Manufacturing Period = mid-16th -- last third 18th Century
1. The Dual Origin of Manufacture
2. The Specialized Worker and His Tools
3. The Two Fundamental Forms of Manufacture
The "collective worker"
Simplification of tasks = devaluation of labor power, as V decreases, S increases
4. The Division of Labor in Manufacture and Society
Division of labor in manufacture
Social division of labor in society
"foundation of every division of labor . . . is the separation of town from country"
Division of labor at each level has an impact on the division of labor on other levels
Earlier forms of society: —ancient Indian communities
the operations of his handicraft in the traditional way
5. The Capitalist Character of Manufacture
A major focus in this chapter is on how the capitalist bringing together of large numbers of workers leads from a simple assembling of those with handicraft skills to an ever deeper division of labor. Whether different kinds of craftspeople with complementary skills are assembled or a large number of those with the same skill, the end result, he argues, has been the same: namely an ever increasing specialization of work and tools. This division and specialization derives from the reorganization of worker activities in order to produce a larger number of products at a more rapid pace, i.e., to increase productivity or the efficiency of production (and thus relative surplus-value).
This increasing specialization results in that process of deskilling or "disvalorization" of workers which I discussed in my commentaries on primitive accumulation. Whether we are talking about peasants forced to become one-sided farm laborers, midwives reduced to nurses, or craftspeople reduced to narrowly specialized workers, in all cases there is a loss of skill and of meaning from the point of view of the individuals and an appropriation and transformation of skill by capital. There is also, of course, a parallel process of "devalorization" as many skills and meanings, both personal and collective, are lost for good. I will discuss Marx's analysis of some the negative effects of these losses below in the section on "the effects of specialization on the worker".
But if the concept of the "collective worker" emphasizes unity by its use of a singular figure to represent a complex group, Marx also recognizes the internal divisions and separations which compose this unitary figure. Not only does he understand how the collective worker is composed of different kinds of workers populating a particular division of labor, but he recognizes that the division of labor is never a simple horizontal set of differences but rather a vertical hierarchy.
Since the various functions performed by the collective worker can be simple or complex, high or low, the individual labor-powers, his organs, require different degrees of training, and must therefore possess very different values. Manufacture therefore develops a hierarchy of labor-powers, to which there corresponds a scale of wages.
In other words the reproduction of workers who require complex training necessitates higher wages. This is an application of the discussion in Chapter 6 of the value of labor power. When we consider dramatically different skill levels, such as that of manual workers performing simple tasks and engineers who design machinery or chemists who work out new chemical processes for production, it seems reasonable that on the assumption that such workers tend to produce off-spring of the same character, the engineers and chemists would require higher wages to rear children capable of achieving the same level of education and training. Within a generation on the other hand, it is not quite so obvious why engineers and engineers should require higher income than manual workers to reproduce themselves as such. We can imagine that they need more resources for continuing eduation, communication with their peers, books, tools of their trade and so on, but this is speculative. Marx certainly doesn't present any such evidence. Therefore, as in Chapter 6 we can take his suggestion here as only a step toward a theory of the wage hierarchy in manufacturing.
One thing is certain, no matter how trivial the actual differences between production tasks, or however tenuous the connections to the costs of reproducing labor power, capitalists always impose a wage hierarchy as a means of dividing and conquering the "collective worker". As the recent movement by women for equal wages on the basis of "comparable worth" has repeatedly demonstrated, many wage differentials have no relationship either to the complexity of the job or to the "value of labor power". When he turns to the subject of wages in Chapters 19-22, Marx will further develop his analysis of the relationship between the wages and hierarchy.
What consideration of the hierarchy of labor powers and wages brings out is that the division of labor involves not merely differences in tasks, it also involves differentials in power. It is not just that some are highly skilled and some less skilled or unskilled. The highly skilled receive more wages than the less skilled just as the less skilled receive more than the unskilled. In as much as wages represent not only power to command the means of life but also power to struggle, the hierarchy of wages involves a hierarchy of power not only among workers but in their respective and joint relations with capital.
