Translation: © Paul M. Perrone (2018)
Source: »Compendio del Capitale»
HTML: Joonas Laine
It’s with great pride and anticipation that I present this first complete English translation of Carlo Cafiero’s summary of Karl Marx’s Capital. My ultimate hope is that this work will further Cafiero’s original goal in writing this book: to develop class consciousness and the knowledge of basic Marxian economics among workers, activists, and students. Given the length of Capital, Volume 1, those without the adequate time or skill set may be put off in reading it in its entirety. However, this summary, while not a substitute, is undoubtedly an adequate primer. Not only is it an easily digestible length, but it fully encapsulates the major points of Marx’s analysis of production, accumulation of capital, and the exploitation of labor. Cafiero’s dynamic and impassioned prose is sure to inspire a similar feeling in the hearts of readers, and his inclusion of large portions of Marx’s original volume can also better acquaint modern readers with the masterful writing and research skills embodied in Marx.
For the translation of this work, I tried as best as possible to render Cafiero’s writing as easy to comprehend in English while still maintaining the intentions and structure from the original Italian publication. When it came to the citations Cafiero included from Marx’s Capital, instead of translating into English his Italian translations of the French translations of the original German text, which I figured would be far too contrived, I opted to cite the 1887 English translation, directly from the German, by Samuel Moore and Edward Averling (and notably edited by Friedrich Engels). This way, I ensured that Marx’s original words would be as accurate as possible. The synthesis of the work done by both men is, I find, a comprehensive image of the entire breadth of the original first volume of Capital.
Cafiero, now all but forgotten in English leftist circles, is worthy of further study by those of us in the modern age. Born to a bourgeois family in southern Italy in 1846, he was a devoted revolutionary who furthered the cause of anarcho-communism in Italy during his short life. After being arrested for helping to inspire a failed insurrection in Benevento in 1877, Cafiero drafted his summary of Capital in prison. First published in 1879, this work was highly praised, even by Marx, whose opinion of the work can be read in the Appendix at the end of this translation. Sadly, Cafiero’s life following this publication took a turn for the worse; intermittent periods of exile and return to Italy coincided with the development of a serious mental illness that caused Cafiero to attempt suicide on several occasions. He died of tuberculosis in a mental hospital in Italy in 1892 at only 45.
I therefore dedicate this first English translation of Carlo Cafiero’s summary of Capital to Cafiero himself. In this day and age, 200 years since the birth of Marx and 150 years since the publication of the first volume of Capital, these ideas, and the understanding of them, are more necessary than ever.
Paul M. Perrone
Back to table of contents
Carlo Cafiero accomplished an important work in drafting this summary of Capital, approved and looked over by experts and even by Marx himself, not only because it is able to synthesize the thinking of the “master” in a few pages, but also because it is able to convey Capital’s message in an impassioned, yet concise, manner, in a tenacious and complete, as well as illuminating, writing. It is not that this writing is sufficient to ascertain all of the contents of that immense work and milestone that is Marx’s Capital, but it certainly has the value and capacity to better acquaint the reader with the universe of Marxist works, Capital included; this is no small task in an age like ours, in which Marxism unfortunately enjoys a lack of fame, due to the rule of bourgeois capital and to so many preconceptions and false myths surrounding communism.
One cannot blame communist groups and parties for this crisis, but above all one can blame the historical and social doings that have characterized the last twenty years, with the explosion of technology, that has favored globalization and therefore a further reinforcement of the bourgeoisie, which controls politics and media. It is exactly in this context that, around two centuries later, the work that we have in front of us gains tremendous truth, more than many contemporary sociological writings.
Back to table of contents
Italy, March 1878
A profound feeling of sadness struck me, studying Capital, when I thought that this work was, and who knows how much longer it would remain, entirely unknown in Italy.
But if that is, I then said to myself, I want to say that my duty is to work for all people, so that this would no longer be. And what to do? A translation? Phew! That wouldn’t help at all. The people who can understand the work of Marx, such that he has written, certainly know French, and can make use of J. Roy’s beautiful translation, fully reviewed by the author, who says it even deserves to be consulted by those who speak the German language. It’s a very different group of people for whom I must work. It’s divided into three categories: the first is composed of workers gifted with intelligence and of a certain education; the second, composed of young people who came out of the bourgeoisie, and have embraced the cause of labor, but who for now don’t have the set of studies or the sufficient intellectual development to understand Capital in its original text; the third, finally, composed of the youngest in schools, still of pure heart, who I can compare to a beautiful nursery of still tender plants, but who will bear the best fruits, if transplanted into fertile soil. My work must therefore be an easy and brief summary of Marx’s book.
This book represents the new true, which completely demolishes, crushes, and disperses to the winds a secular edifice of mistakes and lies. It is all a war. A glorious war, and by the power of the enemy, and by the even greater power of the captain, who undertook it with great quantities of the newest weapons, tools and machinery of every sort, which his genius had known how to portray from all the modern sciences.
My work is a great length shorter and more modest. I must only guide a crowd of willing followers along the shortest and simplest path to the temple of capital; and to tear down that god there, so that all can see with their own eyes and touch with their own hands the elements of which it is composed; and to rip off the vestments from the priests, so that all can see the hidden stains of human blood, and the cruelest weapons, with which they go about, every day, sacrificing an ever-growing number of victims.
And with these intentions I prepare to work. Meanwhile Marx can fulfill his promise, giving us the second volume of Capital, which will deal with The Process of Circulation of Capital (book II), and with The Process of Capitalist Production as a Whole (book III), and the fourth and final volume which will explain A History of Economic Theories.
This first book of Capital, originally written in German and afterwards translated into Russian and into French, is now briefly summarized in Italian in the interests of the cause of labor. May the workers read it and think about it carefully because in it is contained not only the story of The Development of Capitalist Production, but also The Martyrdom of the Worker.
And finally, I will also appeal to a class highly interested in the fact of capitalist accumulation, i.e. to the class of small property holders. How is it that this class, once so widespread in Italy, shrinks more and more every day? The reason is very simple. Because since 1860 Italy has set course with more alacrity down the path, which all modern nations must necessarily travel; the path that leads to capitalist accumulation, which has reached that classic form in England, which Italy wishes to reach along with all other modern nations. May the small property holders meditating on these pages about the history of England reported in this book, meditating on capitalist accumulation, increased in Italy by the usurpations of big property holders and by the liquidation of ecclesiastical and state property, shake off the torpor that oppresses their minds and hearts, and once and for all persuade themselves that their cause is the cause of the workers, because they will all inevitably be reduced, by modern capitalist accumulation, to this sad condition: either sell themselves to the government for a loaf of bread, or disappear forever within the dense rows of the proletariat.
Back to table of contents
A commodity is an object that has two values; a use value and an exchange value, or an appropriately determined value. If I have, for example, 20 kilos of coffee, I can either consume it for my own use, or exchange it for 20 meters of canvas, or for a suit, or for 250 grams of silver, if, instead of coffee, I need one of these three commodities. The use value of a commodity is based on the actual qualities of the commodity itself, is meant to equal such qualities based on its qualities, and not any other needs. The use value of 20 kilos of coffee is based on the qualities of the coffee; these qualities being such that they make it clear to all that it is apt for us to drink, but they don’t enable us to clothe ourselves, or give us material for a shirt. It is for this reason that we are able to gain from the use value of 20 kilos of coffee, only if we feel the desire to drink coffee; but if instead we need a shirt, or to wear a suit that costs the use value of 20 kilos of coffee, we don’t know what to do; or, to say it better, we wouldn’t know what to do, if alongside the use value, there wasn’t, in the commodity, the exchange value. We in fact find another who has a suit, but who doesn’t need it, and needs coffee instead. Now one makes a trade right away. We give him the 20 kilos of coffee and he gives us the suit. But does it follow that the commodities, while they differ completely between themselves because of their different qualities, that is for their use values, can be exchanged one for the other? We have already shown this. Because, alongside the use value, there is also found an exchange value in the commodity. Now, the foundation of the exchange value, or the appropriately determined value, is the human labor needed for its production. The commodity is made by the worker; human labor is the life-force that gives it existence. All commodities therefore, although they’re different in quality, are substantially the same, because daughters of the same father all have the same blood in their veins. If 20 kilos of coffee are exchanged for a suit, or for 20 meters of canvas, it is indeed because the same amount of human labor is needed to produce 20 kilos of coffee as is needed to produce a suit, or 20 meters of canvas. Therefore, the value’s substance is human labor, and the size of the value is determined from the amount of human labor itself. The value’s substance is the same in all commodities; therefore it does not stand that they must be equal in size, because the commodities are, like expressions of value, all equal to one another, i.e., all able to be exchanged one for the other. The size of the value depends on the amount of work; in 12 hours of work one produces a value double that which is produced in only six hours of work. Therefore, someone would say, the more one works and the longer one works, save for disability or for laziness, the more value is produced. Nothing is falser. Labor, which forms the substance of value, isn’t the work of a superhuman, but average labor, which is always the same, and that is rightly called social labor. This is that work, which, in a given center of production, can be averaged by a worker, who works with an average ability and an average intensity. The dual nature of commodities known, being, that is, use value and exchange value, one will see that commodities can be born only by the work of labor, and by labor that is useful to all. Air for example, grasslands, virgin soil, etc. are useful to people, but don’t constitute any value to them, because they aren’t the products of work and, consequentially, aren’t commodities. We can make ourselves objects for our own personal uses, but which can’t be useful for others; in such a case we don’t produce commodities; even less we produce commodities when we work on objects, which do not have any usefulness either for us or for others. Commodities, therefore, are exchanged for each other; the one, that is, that presents itself as the other’s equivalent. For the greater comfort of exchanges one begins to use always one given commodity as the equivalent; that which so steps out from the rank of all the others, to stand in front of them as a general equivalent; that is currency. Currency therefore is that commodity which, by custom and by legal sanction, has monopolized the position of the general equivalent. Thus has happened for us with silver. While before 20 kilos of coffee, a suit, 20 meters of canvas and 250 grams of silver were four commodities, which were exchanged indistinctly for one another, today instead you have that 20 kilos of coffee, 20 meters of canvas and a suit are three commodities, which are worth 250 grams of silver, i.e. 50 lire. However, whether the exchange is done immediately from commodity to commodity, or the exchange is done by means of currency, the law of exchange always remains the same. A commodity can never be exchanged with another, if the labor that is needed to produce one is not equal to the labor that is needed to produce the other. This law must be kept well in mind, because above it is founded everything that we will afterwards. With the arrival of currency, immediate or direct exchanges, commodity for commodity, end. Exchanges must all be done, from now on, through currency; so that a commodity that wishes to transform into another, must, first, from a commodity transform into currency, then from currency transform itself again into a commodity. The formula of exchanges, therefore, will not be a chain of commodities anymore, but a chain of commodities and currency. See here: Commodity-Currency-Commodity-Currency-Commodity-Currency. Now, if in this formula we find indicated the turns that make the goods, in their successive transformations, we find equally marked the turns of currency. It is from this same formula therefore that we will derive the formula of capital. When we find ourselves in possession of a certain accumulation of commodities, or of currency, which is the same thing, we are owners of a certain wealth. If we are able to give a body to this wealth, that is an organism able to develop itself, we will have capital. Giving it a body, or an organism able to develop itself, means to be born and to grow; and in fact the essence of capital is placed precisely in the possibly prolific nature of currency. The resolution of the problem (to find the way to give birth to capital) is contained in the resolution of another problem: to find a way to make money grow progressively. In the formula, which marks the turns of commodities and of currency, we add, to the term currency, a mark of progressive growth indicating it, for example, with a number and we will have: Currency–Commodities–Currency1–Commodities–Currency2–Commodities–Currency3. This is the formula of capital.
Back to table of contents
Carefully examining the formula of capital, it can be noted in the last analysis that the matter of the accrual of capital is resolved in the following way: finding a commodity that profits more than what it costs; finding a commodity that, in our hands, can give rise to value, so that, by selling it, we come to amass more money than we spent to buy it. In short, it must be an elastic commodity that, stretched however much in our hands, can grow in value. This very singular commodity indeed exists and it is called labor power, or labor force.
For example, here is a money-owner, who possesses a large amount of wealth, and wants to use his wealth to give rise to capital. He comes into the marketplace solely in search of labor power. Let’s follow his process. He walks around the marketplace, and meet a proletarian, who came solely to sell their only commodity: labor power. The worker, however, is not selling his labor power in whole, not completely, but only partly, for a given time, ie for a day, for a week, for a month, etc. If he sold it altogether, of course, he would become a commodity himself; he would no longer be a wage-worker, but the slave of his owner.
The price of labor power is calculated in the following way. One takes the cost of food, daily life, rent, and however many other things are needed every year by a worker to maintain their labor power, always in their normal state; one adds, to this first amount, the amount needed every year by a worker to procreate, raise, and educate, according to their condition, their children; one divides the total by 365, the number of days in a year, and one will have how much, every day, is required to maintain labor power, one’s daily price, that is the daily wages of the worker.
A part of this calculation is also that which is needed for the worker to procreate, raise, and educate his children because these are the future sources of labor power. If the proletarian sold all of his labor power, instead of just a part, of course, he would become a commodity himself, i.e. a slave of his owner, and his children would also be a commodity, i.e. slaves, just like their parent, of their owner; but, by taking only a part of the labor power of the proletarian away, he has the right to keep the rest, which is found partially in himself and partially in his children.
With this calculation we obtain the exact price of labor power. The law of exchange, explained in the previous chapter, says that a commodity cannot be exchanged with another if the labor that is needed to produce the former is not equal to the labor that is needed to produce the latter. Now, the labor that is needed to produce labor power is equal to the labor needed to produce the things needed by the worker, and as a consequence the value of those things necessary to the worker is equal to the value of their labor power. Therefore if the worker needs 3 lire every day for all of their necessities, it’s clear that 3 lire will be the price of their labor power every day.
Now let’s suppose — a supposition never hurt anyone — that the daily wages of a worker, found in the above manner, amount to 3 lire. Let’s also suppose that, in 6 hours of work, one can produce 15 grams of silver, which is equivalent to 3 lire. The money-owner has meanwhile formed a contract with the proletarian, paying him for his labor power at the correct price of 3 lire a day. He’s a perfectly honest and religious member of the bourgeoisie, for whom it may look good to defraud the worker’s wages. He will be able to make the point that the salary is paid to the worker at the end of the day or the end of the week, that is after he has already completed his labor; because this is also how it’s done with other commodities, whose value is realized in use, like, for example, the rent for a house, or a small farm, whose price one is able to pay at the expiring of terms.
There are three elements of the labor process: firstly, labor power; secondly, raw materials; and thirdly, the means of production. Our money-owner, after the labor power, also bought raw materials at the market, namely cotton wool; the means of production, namely the workshop with all of its tools, is good and ready; and, consequently, he has nothing left to do than to make the way clear between his legs for the work to begin.
“[W]e think we can perceive a change in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He, who before was the money-owner, now strides in front as capitalist; the possessor of labour-power follows as his labourer. The one with an air of importance, smirking, intent on business; the other, timid and holding back, like one who is bringing his own hide to market and has nothing to expect but — a hiding” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 6).
Our characters arrive at the workshop, where the boss hurries to put his worker to task, giving him 10 kilos of cotton wool, since he is a cotton spinner.
Labor is made up of the utilization of the elements that compose it; the utilization of labor power, raw materials, and means of production. The utilization of the means of production is calculated in the following way. From the sum of the value of all the means of production, the building, radiators, coal, etc, one subtracts the sum of the value of all of the raw materials that will remain of the means of production put out by the consumption of use; one divides the result of this subtraction by the number of days that the means of production can last, and one will have the daily consumption of the means of production. Our worker works a 12-hour day. When it’s over, he has transformed the 10 kilos of cotton wool into 10 kilos of thread, which he hands over to his boss, and he leaves the workshop to shrink at home. Along the way, however, for that ugly vice that workers have, to always want to reckon behind the backs of their boss, he tries to find out in his mind how much his boss will be able to earn off of those 10 kilos of thread.
“I don’t rightly know how much the thread costs,” he says to himself, but the amount is soon figured out. “I saw cotton wool when he bought it at the market at 3 lire per kilo. All of the means of production cost 4 lire per day. Therefore:
“10 kilos of cotton wool: ₤30
“Utilization of the means of production: ₤4
“Daily salary: ₤3
“The 10 kilos of thread are worth 37 lire. Now on the cotton wool he certainly didn’t gain anything, because he paid for it at the proper price, neither a cent too much nor a cent too little; as for me, he pays for my labor power 3 lire a day, the price that suits him; therefore it must be the case that he profits by selling his thread for more than it’s worth. It absolutely must be this way; otherwise he would be spending 37 lire just to earn 37 lire, not counting the time that he lost and the inconvenience that it took.
“Now look how the bosses do things! They have a good wish to make out like honest people with the worker from whom they buy labor power, with the merchant from whom they buy raw materials, but they have an eternal flaw, and the rest of us workers, who know how the industry works, shall go on strike. But to sell a commodity for more than it is worth is like selling with false weights, which is illegal. Therefore, if the workers were to expose their bosses’ tricks, they would be forced to close their factories; and to produce goods based on need, maybe they would open large government facilities; that would be much better.”
