Karl Marx

Capital, Part Seven second half

Hence both the capitalist and his ideological representative, the political economist, consider that part alone of the labourer's individual consumption to be productive, which is requisite for the perpetuation of the class, and which therefore must take place in order that the capitalist may have labour power to consume; what the labourer consumes for his own pleasure beyond that part, is unproductive consumption. [10] If the accumulation of capital were to cause a rise of wages and an increase in the labourer's consumption, unaccompanied by increase in the consumption of labour-power by capital, the additional capital would be consumed unproductively. [11] In reality, the individual consumption of the labourer is unproductive as regards himself, for it reproduces nothing but the needy individual; it is productive to the capitalist and to the State, since it is the production of the power that creates their wealth. [12]

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

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

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

"He" (the man out of work) "may be told the supply of cotton- workers is too large...and...must...in fact be reduced by a third, perhaps,and that then there will be a healthy demand for the remaining two-thirds...Public opinion...urges emigration...The master cannot willingly see his labour supply being removed; he may think and perhaps justly, that it is both wrong and unsound...But if the public funds are to be devoted to assist emigration, he has a right to be heard, and perhaps to protest." Mr. Potter then shows how useful the cotton trade is, how the "trade has undoubtedly drawn the surplus-population from Ireland and from the agricultural districts," how immense is its extent, how in the year 1860 it yielded 5/13ths of the total English exports, how, after a few years, it will again expand by the extension of the market, particularly of the Indian market, and by calling forth a plentiful supply of cotton at 6d. per lb. He then continues: "Some time..., one, two, or three years, it may be, will produce the quantity... The question I would put then is this- Is the trade worth retaining? Is it worth while to keep the machinery (he means the living labour machines) in order, and is it not the greatest folly to think of parting with that? I think it is. I allow that the workers are not a property, not the property of Lancashire and the masters; but they are the strength of both; they are the mental and trained power which cannot be replaced for a generation; the mere machinery which they work might much of it be beneficially replaced, nay improved, in a twelvemonth. [15] Encourage or allow (!) the working-power to emigrate, and what of the capitalist?...Take away the cream of the workers, and fixed capital will depreciate in a great degree, the workers, and the floating will not subject itself to a struggle with the short supply of inferior labour... We are told the workers wish it" (emigration). "very natural it is that they should do so... Reduce, compress the cotton trade by taking away its working power and reducing their wages expenditure, say one-fifth, or five millions, and what then would happen to the class above, the small shopkeepers; and what of the rents, the cottage rents... Trace out the effects upward to the small farmer, the better householder, and... the landowner, and say if there could be any suggestion more suicidal to all classes of the country than by enfeebling a nation by exporting the best of its manufacturing population, and destroying the value of some of its most productive capital and enrichment... I advise a loan (of five or six millions sterling),... extending it may be over two or three years, administered by a special commissioners added to the Boards of Guardians in the cotton districts, under special legislative regulations, enforcing some occupation or labour, as a means of keeping up at least the moral standard of the recipients of the loan... can anything be worse for landowners or masters than parting with the best of the workers, and demoralising and disappointing the rest by an extended depletive emigration, a depletion of capital and value in an entire province?"

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

"Mr. Edmund Potter is so impressed with the exceptional and supreme importance of the cotton masters that, in order to preserve this class and perpetuate their profession, he would keep half a million of the labouring class confined in a great moral workhouse against their will. 'Is trade worth retaining?' asks Mr. Potter. 'Certainly by all honest means it is,' we answer. 'Is it worth while keeping the machinery in order?' again asks Mr. Potter. Here we hesitate. By the 'machinery' Mr. Potter means the human machinery, for he goes on to protest that he does not mean to use them as an absolute property. We must confess that we do not think it 'worth while,' or even possible, to keep the human machinery in order- that is to shut it up and keep it oiled till it is wanted. Human machinery _will_ rust under inaction, oil and rub it as you may. Moreover, the human machinery will, as we have just seen, get the steam up of its own accord, and burst or run a muck in our great towns. It might, as Mr. Potter says, require some time to reproduce the workers, but, having machinists and capitalists at hand, we could always find thrifty, hard, industrious men wherewith to improvise more master manufacturers then we can ever want. Mr. Potter talks of trade reviving 'in one, two, or three years,' and he asks us not 'to encourage or allow (!) the working power to emigrate.' He says that it is very natural the workers should wish to emigrate; but he thinks that in spite of their desire, the nation ought to keep this half million of workers with their 700,00 dependents, shut up in the cotton districts; and as a necessary consequence, he must of course think that the nation ought to keep down their discontent by force, and sustain them by alms- and upon the chance that the cotton masters may some day want them... The time is come when the great public opinion of these islands must operate to save this 'working power' from those who would deal with it as they deal with iron, and coal, and cotton."

