Thursday, March 17, 2016

Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 15: A Critical Summary, Part 1

Chapter 15 of volume 1 of Capital is called “Machinery and Large-Scale Industry” and examines the role of machines in developed capitalist production in the 19th century. This chapter is one of the largest ones in volume 1 of Capital. My chapter summary is therefore divided into two parts. This is part 1.

Marx divides the chapter into ten sections:
(1) The Development of Machinery

(2) The Value transferred by the Machinery to the Product

(3) The Most Immediate Effects of Machine Production on the Worker

(4) The Factory

(5) The Struggle between Worker and Machine

(6) The Compensation Theory, with Regard to the Workers displaced by Machinery

(7) Repulsion and Attraction of Workers through the Development of Machine Production, Crises in the Cotton Industry

(8) The Revolutionary Impact of Large-Scale Industry on Manufacture, Handicrafts and Domestic Industry

(9) The Health and Education Clauses of the Factory Acts.

(10) Large-Scale Industry and Agriculture.
For Marx, the use of machines in capitalist production marks the modern developed form of capitalism: that of modern industry or large-scale industry.

This chapter, in terms of its general assertions, is one of extraordinary dogmatism and communist propagandistic nonsense, even though nobody would deny that Marx accurately describes the worst elements, excesses and horrors of exploitation in 19th century British capitalism.

Marx essentially is arguing the following here: that machines do virtually nothing except create more misery and poverty for the workers. This process occurs in the following manner:
(1) machines are used to replace workers;

(2) the replaced workers add to a large growing reserve army of labour, which in turn increase labour supply and tends to reduce real wages;

(3) the use of machines allows more use of female labour and child labour;

(4) increasing use of machines de-skills workers and makes them more and more the slaves of the capitalist;

(5) machines even make the abstract labour worked per day more intense (Brewer 1984: 55, 57).
Bizarrely missing from Marx’s analysis is the fact that (1) machines and automation enable soaring productivity and vastly increased output per capita, a process which makes a nation far wealthier and able to increase living standards for its workers, and that (2) machines, generally speaking, reduce the intensity and arduousness of work.

A further problem with this chapter is strongly related to the issue of Engels’ Pause and Marx’s hasty generalisations based on limited evidence from this period.

In Chapter 15, Marx is heavily dependent on works by Babbage, Ure and Engels’ own writings and experience in Manchester, but his attempts to draw sweeping conclusions about the whole nature and trajectory of capitalism are hasty and flawed, and even a Marxist like David Harvey admits this and that Marx’s analysis here is “one-sided” (Harvey 2010: 214–215).

In part 1, critical summaries of the chapter sections (1) to (5) follow below.

(1) The Development of Machinery
Marx starts his analysis with an extraordinary statement:
“John Stuart Mill says in his Principles of Political Economy: ‘It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being.’ That is, however, by no means the aim of the capitalistic application of machinery. Like every other increase in the productiveness of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities, and, by shortening that portion of the working-day, in which the labourer works for himself, to lengthen the other portion that he gives, without an equivalent, to the capitalist. In short, it is a means for producing surplus-value.” (Marx 1906: 405).
In other words, the actual purpose of the use of machines by capitalists is to reduce the value of basic commodities so that the value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour-power will fall, and so in turn that the real subsistence wage that workers tend to be paid will fall. By these means, the relative surplus value extracted by the capitalists can rise.

England was the birthplace of large-scale industry or modern industry (Marx 1990: 498; Marx 1906: 410).

Automation essentially takes tools out of the hands of workers and creates new machines with the same type of tools driven by new motive power, whether by animals or natural forces or men:
“The machine proper is therefore a mechanism that, after being set in motion, performs with its tools the same operations that were formerly done by the workman with similar tools. Whether the motive power is derived from man, or from some other machine, makes no difference in this respect. From the moment that the tool proper is taken from man, and fitted into a mechanism, a machine takes the place of a mere implement. The difference strikes one at once, even in those cases where man himself continues to be the prime mover. The number of implements that he himself can use simultaneously, is limited by the number of his own natural instruments of production, by the number of his bodily organs. …. The number of tools that a machine can bring into play simultaneously, is from the very first emancipated from the organic limits that hedge in the tools of a handicraftsman.” (Marx 1906: 408).
The technical and scientific developments for the creation of machines in large-scale industry occurred in the period of manufacture (which for Marx was the 16th to the 18th centuries) (Marx 1990: 498).

Watt’s second steam engine using coal and water was a crucial invention which allowed manufacturing to be concentrated in the towns (Marx 1990: 499).

A machine can combine numerous functions to produce a product, or a number of machines may work serially in sequence to produce an output product (Marx 1990: 501–503).

Marx states:
“An organised system of machines, to which motion is communicated by the transmitting mechanism from a central automaton, is the most developed form of production by machinery. Here we have, in the place of the isolated machine, a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demon power, at first veiled under the slow and measured motions of his giant limbs, at length breaks out into the fast and furious whirl of his countless working organs.” (Marx 1906: 416–417).

“A radical change in the mode of production in one sphere in industry involves a similar change in other spheres. This happens at first in such branches of industry as are connected together by being separate phases of a process, and yet are isolated by the social division of labour, in such a way, that each of them produces an independent commodity. Thus spinning by machinery made weaving by machinery a necessity, and both together made the mechanical and chemical revolution that took place in bleaching, printing, and dyeing, imperative. So too, on the other hand, the revolution in cotton-spinning called forth the invention of the gin, for separating the seeds from the cotton fibre; it was only by means of this invention, that the production of cotton became possible on the enormous scale at present required. But more especially, the revolution in the modes of production of industry and agriculture made necessary a revolution in the general conditions of the social process of production, i.e., in the means of communication and of transport. In a society whose pivot, to use an expression of Fourier, was agriculture on a small scale, with its subsidiary domestic industries, and the urban handicrafts, the means of communication and transport were so utterly inadequate to the productive requirements of the manufacturing period, with its extended division of social labour, its concentration of the instruments of labour, and of the workmen, and its colonial markets, that they became in fact revolutionised. In the same way the means of communication and transport handed down from the manufacturing period soon became unbearable trammels on Modern Industry, with its feverish haste of production, its enormous extent, its constant flinging of capital and labour from one sphere of production into another, and its newly-created connexions with the markets of the whole world. Hence, apart from the radical changes introduced in the construction of sailing vessels, the means of communication and transport became gradually adapted to the modes of production of mechanical industry, by the creation of a system of river steamers, railways, ocean steamers, and telegraphs. But the huge masses of iron that had now to be forged, to be welded, to be cut, to be bored, and to be shaped, demanded, on their part, cyclopean machines, for the construction of which the methods of the manufacturing period were utterly inadequate.

Modern Industry had therefore itself to take in hand the machine, its characteristic instrument of production, and to construct machines by machines. It was not till it did this, that it built up for itself a fitting technical foundation, and stood on its own feet.” (Marx 1906: 418–420).
Machinery, then, replaces human labour with man-made technology driven by natural forces (Marx 1990: 508).

(2) The Value transferred by the Machinery to the Product
So workers now labour alongside machines or using machines.