So the daydreaming worker arrived at home; and there, dined, went to bed, and slept deeply, dreaming of the disappearance of bosses and the creation of government workshops.
Sleep, poor friend, sleep in peace, while hope still rests within you. Sleep in peace, for the disappointing day will soon come. Soon you will learn how your boss can sell their goods for profit, without defrauding anyone. He will make you see how one becomes a capitalist, and a large capitalist, while remaining perfectly honest.
Now your dreams will never again be so peaceful. You will see capital in your nights, like a nightmare, that presses you and threatens to crush you. With terrified eyes you will see it get fatter, like a monster with one hundred proboscises that feverishly search the pores of your body to suck your blood. And finally you will learn to assume its boundless and gigantic proportions, its appearance dark and terrible, with eyes and mouth of fire, morphing its suckers into enormous hopeful trumpets, within which you’ll see thousands of human beings disappear: men, women, children. Down your face will trickle the sweat of death, because your time, and that of your wife and your children will soon arrive. And your final moan will be drowned out by the happy sneering of the monster, glad with your state, so much richer, so much more inhumane.
Let’s return to our money-owner. This bourgeois, a model of accuracy and of order, has adjusted all of his daily counts; and here is how he has figured the price of his 10 kilos of thread:
For 10 kilos of cotton wool at 3 lire per kilo – ₤30
For the utilization of the means of production – ₤4
But around the third element, fitting into the production of his commodity, he has not noted the salary paid to the worker. He knows very well that a large difference occurs between the price of labor and the product of labor power. A daily salary represents how much is needed to sustain the worker for 24 hours, but it doesn’t by any means represent what the worker produces in one day of work.
Our money-owner knows very well that the 3 lire of salary he paid paid represent the upkeep for 24 hours for his worker, but not that which he produced in the 12 hours that he worked in his factory. He knows all of this, precisely as a farmer knows the difference that occurs between what it costs to maintain a cow in a stable, to feed it, etc, and what is produced in milk, cheese, butter, etc. Labor power has the singular quality to give something more worth than it cost and it is for this exactly this fact that the money-owner went to purchase it in the marketplace.
The worker has nothing to smile about. He took the fair price for his good; the law of exchanges was observed perfectly; and he doesn’t have the right to tell the buyer what to do with the commodity, like how a grocer can’t tell their patron how to use the sugar and pepper bought in their shop.
We have supposed above that, in 6 hours of work, 15 grams of silver are produced, equivalent to 3 lire. Therefore, if in 6 hours the labor power produces a value of 3 lire, in 12 hours it will produce a value of 6 lire. Here therefore is the calculation, which states the value of 10 kilos of thread:
10 kilos of cotton wool at 3 lire per kilo: ₤30
Use of the means of production: ₤4
12 hours of labor power: ₤6
The money-owner has therefore spent 37 lire and has obtained a commodity that is worth 40 lire; so he gained 3 lire; his money has increased.
The problem is unraveled. Capital is born.
Back to table of contents
Capital, just born, feels quickly the need for nourishment to develop itself; and the capitalist, who lives now but for the life of the capital, attentively worries about the needs of this being, which has become his heart and soul, and he finds a way to satisfy himself.
The first method, employed by the capitalist in favor of his capital, is the extension of the workday. It’s certain that the workday has its limits. Foremost, a day only consists of 24 hours; it is then necessary from these 24 hours to cut a certain number, because the worker must satisfy all his physical and moral needs: to sleep, feed himself, rest his strength, etc.
“But both these limiting conditions are of a very elastic nature, and allow the greatest latitude. So we find working-days of 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18 hours, i.e., of the most different lengths.
“The capitalist has bought the labour-power at its day-rate. To him its use-value belongs during one working-day. He has thus acquired the right to make the labourer work for him during one day. But, what is a working-day?
“At all events, less than a natural day. By how much? The capitalist has his own views of this ultima Thule [the outermost limit], the necessary limit of the working-day. As capitalist, he is only capital personified. His soul is the soul of capital. But capital has one single life impulse, the tendency to create value and surplus-value, to make its constant factor, the means of production, absorb the greatest possible amount of surplus-labour.
“Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.
“If the labourer consumes his disposable time for himself, he robs the capitalist.
“The capitalist then takes his stand on the law of the exchange of commodities. He, like all other buyers, seeks to get the greatest possible benefit out of the use-value of his commodity. Suddenly the voice of the labourer, which had been stifled in the storm and stress of the process of production, rises:
“‘The commodity that I have sold to you differs from the crowd of other commodities, in that its use creates value, and a value greater than its own. That is why you bought it. That which on your side appears a spontaneous expansion of capital, is on mine extra expenditure of labour-power. You and I know on the market only one law, that of the exchange of commodities. And the consumption of the commodity belongs not to the seller who parts with it, but to the buyer, who acquires it. To you, therefore, belongs the use of my daily labour-power. But by means of the price that you pay for it each day, I must be able to reproduce it daily, and to sell it again. Apart from natural exhaustion through age, &c., I must be able on the morrow to work with the same normal amount of force, health and freshness as to-day. You preach to me constantly the gospel of “saving” and “abstinence.” Good! I will, like a sensible saving owner, husband my sole wealth, labour-power, and abstain from all foolish waste of it. I will each day spend, set in motion, put into action only as much of it as is compatible with its normal duration, and healthy development. By an unlimited extension of the working-day, you may in one day use up a quantity of labour-power greater than I can restore in three. What you gain in labour I lose in substance. The use of my labour-power and the spoliation of it are quite different things. If the average time that (doing a reasonable amount of work) an average labourer can live, is 30 years, the value of my labour-power, which you pay me from day to day is 1/(365×30) or 1/10950 of its total value. But if you consume it in 10 years, you pay me daily 1/10950 instead of 1/3650 of its total value, i.e., only 1/3 of its daily value, and you rob me, therefore, every day of 2/3 of the value of my commodity. You pay me for one day’s labour-power, whilst you use that of 3 days. That is against our contract and the law of exchanges. I demand, therefore, a working-day of normal length, and I demand it without any appeal to your heart, for in money matters sentiment is out of place. You may be a model citizen, perhaps a member of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and in the odour of sanctity to boot; but the thing that you represent face to face with me has no heart in its breast. That which seems to throb there is my own heart-beating. I demand the normal working-day because I, like every other seller, demand the value of my commodity.’
“We see then, that, apart from extremely elastic bounds, the nature of the exchange of commodities itself imposes no limit to the working-day, no limit to surplus-labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working-day as long as possible, and to make, whenever possible, two working-days out of one. On the other hand, the peculiar nature of the commodity sold implies a limit to its consumption by the purchaser, and the labourer maintains his right as seller when he wishes to reduce the working-day to one of definite normal duration. There is here, therefore, an antinomy, right against right, both equally bearing the seal of the law of exchanges. Between equal rights force decides” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 10, sec. 1).
We will now see exposed how force acts, as told by the facts, when all is made by and for capital. The facts cited in this book are all taken from England: primarily, because this is the country where capitalist production has reached the greatest development, towards which the rest of all civilized countries tend; and, in the second place, because only in England is there a suitable amount of documents, regarding the conditions of work, collected by regular government commissions. The modest limits of this summary, however, only allow for a reproduction of a small part of the rich materials collected in the work of Marx.
“William Wood, 9 years old, was 7 years and 10 months when he began to work. He ‘ran moulds’ (carried ready-moulded articles into the drying-room, afterwards bringing back the empty mould) from the beginning. He came to work every day in the week at 6 a.m., and left off about 9 p.m. “’ work till 9 o’clock at night six days in the week. I have done so seven or eight weeks.’
“Fifteen hours of labour for a child 7 years old! J. Murray, 12 years of age, says: ‘I turn jigger, and run moulds. I come at 6. Sometimes I come at 4. I worked all night last night, till 6 o’clock this morning. I have not been in bed since the night before last. There were eight or nine other boys working last night. All but one have come this morning. I get 3 shillings and sixpence. I do not get any more for working at night. I worked two nights last week…’
“Mr. Charles Parsons, late house surgeon of the same institution, writes in a letter to Commissioner Longe, amongst other things:
“‘I can only speak from personal observation and not from statistical data, but I do not hesitate to assert that my indignation has been aroused again and again at the sight of poor children whose health has been sacrificed to gratify the avarice of either parents or employers.’ He enumerates the causes of the diseases of the potters, and sums them up in the phrase, ‘long hours…’
“Half the workers [in matchstick factories] are children under thirteen, and young persons under eighteen. The manufacture is on account of its unhealthiness and unpleasantness in such bad odour that only the most miserable part of the labouring class, half-starved widows and so forth, deliver up their children to it, ‘the ragged, half-starved, untaught children.’
“Of the witnesses that Commissioner White examined (1863), 270 were under 18, 50 under 10, 10 only 8, and 5 only 6 years old. A range of the working-day from 12 to 14 or 15 hours, night-labour, irregular meal-times, meals for the most part taken in the very workrooms that are pestilent with phosphorus. Dante would have found the worst horrors of his Inferno surpassed in this manufacture…
“In the manufacture of paper-hangings the coarser sorts are printed by machine; the finer by hand (block-printing). The most active business months are from the beginning of October to the end of April. During this time the work goes on fast and furious without intermission from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. or further into the night.
“J. Leach deposes:
“‘Last winter six out of nineteen girls were away from ill-health at one time from over-work. I have to bawl at them to keep them awake.’ W. Duffy: ‘I have seen when the children could none of them keep their eyes open for the work; indeed, none of us could.’ J. Lightbourne: ‘Am 13 ... We worked last winter till 9 (evening), and the winter before till 10. I used to cry with sore feet every night last winter.’ G. Apsden: ‘That boy of mine when he was 7 years old I used to carry him on my back to and fro through the snow, and he used to have 16 hours a day ... I have often knelt down to feed him as he stood by the machine, for he could not leave it or stop…’
“In the last week of June, 1863, all the London daily papers published a paragraph with the ‘sensational’ heading, ‘Death from simple over-work.’ It dealt with the death of the milliner, Mary Anne Walkley, 20 years of age, employed in a highly-respectable dressmaking establishment, exploited by a lady with the pleasant name of Elise. The old, often-told story, was once more recounted. This girl worked, on an average, 16½ hours, during the season often 30 hours, without a break, whilst her failing labour-power was revived by occasional supplies of sherry, port, or coffee. It was just now the height of the season. It was necessary to conjure up in the twinkling of an eye the gorgeous dresses for the noble ladies bidden to the ball in honour of the newly-imported Princess of Wales. Mary Anne Walkley had worked without intermission for 26½ hours, with 60 other girls, 30 in one room, that only afforded 1/3 of the cubic feet of air required for them. At night, they slept in pairs in one of the stifling holes into which the bedroom was divided by partitions of board. And this was one of the best millinery establishments in London. Mary Anne Walkley fell ill on the Friday, died on Sunday, without, to the astonishment of Madame Elise, having previously completed the work in hand. The doctor, Mr. Keys, called too late to the death-bed, duly bore witness before the coroner’s jury that
“‘Mary Anne Walkley had died from long hours of work in an over-crowded work-room, and a too small and badly ventilated bedroom…’
“In Marylebone, blacksmiths die at the rate of 31 per thousand per annum, or 11 above the mean of the male adults of the country in its entirety. The occupation, instinctive almost as a portion of human art, unobjectionable as a branch of human industry, is made by mere excess of work, the destroyer of the man” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 10, sec. 3).
This is how capital whips labor, which, after much suffering, searches until the end to resist it. The workers unite and demand, to the powers that be, the establishment of a normal workday. One may easily comprehend how much of this they are able to obtain, considering that the law must be made and upheld by the capitalists themselves, against whom the workers would like to contend.
Back to table of contents
Labor power, producing a greater value than how much something is worth, that is a “surplus,” has created capital; enlarging then this surplus value with prolongation of the workday, has given sufficient nourishment to the capital for its infancy. The capital grows, and the surplus value must increase to satisfy the grown need. Increase of surplus value, however, does not mean, like we saw before, the extension of the workday, which eventually also has its necessary limits, although it is a very elastic length. For what little time there is that the capitalist leaves to the worker for the satisfaction of his most basic needs, the workday will always be less than 24 hours. The workday meets then a natural limit, and the surplus value, consequently, an insurmountable obstacle. Let’s represent the workday with the line A-B.
The letter A here represents the beginning and B the end, that natural limit, that is, past which it isn’t possible to go. A-C is the part of the day in which the worker produces the value of the salary received and C-B the part of the day in which the worker produces surplus value. We see that our cotton spinner, in fact, receiving 3 lire in salary, was reproducing the value of his salary with half of his day, and was producing 3 lire of surplus value with the other. The work done from A-C, with which the salary’s value is produced, is necessary labor, while the work done from C-B, which produces surplus value, is called exploitation.
The capitalist is thirsty for exploitation, because it is this that creates surplus value. Prolonged exploitation prolongs the workday, which finishes at its natural limit B, which represents an insurmountable obstacle to exploitation and surplus value. What to do now? The capitalist soon finds the solution. He observes that exploitation has two limits, one B, the end of the workday, the other C, the end of the necessary work; if the limit B is fixed, it won’t be so for limit C. Being able to move the point C all the way to point D, one would grow the exploitation from C-B the length of D-C, exactly how much the necessary work from A-C would decrease. Surplus value would thus find a way to continue growing, not in the absolute way like at first, which is by always prolonging the workday, but in relation to the growth of exploitation with the corresponding decrease in necessary work. The first was absolute surplus value, this is relative surplus value. Relative surplus value is founded upon the decreasing of necessary work; the decreasing of necessary work is founded upon the decreasing of wages; the decreasing of wages is founded upon a decrease in prices of things that are necessary for the worker; therefore relative surplus value is founded on the depreciation of the commodities that the worker uses.
And there would be an even quicker way of producing relative surplus value, someone will say, and that would be to pay the worker a salary less than that which he is due, that is not to pay him the proper price of his commodity, labor power. We cannot consider this expedient, used often in fact, minimally, because we aren’t admitting that it’s the most perfect observance of the law of exchange, according to which all commodities, and consequently labor power as well, must be sold and bought at their proper value.
Our capitalist, like we already saw, is an absolutely honest bourgeois; he will never use, to enlarge his capital, a method that is not entirely worthy of him.
Let’s suppose that, in a workday, a worker produces 6 items of a commodity, that the capitalist sells for the price of ₤7,50, because in the value of this commodity the raw materials and the means of production come to ₤1,50 and 12 hours of labor power come to 6 lire: all three components, therefore, come to ₤7,50. The capitalist finds a surplus value of 3 lire on the value of ₤7,50, the cost of his commodity, and on top of every component a surplus value of ₤0,50, because he spends ₤0,75 and extracts ₤1,25 from each of these. Let’s suppose that with a new system of work, or just with perfection of the old way, production doubles, and that, instead of 6 items a day, the capitalist is able to attain 12. If in 6 items the raw materials and the means of production come to ₤1,50, in 12 he will come to 3 lire, that is every item comes to ₤0,25. Those 3 lire combined with the 6 lire produced by labor power in 12 hours, make 9 lire, that is how much the 12 items cost, each one of which therefore comes to the price of ₤0,75.
Now the capitalist needs to make himself a larger place in the market to sell a double quantity of his commodity; and you can do this by somewhat restricting the price. In other words, the capitalist needs to make a reason arise for which he is able to sell their items on the market in twice the number as before; and the reason is found exactly in price reduction. He will sell, therefore, his items at a price somewhat lower than ₤1,25, which was his price before, but greater than ₤0,75 (how much each one of these is truly worth). He with sell them at a lira each, and so he will have secured doubled sales of his items, from which he now gains 6 lire; 3 lire of surplus value and 3 lire of difference between their value and the price at which they are sold.
As you can see, the capitalist gains a great profit from this growth of production. All capitalists are therefore highly interested in increasing the products of their industries, and it is with this that they are able to make this happen every day in any kind of production. Their extraordinary gain, however, that which represents the difference between the value of the commodity and the price at which it is sold, doesn’t last long, because right away the new or perfected system of production becomes adopted by all out of necessity. So now as a result the value of the commodity lessens by half. At first every item was worth ₤1,25; now instead it’s worth 62 ½ cents. The capitalist however always attains a profit, having doubled production. At first 3 lire of surplus value for 6 items and now 3 lire of surplus value for 12 items; but given that the 12 items are produced in the same time the 6 items were made, that is in 12 hours of work, he always has as a final result 3 lire of surplus value for one 12-hour workday, but double the production.
When this increase in production is regarding goods necessary to the worker, it consequently carries the lowering of the price of labor power, and therefore the lessening of necessary work and the increase of exploitation, which makes up relative surplus value.
Back to table of contents
It’s been a bit since we haven’t dealt with the facts of our capitalist, who must have certainly prospered in the meantime. Let’s go back to his workshop, where we may have the pleasure of seeing our friend, the spinner, again. Here we are. Let’s enter.