Recognition of these relations by a number of Marxists in the post-World War II period, led both to empirical studies of historical changes in the make-up of the collective worker and to the development of a new set of Marxist concepts to discuss them. Whereas Marx spoke of the division of labor, these Marxists came to speak of the complex set of power relationships woven into and constructed against the division of labor in terms of a particular "class composition". Historical studies of the changing division of labor in the 20th Century led to an interpretation of how the rise of Taylorism and then Fordism led to a particular figure of the collective worker they called "the mass worker". Taylorism, the term given to the work of Frederick Taylor and those who followed him, denotes the meticulous analysis of the labor process and subsequent use of that analysis to impose the most detailed and efficient specialization possible on the collective worker. Taylor quite consciously carried out the redesign of the production process and of the pattern of co-operation to achieve precisely that concentration of power of command in the hands of capital at the expense of the worker that Marx describes so well in this chapter. Taylor's work was dedicated to the final destruction of the power of the handicraft worker to exert any control at all over the work process. Fordism, the term given to Henry Ford's reorganization of the Taylorist division of labor around the assembly line, completed what Taylor had begun through the subbordination of all moments of work to a single interconnected machine —what the French call "La Chaine", a nice term that evokes the chains of slavery. The "mass worker" who emerged within this restructured labor process was a new kind of collective worker, one totally allienated from work and capable of self-organization at the level of the industry as a whole. The industrial union would be the product of the self-activity of the mass worker.
Research on the mass worker while developing and applying Marx's analysis of the collective worker also brought out a gaping hole in his analysis. In as much as the mass worker emerged during the same period in which the working class was successful in dramatically reducing the working day —as discussed in my commentary in Chapter 10— its rise was accompanied by both an expansion of working class leisure and the capitalist colonization of that leisure through such institutions as the public school, the expulsion of women from certain waged jobs back into unwaged homework and home economics to shape that work and the family along with it. Although Marx, at one point, hints that the division of labor "seizes upon, not only the economic, but every other sphere of society", he does not develop this. (p. 474) While we might be willing to tolerate this failure to extend the analysis of the division of labor beyond the factory in a period in which virtually everyone, men, women and children were being forced into the factory, that failure becomes intolerable in a period when class relations are expanding outside waged work. On the other hand, unwaged housework has always been present and therefore an analysis of the place of that labor in the larger division of labor as well as an analysis of the division of labor within housework are required for any complete understanding of the collective worker in any period. We can ask, for example, how the work of child rearing was shared within the working class family and community. Who undertook which tasks? How much of the work was done by unwaged women, how much by unwaged children, how much by male waged workers and so on, and how these proportions changed over time and in response to what?
In her novel of working class life Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell would draw our attention to her observation that even in the inferno of Manchester's rapid industrialization, working class men were able and willing to assume roles of nurturing and caring. Under both normal circumstances (the opening walk in the countryside) and emergencies (the starvation of William Davenport and his family) they have the knowledge necessary and willingness to nurture, shop for food and medicine, cook, administer to the sick and comfort the bereaved. However, Gaskell shows the limits to these abilities —the men leaving the preparation of tea and food to the women in the opening chapter, Job Leah's ignorance about how to care for an infant during his return trip from London, John Barton leaving the care of his dead wife's body to his daughter, and so on— and on the whole portrays these roles as being mostly assumed by women, e.g., Mary who takes care of her father and herself, Alice Wilson who takes care of everyone. This said, it is interesting how she portrays much less of a strict gender division of labor than we might have expected.
One thing the novel suggests, certainly true though requiring much more investigation than it has been given, is that the political behavior of workers can only be understood by grasping the patterns of their lives in their homes and communities as well as in their factories. While this may have been particularly true in the "hungry '40s" when large numbers of workers had their wages reduced or lost their jobs —so that the experience of distress was more than usually a home and community based one— it is also true at other times and thus an understanding of these things is vital to any thorough analysis of the class composition.
Just as we can study with Marx the wage hierarchy within the factory, so too can we study the hierachy between the waged and unwaged and among the unwaged (say among women, retired male workers and children), i.e., at the level of the social factory (capitalist society as a whole). The dependence of the unwaged on the waged —say at the level of the family— conditions the relations between the two and explains both the privileges demanded by the waged and the forms of struggle of the unwaged. To the degree that Marx failed to recognize or treat such relationships there has been scope for extending his meticulous analysis of waged work to the unwaged. Not surprisingly since Marx's time it has been primarily women who have pushed Marxist research in this direction just as amongst bourgeois novelists of the 19th Century it was mainly women like Jane Austin or Elizabeth Gaskell who explored these issues. Also not surprisingly it has mainly been within the context of upsurges in women's struggles that such work has occurred most recently within the rise of the women's movements of the 1970s.
