Search This Blog

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Karl Marx. Capital Volume One

From a social point of view, therefore, the working-class, even when
not directly engaged in the labour-process, is just as much an
appendage of capital as the ordinary instruments of labour. Even its
individual consumption is, within certain limits, a mere factor in the
process of production. That process, however, takes good care to
prevent these self-conscious instruments from leaving it in the lurch,
for it removes their product, as fast as it is made, from their pole
to the opposite pole of capital. Individual consumption provides, on
the one hand, the means for their maintenance and reproduction: on the
other hand, it secures by the annihilation of the necessaries of life,
the continued re-appearance of the workman in the labour-market. The
Roman slave was held by fetters: the wage-labourer is bound to his
owner by invisible threads. The appearance of independence is kept up
by means of a constant change of employers, and by the fictio juris of
a contract.

In former times, capital resorted to legislation, whenever necessary,
to enforce its proprietary rights over the free labourer. For
instance, down to 1815, the emigration of mechanics employed in
machine making was, in England, forbidden, under grievous pains and

The reproduction of the working-class carries with it the accumulation
of skill, that is handed down from one generation to another. [13] To
what extent the capitalist reckons the existence of such a skilled
class among the factors of production that belong to him by right, and
to what extent he actually regards it as the reality of his variable
capital, is seen so soon as a crisis threatens him with its loss. In
consequence of the civil war in the United States and of the
accompanying cotton famine, the majority of the cotton operatives in
Lancashire were, as is well known, thrown out of work. Both from the
working-class itself, and from other ranks of society, there arose a
cry for State aid, or for voluntary national subscriptions, in order
to enable the “superfluous” hands to emigrate to the colonies or to
the United States. Thereupon, The Times published on the 24th March,
1863, a letter from Edmund Potter, a former president of the
Manchester Chamber of Commerce. This letter was rightly called in the
House of Commons, the manufacturers’ manifesto. [14] We cull here a
few characteristic passages, in which the proprietary rights of
capital over labour-power are unblushingly asserted.

“He” (the man out of work) “may be told the supply of cotton-workers
is too large ... and ... must ... in fact be reduced by a third,
perhaps, and that then there will be a healthy demand for the
remaining two-thirds.... Public opinion... urges emigration.... The
master cannot willingly see his labour supply being removed; he may
think, and perhaps justly, that it is both wrong and unsound.... But
if the public funds are to be devoted to assist emigration, he bas a
right to be heard, and perhaps to protest.”

Mr. Potter then shows how useful the cotton trade is, how the “trade
has undoubtedly drawn the surplus-population from Ireland and from the
agricultural districts,” how immense is its extent, how in the year
1860 it yielded 5/13 ths of the total English exports, how, after a
few years, it will again expand by the extension of the market,
particularly of the Indian market, and by calling forth a plentiful
supply of cotton at 6d. per lb. He then continues:

“Some time ...,one, two, or three years, it may be, will produce the
quantity.... The question I would put then is this — Is the trade
worth retaining? Is it worth while to keep the machinery (he means the
living labour machines) in order, and is it not the greatest folly to
think of parting with that? I think it is. I allow that the workers
are not a property, not the property of Lancashire and the masters;
but they are the strength of both; they are the mental and trained
power which cannot be. replaced for a generation; the mere machinery
which they work might much of it be beneficially replaced, nay
improved, in a twelvemonth [15] Encourage or allow (!) the working-
power to emigrate, and what of the capitalist?... Take away the cream
of the workers, and fixed capital will depreciate in a great degree,
and the floating will not subject itself to a struggle with the short
supply of inferior labour.... We are told the workers wish
it” (emigration). “Very natural it is that they should do so....
Reduce, compress the cotton trade by taking away its working power and
reducing their wages expenditure, say one-fifth, or five millions, and
what then would happen to the class above, the small shopkeepers; and
what of the rents, the cottage rents.... Trace out the effects upwards
to the small farmer, the better householder, and ... the landowner,
and say if there could be any suggestion more suicidal to all classes
of the country than by enfeebling a nation by exporting the best of
its manufacturing population, and destroying the value of some of its
most productive capital and enrichment .... I advise a loan (of five
or six millions sterling), ... extending it may be over two or three
years, administered by special commissioners added to the Boards of
Guardians in the cotton districts, under special legislative
regulations, enforcing some occupation or labour, as a means of
keeping up at least the moral standard of the recipients of the
loan... can anything be worse for landowners or masters than parting
with the best of the workers, and demoralising and disappointing the
rest by an extended depletive emigration, a depletion of capital and
value in an entire province?”