Oh, surprise! There’s no longer one worker, but now a large number of workers find themselves at work. All quiet and in order as if they were many soldiers. The lack of guards and inspectors is seen as supervisors who walk among the ranks, all observing, giving orders, or overseeing the the execution is by the books. Of the capitalist nothing is seen, not even a shadow. A glass door opens inside, maybe it will be him; let’s see. It’s a solemn person, but it’s not our capitalist. The supervisors carefully stand around him, and they receive his orders with the utmost attention. The sound of an electric doorbell is heard; one of the supervisors runs to put his ear to the mouth of a metal tube, which descends from the doorway along the wall; and and he soon comes to announce to the director that the boss demands a conference with him.
Let’s look in the crowd of workers for our old acquaintance the spinner; and finally we come to find him in a corner, completely devoted to work. He’s become gaunt and pale in the face: on his face one reads a profound thought of sadness. One day we saw him at the market negotiating his labor power peer to peer with the money-owner; but how great the distance between them has grown today! Today he is a worker lost in the crowd of the many that populate the workshop, and oppressed by an extraordinarily long workday; while the money-owner, who’s already become a big capitalist, stands like a god atop Mount Olympus, from where he sends orders to his people through a group of intermediaries. Whatsoever has happened? It’s a piece of cake. The capitalist has prospered. Capital has grown by a lot, and, in order to satisfy his new needs, the capitalist has established cooperative labor, that is labor done with a joining of forces. In this workshop, where at another time only one labor force used to work, today there works a whole cooperation of labor forces. Capital has gone out of its infancy, and presents itself for the first time with its true appearance. The advantages that capital finds in cooperation can be reduced to four. Firstly it’s in cooperation that capital realizes true social labor power. Social labor power being, as we already said, the average taken in a given center of production among a number of workers who labor with an average degree of ability and intensity, it’s clear that every single labor force will move itself more or less from average or social force, which it therefore can only obtain by gathering a great number of labor forces in the same workshop; i.e. in cooperation.
The second advantage is the economics of the means of production. The same workshop, the same heaters, etc., that used to serve only one, now serve many workers.
The third advantage of cooperation is the growth of labor power.
“Just as the offensive power of a squadron of cavalry, or the defensive power of a regiment of infantry is essentially different from the sum of the offensive or defensive powers of the individual cavalry or infantry soldiers taken separately, so the sum total of the mechanical forces exerted by isolated workmen differs from the social force that is developed, when many hands take part simultaneously in one and the same undivided operation, such as raising a heavy weight, turning a winch, or removing an obstacle” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 13).
The fourth advantage is the possibility to combine forces that are able to execute tasks in a way that either wouldn’t be able to be accomplished with isolated efforts, or would be able to be accomplished in a very flawed fashion. Who hasn’t seen how 50 workers can move enormous loads in one hour, while one labor force wouldn’t be able to move them, in 50 hours altogether, even one inch? Who hasn’t seen how 12 workers, placed along the scaffolding of a house under construction, go through a quantity of materials in one hour immensely greater than that which one worker would go through in 12 hours? Who doesn’t understand how 20 bricklayers can do much more work in one day than only one can do in 20 days?
“Co-operation ever constitutes the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 13).
Back to table of contents
When the Capitalist gathers the workers to perform the various tasks, which make up all of the labor for a commodity, in his workshop, he gives an entirely special nature to simple cooperation; he establishes the division of labor and manufacturing; which is none other than “a productive mechanism whose parts are human beings” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, sec. 1).
Although manufacturing is always based on the division of labor, it also has a double origin. In fact in some cases manufacturing has brought together the different processing needs for the completion of a commodity in the same workshop, which first, like so many special trades, used to be distinct and divided up; in other cases it has divided, while keeping them in the same workshop, the different work operations, that before used to make up a whole of the completion of a commodity.
“A carriage, for example, was formerly the product of the labour of a great number of independent artificers, such as wheelwrights, harness-makers, tailors, locksmiths, upholsterers, turners, fringe-makers, glaziers, painters, polishers, gilders, &c. In the manufacture of carriages, however, all these different artificers are assembled in one building where they work into one another’s hands. It is true that a carriage cannot be gilt before it has been made. But if a number of carriages are being made simultaneously, some may be in the hands of the gilders while others are going through an earlier process” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, sec. 1).
The production of a pin was divided into more than twenty partial processes, which form the parts of the complete manufacture of a pin. Manufacturing, therefore, sometimes brings many trades together into only one, and sometimes divides a trade into many more.
Manufacturing multiplies the forces and instruments of labor, but renders them predominantly technical and simple, constantly applying them to one sole and unique basic operation.
Great are the advantages that capital realizes in manufacturing, allocating different labor forces to the same basic operations constantly. Labor power gains very much in intensity and precision. All of those little intervals, which one finds like pores between the different phases of production of a good created by only one individual, disappear when this individual always executes the same operation. The worker needs no more than an hour to learn all about a trade albeit a simple one, a unique operation of the trade itself, which he learns in much less time and with less expense than how much was needed to learn a trade in its entirety. This diminishing of expense and time is a diminishing of things needed for the worker, i.e. a diminishing of necessary labor, and a corresponding growth of overwork and surplus value. The capitalist, really a parasite, always grows fatter at the expense of labor, and the worker suffers greatly.
“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, and the absurd fable of Menenius Agrippa, which makes man a mere fragment of his own body, becomes realised” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, sec. 5).
“Dugald Stewart calls manufacturing labourers ‘living automatons ... employed in the details of the work’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, fn. 40).
“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 capitalist’s workshop. 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” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, sec. 5).
Heinrich von Storch says: “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” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, fn. 42).
“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. 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 associated 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” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, sec. 5).
“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’ (Adam Ferguson).
“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.
“‘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.’
“For preventing the complete deterioration of the great mass 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 masses, 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 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 classes of labour, which are striving after division and separation?’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, sec. 5).
Ferguson says: “And thinking itself, in this age of separations, may become a peculiar craft” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, fn. 48).
“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” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, sec. 5).
“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 Classiques.’ The period of Modern Mechanical Industry has, of course, very much enlarged his catalogue of labour’s diseases. See ‘Hygiène physique et morale de l’ouvrier 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” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, fn 50).
David Urquhart says: “To subdivide a man is to execute him, if he deserves the sentence, to assassinate him if he does not... The subdivision of labour is the assassination of a people.” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, sec. 5).
“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’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, fn. 51).
“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” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 14, sec. 5).
Back to table of contents
John Stuart Mill, in his Principles of Political Economy, says: “Hitherto  it is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being” (Mill, Principles of Political Economy, ch. 6). This was not their purpose. Like every other development of the productive force of labor, capitalist use of machinery does not tend to lower the price of commodities, to shorten the part of the day, in which the worker labors for himself, in relation to lengthening the other, in which he works only for the capitalist. It is a particular method for making relative surplus value.
But who is it that ever thinks of the worker? If the capitalist looks after him, it is only to study a better way of exploiting him. The worker sells his labor power, and the capitalist buys it, as the only commodity that, with its surplus value, can enable him to give birth to and grow capital. The capitalist, therefore, is only concerned with making more surplus value. After having exhausted the resources of absolute surplus value, he found relative surplus value. He now sees that with machinery one can obtain in the same time a product two times, four times, ten times, etc. bigger than before; and he begins to use machinery. Cooperation, manufacturing, thus transform into modern industry and his workshop into a factory. That capitalist, after having mutilated and crippled the worker with the division of labor, after having limited him to only one partial task, makes us watch a sadder show yet. He rips from the hands of the worker that special tool, which still reminds him of his art, his old status of a whole man, and entrusts him to the machine. From now on the capitalist has no more need for the worker, as he does a servant of his machinery. With the introduction of machinery, the capitalist realizes an enormous profit at first, one easily understands how, remembering how much we said about relative surplus value. However with the propagation of the mechanical system of production, the extraordinary profit ceases, and only the growth of production remains that, made general by the generalization of machinery, begins to lower the value of the things necessary to the worker, the necessary labor time, and salaries, and to increase overwork and surplus value.
Capital is divided into constant and variable. Constant capital is that which is represented by raw materials and the means of production. The building, the heaters, the tools, the auxiliary materials, like tallow, coal, oil, etc., the means of production, like iron, cotton, silk, silver, wood, etc., are all things that make up parts of constant capital.
Variable capital is that which is represented by salary, by the price that is of labor power. The first is called constant, because its value remains constant in the value of the commodity, of which it is a portion; while the second is called variable, exactly because its value grows coming in to make a portion of the value of the commodity. It is only variable capital that creates surplus value; and the machine only makes up a portion of constant capital.
The capitalist aims, in modern industry, to profit from an enormous mass of past labor, in the same way that he would profit from a mass of natural forces, ie for free. To be able to reach his goal, however, he needs to have a complete mechanism, which will be composed of more or less expensive materials, and will always absorb a certain amount of work. He certainly does not have to buy steam power, or the driving property of water or of air; he certainly does not have to buy mechanical breakthroughs and applications; nor the inventions and improvements of the tools of a trade. He can avail himself of all of this, always as he wishes, without expense; but he just needs to procure all of a mechanism adapted to this. The machine enters therefore, as a means of production, making up a portion of constant capital; and the proportion, in which it comes in to compose the value of the commodity, is in direct proportion with its consumption and with its auxiliary materials, coal, tallow, etc., and in inverse proportion with the value of the commodity. That is to say that the more one wears out a machine with its auxiliary materials in producing a commodity, the more it tells them of its value; while the value of the commodity is larger, for which the machine works, the portion of value that comes from the consumption of the machine is smaller.
“Since [the steam-hammer’s] daily wear and tear, its coal-consumption, &c., are spread over the stupendous masses of iron hammered by it in a day, only a small value is added to a hundred weight of iron; but that value would be very great, if the cyclopean instrument were employed in driving in nails” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 15, sec. 2).
When, for the generalization of the system of modern industry, the machine ceases to be a direct source of extraordinary wealth for the capitalist, he succeeds in finding many other ways, with which he can continue to get very large amounts of relative surplus value from this new way of production.
“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.
“The value of labour-power was determined, not only by the labour-time necessary to maintain the individual adult labourer, 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-labour 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.
“Machinery also revolutionises out and out the contract between the labourer and the capitalist, which formally fixes their mutual relations. Taking the exchange of commodities as our basis, our first assumption was that capitalist and labourer met as free persons, as independent owners of commodities; the one possessing money and means of production, the other labour-power. But now the capitalist buys children and young persons under age. Previously, the workman sold his own labour-power, which he disposed of nominally as a free agent. Now he sells wife and child. He has become a slave-dealer” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 15, sec. 3A).
“If machinery be the most powerful means for increasing the productiveness of labour — i.e., for shortening the working-time required in the production of a commodity, it becomes in the hands of capital the most powerful means, in those industries first invaded by it, for lengthening the working-day beyond all bounds set by human nature …
“In the first place, in the form of machinery, the implements of labour become automatic, things moving and working independent of the workman. 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 repellent 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 material wear and tear of a machine is of two kinds. The one arises from use, as coins wear away by circulating, the other from non-use, as a sword rusts when left in its scabbard. The latter kind is due to the elements. The former is more or less directly proportional, the latter to a certain extent inversely proportional, to the use of the machine.
“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” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 15, sec. 3B).
To repair this damage, the capitalist feels the need to make the machine work as much as possible, and most importantly begins to prolong daily labor, introducing night shifts and the relays system. As the word itself indicates, used to indicate the changing of postal horses, the relays system consists of making two teams of workers carry out labor, that switch off every twelve hours, or three that switch off every eight hours; in a way that labor always proceeds without the slightest interruption for all 24 hours. This system, so advantageous for capital, is also begun to be used in the first moment of the appearance of machinery, when the capitalist is in a great rush to be able to amass the greatest quantity possible of extraordinary profit, that soon must stop for the generalization of the machinery itself. The capitalist, therefore, breaks down all obstacles of time with the machinery, all of the limits of the day that were imposed on labor in manufacturing. And when he is joined with the natural limit of the day, to absorb that is all of the 24 hours of the day, he finds the way to make of only one day two, three, four or more days, intensifying labor two, three, four or more times. In fact, if in one workday one finds a way of making a worker carry out two times, three times, four times, etc. more labor than before, it’s clear that the old workday will correspond to two, three, four or more workdays. And the capitalist finds the way to do this, rendering, as we have already said, labor more intense, squeezing, in other words, into only one day the labor of two, three, four or more days. It is with machinery that he is able to achieve this goal.
“The improvements in the steam-engine have increased the piston speed, and at the same time have made it possible, by means of a greater economy of power, to drive with the same or even a smaller consumption of coal more machinery with the same engine. The improvements in the transmitting mechanism have lessened friction, and, what so strikingly distinguishes modern from the older machinery, have reduced the diameter and weight of the shafting to a constantly decreasing minimum. Finally, the improvements in the operative machines have, while reducing their size, increased their speed and efficiency, as in the modern power-loom; or, while increasing the size of their framework, have also increased the extent and number of their working parts, as in spinning-mules, or have added to the speed of these working parts by imperceptible alterations of detail, such as those which ten years ago increased the speed of the spindles in self-acting mules by one-fifth.
“The reduction of the working-day to 12 hours dates in England from 1832. In 1836 a manufacturer stated: ‘The labour now undergone in the factories is much greater than it used to be ... compared with thirty or forty years ago ... owing to the greater attention and activity required by the greatly increased speed which is given to the machinery.’
“In the year 1844, Lord Ashley, now Lord Shaftesbury, made in the House of Commons the following statements, supported by documentary evidence: ‘The labour performed by those engaged in the processes of manufacture, is three times as great as in the beginning of such operations. Machinery has executed, no doubt, the work that would demand the sinews of millions of men; but it has also prodigiously multiplied the labour of those who are governed by its fearful movements’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 15, sec. 3C).
“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.
“To work at a machine, the workman should be taught from childhood, in order that he may learn to adapt his own movements to the uniform and unceasing motion of an automaton. When the machinery, as a whole, forms a system of manifold machines, working simultaneously and in concert, the co-operation based upon it, requires the distribution of various groups of workmen among the different kinds of machines. But the employment of machinery does away with the necessity of crystallising this distribution after the manner of Manufacture, by the constant annexation of a particular man to a particular function. Since the motion of the whole system does not proceed from the workman, but from the machinery, a change of persons can take place at any time without an interruption of the work. The most striking proof of this is afforded by the relays system, put into operation by the manufacturers during their revolt from 1848-1850. Lastly, the quickness with which machine work is learnt by young people, does away with the necessity of bringing up for exclusive employment by machinery, a special class of operatives. With regard to the work of the mere attendants, it can, to some extent, be replaced in the mill by machines, and owing to its extreme simplicity, it allows of a rapid and constant change of the individuals burdened with this drudgery.
“Although then, technically speaking, the old system of division of labour is thrown overboard by machinery, it hangs on in the factory, as a traditional habit handed down from Manufacture, and is afterwards systematically re-moulded and established in a more hideous form by capital, as a means of exploiting labour-power. The life-long speciality of handling one and the same tool, now becomes the life-long speciality of serving one and the same machine. Machinery is put to a wrong use, with the object of transforming the workman, from his very childhood, into a part of a detail-machine. In this way, not only are the expenses of his reproduction considerably lessened, but at the same time his helpless dependence upon the factory as a whole, and therefore upon the capitalist, is rendered complete. Here as everywhere else, we must distinguish between the increased productiveness due to the development of the social process of production, and that due to the capitalist exploitation of that process. In handicrafts and manufacture, the workman makes use of a tool, in the factory, the machine makes use of him. There the movements of the instrument of labour proceed from him, here it is the movements of the machine that he must follow. In manufacture the workmen are parts of a living mechanism. In the factory we have a lifeless mechanism independent of the workman, who becomes its mere living appendage.
“‘The miserable routine of endless drudgery and toil in which the same mechanical process is gone through over and over again, is like the labour of Sisyphus. The burden of labour, like the rock, keeps ever falling back on the worn-out labourer’ (Friedrich Engels).
“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. The special skill of each individual insignificant factory operative vanishes as an infinitesimal quantity before the science, the gigantic physical forces, and the mass of labour that are embodied in the factory mechanism and, together with that mechanism, constitute the power of the ‘master.’ This ‘master,’ therefore, in whose brain the machinery and his monopoly of it are inseparably united, whenever he falls out with his ‘hands,’ contemptuously tells them:
“‘The factory operatives should keep in wholesome remembrance the fact that theirs is really a low species of skilled labour; and that there is none which is more easily acquired, or of its quality more amply remunerated, or which by a short training of the least expert can be more quickly, as well as abundantly, acquired.... The master’s machinery really plays a far more important part in the business of production than the labour and the skill of the operative, which six months’ education can teach, and a common labourer can learn’ (‘The Master Spinners’ and Manufacturers’ Defence Fund. Report of the Committee’, 1854).
