Karl Marx - Division of Labour and Manufacture (Chap 1.14.5)

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An increased number of labourers under the control of one capitalist is the natural starting-point, as well of co-operation generally, as of manufacture in particular. But the division of labour in manufacture makes this increase in the number of workmen a technical necessity. The minimum number that any given capitalist is bound to employ is here prescribed by the previously established division of labour. On the other hand, the advantages of further division are obtainable only by adding to the number of workmen, and this can be done only by adding multiples of the various detail groups. But an increase in the variable component of the capital employed necessitates an increase in its constant component, too, in the workshops, implements, &c., and, in particular, in the raw material, the call for which grows quicker than the number of workmen. The quantity of it consumed in a given time, by a given amount of labour, increases in the same ratio as does the productive power of that labour in consequence of its division. Hence, it is a law, based on the very nature of manufacture, that the minimum amount of capital, which is bound to be in the hands of each capitalist, must keep increasing; in other words, that the transformation into capital of the social means of production and subsistence must keep extending. [39]

In manufacture, as well as in simple co-operation, the collective working organism is a form of existence of capital. The mechanism that is made up of numerous individual detail labourers belongs to the capitalist. Hence, the productive power resulting from a combination of labours appears to be the productive power of capital. Manufacture proper not only subjects the previously independent workman to the discipline and command of capital, but, in addition, creates a hierarchic gradation of the workmen themselves. While simple co-operation leaves the mode of working by the individual for the most part unchanged, manufacture thoroughly revolutionises it, and seizes labour-power by its very roots. It converts the labourer into a crippled monstrosity, by forcing his detail dexterity at the expense of a world of productive capabilities and instincts; just as in the States of La Plata they butcher a whole beast for the sake of his hide or his tallow. Not only is the detail work distributed to the different individuals, but the individual himself is made the automatic motor of a fractional operation, [40] and the absurd fable of Menenius Agrippa, which makes man a mere fragment of his own body, becomes realised. [41] If, at first, the workman sells his labour-power to capital, because the material means of producing a commodity fail him, now his very labour-power refuses its services unless it has been sold to capital. Its functions can be exercised only in an environment that exists in the workshop of the capitalist after the sale. By nature unfitted to make anything independently, the manufacturing labourer develops productive activity as a mere appendage of the capitalists workshop. [42] As the chosen people bore in their features the sign manual of Jehovah, so division of labour brands the manufacturing workman as the property of capital.

The knowledge, the judgement, and the will, which, though in ever so small a degree, are practised by the independent peasant or handicraftsman, in the same way as the savage makes the whole art of war consist in the exercise of his personal cunning these faculties are now required only for the workshop as a whole. Intelligence in production expands in one direction, because it vanishes in many others. What is lost by the detail labourers, is concentrated in the capital that employs them. [43] It is a result of the division of labour in manufactures, that the labourer is brought face to face with the intellectual potencies of the material process of production, as the property of another, and as a ruling power. This separation begins in simple co-operation, where the capitalist represents to the single workman, the oneness and the will of the a**ociated labour. It is developed in manufacture which cuts down the labourer into a detail labourer. It is completed in modern industry, which makes science a productive force distinct from labour and presses it into the service of capital. [44]

In manufacture, in order to make the collective labourer, and through him capital, rich in social productive power, each labourer must be made poor in individual productive powers.

Ignorance is the mother of industry as well as of superstition. Reflection and fancy are subject to err; but a habit of moving the hand or the foot is independent of either. Manufactures, accordingly, prosper most where the mind is least consulted, and where the workshop may ... be considered as an engine, the parts of which are men.” [45]

As a matter of fact, some few manufacturers in the middle of the 18th century preferred, for certain operations that were trade secrets, to employ half-idiotic persons. [46]The understandings of the greater part of men,” says Adam Smith, “are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations ... has no occasion to exert his understanding... He generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.”

After describing the stupidity of the detail labourer he goes on:

“The uniformity of his stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind... It corrupts even the activity of his body and renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other employments than that to which he has been bred. His dexterity at his own particular trade seems in this manner to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilised society, this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall.” [47]

For preventing the complete deterioration of the great ma** of the people by division of labour, A. Smith recommends education of the people by the State, but prudently, and in homeopathic doses. G. Garnier, his French translator and commentator, who, under the first French Empire, quite naturally developed into a senator, quite as naturally opposes him on this point. Education of the ma**es, he urges, violates the first law of the division of labour, and with it

