The following text was written in March 2019 as presentation for a series of self-education discussions on the 1st volume of Capital organised at our local Workers’ Club. With this text, we tried to keep a difficult balance: on the one hand, being a presentation of the subject-matter for people who are coming in contact with Capital for the first time and, on the other hand, having to offer some food for thought and discussion for people who are already familiar with Marx’s work.

The struggle between the capitalist and the wage-labourer starts with the existence of the capital-relation itself. It rages throughout the period of manufacture. But only since the introduction of machinery has the worker fought against the instrument of labour itself, capital’s material mode of existence. He is in revolt against this particular form of the means of production because it is the material foundation of the capitalist mode of production. (Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, Penguin Books, 1976, p. 553-554)

The introduction of machinery into production

Manufacture was based on the craftsmanship of the craftsmen and “since the mechanism of manufacture as a whole possesses no objective framework which would be independent of the workers themselves, capital is constantly compelled to wrestle with the insubordination of the workers” (Ibid, p. 489-490). The reduction of the length of the working-day with the new factory legislation brought about “highly detailed specifications, which regulate, with military uniformity, the times, the limits and the pauses of work by the stroke of the clock” (Ibid, p. 394). We want to draw attention to the military uniformity and the increase of control and discipline it implies. Since the length of the working-day was reduced, the first response of the capitalists was the intensification of labour as an alternative way for increasing the extraction of surplus-value. However, since this new discipline was still enforced by humans (supervisors, foremen, artisans, etc.), there were always leeways for laxity: maybe the supervisor would look the other way or maybe the workers would trick them, etc. However, independently of the degree that this discipline could be successfully enforced, the intensification of labour through strict rules and surveillance made the labour-time “denser” in order for the workers to produce more commodities during the given working-day, but this method had its limits: workers cannot work faster than their shadows. The same goes for the division of labour: you can save time by converting complex tasks to simple ones, but you cannot fragment a complex task into a sequence of simpler tasks ad infinitum, at some point you reach to the simplest task possible. Ultimately, “As soon as the gradual upsurge of working-class revolt had compelled Parliament compulsorily to shorten the hours of labour, and to begin by imposing a normal working day on factories properly so called, i.e. from the moment that it was made impossible once and for all to increase the production of surplus-value by prolonging the working day, capital threw itself with all its might, and in full awareness of the situation, into the production of relative surplus-value, by speeding up the development of the machine system” (Ibid, p. 533-534).

In contradiction to the opinion of Adam Smith, M. Say, in the fourth chapter, speaks of the value which is given to commodities by natural agents, such as the sun, the air, the pressure of the atmosphere, etc., which are sometimes substituted for the labour of man, and sometimes concur with him in producing. But these natural agents, though they add greatly to value in use, never add exchangeable value, of which M. Say is speaking, to a commodity: as soon as by the aid of machinery, or by the knowledge of natural philosophy, you oblige natural agents to do the work which was before done by man, the exchangeable value of such work falls accordingly. (David Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, Batoche Books, 2001, p. 207)

Machinery can execute a simple task or a sequence of simple tasks faster than humans. Therefore, every commodity is produced by machinery in less time than without machinery, something that means that every individual commodity has now a smaller value, it becomes cheaper. Since the means of subsistence of the workers become cheaper, so does their labour-power: the worker can now have the same way of life as before but with a lower wage. Thus, his necessary labour-time is reduced, the labour-time during which he produces the mass of value corresponding to his wage. As a result, his surplus labour-time increases, i.e., the labour-time during which he produces the surplus-value expropriated by the capitalist. Thus, the increase of productivity of labour via the development of technology, of science, etc., is the method of extracting relative surplus-value and it devalues the labour-power: “Like every other instrument for increasing the productivity of labour, machinery is intended to cheapen commodities and, by shortening the part of the working day in which the worker works for himself, to lengthen the other part, the part he gives to the capitalist for nothing. The machine is a means for producing surplus-value” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 492). But, what’s a machine?

All fully developed machinery consists of three essentially different parts, the motor mechanism, the transmitting mechanism and finally the tool or working machine. The motor mechanism acts as the driving force of the mechanism as a whole. It either generates its own motive power, like the steam-engine, the caloric-engine, the electro-magnetic machine, etc., or it receives its impulse from some already existing natural force, like the waterwheel from the descent of water down an incline, the windmill from the wind, and so on. The transmitting mechanism, composed of fly-wheels, shafting, toothed wheels, pulleys, straps, ropes, bands, pinions and gearing of the most varied kinds, regulates the motion, changes its form where necessary, as for instance from linear to circular, and divides and distributes it among the working machines. These two parts of the whole mechanism are there solely to impart motion to the working machine; using this motion the working machine then seizes on the object of labour and modifies it as desired. […] On a closer examination of the working machine proper we rediscover in it as a general rule, though often in highly modified forms, the very apparatus and tools used by the handicraftsman or the manufacturing worker; but there is the difference that instead of being the tools of a man they are the implements of a mechanism, mechanical implements. […] The machine, therefore, is a mechanism that, after being set in motion, performs with its tools the same operations as the worker formerly did with similar tools. […] As soon as tools had been converted from being manual implements of man into the parts of a mechanical apparatus, of a machine, the motive mechanism also acquired an independent form, entirely emancipated from the restraints of human strength. Thereupon the individual machine […] sinks to a mere element in production by machinecy. One motive mechanism was now able to drive many machines at once. The motive mechanism grows with the number of the machines that are turned simultaneously, and the transmitting mechanism becomes an extensive apparatus. We have now to distinguish the co-operation of a number of machines of one kind from a complex system of machinery. In the one case, the product is entirely made by a single machine, which performs all the various operations previously done by one handicraftsman with his tool, by a weaver with his loom, for instance, or by several handicraftsmen successively, either separately or as members of a system of manufacture. […] Here the whole process, which under the manufacturing system was split up into a series of operations and carried out in that order, is completed by a single machine, operating a combination of different tools. […] In the factory, i.e. in the workshop in which machinery alone is used, and leaving the worker out of consideration for the moment, this co-operation appears, in the first instance, as the assembling in one place of similar and simultaneously acting machines. Thus a weaving factory consists of a number of powerlooms working side by side […] all in the same building. But there is here a technical unity in that all the machines receive their impulse simultaneously, and in an equal degree, from the pulsations of the common prime mover, which are imparted to them by the transmitting mechanism; and this mechanism, to a certain extent, is also common to them all, since only particular ramifications of it branch off to each machine. […] A real machine system, however, does not take the place of these independent machines until the object of labour goes through a connected series of graduated processes carried out by a chain of mutually complementary machines of various kinds. Here we have again the co-operation by division of labour which is peculiar to manufacture, but now it appears as a combination of machines with specific functions. (Ibid, p. 494 & 495 & 499-501)

What’s the role of a worker from the moment that machinery is introduced in his job?

In many manual implements the distinction between man as mere motive power and man as worker or operator properly so called is very striking indeed. For instance, the foot is merely the prime mover of the spinning-wheel, while the hand, working with the spindle, and drawing and twisting, performs the real operation of spinning. It is the second part of the handicraftsman’s implement, in this case the spindle, which is first seized on by the industrial revolution, leaving to the worker, in addition to his new labour of watching the machine with his eyes and correcting its mistakes with his hands, the merely mechanical role of acting as the motive power. […] The machine, which is the starting-point of the industrial re­volution, replaces the worker, who handles a single tool, by a mechanism operating with a number of similar tools and set in motion by a single motive power, whatever the form of that power. Here we have the machine, but in its first role as a simple element in production by machinery. […] Now assuming that [the worker] is acting simply as a motor, that a machine has replaced the tool he was using, it is evident that he can also be replaced as a motor by natural forces. (Ibid, p. 495-496 & 497)

Who are the workers in a factory?