“The technical subordination of the workman to the uniform motion of the instruments of labour, and the peculiar composition of the body of workpeople, consisting as it does of individuals of both sexes and of all ages, give rise to a barrack discipline, which is elaborated into a complete system in the factory, and which fully develops the before mentioned labour of overlooking, thereby dividing the workpeople into operatives and overlookers, into private soldiers and sergeants of an industrial army. ‘The main difficulty [in the automatic factory] ... lay ... above all in training human beings to renounce their desultory habits of work, and to identify themselves with the unvarying regularity of the complex automaton. To devise and administer a successful code of factory discipline, suited to the necessities of factory diligence, was the Herculean enterprise, the noble achievement of Arkwright! Even at the present day, when the system is perfectly organised and its labour lightened to the utmost, it is found nearly impossible to convert persons past the age of puberty, into useful factory hands’ (Andrew Ure). The factory code in which capital formulates, like a private legislator, and at his own good will, his autocracy over his workpeople, unaccompanied by that division of responsibility, in other matters so much approved of by the bourgeoisie, and unaccompanied by the still more approved representative system, this code is but the capitalistic caricature of that social regulation of the labour-process which becomes requisite in co-operation on a great scale, and in the employment in common, of instruments of labour and especially of machinery. The place of the slave-driver’s lash is taken by the overlooker’s book of penalties. All punishments naturally resolve themselves into fines and deductions from wages, and the law-giving talent of the factory Lycurgus so arranges matters, that a violation of his laws is, if possible, more profitable to him than the keeping of them” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 15, sec. 4).
“‘The slavery in which the bourgeoisie has bound the proletariat, comes nowhere more plainly into daylight than in the factory system. In it all freedom comes to an end both at law and in fact. The workman must be in the factory at half past five. If he come a few minutes late, he is punished; if he come 10 minutes late, he is not allowed to enter until after breakfast, and thus loses a quarter of a day’s wage. He must eat, drink and sleep at word of command.... The despotic bell calls him from his bed, calls him from breakfast and dinner. And how does he fare in the mill? There the master is the absolute law-giver. He makes what regulations he pleases; he alters and makes additions to his code at pleasure; and if he insert the veriest nonsense, the courts say to the workman: Since you have entered into this contract voluntarily, you must now carry it out .... These workmen are condemned to live, from their ninth year till their death, under this mental and bodily torture’ (Friedrich Engels). What, ‘the courts say,’ I will illustrate by two examples. One occurs at Sheffield at the end of 1866. In that town a workman had engaged himself for 2 years in a steelworks. In consequence of a quarrel with his employer he left the works, and declared that under no circumstances would he work for that master any more. He was prosecuted for breach of contract, and condemned to two months’ imprisonment. (If the master break the contract, he can be proceeded against only in a civil action, and risks nothing but money damages.) After the workman has served his two months, the master invites him to return to the works, pursuant to the contract. Workman says: No, he has already been punished for the breach. The master prosecutes again, the court condemns again, although one of the judges, Mr. Shee, publicly denounces this as a legal monstrosity, by which a man can periodically, as long as he lives, be punished over and over again for the same offence or crime. This judgment was given not by the ‘Great Unpaid,’ the provincial Dogberries, but by one of the highest courts of justice in London. — [Added in the 4th German edition. — This has now been done away with. With few exceptions, e.g., when public gas-works are involved, the worker in England is now put on an equal footing with the employer in case of breach of contract and can be sued only civilly. — F. E.] The second case occurs in Wiltshire at the end of November 1863. About 30 power-loom weavers, in the employment of one Harrup, a cloth manufacturer at Leower’s Mill, Westbury Leigh, struck work because master Harrup indulged in the agreeable habit of making deductions from their wages for being late in the morning; 6d. for 2 minutes; 1s. for 3 minutes, and 1s. 6d. for ten minutes. This is at the rate of 9s. per hour, and £4 10s. 0d. per diem; while the wages of the weavers on the average of a year, never exceeded 10s. to 12s. weekly. Harrup also appointed a boy to announce the starting time by a whistle, which he often did before six o’clock in the morning: and if the hands were not all there at the moment the whistle ceased, the doors were closed, and those hands who were outside were fined: and as there was no clock on the premises, the unfortunate hands were at the mercy of the young Harrup-inspired time-keeper. The hands on strike, mothers of families as well as girls, offered to resume work if the timekeeper were replaced by a clock, and a more reasonable scale of fines were introduced. Harrup summoned I9 women and girls before the magistrates for breach of contract. To the utter indignation of all present, they were each mulcted in a fine of 6d. and 2s. 6d. for costs. Harrup was followed from the court by a crowd of people who hissed him” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 15, fn. 108).
“The contest between the capitalist and the wage-labourer dates back to the very origin of capital. It raged on throughout the whole manufacturing period. But only since the introduction of machinery has the workman fought against the instrument of labour itself, the material embodiment of capital. He revolts against this particular form of the means of production, as being the material basis of the capitalist mode of production.
“In the 17th century nearly all Europe experienced revolts of the workpeople against the ribbon-loom, a machine for weaving ribbons and trimmings, called in Germany Bandmühle, Schnurmühle, and Mühlenstuhl. These machines were invented in Germany. Abbé Lancellotti, in a work that appeared in Venice in 1636, but which was written in 1579, says as follows:
“‘Anthony Müller of Danzig saw about 50 years ago in that town, a very ingenious machine, which weaves 4 to 6 pieces at once. But the Mayor being apprehensive that this invention might throw a large number of workmen on the streets, caused the inventor to be secretly strangled or drowned.’
“In Leyden, this machine was not used till 1629; there the riots of the ribbon-weavers at length compelled the Town Council to prohibit it.
“‘In this town,” says Boxhorn (Inst. Pol., 1663), referring to the introduction of this machine into Leyden, “about twenty years ago certain people invented an instrument for weaving, with which a single person could weave more cloth, and more easily, than many others in the same length of time. As a result there arose disturbances and complaints from the weavers, until the Town Council finally prohibited the use of this instrument.’
“After making various decrees more or less prohibitive against this loom in 1632, 1639, &c., the States General of Holland at length permitted it to be used, under certain conditions, by the decree of the 15th December, 1661. It was also prohibited in Cologne in 1676, at the same time that its introduction into England was causing disturbances among the workpeople. By an imperial Edict of 19th Feb., 1685, its use was forbidden throughout all Germany. In Hamburg it was burnt in public by order of the Senate. The Emperor Charles VI., on 9th Feb., 1719, renewed the edict of 1685, and not till 1765 was its use openly allowed in the Electorate of Saxony. This machine, which shook Europe to its foundations, was in fact the precursor of the mule and the power-loom, and of the industrial revolution of the 18th century. It enabled a totally inexperienced boy, to set the whole loom with all its shuttles in motion, by simply moving a rod backwards and forwards, and in its improved form produced from 40 to 50 pieces at once.
“About 1630, a wind-sawmill, erected near London by a Dutchman, succumbed to the excesses of the populace. Even as late as the beginning of the 18th century, sawmills driven by water overcame the opposition of the people, supported as it was by Parliament, only with great difficulty. No sooner had Everet in 1758 erected the first wool-shearing machine that was driven by water-power, than it was set on fire by 100,000 people who had been thrown out of work. Fifty thousand workpeople, who had previously lived by carding wool, petitioned Parliament against Arkwright’s scribbling mills and carding engines. 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 reactionary 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, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 1, sec. 5).
Here, therefore, are the results of machinery and modern industry for the workers. These are, foremost, driven in large part by factories, in which the machine has taken its place. The few people who remain must suffer the humiliation of seeing the last instrument of labor snatched from their hand and being reduced to the condition of servants of machinery; they must bear the burden of an extraordinarily grown workday; the must renounce their wives and children, having become the slaves of capital; and they must suffer, finally, the indescribable spasms, products of the torture of labor progressively intensified by the mad lust, by which the capitalist is taken in the period of modern industry, for surplus value. But the theologians of the god of capital aren’t lacking, who explain all, and justify all with their eternal laws. To the desperate cry of the workers hungered by machinery, they respond with the announcement of a farfetched law of compensation.
“James Mill, MacCulloch, Torrens, Senior, John Stuart Mill, and a whole series besides, of bourgeois political economists, insist that all machinery that displaces workmen, simultaneously and necessarily sets free an amount of capital adequate to employ the same identical workmen.
“Suppose a capitalist to employ 100 workmen, at £30 a year each, in a carpet factory. The variable capital annually laid out amounts, therefore, to £3,000. Suppose, also, that he discharges 50 of his workmen, and employs the remaining 50 with machinery that costs him £1,500. To simplify matters, we take no account of buildings, coal, &c. Further suppose that the raw material annually consumed costs £3,000, both before and after the change. Is any capital set free by this metamorphosis? Before the change, the total sum of £6,000 consisted half of constant, and half of variable capital. After the change it consists of £4,500 constant ( £3,000 raw material and £1,500 machinery), and £1,500 variable capital. The variable capital, instead of being one half, is only one quarter, of the total capital. Instead of being set free, a part of the capital is here locked up in such a way as to cease to be exchanged against labour-power: variable has been changed into constant capital. Other things remaining unchanged, the capital of £6,000, can, in future, employ no more than 50 men. With each improvement in the machinery, it will employ fewer. If the newly introduced machinery had cost less than did the labour-power and implements displaced by it, if, for instance, instead of costing £1,500, it had cost only £1,000, a variable capital of £1,000 would have been converted into constant capital, and locked up; and a capital of £500 would have been set free. The latter sum, supposing wages unchanged, would form a fund sufficient to employ about 16 out of the 50 men discharged; nay, less than 16, for, in order to be employed as capital, a part of this £500 must now become constant capital, thus leaving only the remainder to be laid out in labour-power.
“But, suppose, besides, that the making of the new machinery affords employment to a greater number of mechanics, can that be called compensation to the carpet-makers, thrown on the streets? At the best, its construction employs fewer men than its employment displaces. The sum of £1,500 that formerly represented the wages of the discharged carpet-makers, now represents in the shape of machinery: (1) the value of the means of production used in the construction of that machinery, (2) the wages of the mechanics employed in its construction, and (3) the surplus-value falling to the share of their “master.” Further, the machinery need not be renewed till it is worn out. Hence, in order to keep the increased number of mechanics in constant employment, one carpet manufacturer after another must displace workmen by machines.
“As a matter of fact the apologists do not mean this sort of setting free.
“They have in their minds the means of subsistence of the liberated work-people. It cannot be denied, in the above instance, that the machinery not only liberates 50 men, thus placing them at others’ disposal, but, at the same time, it withdraws from their consumption, and sets free, means of subsistence to the value of £1,500. The simple fact, by no means a new one, that machinery cuts off the workmen from their means of subsistence is, therefore, in economic parlance tantamount to this, that machinery liberates means of subsistence for the workman, or converts those means into capital for his employment. The mode of expression, you see, is everything. Nominibus mollire licet mala (It’s lawful to hide evil with words)” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 15, sec. 6).
Back to table of contents
The supporters of the capitalist mode of production pretend that salary is payment for labor, and surplus value the product of capital.
But what is labor value? Labor, either still in the worker, or already out; that is to say, labor, either the force, the power to do something, or the thing itself already done: in short, labor, either labor power, or the commodity. The worker cannot sell labor that’s already left him, ie the thing he produces, the commodity, because this belongs to the capitalist, and not to him. Because the worker could sell labor that’s already left him, ie the commodity he produced, he would need to possess the means of production and raw materials, and so he would be the merchant of the commodities he produced. But he doesn’t possess anything, he is a proletarian, who, to live, must sell to others the only good that rests in him, that is his power or force to work, labor power. The capitalist therefore can buy nothing besides labor power; which, like all other commodities, has a use value and an exchange value. The capitalist pays the appropriately determined value, i.e. the exchange value, to the worker for the commodity, which he sells. But labor power also has a use value, which belongs to the capitalist who bought it. Now, the use value of this singular commodity has a double quality. The first is that which it has in common with the use value of all other commodities, that is, of satisfying a need; the second is that, completely special to it, of creating value, which distinguishes this commodity from all the others.
Therefore, salary cannot represent the price of labor power. And surplus value cannot be produced by capital, because capital is inert matter, which is always found to have the same amount of value as it did when it was used in the commodity; it is matter that hasn’t any life, and that, remaining by itself, without labor power, would never be able to have it. It is only labor power that is able to produce surplus value. It is this that gives the first seed of life to capital. It is this that supports the whole life of capital. This, more than anything, first sucks, then absorbs with all of its pores, and finally vigorously pumps surplus value from labor.
The two main forms of salary are: time-wages and piece-wages.
Time-wages are those paid for a given time; like for a day, for a week, for a month, etc, of labor. It is simply a transformation of the price of labor power. Instead of saying that the worker has sold his labor power of one day for 3 lire, one says that the worker goes to work for a salary of 3 lire a day.
The salary of 3 lire per day is therefore the price of labor power for a day. But this day can be more or less long. If, for example, a day of 10 hours of labor power is paid 30 cents per hour, then, if it’s 12 hours, labor power is paid 25 cents per hour. Therefore, the capitalist, extending the workday, pays the worker a smaller price for his labor power. The capitalist can also increase salary, while continuing to pay the worker, for his labor power, the same price as before, and even less. If a capitalist increases his worker’s salary from 3 lire to ₤3,60 a day, and at the same time he prolongs the workday from the 10 hours that it was before to 12 hours, he, by increasing daily wages by ₤0,60, will always come out paying the worker ₤0,30 an hour for his labor power. If then the capitalist increases the salary from ₤3 to ₤3,60, but, at the same time, prolongs the day from 10 to 15 hours, he, by increasing the daily wages, will be able to pay the worker less than before for his labor power, ie 24 cents instead of 30 cents an hour. The capitalist obtains the same effect, if, instead of increasing the length of labor, he increases it in volume; as we have already seen he was able to do with machinery. In conclusion, the capitalist, increasing labor, is able to cheat the worker honestly; and he can do it while gaining fame for his generosity, with the increase of his daily wages.
When the capitalist pays the worker by the hour, he still finds means of damaging him, increasing or decreasing labor, but always honestly paying the same price for every hour of labor. Indeed, the salary is 25 cents for an hour of labor. If the capitalist makes the worker labor for 8 hours, instead of 12, he will pay him ₤2, instead of ₤3; he will be losing, that is, one lira, with which the worker must satisfy the third part of his daily needs. Inversely, if the capitalist makes the worker labor for 14 or 16 hours, instead of 12, while paying him ₤3,50 or ₤4 instead of ₤3, he ends up taking 2 or 4 hours of labor from the worker at a smaller price than it’s worth. After 12 hours of labor the worker’s powers have already suffered consumption; and the other 2 or 4 hours of labor, overtime, cost more than the first 12 hours. This rationale, presented by the workers, in fact seems to be accepted by different industries, where they pay a greater price for overtime done after the established hours of the workday.
The smaller the price of labor power, represented by time-wages, the longer the labor time. And that is clear. If the salary is ₤0,25 per hour, instead of ₤0,30, the worker must work a 12-hour day, instead of working a 10-hour day, to procure the ₤3 required for their daily needs. If the salary is ₤2 a day, the worker must work three days, instead of two, to procure how much he needs for only two days. Here the lessening of salary increases labor; but it also happens that the increase of labor makes salary lower. With the introduction of machinery, for example, a worker comes to produce double than before; so the capitalist lessens the number of workers; as a consequence the request for work grows, and salaries fall.
Piece-wages are nothing but a transformation of time-wages; as shown by the fact that these two forms of salary are used indifferently, not only in different industries, but at times even in the same industry.
A worker labors 12 hours a day for a salary of ₤3 and produces a value of ₤6. Here it is irrelevant to say that the worker produces, in the first 6 hours of his labor, the ₤3 of his salary, and, in the other 6 hours, the ₤3 of surplus value; it’s equivalent to saying that the worker produces, in every first half-hour, ₤0,25, a twelfth of his salary, and, in every second half-hour, ₤0,25, a twelfth of the surplus value. In the same way, if the worker produces, in 12 hours of work, 24 items, and receives 12,5 cents per item, in total ₤3, it’s exactly like saying that the worker produces 12 items to reproduce the ₤3 given to him in payment, and 12 items to produce ₤3 of surplus value; or that the worker produces, in every hour of work, and item for his payment, and an item for his boss’s gain.
“The quality of the labour is here controlled by the work itself, which must be of average perfection if the piece-price is to be paid in full. Piece wages become, from this point of view, the most fruitful source of reductions of wages and capitalistic cheating.
“They furnish to the capitalist an exact measure for the intensity of labour. Only the working-time which is embodied in a quantum of commodities determined beforehand, and experimentally fixed, counts as socially necessary working-time, and is paid as such. In the larger workshops of the London tailors, therefore, a certain piece of work, a waistcoat, e.g., is called an hour, or half an hour, the hour at 6d. By practice it is known how much is the average product of one hour. With new fashions, repairs, &c., a contest arises between master and labourer as to whether a particular piece of work is one hour, and so on, until here also experience decides. Similarly in the London furniture workshops, &c. If the labourer does not possess the average capacity, if he cannot in consequence supply a certain minimum of work per day, he is dismissed.
“Since the quality and intensity of the work are here controlled by the form of wage itself, superintendence of labour becomes in great part superfluous. Piece wages therefore lay the foundation of the modern “domestic labour,” described above, as well as of a hierarchically organized system of exploitation and oppression. The latter has two fundamental forms. On the one hand, piece wages facilitate the interposition of parasites between the capitalist and the wage-labourer, the “sub-letting of labour.” The gain of these middlemen comes entirely from the difference between the labour-price which the capitalist pays, and the part of that price which they actually allow to reach the labourer. In England this system is characteristically called the “sweating system.” On the other hand, piece-wage allows the capitalist to make a contract for so much per piece with the head labourer — in manufactures with the chief of some group, in mines with the extractor of the coal, in the factory with the actual machine-worker — at a price for which the head labourer himself undertakes the enlisting and payment of his assistant work people. The exploitation of the labourer by capital is here effected through the exploitation of the labourer by the labourer.