The analysis of the mass worker mentioned above did lead eventually to an analysis of the division of labor at the level of society as a whole and the recognition of how capital has manipulated those divisions to an analysis of society as a "social factory". On the one hand, it was recognized how Henry Ford wanted his factory overseers to check up on the family lives of his workers. On the other hand, the public school system —which only became generalized in the Progressive Era— came to be seen as an institution which organizes the division of labor in the inter-generational reproduction of labor power. It reproduced many of the conditions of work of the mass worker in its own organization and by tracking girls into home economics and boys into industrial arts, etc. helped reproduce the gender differentials which help found the larger wage/unwaged divisions in society. Recognition of these aspects of the unwaged dimensions of the mass worker has led to a much more complete study and understanding of the dynamics of class relationships throughout the social factory.
More contemporary research of this sort has sought to identify the emergence of yet another figure of the collective worker, namely the "socialized worker". This socialized worker is argued to have been emerging within a crisis of Fordism brought on by the struggles of the mass worker who succeeded in the late 1960s and early 1970s in rupturing the pattern of capitalist relative surplus value based on Fordism in industry and Keynesianism at the level of the state. The "socialized" worker is so named because, it is argued, the self activity of workers has begun to break down the very distinction between the spheres of production and reproduction, between the factory and the rest of society.
"Manufacture . . . seizes labor-power by its roots. It converts the worker into a crippled monstrosity by furthering his particular skill as in a forcing-house, through the suppression of a whole world of productive drives and inclinations, just as in the states of La Plata they butcher a whole beast for the sake of his hide or his tallow. . . . the individual himself is divided up, and transformed into the automatic motor of a detail operation . . ."
Although he recognizes that any division of labor, in any kind of society will involve some restriction on the potential development of the individual, Marx argues that in capitalism this is carried to a barbaric extreme. "Since manufacture . . . attacks the individual at the very roots of his life, it is the first system to provide the materials and the impetus for industrial pathology." (p. 484)
It should be remembered that Marx was far from the first to take up this theme. In Chapter 14 he points out that Adam Smith before him was well aware of this kind of negative impact on the individual worker and that Smith learned of it from his own teacher Adam Ferguson. (p. 483) Where Marx goes beyond Ferguson and Smith is in providing a class analysis of the dynamics of these relations, especially in analysing their role in the class struggle. (see next section below)
In the following graphic portrayal Jack London describes one of those one-sided, specialized and crippled workers of which Marx speaks. In his analysis of the collective activities of a glass factory (pp. 466-467) Marx ends with the production of the glass bottle. London picks up where Marx leaves off to describe the work of attaching the bottle stoppers to the bottles.
It was simple work, the tying of glass stoppers into small bottles. At his waist he carried a bundle of twine. He held the bottles between his knees so that he might work with both hands. Thus, in a sitting position and bending over his own knees, his narrow shoulders grew humped and his chest was contracted for ten hours each day. This was not good for the lungs, but he tied three hundred dozen bottles a day.
The superintendent was very proud of him and brought visitors to look at him. In ten hours three hundred dozen bottles passed through his hands. This means that he had attained machine-like perfection. All waste movements were eliminated. Every motion of his thin arms, every movement of a muscle in the thin fingers was swift and accurate. He worked at high tension, and the result was that he grew nervous. At night his muscles twitched in his sleep, and in the daytime he could not relax and rest. He remained keyed up and his muscles continued to twitch. Also he grew sallow and his lint-cough grew worse. The pneumonia laid hold of the feeble lungs within the contracted chest and he lost his job in the glass-works.
There was no joyousness in life for him. The procession of the days he never saw. The nights he slept away in twitching unconsciousness. The rest of the time he worked, and his consciousness was machine consciousness. Outside this his mind was a blank. He had no ideals, and but one illusion; namely, that he drank excellent coffee. He was a work-beast.