The "Times'" article was only a _jeu d'esprit_. The "great public opinion" was, in fact, of Mr. Potter's opinion, that the factory operatives are part of the movable fittings of a factory. Their emigration was prevented. [16] They were locked up in that "moral workhouse," the cotton districts, and they form, as before, "the strength" of the cotton manufacturers of Lancashire.

Capitalist production, therefore, of itself reproduces the separation between labour-power and the means of labour. It thereby reproduces and perpetuates the condition for exploiting the labourer. It incessantly forces him to sell his labour-power in order to live, and enables the capitalist to purchase labour-power in order that he may enrich himself. [17] It is no longer a mere accident, that the capitalist and labourer confront each other in the market as buyer and seller. It is the process itself that incessantly hurls back the labourer on to the market as a vendor of his labour-power, and that incessantly converts his own product into a means by which another man can purchase him. In reality, the labourer belongs to capital before he has sold himself to capital. His economical bondage [18] is both brought about and concealed by the periodic sale of himself, by his change of masters, and by the oscillations in the market price of labour- power. [19]

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

Endnotes Chapter 23
[1] " Mais ces riches, qui consomment les produits du travail des autres ne peuvent les obtenir que par des echanges [purchase of commodities]. S'ils donnent cependant leur richesse acquise et accumullee en retour contre ces produits nouveaux qui sont l'objet de leur fantaisie, ils semblent exposes a epuiser bientot, leur fonds de reserve; ils ne travaillent point, avons-nous dit, et ils ne peuvent meme travailleur; on croirant donc que chaque jour doit voir diminuer leurs vieilles richesses, et que lors-qu'il ne leur en restera plus, rien ne sera offert en echange aux ouvriers qui travaillent exclusivement pour eux... Mais dans l'ordre social, la richesse a acquis la propriete de se reproduire par le travail d'autrui, et sans que son proprietaire y concoure. La richesse, comme le travail, et par le travail, donne un fruit annuel qui peut etre detruit chaque annee sans que le riche en devienne plus pauvre. Ce fruit est le _revenu_ qui nait du _capital_." (Sismondi: Nouv. Princ. d'Econ. Pol. Paris, 1819. t.I. pp.81-82.)

[2] "wages as well as profits are to be considered, each of them, as really a portion of the finished product." (Ramsay, l.c., p.142.) "The shape of the product which comes to the labourer in the form of wages." (J. Mill, Elements, &c. Translated by Parissot. Paris, 1823. p.34.)

[3] "When capital is employed in advancing to the workman his wages, it adds nothing to the funds for the maintenance of labour." (Cazenove in note to his edition of Malthus, Definitions in Pol. Econ. London, 1853, p.22.)

[4] "The wages of labour are advanced by capitalists in the case of less than one fourth of the labourers of the earth." (Rich. Jones: Textbook of Lectures on the Pol. Econ. of Nations. Hertford, 1852, p.16.)

[5] "Though the manufacturer" (_i.e._, the labourer) " has his wages advanced to him by his master, he in reality costs him no expense, the value of these wages being generally reserved, together with a profit, in the improved value of the subject upon which his labour is bestowed." (A. Smith l.c. Book II ch III p.311.)

[6] "This is a remarkably peculiar property of productive labour. Whatever is productively consumed is capital, and it becomes capital by consumption." (James Mill l.c. p.242.) James Mill, however, never got on the track of this "remarkably peculiar property."

[7] "It is true indeed, that the first introducing a manufacture employes many poor, but they cease to be so, and the continuance of it makes many." (Reasons for a limited Exportation of Wool. London, 1677, p.19.) "The farmer now absurdly asserts, that he keeps the poor. They are indeed kept in misery." (Reasons for the late increase of the Poor Rates: or a comparative view of the prices of labour and provisions. London, 1777, p.37.)