“Given piece-wage, it is naturally the personal interest of the labourer to strain his labour-power as intensely as possible; this enables the capitalist to raise more easily the normal degree of intensity of labour. It is moreover now the personal interest of the labourer to lengthen the working-day, since with it his daily or weekly wages rise. This gradually brings on a reaction like that already described in time-wages, without reckoning that the prolongation of the working-day, even if the piece wage remains constant, includes of necessity a fall in the price of the labour” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 21).
Piece-wages are one of two principle supports of the above-mentioned system, that is of paying the worker by the hour, without the boss’s commitment to occupy the worker regularly during the day or the week.
“In the workshops under the Factory Acts, piece wages become the general rule, because capital can there only increase the efficacy of the working-day by intensifying labour” (Marx, Capital, vol.1, ch. 21).
The increase in production is followed by the proportional decrease in salary. When the worker was producing 12 items in 12 hours, the capitalist used to pay him, for example, a salary of ₤0,25 per item. With the production doubled, the worker produces 24 items, instead of 12, and the capitalist lowers wages by half, i.e., to 12,5 cents per item.
“This change in piece-wage, so far purely nominal, leads to constant battles between capitalist and labour. Either because the capitalist uses it as a pretext for actually lowering the price of labour, or because increased productive power of labour is accompanied by an increased intensity of the same. Or because the labourer takes seriously the appearance of piece wages (viz., that his product is paid for, and not his labour-power) and therefore revolts against a lowering of wages, unaccompanied by a lowering in the selling price of the commodity …
“The capitalist rightly knocks on the head such pretensions as gross errors as to the nature of wage-labour. He cries out against this usurping attempt to lay taxes on the advance of industry, and declares roundly that the productiveness of labour does not concern the labourer at all” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 21).
Back to table of contents
If we observe the formula of capital, we easily comprehend that its conservation is placed completely in its successive and continuous reproduction.
In fact, capital is divided, as we already know, in two: into constant, that is, and variable. Constant capital, represented by the means of production and raw materials, is worn away continuously during the process of labor. Tools are used, machinery used, carbon, tallow, etc., that is needed by the machinery, and finally the building is used. At the same time, however, that the labor is able in such a way to wear away constant capital, it is also reproduced in the same proportions in which it uses it. Constant capital finds itself reproduced in the commodity in the proportions in which it was used during its production. The value used of the means of production and the raw materials is always reproduced exactly in the value of the commodity, as we have already seen elsewhere. If, therefore, constant capital comes to be partially reproduced in every commodity, it’s clear that, in the value of a certain number of manufactured commodities, one will find all of the constant capital, used in their production.
As it is with constant capital, so too with variable capital. Variable capital, that represented by the value of labor power, i.e. by salary, is also reproduced exactly in the value of the commodity. We have already seen it. The worker, in the first part of his labor, produces his salary, and in the second the surplus value. As the worker is not paid salary for that finished work, so it arises that he collects his salary after having already reproduced the equivalent in the commodity of the capitalist.
The assembly of salaries paid to workers is therefore from these endlessly reproduced. This endless reproduction behind salaries perpetuates the subjection of the worker to the capitalist. When the proletarian comes to the market to sell his labor power, he comes to take the position assigned to him by the capitalist mode of production, and to contribute to the social production through his share of the labor, withdrawing, for his maintenance, that part behind salaries, that he will have to, first, reproduce with his labor.
It is always the eternal bond of human subjection, either under the form of slavery, serfdom, or wage-worker.
The superficial observer believes that the slave labors for nothing. And he doesn’t think that the slave must above all make up to his owner how much was spent for his maintenance: and he observes that the maintenance of the slave is at times a great deal better than that of the wage-worker, his owner being highly interested in his conservation, like the conservation of a part of his own capital. The serf, who belongs to his lord, together with the land, to which he is bound, is, for the superficial observer, a being who has made progress compared to the slave, because he sees clearly that the serf gives only one part of his labor to his lord, while he employs the other part on the little land assigned to him, to live life. And being a wage-worker, in turn, appears to the superficial observer, a state much further progressed compared to slavery, because the worker seems perfectly free in it, collecting the value of his own labor.
What a strange illusion! If the worker could realize for himself the value of his own labor, the capitalist mode of production would not be able to exist any longer. We have already seen it. The worker is only able to obtain the value of his labor power, which is the only thing that he can sell, because it is the only good that he possesses in the world. The product of labor belongs to the capitalist, who pays salary to the proletarian, i.e. his maintenance. In the same way, the piece of land left by the lord to his serf, as well as the time and tools necessary to work it, are the sum of the means that he has to live, while he must labor for his lord the rest of the time.
The slave, serf and worker all labor in part to produce their maintenance, and in part completely for the benefit of their patrons. These represent three different forms of the very same bond of human subjection and exploitation. It is always the subjection of the man without any primitive accumulation (that is of means of production, which are the means of life) to the the man who possesses a primitive accumulation, the means of production, the sources of life. Conservation, i.e. the reproduction of capital, is just, in the capitalist mode of production, the conservation of this bond of human subjection and exploitation.
Labor does not only reproduce capital, it also produces surplus value, which forms that which is called “revenue of capital”. If the capitalist blends every year all or part of his revenue with capital, we will have an accumulation of capital, which will grow progressively. With simple reproduction labor conserves capital; with accumulation of surplus value labor increases capital.
When one re-incorporates the revenue with capital, one comes to use this revenue, partially in the means of production, partially in raw materials and partially in labor power. Now you have that the past overwork, past unpaid labor, increases the whole capital. One part of last year’s unpaid labor pays this year’s necessary work. Here is what the capitalist is able to do, thanks to the ingenious mechanism of modern production.
Once the system of modern production is admitted, all based upon private property and the wage-worker, nothing can be said about the consequences that derive from it, one of which is capitalist accumulation. Is it important to the worker Antonio if the 3 lire that are paid to him as salary represent the worker Peter’s unpaid labor? What he has a right to know is if the 3 lire are the right price of his labor power, i.e. if they are the exact equivalent of the things necessary to him in a day, if the law of exchange, in a word, was observed rigorously.
When the capitalist begins to accumulate capital upon capital, a new virtue, all rightly his, develops in him; the so-called “virtue of abstinence”, which consists of limiting all of his own expenses, to use the greater part of his revenue on accumulation. “So far, therefore, as his actions are a mere function of capital — endowed as capital is, in his person, with consciousness and a will — his own private consumption is a robbery perpetrated on accumulation, just as in book-keeping by double entry, the private expenditure of the capitalist is placed on the debtor side of his account against his capital. To accumulate, is to conquer the world of social wealth, to increase the mass of human beings exploited by him, and thus to extend both the direct and the indirect sway of the capitalist” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 24, sec. 3).
“Taking the usurer, that old-fashioned but ever renewed specimen of the capitalist for his text, Luther shows very aptly that the love of power is an element in the desire to get rich. ‘The heathen were able, by the light of reason, to conclude that a usurer is a double-dyed thief and murderer. We Christians, however, hold them in such honour, that we fairly worship them for the sake of their money.... Whoever eats up, robs, and steals the nourishment of another, that man commits as great a murder (so far as in him lies) as he who starves a man or utterly undoes him. Such does a usurer, and sits the while safe on his stool, when he ought rather to be hanging on the gallows, and be eaten by as many ravens as he has stolen guilders, if only there were so much flesh on him, that so many ravens could stick their beaks in and share it. Meanwhile, we hang the small thieves.... Little thieves are put in the stocks, great thieves go flaunting in gold and silk.... Therefore is there, on this earth, no greater enemy of man (after the devil) than a gripe-money, and usurer, for he wants to be God over all men. Turks, soldiers, and tyrants are also bad men, yet must they let the people live, and Confess that they are bad, and enemies, and do, nay, must, now and then show pity to some. But a usurer and money-glutton, such a one would have the whole world perish of hunger and thirst, misery and want, so far as in him lies, so that he may have all to himself, and every one may receive from him as from a God, and be his serf for ever. To wear fine cloaks, golden chains, rings, to wipe his mouth, to be deemed and taken for a worthy, pious man .... Usury is a great huge monster, like a werewolf, who lays waste all, more than any Cacus, Gerion or Antus... And since we break on the wheel, and behead highwaymen, murderers and housebreakers, how much more ought we to break on the wheel and kill.... hunt down, curse and behead all usurers’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 24, fn. 20).
Capitalist accumulation requires an increase of hands. The number of workers must be increased, if one wishes to convert a part of the revenue into variable capital. The same organism of capitalist reproduction performs in a way that the worker is able to conserve his labor power in the new generation, from which capital takes labor power in order to continue its endless process of reproduction. But the labor that is required today by capital is higher that that which was required yesterday; and consequently its price would naturally have to increase. And in fact wages would have to increase, if in the same accumulation of capital there were not a reason to make them decrease instead.
It’s true that revenue would have to be converted, partially into constant capital, and partially into variable capital; partially, that is, into the means of production and raw materials, and partially into labor power, but it must be considered that with the accumulation of capital come perfections of the old systems of production, new systems of production and machinery; all things that make production grow, and lessen the price of labor power, like we already know. To the extent that the accumulation of capital grows, its variable part shrinks, while its constant part increases. That is, the buildings, the machinery with its auxiliary materials increase, the raw materials increase, but, at the same time and in proportion to this increase, with the the accumulation of capital the need for labor power decreases, the need of hands. Decreasing the need of labor power diminishes the demand for it and finally it also lowers its price. One has, therefore, that the more the accumulation of capital progresses, the more the wages go down.
The accumulation of capital takes vast amounts of competition and credit. Credit spontaneously brings more capital to merge together, or to merge together with one stronger than any of the others. Competition, instead, is the war that all of the capitalists wage between themselves; it is there struggle for existence, from which emerge those who, to win, had to already be the stronger ones before, rendered even stronger.
The accumulation of capital, therefore, makes a great number of hands useless; it creates, that is, a surplus laboring population. “But if a surplus labouring population is a necessary product of accumulation or of the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, this surplus population becomes, conversely, the lever of capitalistic accumulation, nay, a condition of existence of the capitalist mode of production. It forms a disposable industrial reserve army, that belongs to capital quite as absolutely as if the latter had bred it at its own cost. Independently of the limits of the actual increase of population, it creates, for the changing needs of the self-expansion of capital, a mass of human material always ready for exploitation. With accumulation, and the development of the productiveness of labour that accompanies it, the power of sudden expansion of capital grows also” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, sec. 3).
This industrial reserve army, this surplus laboring population is divided into different categories. The first of these is better-paid, and is less short of work than the others, while doing a less painful job. The last category instead is composed of workers, who find themselves occupied more rarely than all the others, and always by a more tiresome and vile job, which pays them at the lowest price that one can ever pay human labor. This last category is the most numerous, not only for the great contingent that industrial progress consigns year by year, but above all because it is composed of the most prolific amount of people, as the same fact demonstrates. “‘Poverty seems favourable to generation.’ (A. Smith.) This is even a specially wise arrangement of God, according to the gallant and witty Abbé Galiani ‘Iddio af che gli uomini che esercitano mestieri di prima utilità nascono abbondantemente.’ (Galiani, l. c., p. 78.) [God ordains that men who carry on trades of primary utility are born in abundance] ‘Misery up to the extreme point of famine and pestilence, instead of checking, tends to increase population’ (S. Laing, “National Distress,” 1844, p. 69.)” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, fn. 24).
After these categories none remains besides “the lowest sediment of the relative surplus population finally dwells in the sphere of pauperism.
“Exclusive of vagabonds, criminals, prostitutes, in a word, the ‘dangerous’ classes, this layer of society consists of three categories. First, those able to work. One need only glance superficially at the statistics of English pauperism to find that the quantity of paupers increases with every crisis, and diminishes with every revival of trade. Second, orphans and pauper children. These are candidates for the industrial reserve army, and are, in times of great prosperity, as 1860, e.g., speedily and in large numbers enrolled in the active army of labourers. Third, the demoralised and ragged, and those unable to work, chiefly people who succumb to their incapacity for adaptation, due to the division of labour; people who have passed the normal age of the labourer; the victims of industry, whose number increases with the increase of dangerous machinery, of mines, chemical works, &c., the mutilated, the sickly, the widows, &c. Pauperism is the hospital of the active labour-army and the dead weight of the industrial reserve army. Its production is included in that of the relative surplus population, its necessity in theirs; along with the surplus population, pauperism forms a condition of capitalist production, and of the capitalist development of wealth. It enters into the faux frais of capitalist production; but capital knows how to throw these, for the most part, from its own shoulders on to those of the working class and the lower middle class.
“The greater the social wealth, the functioning capital, the extent and energy of its growth, and, therefore, also the absolute mass of the proletariat and the productiveness of its labour, the greater is the industrial reserve army. The same causes which develop the expansive power of capital, develop also the labour power at its disposal. The relative mass of the industrial reserve army increases therefore with the potential energy of wealth. But the greater this reserve army in proportion to the active labour army, the greater is the mass of a consolidated surplus population, whose misery is in inverse ratio to its torment of labour. The more extensive, finally, the lazarus layers of the working class, and the industrial reserve army, the greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation. Like all other laws it is modified in its working by many circumstances, the analysis of which does not concern us here.
“The folly is now patent of the economic wisdom that preaches to the labourers the accommodation of their number to the requirements of capital. The mechanism of capitalist production and accumulation constantly effects this adjustment. The first word of this adaptation is the creation of a relative surplus population, or industrial reserve army. Its last word is the misery of constantly extending strata of the active army of labour, and the dead weight of pauperism.
“The law by which a constantly increasing quantity of means of production, thanks to the advance in the productiveness of social labour, may be set in movement by a progressively diminishing expenditure of human power, this law, in a capitalist society — where the labourer does not employ the means of production, but the means of production employ the labourer — undergoes a complete inversion and is expressed thus: the higher the productiveness of labour, the greater is the pressure of the labourers on the means of employment, the more precarious, therefore, becomes their condition of existence, viz., the sale of their own labour power for the increasing of another’s wealth, or for the self-expansion of capital. The fact that the means of production, and the productiveness of labour, increase more rapidly than the productive population, expresses itself, therefore, capitalistically in the inverse form that the labouring population always increases more rapidly than the conditions under which capital can employ this increase for its own self-expansion.
“We saw in Part IV., when analysing the production of relative surplus-value: within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productiveness of labour are brought about at the cost of the individual labourer; all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the producers; they mutilate the labourer into a fragment of a man, degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, destroy every remnant of charm in his work and turn it into a hated toil; they estrange from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as an independent power; they distort the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labour process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness; they transform his life-time into working-time, and drag his wife and child beneath the wheels of the Juggernaut of capital. But all methods for the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation; and every extension of accumulation becomes again a means for the development of those methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse. The law, finally, that always equilibrates the relative surplus population, or industrial reserve army, to the extent and energy of accumulation, this law rivets the labourer to capital more firmly than the wedges of Vulcan did Prometheus to the rock. It establishes an accumulation of misery, corresponding with accumulation of capital. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital. This antagonistic character of capitalistic accumulation is enunciated in various forms by political economists, although by them it is confounded with phenomena, certainly to some extent analogous, but nevertheless essentially distinct, and belonging to pre-capitalistic modes of production.
“The Venetian monk Ortes, one of the great economic writers of the 18th century, regards the antagonism of capitalist production as a general natural law of social wealth.
“‘In the economy of a nation, advantages and evils always balance one another (il bene ed il male economico in una nazione sempre all, istessa misura): the abundance of wealth with some people, is always equal to the want of it with others (la copia dei beni in alcuni sempre eguale alia mancanza di essi in altri): the great riches of a small number are always accompanied by the absolute privation of the first necessaries of life for many others. The wealth of a nation corresponds with its population, and its misery corresponds with its wealth. Diligence in some compels idleness in others. The poor and idle are a necessary consequence of the rich and active,’ &c.In a thoroughly brutal way about 10 years after Ortes, the Church of England parson, Townsend, glorified misery as a necessary condition of wealth.
“‘Legal constraint (to labour) is attended with too much trouble, violence, and noise, whereas hunger is not only a peaceable, silent, unremitted pressure, but as the most natural motive to industry and labour, it calls forth the most powerful exertions.’
“Everything therefore depends upon making hunger permanent among the working class, and for this, according to Townsend, the principle of population, especially active among the poor, provides.
“‘It seems to be a law of Nature that the poor should be to a certain degree improvident’ [i.e., so improvident as to be born without a silver spoon in the mouth], ‘that there may always be some to fulfil the most servile, the most sordid, and the most ignoble offices in the community. The stock of human happiness is thereby much increased, whilst the more delicate are not only relieved from drudgery ... but are left at liberty without interruption to pursue those callings which are suited to their various dispositions ... it’ [the Poor Law] ‘tends to destroy the harmony and beauty, the symmetry and order of that system which God and Nature have established in the world.’ If the Venetian monk found in the fatal destiny that makes misery eternal, the raison d’être of Christian charity, celibacy, monasteries and holy houses, the Protestant prebendary finds in it a pretext for condemning the laws in virtue of which the poor possessed a right to a miserable public relief.
