Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 10: A Critical Summary

Chapter 10 of volume 1 of Capital is called “The Working Day” (Marx 1990: 340), and it deals with aspects of the working day in capitalism.

Marx divides the chapter into seven sections:
(1) The Limits of the Working Day;
(2) The Voracious Appetite for Surplus Labour;
(3) Branches of English Industry without Legal Limits to Exploitation
(4) Day-Work and Night-Work. The Shift System
(5) The Struggle for a Normal Working Day
(6) The Struggle for a Normal Working Day. Laws for the Compulsory Limitations of Working Hours
(7) The Struggle for a Normal Working Day. Impact of the English Factory Legislation on other Countries.
In essence, Marx concludes that the length of the working day is determined by a struggle between workers and capitalists (Brewer 1984: 44).

Critical summaries of the chapter sections follow.

(1) The Limits of the Working Day
Marx begins by assuming his theory that the labour-power of workers is paid at its value, that is, for the value of the labour time needed to maintain and reproduce it (Marx 1990: 340).

Marx represents the working day by means of the following diagram:
Working Day 1: A--------B--C

Working Day 2: A--------B-----C

Working Day 3: A--------B--------C (Marx 1990: 340).
The space between A and B (or AB) represents the necessary labour-time equivalent to the value of maintaining and reproducing workers. BC therefore represents surplus labour (Marx 1990: 340).

Surplus labour time is the time worked beyond that necessary for maintenance and reproduction of the worker, but surplus labour time can vary in accordance with the length of the working day (Marx 1990: 340).

It follows that there are two parts of the working day, though the total working day in any particular industry can be variable:
(1) necessary labour-time, which is “determined by the working time required for the reproduction of the labour-power
of the labourer himself” (Marx 1906: 256), and

(2) the surplus labour-time (Marx 1990: 341).
The working day can have a minimum and maximum:
“Although the working day is not a fixed, but a fluent quantity, it can, on the other hand, only vary within certain limits. The minimum limit is, however, not determinable; of course, if we make the extension line BC or the surplus-labour = 0, we have a minimum limit, i.e., the part of the day which the labourer must necessarily work for his own maintenance. On the basis of capitalist production, however, this necessary labour can form a part only of the working day; the working day itself can never be reduced to this minimum. On the other hand, the working day has a maximum limit. It cannot be prolonged beyond a certain point. This maximum limit is conditioned by two things. First, by the physical bounds of labour-power. Within the 24 hours of the natural day a man can expend only a definite quantity of his vital force. A horse, in like manner, can only work from day to day, 8 hours. During part of the day this force must rest, sleep; during another part the man has to satisfy other physical needs, to feed, wash, and clothe himself. Besides these purely physical limitations, the extension of the working day encounters moral ones. The labourer needs time for satisfying his intellectual and social wants, the extent and number of which are conditioned by the general state of social advancement. The variation of the working day fluctuates, therefore, within physical and social bounds. But both these limiting conditions are of a very elastic nature, and allow the greatest latitude. So we find working days of 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 hours, i.e., of the most different lengths.” (Marx 1906: 256–257).
But the working day must be less than a normal 24-hour day.

Businessmen, according to Marx, wish to increase the working day to the maximum extent:
“The capitalist has his own views of this ultima Thule, the necessary limit of the working day. As capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one single life impulse, the tendency to create value and surplus-value, to make its constant factor, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus-labour.

Capital is dead labour, that vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.

If the labourer consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist.

The capitalist then takes his stand on the law of the exchange of commodities. He, like all other buyers, seeks to get the greatest possible benefit out of the use-value of his commodity.” (Marx 1906: 257).
Note that the “law of the exchange of commodities” is that commodities – including labour-power – should exchange at their true labour values, and so it is an obvious outrage and injustice that workers are robbed of part of their actual socially necessary labour time when the capitalist expropriates surplus value, and gets to sell his commodities for their true labour value.

