This story supports a group reading of Karl Marx’s Capital Vol 1. #GoodMorningMarx #WeeklyMarx This covers chapters 11-14. Today’s supporting summary is at the very bottom, below the fold.
We can use Charlotte Bronte’s novel Shirley to introduce Marx’s labor theory of value as the Luddites in that novel are a threat to the success of a capitalist but are also about the social relations of production in Marx’s Capital.
“What these fellows have done to others they may do to me. There is only this difference: most of the manufacturers seem paralyzed when they are attacked. Sykes, for instance, when his dressing-shop was set on fire and burned to the ground, when the cloth was torn from his tenters and left in shreds in the field, took no steps to discover or punish the miscreants: he gave up as tamely as a rabbit under the jaws of a ferret. Now I, if I know myself, should stand by my trade, my mill, and my machinery.”
Technical progress and its effects on the 19th Century British economy are about labor saving, but are also about the relations between workers and capitalists, even if Bronte never discusses surplus value. Any possible contact between Marx and Bronte would stretch credulity even if they both attended the 1851 Crystal Palace exhibition.
Bronte’s character “Robert Gérard Moore is an industrialist whose textile mill is idle because of the war. He installs new labour-saving machinery in his mill and becomes the target of Luddite attacks.” This is a conventional context more for the fictional romances than the labor strife of the industrial revolution, but it does frame the class struggle even as the resistance of workers is secondary. The more important elements for Marx will be cooperation, manufacture, and machine production. Bronte gives us a glimpse of cultural production / reproduction from a specific class perspective.
it remains a fact that the working class produces a surplus product about which it has no say.
Marx categorizes the changes in social production broadly into two categories: those increasing absolute surplus value by extracting more labor from workers without changing the wage and those increasing relative surplus value through lowering the value of labor-power by reducing the cost of workers’ consumption. The innovations that promote relative surplus value are connected with the fundamental tendency of capitalism to promote technical changes
(Duncan Foley p. 61)
The counterfactual example could be located in the usual business argument that there’s a market demand for a product and that scarcity happens spatially and temporally (I want it now), premised in invisible hand(s).
Recall that 20 yards of linen does not equal 40 acres and a mule, but the problem remains for the casual reader that hypothetically that you could represent this linen-land-mule equivalency in terms of “price” and “value” in a situation of market scarcity. There are economies of scale once a process is standardized and the sizing/patterns created for linen coats (darn widgets), then there’s the possibility of ancillary costs.
The relative value-expression returns at this point to its original form: 1 coat = 20 yards of linen. Now, however, this simple equation is further developed. Originally it only contained the fact that the value of the coat obtains through its expression in another commodity a form which is different from and independent of the exchange-value coat or even the body of the coat.
Instead of the equation, 20 yards of linen = 1 coat, we should have 20 yards of linen = 2 coats, since 1 coat would now contain only half the labour time embodied in 20 yards of linen. If, on the other hand, in consequence, say, of improved looms, this labour time be reduced by one-half, the value of the linen would fall by one-half.
It's true, twenty yards of linen can make more like five coats. But, back in the mid-19th century when philosophers and economists were trying to make sense of emergent capitalism, industrialization, urbanization, and social change, Karl Marx wrote this book called “Capital”.
20 yards of linen = 1 coat” is repeated throughout the first chapter of Capital vol. 1 to explain how commodities gain both use value (coats keep us warm), and exchange value (20 yards of linen can be exchanged for 1 coat, or is worth the equivalent in money value). The exchange value represents the labour time embedded in the commodities; however, exchanging goods can obscure the social relations and human labour behind the commodities. Marx called this “commodity fetishism”.
Why get all Marxist in my blog title about sewing and crafts?