But machines are durable constant capital and so their value enters into the new product only in small amounts over their lifetime:
“Although, therefore, it is clear at the first glance that, by incorporating both stupendous physical forces, and the natural sciences, with the process of production, Modern Industry raises the productiveness of labour to an extraordinary degree, it is by no means equally clear, that this increased productive force is not, on the other hand, purchased by an increased expenditure of labour. Machinery, like every other component of constant capital, creates no new value, but yields up its own value to the product that it serves to beget. In so far as the machine has value, and, in consequence, parts with value to the product, it forms an element in the value of that product. Instead of being cheapened, the product is made dearer in proportion to the value of the machine. And it is clear as noon-day, that machines and systems of machinery, the characteristic instruments of labour of Modern Industry, are incomparably more loaded with value than the implements used in handicrafts and manufactures.

In the first place, it must be observed that the machinery, while always entering as a whole into the labour-process, enters into the value-begetting process only by bits. It never adds more value than it loses, on an average, by wear and tear. Hence there is a great difference between the value of a machine, and the value transferred in a given time by that machine to the product. The longer the life of the machine in the labour-process, the greater is that difference.” (Marx 1906: 422–423).
Even though machines may cost a lot to make, they can produce a vast output, and so only transfer a tiny fraction of their value to each individual unit of output, which generally makes prices fall given that labour is eliminated and labour costs fall (Brewer 1984: 56).

The power and physical productivity of machines makes their ability to transfer fractional values to individual commodities produced approach zero, and so they resemble free forces of nature:
“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.” (Marx 1906: 425–426).
There is a profound point here: suppose, in Marx’s thinking, a machine is bought by a capitalist at its true labour value which is actually very low, but the machine is highly productive and can produce a vast output over many years: the cost price might be $1000 but the output of the machine could be 1 million goods. The labour value the machine transfers to each individual unit is very low and so “the more its services approximate to those of natural forces”: that is, it comes close to being like a free resource.

But this of course entails, as is stated explicitly in Chapter 8, that any instrument used in the production process had no labour value to begin with will transfer no labour value to the output product:
“So it is with the instruments of labour. It is known by experience how long on the average a machine of a particular kind will last. Suppose its use-value in the labour-process to last only six days. Then, on the average, it loses each day one-sixth of its use-value, and therefore parts with one-sixth of its value to the daily product. The wear and tear of all instruments, their daily loss of use-value, and the corresponding quantity of value they part with to the product, are accordingly calculated upon this basis.

It is thus strikingly clear, that means of production never transfer more value to the product than they themselves lose during the labour-process by the destruction of their own use-value. If such an instrument has no value to lose, if, in other words, it is not the product of human labour, it transfers no value to the product. It helps to create use-value without contributing to the formation of exchange value. In this class are included all means of production supplied by Nature without human assistance, such as land, wind, water, metals in situ, and timber in virgin forests.” (Marx 1906: 227).
So as machines get less and less expensive and more and more productive (i.e., existing over a long life-time and producing a vast output), machines approximate natural forces or free natural resources.

Machines displace workers where their use allows savings in labour costs over the lifetime of the machines (Marx 1990: 515), but technological unemployment can drive wages down to the point where it is still cheaper to use human workers (Marx 1990: 516).

(2) The Value transferred by the Machinery to the Product
(a) Appropriation of Supplementary Labour-Power by Capital, the Employment of Women and Children
Since machines can perform intense labour and replace strong workers, machines allow use of women and children in lighter tasks.

For Marx, this was the paradox of the introduction of the machines:
“In so far as machinery dispenses with muscular power, it becomes a means of employing labourers of slight muscular strength, and those whose bodily development is incomplete, but whose limbs are all the more supple. The labour of women and children was, therefore, the first thing sought for by capitalists who used machinery. That mighty substitute for labour and labourers was forthwith changed into a means for increasing the number of wage-labourers by enrolling, under the direct sway of capital, every member of the workman’s family, without distinction of age or sex. Compulsory work for the capitalist usurped the place, not only of the children’s play, but also of free labour at home within moderate limits for the support of the family” (Marx 1906: 431).
Marx notes that the value of labour-power includes the value needed for maintaining families, and the effects of machinery on labour:
“The value of labour-power was determined, not only by the labour-time necessary to maintain the individual adult laborer, but also by that necessary to maintain his family. Machinery, by throwing every member of that family on to the labour market, spreads the value of the man’s labour-power over his whole family. It thus depreciates his labour-power. To purchase the labour-power of a family of four workers may, perhaps, cost more than it formerly did to purchase the labour-power of the head of the family, but, in return, four days’ labour takes the place of one, and their price falls in proportion to the excess of the surplus-labour of four over the surplus-labour of one. In order that the family may live, four people must now, not only labour, but expend surplus-labor for the capitalist. Thus we see, that machinery, while augmenting the human material that forms the principal object of capital’s exploiting power, at the same time raises the degree of exploitation.” (Marx 1906: 431–432).
This implies that women and children are paid less for their work than men, and it also leads to the exploitation of children by their parents, a new form of slave labour (Marx 1990: 519).

A feature of this section of the chapter is its reliance on evidence mainly from the 1820s to 1840s, even when Marx wishes to talk about capitalism of 1860s when clear progress had been made in reducing the extent of child labour and providing much better state education for children.

(b) The Prolongation of the Working Day
Machinery allowed capitalists to increase the working day (Marx 1990: 526). Since a higher output per day means more goods that can be sold for profit, capitalists wish to maximise the operation of machinery:
“The automaton, as capital, and because it is capital, is endowed, in the person of the capitalist, with intelligence and will; it is therefore animated by the longing to reduce to a minimum the resistance offered by that repellant yet elastic natural barrier, man. This resistance is moreover lessened by the apparent lightness of machine work, and by the more pliant and docile character of the women and children employed on it.

The productiveness of machinery is, as we saw, inversely proportional to the value transferred by it to the product. The longer the life of the machine, the greater is the mass of the products over which the value transmitted by the machine is spread, and the less is the portion of that value added to each single commodity. The active lifetime of a machine is, however, clearly dependent on the length of the working day, or on the duration of the daily labour-process multiplied by the number of days for which the process is carried on.” (Marx 1906: 440–441).
Marx notices what we would now call the issue of obsolescence of machinery:
“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. When machinery is first introduced into an industry, new methods of reproducing it more cheaply follow blow upon blow, and so do improvements, that not only affect individual parts and details of the machine, but its entire build. It is, therefore, in the early days of the life of machinery that this special incentive to the prolongation of the working day makes itself felt most acutely.” (Marx 1906: 442).
According to Marx, machines also reduce wages, because workers tend to be paid the value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour-power:
“Machinery produces relative surplus-value; not only by directly depreciating the value of labour-power, and by indirectly cheapening the same through cheapening the commodities that enter into its reproduction, but also, when it is first introduced sporadically into an industry, by converting the labour employed by the owner of that machinery, into labour of a higher degree and greater efficacy, by raising the social value of the article produced above its individual value, and thus enabling the capitalist to replace the value of a day’s labour-power by a smaller portion of the value of the day’s product. During this transition period, when the use of machinery is a sort of monopoly, the profits are therefore exceptional, and the capitalist endeavours to exploit thoroughly ‘the sunny time of this his first love,’ by prolonging the working day as much as possible. The magnitude of the profit whets his appetite for more profit.