This point is brought out very well in the speech Marx writes for an imaginary worker arguing against a capitalist, when the worker says:
“I demand the normal working day because I, like every other seller, demand the value of my commodity.” (Marx 1906: 259).
This is in accordance with the “law of value” in volume 1 where commodities tend to exchange at their equal labour values.

Marx goes on to say:
“We see then, that, apart from extremely elastic bounds, the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working day, no limit to surplus-labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides. Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working class.” (Marx 1906: 259).
Once again the “law of exchanges” is clearly bound up with this issue.

Workers prefer a shorter working day so that they tend to be paid the value of their labour-power, and so there is an eternal struggle between capital and labour, as in the last passage from the quotation above:
“Hence is it that in the history of capitalist production, the determination of what is a working day, presents itself as the result of a struggle, a struggle between collective capital, i.e., the class of capitalists, and collective labour, i.e., the working class.” (Marx 1906: 259).
We must also remember that, for Marx, the worker tends to be paid only for the value of his labour-power, so that the surplus labour time is unpaid labour, but this process is not directly visible to workers (Marx 1990: 346).

As Harvey notes, the passage above raises the issue of class struggle in volume 1 in a serious way (Harvey 2010: 137).

(2) The Voracious Appetite for Surplus Labour
Marx states that surplus labour (and by implication surplus product) existed before modern capitalism in various economic systems, including situations where labour is unfree (Marx 1990: 344; Brewer 1984: 45).

Marx thinks slavery is made much worse in societies where capitalist production for large export markets becomes predominate:
“But as soon as people, whose production still moves within the lower forms of slave-labour, corvée-labour, &c, are drawn into the whirlpool of an international market dominated by the capitalistic mode of production, the sale of their products for export becoming their principal interest, the civilized horrors of over-work are grafted on the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom, &c. Hence the negro labour in the Southern States of the American Union preserved something of a patriarchal character, so long as production was chiefly directed to immediate local consumption. But in proportion, as the export of cotton became of vital interest to these states, the over-working of the negro and sometimes the using up of his life in 7 years’ of labour became a factor in a calculated and calculating system. It was no longer a question of obtaining from him a certain quantity of useful products. It was now a question of production of surplus-labour itself.” (Marx 1906: 260).
Marx compares the unpaid surplus labour of capitalist economists with the corvée labour of the pre-1850s Danubian principalities (namely, Moldavia and Wallachia). The difference is: the corvée labour of Wallachian peasants is at least clearly distinct and visible to the peasant, whereas the surplus labour of the English worker is hidden and not directly visible (Marx 1990: 346).

The contrast is described as follows:
“… in the capitalist the greed for surplus-labour appears in the straining after an unlimited extension of the working day, in the Boyard more simply in a direct hunting after days of corvée.” (Marx 1906: 261).
But Marx notes how the working day in England was limited by state regulation:
“… English Factory Acts … curb the passion of capital for a limitless draining of labour-power, by forcibly limiting the working day by state regulations, made by a state that is ruled by capitalist and landlord. Apart from the working-class movement that daily grew more threatening, the limiting of factory labour was dictated by the same necessity which spread guano over the English fields. The same blind eagerness for plunder that in the one case exhausted the soil, had, in the other, torn up by the roots the living force of the nation.” (Marx 1906: 263–264).
However, in regard to the child labour laws in these years, Marx badly underestimates the humanitarian sentiments of policy makers in Britain, whether from Christian, progressive liberal or Tory paternalist perspectives. According to Marx, the laws were merely cynical concessions forced by the revolutionary working class. But this is a caricature of history, and verges on conspiracy theory, and is undermined by Marx’s own repeated references to the bourgeois factory inspectors who helped to drive the reforms.

Now the Factory Act of 1850 had set the average working day at 10 hours (Marx 1990: 349), and Marx lists the fraudulent practices by some factory owners gained a longer working day from their workers to circumvent the law (Marx 1990: 350).

(3) Branches of English Industry without Legal Limits to Exploitation
In this section, Marx cites some of the worst horrors of Victorian capitalism’s exploitation of workers and children. Marx refers to industries that managed to evade legal regulation, such as the lace trade, pottery trade, and manufacture of matches, in which child labour was still practised and the severe impact on the health of the workers apparent in many of these trades (Marx 1990: 353–357).