He had no mental life whatsoever; yet deep down in the crypts of his mind, unknown to him, were being weighed and sifted every hour of his toil, every movement of his hands, every twitch of his muscles, and preparations were making for a future course of action that would amaze him and all his little world.
(Jack London, "The Apostate" (1911), in Jack London, Revolution. Stories and Essays, London: Journeyman Press, 1979.)
Whether the worker portrayed in this short story was drawn from life is not known. He might well have been because London worked in many of the industries described in his stories. But even if he was not, the portrayal gives vivid concreteness to an all too common phenomenon in the 19th and even the 20th Century.
This problem of the crippling caused by highly specialized work has grown with capitalism and has continued to be the object of both working class struggle and academic study throughout the 20th Century. In the post-WWII period, for example, the self-organization of farm workers led directly to a battle over the "short handled hoe" a tool the farm workers argued was imposed on them by capitalists who wanted their overseers to be able to immediately identify a worker who stopped working (by standing up straight). No matter to the agribusiness growers in California and elsewhere that the result of 8 hours or more of stoop labor was physically crippling to the workers. Even in the domain of mental labor —forseen by Ferguson in 1767— over specialization has led to an inability of workers (including the graduates of business and engineering schools) to understand enough of the background and framework of a problem to generate creative solutions.
Since Marx's time, the development of capitalist industry has brought with it an ever greater mass of disease, poisonings, cripplings, and other injuries for industrial pathologists to study. When we broaden our attention to the social factory, we can begin to recognize how all kinds of pathologies from drug use and suicides to environmental degradation have been as integral to capitalist development as the factory based problems that preoccupied Marx. As we might expect one byproduct has been the ever renewed struggles by workers against such conditons of work and life, both through the fight for safety and health regulation within the official work place and through the battles for a wide variety of health, consumer and environmental programs in the society at large.
Already in the 1857 Grundrisse manuscripts Marx, following Fourier, had forseen the necessary condition for overcoming this problem: not the abandonment of the division of labor as some romantic pastoralists have suggested but such a drastic reduction in work time that people's work could be enriched by a diversity of life experiences. Where Marx went beyond Fourier was in identifying the forces at work in the class struggle that were pushing society in this direction. His early synthesis in the Grundrisse laid out the analysis most clearly: how working class struggle forced capital to substitute machinery for labor raising the productivity of labor and creating both the technical possibility of less work and, tendentially, undermining the capitalist ability to impose it. Some of that analysis reappeared in Chapter 10 of Capital in the discussion of working class struggle for less work. Some more can be found in Chapter 25 of Volume I where he analyses the genesis of the reserve army of the unemployed. Still more can be found in the Grundrisse and in Volume III of Capital where Marx analyses the implications of this constant substitution of constant for variable capital, (i.e, a rising organic composition of capital): an increasing difficulty in putting people to work . These analyses lead to his discussion in Volume III of the "realm of freedom" where work is reduced to a single component of a multifaceted social life.
Since handicraft skill is the foundation of manufacture, and since the mechanism of manufac-ture as a whole possesses no objective framework which would be independent of the workers themselves, capital is constantly compelled to wrestle with the insurbordination of the workers. (pp. 489-490)
He goes on to quote Andrew Ure that "the more skilful the workman, the more self-willed and intractable he is apt to become." (p. 490) Skilled workpeople can be self-willed and intractable because they control the rhythm and pace of certain phases of the production process. They still wield tools and just as they know the most efficient way to use them, they also know less efficient ways. In conflict with capitalists —say over the conditions of labor or the length of the working day— it is therefore possible for such workers to slow down or sabotage the production process without the capitalists or their overseers being able to understand when or how this is done. Early in the chapter (p. 460) Marx noted how the craftsman creates "gaps in his working day" as he shifts from one operation to another. The capitalist refinement of the division of labor tends to eliminate such shifts, and thus the gaps, but never completely achieves its ends. At the end of the chapter he concludes that the proof of the still remaining power of handicraft workers in the manufacturing division of labor lay in the failure of capital to "seize control of the whole disposable labor-time of the manufacturing workers". As his last remarks suggest, it was only with the introduction of machinery that a Frederick Taylor would be able to strip the last shreds of power from the hands of production line workers. Unfortunately for the capitalists the response of the workers to being blocked in one source of power would be to develop others!
