Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 14: A Critical Summary

Chapter 14 of volume 1 of Capital is called “The Division of Labour and Manufacture” and examines the nature of division of labour in early manufacture from the mid-16th to the late 18th centuries.

Marx divides the chapter into five sections:
(1) The Dual Origin of Manufacture.

(2) The Specialised Worker and his Tools

(3) The Two Fundamental Forms of Manufacture

(4) The Division of Labour in Manufacture, and the Division of Labour in Society

(5) The Capitalist Character of Manufacture.
It is important to note that Marx uses the word “manufacture” in this chapter in the sense of a type of co-operative enterprise where specialised workers carry out their work by hand (Brewer 1984: 51). The “period of manufacture” in Marx’s sense of history extended from the mid-16th to the late 18th centuries (Brewer 1984: 51).

Critical summaries of the chapter sections follow.

(1) The Dual Origin of Manufacture
Marx examines the history of manufacture and the manner in which previously independent craftsmen became assembled in factories under a division of labour to work side by side to produce commodities (Marx 1990: 455–456).

This historical process is described by Marx:
“The commodity, from being the individual product of an independent artificer, becomes the social product of a union of artificers, each of whom performs one, and only one, of the constituent partial operations. The same operations which, in the case of a papermaker belonging to a German Guild, merged one into the other as the successive acts of one artificer, became in the Dutch paper manufacture so many partial operations carried on side by side by numerous co-operating labourers. The needlemaker of the Nuremberg Guild was the cornerstone on ‘which the English needle manufacture was raised. But while in Nuremberg that single artificer performed a series of perhaps 20 operations one after another, in England it was not long before there were 20 needlemakers side by side, each performing one alone of those 20 operations; and in consequence of further experience, each of those 20 operations was again split up, isolated, and made the exclusive function of a separate workman.

The mode in which manufacture arises, its growth out of handicrafts, is therefore twofold. On the one hand, it arises from the union of various independent handicrafts, which become stripped of their independence and specialised to such an extent as to be reduced to mere supplementary partial processes in the production of one particular commodity. On the other hand, it arises from the co-operation of artificers of one handicraft; it splits up that particular handicraft into its various detail operations, isolating, and making these operations independent of one another up to the point where each becomes the exclusive function of a particular labourer. On the one hand, therefore, manufacture either introduces division of labour into a process of production, or further develops that division; on the other hand, it unites together handicrafts that were formerly separate. But whatever may have been its particular starting point, its final form is invariably the same—a productive mechanism whose parts are human beings.” (Marx 1906: 370–371).
This type of production is a new form of co-operation.

(2) The Specialised Worker and his Tools
Under the division of labour, workers became highly specialised in their work and much more efficient and faster: productivity increases (Marx 1990: 458).

Marx sums this up:
“Manufacture, in fact, produces the skill of the detail labourer, by reproducing, and systematically driving to an extreme within the workshop, the naturally developed differentiation of trades, which it found ready to hand in society at large. On the other hand, the conversion of fractional work into the life-calling of one man, corresponds to the tendency shown by earlier societies, to make trades hereditary;” (Marx 1906: 372–373).
The same process makes tools better and better and more specialised (Marx 1990: 460–461).

(3) The Two Fundamental Forms of Manufacture
Marx sees two different forms of manufacture as follows:
(1) those industries that produce goods whose parts are made separately and then assembled in a final process. Brewer calls this “heterogeneous manufacture” (Brewer 1984: 52).

(2) industries where a good is made step by step in a successive production process (Marx 1990: 461–463). Brewer calls this “serial manufacture” (Brewer 1984: 52).
During the period of manufacture from the 16th to the 18th century machines played a lesser role than in 19th century capitalism:
“Early in the manufacturing period, the principle of lessening the necessary labour-time in the production of commodities, was accepted and formulated: and the use of machines, especially for certain simple first processes that have to be conducted on a very large scale, and with the application of great force, sprang up here and there. Thus, at an early period in paper manufacture, the tearing up of the rags was done by paper mills; and in metal works, the pounding of the ores was effected by stamping mills. The Roman Empire had handed down the elementary form of all machinery in the water-wheel.

The handicraft period bequeathed to us the great inventions of the compass, of gunpowder, of type-printing, and of the automatic clock. But, on the whole, machinery played that subordinate part which Adam Smith assigns to it in comparison with division of labour. The sporadic use of machinery in the 17th century was of the greatest importance, because it supplied the great mathematicians of that time with a practical basis and stimulant to the creation of the science of mechanics.” (Marx 1906: 383–384).
But the process of specialisation of labour actually makes labour resemble machines:
“After Manufacture has once separated, made independent, and isolated the various operations, the labourers are divided, classified, and grouped according to their predominating qualities. If their natural endowments are, on the one hand, the foundation on which the division of labour is built up, on the other hand, Manufacture, once introduced, develops in them new powers that are by nature fitted only for limited and special functions.