“‘The progress of social wealth,’ says Storch, ‘begets this useful class of society ... which performs the most wearisome, the vilest, the most disgusting functions, which takes, in a word, on its shoulders all that is disagreeable and servile in life, and procures thus for other classes leisure, serenity of mind and conventional’ [c’est bon!] ‘dignity of character.’
“Storch asks himself in what then really consists the progress of this capitalistic civilisation with its misery and its degradation of the masses, as compared with barbarism. He finds but one answer: security!
“‘Thanks to the advance of industry and science,’ says Sismondi, ‘every labourer can produce every day much more than his consumption requires. But at the same time, whilst his labour produces wealth, that wealth would, were he called on to consume it himself, make him less fit for labour.’ According to him, ‘men’ [i.e., non-workers] ‘would probably prefer to do without all artistic perfection, and all the enjoyments that manufacturers procure for us, if it were necessary that all should buy them by constant toil like that of the labourer.... Exertion today is separated from its recompense; it is not the same man that first works, and then reposes; but it is because the one works that the other rests.... The indefinite multiplication of the productive powers of labour can then only have for result the increase of luxury and enjoyment of the idle rich.’
“Finally Destutt de Tracy, the fish-blooded bourgeois doctrinaire, blurts out brutally:
“‘In poor nations the people are comfortable, in rich nations they are generally poor’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, sec. 4).
We now come to see, in the facts, what the effect of the accumulation of capital are. Here, as elsewhere, our examples are all taken from England, the preeminent country of the accumulation of capital, towards which (let’s repeat it, and never forget it) all modern nations tend. I regret that I’m only able to reproduce only a small part of the rich material gathered by Marx.
“In the year 1863, the Privy Council ordered an inquiry into the state of distress of the worst-nourished part of the English working class. Dr. Simon, medical officer to the Privy Council, chose for this work the above-mentioned Dr. Smith. His inquiry ranges on the one hand over the agricultural labourers, on the other, over silk-weavers, needlewomen, kid-glovers, stocking-weavers, glove-weavers, and shoemakers. The latter categories are, with the exception of the stocking-weavers, exclusively town-dwellers. It was made a rule in the inquiry to select in each category the most healthy families, and those comparatively in the best circumstances.
“As a general result it was found that
“‘in only one of the examined classes of in-door operatives did the average nitrogen supply just exceed, while in another it nearly reached, the estimated standard of bare sufficiency [i.e., sufficient to avert starvation diseases], and that in two classes there was defect — in one, a very large defect — of both nitrogen and carbon. Moreover, as regards the examined families of the agricultural population, it appeared that more than a fifth were with less than the estimated sufficiency of carbonaceous food, that more than one-third were with less than the estimated sufficiency of nitrogenous food, and that in three counties (Berkshire, Oxfordshire, and Somersetshire), insufficiency of nitrogenous food was the average local diet.’
“Among the agricultural labourers, those of England, the wealthiest part of the United Kingdom, were the worst fed. The insufficiency of food among the agricultural labourers, fell, as a rule, chiefly on the women and children, for ‘the man must eat to do his work.’ Still greater penury ravaged the town-workers examined.
“‘They are so ill fed that assuredly among them there must be many cases of severe and injurious privation.’
“(‘Privation’ of the capitalist all this! i.e., ‘abstinence’ from paying for the means of subsistence absolutely necessary for the mere vegetation of his ‘hands’) …
“Dr. Simon in his General Health Report says:
“‘That cases are innumerable in which defective diet is the cause or the aggravator of disease, can be affirmed by any one who is conversant with poor law medical practice, or with the wards and out-patient rooms of hospitals.... Yet in this point of view, there is, in my opinion, a very important sanitary context to be added. It must be remembered that privation of food is very reluctantly borne, and that as a rule great poorness of diet will only come when other privations have preceded it. Long before insufficiency of diet is a matter of hygienic concern, long before the physiologist would think of counting the grains of nitrogen and carbon which intervene between life and starvation, the household will have been utterly destitute of material comfort; clothing and fuel will have been even scantier than food — against inclemencies of weather there will have been no adequate protection — dwelling space will have been stinted to the degree in which overcrowding produces or increases disease; of household utensils and furniture there will have been scarcely any — even cleanliness will have been found costly or difficult, and if there still be self-respectful endeavours to maintain it, every such endeavour will represent additional pangs of hunger. The home, too, will be where shelter can be cheapest bought; in quarters where commonly there is least fruit of sanitary supervision, least drainage, least scavenging, least suppression of public nuisances, least or worst water supply, and, if in town, least light and air. Such are the sanitary dangers to which poverty is almost certainly exposed, when it is poverty enough to imply scantiness of food. And while the sum of them is of terrible magnitude against life, the mere scantiness of food is in itself of very serious moment.... These are painful reflections, especially when it is remembered that the poverty to which they advert is not the deserved poverty of idleness. In all cases it is the poverty of working populations. Indeed, as regards the in-door operatives, the work which obtains the scanty pittance of food, is for the most part excessively prolonged. Yet evidently it is only in a qualified sense that the work can be deemed self-supporting.... And on a very large scale the nominal self-support can be only a circuit, longer or shorter, to pauperism …”
“Every unprejudiced observer sees that the greater the centralisation of the means of production, the greater is the corresponding heaping together of the labourers, within a given space; that therefore the swifter capitalistic accumulation, the more miserable are the dwellings of the working-people. ‘Improvements’ of towns, accompanying the increase of wealth, by the demolition of badly built quarters, the erection of palaces for banks, warehouses, &c., the widening of streets for business traffic, for the carriages of luxury, and for the introduction of tramways, &c., drive away the poor into even worse and more crowded hiding places.
“I quote, as preliminary, a general remark of Dr. Simon.
“‘Although my official point of view,’ he says, ‘is one exclusively physical, common humanity requires that the other aspect of this evil should not be ignored .... In its higher degrees it [i.e., over-crowding] almost necessarily involves such negation of all delicacy, such unclean confusion of bodies and bodily functions, such exposure of animal and sexual nakedness, as is rather bestial than human. To be subject to these influences is a degradation which must become deeper and deeper for those on whom it continues to work. To children who are born under its curse, it must often be a very baptism into infamy. And beyond all measure hopeless is the wish that persons thus circumstanced should ever in other respects aspire to that atmosphere of civilisation which has its essence in physical and moral cleanliness’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, sec. 5B).
“We turn now to a class of people whose origin is agricultural, but whose occupation is in great part industrial. They are the light infantry of capital, thrown by it, according to its needs, now to this point, now to that. When they are not on the march, they “camp.” Nomad labour is used for various operations of building and draining, brick-making, lime-burning, railway-making, &c. A flying column of pestilence, it carries into the places in whose neighbourhood it pitches its camp, small-pox, typhus, cholera, scarlet fever, &c. In undertakings that involve much capital outlay, such as railways, &c., the contractor himself generally provides his army with wooden huts and the like, thus improvising villages without any sanitary provisions, outside the control of the local boards, very profitable to the contractor, who exploits the labourers in two-fold fashion — as soldiers of industry and as tenants. According as the wooden hut contains 1, 2, or 3 holes, its inhabitant, navvy, or whatever he may be, has to pay 1, 3, or 4 shillings weekly. One example will suffice. In September, 1864, Dr. Simon reports that the Chairman of the Nuisances Removal Committee of the parish of Sevenoaks sent the following denunciation to Sir George Grey, Home Secretary: —
“‘Small-pox cases were rarely heard of in this parish until about twelve months ago. Shortly before that time, the works for a railway from Lewisham to Tunbridge were commenced here, and, in addition to the principal works being in the immediate neighbourhood of this town, here was also established the depôt for the whole of the works, so that a large number of persons was of necessity employed here. As cottage accommodation could not be obtained for them all, huts were built in several places along the line of the works by the contractor, Mr. Jay, for their especial occupation. These huts possessed no ventilation nor drainage, and, besides, were necessarily over-crowded, because each occupant had to accommodate lodgers, whatever the number in his own family might be, although there were only two rooms to each tenement. The consequences were, according to the medical report we received, that in the night-time these poor people were compelled to endure all the horror of suffocation to avoid the pestiferous smells arising from the filthy, stagnant water, and the privies close under their windows. Complaints were at length made to the Nuisances Removal Committee by a medical gentleman who had occasion to visit these huts, and he spoke of their condition as dwellings in the most severe terms, and he expressed his fears that some very serious consequences might ensue, unless some sanitary measures were adopted. About a year ago, Mr. Jay promised to appropriate a hut, to which persons in his employ, who were suffering from contagious diseases, might at once be removed. He repeated that promise on the 23rd July last, but although since the date of the last Promise there have been several cases of small-pox in his huts, and two deaths from the same disease, yet he has taken no steps whatever to carry out his promise. On the 9th September instant, Mr. Kelson, surgeon, reported to me further cases of small-pox in the same huts, and he described their condition as most disgraceful. I should add, for your (the Home Secretary’s) information that an isolated house, called the Pest-house, which is set apart for parishioners who might be suffering from infectious diseases, has been continually occupied by such patients for many months past, and is also now occupied; that in one family five children died from small-pox and fever; that from the 1st April to the 1st September this year, a period of five months, there have been no fewer than ten deaths from small-pox in the parish, four of them being in the huts already referred to; that it is impossible to ascertain the exact number of persons who have suffered from that disease although they are known to be many, from the fact of the families keeping it as private as possible’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, sec. 5C).
Let’s now see the effects of the crises on the better-paid part of the working class. Here much is told by a correspondent of a newspaper, the Morning Star, who, in January 1867, on the occasion of an industrial crisis, visited the main localities in distress.
“‘In the East End districts of Poplar, Millwall, Greenwich, Deptford, Limehouse and Canning Town, at least 15,000 workmen and their families were in a state of utter destitution, and 3,000 skilled mechanics were breaking stones in the workhouse yard (after distress of over half a year’s duration).... I had great difficulty in reaching the workhouse door, for a hungry crowd besieged it.... They were waiting for their tickets, but the time had not yet arrived for the distribution. The yard was a great square place with an open shed running all round it, and several large heaps of snow covered the paving-stones in the middle. In the middle, also, were little wicker-fenced spaces, like sheep pens, where in finer weather the men worked; but on the day of my visit the pens were so snowed up that nobody could sit in them. Men were busy, however, in the open shed breaking paving-stones into macadam. Each man had a big paving-stone for a seat, and he chipped away at the rime-covered granite with a big hammer until he had broken up, and think! five bushels of it, and then he had done his day’s work, and got his day’s pay — threepence and an allowance of food. In another part of the yard was a rickety little wooden house, and when we opened the door of it, we found it filled with men who were huddled together shoulder to shoulder for the warmth of one another’s bodies and breath. They were picking oakum and disputing the while as to which could work the longest on a given quantity of food — for endurance was the point of honour. Seven thousand ... in this one workhouse ... were recipients of relief ... many hundreds of them ... it appeared, were, six or eight months ago, earning the highest wages paid to artisans.... Their number would be more than doubled by the count of those who, having exhausted all their savings, still refuse to apply to the parish, because they have a little left to pawn. Leaving the workhouse, I took a walk through the streets, mostly of little one-storey houses, that abound in the neighbourhood of Poplar. My guide was a member of the Committee of the Unemployed.... My first call was on an ironworker who had been seven and twenty weeks out of employment. I found the man with his family sitting in a little back room. The room was not bare of furniture, and there was a fire in it. This was necessary to keep the naked feet of the young children from getting frost bitten, for it was a bitterly cold day. On a tray in front of the fire lay a quantity of oakum, which the wife and children were picking in return for their allowance from the parish. The man worked in the stone yard of the workhouse for a certain ration of food, and threepence per day. He had now come home to dinner quite hungry, as he told us with a melancholy smile, and his dinner consisted of a couple of slices of bread and dripping, and a cup of milkless tea.... The next door at which we knocked was opened by a middle-aged woman, who, without saying a word, led us into a little back parlour, in which sat all her family, silent and fixedly staring at a rapidly dying fire. Such desolation, such hopelessness was about these people and their little room, as I should not care to witness again. “Nothing have they done, sir,” said the woman, pointing to her boys, “for six and twenty weeks; and all our money gone — all the twenty pounds that me and father saved when times were better, thinking it would yield a little to keep us when we got past work. Look at it,” she said, almost fiercely, bringing out a bank-book with all its well kept entries of money paid in, and money taken out, so that we could see how the little fortune had begun with the first five shilling deposit, and had grown by little and little to be twenty pounds, and how it had melted down again till the sum in hand got from pounds to shillings, and the last entry made the book as worthless as a blank sheet. This family received relief from the workhouse, and it furnished them with just one scanty meal per day.... Our next visit was to an iron labourer’s wife, whose husband had worked in the yards. We found her ill from want of food, lying on a mattress in her clothes, and just covered with a strip of carpet, for all the bedding had been pawned. Two wretched children were tending her, themselves looking as much in need of nursing as their mother. Nineteen weeks of enforced idleness had brought them to this pass, and while the mother told the history of that bitter past, she moaned as if all her faith in a future that should atone for it were dead.... On getting outside a young fellow came running after us, and asked us to step inside his house and see if anything could be done for him. A young wife, two pretty children, a cluster of pawn-tickets, and a bare room were all he had to show’ …
“As it is the fashion amongst English capitalists to quote Belgium as the Paradise of the labourer because ‘freedom of labour,’ or what is the same thing, ‘freedom of capital,’ is there limited neither by the despotism of Trades’ Unions, nor by Factory Acts, a word or two on the ‘happiness’ of the Belgian labourer. Assuredly no one was more thoroughly initiated in the mysteries of this happiness than the late M. Ducpétiaux, inspector-general of Belgian prisons and charitable institutions, and member of the central commission of Belgian statistics. Let us take his work: ‘Budgets économiques des classes ouvrières de la Belgique,’ Bruxelles, 1855. Here we find among other matters, a normal Belgian labourer’s family, whose yearly income and expenditure he calculates on very exact data, and whose conditions of nourishment are then compared with those of the soldier, sailor, and prisoner …
“‘Calculated at this rate, the resources of the family would amount, at the maximum, to 1,068 francs a-year …’
“According to this the budget of the family is:
|The father||300 working-days at fr. 1.56||fr. 468|
|mother||300 working-days at fr. 0.89||fr. 267|
|boy||300 working-days at fr. 0.56||fr. 168|
|girl||300 working-days at fr. 0.55||fr. 165|
“The annual expenditure of the family would cause a deficit upon the hypothesis that the labourer has the food of:
|The man-of-war's man||fr. 1,828||Deficit fr. 760|
|The soldier||fr. 1,473||Deficit fr. 405|
|The prisoner||fr. 1,112||Deficit fr. 44|
“‘From an elaborate comparison between the diet of convicts in the convict prisons in England, and that of paupers in workhouses and of free labourers in the same country ... it certainly appears that the former are much better fed than either of the two other classes,’ whilst ‘the amount of labour required from an ordinary convict under penal servitude is about one half of what would be done by an ordinary day-labourer’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, sec. 5E).
A report on Public Health, from 1865, speaks of a visit made in a time of epidemic to houses of farmers, citing among others the following :
“‘A young woman having fever, lay at night in a room occupied by her father and mother, her bastard child, two young men (her brothers), and her two sisters, each with a bastard child — 10 persons in all. A few weeks ago 13 persons slept in it’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, sec. 5E).
The modest size of this summary does not permit me to report here, from the text, the minute aspects of the horrible state in which the farmers of England lie.
Let’s close, therefore, this chapter, speaking of a completely special plight, produced in England, among agricultural workers, by the accumulation of capital.
The surplus agricultural population produces the effect of making wages sink, while not even satisfying all of the needs of capital in exceptional and urgent moments of labor, which are required in a given period of the year from agriculture. It follows, therefore, that a great number of women and children come to be employed for the momentary need of capital, past which, these people go on to increase the counties’ overpopulation of workers. This fact has produced the system of organized gangs in the counties of England.