In so far as the division of labour re-appears in the factory, it takes the form primarily of a distribution of workers among the specialized machines, and of quantities of workers, who do not however form organized groups, among the various departments of the factory, in each of which they work at a number of similar machines placed together; only simple co-operation therefore takes place between them. The organized group peculiar to manufacture is replaced by the connection between the head worker and his few assistants. The essential division is that between workers who are actually employed on the machines […] and those who merely attend them […] In addition to these two principal classes, there is a numerically unimportant group whose occupation it is to look after the whole of the machinery and repair it from time to time, composed of engineers, mechanics, joiners etc. This is a superior class of workers, in part scientifically educated, in part trained in a handicraft; they stand outside the realm of the factory workers, and are added to them only to make up an aggregate. It is characteristic of the English intention to deceive by use of statistics (and this is demonstrable in detail in other cases as well) that the English factory legislation expressly excludes from its area of competence, as being “not factory workers”, the class of workers last mentioned, while the “Returns” published by Parliament just as expressly include in the category of factory workers not only engineers, mechanics, etc., but also managers, salesmen, messengers, warehousemen, packers etc., in short, everybody except the owner of the factory himself. (Ibid, p. 545-546)

The subsumption of labour under capital

In simple co-operation, labour was only formally subsumed under capital. “The labour process becomes the instrument of the valorization process, the process of the self-valorization of capital – the manufacture of surplus-value. The labour process is subsumed under capital (it is its own process) and the capitalist intervenes in the process as its director, manager. For him it also represents the direct exploitation of the labour of others” (Karl Marx, “Results of the Immediate Process of Production” in Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 1019). Here, however, the labour process as such hasn’t change much in comparison with before it was subsumed under capital: every worker employed by the capitalist is a craftsman, an artisan, a skilled worker executing his labour more or less exactly the same way as before, when he was an independent artisan.

All this notwithstanding [that now the worker is in service of the capitalist], this change does not in itself imply a fundamental modification in the real nature of the labour process, the actual process of production. On the contrary, the fact is that capital subsumes the labour process as it finds it, that is to say, it takes over an existing labour process, developed by different and more archaic modes of production. And since that is the case it is evident that capital took over an available, established labour process. […] If changes occur in these traditional established labour processes after their takeover by capital, these are nothing but the gradual consequences of that subsumption. The work may become more intensive, its duration may be extended, it may become more continuous or orderly under the eye of the interested capitalist, but in themselves these changes do not affect the character of the actual labour process, the actual mode of working. (Ibid, p. 1021)

In simple co-operation, the worker remains skilled worker, he continues to have knowledge over the labour process, he knows the process by which a given commodity is produced. That is, he has in his hands a weapon for resistance against the capitalist since, due to his knowledge over the labour process, he isn’t easily replaceable and he may even trick the capitalist (e.g., that 5 hours of labour are needed for the production of a given commodity while in fact only 4 hours are needed, so he can work with a looser pace). In manufacture, where the complex tasks are parcelled into a sequence of simpler tasks performed by different workers, the worker is deskilled since he no longer needs to know the whole process for the production of the given commodity, as he performs only a small part of the total process. We’re entering the “specifically capitalist mode of production” which “not only transforms the situations of the various agents of production, it also revolutionizes their actual mode of labour and the real nature of the labour process as a whole” (Ibid). Now the worker looses any control over the labour process that he might have had in the formal subsumption of labour under capital. Now

a specifically capitalist form of production comes into being (at the technological level too). Based on this, and simultaneously with it, the corresponding relations of production between the various agents of production and above all between the capitalist and the wage-labourer, come into being for the first time. The social productive forces of labour, or the productive forces of directly social, socialized (i.e. collective) labour come into being through co-operation, division of labour within the workshop, the use of machinery, and in general the transformation of production by the conscious use of the sciences, of mechanics, chemistry, etc., for specific ends, technology, etc., and similarly, through the enormous increase of scale corresponding to such developments (for it is only socialized labour that is capable of applying the general products of human development, such as mathematics, to the immediate processes of production; and, conversely, progress in these sciences presupposes a certain level of material production). This entire development of the productive forces of socialized labour (in contrast to the more or less isolated labour of individuals), and together with it the use of science (the general product of social development), in the immediate process of production, takes the form of the productive power of capital. It does not appear as the productive power of labour, or even of that part of it that is identical with capital. And least of all does it appear as the productive power either of the individual worker or of the workers joined together in the process of production. (Ibid, p. 1024)

This is the real subsumption of labour under capital, which begins with manufacture and is completed with the development of the large-scale industry, with the introduction of machinery into production.

It is a result of the division of labour in manufacture that the worker is brought face to face with the intellectual potentialities [geistige Potenzen] of the material process of production as the property of another and as a power which rules over him. This process of separation starts in simple co-operation, where the capitalist represents to the individual workers the unity and the will of the whole body of social labour. It is developed in manufacture, which mutilates the worker, turning him into a fragment of himself. It is completed in large-scale industry, which makes science a potentiality for production which is distinct from labour and presses it into the service of capital. […] In manufacture, it is the workers who, either singly or in groups, must carry on each particular process with their manual implements. The worker has been appropriated by the process; but the process had previously to be adapted to the worker. This subjective principle of the division of labour no longer exists in production by machinery. Here the total process is examined objectively, viewed in and for itself, and analysed into its constitutive phases. The problem of how to execute each particular process, and to bind the different partial processes together into a whole, is solved by the aid of machines, chemistry, etc. But of course, in this case too, the theoretical conception must be perfected by accumulated experience on a large scale. As machinery, the instrument of labour assumes a material mode of existence which necessitates the replacement of human force by natural forces, and the replacement of the rule of thumb by the conscious application of natural science. In manufacture the organization of the social labour process is purely subjective: it is a combination of specialized workers. Large-scale industry, on the other hand, possesses in the machine system an entirety objective organization of production, which confronts the worker as a pre-existing material condition of production. In simple cooperation, and even in the more specialized form based on the division of labour, the extrusion of the isolated worker by the associated worker still appears to be more or less accidental. Machinery, with a few exceptions […], operates only by means of associated labour, or labour in common. Hence the co-operative character of the labour process is in this case a technical necessity dictated by the very nature of the instrument of labour. (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 482 & 501-502 & 508)

The spread of machinery

Mechanisation of an individual firm creates a chain reaction. Since an individual factory introduces machinery, it can produce a much greater amount of commodities than before, with each individual commodity having now a reduced value than before. The capitalist of that factory can now flood the market with his commodities, selling them at a lower price than his competitors while making bigger profits than them. Capitalists doing business in the same industry branch are forced to also introduce machinery into their production in order to be able to compete. Thus, slowly, the whole industry branch gets mechanised.

Mechanisation of an industry branch has as a result the mechanisation of all industry branches related with it. Let’s take as example the production of cotton shirts. First there’s the agriculture branch of cultivating cotton, then there’s the industry branch of processing cotton to produce cotton yarn, then the industry branch of processing cotton yarn to produce cotton cloth, and last is the industry branch of processing cotton cloth to produce cotton shirts. There is also the industry branch producing buttons, the industry branches producing various tools for all the above-mentioned industry branches, etc. If one of these branches gets mechanised, it would need more raw materials than before since it would be producing more products than before, and as a result the industry branch providing the raw materials would need to also get mechanised in order to increase its output. Suppose the industry branch producing cotton cloth gets mechanised. For the production of this industry branch to continue smoothly, there’s a need for an increased output of the industry branch producing cotton yarn. This in its turn means that there will be a need for an increased output of the agricultural branch producing cotton, etc. Usually, a firm wants to buy a given raw material from the same supplier, in order to buy it as massively as possible (which means a lower cost) and in order for the raw material to be of the same quality so as for its products to be of the same quality. Thus, the now mechanised firm producing cotton cloth has to find a firm producing cotton yarn with an output big enough to meet its needs for raw material. Every firm producing cotton yarn wants as its customer the mechanised firm producing cotton cloth, since that would mean a constant demand of big quantities of its products. In order to make a deal with the mechanised firm producing cotton cloth, the firm producing cotton yarn must increase its output and, sooner or later, this need for increased output would lead to its mechanisation. Respectively, the increased supply of cheaper than before cotton cloth would mean an increased outpout in the production of cotton shirts. Since raw materials for the production of cotton shirts are now cheaper than before, new firms producing cotton shirts will appear or the already existing ones will increase their output, or both. Each firm producing cotton shirts would try to exploit this boom in supply of cheap raw materials in order to conquer a bigger share of the market and make bigger profits than before. Every firm wants to be the buyer of as much a bigger amount of the new cheap raw materials as possible, in order for its competitors to not have access to cheap raw materials. Thus, having now more raw materials than before, the firm has to increase its output which, sooner or later, will lead it to mechanise its production.