As the use of machinery becomes more general in a particular industry, the social value of the product sinks down to its individual value, and the law that surplus-value does not arise from the labour-power that has been replaced by the machinery, but from the labour-power actually employed in working with the machinery, asserts itself. Surplus-value arises from the variable capital alone, and we saw that the amount of surplus-value depends on two factors, viz., the rate of surplus-value and the number of the workmen simultaneously employed. Given the length of the working day, the rate of surplus-value is determined by the relative duration of the necessary labour and of the surplus-labour in a day. The number of the labourers simultaneously employed depends, on its side, on the ratio of the variable to the constant capital. Now, however much the use of machinery may increase the surplus-labour at the expense of the necessary labour by heightening the productiveness of labour, it is clear that it attains this result, only by diminishing the number of workmen employed by a given amount of capital. It converts what was formerly variable capital, invested in labour-power, into machinery, which, being constant capital, does not produce surplus-value.” (Marx 1906: 443–444).
But in reality with the increased use of machinery, the real wage in capitalism soared, so Marx’s analysis is badly flawed (see here and here).

The machine also produces a surplus population:
“If, then, the capitalistic employment of machinery, on the one hand, supplies new and powerful motives to an excessive lengthening of the working day, and radically changes, as well the methods of labour, as also the character of the social working organism, in such a manner as to break down all opposition to this tendency, on the other hand it produces, partly by opening out to the capitalist new strata of the working class, previously inaccessible to him, partly by setting free the labourers it supplants, a surplus working population, which is compelled to submit to the dictation of capital. Hence that remarkable phenomenon in the history of Modern Industry, that machinery sweeps away every moral and natural restriction on the length of the working day.” (Marx 1906: 445).
This technological unemployment produces the reserve army of labour (see Chapter 25 of volume 1 of Capital).

(c) Intensification of Labour
Marx now admits that attempts to lengthen the working day provoke legislation to limit it, and so a new form of extracting surplus value now becomes important: intensification of labour performed in a given working day (Marx 1990: 533). Marx treats this as another form of extracting more relative surplus value.

Marx claims the following:
“It is self-evident, that in proportion as the use of machinery spreads, and the experience of a special class of workmen habituated to machinery accumulates, the rapidity and intensity of labour increase as a natural consequence. Thus in England, during half a century, lengthening of the working day went hand in hand with increasing intensity of factory labour. Nevertheless the reader will clearly see, that where we have labour, not carried on by fits and starts, but repeated day after day with unvarying uniformity, a point must inevitably be reached, where extension of the working day and intensity of the labour mutually exclude one another, in such a way that lengthening of the working day becomes compatible only with a lower degree of intensity, and, a higher degree of intensity, only with a shortening of the working day. So soon as the gradually surging revolt of the working class compelled Parliament to shorten compulsorily the hours of labour, and to begin by imposing a normal working day on factories proper, so soon consequently as an increased production of surplus value by the prolongation of the working day was once for all put a stop to, from that moment capital threw itself with all its might into the production of relative surplus-value, by hastening on the further improvement of machinery. At the same time a change took place in the nature of relative surplus-value. Generally speaking, the mode of producing relative surplus-value consists in raising the productive power of the workman, so as to enable him to produce more in a given time with the same expenditure of labour. Labour-time continues to transmit as before the same value to the total product, but this unchanged amount of exchange value is spread over more use-values; hence the value of each single commodity sinks. Otherwise, however, so soon as the compulsory shortening of the hours of labour takes place. The immense impetus it gives to the development of productive power, and to economy in the means of production, imposes on the workman increased expenditure of labour in a given time, heightened tension of labour-power, and closer filling up of the pores of the working day, or condensation of labour to a degree that is attainable only within the limits of the shortened working day. This condensation of a greater mass of labour into a given period thenceforward counts for what it really is, a greater quantity of labour. In addition to a measure of its extension, i.e., duration, labour now acquires a measure of its intensity or of the degree of its condensation or density. The denser hour of the ten hours’ working-day contains more labour, i.e., expended labour-power, than the more porous hour of the twelve hours’ working-day.” (Marx 1906: 447–448).

“The shortening of the hours of labour creates, to begin with, the subjective conditions for the condensation of labour, by enabling the workman to exert more strength in a given time. So soon as that shortening becomes compulsory, machinery becomes in the hands of capital the objective means, systematically employed for squeezing out more labour in a given time. This is effected in two ways: by increasing the speed of the machinery, and by giving the workman more machinery to tend. Improved construction of the machinery is necessary, partly because without it greater pressure cannot be put on the workman, and partly because the shortened hours of labour force the capitalist to exercise the strictest watch over the cost
of production.” (Marx 1906: 450).

“There cannot be the slightest doubt that the tendency that urges capital as soon as a prolongation of the hours of labour is once for all forbidden, to compensate itself, by a systematic heightening of the intensity of labour, and to convert every improvement in machinery into a more perfect means of exhausting the workman, must soon lead to a state of things in which a reduction of the hours of labour will again be inevitable.” (Marx 1906: 456).
Though Marx does indeed cite some empirical evidence in support of this, it is so obviously one-sided and blatantly skewed by his communist ideology.

After 1840s, child labour did indeed fall and the length of the working day fell, and the use of machines actually tended to reduce the intensity of labour for men and women in many industries, compared to the heavy manual labour of pre-industrial days.

In the long-run, the working day in capitalism did fall, and machines generally reduce the amount of work to be done and its intensity. But Marx will have none of this. But nowadays even a Marxist like Harry Cleaver admits that in the long run in capitalism the “general tendency has been for a reduction in intensity” of labour (see here under Section 3. Working Class Response).

(4) The Factory
The factory changes the skills of workers:
“Along with the tool, the skill of the workman in handling it passes over to the machine. The capabilities of the tool are emancipated from the restraints that are inseparable from human labour-power. Thereby the technical foundation on which is based the division of labour in Manufacture, is swept away. Hence, in the place of the hierarchy of specialised workmen that characterises manufacture, there steps, in the automatic factory, a tendency to equalise and reduce to one and the same level every kind of work that has to be done by the minders of the machines; in the place of the artificially produced differentiations of the detail workmen, step the natural differences of age and sex.

So far as division of labour re-appears in the factory, it is primarily a distribution of the workmen among the specialised machines; and of masses of workmen, not however organised into groups, among the various departments of the factory, in each of which they work at a number of similar machines placed together; their co-operation, therefore, is only simple. The organised group, peculiar to manufacture, is replaced by the connexion between the head workman and his few assistants. The essential division is, into workmen who are actually employed on the machines (among whom are included a few who look after the engine), and into mere attendants (almost exclusively children) of these workmen. Among the attendants are reckoned more or less all ‘Feeders’ who supply the machines with the material to be worked. In addition to these two principal classes, there is a numerically unimportant class of persons, whose occupation it is to look after the whole of the machinery and repair it from time to time; such as engineers, mechanics, joiners, &c. This is a superior class of workmen, some of them scientifically educated, others brought up to a trade; it is distinct from the factory operative class, and merely aggregated to it. This division of labour is purely technical.” (Marx 1906: 459–460).
So machines have a tendency to make the type of labour performed increasingly homogeneous (Harvey 2010: 215).

Machine work can be learnt quickly from a young age (Marx 1990: 546).