“The gang consists of 10 to 40 or 50 persons, women, young persons of both sexes (13-18 years of age, although the boys are for the most part eliminated at the age of 13), and children of both sexes (6-13 years of age). At the head is the gang-master, always an ordinary agricultural labourer, generally what is called a bad lot, a scapegrace, unsteady, drunken, but with a dash of enterprise and savoir-faire. He is the recruiting-sergeant for the gang, which works under him, not under the farmer. He generally arranges with the latter for piece-work, and his income, which on the average is not very much above that of an ordinary agricultural labourer, depends almost entirely upon the dexterity with which he manages to extract within the shortest time the greatest possible amount of labour from his gang. The farmers have discovered that women work steadily only under the direction of men, but that women and children, once set going, impetuously spend their life-force — as Fourier knew — while the adult male labourer is shrewd enough to economise his as much as he can. The gang-master goes from one farm to another, and thus employs his gang from 6 to 8 months in the year. Employment by him is, therefore, much more lucrative and more certain for the labouring families, than employment by the individual farmer, who only employs children occasionally. This circumstance so completely rivets his influence in the open villages that children are generally only to be hired through his instrumentality…
“The “drawbacks” of the system are the overwork of the children and young persons, the enormous marches that they make daily to and from the farms, 5, 6, and sometimes 7 miles distant, finally, the demoralisation of the gang. Although the gang-master, who, in some districts is called “the driver,” is armed with a long stick, he uses it but seldom, and complaints of brutal treatment are exceptional. He is a democratic emperor, or a kind of Pied Piper of Hamelin. He must therefore be popular with his subjects, and he binds them to himself by the charms of the gipsy life under his direction. Coarse freedom, a noisy jollity, and obscenest impudence give attractions to the gang. Generally the gangmaster pays up in a public house; then he returns home at the head of the procession reeling drunk, propped up right and left by a stalwart virago, while children and young persons bring up the rear, boisterous, and singing chaffing and bawdy songs. On the return journey what Fourier calls “phanerogamie,” is the order of the day. The getting with child of girls of 13 and 14 by their male companions of the same age, is common. The open villages which supply the contingent of the gang, become Sodoms and Gomorrahs, and have twice as high a rate of illegitimate births as the rest of the kingdom…
“The gang in its classical form just described, is called the public, common, or tramping gang. For there are also private gangs. These are made up in the same way as the common gang, but count fewer members, and work, not under a gang-master, but under some old farm servant, whom the farmer does not know how to employ in any better way. The gipsy fun has vanished here, but according to all witnesses, the payment and treatment of the children is worse.
“The gang-system, which during the last years has steadily increased, clearly does not exist for the sake of the gang-master. It exists for the enrichment of the large farmers, and indirectly of the landlords” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, sec. 5E).
“‘Small farmers never employ gangs.’ ‘It is not on poor land, but on land which affords rent of from 40 to 50 shillings, that women and children are employed in the greatest numbers’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, fn. 114).
“To one of these gentlemen the taste of his rent was so grateful that he indignantly declared to the Commission of Inquiry that the hole hubbub was only due to the name of the system. If instead of ‘gang’ it were called ‘the Agricultural Juvenile Industrial Self-supporting Association,’ everything would be all right” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, fn. 115).
“‘Gang work is cheaper than other work; that is why they are employed,’ says a former gang-master. ‘The gang-system is decidedly the cheapest for the farmer, and decidedly the worst for the children,’ says a farmer” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, fn. 116).
“For the farmer there is no more ingenious method of keeping his labourers well below the normal level, and yet of always having an extra hand ready for extra work, of extracting the greatest possible amount of labour with the least possible amount of money and of making adult male labour ‘redundant.’ From the exposition already made, it will be understood why, on the one hand, a greater or less lack of employment for the agricultural labourer is admitted, while on the other, the gang-system is at the same time declared ‘necessary’ on account of the want of adult male labour and its migration to the towns” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 25, sec. 5E).
Back to table of contents
Here we are at the end of our drama.
We met a worker at the market one day, come to sell his labor power, and we saw him negotiate as equals with the money-owner. His still didn’t know how hard the Calvary road would be that he had to climb, not yet had the most bitter cup approached his lips, all of which had to be gulped down to the last dregs. The money-owner, not yet become a capitalist, was nothing more than a modest owner of a little wealth, timid and uncertain of the success of his new enterprise, in which he was investing his fortune.
We the saw how the scene came to change.
The worker, after having generated, with his first overwork, capital, was oppressed by the excessive labor of an extraordinarily prolonged day. With relative surplus value the labor time necessary for his maintenance was restricted and that of overwork prolonged, destined to always nourish capital more richly. In simple cooperation we saw the worker in a stationary discipline, and, dragged by a current made of a linking of labor powers, exhausted evermore, by giving greater nutrition to ever-growing capital. We saw the worker mutilated, crestfallen, and depressed to the greatest degree by the division of labor, in manufacturing. We saw him suffering unspeakable material and moral pains, created for him by the introduction of machinery, in modern industry. Expropriated of the last bit of artisan virtue, we saw him reduced to a mere servant of the machine, transformed, from a member of a living organism, into the most vulgar appendage of a mechanism, tortured by labor dramatically increased by the machine, which at every stretch threatens to tear off a shred of his flesh, or to grind him completely between its terrible gears; and what’s more we saw his wife and tender children become slaves of capital. And in the meantime the capitalist, immensely enriched, pays him a salary, which he is able to lessen at his pleasure, even making a show of keeping it at the same level as before, and even of increasing it. Finally we saw the worker, made temporarily useless by the accumulation of capital, passing from the active industrial army into the reserves, from then on, from this, falling forever into the hell of pauperism. All the sacrifice is consummated!
But however was all of this able to happen?
In a very simple way. The worker was, it’s true, the owner of his labor power, with which he would have been able to produce much more than he needed for himself and his family every day, but he was lacking however the other indispensable elements of labor, that is, the means of production and raw materials. Devoid therefore of any wealth, the worker was forced, in order to live his life, to sell his only good, his labor power to the money-owner, who made it his property. Private property and the wage-worker, foundations of the system of capitalist production, were the foremost cause of so much pain.
But that is unfair! It’s wicked! And whosoever granted man the right of private property? And however did the money-owner find himself in possession of a primitive accumulation, origin of many infamies?
A terrible voice comes forth from the temple of the God of Capital, and shouts: “All is right, because all is written in the book of eternal laws. Already a very distant time arose, in which all humans still roamed free and equal throughout the Earth. Few of these were laborious, sober and economical; all of the others idlers, revelers and squanderers. Virtue made the first rich, and vice impoverished the second. The few had the right to enjoy (these and their descendants) of the virtuously accumulated wealth; while the many pushed by their misery to sell themselves to the rich, were condemned to serve those and their descendants eternally.”
Here is how certain friends of the bourgeois order explain the matter. “Such insipid childishness is every day preached to us in the defence of property. M. Thiers, e.g., had the assurance to repeat it with all the solemnity of a statesman to the French people, once so spirituel” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 26).
If such were the origin of primitive accumulation, the theory, which derives from it, that of original sin and of predestination, would be so just. The father was an idler and a reveler, the son will suffer the misery. Such is the son of a rich man, he is predestined to be happy, powerful, learned, civil, strong, etc.; such is the other son of a poor man, he is predestined to be unhappy, weak, ignorant, brutish, immoral, etc. A society, founded upon such a law, would certainly have to end, as so many other societies already ended, less barbarous and less hypocritical, so many religions and gods, starting from Christianity, in whose laws one finds similar examples of justice.
And here we could put an end to our say, if we were allowed to end it with this bourgeois foolishness. But our drama has a catastrophe worthy of it, as we will soon see, witnessing its final act.
We begin the story, that history written by the bourgeoisie, and for the use and consumption of the bourgeoisie; we search in it for the origin of primitive accumulation, and it’s here that we find it.
In the most ancient age, flocks of nomadic people came to establish themselves in those places better disposed and more favored by nature. They founded cities, they devoted themselves to cultivating the land, and to doing so many other necessary things for their own wellbeing. But is here that they encounter and collide with each other in their development, and war follows, deaths, fires, robberies and massacres. All that belongs to vanquished becomes property of the victors, including the persons who survived, who are all made slaves.
Here is the origin of primitive accumulation in antiquity. Let’s come now to the Middle Ages.
In this second age of history, we find nothing other than invasions of people into countries of other people, richer and more favored by nature, and always the same refrain of massacres, robberies, fires, etc. All that belongs to the vanquished becomes property of the victors, with the sole difference being that the survivors no longer become slaves, like in the ancient age, but serfs, and they pass with the land, to which they are joined, into the power of their lords. Therefore not even in the Middle Ages do we find the slightest trace of the idyllic laboriousness, sobriety and parsimoniousness praised by a certain bourgeois doctrine as the origin of primitive accumulation. And notice that the Middle Ages is the age to which our most illustrious owners of wealth are able to brag about tracing their origins. But let’s come finally to the modern age.
The bourgeois revolution has destroyed feudalism, and has transmuted servitude into wage-work. At the same time, however, it has taken away from the worker the few means of existence, which the state of servitude used to ensure for them. The serf, although he had to labor for the greater part of his time for his lord, also had a piece of land with the means and the time to cultivate it/to live his life. The bourgeoisie has destroyed all of that, and from the serf has made a free (?) worker, who has no other choice, either be exploited in the way that we already saw, by the first capitalist who happens upon him, or die of hunger.
Let’s now get down to the particulars. Let’s begin the story of a populace, and let’s see how the expropriation of agricultural populations came to be, and the formation of the working masses, destined to provide their labor power to modern industries. We will take, as usual, the story of England, because if England is the country, where the disease that we are studying is more developed than elsewhere, it is given that it will always be able to offer us the most suitable scope for our practical observations.
“In England, serfdom had practically disappeared in the last part of the 14th century. The immense majority of the population consisted then, and to a still larger extent, in the 15th century, of free peasant proprietors, whatever was the feudal title under which their right of property was hidden. In the larger seignorial domains, the old bailiff, himself a serf, was displaced by the free farmer. The wage labourers of agriculture consisted partly of peasants, who utilised their leisure time by working on the large estates, partly of an independent special class of wage labourers, relatively and absolutely few in numbers. The latter also were practically at the same time peasant farmers, since, besides their wages, they had allotted to them arable land to the extent of 4 or more acres, together with their cottages. Besides they, with the rest of the peasants, enjoyed the usufruct of the common land, which gave pasture to their cattle, furnished them with timber, fire-wood, turf, &c. …
“The prelude of the revolution that laid the foundation of the capitalist mode of production, was played in the last third of the 15th, and the first decade of the 16th century. A mass of free proletarians was hurled on the labour market by the breaking-up of the bands of feudal retainers, who, as Sir James Steuart well says, ‘everywhere uselessly filled house and castle.’ Although the royal power, itself a product of bourgeois development, in its strife after absolute sovereignty forcibly hastened on the dissolution of these bands of retainers, it was by no means the sole cause of it. In insolent conflict with king and parliament, the great feudal lords created an incomparably larger proletariat by the forcible driving of the peasantry from the land, to which the latter had the same feudal right as the lord himself, and by the usurpation of the common lands. The rapid rise of the Flemish wool manufactures, and the corresponding rise in the price of wool in England, gave the direct impulse to these evictions. The old nobility had been devoured by the great feudal wars. The new nobility was the child of its time, for which money was the power of all powers. Transformation of arable land into sheep-walks was, therefore, its cry. Harrison, in his ‘Description of England, prefixed to Holinshed’s Chronicles,’ describes how the expropriation of small peasants is ruining the country. ‘What care our great encroachers?’ The dwellings of the peasants and the cottages of the labourers were razed to the ground or doomed to decay. ‘If,’ says Harrison, ‘the old records of euerie manour be sought... it will soon appear that in some manour seventeene, eighteene, or twentie houses are shrunk... that England was neuer less furnished with people than at the present... Of cities and townes either utterly decaied or more than a quarter or half diminished, though some one be a little increased here or there; of townes pulled downe for sheepe-walks, and no more but the lordships now standing in them... I could saie somewhat …’
“The process of forcible expropriation of the people received in the 16th century a new and frightful impulse from the Reformation, and from the consequent colossal spoliation of the church property. The Catholic church was, at the time of the Reformation, feudal proprietor of a great part of the English land. The suppression of the monasteries, &c., hurled their inmates into the proletariat. The estates of the church were to a large extent given away to rapacious royal favourites, or sold at a nominal price to speculating farmers and citizens, who drove out, en masse, the hereditary sub-tenants and threw their holdings into one. The legally guaranteed property of the poorer folk in a part of the church’s tithes was tacitly confiscated. ‘Pauper ubique jacet,’ cried Queen Elizabeth, after a journey through England. In the 43rd year of her reign the nation was obliged to recognise pauperism officially by the introduction of a poor-rate. ‘The authors of this law seem to have been ashamed to state the grounds of it, for [contrary to traditional usage] it has no preamble whatever.’ By the 16th of Charles I., ch. 4, it was declared perpetual, and in fact only in 1834 did it take a new and harsher form” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 27).
“In the south of England certain landed proprietors and well-to-do farmers put their heads together and propounded ten questions as to the right interpretation of the poor-law of Elizabeth. These they laid before a celebrated jurist of that time, Sergeant Snigge (later a judge under James I.) for his opinion. ‘Question 9 — Some of the more wealthy farmers in the parish have devised a skilful mode by which all the trouble of executing this Act (the 43rd of Elizabeth) might be avoided. They have proposed that we shall erect a prison in the parish, and then give notice to the neighbourhood, that if any persons are disposed to farm the poor of this parish, they do give in sealed proposals, on a certain day, of the lowest price at which they will take them off our hands; and that they will be authorised to refuse to any one unless he be shut up in the aforesaid prison. The proposers of this plan conceive that there will be found in the adjoining counties, persons, who, being unwilling to labour and not possessing substance or credit to take a farm or ship, so as to live without labour, may be induced to make a very advantageous offer to the parish. If any of the poor perish under the contractor’s care, the sin will lie at his door, as the parish will have done its duty by them. We are, however, apprehensive that the present Act (43rd of Elizabeth) will not warrant a prudential measure of this kind; but you are to learn that the rest of the freeholders of the county, and of the adjoining county of B, will very readily join in instructing their members to propose an Act to enable the parish to contract with a person to lock up and work the poor; and to declare that if any person shall refuse to be so locked up and worked, he shall be entitled to no relief. This, it is hoped, will prevent persons in distress from wanting relief, and be the means of keeping down parishes’” (Marx, Capital, vol.1, ch. 27, fn. 9).
“The advance made by the 18th century shows itself in this, that the law itself becomes now the instrument of the theft of the people’s land, although the large farmers make use of their little independent methods as well. The parliamentary form of the robbery is that of Acts for enclosures of Commons, in other words, decrees by which the landlords grant themselves the people’s land as private property, decrees of expropriation of the people. Sir F. M. Eden refutes his own crafty special pleading, in which he tries to represent communal property as the private property of the great landlords who have taken the place of the feudal lords, when he, himself, demands a ‘general Act of Parliament for the enclosure of Commons’ (admitting thereby that a parliamentary coup d’état is necessary for its transformation into private property), and moreover calls on the legislature for the indemnification for the expropriated poor…
“‘In Northamptonshire and Leicestershire,’ [says Addington,] ‘the enclosure of common lands has taken place on a very large scale, and most of the new lordships, resulting from the enclosure, have been turned into pasturage, in consequence of which many lordships have not now 50 acres ploughed yearly, in which 1,500 were ploughed formerly. The ruins of former dwelling-houses, barns, stables, &c.,’ are the sole traces of the former inhabitants. ‘An hundred houses and families have in some open-field villages dwindled to eight or ten.... The landholders in most parishes that have been enclosed only 15 or 20 years, are very few in comparison of the numbers who occupied them in their open-field state. It is no uncommon thing for 4 or 5 wealthy graziers to engross a large enclosed lordship which was before in the hands of 20 or 30 farmers, and as many smaller tenants and proprietors. All these are hereby thrown out of their livings with their families and many other families who were chiefly employed and supported by them.’ It was not only the land that lay waste, but often land cultivated either in common or held under a definite rent paid to the community, that was annexed by the neighbouring landlords under pretext of enclosure…’
“‘When,’ says Dr. Price, ‘this land gets into the hands of a few great farmers, the consequence must be that the little farmers” (earlier designated by him ‘a multitude of little proprietors and tenants, who maintain themselves and families by the produce of the ground they occupy by sheep kept on a common, by poultry, hogs, &c., and who therefore have little occasion to purchase any of the means of subsistence’) ‘will be converted into a body of men who earn their subsistence by working for others, and who will be under a necessity of going to market for all they want.... There will, perhaps, be more labour, because there will be more compulsion to it.... Towns and manufactures will increase, because more will be driven to them in quest of places and employment. This is the way in which the engrossing of farms naturally operates. And this is the way in which, for many years, it has been actually operating in this kingdom.’ He sums up the effect of the enclosures thus: ‘Upon the whole, the circumstances of the lower ranks of men are altered in almost every respect for the worse. From little occupiers of land, they are reduced to the state of day-labourers and hirelings; and, at the same time, their subsistence in that state has become more difficult.’ In fact, usurpation of the common lands and the revolution in agriculture accompanying this, told so acutely on the agricultural labourers that, even according to Eden, between 1765 and 1780, their wages began to fall below the minimum, and to be supplemented by official poor-law relief. Their wages, he says, ‘were not more than enough for the absolute necessaries of life…’
“In the 19th century, the very memory of the connexion between the agricultural labourer and the communal property had, of course, vanished. To say nothing of more recent times, have the agricultural population received a farthing of compensation for the 3,511,770 acres of common land which between 1801 and 1831 were stolen from them and by parliamentary devices presented to the landlords by the landlords?” (Marx, Capital, ch. 27).