Slowly, this need for mechanisation escapes the framework of interrelated productive processes:

But as well as this, the revolution in the modes of production of industry and agriculture made necessary a revolution in the general conditions of the social process of production, i.e. in the means of communication and transport. In a society whose pivot, to use Fourier’s expression, was small-scale agriculture, with its subsidiary domestic industries and urban handicrafts, the means of communication and transport were so utterly inadequate to the needs of production in the period of manufacture, with its extended division of social labour, its concentration of instruments of labour and workers and its colonial markets, that they in fact became revolutionized. In the same way the means of communication and transport handed down from the period of manufacture soon became unbearable fetters on large-scale industry, given the feverish velocity with which it produces, its enormous extent, its constant flinging of capital and labour from one sphere of production into another and its newly created connections with the world market. Hence, quite apart from the immense transformation which took place in shipbuilding, the means of communication and transport gradually adapted themselves to the mode of production of large-scale industry by means of a system of river steamers, railways, ocean steamers and telegraphs. But the huge masses of iron that had now to be forged, welded, cut, bored and shaped required for their part machines of Cyclopean dimensions, which the machine-building trades of the period of manufacture were incapable of constructing. Large-scale industry therefore had to take over the machine itself, its own characteristic instrument of production, and to produce machines by means of machines. It was not till it did this that it could create for itself an adequate technical foundation, and stand on its own feet. (Ibid, p. 505-506)

The value transferred by the machinery to the product

We saw that the productive forces resulting from co-operation and the division of labour cost capital nothing. They are natural forces of social labour. Other natural forces appropriated to productive processes, such as steam, water, etc., also cost nothing. […] Once discovered, the law of the deflection of a magnetic needle in the field of an electric current, or the law of the magnetization of iron by electricity, cost absolutely nothing. Science, generally speaking, costs the capitalist nothing […]. But the exploitation of these laws for the purposes of telegraphy, etc., necessitates costly and extensive apparatus. […] Therefore, although it is clear at the first glance that large-scale industry raises the productivity of labour to an extraordinary degree by incorporating into the production process both the immense forces of nature and the results arrived at by natural science, it is by no means equally clear that this increase in productive force is not, on the other hand, purchased with an increase in the amount of labour expended. Machinery, like every other component of constant capital, creates no new value, but yields up its own value to the product it serves to beget. (Ibid, p. 508-509)

A machine, like a tool, always enters as a whole into the labour process but only partially into the valorisation process. That is, for the production of an individual commodity the whole machine is used, but the total value of the machine isn’t transferred in each individual commodity, only a part of it, a part corresponding to the wearing down of the machine during the production of the individual commodity. “But this difference between the mere utilization of the instrument and its depreciation is much greater in the case of machinery than it is with a tool, because the machine, being made from more durable material, has a longer life; because it can be employed more economically, from the point of view both of the deterioration of its own components and of its consumption of materials, as its use is regulated by strict scientific laws; and, finally, because its field of production is incomparably larger than that of a tool” (Ibid, p. 509-510). If we leave aside the value transferred by the machinery and tools to the commodity, we’ll see that machinery cost capitalist nothing precisely because machinery utilises science and natural forces. E.g., suppose that we have to lift a load of given weight. In the past, 4 workers were needed to lift it with their hands. Then, with the aid of a manual crane using a system of pulleys, 2 workers were needed to lift the load. Now, with the mechanised crane, only 1 worker is needed to lift a load twice or thrice the weight of the original load. Thus, fewer workers can perform a given task in less time than before, and “[t]he greater the productive effectiveness of the machinery compared with that of the tool, the greater is the extent of its gratuitous service” (Ibid, p. 510). Let’s return now to the value transferred by the machinery to commodities:

Given the rate at which machinery transfers its value to the product, the amount of value so transferred depends on the total value of the machinery. The less labour it contains, the less value it contributes to the product. The less value it gives up, the more productive it is, and the more its services approach those rendered by natural forces. But the production of machinery lessens its value in relation to its extension and efficacy. A comparative analysis of the prices of commodities produced by handicrafts or manufacture, and of the prices of the same commodities produced by machinery, shows in general that in the product of machinery the value arising out of the instrument of labour increases relatively, but decreases absolutely. In other words, its absolute amount decreases, but its amount in relation to the total value of the product -of a pound of yarn, for instance- increases. (Ibid, p. 512)

That is, the machinery transfers to the individual product less value than the tool back when the product was produced manually, because machinery is more productive. However, the product is produced faster by machinery, thus the socially necessary labour-time for its production is reduced, i.e., the value of the product is reduced. Therefore, although machinery transfers to the product less value than the tool back when the product was produced manually, there’s also a reduction of the total value of the product, and as a result the ratio of value transferred by machinery to the product to total value of the product is increased. This means that the labour-time economised by machinery is greater than the labour-time needed for the production of machinery, i.e., than the value of machinery. That’s why the capitalist wants to introduce machinery in his production. If for a given amount of output in a given amount of time the capitalist has to pay either x euros for wages or y euros for machinery then, if x ≥ y, the capitalist has no reason to not use machinery instead of workers. “The productivity of the machine is therefore measured by the human labour-power it replaces” (Ibid, p. 513). This relation between the productivity of machinery and the labour-power it replaces has its limits:

The use of machinery for the exclusive purpose of cheapening the product is limited by the requirement that less labour must be expended in producing the machinery than is displaced by the employment of that machinery. For the capitalist, however, there is a further limit on its use. Instead of paying for the labour, he pays only the value of the labour-power employed; the limit to his using a machine is therefore fixed by the difference between the value of the machine and the value of the labour-power replaced by it. Since the division of the day’s work into necessary labour and surplus labour differs in different countries, and even in the same country at different periods, or in different branches of industry; and further, since the actual wage of the worker sometimes sinks below the value of his labour-power, and sometimes rises above it, it is possible for the difference between the price of the machinery and the price of the labour-power replaced by that machinery to undergo great variations, while the difference between the quantity of labour needed to produce the machine and the total quantity of labour replaced by it remains constant. But it is only the former difference that determines the cost to the capitalist of producing a commodity, and influences his actions through the pressure of competition. (Ibid, p. 515-516)

The effects of machinery on family and sexed relations

In so far as machinery dispenses with muscular power, it becomes a means for employing workers of slight muscular strength, or whose bodily development is incomplete, but whose limbs are all the more supple. The labour of women and children was therefore the first result of the capitalist application of machinery! That mighty substitute for labour and for workers, the machine, was immediately transformed into a means for increasing the number of wage-labourers by enrolling, under the direct sway of capital, every member of the worker’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 independent labour at home, within customary limits, for the family itself. (Ibid, p. 517)

With the mechanisation of production, many industry branches started employing women, and in some of them women became the majority. “They published last year elaborate tables to prove that machinery does not supersede adult male operatives. According to these tables, rather more than half of all the factory-workers employed, viz., 52 per cent, were females and 48 per cent males, and of these operatives more than half were over eighteen years old. So far, so good. But the manufacturers are very careful not to tell us, how many of the adults were men and how many women. And this is just the point. Besides this, they have evidently counted the mechanics, engineers, carpenters, all the men employed in any way in the factories, perhaps even the clerks, and still they have not the courage to tell the whole truth. […] Of 419,590 factory operatives of the British Empire in 1839, 192,887, or nearly half, were under eighteen years of age, and 242,296 of the female sex, of whom 112,192 were less than eighteen years old. There remain, therefore, 80,695 male operatives under eighteen years, and 96,599 adult male operatives, or not one full quarter of the whole number. In the cotton factories, 56.25 per cent; in the woollen mills, 69.5 per cent; in the silk mills, 70.5 per cent; in the flax-spinning mills, 70.5 per cent of all operatives are of the female sex. These numbers suffice to prove the crowding out of adult males” (Friedrich Engels, “The Condition of the Working-Class in England” in MECW 4, p. 435 & 436). These jobs were gruelling and many times led to illness and death. But these hardships didn’t of course apply only to women workers but to workers of both sexes. Describing the disarray and the moral panic brought about by the introduction of women and children in production, Engels wrote:

A similar dissolution of the family is brought about by the employment of the children. When they get on far enough to earn more than they cost their parents from week to week, they begin to pay the parents a fixed sum for board and lodging, and keep the rest for themselves. This often happens from the fourteenth or fifteenth year. In a word, the children emancipate themselves, and regard the paternal dwelling as a lodging-house, which they often exchange for another, as suits them. In many cases the family is not wholly dissolved by the employment of the wife, but turned upside down. The wife supports the family, the husband sits at home, tends the children, sweeps the room and cooks. This case happens very frequently; […] A man berated his two daughters for going to the public-house [pub], and they answered that they were tired of being ordered about, saying, “Damn you, we have to keep you”. Determined to keep the proceeds of their work for themselves, they left the family dwelling, and abandoned their parents to their fate. (Ibid, p. 437-438 & 440; our italics)

Engels quotes an extract of a worker’s letter, in which is described a meeting between a man and his unemployed male friend:

And when my poor friend went in, there sat poor Jack near the fire, and what did he, think you? Why he sat and mended his wife’s stockings with the bodkin; and as soon as he saw his old friend at the door-post, he tried to hide them. But Joe, that is my friend’s name, had seen it, and said: “Jack, what the devil art thou doing? Where is the missus? Why, is that thy work?” and poor Jack was ashamed, and said: “No, I know this is not my work, but my poor missus is i’ th’ factory; she has to leave at half-past five and works till eight at night, and then she is so knocked up that she cannot do aught when she gets home, so I have to do everything for her what I can, for I have no work, nor had any for more nor three years, and I shall never have any more work while I live” and then he wept a big tear. Jack again said: “There is work enough for women folks and childer hereabouts, but none for men: thou mayest sooner find a hundred pound on the road than work for men […] it’s a good bit that she has been the man in the house and I the woman” (Ibid, p. 438)

Industrial revolution, with its mass introduction of women into production, challenged the traditional sexed relations that were well-established from antiquity till then. Women, who traditionally were generally excluded from property and means of substinence of their own, and were thus dependent on the patriarch (father or husband) for their subsistence, where now given property, they owned the commodity of their labour-power which they could sell for a wage. That is, women gained access to means of substinence with the mediaton of capital instead of the patriarch. In some cases, as in that of the above-mentioned Jack, it was men who became dependent on women’s income. The relations between children and their parents were also challenged by children gaining access to means of substinence by selling their labour-power to capital.

[W]e must admit that so total a reversal of the position of the sexes can have come to pass only because the sexes have been placed in a false position from the beginning. If the reign of the wife over the husband, as inevitably brought about by the factory system, is inhuman, the pristine rule of the husband over the wife must have been inhuman too. If the wife can now base her supremacy upon the fact that she supplies the greater part, nay, the whole of the common possession, the necessary inference is that this community of possession is no true and rational one, since one member of the family boasts offensively of contributing the greater share. If the family of our present society is being thus dissolved, this dissolution merely shows that, at bottom, the binding tie of this family was not family affection, but private interest lurking under the cloak of a pretended community of possessions. (Ibid, p. 439)

Obviously, living 175 years after Engels wrote those words, we know that machinery didn’t bring about the “reign of the wife over the husband” but that in the cases that only one of the members of a couple works it’s usually the man, thus women still depend on their husbands for their substinence, particularly in times of low wages and high unemployment rates like nowadays. According to some studies in UK, a big percentage of people, not exclusively women but women in majority, enter love affairs or remain in them just because they don’t have money to survive on their own[1]. For sure, this isn’t a purely British thing. However, it’s indisputable that oppression of women was transformed since women entered the production process and, with time, managed to enter already existing workers’ organisations or to create their own.

Marx wrote that “[m]achinery, by this excessive addition of women and children to the working personnel, at last breaks the resistance which the male workers had continued to oppose to the despotism of capital throughout the period of manufacture” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 526) and noted the “great fact” that “[t]he shortening of the hours of labour for women and children in English factories was exacted from capital by the adult male workers” (Ibid, p. 519). It is certain that Marx and Engels weren’t calling for the return of women and children to the shackles of family. They have noticed a long time ago the “slavery latent in the family” (Marx & Engels, “The German Idelogy” in MECW 5, p. 33) and regarded as progressive the introduction of women and children in production:

“Restriction of female labour and prohibition of child labour” [says the Ghota Programme]. The standardisation of the working day must include the restriction of female labour, insofar as it relates to the duration, breaks, etc., of the working day; otherwise it could only mean the exclusion of female labour from branches of industry that are especially unhealthy for the female body or are morally objectionable to the female sex. If that is what was meant, it should have been said. “Prohibition of child labour”! Here it is absolutely essential to state the age limit. […] Its implementation if it were possible would be reactionary, since, with a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other precautionary stipulations for the protection of children, an early combination of productive labour with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society. (Karl Marx, “Critique of the Ghotha Programme” in MECW 24, p. 98).

However, the question that Marx and Engels didn’t put forward is why women are paid less and why they weren’t able to oppose the despotism of capital:

Their [women’s] labour was also cheap because they were no longer organized, unlike the skilled men who had their associations as journeymen and a tradition of organizing from the guilds. Women had been thrown out of these organizations long ago, they had no new organizations and hence no bargaining power. For the capitalists it was, therefore, more profitable and less risky to employ women. With the rise of industrial capitalism and the decline of merchant capitalism (around 1830), the extreme exploitation of women’s and child labour became a problem. Women whose health had been destroyed by overwork and appalling work conditions could not produce healthy children who could become strong workers and soldiers – as was realized after several wars later in the century. Many of these women did not live in proper “families”, but were either unmarried, or had been deserted and lived, worked and moved around with children and young people in gangs. These women had no particular material interest in producing the next generation of miserable workers for the factories. But they constituted a threat to bourgeois morality with its ideal of the domesticated woman. Therefore, it was also necessary to domesticate the proletarian woman. She had to be made to breed more workers. […] Therefore, the State had to interfere in the production of people and, through legislation, police measures and the ideological campaign of the churches, the sexual energies of the proletariat had to be channelled into the strait-jacket of the bourgeois family. The proletarian woman had to be housewifized too, in spite of the fact that she could not afford to sit at home and wait for the husband to feed her and her children. […] Sexuality had to be curbed in such a way that it took place within the confines of this family. Therefore, sexual intercourse before marriage and outside it was criminalized. The owners of the means of production were given the necessary police power to watch over the morality of their workers. After the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-1871, a law was passed which made abortion a crime […] The process of housewifization of women, however, was not only pushed forward by the bourgeoisie and the State. The working-class movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries also made its contribution to this process. The organized working class welcomed the abolition of forced celibacy and marriage restrictions for propertyless workers. One of the demands of the German delegation to the 1863 Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association was the “freedom for workers to form a family”. […] German working-class organizations, at that time headed by Lassalle, fought rather for the right to have a family than against the forced celibacy of propertyless people. Thus, the liberation from forced celibacy was historically achieved only by subsuming the whole propertyless class under bourgeois marriage and family laws. As bourgeois marriage and family were considered “progressive”, the accession of the working class to these standards was considered by most leaders of the working class as a progressive move. The struggles of the workers’ movement for higher wages were often justified, particularly by the skilled workers who constituted the “most advanced sections” of the working class, by the argument that the man’s wage should be sufficient to maintain a family so that his wife could stay at home and look after children and household. From 1830-1840 onwards -and practically until the end of the nineteenth century- the attitude of the German male workers, and of those organized in the Social Democratic Party, was characterized by […] “proletarian anti-feminism”. Their proletarian anti-feminism was mainly concerned with the threat the entry of women into industrial production would pose to the men’s wages and jobs. Repeatedly, at various congresses of the workers’ associations and party congresses, a demand was raised to prohibit women’s work in factories. The question of women’s work in factories was also discussed at the 1866 Congress of the First International in Geneva. Marx, who had drafted the instructions for the delegates of the General Council to the Geneva Congress, had stated that the tendency of modern industry to draw women and children into production had to be seen as a progressive tendency. The French section and also some of the Germans, however, were strongly opposed to women’s work outside the house. […] Proletarian men do have a material interest in the domestication of their female class companions. This material interest consists, on the one hand, in the man’s claim to monopolize available wage-work, on the other, in the claim to have control over all money income in the family. Since money has become the main source and embodiment of power under capitalism, proletarian men fight about money not only with the capitalists, but also with their wives. Their demand for a family wage is an expression of this struggle. Here the point is not whether a proper family wage was ever paid or not, the point is that the ideological and theoretical consequence of this concept led to the de facto acceptance of the bourgeois concept of the family and of women by the proletariat. (Maria Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour, Redwood Books, 1994, p. 105 & 106-107 & 109)