“our whole social system would be proscribed.” Like all other divisions of labour,” he says, “that between hand labour and head labour [48] is more pronounced and decided in proportion as society (he rightly uses this word, for capital, landed property and their State) becomes richer. This division of labour, like every other, is an effect of past, and a cause of future progress... ought the government then to work in opposition to this division of labour, and to hinder its natural course? Ought it to expend a part of the public money in the attempt to confound and blend together two cla**es of labour, which are striving after division and separation?” [49]

Some crippling of body and mind is inseparable even from division of labour in society as a whole. Since, however, manufacture carries this social separation of branches of labour much further, and also, by its peculiar division, attacks the individual at the very roots of his life, it is the first to afford the materials for, and to give a start to, industrial pathology. [50]“To subdivide a man is to execute him, if he deserves the sentence, to a**a**inate him if he does not... The subdivision of labour is the a**a**ination of a people.” [51]

Co-operation based on division of labour, in other words, manufacture, commences as a spontaneous formation. So soon as it attains some consistence and extension, it becomes the recognised methodical and systematic form of capitalist production. History shows how the division of labour peculiar to manufacture, strictly so called, acquires the best adapted form at first by experience, as it were behind the backs of the actors, and then, like the guild handicrafts, strives to hold fast that form when once found, and here and there succeeds in keeping it for centuries. Any alteration in this form, except in trivial matters, is solely owing to a revolution in the instruments of labour. Modern manufacture wherever it arises I do not here allude to modern industry based on machinery either finds the disjecta membra poetae ready to hand, and only waiting to be collected together, as is the case in the manufacture of clothes in large towns, or it can easily apply the principle of division, simply by exclusively a**igning the various operations of a handicraft (such as book-binding) to particular men. In such cases, a weeks experience is enough to determine the proportion between the numbers of the hands necessary for the various functions. [52]

By decomposition of handicrafts, by specialisation of the instruments of labour, by the formation of detail labourers, and by grouping and combining the latter into a single mechanism, division of labour in manufacture creates a qualitative gradation, and a quantitative proportion in the social process of production; it consequently creates a definite organisation of the labour of society, and thereby develops at the same time new productive forces in the society. In its specific capitalist form and under the given conditions, it could take no other form than a capitalistic one manufacture is but a particular method of begetting relative surplus-value, or of augmenting at the expense of the labourer the self-expansion of capital usually called social wealth, “Wealth of Nations,” &c. It increases the social productive power of labour, not only for the benefit of the capitalist instead of for that of the labourer, but it does this by crippling the individual labourers. It creates new conditions for the lordship of capital over labour. If, therefore, on the one hand, it presents itself historically as a progress and as a necessary phase in the economic development of society, on the other hand, it is a refined and civilised method of exploitation.

Political Economy, which as an independent science, first sprang into being during the period of manufacture, views the social division of labour only from the standpoint of manufacture, [53] and sees in it only the means of producing more commodities with a given quantity of labour, and, consequently, of cheapening commodities and hurrying on the accumulation of capital. In most striking contrast with this accentuation of quantity and exchange-value, is the attitude of the writers of cla**ical antiquity, who hold exclusively by quality and use-value. [54] In consequence of the separation of the social branches of production, commodities are better made, the various bents and talents of men select a suitable field, [55] and without some restraint no important results can be obtained anywhere. [56] Hence both product and producer are improved by division of labour. If the growth of the quantity produced is occasionally mentioned, this is only done with reference to the greater abundance of use-values. There is not a word alluding to exchange-value or to the cheapening of commodities. This aspect, from the standpoint of use-value alone, is taken as well by Plato, [57] who treats division of labour as the foundation on which the division of society into cla**es is based, as by Xenophon, [58] who with characteristic bourgeois instinct, approaches more nearly to division of labour within the workshop. Platos Republic, in so far as division of labour is treated in it, as the formative principle of the State, is merely the Athenian idealisation of the Egyptian system of castes, Egypt having served as the model of an industrial country to many of his contemporaries also, amongst others to Isocrates, [59] and it continued to have this importance to the Greeks of the Roman Empire. [60]

During the manufacturing period proper, i.e., the period during which manufacture is the predominant form taken by capitalist production, many obstacles are opposed to the full development of the peculiar tendencies of manufacture. Although manufacture creates, as we have already seen, a simple separation of the labourers into sk**ed and unsk**ed, simultaneously with their hierarchic arrangement in cla**es, yet the number of the unsk**ed labourers, owing to the preponderating influence of the sk**ed, remains very limited. Although it adapts the detail operations to the various degrees of maturity, strength, and development of the living instruments of labour, thus conducing to exploitation of women and children, yet this tendency as a whole is wrecked on the habits and the resistance of the male labourers. Although the splitting up of handicrafts lowers the cost of forming the workman, and thereby lowers his value, yet for the more difficult detail work, a longer apprenticeship is necessary, and, even where it would be superfluous, is jealously insisted upon by the workmen. In England, for instance, we find the laws of apprenticeship, with their seven years probation, in full force down to the end of the manufacturing period; and they are not thrown on one side till the advent of Modern Industry. Since handicraft sk** is the foundation of manufacture, and since the mechanism of manufacture as a whole possesses no framework, apart from the labourers themselves, capital is constantly compelled to wrestle with the insubordination of the workmen.

