Monday, 25 May 2015

Capital III, Chapter 5 - Part 6

3) Economy In The Generation And Transmission Of Power, And In Buildings

Marx quotes from Horner, a letter from James Nasmyth, inventor of the steam hammer, in which he sets out the huge advance in motive power that had been achieved. Some of that power already existed, but was unused, because of fear of using the machinery to its utmost capacity. Given the limitations of early boiler manufacture, that fear was understandable.

But, improvements in that technology meant that engines could be run at higher pressures and with increased operating speeds, there was also a saving on fuel consumption. This increase in speed caused some slight addition to wear and tear, but nothing like enough to offset these other savings.

Similar improvements were made in the transmission mechanisms, and in the machinery itself. Today, we see a similar revolution taking place as a result of the use of the microchip as the basis of industrial robots, of their synchronisation via the transmission mechanism of complicated but efficient computer aided design and manufacturing (CAD/CAM) systems, and the linking of production and distribution systems, on a global basis, co-ordinated via the Internet.

4) Utilisation Of Excretions

The larger the scale of production, the greater the natural wastage that arises. But, at the same time, the larger the volumes of that waste the more it becomes worthwhile collecting it for use or re-use. When I was 18, I worked for a company producing protective clothing. Every few months a man used to come from Manchester, to negotiate the purchase of our scrap material. To look at him, he seemed like he didn't have two pennies to rub together, but outside was parked his Rolls Royce, bought out of the fortune he'd made from the scrap business.

Religious exiles from Europe brought with them their expertise, used for hot-bedding, that is the use of human excrement as a foundation layer upon which soil is placed and plants grown, so that they benefit not just from the manure, but also from the heat created by the fermentation. It created the basis of the market gardening industry in London, without which the metropolis could not feed itself.

Waste cloth and rags from worn out clothing, was used for paper manufacture. The iron filings thrown off from machinery and other waste metals were smelted once more for re-use.

The more material prices rise, the more there is an incentive to utilise these different forms of waste, both to reduce the actual costs of the material used, and to utilise the waste material for other purposes.

“The general requirements for the re-employment of these excretions are: large quantities of such waste, such as are available only in large-scale production; improved machinery whereby materials, formerly useless in their prevailing form, are put into a state fit for new production; scientific progress, particularly of chemistry, which reveals the useful properties of such waste.” (p 101)

Wherever waste existed on a significant scale, there was an incentive for capital to find ways of reducing it or else of making use of the waste in some form. The woollen trade previously decried the use of “shoddy” but then increasingly found ways of utilising it.

“The English silk industry moved along the same downward path. The consumption of genuine raw silk decreased somewhat between 1839 and 1862, while that of silk waste doubled. Improved machinery helped to manufacture a silk useful for many purposes from this otherwise rather worthless stuff.” (p 102)

But, the classic example of the use of waste was the chemical industry.

“It utilises not only its own waste, for which it finds new uses, but also that of many other industries. For instance, it converts the formerly almost useless gas-tar into aniline dyes, alizarin, and, more recently, even into drugs.” (p 102)

The reduction of waste, and the use of waste are two separate phenomenon.

“Reduction of waste depends in part on the quality of the machinery in use. Economy in oil, soap, etc., depends on how well the mechanical parts are machined and polished. This refers to the auxiliary materials. In part, however, and this is most important, it depends on the quality of the employed machines and tools whether a larger or smaller portion of the raw material is turned into waste in the production process. Finally, this depends on the quality of the raw material itself. This, in turn, depends partly on the development of the extractive industry and agriculture which produce the raw material (strictly speaking on the progress of civilisation), and partly on the improvement of processes through which raw materials pass before they enter into manufacture.” (p 103)

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