The conditions of the widespread child labour forced the English State to establish, for the first time, as mandatory the education of children under age 14. However, the emergence of school in the era of industrial revolution was more something trying to calm down the moral panic (a panic concerning mostly bourgeoisie itself) and less a sincere attempt to educate children. Marx quotes some extracts from reports about scholls written by State inspectors:

“For this the legislature is alone to blame, by having passed a delusive law, which, while it would seem to provide that the children employed in factories shall be educated, contains no enactment by which that professed end can be secured. It provides nothing more than that the children shall on certain days of the week, and for a certain number of hours (three) in each day, be inclosed within the four walls of a place called a school, and that the employer of the child shall receive weekly a certificate to that effect signed by a person designated by the subscriber as a schoolmaster or schoolmistress”. Before the passing of the amended Factory Act of 1844, it happened not infrequently that the certificates of attendance at school were signed by the schoolmaster or schoolmistress with a cross, as they themselves were unable to write. “On one occasion, on visiting a place called a school, from which certificates of school attendance had issued, I was so struck with the ignorance of the master, that I said to him: ‘Pray, sir, can you read?’. His reply was ‘Aye, summat!’ and as a justification of his right to grant certificites he added: ‘At any rate, I am before my scholars’.” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 523)

The working-day

A machine has a certain lifespan. This lifespan may be perennial, but remains finite. It slowly wears down in such a degree that it either cannot be repaired or the cost to repair it is such that it’s better for the capitalist to buy a new one. The degeneration of the machine isn’t only due to its strain while it’s operating. E.g., with time, the metal parts of a machine will start to rust whether the machine is operating or not. This degeneration which is independent from the operating time of the machine means that it looses a part of its value without it being transferred to products, without the machine producing commodities. However, even if we suppose that a machine doesn’t degenerate with time or that this degeneration is negligible (e.g, a machine constructed by materials that can endure for 2 centuries before starting to degenerate), the capitalist still has a motive to operate the machine non-stop. “A machine working 16 hours a day for 7.5 years covers as long a working period as the same machine working only 8 hours a day for 15 years and transmits to the total product no more value. Notwithstanding this, the value of the machine would be reproduced twice as quickly in the first case as in the second, and the capitalist, using the same machine, would absorb in 7.5 years as much surplus-value as he would in 15 in the second case” (Ibid, p. 527-528).

Apart from the devaluation of the machine due to its detorioration with time, there’s also the potential devaluation of a certain machine due to new technological inventions. A machine is a commodity, therefore its value is the socially necessary labour-time for its production. The development of technology may mean technological innovations leading to the production of the same machine in less time or the production in the same or less time of machines better than the original. When this leads to a depreciation of the machine in the market or to existence of machines of higher productivity but at the same price, the competitors of the capitalist who had already bought the original machine have a competitive advantage since they can buy the same machine at lower price or they can buy a more productive machine at the same price as the original machine. For that reason, a capitalist buying a machine must consume it productively as fast as possible, in order to not get into a situation of having technology of lower level than his competitors. Marx quotes Babbage on this issue:

“The improvement which took place not long ago in frames for making patent-net was so great that a machine in good repair which had cost £1,200 sold a few years later for £60 […] improvements succeeded each other so rapidly that machines which had never been finished were abandoned in the hands of their makers, because new improvements had superseded their utility”. In these times of stormy and rapid progress, therefore, the tulle manufacturers soon extended the working day from its original 8 hours to 24, by using double sets of workers. (Ibid, p. 528-529)

Suppose that a capitalist wants to double his output. If he doubles it with the length of the working-day being constant, he have to double the number of his machines and workers. However, if he operates the machinery he already has for double hours in a day than before, then we won’t need to buy new machines but only to pay double the wages, either getting the workers he already hires to work double shifts or hiring new workers for a second shift. Thus, he doubles his output with a small cost, since he doesn’t need to invest once again in pricey constant capital. That way, “[n]ot only does surplus-value increase therefore, but the outlay necessary to obtain it diminishes. It is true that this takes place, more or less, with every lengthening of the working day; but here the change is of far greater importance because the part of the capital that has been converted into the instruments of labour now falls more decisively into the balance. The development of machine production ties a constantly increasing portion of the capital to a form in which, on the one hand, it is constantly capable of valorization, and in which, on the other hand, it loses both use-value and exchange-value whenever it is deprived of contact with living labour. […] The increased use of machinery […] makes a constantly increased prolongation of the working day ‘desirable’. […] Hence too the economic paradox that the most powerful instrument for reducing labour-time suffers a dialectical inversion and becomes the most unfailing means for turning the whole lifetime of the worker and his family into labour-time at capital’s disposal for its own valorization” (Ibid, p. 529-530 & 532). However, this prolongation of the working-day cannot be excessive, as we saw in the sections on the “normal” working-day, and ultimately the State puts some legal limits in its length which differ from social formation to social formation. The factory may be operating 24 hours a day, but there are shifts of different workers.

What now presents itself more loudly is the intensification of labour due to the introduction of machinery. In the labour based on the craftsmanship of the worker, the intensification of labour is of course possible, but relatively difficult to be implemented: the workers possessing the know-how of their job have plenty of room to determine the pace by which they work. However, with the emergence of large-scale industry, the know-how has now been incorporated into the machinery and the workers loose a big part of their control over the labour process. Now, it’s the machinery, which is constructed in such a way in order to operate at a certain pace, and the factory, which is organised in such a way in order to operate at a certain pace, that impose onto the workers the pace by which they work.

Suppose that a capitalist, before introducing machinery into his production, employed 25 workers, and suppose that the capitalist extracted 1 hour of surplus-labour per working-day from each of his workers. That means that each working-day, the capitalist extracted surplus-value corresponding to 25 hours of labour-time. Suppose that after introducing machinery in his production, the capitalist now employs only 1 worker. Even if the capitalist made his worker work 24 hours a day, how is it possible for the capitalist to extract 25 hours of surplus-value per working-day from only 1 worker? At first sight, it seems that our capitalist made a wrong choice investing in machinery and it would be to his interest to continue producing without machinery. It seems that there’s a natural limit, and therefore a “golden ratio” between the use of machinery and the number of workers employed, a ratio that if surpassed by the capitalist then he’ll lose surplus-value by replacing labour by machinery. Of course, in reality such a natural limit doesn’t exist. The intensification of labour brought upon by machinery is of a completely different degree than that of the manufacture. Machinery, practical implementations of science and fueled by natural forces, bring about an unprecedented acceleration of the working pace. This quantitative difference is so huge that it turns into a qualitative one:

In general, relative surplus-value is produced by raising the productivity of the worker, and thereby enabling him to produce more in a given time with the same expenditure of labour. The same amount of labour-time adds the same value as before to the total product, but this unchanged amount of exchange-value is spread over more use-values. Hence the value of each single commodity falls. But the situation changes with the compulsory shortening of the hours of labour. This gives an immense impetus to the development of productivity and the more economical use of the conditions of production. It imposes on the worker an increased expenditure of labour within a time which remains constant, a heightened tension of labour-power, and a closer filling-up of the pores of the working day, i.e. a condensation of labour, to a degree which can only be attained within the limits of the shortened working day. This compression of a greater mass of labour into a given period now counts for what it really is, namely an increase in the quantity of labour. In addition to the measure of its “extensive magnitude”, labour-time now acquires a measure of its intensity, or degree of density. The denser hour of the 10-hour working day contains more labour, i.e. expended labour-power, than the more porous hour of the 12-hour working day. Thus the product of one of the 10 hours has has as much value as the product of 1.2 of the 12 hours, or even more. Apart from the increased yield of relative surplus-value which results from the heightened productivity of labour, the same mass of value is now produced for the capitalist by, say, 3.33 hours of surplus labour and 6.66 hours of necessary labour, as was previously produced by 4 hours of surplus labour and 8 hours of necessary labour. (Ibid, p. 534)