“By the infirmity of human nature,” says friend Ure, “it happens that the more skilful the workman, the more self-willed and intractable he is apt to become, and of course the less fit a component of a mechanical system in which ... he may do great damage to the whole.” [61]

Hence throughout the whole manufacturing period there runs the complaint of want of discipline among the workmen. [62] And had we not the testimony of contemporary writers, the simple facts, that during the period between the 16th century and the epoch of Modern Industry, capital failed to become the master of the whole disposable working-time of the manufacturing labourers, that manufactures are short-lived, and change their locality from one country to another with the emigrating or immigrating workmen, these facts would speak volumes. “Order must in one way or another be established,” exclaims in 1770 the oft-cited author of the “Essay on Trade and Commerce.” “Order,” re-echoes Dr. Andrew Ure 66 years later, “Order” was wanting in manufacture based on “the scholastic dogma of division of labour,” and “Arkwright created order.”

At the same time manufacture was unable, either to seize upon the production of society to its full extent, or to revolutionise that production to its very core. It towered up as an economic work of art, on the broad foundation of the town handicrafts, and of the rural domestic industries. At a given stage in its development, the narrow technical basis on which manufacture rested, came into conflict with requirements of production that were created by manufacture itself.

One of its most finished creations was the workshop for the production of the instruments of labour themselves, including especially the complicated mechanical apparatus then already employed.

A machine-factory, says Ure, “displayed the division of labour in manifold gradations the file, the drill, the lathe, having each its different workman in the order of sk**.” (P. 21.)

This workshop, the product of the division of labour in manufacture, produced in its turn machines. It is they that sweep away the handicraftsmans work as the regulating principle of social production. Thus, on the one hand, the technical reason for the life-long annexation of the workman to a detail function is removed. On the other hand, the fetters that this same principle laid on the dominion of capital, fall away.



39. “It is not sufficient that the capital” (the writer should have said the necessary means of subsistence and of production) “required for the subdivision of handicrafts should be in readiness in the society: it must also be accumulated in the hands of the employers in sufficiently large quantities to enable them to conduct their operations on a large scale.... The more the division increases, the more does the constant employment of a given number of labourers require a greater outlay of capital in tools, raw material, &c.” (Storch: “Cours dEcon. Polit.” Paris Ed., t. I., pp. 250, 251.) “La concentration des instruments de production et la division du travail sont aussi inséparables lune de lautre que le sont, dans le régime politique, la concentration des pouvoirs publics et la division des intérêts privés.” [The concentration of the instruments of production and the division of labour are as inseparable one from the other, as are, in the political sphere, the concentration of public powers and the division of private interests.] (Karl Marx, l.c., p. 134.)

40. Dugald Stewart calls manufacturing labourers “living automatons ... employed in the details of the work.” (I. c., p. 318.)

41. In corals, each individual is, in fact, the stomach of the whole group; but it supplies the group with nourishment, instead of, like the Roman patrician, withdrawing it.

42. “Louvrier qui porte dans ses bras tout un métier, peut aller partout exercer son industrie et trouver des moyens de subsister: lautre (the manufacturing labourer) nest quun accessoire qui, séparé de ses confrères, na plus ni capacité, ni indépendance, et qui se trouve force daccepter la loi quon juge à propos de lui imposer.” [The worker who is the master of a whole craft can work and find the means of subsistence anywhere; the other (the manufacturing labourer) is only an appendage who, when he is separated from his fellows, possesses neither capability nor independence, and finds himself forced to accept any law it is thought fit to impose] (Storch, l.c., Petersb. edit., 1815, t. I., p. 204.)

43. A. Ferguson, l.c., p. 281: “The former may have gained what the other has lost.”

44. “The man of knowledge and the productive labourer come to be widely divided from each other, and knowledge, instead of remaining the handmaid of labour in the hand of the labourer to increase his productive powers ... has almost everywhere arrayed itself against labour ... systematically deluding and leading them (the labourers) astray in order to render their muscular powers entirely mechanical and obedient.” (W. Thompson: “An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth.” London, 1824, p. 274.)