Factory work destroys human freedom:
“At the same time that factory work exhausts the nervous system to the uttermost, it does away with the many-sided play of the muscles, and confiscates every atom of freedom, both in bodily and intellectual activity. The lightening of the labour, even, becomes a sort of torture, since the machine does not free the labourer from work, but deprives the work of all interest. Every kind of capitalist production in so far as it is not only a labour-process, but also a process of creating surplus-value, has this in common, that it is not the workman that employs the instruments of labour, but the instruments of labour that employ the workman. But it is only in the factory system that this inversion for the first time acquires technical and palpable reality. By means of its conversion into an automaton, the instrument of labour confronts the labourer, during the labour-process, in the shape of capital, of dead labour, that dominates, and pumps dry, living labour-power. The separation of the intellectual powers of production from the manual labour, and the conversion of those powers into the might of capital over labour, is, as we have already shown, finally completed by modern industry erected on the foundation of machinery.” (Marx 1906: 462).
But Marx badly contradicts himself here, for he admits that large-scale industry can result in a “lightening of the labour” and later in the chapter refers to the “light character of the labour” in the factory system (Marx 1906: 505).

Factories impose an army-like discipline on workers with superintendents and overseers; the training of workers from childhood onwards is also an effective practice in the factories (Marx 1990: 549).

Marx makes a fair point about the dangers of early factories:
“We shall here merely allude to the material conditions under which factory labour is carried on. Every organ of sense is injured in an equal degree by artificial elevation of the temperature, by the dust-laden atmosphere, by the deafening noise, not to mention danger to life and limb among the thickly crowded machinery, which with the regularity of the seasons, issues its list of the killed and wounded in the industrial battle. Economy of the social means of production, matured and forced as in a hothouse by the factory system, is turned, in the hands of capital into systematic robbery of what is necessary for the life of the workman while he is at work, robbery of space, light, air, and of protection to his person against the dangerous and unwholesome accompaniments of the productive process, not to mention the robbery of appliances for the comfort of the workman.” (Marx 1906: 465–466).
But even here organised labour and unions made great strides in improving working conditions, even in the 19th century, so Marx simply misses the point that over time in the West these conditions greatly improved.

Even in this very chapter in his footnotes Marx is forced to admissions that do not fit his hyperbole: for example, legal reforms gave workers more rights in regard to breach of contract: “the English laborer has been placed on an equity with the employers in cases of contract breaking, and can be proceeded against only by the civil courts” (Marx 1906: 464, n. 1). The Factory Acts had a beneficial effect in reducing the risks of dangerous machinery (Marx 1990: 552, n. 10). Even more:
“In those factories that have been longest subject to the Factory Acts, with their compulsory limitation of the hours of labour, and other regulations, many of the older abuses have vanished. The very improvement of the machinery demands to a certain extent ‘improved construction of the buildings,’ and this is an advantage to the work-people. (See ‘Rep. of Insp. of Fact, for 31st Oct., 1863,’ p. 109.” (Marx 1906: 466, n. 2).
Marx even has evidence that machines can reduce child labour:
“At the end of 1871, Mr. A. Redgrave, the factory inspector, in a lecture given at Bradford, in the New Mechanics’ Institution, said: ‘What has struck me for some time past is the altered appearance of the woollen factories. Formerly they were filled with women and children, now machinery seems to do all the work. At my asking for an explanation of this from a manufacturer, he gave me the following: “Under the old system I employed 63 persons; after the introduction of improved machinery I reduced my hands to 33, and lately, in consequence of new and extensive alterations, I have been in a position to reduce those 33 to 13.”’” (Marx 1906: 490, n. 2).
But we do not get this impression from his main text.

(5) The Struggle between Worker and Machine
Capitalists and workers are prone to disputes and conflict, and this began in the earlier period of manufacture, but intensified with the introduction of machines (Marx 1990: 553).

Marx reviews the history of worker hostility to machines:
“The enormous destruction of machinery that occurred in the English manufacturing districts during the first 15 years of this century, chiefly caused by the employment of the power-loom, and known as the Luddite movement, gave the anti-Jacobin governments of a Sidmouth, a Castlereagh, and the like, a pretext for the most re-actionary and forcible measures. It took both time and experience before the workpeople learnt to distinguish between machinery and its employment by capital, and to direct their attacks, not against the material instruments of production, but against the mode in which they are used.” (Marx 1906: 468).
Workers are in competition with machines:
“The instrument of labour, when it takes the form of a machine, immediately becomes a competitor of the workman himself. The self-expansion of capital by means of machinery is thenceforward directly proportional to the number of the workpeople, whose means of livelihood have been destroyed by that machinery. The whole system of capitalist production is based on the fact that the workman sells his labour-power as a commodity. Division of labour specialises this labour-power, by reducing it to skill in handling a particular tool. So soon as the handling of this tool becomes the work of a machine, then, with the use-value, the exchange-value too, of the workman’s labour-power vanishes; the workman becomes unsaleable, like paper money thrown out of currency by legal enactment. That portion of the working class, thus by machinery rendered superfluous, i.e., no longer immediately necessary for the self-expansion of capital, either goes to the wall in the unequal contest of the old handicrafts and manufactures with machinery, or else floods all the more easily accessible branches of industry, swamps the labour market, and sinks the price of labour-power below its value. It is impressed upon the work-people, as a great consolation, first, that their sufferings are only temporary (‘a temporary inconvenience’), secondly, that machinery acquires the mastery over the whole of a given field of production, only by degrees, so that the extent and intensity of its destructive effect is diminished. The first consolation neutralizes the second. When machinery seizes on an industry by degrees, it produces chronic misery among the operatives who compete with it. Where the transition is rapid, the effect is acute and felt by great masses. History discloses no tragedy more horrible than the gradual extinction of the English handloom weavers, an extinction that was spread over several decades, and finally sealed in 1838. Many of them died of starvation, many with families vegetated for a long time on 2.5 d. a day.” (Marx 1906: 470–471).
So machines actually tend to drive down real wages even below the value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour-power.

Marx thinks the overarching effect of machines is to de-skill workers and dispense with skilled labour, and induce more child and female labour to replace that of skilled adult males, and in the process reducing wage rates (Marx 1990: 559–560).

Machines also give capitalists a tool with which to suppress strikes (Marx 1990: 563).

External Links
Harry Cleaver, Study Guide to Capital Volume I, Chapter 15.

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. Ah this is the standard "Great Inventions" argument that is a celebration of randian-hero "wealth creators", from which prosperity trickles down to moochers and looters.

    The problem with "innovation" is that some of it is just rearranging things and has very little impact, and most of the big impact productivity growth comes from the discovery and adoption of cheaper denser fuels and only rather secondarily from the exploration of the new landscape of technical possibilities enabled by their cheapness and density.

    A man in a dozer is as productive as 50 men with shovels not because the dozer is a great invention that enhances productivity, but because the energy source for the energy motivating its scoop is cheaper and denser than the farm product needed as energy source for the 50 labourers whose muscles motivate the shovels.

    Give the world a new far cheaper and far denser fuels and a new surge in productivity will happen, as people scramble to take advantage of the profit opportunities thereof.

    The two "limits" above apply only to somewhat better, not far better, discoveries: it is hard to get people to explore the possibilities of new stuff that is only somewhat better.

    But coal first, in low pressure and then high pressure engines, and oil later, in alternating and later continuous fuel-air engines, have been so hugely better than their predecessors that they have almost forced a massive rush to adoption.

    Discovering and adopting better mineral fuel sources is the same as discovering and adopting new extraordinarily fertile land that produces amazingly cheap and nutritious food (but with nonrenewable fertility). The eastern desert of Arabia is probably the most fertile farmland ever discovered and put into production.