The intensification of labour brought about the machinery makes possible less hours of labour-time to produce the same or greater value than what was produced before by more hours of labour-time. The difference between artisanal labour and labour with machinery is such that labour-time itself cannot now function as the measure of value in order to compare these two productive processes – here we see the necessity of money as the external measure of value, since production processes of varying levels of productivity co-exist and the values of their products must somehow be compared and equated in the market; it also indicates that money had to finally transform from a commodity (e.g., gold) to a symbol because, if money is a commodity, its value is determined by the socially necessary labour-time for its production, thus we end up in a vicious circle. We need now to take into account the condensation of time brought about by the intensification of labour using machinery: x amount of labour-time using machinery equals to nx artisanal labour-time, where n ≥ 1. The same goes not only for the shift from artisanal labour to labour with machinery, but also for every big technological leap that multiplies significantly the productive powers of labour in contrast with the previous technology, e.g., the automatisation of production during the last decades with the introduction of computer systems and robots in the production, or even the scientific organisation of labour brought about by Taylorism whether it’s combined with machinery or not. Therefore, with machinery, although the real, concrete labour-time, i.e., the time the workers spends at his workplace, the time that we can measure with a clock, may be reduced or remain constant, the time of “practically abstract” labour, i.e., labour as value-producing labour, can increase.

The struggle between worker and machine

The instrument of labour, when it takes the form of a machine, immediately becomes a competitor of the worker himself. The self-valorization of capital by means of the machine is related directly to the number of workers whose conditions of existence have been destroyed by it. The whole system of capitalist production is based on the worker’s sale of his labour-power as a commodity. The division of labour develops this labour-power in a one-sided way, by reducing it to the highly particularized skill of handling a special tool. When it becomes the job of the machine to handle this tool, the use-value of the worker’s labour-power vanishes, and with it its exchange-value. […] The section of the working class thus rendered superfluous by machinery, i.e. converted into a part of the population no longer directly necessary for the self-valorization of capital, either goes under in the unequal contest between the old handicraft and manufacturing production and the new machine production, or else floods all the more easily accessible branches of industry, swamps the labour-market, and makes the price of labour-power fall below its value. […] When machinery seizes on an industry by degrees, it produces chronic misery among the workers who compete with it. […] Hence the character of independence from and estrangement towards the worker, which the capitalist mode of production gives to the conditions of labour and the product of labour, develops into a complete and total antagonism with the advent of machinery. It is therefore when machinery arrives on the scene that the worker for the first time revolts savagely against the instruments of labour. (Ibid, p. 557 & 558-559)

Machinery is “the material foundation of the capitalist mode of production” (Ibid, p. 554). While the tool is an instrument of labour in the hands of the worker, machinery transforms the worker into its own instrument dancing to its intense pace for the extraction of as much surplus-value as possible, as the more refined method of extracting surplus-value. “Technological progress itself thus appears as a mode of existence of capital, as its development” (Raniero Panzieri, “The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx Versus the ‘Objectivists'” in Phil Slater, ed, Outlines of a Critique of Technology, Ink Links, 1980, p. 46). This existence of machinery as an instrument of imposition on and exploitation of the worker doesn’t simply lie on the fact that machinery is in the hands of the capitalist. “[T]he processes of production are, in capitalist society, incessantly transformed under the impetus of the principal driving force of that society, the accumulation of capital. For the working population, this transformation manifests itself, first, as a continuous change in the labor processes of each branch of industry” (Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, Monthly Review Press, 1998, p. 6). The labour process must incessantly transform in order to adapt to new conditions arising with time for the accumulation of capital, to accelerate the process of accumulation, to fulfil the needs of the constantly expanding reproduction of capital and to counteract the workers’ resistance – we’ve already pointed out that the development  of mechanised production was the capitalists’ reply to the struggle for the reduction of the working-day.

Taking nothing for granted and nothing as permanent, modern production constantly overhauls all aspects of its performance, and in some industries has completely reconstituted itself more than once in the space of a hundred years. Thus modern electronic circuitry, to cite only a single example, would be completely incomprehensible in its mode of operation, in the manner of its production, and even in the very materials used, to those who, only a couple of generations ago, designed and made the first examples of this genre. […] But in the capitalist mode of production, new methods and new machinery are incorporated within a management effort to dissolve the labor process as a process conducted by the worker and reconstitute it as a process conducted by management. In the first form of the division of labor, the capitalist disassembles the craft and returns it to the workers piecemeal, so that the process as a whole is no longer the province of any individual worker. Then, as we have seen, the capitalist conducts an analysis of each of the tasks distributed among the workers, with an eye toward getting a grip on the individual operations. It is in the age of the scientific-technical revolution that management sets itself the problem of grasping the process as a whole and controlling every element of it, without exception. […] The reduction of the worker to the level of an instrument in the production process is by no means exclusively associated with machinery. We must also note the attempt, either in the absence of machinery or in conjunction with individually operated machines, to treat the workers themselves as machines. This aspect of scientific management was developed by Taylor’s immediate successors. […] A new line of development was opened by Frank B. Gilbreth, one of Taylor’s most prominent followers. He added to time study the concept of motion study: that is, the investigation and classification of the basic motions of the body, regardless of the particular and concrete form of the labor in which these motions are used. In motion and time study, the elementary movements were visualized as the building blocks of every work activity […] In its first form, motion study catalogs the various movements of the body as standard data, with the aim of determining time requirements and making the procedure “primarily a statistical problem rather than a problem of observation and measurement of particular workers”. […] The data derived from all these systems, from the crudest to the most refined, are used as the basis for engineering the “human factor” in work design. Since the accumulation of data does away with the need to time each operation, management is spared the friction that arises in such a procedure, and the worker is spared the knowledge that the motions, time, and labor cost for his or her job have been precalculated, with “humane” allowances for rest, toilet, and coffee time, before anyone was hired and perhaps even before the building was erected. […] The time values of given motion pattems are respected in management circles as “objective” and “scientific”, and bear the authority such values are presumed to carry. (Ibid, p. 117-118 & 119 & 120 & 123)

Machinery, and also the scientific organisation of labour in early 20th century with Taylorfordism, etc., are from the start designed in such a way to discipline the workers and extract the greatest surplus-value possible.

Only with the introduction of machines on a large scale do the “intellectual capacities” enhance capitalist command over labour to the highest degree, since it is then that science enters the service of capital. It is only at this level that every residue of working-class autonomy within the production of surplus disappears, and the commodity nature of labour-power presents itself without further “technical” restrictions. The capitalist objectivity of the productive mechanism with respect to the workers finds its optimal basis in the technical principle of the machine: the technically given speed, the coordination of the various phases and the uninterrupted flow of production are imposed on the will of the workers as a “scientific” necessity, and they correspond perfectly to the capitalist’s determination to suck out the maximum amount of labour-power. The capitalistic social relationship is concealed within the technical demands of machinery and the division of labour seems to be totally independent of the capitalist’s will. Rather, it seems to be the simple and necessary results of the means of labour’s “nature”. […] When the use of machinery is generalized on a wide scale and in all branches of production, capitalism at the level of direct production is despotism exercised in the name of rationality; the old “scientific” dream of perpetual motion, -i.e. of movement achieved without expenditure of labour- seems to be realized with a maximum exploitation of labour-power and the maximum submission of the worker to the capitalist. The law of surplus value finds its expression in the unification of exploitation and submission. Capital’s despotism appears as a despotism of rationality, since capital welds its constant and variable parts in their most effective operation and seems to make itself a technical necessity. […] Faced by capital’s interweaving of technology and power, the prospect of an alternative (working-class) use of machinery can clearly not be based on a pure and simple overturning of the relations of production (of property), where these are understood as a sheathing that is destined to fall away at a certain level of productive expansion simply because it has become too small. The relations of production are within the productive forces, and these have been “moulded” by capital. (Raniero Panzieri, “Surplus Value and Planning: Notes on the Reading of Capital” in The Labor Process and Class Strategies, Stage 1/Conference of Socialist Economists, 1976, p. 9 & 11 & 12)