I love that the online community of people who sew, refer to themselves as “sewcialists”. It’s obviously word play with “social”, but it also got me thinking about socialists, Marxist theory and what that has to do with sewing. Both in Marx’s day and now, textile mills and clothing factories were and are especially exploitative places to work. Marx’s linen and coat exchange remains a salient example of how we can become so removed from the people who make our clothes (and other sewn commodities). When I buy clothes it looks like a relation between my credit card and a coat, not me and the person who sewed the coat (packed it, shipped it, etc), even though it really is a human relation (because only in Tom Robbins novels do objects act on their own accord). One of the reasons why certain economic exchanges are continually exploitative is because they appear as relations between things instead of people, and thus we distance ourselves from responsibility to others involved in the production of things we consume.
For close to a century, anarchists have united under the banner of the Anarchist Black Cross for the sole purpose of supporting those comrades imprisoned for their commitment to revolution and to the ideas of anarchism. Who would have suspected that a few men supplying boots, linen, and clothing to deportees in Bialostock would have been the meager beginnings of an organization that has spread throughout the globe? (Yelensky, Boris. The Struggle For Equality. pg 22)
This example allows us to think about conditions of the working day of footnote 149 in Capital Chapter 10.
“Cooling” is the technical expression for their occasional escape from the drying-rooms into the fresh air. “Fifteen girls in stoves. Heat from 80° to 90° for linens, and 100° and upwards for cambrics. Twelve girls ironing and doing-up in a small room about 10 feet square, in the centre of which is a close stove.
-(Marx Chapter 10)
In chapter 11 and 12 the contrast is built from chapter 10’s discussion of the limits of the working day which get more complex as one considers the gender divisions of labor and the use of child labor versus the bargaining over the length of the working day. What becomes more contentious is the rate of surplus value.
In the relative surplus value calculation,, scales of economy that compare labor needed and labor time or new methods, affects the value production in that it changes the working day is divided between surplus value and wages or between unpaid and paid labor time. Increases in labor productivity will affect real wages (and consumption) of workers. This accumulation also means that in the early 20th C. new mass markets for consumption of products (durables like cars and appliances), see Fordism.
An example will show, in conclusion, how this sophistication, peculiar to and characteristic of capitalist production, this complete inversion of the relation between dead and living labour, between value and the force that creates value, mirrors itself in the consciousness of capitalists. During the revolt of the English factory lords between 1848 and 1850, “the head of one of the oldest and most respectable houses in the West of Scotland, Messrs. Carlile Sons & Co., of the linen and cotton thread factory at Paisley, a company which has now existed for about a century, which was in operation in 1752, and four generations of the same family have conducted it” … this “very intelligent gentleman” then wrote a letter in the Glasgow Daily Mail of April 25th, 1849, with the title, “The relay system,” in which among other things the following grotesquely naïve passage occurs: “Let us now … see what evils will attend the limiting to 10 hours the working of the factory…. They amount to the most serious damage to the millowner's prospects and property. If he (i.e., his “hands”) worked 12 hours before,and is limited to 10, then every 12 machines or spindles in his establishment shrink to 10, and should the works be disposed of, they will be valued only as 10, so that a sixth part would thus be deducted from the value of every factory in the country.”
In chapter 12 are both the algebra and the empirical examples that distinguish between necessary and surplus labor-time, one measure of labor power. The point of all this is to show empirically, that “the capitalist, because he has his eye on surplus value, cannot afford to pay attention to the effects of the labor process on the workers as human beings.” This gets us to those Dickensian images of 19th C labor conflicts and the corresponding interest in capitalist interests in controlling the work of labor. (Foley p.58)
There would be an alteration, not in the length of the working-day, but in its division into necessary labor-time and surplus labor-time. The underlying problem introduced in Chapter 12 is the issue of technical progress.
Technical progress lowers the value of commodities by reducing the amount of social labor needed to produce them. After a technical change, a given amount of social labor produces the same amount of value even as the amount of time expended can produce more use values. Marx explains this by suggesting that technical progress has some effect on standards of living and/or the value of labor-power. In this instance, three things get affected: “a rise in the rate of surplus value as a result of a fall in the value of labor power”. The subsequent fall in the composition of capital leads to a lower mark-up. (Foley p.55-7)