[8] Rossi would not declaim so emphatically against this, had he really penetrated the secret of "productive consumption"

[9] "The labourers in the mines of S. America, whose daily task (the heaviest perhaps in the world) consists in bringing to the surface on their shoulders a load of metal weighing from 180 to 200 pounds, from a depth of 450 feet, live on bread and beans only; they themselves would prefer the bread alone for food, but their masters, who have found out that the men cannot work so hard on bread, treat them like horses, and compel them to eat beans; beans, however, are relatively much richer in bone-earth (phosphate of lime) than is bread" (Liebig, l.c., vol. I, p.194, note).

[10] James Mill, l.c., p.238.

[11] "If the price of labour should rise so high that, notwithstanding the increase of capital, no more could be employed, I should say that such increase of capital would be still unproductively consumed." (Ricardo, l.c., p.163.)

[12] "The only productive consumption, properly so-called, is the consumption or destruction of wealth" (he alludes to the means of production) "by capitalists with a view to reproduction...The workman...is a productive consumer to the person who employs him, and to the State, but not, strictly speaking, to himself." (Malthus' Definitions, &c., p.30.)

[13] "The only thing, of which one can say, that it is stored up and prepared before-hand, is the skill of the labourer...The accumulation and storage of skilled labour, that most important operation, is, as regards the great mass of labourers, accomplished without any capital whatever." (Tho. Hodgskin: Labour Defended, &c., p.13.)

[14] "That letter might be looked upon as the manifesto of the manufacturers." (Ferrand: Motion on the Cotton Famine, H.o.C., 27th April, 1863.)

[15] It will not be forgotten that this name capital sings quite another song, under ordinary circumstances, when there is a question of reducing wages. Then the masters exclaim with one voice: " The factory operatives should keep in wholesome rememberance the fact that theirs is really a low species of skilled labour; and that there is none which is easily acquired, or 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" (which we now learn can be replaced with advantage in 12 months) "really plays a far more important part in the business of production than the labour and skill of the operative" (who cannot now be replaced under 30 years), "which six months' education can teach, and a common labourer can learn." (See ante, p.423.)

[16] Parliament did not vote a single farthing in aid of emigration, but simply passed some Acts empowering the municipal corporations to keep the operatives in a half-starved state, _i.e._, to exploit them at less than the normal wages. On the other hand, when 3 years later, the cattle disease broke out, Parliament broke wildly through its usages and voted, straight off, millions for indemnifying the millionaire landlords, whose farmers in any event came off without a loss, owing to the rise in the price of meat. The bull-like bellow of the landlord proprietors at the opening of Parliament, in 1866, showed that a man can worship the cow Sabala without being a Hindoo, and can change himself into an ox without being a Jupiter.

[17] "L'ouvrier demandait de la subsistence pour vivre, le chef demandait du travail pour gagner." (Sismondi, l.c., p.91.)

[18] A boorishly clumsy form of this bondage exists in the country of Durham. This is one of the few counties, in which circumstances do not secure to the farmer undisputed proprietary rights over the agricultural labourer. The mining industry allows the latter some choice. In this county, the farmer, contrary to the custom elsewhere, rents only such farms as have on them labourers' cottages. The rent of the cottage is part of the wages. These cottages are known as "hinds' houses." They are let to the labourers in consideration of certain feudal services, under a contract called "bondage," which, amongst other things, binds the labourer, during the time he is employed elsewhere, to leave some one, say his daughter, &c., to supply his place. The labourer himself is called a "bondsman." THe relationship here set up also shows how individual consumption by the labourer becomes consumption on behalf of capital- or productive consumption- from quite a new point of view: "It is curious to observe that the very dung of the hind and bondsman is the perquisite of the calculating lord...and the lord will allow no privy but his own to exist in the neighbourhood, and will rather give a bit of manure here and there for a garden than bate any part of his seigneurial right." (Public Health, Report VII, 1864, p.188.)

[19] It will not be forgotten, that, with respect to the labour of children, &c., even the formality of a voluntary sale disappears.

[20] "Capital pre-supposes wage-labour, and wage-labour pre- supposes capital. One is a necessary condition to the existence of the other; they mutually call each other.

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