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“One of the many Marx toys, have you all of them?” part 4

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This post in the Anticapitalist Chat supports a group reading of Karl Marx’s Capital Vol 1. #GoodMorningMarx #WeeklyMarx This covers chapters 15 and 16.

Chapter 15 describes more closely the production process and its relation of technology (to power as machinery and as social relation)

Chapter 16 begins a discussion of the historical relation between absolute and relative surplus value

Chapter Fifteen: Machinery and Modern Industry


Section 1 – The Development of Machinery
Section 2 – The Value Transferred by Machinery to the Product
Section 3 – The Proximate Effects of Machinery on the Workman

A. Appropriation of Supplementary Labour-Power by Capital. The Employment of Women and Children
B. Prolongation of the Working-Day

C. Intensification of Labour

Section 4 – The Factory
Section 5 – The Strife Between Workman and Machine
Section 6 – The Theory of Compensation as Regards the Workpeople Displaced by Machinery
Section 7 – Repulsion and Attraction of Workpeople by the Factory System. Crises in the Cotton Trade
Section 8 – Revolution Effected in Manufacture, Handicrafts, and Domestic Industry by Modern Industry

A. Overthrow of Co-operation Based on Handicraft and on the Division of Labour
B. Reaction of the Factory System on Manufacture and Domestic Industries
C. Modern Manufacture
D. Modern Domestic Industry
E. Passage of Modern Manufacture, and Domestic Industry into Modern Mechanical Industry. The Hastening of this Revolution by the Application of the Factory Acts to those Industries

Section 9 – The Factory Acts. Sanitary and Educational Clauses of the same. Their General Extension in England
Section 10 – Modern Industry and Agriculture

Marx and Capital’s inerrancy: the idiographic often expresses Idiocracy but more often reveals the nomothetic.

Mr. Peabody is a gifted anthropomorphic dog who lives in a penthouse in New York City and raises his adopted human son, 7-year-old Sherman, and tutors him traveling throughout history using the WABAC, pronounced “way back”, a time machine.…

Like Mr. Peabody and his boy, Sherman, improbable history and wayback machines are fraught with the problems of counterfactual history, much like the recent spate of alternative facts. Marx writes in Capital chapter 15 of the conditions of the working class in the context of mechanization. Marx tries to make clear the issues of the transformation of manual labor under mechanization as not simply displacement and replacement but on changing the relationship of labor to capital or worker to capitalist. The structure of accumulation is changing and with it the quality of 19 C. working life. Deskilling work, replacing labor with alternatives that are even more expendable lengthening or exploiting working hours to speed-up production, all support the recruitment of a reserve army of the unemployed. Domination is constructed from all these relations, often in the name of efficiency, more often in the name of humane regulatory policies responding to the resistance of workers. Such policies are also mechanical in their structuring of the economy and the structure of capital accumulation. Chapter 15 introduces us to the idea that the subjectivity and objectivity of the worker can be inverted using technology as a form of domination. The means of production change and with it labor and technology are sublated. This elevation is not symmetric, because the logic of profit comes before people. One can owe one’s soul to the company store.

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).…

With the industrial revolution, capitalist production moved on to “machinery and modern industry”. Marx analyses these in chapter 15, which is the central chapter of the whole book.

The difference between working with tools, and working with machinery, or a system of machinery

In short: the worker uses the tool. The system of machinery, in the factory, uses the worker.

“The machine, which is the starting-point of the industrial revolution, replaces the worker, who handles a single tool, by a mechanism operating with a number of similar tools and set in motion by a single motive power” [497].

“The worker has been appropriated by the process; but the process has previously to be adapted to the worker” [501].

“Large-scale industry… possesses in the machine system an entirely objective organisation of production, which confronts the worker as a pre-existing material condition of production” [508].

In factory production, science appears as a force of production which is the property of capital, which capital acquires gratis, and which “confronts” the worker.

Machinery vs workers

Factory production unleashes and expedites tendencies of capital:

  • To “deskill” workers, replacing specialised skilled workers by versatile all-purpose workers;
  • To expand the workforce to include women and children on a more-or-less equal basis with men;
  • To lengthen working hours (because the capitalist wants to keep his expensive machinery turning with as little interruption as possible);
  • To speed up production (by speeding up the machines, the capitalist can force the workers to speed up too);
  • To constantly create and recreate an army of unemployed from those workers replaced by machinery. Even if eventually the introduction of machinery into one industry, cutting jobs, is accompanied by new jobs elsewhere, in the meantime the reserve army of unemployed is constantly recruited.