Potter, the chosen mouthpiece of the manufacturers, distinguishes two
sorts of “machinery,” each of which belongs to the capitalist, and of
which one stands in his factory, the other at night-time and on
Sundays is housed outside the factory, in cottages. The one is
inanimate, the other living. The inanimate machinery not only wears
out and depreciates from day to day, but a great part of it becomes so
quickly superannuated, by constant technical progress, that it can be
replaced with advantage by new machinery after a few months. The
living machinery, on the contrary gets better the longer it lasts, and
in proportion as the skill, handed from one generation to another,
accumulates. The Times answered the cotton lord as follows:

“Mr. Edmund Potter is so impressed with the exceptional and supreme
importance of the cotton masters that, in order to preserve this class
and perpetuate their profession, he would keep half a million of the
labouring class confined in a great moral workhouse against their’
will. ‘Is the trade worth retaining?’ asks Mr. Potter. ‘Certainly by
all honest means it is,’ we answer. ‘Is it worth while keeping the
machinery in order?’ again asks Mr. Potter. Here we hesitate. By the
‘machinery’ Mr. Potter means the human machinery, for he goes on to
protest that he does not mean to use them as an absolute property. We
must confess that we do not think it ‘worth while,’ or even possible,
to keep the human machinery in order-that is to shut it up and keep it
oiled till it is wanted. Human machinery will rust under inaction, oil
and rub it as you may. Moreover, the human machinery will, as we have
just seen, get the steam up of its own accord, and burst or run amuck
in our great towns. it might, as Mr. Potter says, require some time to
reproduce the workers, but, having machinists and capitalists at hand,
we could always find thrifty, hard, industrious men wherewith to
improvise more master-manufacturers than we can ever want. Mr. Potter
talks of the trade reviving ‘in one, two, or three years,’ and he asks
us not ‘to encourage or allow (!) the working power to emigrate.’ [16]
He says that it is very natural the workers should wish to emigrate;
but he thinks that in spite of their desire, the nation ought to keep
this half million of workers with their 700,000 dependents, shut up in
the cotton districts; and as a necessary consequence, he must of
course think that the nation ought to keep down their discontent by
force, and sustain them by alms — and upon the chance that the cotton
masters may some day want them.... The time is come when the great
public opinion of these islands must operate to save this ‘working
power’ from those who would deal with it as they would deal with iron,
and coal, and cotton.”

The Times’ article was only a jeu d’esprit. The “great public opinion”
was, in fact, of Mr. Potter’s opinion, that the factory operatives are
part of the movable fittings of a factory. Their emigration was
prevented. They were locked up in that “moral workhouse,” the cotton
districts, and they form, as before, “the strength” of the cotton
manufacturers of Lancashire.

Capitalist production, therefore, of itself reproduces the separation
between labour-power and the means of labour. It thereby reproduces
and perpetuates the condition for exploiting the labourer. It
incessantly forces him to sell his labour-power in order to live, and
enables the capitalist to purchase labour-power in order that he may
enrich himself. [17] It is no longer a mere accident, that capitalist
and labourer confront each other in the market as buyer and seller. It
is the process itself that incessantly hurls back the labourer on to
the market as a vendor of his labour-power, and that incessantly
converts his own product into a means by which another man can
purchase him. In reality, the labourer belongs to capital before he
has sold himself to capital. His economic bondage [18] is both brought
about and concealed by the periodic sale of himself, by his change of
masters, and by the oscillations in the market-price of labour-power.

Capitalist production, therefore, under its aspect of a continuous
connected process, of a process of reproduction, produces not only
commodities, not only surplus-value, but it also produces and
reproduces the capitalist relation; on the one side the capitalist, on
the other the wage-labourer. [20]

No comments:

Post a Comment