The non-existent contradiction between productive forces and relations of production

It’s a well-known fact that many times in the history of Marxism, technological development have been fetishised, being considered as an event that can bring about quasi-automatically social transformations that culminate in communism. This narrative on the social transformations that technological development can bring about still persists in various forms, popular mainly abroad, e.g., the theories of post-capitalism and left-accelerationism. Walter Benjamin, commenting on German Social-democracy, wrote that: “There is nothing which has corrupted the German working-class so much as the opinion that they were swimming with the tide. Technical developments counted to them as the course of the stream, which they thought they were swimming in. From this, it was only a step to the illusion that the factory-labor set forth by the path of technological progress represented a political achievement” (Walter Benjamin, On the Concept of History or Theses on the Philosophy of History, §XI). This perception of the progressive (not in a generic sense, but progressive from a revolutionary standpoint) role of technological development can be traced back to Marx himself.

At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or -this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms- with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. […] No social formation is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. (Karl Marx, “A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” in MECW 29, p. 263)

These words have been repeated many times, usually forgetting that Marx had sloppily noted: “Dialectic of the concepts productive force (means of production) and relation of production, a dialectic whose boundaries are to be determined, and which does not suspend the real difference” (Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin Books, 1973, p. 109). Those who took this note seriously followed a different path from the Social-democrats. The contradiction between productive forces and relations of production wouldn’t lead to an automatic collapse of capitalism, the development of the productive forces was the key to the revolution but they wouldn’t be left at the hands of capitalists, they had to be developed by the “socialist transitional State” in order for the latter to reach the “highest phase of communist society”:

The more class-conscious vanguard of the Russian proletariat has already set itself the task of raising labour discipline. […] The Russian is a bad worker compared with people in advanced countries. […] The task that the Soviet government must set the people in all its scope is – learn to work. The Taylor system, the last word of capitalism in this respect, like all capitalist progress, is a combination of the refined brutality of bourgeois exploitation and a number of the greatest scientific achievements in the field of analysing mechanical motions during work, the elimination of superfluous and awkward motions, the elaboration of correct methods of work, the introduction of the best system of accounting and control, etc. The Soviet Republic must at all costs adopt all that is valuable in the achievements of science and technology in this field. The possibility of building socialism depends exactly upon our success in combining the Soviet power and the Soviet organisation of administration with the up-to-date achievements of capitalism. We must organise in Russia the study and teaching of the Taylor system and systematically try it out and adapt it to our own ends. At the same time, in working to raise the productivity of labour, we must take into account the specific features of the transition period from capitalism to socialism, which […] require the use of compulsion, so that the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat shall not be desecrated by the practice of a lily-livered proletarian government. (Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, “The Immediate Tasks of the Soviet Government” in Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 27, p. 258 & 259)

However, if this contradiction between productive forces and relations of production is the principal key contradiction for the abolition of capital, why is it nowhere to be found in Capital? The truth is that Marx discusses this issue: not directly, but indirectly. His analysis in Capital essentially disproves his former belief.

“From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters”. However, in Capital we see the inversion of the relation between the productive forces and the relations of production. The relations of production aren’t a form of development of the productive forces: it is the relations of production that forced the development of the productive forces. That is, it isn’t the the productive forces that shape the relations of production but it’s the relations of production that shape the productive forces: the mechanisation of production was capitalists’ reply to the limitation of the lenght of the workind-day brought about by the workers’ resistance. That is, capitalists developed the productive forces in order to maintain the already existing capitalist relations of production. In a brief remark on the transition from feudalism to capitalism, Marx wrote:

The demands of the new colonial markets could not be satisfied by the relatively small number of urban workers handed down from the Middle Ages, and the manufactures proper opened out new fields of production to the rural population which had been driven from the land by the dissolution of the feudal system. At that time, therefore, it was the positive side of the division of labour and cooperation in the workshops which emerged most clearly, i.e. the fact that they allowed the workers to be employed more productively. Long before the period of large-scale industry, co-operation and the concentration of the instruments of labour in the hands of a few people gave rise, in numerous countries where these methods were applied to agriculture, to great, sudden and forcible revolutions in the mode of production, and, as a result, in the conditions of existence and the means of employment of the rural population. But here the struggle at first takes place more between large and small landed proprietors than between capital and wage-labour; on the other hand, when labourers are displaced by the instruments of labour, by sheep, horses, etc., in that case direct acts of violence are in the first instance the pre-condition of the industrial revolution. First the labourers are driven from the land, and then the sheep arrive. Very extensive thefts of land, as perpetrated in England for instance, are the means whereby large-scale agriculture first gains a field of application. Hence this transformation in agriculture initially tends to have the appearance of a political revolution. (Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 556-557)

English economy was in trouble: it wasn’t productive enough for its self-subsistence. There wasn’t an overabundance of productive forces for which, to use Manifesto‘s wording, “the feudal relations of property became no longer compatible with” and so those relations “had to burst asunder”. On the contrary, there was a lack of productive forces and this led to the dissolution of the feudal mode of production. Only after the dissolution of the feudal mode of production, the development of the large-scale agriculture and the dispossessed swarming the cities, was the development of the productive forces possible in manufacture. “The steam-engine itself, such as it was at its invention during the manufacturing period at the close of the seventeenth century, and such as it continued to be down to 1780, did not give rise to any industrial revolution. It was, on the contrary, the invention of machines that made a revolution in the form of steam-engines necessary” (Ibid, p. 496-497). But for machines to be invented, the development of mechanics was necessary. It was in manufacture that science developed in connection with the production, ultimately leading to technological innovations as solutions for problems in production: “[T]he horse was used extensively during the infancy of large-scale industry. This is proved both by the complaints of the agronomists of that epoch and by the way of expressing mechanical force in terms of ‘horse-power’, which survives to th is day. […] In the seventeenth century attempts had already been made to turn two pairs of millstones with a single water-wheel. But the increased size of the transmitting mechanism came into conflict with the water-power, which was now insufficient, and this was one of the factors which gave the impulse for a more accurate investigation of the laws of friction. In the same way the irregularity caused by the motive power in mills that were set in motion by pushing and pulling a lever led to the theory, and the application, of the fly-wheel, which later played such an important part in large-scale industry. In this way, the first scientific and technical elements of large-scale industry were developed during the period of manufacturing” (Ibid, p. 498). And ultimately, machinery became widely used only as a reply to the shortening of the working-day: “[M]achinery does not just act as a superior competitor to the worker, always on the point of making him superfluous. It is a power inimical to him, and capital proclaims this fact loudly and deliberately, as well as making use of it. It is the most powerful weapon for suppressing strikes, those periodic revolts of the working class against the autocracy of capital. According to Gaskell, the steam-engine was from the very first an antagonist of ‘human power’, an antagonist that enabled the capitalists to tread underfoot the growing demands of the workers, which threatened to drive the infant factory system into crisis. It would be possible to write a whole history of the inventions made since 1830 for the sole purpose of providing capital with weapons against working-class revolt” (Ibid, p. 562-563).