There is a review of the night-work of bakers (Marx 1990: 359–361), excessive working hours of railway workers (Marx 1990: 363) and dressmaking girls (Marx 1990: 364–365).

Throughout the chapter Marx examines the relay system, and turns to night work and the shift system in the next section.

(4) Day-Work and Night-Work. The Shift System
Marx notes that constant capital needs labour to function and when capital lies idle it is a type of loss (Marx 1990: 367). This need for human labour is described as follows:
“The prolongation of the working day beyond the limits of the natural day, into the night, only acts as a palliative. It quenches only in a slight degree the vampire thirst for the living blood of labour. To appropriate labour during all the 24 hours of the day is, therefore, the inherent tendency of capitalist production. But as it is physically impossible to exploit the same individual labour-power constantly during the night as well as the day, to overcome this physical hindrance, an alternation becomes necessary between the workpeople whose powers are exhausted by day, and those who are used up by night. This alternation may be effected in various ways; e.g., it may be so arranged that part of the workers are one week employed on day work, the next week on night work. It is well-known that this relay system, this alternation of two sets of workers, held full sway in the full-blooded youth-time of the English cotton manufacture, and that at the present time it still flourishes, among others, in the cotton spinning of the Moscow district. This 24 hours’ process of production exists to-day as a system in many of the branches of industry of Great Britain that are still ‘free,’ in the blast-furnaces, forges, plate-rolling mills, and other metallurgical establishments in England, Wales, and Scotland. The working time here includes, besides the 24 hours of the 6 working days, a great part also of the 24 hours of Sunday. The workers consist of men and women, adults and children of both sexes. The ages of the children and young persons run through all intermediate grades, from 8 (in some cases from 6) to 18. (Marx 1906: 282–283).
This is the most important claim of the passage above:
“The prolongation of the working day beyond the limits of the natural day, into the night, only acts as a palliative. It quenches only in a slight degree the vampire thirst for the living blood of labour. To appropriate labour during all the 24 hours of the day is, therefore, the inherent tendency of capitalist production. (Marx 1906: 282).
But is this true? If anything, the long-run historical tendency of capitalism is as follows:
(1) to dispense with human labour as much as possible and rely on machines, a process which reduces the need for human labour, and

(2) reduce the working day to shorter periods.
Furthermore, the division of the working day into separate day and night shifts – despite what Marx says – represented a comparatively more humane development than some of the brutal prolonged work involving 15 or 20 hours a day by the same workers, which section 3 of this Chapter mentions.

Marx ranges over various examples of exploitative labour in the day and night system from British government reports (Marx 1990: 369–374).

Here is a typical example:
“‘At a rolling-mill where the proper hours were from 6 a.m. to 5.30 p.m., a boy worked about four nights every week till 8.30 p.m. at least . . . and this for six months. Another, at 9 years old, sometimes made three 12-hour shifts running, and, when 10, has made two days and two nights running.’ A third, ‘now 10 . . . worked from 6 a.m. till 12 p.m. three nights, and till 9 p.m. the other nights.’ ‘Another, now 13, . . . worked from 6 p.m. till 12 noon next day, for a week together, and sometimes for three shifts together, e.g., from Monday morning till Tuesday night.’ ‘Another, now 12, has worked in an iron foundry at Stavely from 6 a.m. till 12 p.m. for a fortnight on end; could not do it any more.’ ‘George Allinsworth, age 9, came here as cellar-boy last Friday; next morning we had to begin at 3, so I stopped here all night. Live five miles off. Slept on the floor of the furnace, over head, with an apron under me, and a bit of a jacket over me. The two other days I have been here at 6 a.m. …’” (Marx 1906: 284–285).
While few would deny the brutality and exploitative nature of the worst excesses of capitalism here, Marx is guilty of hasty generalisation from limited examples and short historical experience, which can be seen in the next section.

(5) The Struggle for a Normal Working Day
Capitalism in its early stages used state power to increase the length of the working day (Brewer 1984: 46).