45. A. Ferguson, l.c., p. 280.

46. J. D. Tuckett: “A History of the Past and Present State of the Labouring Population.” Lond., 1846.

47. A. Smith: “Wealth of Nations,” Bk. v., ch. i, art. ii. Being a pupil of A. Ferguson who showed the disadvantageous effects of division of labour, Adam Smith was perfectly clear on this point. In the introduction to his work, where he ex professo praises division of labour, he indicates only in a cursory manner that it is the source of social inequalities. It is not till the 5th Book, on the Revenue of the State, that he reproduces Ferguson. In my “Misère de la Philosophie,” I have sufficiently explained the historical connexion between Ferguson, A. Smith, Lemontey, and Say, as regards their criticisms of Division of Labour, and have shown, for the first time, that Division of Labour as practised in manufactures, is a specific form of the capitalist mode of production.

48. Ferguson had already said, l.c., p. 281: “And thinking itself, in this age of separations, may become a peculiar craft.”

49. G. Garnier, vol. V. of his translation of A. Smith, pp. 4-5.

50. Ramazzini, professor of practical medicine at Padua, published in 1713 his work “De morbis artificum,” which was translated into French 1781, reprinted 1841 in the “Encyclopédie des Sciences Médicales. 7me Dis. Auteurs Cla**iques.” The period of Modern Mechanical Industry has, of course, very much enlarged his catalogue of labours diseases. See “Hygiène physique et morale de louvrier dans les grandes villes en général et dans la ville de Lyon en particulier. Par le Dr. A. L. Fonteret, Paris, 1858,” and “Die Krankheiten, welche verschiednen Ständen, Altern und Geschlechtern eigenthümlich sind. 6 Vols. Ulm, 1860,” and others. In 1854 the Society of Arts appointed a Commission of Inquiry into industrial pathology. The list of documents collected by this commission is to be seen in the catalogue of the “Twickenham Economic Museum.” Very important are the official “Reports on Public Health.” See also Eduard Reich, M. D. “Ueber die Entartung des Menschen,” Erlangen, 1868.

51. (D. Urquhart: “Familiar Words.” Lond., 1855, p. 119.) Hegel held very heretical views on division of labour. In his “Rechtsphilosophie” he says: “By well educated men we understand in the first instance, those who can do everything that others do.”

52. The simple belief in the inventive genius exercised a priori by the individual capitalist in division of labour, exists now-a-days only among German professors, of the stamp of Herr Roscher, who, to recompense the capitalist from whose Jovian head division of labour sprang ready formed, dedicates to him “various wages” (diverse Arbeitslöhne). The more or less extensive application of division of labour depends on length of purse, not on greatness of genius.

53. The older writers, like Petty and the anonymous author of “Advantages of the East India Trade,” bring out the capitalist character of division of labour as applied in manufacture more than A. Smith does.

54. Amongst the moderns may be excepted a few writers of the 18th century, like Beccaria and James Harris, who with regard to division of labour almost entirely follow the ancients. Thus, Beccaria: “Ciascuno prova collesperienza, che applicando la mano e lingegno sempre allo stesso genere di opere e di produtte, egli più facili, più abbondanti e migliori ne traca risultati, di quello che se ciascuno isolatamente le cose tutte a se necessarie soltanto facesse.... Dividendosi in tal maniera per la comune e privata utilità gli uomini in varie cla**i e condizioni.” [Everyone knows from experience that if the hands and the intelligence are always applied to the same kind of work and the same products, these will be produced more easily, in greater abundance, and in higher quality, than if each individual makes for himself all the things he needs ... In this way, men are divided up into various cla**es and conditions, to their own advantage and to that of the commodity.](Cesare Beccaria: “Elementi di Econ: Pubblica,” ed. Custodi, Parte Moderna, t. xi, p. 29.) James Harris, afterwards Earl of Malmesbury, celebrated for the “Diaries” of his emba**y at St. Petersburg, says in a note to his “Dialogue Concerning Happiness,” Lond., 1741, reprinted afterwards in “Three Treatises, 3 Ed., Lond., 1772: “The whole argument to prove society natural (i.e., by division of employments) ... is taken from the second book of Platos Republic.”