The capitalists come to understand that they can use machinery to increase their control over the workers, and, by constantly reshaping the workforce, to counter trade-union struggle.

“The instrument of labour strikes down the worker” [559].

“Machinery does not just act as a superior competitor to the worker, always on the point of making him superfluous. It is a power inimical to him, and capital proclaims this fact loudly and deliberately, as well as making use of it. It is the most powerful weapon for suppressing strikes, those periodic revolts of the working class against the autocracy of capital” [562].…

Figure 2: The inversion of subject and object: technology as capitalist means of domination

Figure 1: Marx
Figure 1: Marx’s dialectical concept of the machine system in Capital Volume 1’s chapter 15

For  Marx,  production  means  that  a  subject  (labour  power)  uses  objects  (means  of  production) to create a labour product (a subject-object) (see Fuchs 2014a, chapter 2).

Each working  machine  is  a  dialectical  system  that  creates  a  product.  

In a machine system, working machines are dialectically connected to each other so that the labour-product created in one stage enters as object of labour into the labour process that is part of another working machine in the next stage.

Figure 1 shows the dialectic of the machine system. It visualizes the cooperation  of  three  working  machines  WM1,  WM2,  WM3  at  three  temporal  stages  of  production t1, t2, t3 so that changing products P1, P2, P3 that pass from one working machine to the next are created.

Chapter 15’s first section is a dialectical combination of historical and dialectical elements: Marx describes the historical development of the predominance of physical labour towards machines and machine systems. At the same time this historical transition changes the logic of how the productive forces are organized, which Marx describes by making use of dialectical reasoning. The historical is itself dialectical because the machine system dialectically sublates (aufheben) physical labour and simple machines. In chapter 15, Marx describes in detail which effects the machine system has on society. He does so by logically and dialectically characterizing phenomena such as the prolongation of the working day, the intensification of labour, the inversion of subject and object and of means and ends of production as process of alienation, etc. Marx characterizes and theorizes these phenomena dialectically and shows based on reports of factory inspectors how these dimensions of capitalist industry shaped the life of workers in Great Britain in the 19th century. The historical dimension is a detailed analysis of the bad working conditions wage workers were facing. It is coupled to a dialectical analysis of technology in capitalism and its effects on everyday life. A crucial theoretical aspect of chapter 15 is that Marx argues that technology in capitalism does not serve human needs, but is a means of domination and relative surplus-value production that puts the logic of profit above human interests. Marx expresses this circumstance as inversion of means and ends and of subject and object, i.e. an antagonism between worker and technology that is caused by class relations into which both are embedded:'s_Capital_Reflections_on_Johan_Fornas'_book_Capitalism_A_Companion_to_Marx's_Economy_Critique [accessed Nov 02 2020].

Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16

Summary of Capital Vol.1 by Harry Cleaver is also found in (14)… (15)…

The Path of Argument in Vol 1 of Marx's Capital, Harvey 2010 p109 

Chapter 15 Section 1. The Development of Machinery
Outline of Marx's Discussion

Mill: machines have not lightened toil
Marx: machines are the means for producing relative surplus value

Rise of machinery = conversion of tool into machines

= complex tool
= tool driven by natural force
= motor mechanism + transmitting mechanism + tool or working machine
= tools of man have become implements of a mechanism, multiplied
= a mechanism that performs with its tools the same operations as the worker formerly did with similar tools, whether the motive power is derived from man or from another machine
= soon becomes one element in a complex system of machinery

Complex system of machinery
= simple co-operation of similar machines
= “a connected series of graduate processes carried out by a chain of mutually complementary machines of various kinds”
= “the co-operation by division of labor which is peculiar to manufacture, but now it appears as a combination of machines with specific functions”
= fixed proportions established by their capacities, numbers, speed
= “collective working machine” = “articulated system”
= “constitutes itself a vast automaton”
= automatic system of machinery when the machines “elaborate the raw material, without man's help, and needs only supplementary assistance from the worker”
= “a mechanical monster”
= development in one sector led to development in connected spheres
= implied need for large scale industry to produce machines, i.e., for machines to be built by machines
= replacement of the worker-subject by an “objective organization”
= organization of machinery technically requires co-operation of labor