    A car is far more productive than a horse drawn cart not because the petrol engine is a "Great Invention" that is far more efficient than a horse, but because its "food" (petrol) is much cheaper and lighter than the "food" (oats) powering the horse.

    The great waves of productivity growth have been (nearly) entirely driven by the adoption of better (much cheaper, rather energy denser) fuels, and then, yes, optimizing the machinery using them, machinery that is however not very useful scrap without those fuels.
    Seen from a certain point of view coal-fields and oil-fields have been the most fertile land ever discovered, capable of a "food" yield many many times larger and many many times cheaper than the most fertile land of Kansas or Ukraine, a fantastic windfall that has driven down dramatically the price of "food" for the past hundred years. It is this immense windfall that has "proven" Marx wrong.

    The problem is that a third great fuel, cheaper and energy denser than oil, has not been found yet, and we have already optimized coal and fuel consumption as far as it is feasible, and the marginal fertility of coal-field and oil-field land is falling constantly.

    This is indeed in part made clearer by looking at the energy cost of new energy, but it goes further than that.

    That is what has overwhelmingly mattered, not the silly mistake of "human inventiveness" and Great Inventors and the limits with which moochers and looters shackle randian-hero wealth-creators.

    A steam engine or an electrical engine are *misleading named*, because without the coal or oil or other fuels burned in producing the steam or electricity they wouldn't exist, and the steam and electricity are just lossy ways to turn the energy in the fuel into work.

    It has amazed me that scholarly and erudite works of rabid and baseless randian propaganda have been spread so widely.

    1. "A steam engine or an electrical engine are *misleading named*, because without the coal or oil or other fuels burned in producing the steam or electricity they wouldn't exist,"

      And all the energy or oil in the world ain't worth jack crap unless you have efficient, well designed machines that can make use of the energy source.

      Well designed machines and energy sources go together. Both are necessary for the production process.

      Also, the analysis above has nothing to do with Ayn Rand.

  2. There have been billions of people in the direst poverty for a long time and rich countries have never worried about sharing their wealth with them so they could sell more.

    The super-machines are indeed supposed to ease the supply of *labour*, the supply of commodities and other resources will still be the same. Indeed even super-machines need fuel, because without fuel they are just useless scrap.

    The premise of the automation miracle after all is that turning fuel into labour is cheaper than turning food into labourers...

  3. Increased productivity should also make it possible for real wages to rise, without reducing exploitation. As such rising wages are compatible with Marxist theory, so long as workers have enough bargaining power to obtain wage increases along with increases in productivity.

    1. No, Philippe, you don't even understand Marx's theory properly.


      (1) the working day is stable or falling in the long run (and within a worker's life), and

      (2) machines, generally speaking, reduce the intensity of labour per stable given day of labour, and

      (3) the real wage is rising over time and soaring higher and higher, then

      (4) the Marxist rate of exploitation is **falling**, not rising, because workers are being paid more and more for the value of their surplus labour time.

      See here:
      Now workers might still be being exploited in some other different way, but the **primary** kind of exploitation in Marxist theory would be falling.

      There is no excuse for not understanding Marx on this point.

    2. Let's say, for simplicity, that workers work 8 hours a day, but are only really paid by the capitalist for four of those hours, the other four hours being surplus labour performed for free.

      Now let's say productivity increases, and the amount of goods produced per hour by the workers doubles. This means the amount the workers produce in the paid four hours doubles, and the amount produced in the unpaid fours hours doubles. So the worker’s real wage can double, whilst they continue to perform the same amount of surplus labour, i.e. without there being any reduction in exploitation. However, whether the workers are actually able to secure this increase in real wages depends on their relative bargaining power.

    3. LK,

      A better explanation of what I was trying to say:

      “Chapter 12: The concept of relative surplus value

      Relative Surplus Value as a Strategy

      In this chapter [chapter 12] Marx speaks of relative surplus value as if it were an object, a certain amount of surplus labor time extracted by capitalists. However, it is called "relative" surplus value because of the way in which it is extracted: by raising productivity and lowering the value of the means of subsistence. Therefore, we should recognize that not only does relative surplus value refer to the process of raising productivity, but also that it constitutes a strategy of capital in dealing with the working class. As a strategy, relative surplus value is considerably more subtle than absolute surplus value.

      In absolute surplus value, as we have seen, workers are forced to work longer hours, hours which rebound to the profit of the capitalist not to that of the worker whose wage (or value of labor power) we have assumed constant. In relative surplus value, some workers suffer from the introduction of machinery by losing their jobs "”increasing unemployment (driving workers from the active into the reserve army of labor, discussed in Chapter 25). But for those who remain the costs are not immediately obvious "”unless perhaps the reorganization of the factory is carried out in a way blatantly designed to undermine workers' self-organization. On the contrary, the increased productivity which lowers costs can not only raise profits but can even be used by the capitalist to meet workers' demands for higher wages. Marx doesn't discuss this possibility in the chapter but it is implicit in the analysis.

      (part 1 of 2)

    4. (part 2)

      “This is clear if we take a simple (though overdrawn) case of a generalized doubling of productivity. In Marx's exposition the capitalists always get the full benefit in the form of a halving of V and the consequent increase in S. However, it is also possible for the capitalist to increase in real wages somewhat and still earn larger profits. Suppose, for example, that in time period 1 total output given a fixed working day = 100 and this was evenly divided in real terms and in value terms between the classes such that V = 50 and S = 50. Now suppose that in the next period 2, productivity is doubled such that total output = 200. Under the circumstances the per unit value of output would be halved and the working class could retain the same real income if V fell to 25 while the capitalists arrogated 3/4ths of the value to themselves with S = 75. This is the kind of example Marx gives. But, suppose the workers fought for a real wage increase of, say 50%. With the rise in productivity, the capitalists could grant such an increase, in which V would rise from 25 to 37.5, but surplus value would still rise from 50 to 62.5! Not only would their absolute level of profit increase, but so too would the rate of exploitation (rising from 50/50 to 62.5/37.5). Herein lies the subtlety: relative surplus value makes it possible for the capitalists to grant an improvement in living conditions to the workers while at the same time retaining and augmenting their own power (measured in terms of value "”and thus workers"” commanded). This possibility provides the capitalists with a new tool for dealing with the working class: not only can new technology be used against them, but those who retain their jobs can be persuaded to cooperate with such change by being paid higher wages.

      The flip side, of course, is that workers come not only to recognize how technological changes which raise productivity lower costs and raise profits, but to demand an equal share in the results. Eventually, long after Marx wrote, workers would achieve the power to impose "productivity deals" on business wherein the fruits of productivity increases would be shared equally between business and labor, i.e., both real wages and real profits would rise while the rate of exploitation remained the same. Such deals would be written into industrial union contracts and be supported by state measures in the so-called Keynesian Era.”

    5. Here's the proper link for the above:

    6. Your 2 quotations do nothing but confirm everything I've said to you:

      if the working day is held constant or falling, and the real wage is rising and machines, generally speaking, reduce the intensity of work, then the rate of exploitation is FALLING.

      The argument I just gave you is vindicated.

    7. The quote (from Harry Cleaver) explains that as productivity increases, the real wage can increase whilst the rate of exploitation increases or remains the same.