55. Thus, in the Odyssey xiv., 228, [“Alloς gar talloisin aner epiterpetai ergoiς” For different men take joy in different works] and Archilochus in Sextus Empiricus, [“alloς allw ep ergo kardihn iainetai.” men differ as to things cheer their hearts]

56. [“Poll hpistaio erga, cacwς d hpistano panta.” He could do many works, but all of them badly – Homer] Every Athenian considered himself superior as a producer of commodities to a Spartan; for the latter in time of war had men enough at his disposal but could not command money, as Thucydides makes Pericles say in the speech inciting the Athenians to the Peloponnesian war: [“swmasi te etoimoteroi oi autonrgoi twn anthrwpwn h crhmasi polemein” people producing for their own consumption will rather let war have their bodies than their money] (Thuc.: 1, I. c. 41.) Nevertheless, even with regard to material production, [autarceia self-sufficiency], as opposed to division of labour remained their ideal, [“parwn gar to, eu, para toutwn cai to autaresς.” For with the latter there is well-being, but with the former there is independence.] It should be mentioned here that at the date of the fall of the 30 Tyrants there were still not 5,000 Athenians without landed property.

57. With Plato, division of labour within the community is a development from the multifarious requirements, and the limited capacities of individuals. The main point with him is, that the labourer must adapt himself to the work, not the work to the labourer; which latter is unavoidable, if he carries on several trades at once, thus making one or the other of them subordinate. [“Ou gar ethelei to prattomenon ten tou prattonios scholen perimenein, all anagke ton prattonta to prattomeno epakoloothein me en parergou merei. Anagke. Ek de touton pleio te ekasta gignetai kai kallion kai raon, otan eis en kaia physin kai en kairo scholen ton allon agon, pratte.” [For the workman must wait upon the work; it will not wait upon his leisure and allow itself to be done in a spare moment. — Yes, he must,— So the conclusion is that more will be produced of every thing and the work will be more easily and better done, when every man is set free from all other occupations to do, at the right time, the one thing for which he is naturally fitted.] (Rep. 1. 2. Ed. Baiter, Orelli, &c.) So in Thucydides, l.c., c. 142: “Seafaring is an art like any other, and cannot, as circumstances require, be carried on as a subsidiary occupation; nay, other subsidiary occupations cannot be carried on alongside of this one.” If the work, says Plato, has to wait for the labourer, the critical point in the process is missed and the article spoiled, [“ergou cairon diollutai.” [If someone lets slip ...] The same Platonic idea is found recurring in the protest of the English bleachers against the clause in the Factory Act that provides fixed mealtimes for all operatives. Their business cannot wait the convenience of the workmen, for “in the various operations of singeing, washing, bleaching, mangling, calendering, and dyeing, none of them can be stopped at a given moment without risk of damage ... to enforce the same dinner hour for all the workpeople might occasionally subject valuable goods to the risk of danger by incomplete operations.” Le platonisme où va-t-il se nicher! [Where will Platonism be found next!]

58. Xenophon says, it is not only an honour to receive food from the table of the King of Persia, but such food is much more tasty than other food. “And there is nothing wonderful in this, for as the other arts are brought to special perfection in the great towns, so the royal food is prepared in a special way. For in the small towns the same man makes bedsteads, doors, ploughs, and tables: often, too, he builds houses into the bargain, and is quite content if he finds custom sufficient for his sustenance. It is altogether impossible for a man who does so many things to do them all well. But in the great towns, where each can find many buyers, one trade is sufficient to maintain the man who carries it on. Nay, there is often not even need of one complete trade, but one man makes shoes for men, another for women. Here and there one man gets a living by sewing, another by cutting out shoes; one does nothing but cut out clothes, another nothing but sew the pieces together. It follows necessarily then, that he who does the simplest kind of work, undoubtedly does it better than anyone else. So it is with the art of cooking.” (Xen. Cyrop. I. viii., c. 2.) Xenophon here lays stress exclusively upon the excellence to be attained in use-value, although he well knows that the gradations of the division of labour depend on the extent of the market.

59. He (Busiris) divided them all into special castes ... commanded that the same individuals should always carry on the same trade, for he knew that they who change their occupations become sk**ed in none; but that those who constantly stick to one occupation bring it to the highest perfection. In truth, we shall also find that in relation to the arts and handicrafts, they have outstripped their rivals more than a master does a bungler; and the contrivances for maintaining the monarchy and the other institutions of their State are so admirable that the most celebrated philosophers who treat of this subject praise the constitution of the Egyptian State above all others. (Isocrates, Busiris, c. 8.)

60. Cf. Diodorus Siculus.

61. Ure, l.c., p. 20.

62. This is more the case in England than in France, and more in France than in Holland.

* MECW and Progress Publishers editions have “disadvantages,” but the Ben Fowkes translation in the Penguin edition has “advantages.” The original German is “Endlich ist diese Teilung der Arbeit eine besondre Art der Kooperation, und manche ihrer Vorteile entspringen aus dem allgemeinen Wesen, nicht aus dieser besondren Form der Kooperation.” — M.I.A.

Date of text publication: 17.01.2021 at 19:08