Marx maintains that capitalism will lead to a relentless drive to a 24-hours working day:
“‘…How far may the working day be extended beyond the working time necessary for the reproduction of labour-power itself?’ It has been seen that to these questions capital replies: the working day contains the full hours, with the deduction of the few hours of repose without which labour-power absolutely refuses its services again. Hence it is self-evident that the labourer is nothing else, his whole life through, than labour-power, that therefore all his disposable time is by nature and law labour-time, to be devoted to the self-expansion of capital. Time for education, for intellectual development, for the fulfilling of social functions and for social intercourse, for the free-play of his bodily and mental activity, even the rest time of Sunday (and that in a country of Sabbatarians!)—moonshine! But in its blind unrestrainable passion, its were-wolf hunger for surplus-labour, capital oversteps not only the moral, but even the merely physical maximum bounds of the working day. It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is given to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery. It reduces the sound sleep needed for the restoration, reparation, refreshment of the bodily powers to just so many hours of torpor as the revival of an organism, absolutely exhausted, renders essential. It is not the normal maintenance of the labour-power which is to determine the limits of the working day; it is the greatest possible daily expenditure of labour-power, no matter how diseased, compulsory, and painful it may be, which is to determine the limits of the labourers’ period of repose. Capital cares nothing for the length of life of labour-power. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power, that can be rendered fluent in a working day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer's life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility.

The capitalistic mode of production (essentially the production of surplus value, the absorption of surplus-labour), produces thus, with the extension of the working day, not only the deterioration of human labour-power by robbing it of its normal, moral and physical, conditions of development and function. It produces also the premature exhaustion and death of this labour-power itself. It extends the labourer’s time of production during a given period by shortening his actual life-time.

But the value of the labour-power includes the value of the commodities necessary for the reproduction of the worker, or for the keeping up of the working class. If then the unnatural extension of the working day, that capital necessarily strives after in its unmeasured passion for self-expansion, shortens the length of life of the individual labourer, and therefore the duration of his labour-power, the forces used up have to be replaced at a more rapid rate and the sum of the expenses for the reproduction of labour-power will be greater: just as in a machine the part of its value to be reproduced every day is greater the more rapidly the machine is worn out. It would seem therefore that the interest of capital itself points in the direction of a normal working day.” (Marx 1906: 290–292).
Marx goes on to point out that slave labour in the New World in its exploitation of slaves causes a huge death toll (Marx 1990: 377), and the same type of process, he contends, is at work in 19th century capitalism (Marx 1990: 378).

For Marx capitalism causes an increasingly shorter life expectancy for, and the degeneration of, the working class population:
“What experience shows to the capitalist generally is a constant excess of population, i.e., an excess in relation to the momentary requirements of surplus-labour-absorbing capital, although this excess is made up of generations of human beings stunted, short-lived, swiftly replacing each other, plucked, so to say, before maturity. And, indeed, experience shows to the intelligent observer with what swiftness and grip the capitalist mode of production, dating, historically speaking, only from yesterday, has seized the vital power of the people by the very root—show how the degeneration of the industrial population is only retarded by the constant absorption of primitive and physically uncorrupted elements from the country—shows how even the country labourers, in spite of fresh air and the principle of natural selection, that works so powerfully amongst them, and only permits the survival of the strongest, are already beginning to die off. Capital that has such good reasons for denying the sufferings of the legions of workers that surround it, is in practice moved as much and as little by the sight of the coming degradation and final depopulation of the human race, as by the probable fall of the earth into the sun. In every stock-jobbing swindle every one knows that some time or other the crash must come, but every one hopes that it may fall on the head of his neighbour, after he himself has caught the shower of gold and placed it in safety. Apres moi le deluge! is the watchword of every capitalist and of every capitalist nation. Hence Capital is reckless of the health or length of life of the labourer, unless under compulsion from society. To the outcry as to the physical and mental degradation, the premature death, the torture of overwork, it answers: Ought these to trouble us since they increase our profits? But looking at things as a whole, all this does not, indeed, depend on the good or ill will of the individual capitalist. Free competition brings out the inherent laws of capitalist production, in the shape of external coercive laws having power over every individual capitalist.” (Marx 1906: 295–297).
It is obvious that all this is derived from limited evidence from industrial capitalism, but Marx leaves out a crucial sector: the service industries and professionals.