For the last expedients of great historic importance, for expropriating rural workers, one must rightly look to the Highlands of Scotland, where they had the most savage application. George Ensor, in a book published in 1818, says:
“The Scotch grandees dispossessed families as they would grub up coppice-wood, and they treated villages and their people as Indians harassed with wild beasts do, in their vengeance, a jungle with tigers.... Man is bartered for a fleece or a carcase of mutton, nay, held cheaper.... Why, how much worse is it than the intention of the Moguls, who, when they had broken into the northern provinces of China, proposed in council to exterminate the inhabitants, and convert the land into pasture. This proposal many Highland proprietors have effected in their own country against their own countrymen” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 27, fn. 29).
“As an example of the method obtaining in the 19th century, the “clearing” made by the Duchess of Sutherland will suffice here. This person, well instructed in economy, resolved, on entering upon her government, to effect a radical cure, and to turn the whole country, whose population had already been, by earlier processes of the like kind, reduced to 15,000, into a sheep-walk. From 1814 to 1820 these 15,000 inhabitants, about 3,000 families, were systematically hunted and rooted out. All their villages were destroyed and burnt, all their fields turned into pasturage. British soldiers enforced this eviction, and came to blows with the inhabitants. One old woman was burnt to death in the flames of the hut, which she refused to leave. Thus this fine lady appropriated 794,000 acres of land that had from time immemorial belonged to the clan. She assigned to the expelled inhabitants about 6,000 acres on the sea-shore — 2 acres per family. The 6,000 acres had until this time lain waste, and brought in no income to their owners. The Duchess, in the nobility of her heart, actually went so far as to let these at an average rent of 2s. 6d. per acre to the clansmen, who for centuries had shed their blood for her family. The whole of the stolen clanland she divided into 29 great sheep farms, each inhabited by a single family, for the most part imported English farm-servants. In the year 1835 the 15,000 Gaels were already replaced by 131,000 sheep. The remnant of the aborigines flung on the sea-shore tried to live by catching fish. They became amphibious and lived, as an English author says, half on land and half on water, and withal only half on both.
“But the brave Gaels must expiate yet more bitterly their idolatry, romantic and of the mountains, for the “great men” of the clan. The smell of their fish rose to the noses of the great men. They scented some profit in it, and let the sea-shore to the great fishmongers of London. For the second time the Gaels were hunted out.
“But, finally, part of the sheep-walks are turned into deer preserves” (Marx, Capital, ch. 27).
“In April 1866, 18 years after the publication of the work of Robert Somers quoted above, Professor Leone Levi gave a lecture before the Society of Arts on the transformation of sheep-walks into deer-forest, in which he depicts the advance in the devastation of the Scottish Highlands. He says, with other things: ‘Depopulation and transformation into sheep-walks were the most convenient means for getting an income without expenditure... A deer-forest in place of a sheep-walk was a common change in the Highlands. The landowners turned out the sheep as they once turned out the men … Immense tracts of land, much of which is described in the statistical account of Scotland as having a pasturage in richness and extent of very superior description, are thus shut out from all cultivation and improvement, and are solely devoted to the sport of a few persons for a very brief period of the year.’ The London Economist of June 2, 1866, says, ‘Amongst the items of news in a Scotch paper of last week, we read... “One of the finest sheep farms in Sutherlandshire, for which a rent of £1,200 a year was recently offered, on the expiry of the existing lease this year, is to be converted into a deer-forest.”’”(Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 27, Note to the second edition).
Other newspapers, from the same era, speak further of these feudal instincts, which are more developed in England; but then some of these conclude, proving with figures, that such a fact has not lessened the national wealth at all.
“The proletariat created by the breaking up of the bands of feudal retainers and by the forcible expropriation of the people from the soil, this ‘free’ proletariat could not possibly be absorbed by the nascent manufactures as fast as it was thrown upon the world. On the other hand, these men, suddenly dragged from their wonted mode of life, could not as suddenly adapt themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned en masse into beggars, robbers, vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases from stress of circumstances. Hence at the end of the 15th and during the whole of the 16th century, throughout Western Europe a bloody legislation against vagabondage. The fathers of the present working class were chastised for their enforced transformation into vagabonds and paupers. Legislation treated them as ‘voluntary’ criminals, and assumed that it depended on their own good will to go on working under the old conditions that no longer existed.
“In England this legislation began under Henry VII.
“Henry VIII. 1530: Beggars old and unable to work receive a beggar’s licence. On the other hand, whipping and imprisonment for sturdy vagabonds. They are to be tied to the cart-tail and whipped until the blood streams from their bodies, then to swear an oath to go back to their birthplace or to where they have lived the last three years and to ‘put themselves to labour.’ What grim irony! In 27 Henry VIII. the former statute is repeated, but strengthened with new clauses. For the second arrest for vagabondage the whipping is to be repeated and half the ear sliced off; but for the third relapse the offender is to be executed as a hardened criminal and enemy of the common weal” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 28).
“Thomas More says in his ‘Utopia’: ‘Therfore that on covetous and unsatiable cormaraunte and very plage of his native contrey maye compasse aboute and inclose many thousand akers of grounde together within one pale or hedge, the husbandman be thrust owte of their owne, or els either by coneyne and fraude, or by violent oppression they be put besydes it, or by wrongs and iniuries thei be so weried that they be compelled to sell all: by one meanes, therfore, or by other, either by hooke or crooke they muste needes departe awaye, poore, selye, wretched soules, men, women, husbands, wiues, fatherlesse children, widowes, wofull mothers with their yonge babes, and their whole household smal in substance, and muche in numbre, as husbandrye requireth many handes. Awaye thei trudge, I say, owte of their knowen accustomed houses, fyndynge no place to reste in. All their housholde stuffe, which is very little woorthe, thoughe it might well abide the sale: yet beeynge sodainely thruste owte, they be constrayned to sell it for a thing of nought. And when they haue wandered abrode tyll that be spent, what cant they then els doe but steale, and then iustly pardy be hanged, or els go about beggyng. And yet then also they be caste in prison as vagaboundes, because they go aboute and worke not: whom no man wyl set a worke though thei neuer so willyngly profre themselues therto.’ Of these poor fugitives of whom Thomas More says that they were forced to thieve, ‘7,200 great and petty thieves were put to death,’ in the reign of Henry VIII, [as Hollinshed says in his ‘Description of England’]” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 28, fn. 2).
“Edward VI.: A statute of the first year of his reign, 1547, ordains that if anyone refuses to work, he shall be condemned as a slave to the person who has denounced him as an idler. The master shall feed his slave on bread and water, weak broth and such refuse meat as he thinks fit. He has the right to force him to do any work, no matter how disgusting, with whip and chains. If the slave is absent a fortnight, he is condemned to slavery for life and is to be branded on forehead or back with the letter S; if he runs away thrice, he is to be executed as a felon. The master can sell him, bequeath him, let him out on hire as a slave, just as any other personal chattel or cattle. If the slaves attempt anything against the masters, they are also to be executed. Justices of the peace, on information, are to hunt the rascals down. If it happens that a vagabond has been idling about for three days, he is to be taken to his birthplace, branded with a red-hot iron with the letter V on the breast and be set to work, in chains, in the streets or at some other labour. If the vagabond gives a false birthplace, he is then to become the slave for life of this place, of its inhabitants, or its corporation, and to be branded with an S. All persons have the right to take away the children of the vagabonds and to keep them as apprentices, the young men until the 24th year, the girls until the 20th. If they run away, they are to become up to this age the slaves of their masters, who can put them in irons, whip them, &c., if they like. Every master may put an iron ring round the neck, arms or legs of his slave, by which to know him more easily and to be more certain of him. The last part of this statute provides, that certain poor people may be employed by a place or by persons, who are willing to give them food and drink and to find them work. This kind of parish slaves was kept up in England until far into the 19th century under the name of ‘roundsmen’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 28).
“The author of the ‘Essay on Trade, etc.,’ 1770, says, ‘In the reign of Edward VI. indeed the English seem to have set, in good earnest, about encouraging manufactures and employing the poor. This we learn from a remarkable statute which runs thus: “That all vagrants shall be branded, &c”’” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 28, fn. 1).
“Elizabeth, 1572: Unlicensed beggars above 14 years of age are to be severely flogged and branded on the left ear unless some one will take them into service for two years; in case of a repetition of the offence, if they are over 18, they are to be executed, unless some one will take them into service for two years; but for the third offence they are to be executed without mercy as felons” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 28).
“In Elizabeth’s time, ‘rogues were trussed up apace, and that there was not one year commonly wherein three or four hundred were not devoured and eaten up by the gallowes.’ (Strype’s ‘Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion and other Various Occurrences in the Church of England during Queen Elizabeth’s Happy Reign.’ Second ed., 1725, Vol. 2.) According to this same Strype, in Somersetshire, in one year, 40 persons were executed, 35 robbers burnt in the hand, 37 whipped, and 183 discharged as ‘incorrigible vagabonds.’ Nevertheless, he is of opinion that this large number of prisoners does not comprise even a fifth of the actual criminals, thanks to the negligence of the justices and the foolish compassion of the people; and the other counties of England were not better off in this respect than Somersetshire, while some were even worse” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 28, fn. 2).
“James 1: Any one wandering about and begging is declared a rogue and a vagabond. Justices of the peace in petty sessions are authorised to have them publicly whipped and for the first offence to imprison them for 6 months, for the second for 2 years. Whilst in prison they are to be whipped as much and as often as the justices of the peace think fit... Incorrigible and dangerous rogues are to be branded with an R on the left shoulder and set to hard labour, and if they are caught begging again, to be executed without mercy. These statutes, legally binding until the beginning of the 18th century, were only repealed [in 1714]” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 28).
And here by means of such horrors, by means of so much blood the expropriation of the agricultural population is completed, and the formation of that working class, destined to feed modern industry. Less than idyllic! It was sword and fire that were the only origin of primitive accumulation; it was sword and fire that prepared the necessary environment for capital to develop, the mass of human force destined to nourish it; and if today sword and fire are no longer the ordinary means of the ever-growing accumulation, it is because it has another method, in its stead, much more inexorable and terrible, one of the glorious modern achievements of the bourgeoisie, a method that forms a necessary part of the mechanism itself of capitalist production, a method that acts by itself, without making much noise, without producing scandal, in short a perfectly civil method: hunger. And for him that rebels against hunger, always and forever sword and fire.
The modest size of this summary does not permit me to tell also of the glories of capital in the colonies. I refer the reader to the history of discoveries, starting from that of Christopher Columbus, and of all the colonizations, limiting myself only to cite in this regard the words of
“W. Howitt, a man who makes a speciality of Christianity, [who] says: ‘The barbarities and desperate outrages of the so-called Christian race, throughout every region of the world, and upon every people they have been able to subdue, are not to be paralleled by those of any other race, however fierce, however untaught, and however reckless of mercy and of shame, in any age of the earth.’
“If money, according to Augier, ‘comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,’ capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, ch. 31).
And this is pure, or bourgeois, history, a sad history of blood, which would deserve to be well read and meditated on by you, who know in your virtue how to conceive a holy horror for the lust of the blood of modern revolutionaries; by you, who declare not being able to allow the workers the sole use of the moral means.
Back to table of contents
The disease is sweeping. It’s been a long time that the workers of the civilized world have known it; certainly not all, but a great number, and these are already preparing the means of action to destroy it.
They have considered these:
I. That the first source of every human oppression and exploitation is private property;
II. That the emancipation of workers (human emancipation) will not be founded upon a new class rule, but upon the end of all class privileges and monopolies and upon the equality of rights and duties;
III. That the cause of labor, the cause of humanity, does not have borders;
IV. That the emancipation of workers must be done at the hands of the workers themselves.
And so a mighty voice has shouted: “Workers of the world, unite! No more rights without duties, no more duties without rights! Revolution!”
But the revolution demanded by the workers is not a revolution of pretext, it is not the practical method of a moment to reach a given aim. Even the bourgeoisie, like so many others, demanded the revolution one day; but only to supplant the nobility, and to substitute for the feudal system of serfdom that more refined and cruel system of wage-work. And they call this progress and civility! In fact every day we help the ridiculous show of the bourgeoisie, who go babbling the word revolution, with the sole aim of being able to jump up onto the maypole tree, and to grab power. The workers’ revolution is the revolution for the revolution.
The word “Revolution”, taken in its largest and truest sense, means turning, transformation, change. As such, revolution is the soul of all infinite mass. In fact, all in nature changes, but nothing is created and nothing is destroyed, as chemistry shows us. Mass, remaining always in the same quantity, can change form in infinite ways. When mass loses its old form and acquires a new one, it passes from the old life, in which it dies, to the new life, in which it is born. When our spinner, using a familiar example for us, transformed the 10 kilos of cotton into 10 kilos of thread, what else came about if not the death of 10 kilos of mass in the form of cotton, and at their birth in the form of thread? And when the weaver transforms the thread into cloth, what else will come about if not the matter passing from a life of string unto a life of cloth, as it has passed already before from a life of cotton unto a life of thread? Mass, therefore, passing from one turn of life to another, lives ever-changing, transforming, revolutionizing.
Now, if revolution is the law of nature, which is all, it must necessarily also be the law of humanity, which is a part of nature. But you have a few men upon the Earth who do not think this is so, or, rather, who close their eyes so as not to see and their ears so as not to hear.
“Yes, it is true,” I hear shouting from a bourgeois, “the natural law, the revolution that you claim, is the absolute regulator of human relations. The fault of all the oppressions, of all the exploitations, of all the tears and all of the massacres they are caused by, one must justly attribute to this inexorable law that imposes revolution upon us, that is, continuous transformation, the struggle for existence, the absorption of the weaker made stronger, the sacrifice of the less perfect types for the development of the more perfect types. If hundreds of workers are burned up for the wellbeing of only one bourgeois, that happens without the slightest fault of this, that is indeed sad and dreary, but only by the decree of natural law, of revolution.”
If one speaks in such a way, the workers ask nothing better, who wish for transformation, the struggle for existence, revolution, under the same natural law, the ones indeed preparing themselves to be stronger, to sacrifice all monstrous and parasitic plants for the complete and flourishing development of the most beautiful human tree, whole and perfect, which it must be, in all of the wholeness of its human character.
But the bourgeoisie are too fearful and pious to be able to appeal to the natural law of revolution. They have been able to invoke it in a moment of drunkenness; but, afterwards back to their normal selves, their accounts done, and having found that their doings were nice and pleasing, they gave themselves to shouting until they couldn’t anymore: “Order, religion, family, property, conservation!” It is so that, after having arrived at conquering, with massacre, fire and robbery, the role of the dominators and exploiters of the human race, they believe that they can stop the course of revolution; without realizing, in their stupidity, that they can do nothing else, with their efforts, than to make horrible troubles for humanity, and as a consequence for themselves, with the sudden explosions of the revolutionary force they madly repress.
The revolution, the material obstacles that oppose it shot down, and left free in its path, will by itself be enough to create the most perfect balance, order, peace, and the most complete happiness between people, because people, in their free development, will not proceed in the manner of wild animals but in the manner of human beings, eminently reasonable and civil, who understand that no person can be truly free and happy if they are not within the common liberty and happiness of all of humanity. No more rights without duties, no more duties without right. Therefore no more struggle for existence between people, but struggle for existence of all people with nature, by appropriating from the great sum of natural forces for the benefit of all of humanity.
The disease known, it is easy to know the remedy: revolution for the revolution.
But how will the workers be able to restore the course of the revolution?
This is not the place for a revolutionary program, already elaborated and published long ago elsewhere in other books; I confine myself to conclude, replying with the words taken from the lips of a worker and placed in epigraph to this volume: “The worker has made everything; and the worker can destroy everything, because he can rebuild everything.”
Back to table of contents
Les Molières, 27 July 1879
Most Esteemed Sir,
I’m sending with the same courier two copies of your work Capital, summarized briefly by me. I wanted to deliver them to you sooner, but only now was I able to obtain some copies by the benevolence of a friend, who with his intervention was able to affect the publication of the book.
In fact, if the publication could have been done at my expense, I would have desired to submit the manuscript to your examination beforehand. But in fear of seeing a favorable opinion escape me, I hurried to allow the publication proposed to me. And it is only now that I was able to address you in the hopes that you may say if I was able to comprehend and express your exact concept.
I pray, sir, that you appreciate the expressions of my deepest respect and that you put your trust in me.
The sincerest of thanks for the two copies of your work! At the same time I received two similar works, one written in Serbian, the other in English (published in the United States), but they both are faulty, wanting to give a succinct and popular summary of Capital and clinging, at the same time, too pedantically to the scientific form of discussion. In this way, they seem to me to miss more or less their principle purpose: that of moving the public for whom the summaries are intended.
And here is the great superiority of your work.
As far as the conception of things, I believe I’m not deceiving myself in attributing a gap to the considerations espoused in your preface, and that is the proof that the material conditions necessary to the emancipation of the proletariat are generated spontaneously by the development of capitalist exploitation. After all, I agree with you (if I interpreted your preface well) that it isn’t necessary to overload those who you wish to educate. Nothing will prevent you from returning, at the opportune time, to the charge of bringing out this materialist basis of Capital.
Renewing my thanks, I am most devoted to you,
 See Karl Marx: Capital. A Critique of Political Economy. Volume I.
 See John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy (link to external source).