Section 5. The Struggle between Worker and Machine
Outline of Marx's Discussion

Worker struggles against machines

–18th Century: struggles against ribbon-looms, wool-shearing machines, sawmill
–19th Century: struggles against power-looms by handloom weavers
–Luddite movement, early 1800s
–Sheffield file grinders in 1865
–machines become “competitor of the worker himself”
–“section of the working class thus rendered superfluous”, e.g., unemployed
–In England, gradual extinction of hand-loom weavers
–as prices dropped, “many weavers died of starvation”
–In India, “bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains”
–machines are “a power inimical” to the worker
–weapon to suppress strikes


Chapter 15 — SECTION 4


At the commencement of this chapter we considered that which we may call the body of the factory, i.e., machinery organised into a system. We there saw how machinery, by annexing the labour of women and children, augments the number of human beings who form the material for capitalistic exploitation, how it confiscates the whole of the workman’s disposable time, by immoderate extension of the hours of labour, and how finally its progress, which allows of enormous increase of production in shorter and shorter periods, serves as a means of systematically getting more work done in a shorter time, or of exploiting labour-power more intensely. We now turn to the factory as a whole, and that in its most perfect form.

Dr. Ure, the Pindar of the automatic factory, describes it, on the one hand, as

  • “Combined co-operation of many orders of workpeople, adult and young, in tending with assiduous skill, a system of productive machines, continuously impelled by a central power” (the prime mover); on the other hand, as “a vast automaton, composed of various mechanical and intellectual organs, acting in uninterrupted concert for the production of a common object, all of them being subordinate to a self-regulated moving force.”

These two descriptions are far from being identical. In one, the collective labourer, or social body of labour, appears as the dominant subject, and the mechanical automaton as the object; in the other, the automaton itself is the subject, and the workmen are merely conscious organs, co-ordinate with the unconscious organs of the automaton, and together with them, subordinated to the central moving-power. The first description is applicable to every possible employment of machinery on a large scale, the second is characteristic of its use by capital, and therefore of the modern factory system. Ure prefers therefore, to describe the central machine, from which the motion comes, not only as an automaton, but as an autocrat. “In these spacious halls the benignant power of steam summons around him his myriads of willing menials.” [97]…

The Norwegian documentary Sweatshop: Dead Cheap Fashion shows how false and thin this alienation really is simply by breaking down the economic barrier separating what Marx and Rousseau call our common humanity.…

Outline of Marx’s Analysis Chapter 16

The Historical Relation Between Absolute and Relative Surplus Value

  • – in capitalism, social labor produces surplus-value
    – early on: formal subsumption of labor produces absolute surplus-value by extending the working day
    – later: real subsumption of labor produces relative surplus-value by reducing necessary labor
    – but the means for reducing necessary labor also can increase absolute surplus-value– amount of potential surplus labor– Ricardo: saw labor productivity as source of profit
    – Mill: affirms source of profits in productivity of labor against mercantilist focus on exchange

    • – by making the working day longer
    • – determined by natural conditions of labor– determined by requirements of life
      • – need to master nature leads to development of social division of labor
      • – where needs are few, a great deal of surplus labor can be imposed

The Historical Relation Between Absolute and Relative Surplus Value

Although, as this chapter makes clear, absolute and relative surplus value often co-exist as capitalist strategies, Marx nevertheless suggests a fundamental historical linkage between the two approaches.

  • On the one hand, during the period of the “formal” subordination of labor to capital, before there is any capitalist modification of the labor process, absolute surplus value dominates, i.e., the main way capitalist seek to extract more surplus labor is through making workers work longer.
  • On the other hand, the historical success of workers' resistance to absolute surplus value forces capital to shift its emphasis to relative surplus value.

As soon as the gradual upsurge of working-class revolt had compelled Parliament compulsorily to shorten the hours of labor, and to begin by imposing a normal working day on factories properly so called, i.e., from the moment that it was made impossible once and for all to increase the production of surplus-value by prolonging the working day, capital threw itself with all its might, and in full awareness of the situation, into the production of relative surplus value, by speeding up the development of the machine system. (pp. 533-4)…

Part V: The Production of Absolute and of Relative Surplus-Value

Chapter Sixteen: Absolute and Relative Surplus-Value

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