Even in the 19th century, those occupations also greatly increased under capitalism, and the experience of many people here was clearly better than in factories. We know that service industries predominate in modern capitalism, and fewer and fewer people are even needed in industries. Furthermore, life expectancy has actually soared in the long-run history of capitalism, despite the extreme conditions in 19th century factories. So Marx’s rant here is, at best, only half the picture.

Nevertheless, even for Marx, there was a counterbalance to this process in the struggles of workers and in “compulsion from society.”

But Marx argues that the condition of workers in the 17th and 18th centuries was better than in the 19th century and that exploitation had become worse including much greater use of child labour (Marx 1990: 384–387). Marx also contends that “Protestantism, by changing almost all the traditional holidays into workdays, plays an important part in the genesis of capital” (Marx 1906: 303, n. 1). By the early 19th century, capitalism had pushed the working day to the limit of the 24 hour period and this first occurred in the new mechanised factories and large scale industries (Brewer 1984: 46; Marx 1990: 411).

Marx states:
“The passion of capital for an unlimited and reckless extension of the working day, is first gratified in the industries earliest revolutionised by water-power, steam, and machinery, in those first creations of the modern mode of production, cotton, wool, flax, and silk spinning, and weaving. The changes in the material mode of production, and the corresponding changes in the social relations of the producers gave rise first to an extravagance beyond all bounds, and then in opposition to this, called forth a control on the part of Society which legally limits, regulates, and makes uniform the working day and its pauses. This control appears, therefore, during the first half of the nineteenth century simply as exceptional legislation. As soon as this primitive dominion of the new mode of production was conquered, it was found that, in the meantime, not only had many other branches of production been made to adopt the same factory system, but that manufacturers with more or less obsolete methods, such as potteries, glass-making, &c., that old-fashioned handicrafts, like baking, and, finally, even that the so-called domestic industries such as nail-making, had long since fallen as completely under capitalist exploitation as the factories themselves.” (Marx 1906: 326–327).
But then a reaction set in driven by labour: the various legislative acts of the 19th century limiting the working day – such as the 1833 British act limiting child labour to 12 hours or the French Twelve Hours’ Bill (1850) – checked the excessive exploitation of workers that arose after the end of the 18th century.

(6) The Struggle for a Normal Working Day. Laws for the Compulsory Limitations of Working Hours
Marx moves on to discuss legislation limiting the working day:
“After capital had taken centuries in extending the working-day to its normal maximum limit, and then beyond this to the limit of the natural day of 12 hours, there followed on the birth of machinism and modern industry in the last third of the 18th century, a violent encroachment like that of an avalanche in its intensity and extent. All bounds of morals and nature, age and sex, day and night, were broken down. Even the ideas of day and night, of rustic simplicity in the old statutes, became so confused that an English judge, as late as 1860, needed a quite Talmudic sagacity to explain ‘judicially’ what was day and what was night. Capital celebrated its orgies.

As soon as the working class, stunned at first by the noise and turmoil of the new system of production, recovered, in some measure, its senses, its resistance began, and first in the native land of machinism, in England. For 30 years, however, the concessions conquered by the workpeople were purely nominal. Parliament passed 5 Labour Laws between 1802 and 1833, but was shrewd enough not to vote a penny for their carrying out, for the requisite officials, &c. They remained a dead letter.” (Marx 1906: 304–305).
The Factory Act of 1833 limited the working day in the cotton, wool, flax, and silk industries for children and teenagers, and (with some exceptions) forbade the employment of children under 9 (Marx 1990: 390–391). In 1834, 1835, and 1836 other pieces of legislation came into force and Marx discusses at the length the difficulty of enforcing them (Marx 1990: 390–394).