The collective labourer now possesses, in an equal degree of excellence, all the qualities requisite for production, and expends them in the most economical manner, by exclusively employing all his organs, consisting of particular labourers, or groups of labourers, in performing their special functions. The one-sidedness and the deficiencies of the detail labourer become perfections when he is a part of the collective labourer. The habit of doing only one thing converts him into a never failing instrument, while his connexion with the whole mechanism compels him to work with the regularity of the parts of a machine.” (Marx 1906: 383–384).
Manufacture also requires a certain amount of unskilled labour, which can be trained up into skilled labour by the skilled workers who already exist (Marx 1990: 470). In this manner, the cost of apprenticeship falls, so that the value of reproduction of labour-power falls (Marx 1990: 470).

Marx states:
“The fall in the value of labour-power, caused by the disappearance or diminution of the expense of apprenticeship, implies a direct increase of surplus-value for the benefit of capital; for everything that shortens the necessary labour-time required for the reproduction of labour-power, extends the domain of surplus-labour.” (Marx 1906: 385).
This of course means that this is another method by which the total value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour is diminished, and since workers tend only to be paid that value, capitalists can increase relative surplus value in this way.

(4) The Division of Labour in Manufacture, and the Division of Labour in Society
Division of labour had a historical development through different societies of varying economic complexity and extends throughout modern society in the different economic sectors (Marx 1990: 471–472).

Marx explains this as follows:
“… the exchange of products springs up at the points where different families, tribes, communities, come in contact; for, in the beginning of civilisation, it is not private individuals but families, tribes, &c, that meet on an independent footing. Different communities find different means of production and different means of subsistence in their natural environment. Hence, their modes of production, and of living, and their products are different. It is this spontaneously developed difference which, when different communities come in contact, calls forth the .mutual exchange of products, and the consequent gradual conversion of those products into commodities. Exchange does not create the differences between the spheres of production, but brings such as are already different into relation, and thus converts them into more or less interdependent branches of the collective production of an enlarged society. In the latter case, the social division of labour arises from the exchange between spheres of production, that are originally distinct and independent of one another. In the former, where the physiological division of labour is the starting point, the particular organs of a compact whole grow loose, and break off, principally owing to the exchange of commodities with foreign communities, and then isolate themselves so far, that the sole bond, still connecting the various kinds of work, is the exchange of the products as commodities. In the one case, it is the making dependent what was before independent; in the other case, the making independent what was before dependent.

The foundation of every division of labour that is well developed, and brought about by the exchange of commodities, is the separation between town and country. It may be said, that the whole economical history of society is summed up in the movement of this antithesis.” (Marx 1906: 386–387).
Division of labour in manufacture in turn creates other industries where division of labour is just as important (Marx 1990: 473).

Specialisation and division of labour, however, cause a “development in a man of one single faculty at the expense of all other faculties” (Marx 1906: 389), a negative consequence which Marx notes was understood by the Scottish philosopher Adam Ferguson (Marx 1990: 474).

A very observation of Marx is that the specialised workers producing only part of a product produce no commodities:
“What, on the other hand, characterises division of labour in manufactures? The fact that the detail labourer produces no commodities. It is only the common product of all the detail labourers that becomes a commodity. Division of labour in a society is brought about by the purchase and sale of the products of different branches of industry, while the connexion between the detail operations in a workshop, are due to the sale of the labour-power of several workmen to one capitalist, who applies it as combined labour-power. The division of labour in the workshop implies concentration of the means of production in the hands of one capitalist; the division of labour in society implies their dispersion among many independent producers of commodities. While within the workshop, the iron law of proportionality subjects definite numbers of workmen to definite functions, in the society outside the workshop, chance and caprice have full play in distributing the producers and their means of production among the various branches of industry.” (Marx 1906: 390).
While there is a kind of planned and despotic design within an individual factory, in society at large there is a market anarchy of individual producers (Marx 1990: 477).

In the world of market anarchy of separate and individual producers, there is a social division of labour, while within the factory there is a division of labour in the workshop, which is a kind of despotic central planning (Brewer 1984: 53).

(5) The Capitalist Character of Manufacture
Capitalists engaged in manufacture needed to employ more and more workers and so this required more and more constant capital (Marx 1990: 480).