      This means that, alternatively, working time could be reduced instead of increasing real wages. Or there could be some combination of reduced working time and increased real wages, whilst the rate of exploitation increases or remains the same, thanks to increases in productivity.

      Presumably you could also have some combination of real wage increase, working time reduction, and reduction in work intensity, whilst the rate of exploitation increases or remains the same. However, a reduction in working time and/or intensity might result in a reduction of total surplus value produced by workers, even whilst the rate of exploitation increases or remains the same.


      “Productivity and the Working Day

      Marx is careful to note that although rising productivity makes it possible for the amount of work by all workers to be reduced - because what they need can now be produced with less work - this "is by no means what is aimed at in capitalist production" (p.438). ….

      (part 1 of 2)

    8. (part 2)

      “Rising Productivity and Less Work

      During the Keynesian era, the subtlety of relative surpus value changed: capitalists would insist that workers take the benefits from rising productivity uniquely in the form of increased wages and money benefits but would not even discuss taking the benefits in the form of less work. Marx's comment that "the shortening of the working day, therefore, is by no means what is aimed at in capitalist production" would continue to be the case right down to the present.

      Nevertheless, beginning in the late 1960s, after three decades of rising real wages, workers would begin to demand shorter working days once again. They would begin to discuss the possibilities of the 4- day or 36 hour week. It would take the Great Recession of 1974-75 and the Great Reagan Depression of 1981-83 to remove these demands from the workers' agenda. And, despite this, the issue would come bounding back in the late 1980s in France, in Germany and in other countries.

      Given this history, it is important to recognize how Marx's analysis of relative surplus value makes clear the technical possibility of converting rising productivity into less work as well as more income. In the case given above, of a doubling of productivity, there are many possible outcomes. Marx's example used to illustrate the idea of relative surplus value resulted in a shift in value distribution from 50/50 to 25/75 "”he holds the working day fixed to concentrate on a new dynamic. But suppose we do not suppose the working day to be fixed. Clearly, a doubling of productivity, technically speaking, could be translated into 1. doubled output (which could be shared between the classes according to some deal or another) with the same working hours, 2. the same output with only half as much work, or 3. some positive increase (but less than doubling) of output produced together with less work, e.g., a 50% increase in output with 25% less work. Such are the technical possibilities. The political possibilities are determined by the dynamics of the class struggle. In Marx's time, the capitalists had the power to avoid workers taking the fruits of productivity growth in the form of less work (except in so far as they forced reductions through acts of Parliament as in Chapter 10). Today workers are fighting to do just that: raise their wages and reduce their work in exchange for cooperating with productivity raising technological change. The capitalists, of course, continue to resist because reduced work time raises their costs and undercuts the very basis of their kind of social order "”one built around the endless subordination of life to work.”

    9. "the subtlety of relative surpus value changed: capitalists would insist that workers take the benefits from rising productivity uniquely in the form of increased wages "

      lol... those evil capitalists!!

      This means that, with a working day fixed and intensity of labour the same or (more likely falling, the Marxist rate of exploitation FALLS.

      For christ's sake, how many times, do I have to explain this to you?

      Are you coming on my blog and trying to argue -- contrary to all the empirical evidence -- that the past 200 years of capitalism has only ever increased the rate of exploitation? If this were true we would mostly all be living at subsistence levels.

      I'm tired of this Marxist B.S.

    10. "Or there could be some combination of reduced working time and increased real wages, whilst the rate of exploitation increases or remains the same, thanks to increases in productivity. "

      This is so confused it is very clear you don't know what you are talking about.

    11. "During the Keynesian era, the subtlety of relative surpus value changed: capitalists would insist that workers take the benefits from rising productivity uniquely in the form of increased wages and money benefits but would not even discuss taking the benefits in the form of less work."

      The fact that the working day was not reduced does NOT change the fact that rate of exploitation would STILL have been falling in this era.


    12. I’m not a die-hard marxist, or even a marxist really. I agree with some of his ideas. I genuinely think you’ve misunderstood this point. I’m not criticising you because I’m defending my religion. I’m interested in properly understanding Marx, and am willing to accept that he is wrong if that is the case.

      “This means that, with a working day fixed and intensity of labour the same or (more likely falling), the Marxist rate of exploitation FALLS.”

      No, it doesn’t mean that. First of all, intensity of labour and productivity are not the same thing. Productivity can increase as a result of more and better technology, whilst intensity remains the same (or even decreases). i.e. you’re working no harder than before but producing more because you’re using more/better technology.

      Assuming the working day and intensity of labour remain the same, an increase in productivity means that it is possible for the real wage to rise even as the rate of exploitation increases or remains the same. This is explained clearly in the text I posted.

      Here’s my simple example to try to explain this point (note, this is just my explanation, so any errors are purely my own):

      1. Say workers work 8 hours a day, producing 1 good per hour or 8 goods a day. They are paid a wage (v) equal to 4 goods per day. It takes them 4 hours to produce this. So surplus value (s) is equal to the remaining 4 hours of labour (or 4 goods). The rate of exploitation (rate of surplus value) is s/v = 1.

      2. The introduction of more/better technology means that their productivity doubles. Workers now produce 2 goods per hour, or 16 goods a day, with the same intensity of labour and in the same number of hours as before.

      The capitalist increases their real wage to 6 goods per day. Whereas before they received 4 goods from one days labour, now they receive 6, so their real wage has increased.

      However, because their productivity has doubled, it now only takes them 3 hours to produce 6 goods. Given that they are still working 8 hours a day, surplus value is now equal to the remaining 5 hours of labour (or 10 goods). The rate of exploitation is s/v = 1.66. The rate of exploitation has increased, even though the real wage has increased.

      3. Say that instead the real wage doubles to 8 goods, in line with the doubling of productivity. It takes the workers 4 hours to produce this, meaning that surplus value is equal to the remaining 4 hours, as before. The rate of exploitation is s/v = 1, the same as before. So in this case the rate of exploitation has remained the same as the real wage has increased.

    13. (The reason I assumed the workers are paid in goods rather than money, in my example, is just to make it simpler and clearer. You could do the same example with money).

    14. In (2) you have badly mangled Marx's theory. Surplus labour is NOT measured by output goods, but by abstract socially necessary labour time, which would be a base homogenous unit of 1 hour of simple socially necessary labour.

      If 1 worker performs 8 hours of simple labour in 1 day and produces 8 goods, and 1 good (= 1 dollar) is the base rate throughout the economy for one simple hour of labour, then you can make the necessary calculations.

    15. sorry, that bit was unclear.

      The rate of exploitation (rate of surplus value) = surplus labour time/ necessary labour time, where ‘necessary labour time’ is the amount of labour time it takes for the workers to produce the equivalent of their wages.

      So in my (1) the rate of exploitation = (4 hours)/(4 hours) = 1

      In (2) the rate of exploitation = (5 hours)/(3 hours) = 1.66 (so there is an increase in the rate of exploitation, along with an increase in the real wage).

      In (3) the rate of exploitation = (4 hours)/(4 hours) = 1 (so the rate of exploitation is the same as before whilst the real wage has increased).

      It happens that in my examples you get the same results by using the number of goods instead of the number of hours

      (1) (4 goods)/(4 goods) = 1
      (2) (10 goods)/(6 goods) = 1.66
      (3) (8 goods)/(8 goods) = 1

    16. (1) No,

      necessary labour time = amount of socially necessary labour time it takes for the workers to earn the value of their maintenance and reproduction (=subsistence wage)

      surplus labour time = the amount of socially necessary labour time they work above their subsistence wage

      (2) “In (2) the rate of exploitation = (5 hours)/(3 hours) = 1.66 (so there is an increase in the rate of exploitation, along with an increase in the real wage).”