When we expand our attention from the factory to the sphere of reproduction with its own evolving division of labor, we can also find endless examples of people using their command over work processes to resist the imposition of labor. Whether we examine the struggles of unwaged housewives or students, we discover a myriad of methods, subtle or blatant to refuse work. The housewife fed up with being condemned to life as a broodmare, uses her knowledge of her own body to resist conception and procreation. The student bored or annoyed with imposed school work uses feined dullness or wit to distract teachers and open gaps for play or contemplation in the school day.
Among the Italian Marxists who analyzed the rise and development of the mass worker were Romano Alquati, Raniero Panzieri, and Sergio Bologna. In the introduction to Reading Capital Politically, I gave a sketch of these theoretical developments (see Study Guide, Part 1). Sergio Bologna has recently written a fairly comprehensive overview of the development of these historical studies. That overview has been translated and published in two parts in the journal of the Edinburgh Conference of Socialist Economists: Sergio Bologna, "Theory and History of the Mass Worker in Italy", Common Sense, #11, Winter 1991, pp. 16-29, Common Sense #12, Summer 1992, pp. 52-78.
The Marxist researchers who have elaborated the concept of the socialized workers are those working with Toni Negri and Jean-Marie Vincent, the principal editors of the Parisian journal Futur Antérieur. Among the contributions to the study of this figure of the collective worker are:
Marx's writings on Indian society grew out of his efforts to understand the evolution of colonialism within the British empire and within global capitalism more generally. Characteristically, he looked for an understanding of the relationship between the nationstates (colonizing and colonized) in the class dynamics within each and the linkages between social antagonisms in England and those in India through trade, investment and war. For a collection of his writings see S. Aveneri (ed) Karl Marx on Colonialism and Modernization, New York: Doubleday, 1969. Virtually all of his writings on India are now available in the volumes of the Collected Works.
specialization of tools
decomposition of a handicraft
manufacture and working class struggle
hierarchy of labor powers
machinery and mathematics
division of labor in particular
division of labor in detail
despotism in the factory
anarchy in the market
communal division of labor
crippling of workers
Smith on division of labor
colonial division of labor
iron law of proportionality
ancient Indian communities
crippling of workers
mental versus manual work
Plato on the division of labor
1. What are the two ways in which manufacture emerges from handicraft production? In each case what is the impact on the workers' skills?
2. What are the advantages of specialized labor wherein a worker performs one, narrowly defined task over and over? What are the disadvantages to the worker? How does manufacturing "provide the materials and the impetus for industrial pathology"? How are workers "crippled"?
3. What is the impact of specialization in manufacturing on the tools used by workers and how does this pave the way for the rise of machinery?
4. What are the differences and similarities between "heterogeneous" and "organic" manufacture? How does the organic organization of manufacture tend to produce continuity and uniformity in the average time of production for each worker? How might this be achieved in heterogeneous manufacturing?
5. Discuss Marx's passing reference to the link between machinery and the development of mathematics. What does this suggest about the social development of science more generally?
*6. What does Marx mean by "the collective worker"? What is the origin of this "item of machinery"? Why does Marx use this latter term?
7. What are the technical origins of the wage hierarchy? How does Marx explain this in terms of the value of labor power? What is the impact of specialization and deskilling on the value of labor power? Thus on surplus value?
8. How are the origins of the division of labor in manufacturing and the division of labor in society different? How does their separate development influence each other?
9. List the ways Marx sees the division of labor in manufacture to be despotic while that in capitalist society is anarchic.
10. How does Marx contrast the division of labor in capitalist manufacture with that of the guilds? With that of traditional Indian (Asian) communities?
11. How does the emphasis of classical political economy on productivity and quantity contrast with the views of Plato and other ancient Greek writers on the division of labor?
*12. What is the source of workers' power during the period of manufacture and why is capital "constantly compelled to wrestle with the insubordination of the workers"? What was Marx's evidence of the successful exercise of this power?
13. "We make a nation of Helots, and have no free citizens." Comment.
14. What is the relation between tendencies to market equilibrium and the anarchy of the market?