Marx sees a law here:
“Hence, it is a law, based on the very nature of manufacture, that the minimum amount of capital, which is bound to be in the hands of each capitalist, must keep increasing; in other words, that the transformation into capital of the social means of production and subsistence must keep extending.” (Marx 1906: 395).
Labour skills and specialisation of labour become a kind of curse for workers:
“If, at first, the workman sells his labour-power to capital, because the material means of producing a commodity fail him, now his very labour-power refuses its services unless it has been sold to capital. Its functions can be exercised only in an environment that exists in the workshop of the capitalist after the sale. By nature unfitted to make anything independently, the manufacturing labourer develops productive activity as a mere appendage of the capitalist’s workshop. As the chosen people bore in their features the sign manual of Jehovah, so division of labour brands the manufacturing workman as the property of capital.” (Marx 1906: 396).
Marx notes Adam Smith’s own comments on the deleterious effects of the division of labour:
“‘The understandings of the greater part of men,’ says Adam Smith, ‘are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations ... has no occasion to exert his understanding. .... He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.’ After describing the stupidity of the detail labourer he goes on: ‘The uniformity of his stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind It corrupts even the activity of his body and renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other employments than that to which he has been bred. His dexterity at his own particular trade seems in this manner to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilised society, this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall.’ For preventing the complete deterioration of the great mass of the people by division of labour, A. Smith commends education of the people by the State, but prudently, and in homoeopathic doses.” (Marx 1906: 397–398).
In the end, the division of labour serves to increase exploitation:
“In its specific capitalist form—and under the given conditions, it could take no other form than a capitalistic one—manufacture is but a particular method of begetting relative surplus-value, or of augmenting at the expense of the labourer the self-expansion of capital—usually called social wealth, ‘Wealth of Nations,’ &c. It increases the social productive power of labour, not only for the benefit of the capitalist instead of for that of the labourer, but it does this by crippling the individual labourers. It creates new conditions for the lordship of capital over labour. If, therefore, on the one hand, it presents itself historically as a progress and as a necessary phase in the economic development of society, on the other hand it is a refined and civilised method of exploitation.” (Marx 1906: 400).
The exploitative nature of capitalism in its early manufacture stage (from the 16th to the 18th century) incites opposition from workers, e.g., make workers object to the employment of women and children (Marx 1990: 489), and they demand for laws of apprenticeship and opposition to increases in the length of the working day (Marx 1990: 489–490).

In response to this, capitalism calls forth a new way to subordinate workers: machines.

Marx ends this chapter as follows:
“This workshop, the product of the division of labour in manufacture, produced in its turn—machines. It is they that sweep away the handicraftsman's work as the regulating principle of social production. Thus, on the one hand, the technical reason for the life-long annexation of the workman to a detail function is removed. On the other hand, the fetters that this same principle laid on the dominion of capital, fall away.” (Marx 1906: 404).
The stage is now set for the emergence of large-scale industrial capitalism of the 19th century.

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 comment:

  1. I'm surprised you did not mention how Marx mocked Proudhon in 1847 for presenting the same development of machinery in his "System of Economic Contradictions":

    "it is slapping history in the face to want to begin by the division of labour in general, in order to get subsequently to a specific instrument of production, machinery." ("The Poverty of Philosophy")

    Compare that to what Marx wrote later:

    “That form of co-operation which is based on division of labour assumes its classical shape in manufacture. [….] This workshop, the product of division of labour in manufacture, produced in its turn – machines.” (Capital I: 455, 490-1)

    “machinery, by and large, arose [...] through the division of labour, which gradually transforms the workers’ operations into more and more mechanical ones, so that at a certain point a mechanism can step into their places.” (The Grundrisse, 704)

    “The differentiation, specialisation and simplification of the instruments of labour given by the division of labour in the system of manufacture based on it — THEIR EXCLUSIVE ADAPTATION TO VERY SIMPLE OPERATIONS — is one of the technological, material prerequisites for the development of machinery as an element which revolutionises the mode of production and the relations of production.” (Marx-Engels Collected Works 33: 388)

    It must also be stressed that Marx in volume 1 of Capital repeated Proudhon’s schema of division of labour leading to machinery in chapters 14 (“The Division of Labour and Manufacture”) and 15 (“Machinery and Large-Scale Industry”). As such, in terms of categories – in terms of abstractions being used to present analysis – the Marx of 1867 disagreed with the Marx of 1847 and, like Proudhon, uses two chapters to discuss the division of labour and machinery.

    of course, nothing wrong as such with correcting yourself -- but Marx never said he was wrong in 1847 and never mentioned his 1847 comments in light of his 1867 work or vice versa.

    I should also note that, regardless of Marx's claims, Proudhon also noted how machines were used to exploit and oppress workers -- and rather aim to get rid of them he argued that co-operatives (associations) had to replace the wage-labour of capitalism.

    An Anarchist FAQ