      1 good = 1 dollar

      1 dollar = base rate throughout the economy for one simple hour of labour

      4 goods/$4 = subsistence wage

      8 simple hours worked per day by one worker produces 8 goods in T1

      8 hours worked per day with same intensity by one worker produces 16 goods in T2

      Rate of surplus value = s/v
      In time 2 in your example, if they get 6 goods wage = $6 (with the same price for the good), then the wages have risen above subsistence level. Since 1 dollar = base rate throughout the economy for one simple hour of labour and they work 8 hours, value of v is now $6. So therefore surplus labour s of 2 hours has a value of $2.

      s/v = 2/6 (in simple hours) or $2/$6 (in terms of the value of labour time), so the rate of exploitation is 0.3333 or 33.33%. This is lower than the prior rate of exploitation which was 1 or 100%.

      (3) Now if you assume in the long run the price of the 16 new goods produced in time 2 falls to $0.5 (commensurate with the halved SNLT embodied in them) and 1 dollar is still base rate throughout the economy for one simple hour of labour, then the capitalist must pay at least 8 goods to maintain the subsistence wage at $4.

      So only paying 6 goods (6 * 0.5 = $3) would actually reduce the real wage to below the subsistence level. So your example fails, because you actually make the wage fall below subsistence, not above it.

      Actually, the capitalist would need to pay above $4 if wanted to raise real wages, so more than 8 units of the new output good would need to be paid, e.g., 9, 10, 11 or 12.

      Say he paid 12. So now wages = 12 * 0.5 = $6, and the value of v = $6. Surplus labour time s is still 2 hours and still has a value of $2.

      s/v = 2/6 = 0.333 or 33.33%. The rate of exploitation has fallen.

    17. "In time 2 in your example, if they get 6 goods wage = $6 (with the same price for the good), then the wages have risen above subsistence level."

      Yes. The real wage has increased. Before they were getting 4 goods for a days work, now they are getting 6 goods for a days work.

      "Since 1 dollar = base rate throughout the economy for one simple hour of labour and they work 8 hours, value of v is now $6. So therefore surplus labour s of 2 hours has a value of $2."

      No! Because of increased productivity, it only takes the workers 3 hours to produce the equivalent of 6 goods - their new real wage. Whereas before it took them 4 hours to produce the equivalent of 4 goods, their old real wage. So their real wage has gone up, but the amount of time it takes to produce it has gone down, because of increased productivity. This means that surplus labour time has gone up from 4 hours to 5 hours. So the rate of exploitation has increased.

      (5 hours)/(3 hours) = 1.66

    18. "Because of increased productivity, it only takes the workers 3 hours to produce the equivalent of 6 goods - their new real wage. Whereas before it took them 4 hours to produce the equivalent of 4 goods, their old real wage. So their real wage has gone up, but the amount of time it takes to produce it has gone down, because of increased productivity. This means that surplus labour time has gone up from 4 hours to 5 hours."

      No, it does not. At a base rate of $1 per simple hour of labour, they get paid for each hour of simple labour they do.

      (1) They are still doing 8 hours of simple labour in time 2.

      (2) at a base rate of $1, they are getting paid for 6 hours of labour: 6 hours out of 8. They are not getting paid per unit, but by the hour of simple socially necessary labour time.

      (3) since wages and prices must equal SNLT in the long run in Marx's model in vol. 1, this is correct. You are still trying to calculate the value of labour time based on output goods, rather than the consistent value of a simple labour hour. If there was no base rate, then prices could never equal SNLT time values.

      You simply do not understand Marx's theory.

    19. "then the capitalist must pay at least 8 goods to maintain the subsistence wage at $4."

      This makes no sense at all, and shows that you're getting things back to front. This is the problem with thinking about it in terms of money, it makes things more complicated.

      You said that the real subsistence wage = 4 goods. i.e. the worker gets 4 goods for 8 hours labour.

      If instead the worker gets 8 goods for 8 hours labour, then the real wage has gone up, from 4 to 8.

    20. "then the capitalist must pay at least 8 goods to maintain the subsistence wage at $4."

      Again, if the real subsistence wage is 4 goods (i.e. the worker needs 4 goods to stay live and be able to work), then it makes absolutely no sense to say that giving him 8 goods instead of 4 equals maintaining the real wage at the subsistence level. You've doubled the real wage. He can now consume the subsistence wage (4 goods) plus another 4 goods.

    21. "Again, if the real subsistence wage is 4 goods (i.e. the worker needs 4 goods to stay live and be able to work), then it makes absolutely no sense to say that giving him 8 goods instead of 4 equals maintaining the real wage at the subsistence level."

      Yes, it does: because in the example you are referring to above the real wage is fixed at $4 and we assume that the value per unit of the 16 units falls to $0.5 per unit. We are also assuming whatever good this is is NOT the subsistence good per se, but something else like widgets or umbrellas or matches.

      So to maintain the real wage in a money value:

      0.5 * 8 = 4.

      Simple. You have simply not understood the example.

    22. If my example, or my explanations, make no sense to you, then please re-read the text I posted by Harry Cleaver. He was an associate professor at the university of Texas, specializing in Marxian economics, so there is no reason to assume that he doesn't know what he's talking about (which seems to be your assumption about me). He explains clearly how the real wage can increase whilst the rate of exploitation also increases.

    23. I don't deny you can concoct abstract scenarios where the real wage can increase whilst the rate of exploitation also increases by increasing intensity of labour or reducing the value of the subsistence wage. This is not the issue.

      But your abstract scenarios are flawed. It is entirely possible Cleaver's are as well. Just because he is an alleged "expert" it doesn't mean he is infallible.

    24. Another point is of course that

      (1) SNLT labour time is incoherent, indefinable and empirically irrelevant anyway, and

      (2) prices don't tend to equal SNLT values even if SNLT were definable.

      So we are arguing here about how many angels fit on the heads of pins.

    25. it seems to me that (what I think is) our miscommunication is due to thinking about the issue in terms of money. I wanted to avoid that, as the issue of rising/falling prices, inflation/deflation etc complicates the issue.

      Lets say the worker works 8 hours a day, and produces 1 apple every hour. His daily wage is 4 apples, which is the bare minimum subsistence wage he needs to survive and work.

      Now productivity doubles (due to more/better tehnology), so he produces 2 apples every hour, or 16 apples a day. Hours worked and intensity remain the same as before.

      His employer, the capitalist, increases his daily wage to 6 apples. So his real wage has increased from 4 apples to 6. He now has the basic real subsistence wage plus another 2 apples.

      He's living the life of riley, getting fat off the additional 2 apples.

      But now it only takes him 3 hours to produce 6 apples, thanks to the increased productivity, whereas before it took it 4 hours to produce 4 apples.

      So now his surplus labour time has increased from 4 hours to 5 hours. Because after 3 hours he has already produced the 6 apples he is paid as a wage. The remaining 5 hours are unpaid labour.