In essence, Marx thinks the legislation had little effect (Marx 1990: 393).

The later Factory Act of 7 June 1844 did, however, enable the introduction of a 12 hour working day from 1844 to 1847 (Marx 1990: 395).

Marx also discusses the Factory Act of 1847:
“The new Factory Act of June 8th, 1847, enacted that on July 1st, 1847, there should be a preliminary shortening of the working day for ‘young persons’ (from 13 to 18), and all females to 11 hours, but that on May 1st, 1848, there should be a definite limitation of the working day to 10 hours. In other respects, the Act only amended and completed the Acts of 1833 and 1844.

Capital now entered upon a preliminary campaign in order to hinder the Act from coming into full force on May 1st, 1848.” (Marx 1906: 311).
Marx reviews the opposition to this, and attempts to surmount the laws after 1848.

Marx argues that because of evasions of the laws capitalists were able to pay wages for only 10 hours when they were extorting up to 12 or 15 hours working time, and that a Court Exchequer decision of 8 February 1850 effectively overturned the law (Marx 1990: 404).

In contrast to previous legislation, Marx seems to recognise that the Supplementary Factory Act of 5 August 1850 did have beneficial effects (Marx 1990: 405–407).

(7) The Struggle for a Normal Working Day. Impact of the English Factory Legislation on other Countries.
Marx finally reviews the state of affairs in other countries. He concludes that social conflict between workers and capitalists is the cause of the regulation of and reduction of the working day:
“The history of the regulation of the working day in certain branches of production, and the struggle still going on in others in regard to this regulation, prove conclusively that the isolated labourer, the labourer as ‘free’ vendor of his labour-power, when capitalist production has once attained a certain stage, succumbs without any power of resistance. The creation of a normal working day is, therefore, the product of a protracted civil war, more or less dissembled, between the capitalist class and the working class. As the contest takes place in the arena of modern industry, it first breaks out in the home of that industry—England. The English factory workers were the champions, not only of the English, but of the modern working-class generally, as their theorists were the first to throw down the gauntlet to the theory of capital.” (Marx 1906: 327).
Thus other nations followed England in limiting the working day, such as France and America (Marx 1990: 414–415).

Marx sees the reduction of the working day as the crucial struggle of the workers:
“It must be acknowledged that our labourer comes out of the process of production other than he entered. In the market he stood as owner of the commodity ‘labour-power’ face to face with other owners of commodities, dealer against dealer. The contract by which he sold to the capitalist his labour-power proved, so to say, in black and white that he disposed of himself freely. The bargain concluded, it is discovered that he was no ‘free agent,’ that the time for which he is free to sell his labour-power is the time for which he is forced to sell it, that in fact the vampire will not lose its hold on him ‘so long as there is a muscle, a nerve, a drop of blood to be exploited.’ For ‘protection’ against ‘the serpent of their agonies,’ the labourers must put their heads together, and, as a class, compel the passing of a law, an all-powerful social barrier that shall prevent the very workers from selling, by voluntary contract with capital, themselves and their families into slavery and death.” (Marx 1906: 329–330).
However, it is unclear whether Marx thinks such a struggle has any hope of great success under capitalism, for in the “Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation” chapter in volume 1 of Capital Marx predicts that the workers suffer increasing “misery” under capital, which seems to imply longer working hours:
“Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself. The monopoly of capital becomes a fetter upon the mode of production, which has sprung up and flourished along with, and under it. Centralisation of the means of production and socialisation of labour at last reach a point where they become incompatible with their capitalist integument. This integument is burst asunder. The knell of capitalist private property sounds. The expropriators are expropriated.” (Marx 1906: 836–837).
But this of course is a caricature vision of capitalism that has been utterly refuted by history.

External Link
Harry Cleaver, Study Guide to Capital Volume I, Chapter 10

Brewer, Anthony. 1984. A Guide to Marx’s Capital. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Harvey, David. 2010. A Companion to Marx’s Capital. Verso, London and New York.

Marx, Karl. 1906. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (vol. 1; rev. trans. by Ernest Untermann from 4th German edn.). The Modern Library, New York.

