machine ever so young and full of life, its value is no longer determined by the labour actually materialised in it, but by the labour-time requisite to reproduce either it or the better machine. It has, therefore, lost value more or less. The shorter the period taken to reproduce its total value, the less is the danger of moral depreciation; and the longer the working-day, the shorter is that period.” (p 381)

This is all the more the case when machinery is first introduced into an industry, because it is at this point that the most rapid and dramatic developments occur. Marx quotes Charles Babbage,

““It has been estimated, roughly, that the first individual of a newly-invented machine will cost about five times as much as the construction of the second.” (Babbage, l.c., p. 349.)” (Note 3, p 381)

The developments were dramatic. Marx quotes Babbage again.

““The improvements which took place not long ago in frames for making patent net were so great that a machine in good repair which had cost £1,200, sold a few years after for £60 ... improvements succeeded each other so rapidly, that machines which had never been finished were abandoned in the hands of their makers, because new improvements bad superseded their utility.” (Babbage, l.c., p. 233.) In these stormy, go-ahead times, therefore, the tulle manufacturers soon extended the working-day, by means of double sets of hands, from the original 8 hours to 24.” (Note 1, p 382)

With a given working day, doubling the amount of labour exploited involves also doubling the amount of constant capital employed both in the form of machinery and tools, and possibly buildings, and in material. But, lengthening the working day means no additional buildings, machinery or tools are required, though more material will still be required. As a result, the amount of surplus value increases, whilst the capital laid out, to produce it, falls.

Moreover, the more this constant capital increases in value, the more capital is led to ensure its continual employment.

The development of the factory system fixes a constantly increasing portion of the capital in a form, in which, on the one hand, its value is capable of continual self-expansion, and in which, on the other hand, it loses both use-value and exchange-value whenever it loses contact with living labour. “When a labourer,” said Mr. Ashworth, a cotton magnate, to Professor Nassau W. Senior, “lays down his spade, he renders useless, for that period, a capital worth eighteen-pence. When one of our people leaves the mill, he renders useless a capital that has cost £100,000.”” (p 382)

Machinery raises relative surplus value by the ways described in previous chapters.

  1. It reduces the value of labour-power directly
  2. It reduces the value of labour-power by cheapening commodities that go into its production
  3. In those spheres where it is first introduced, it has the effect of turning the labour-power into labour of a higher degree of efficiency.

These factors mean that where such machinery is employed, capital enjoys monopoly profits, and so the capitalist tries to make hay while the sun shines, by prolonging the working day as much as possible.

As machinery becomes generalised, these surplus profits disappear. The surplus value produced is determined by the amount of abstract labour exploited, and by the ratio of necessary to surplus labour-time. The amount of abstract labour exploited depends on the ratio of variable to constant capital (the organic composition of capital).

Machinery reduces the ratio of necessary to surplus labour-time, but only by, at the same time, reducing the ratio of variable to constant capital.

It converts what was formerly variable capital, invested in labour-power, into machinery which, being constant capital, does not produce surplus-value. It is impossible, for instance, to squeeze as much surplus-value out of 2 as out of 24 labourers. If each of these 24 men gives only one hour of surplus-labour in 12, the 24 men give together 24 hours of surplus-labour, while 24 hours is the total labour of the two men. Hence, the application of machinery to the production of surplus-value implies a contradiction which is immanent in it, since of the two factors of the surplus-value created by a given amount of capital, one, the rate of surplus-value, cannot be increased, except by diminishing the other, the number of workmen. This contradiction comes to light, as soon as by the general employment of machinery in a given industry, the value of the machine-produced commodity regulates the value of all commodities of the same sort; and it is this contradiction, that in its turn, drives the capitalist, without his being conscious of the fact, to excessive lengthening of the working-day, in order that he may compensate the decrease in the relative number of labourers exploited, by an increase not only of the relative, but of the absolute surplus-labour.” ( p 383-4)

So long as we assume that the labour-power employed here remains of the same type then this is true, but for the reasons Marx has set out elsewhere, already, we know that changes in the productive forces also bring about changes in human labour. Once we allow for the fact that such changes in the machinery and other productive forces might and will require different, more complex, forms of labour-power to be employed, this assumption falls because there is no longer merely 24 hours in a day. Two highly complex labours may well produce more value and surplus value, in an 8 hour day, than 24 simple labours in a 12 hour day.

The introduction of machinery both opens up the potential for exploiting the labour of women and children, and by replacing human labour-power, creates a surplus population. By these means it also increases its dominion over labour. Hence the paradox that the dreams of many men over the ages of being able to free themselves of the drudgery of toil, by the automation of tasks, led under capitalism, to a lengthening of the working day, and his subjugation to those very machines. Instead of freeing himself to expand his mind and creative talents, it led to the dulling of his mind, as he was required to become an unthinking appendage of the machine.

Back To Part 3

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