      So the rate of exploitation has increased, because now he's doing 5 hours of surplus labour whereas before he was doing 4. The rate of exploitation is now 5/3 = 1.66, whereas before it was 4/4 = 1

    26. There would be nothing unjust about this, because the cost of creating new technologies and machines must be recouped and the risk of investing in such new technologies must be rewarded. Over time, competition would force down the rate of profit by reducing the price of apples.

    27. Whether it's unjust or not is not the point of this thread. The point is whether its possible, according to Marxist theory, for real wages to rise whilst the rate of exploitation increases or stays the same.

      But since you mentioned it. If the worker is paying for the cost of creating the new technology with his labour, shouldn't ownership of the technology gradually be transferred to him? Each day he should own a bit more of the technology? In actual fact the arrangement has nothing to do with paying for the cost. Instead it's more like a tenant paying rent to a landlord for the use of land. The landlord owns the land, the tenant works on the land to produce, say, crops, the landlord takes a large chunk of the product of the tenant's labour in rent whilst retaining ownership of the land. This can go on ad infinitum. The tenant is not paying the landlord for labour or cosr, he's paying the landlord simply because the landlord 'owns' the land. The landlord is being rewarded for being the 'owner', nothing else.

    28. Also, you ignore the fact that the situation is based on force and coercion. The working class is forced to work for the capitalist class in order to live, because they own (i.e. forcibly control) the means of production (land, resources, technology etc).

    29. The worker is not paying for the cost of new technology or anything else. He is getting paid for his work. New technology is created by those who invent it and those pay with their capital for the cost of creating it.
      They are morally entitled to the extra profits created by it.

      The workers will benefit from the new or improved goods produced by the new technology and higher wages resulting from the increase in demand for labour because of a higher rate of profit.

      Lastly, the situation is not based on force because workers can choose whether or not to work for capitalists. They can join self employed trades or even set up their own businesses. Richard Arkwright, 'the father of the industrial revolution' was the son of a tailor.

    30. "the situation is not based on force because workers can choose whether or not to work for capitalists."

      That's obviously not true, as the means of production, the means of life - land, resources etc, needed by workers are not owned by them. As such they are forced to work for capitalists in one way or another. Calling yourself 'self employed' doesn't actually change this. And of course only some people are able to be 'self employed'. Large scale production requires large numbers of people working together, and in the capitalist system this means companies or corporations in which workers work for capitalist bosses.

      Imagine we live on an island, and I claim to own the whole island. If you try to use any of it without my permission, I'll use force against you to stop you, and to punish you. If you want to stay alive, if you want to eat, if you want to have a place to live, if you want to do anything or have anything at all, you'll have to obey my rules, obey my orders and work for me. But I'll tell you what, we'll call you 'self employed' so you can pretend that you're free. See how ridiculous that is? But according to your ridiculous argument, in this situation you are indeed completely free and I have no power over you. It's simply absurd.

      In any hierarchical system, some people are able to climb up the hierarchy. That doesn't change the fact that the hierarchy exists and those at the top have power over those at the bottom.

    31. "Calling yourself 'self employed' doesn't actually change this."

      If you make shoes and sell them to your neighbours you are not employed by a capitalist. Your food and shelter are paid for by what you earn from selling shoes.

      "Large scale production requires large numbers of people working together, and in the capitalist system this means companies or corporations in which workers work for capitalist bosses."

      And those bosses can be sacked by the shareholders of the companies. And most large companies are listed on the stock exchange, which means anyone can buy those shares, including workers. A very large proportion of quoted shares are in fact owned by pension funds and insurance companies which provide incomes to pensioners and widows. These pensioners and widows are living off the profits made by large companies and are not part of an "exploiting class".

      "It's simply absurd."

      Yes, your example IS simply absurd if supposed to represent real world capitalism in a developed nation. Britain is an island and most of its land is owned by farmers or the National Trust. Both are subject to laws made an elected government to protect the public interest. The same is true of large companies. Real world capitalism does not mean the owners of capital (who are mostly pension funds, mutual funds and insurance companies rather than the idle rich) also own the entire country and make its laws.

    32. "In any hierarchical system, some people are able to climb up the hierarchy. That doesn't change the fact that the hierarchy exists and those at the top have power over those at the bottom."

      Those who manage a business have the "power" to hire and fire workers. Those who work for a business have the "power" to sell their labour to the highest bidder. But the power to make and enforce laws belongs to the government.

    33. I should have added that a large percentage of the workforce in a modern capitalist economy are employed in the public sector, which gives them another option to working for capitalists.

    34. Coming back to my island example, according to you in this scenario you, the propertyless proletarian, have the 'power' to sell your labour power to me, the person/class that owns the thing you need in order to live. That's a funny kind of 'power' given that your only other option is to starve to death or live in abject destitution. In reality the only 'power' the worker has in the capitalist market is to choose a master. So whilst there might be some competition between masters, this will be minimal if workers are abundant, and anyway this competition will not do away with the hierarchy of power between the masters and the workers. It might potentially reduce the degree of exploitation somewhat, but it will not eliminate it.

    35. I replied to your island example but LK did not publish my comment. It is an absurd description of capitalism in any modern developed nation. Britain is an island and most of its land is owned by farmers and the National Trust, not capitalists. Both are subject to laws made by the elected government to ensure they act in the public interest. No one starves because "capitalists" don't employ them. Furthermore, large companies are quoted in the stock exchange, so workers can buy their shares. In fact, most of the share capital of big business is owned by pension funds, mutual funds and insurance companies, which provide incomes to pensioners and widows. These people are not an "exploiting class" who want to keep the workers downtrodden. Most of them, in fact, are former workers.

    36. “no one starves because capitalists don’t employ them”

      So you’re an unemployed, propertyless proletarian. What are your options? In a capitalist world without welfare: starve to death, beg on the street, prostitution, maybe the workhouse.

      Now some countries have welfare, which people had to struggle to create, which provides a very basic level of subsistence, though not always (see people depending on food banks even in the UK)). Even then, there are constant attempts to whittle it down to nothing, or get rid of it altogether.

      And of course many countries have no welfare. Which is why capitalist ideologues love to defend sweatshops by arguing that capitalists are doing workers a favour, because their only other options would be starvation or prostitution.

      It’s funny that. One minute they’ll argue that capitalism is not coercive, and the next they’ll tell you that forced labour under the threat of starvation is 'doing someone a favour'.

      But to claim that - thanks to welfare - you’re free and people don’t have power over you, because you have the choice of living in abject poverty instead of starving to death like in the good old days, is simply idiotic.

    37. Regarding the original issue: there is clarification in Chapter 17 of Capital:

      There are some abstract scenarios where the real wage can rise and the rate of exploitation/rate of surplus value can rise too in Marx's theory, but these are dependent on the absurd assumption that commodities tend to exchange at true labour values.

      Also, just as I have argued above there are still 2 senses in which exploitation will fall even under the latter scenario:

      (1) the real value of their wage is above subsistence level: their real wage has risen and

      (2) they are being paid for some of their surplus labour time as compared with previous production periods where they were being paid for none of it.
      Again, more here:

  4. On the topic of Marx, Steve Keen had a debate with Andrew Kliman, if you're interested:

    1. Interesting, but almost unwatchable given all that constant translation into Spanish.

  5. Bizarrely missing from Marx’s analysis is the fact that (1) machines and automation enable soaring productivity and vastly increased output per capita

    ...I get it now. This is all an elaborate prank.

    Clearly, I've been punked. Where's the candid camera?