Marx, Karl. 1990. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy. Volume One (trans. Ben Fowkes). Penguin Books, London.


  1. Hello again, chum!

    If anything, the historical tendency of capitalism is ... (1) to dispense with human labour as much as possible and rely on machines, a process which reduces the need for human labour

    On its face, this is actually a sensible thing to point out. However, think about it temporally: such means are employed to grow the business, and with expansion comes greater demand for labor. Unemployment tends to fall over the expansion phase of the business cycle, and the total mass of variable capital grows in turn — albeit not nearly so fast as constant capital, due in part to the tendency you identify.

    (2) reduce the working day to shorter and shorter period.

    Labor hours have been shortened a number of times, but to attribute this to some tendential benevolence of the capitalist class erases pretty much the entire history of the labor movement. People were willing to — and in some cases did — die for the 40-hour work week.

    Anyway, if the structural tendency of the capitalist class were to reduce hours, one would think we'd be well below 40 hours by now, given the enormous increase in productivity since 1937. Instead, numerous articles have appeared in popular media in the last few years alone on "the death of the 40-hour work week," describing how working increasing hours is the "new normal." According to Gallup, for example, salaried workers in the US average 49-hour weeks.

  2. "But this of course is a caricature vision of capitalism that has been utterly refuted by history."

    Given that exploding inequality is even being recognised by the ruling class, along with stagnating wages for most people, this seems a somewhat ironic comment.

    It reminds me of "The Economist" in 2000 which proclaimed Marx was wrong as capitalism did not produce massive class divisions while, in the very same issue, had a report on the rising inequality in the West... Opps.

    So to say rising inequality, etc. is a "caricature vision of capitalism" after the impact of 30-odd years of neo-liberalism is, to say the least, strange.

    And, as a worker and union rep, I can say that bosses definitively have more and more power and this is reflected in the inability of workers to resist -- in short, a weakening of unions and a corresponding rise in the slavery, degradation, etc. of workers.

    Simply put, the class struggle is still on-going and the ruling class is winning -- and that has seen a rise in inequality, serfdom, exploitation, etc. of most workers.

    In terms of workers receiving less and less of the value they produce, well, that is right as shown by history (the last 30 odd years). Marx should be faulted for pretending that he was the first to work out how this happened (by wage-labour, as previous socialists like Proudhon had seen).

    Finally, given you are a social democrat, I would have assumed you would have seen the validity of Marx's prediction but argued that only by electing social democratic government could this tendency be combated and a better society produced. Unfortunately, your comments seem to suggest that when left alone capitalism would not produce the outcomes Marx predicted...

    After all, if history shows anything surely it is that without social democracy capitalism does tend to the vision Marx suggested? Or is it the case that social democracy has absolutely no impact on capitalism as a system?

    An Anarchist FAQ

    1. (1) rising inequality over the neoliberal period of the last 30 years doesn't prove Marx's predictions, which involve a vast set of claims.

      You ignore the long-run trends over the last 165 years and make a hasty generalisation fallacy from a cherry-picked period.

      So inequality has been rising since the 1970s? Yes, but what about the falling inequality from the 1940s to the 1970s? Also, if working people have actually experienced soaring living standard since 1850 (which they have), why is some limited degree of inequality even a problem if this is important for incentives and paying more skilled labour?

      Prediction after prediction by Marx has been falsified by history.

      Marx thought wages would tend towards the mere value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour. This was utter nonsense even in the 19th century, as can be seen form the evidence here:

      It is certainly false in the 20th century.

      Marx's prediction is that
      under capitalism there

      "grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation; but with this too grows the revolt of the working-class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself"

      He made this in 1867. In the long run, it is clearly NOSNENSE.

      The working class has **not** always increased in numbers, but stabilised and there has been much social mobility from working class to middle classes. In the long run, there has been a growing middle class too.

      The notion that the "mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation" only ever increases is also ridiculous Marxist mythology.

      Capitalism in industrialised countries has in the long run become **less characterised** by "oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation". E.g., union power actually rose in power from the 1880s and became very strong by the 1950s/1960s.

      Even worse, there is a vulgar historical necessary in the passage of Marx above smacking of mystical historical materialism.

      (2) "And, as a worker and union rep, I can say that bosses definitively have more and more power and this is reflected in the inability of workers to resist "

      Based on a cheery picked 30 year period of neoliberalism which was only a contingent result of bad policy choices?

      Strange you don't talk about the 1940s to 1970s, when union power all over the Western world was quite strong.

      (3) Your mistake -- like the Austrians and libertarians -- is to assume that capitalism can be divorced from political, social and moral sensibilities of human beings.

      The true "capitalism" that you and Marx are thinking of is just an abstraction and in that purely imaginary world you can imaginary a version of capitalism where Marx's false predictions come true.

      In reality, modern capitalism in the Western world has historically bound up with the state, democracy, and people's moral ideas, and we must look to the real world, not fantasy world abstractions.

      (4) "After all, if history shows anything surely it is that without social democracy capitalism does tend to the vision Marx suggested?

      Not at all. It would vindicate Keynes' view, not Marx's.

      The more laissez faire an economy, the more

      “our actual experience … [sc. is] that we oscillate, avoiding the gravest extremes of fluctuation in employment and in prices in both directions, round an intermediate position appreciably below full employment and appreciably above the minimum employment a decline below which would endanger life.”

      That is a far cry form Marx's apocalyptic nonsense about socialism being inevitable.

  3. Hedlund,

    (1) Your lies about my views on the iron law of wages are laughable are laughable.

    Marx did indeed reject the Classical “iron law of wages” because

    (1) he rejected the wage fund theory in Classical economics and

    (2) he strongly rejected Malthusian population theory.

    So, yes, he rejected the “iron law of wages” as some kind of “law of nature” arising from (2).

    (2) however, he still held that wages would tend towards the value of labour-power: that is, the value of the value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour, with only 2 additions sometimes.

    This is very clear in Chapter 6 of vol. 1. He only adds two minor additions to the value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour:

    (1) the cost of education and training of the skilled forms of labour (Brewer 1984: 37), but this only applies to *skilled labour* and is just part of reproduction of workers, and

    (2) sometimes a “historical and moral element” which as he explains in Value, Price and Profit (1865) was mainly a legacy of the precapitalist national differences in standards of living.
    However, (2) is clearly NOT greatly above the level needed for subsistence and reproduction of workers, and capitalism tends to keep wages at minimum, and Marx even implies that capitalism tends to reduce even this. See here:

    This is clear in Chapter 10 of vol. 1 where Marx explicitly assumes his theory that

    "that labour-power is bought and sold at its value. Its value, like that of all other commodities, is determined by the working time necessary to its production. If the production of the average daily means of subsistence of the labourer takes up 6 hours, he must work, on the average, 6 hours every day, to produce his daily labour-power, or to reproduce the value received as the result of its sale." (Marx 1906: 255).

    It is the same in Chapter 11 where wages are "the value of labour-power" which is "therefore the part of the working-day necessary for the reproduction or maintenance of that labour-power" (Marx 1906: 331).

    So the only one here who doesn't understand Marx's theory of wages is YOU, you bloody idiot.

  4. "Hello again, chum!"
    Actually, you are confusing the shark with the chum, chum.

  5. "Along with the constantly diminishing number of the magnates of capital, who usurp and monopolise all advantages of this process of transformation, grows the mass of misery, oppression, slavery, degradation, exploitation;"

    Did Marx ever gave any explanation for why the capitalists are, according to him, ruthless opressing bastards?

    I see all the time Marxists insulting capitalists and rich people in general saying that they amassed their wealth only because they are really bad people who made bad and unethical things against the workers, implying that their low moral character was what allowed them to accumulate wealth by ruthlessly opressing the weaker members of society, as if they were evil people because they born that way, or, at least, because they chose to be evil.

    I never understood the rationale behind that line of thinking, if there is any. But I'm really curious.