Let’s see now another, more sophisticated, version of the contradiction between productive forces and relations of production put forward by Marx:

As with the transformation of value into capital, so does it appear in the further development of capital, that it presupposes a certain given historical development of the productive forces on one side -science too [is] among these productive forces- and, on the other, drives and forces them further onwards. […] To the degree that labour time -the mere quantity of labour- is posited by capital as the sole determinant element, to that degree does direct labour and its quantity disappear as the determinant principle of production -of the creation of use values- and is reduced both quantitatively, to a smaller proportion, and qualitatively, as an, of course, indispensable but subordinate moment, compared to general scientific labour, technological application of natural sciences, on one side, and to the general productive force arising from social combination [Gliederung] in total production on the other side – a combination which appears as a natural fruit of social labour (although it is a historic product). Capital thus works towards its own dissolution as the form dominating production. […] The theft of alien labour time, on which the present wealth is based, appears a miserable foundation in face of this new one, created by large-scale industry itself. As soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value. […] With that, production based on exchange value breaks down […] Capital itself is the moving contradiction, [in] that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. (Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Penguin Books, 1973, p. 699 & 700 & 705 & 706)

This version is articulated better: it’s not the productive forces that determine the productive relations, there’s a dialectical relation between them. The capital relation presupposes a certain development of the productive forces and then it leads to their further development. Now, the contradiction takes the following form: capital tries to replace labour with machinery, but it’s still based on the extraction of surplus-value, i.e., labour-time. As capital replaces labour with machinery, it reduces labour-time, hence it reduces the total mass of (surplus-)value: capital is undermining itself when it introduces machinery in production. Indeed, rise of the organic composition of capital (constant capital to variable capital) is “just another expression for the progressive development of the social productivity of labour” (Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3, Penguin Books, 1981, p. 318) and is connected directly with the tendency of the rate of profit to fall which, in its turn, is connected with the crises. However, “[w]ith the progressive decline in the variable capital in relation to the constant capital, this tendency leads to a rising organic composition of the total capital, and the direct result of this is that the rate of surplus-value, with the level of exploitation of labour remaining the same or even rising, is expressed in a steadily falling general rate of profit” (Ibid, p. 318-319; our italics).

The problem with the above quote from Grundrisse is that Marx hadn’t yet discovered a crucial category which he uses later in his analysis in Capital. With Marx’s own words, “the economists, without exception, have missed the simple fact that, if the commodity has the double character of use value and exchange value, then the labour represented in the commodity must also have a double character; thus the bare analysis of labour sans phrase, as in Smith, Ricardo, etc., is bound to come up against the inexplicable everywhere. This is, in fact, the whole secret of the critical conception” (Karl Marx, “Marx to Engels, 8 January 1868” in MECW 42, p. 514). What’s missing in Grundrisse is the concept of practically abstract labour. The labour-time mentioned in the above passage from the Grundrisse is referring to time that we can measure with a clock. Hence, Marx couldn’t yet grasp what he describes some years later in Capital as the condensation of labour-time that’s brought about by the intensification of labour due to the introduction of machinery in production: this condensed time cannot be measured with a clock when we compare labours of different productivity, and thus of different intensity. Marx hadn’t yet perceived that machinery can turn 1 hour, as measured by the clock, of real, concrete labour into, let’s say, 2 hours of “practically abstract” labour. The contradiction described in Grundrisse is in reality non-existent. Even the issue of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall doesn’t include a reduction of surplus-value but the complete opposite:

This law [of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall] states quite simply that as the capitalist class as a whole invests more and more heavily in machinery, and proportionally less in wages, the rate of profit will tend to decline. […] What Baran and Sweezy in Monopoly Capital have called the “tendency of the surplus to rise” is not only not contradictory to Marx’s law, but is in fact only another aspect of it. Marx was quite specific, and repeatedly so, in stating that the tendential decline in the profit rate not only can but must lead to a corresponding rise in the mass of profits, and that a decline in the profit rate must tend to increase both the rate and the mass of the surplus. (The surplus is computed only on the basis of necessary versus surplus labor time; but the profit is computed on the basis of investment in machinery also, which explains the seemingly contradictory movement of profits and surplus.) Thus in the course of capitalist development, Marx held, the capitalist class tends to realize a smaller profit rate on its investments, but the volume of profits, as well as the rate and volume of the surplus which it controls, tends to grow disproportionately faster. For example, an 18th-century manufacturer employing one thousand workers with hand tools might make a profit of fifty percent, for a mass of profit measured in a few thousands of dollars; but a modern corporation with an equal number of workers, and a multi-million-dollar investment in machinery, may make only five percent, but its profits may also be in the millions. (Martin Nicolaus, “Proletariat and Middle Class in Marx: Ηegelian Choreography and the Capitalist Dialectic”, Studies on the Left, vol. 7, no. 1, 1967, p. 35-36)

We see that Marx in the above passage from Grundrisse is generally struggling with the categories he uses, with his most problematic articulation being that “[a]s soon as labour in the direct form has ceased to be the great well-spring of wealth, labour time ceases and must cease to be its measure, and hence exchange value [must cease to be the measure] of use value” – use-value has no measure, let alone exchange-value as measure.

In the treatment of the “concept of relative surplus-value” in Chapter Twelve [in Capital], Marx speaks of the “riddle” with which one of the founders of political economy, Quesnay, had tormented his opponents and for which they owed him an answer: namely, the fact that, on the one hand, capitalists were only interested in exchange-value; but that, on the other hand, they constantly sought to lower the exchange-value of their products. Marx also could not provide an answer to this riddle in the Grundrisse. There, he had effectively named the contradiction nominated by Quesnay. But rather than resolving it, he had comprehended it as a contradiction of capital: “By striving to reduce labour time to a minimum, while, on the other hand, positing labour time as the sole measure and source of wealth, capital itself is a contradiction-in-process”. In the Grundrisse, Marx had ascribed to this “contradiction” a potential to overthrow the capitalist mode of production. In Capital, against the background of the analysis of the production of relative surplus-value, this contradiction is resolved: the capitalist is not interested in the absolute value of the commodity, but rather, merely in surplus-value contained within it and able to be realised by means of sale. And “since the same process both cheapens commodities and augments the surplus-value contained in them, we have here the solution of the following riddle: why does the capitalist, whose sole concern is to produce exchange-value, continually strive to bring down the exchange-value of commodities?”. The contradiction that had so astounded Marx in 1857-1858 in the Grundrisse that he had immediately seen the collapse of all production based upon exchange-value, is reduced in Capital in 1867 to a riddle from the history of the theory, and one which has a simple solution. (Michael Heinrich, “The ‘Fragment on Machines’: A Marxian Misconception in the Grundrisse and its Overcoming in Capital» in Bellofiore, Starosta & Thomas, eds, In Marx’s Laboratory: Critical Interpretations of the “Grundrisse”, Brill, 2013, p. 211-212).

Thus, in Capital, Marx had rejected any theory of the collapse of capitalism through technological progress, either this collapse would be automatic or being the “fuse” of a social erruption. “There exists no ‘objective’, occult factor, inherent in the characteristics of technological development or planning in the capitalist society of today, which can guarantee the ‘automatic’ transformation or ‘necessary’ overthrow of existing relations. The new ‘technical bases’ progressively attained in production provide capitalism with new possibilities for the consolidation of its power. This does not mean, of course, that the possibilities for overthrowing the system do not increase at the same time. But these possibilities coincide with the wholly subversive character which working-class ‘insubordination’ tends to assume in face of the increasingly independent ‘objective framework’ of the capitalist mechanism” (Raniero Panzieri, “The Capitalist Use of Machinery: Marx Versus the ‘Objectivists'” in Phil Slater, ed, Outlines of a Critique of Technology, p. 49).

However, even when Marx saw a connection between the development of the productive forces and the overthrowing of the relations of production, he didn’t fell into the trap of glorifying the machines: “Owing to the extensive use of machinery and to division of labour, the work of the proletarians has lost all individual character, and, consequently, all charm for the workman. He becomes an appendage of the machine, and it is only the most simple, most monotonous, and most easily acquired knack, that is required of him” (Marx & Engels, “Manifesto of the Communist Party” in MECW 6, p. 490-491). The overthrowing of the capitalist relations of production cannot merely mean the overthrowing of the capitalist relations of property. Workers cannot just occupy the capitalist factory and manage it themselves as “associated producers”, leaving it as it is. The frantic pace and monotony of capitalist production has nothing to offer for the free development of the individuals. Even if workers, occupying the factory and managing it as “associated producers”, would hold for themselves the product of their labour and it wouldn’t be expropriated by the capitalist, the labour in factory would remain gruelling and, at best, a chore. Labour process itself, the real, immediate process of how the various things are manufactured, must be transformed, therefore machinery itself must also be transformed since it bears within itself the capitalist organisation of production, in order for labour to be transformed into a field for the free expression of the individuals’ creativity. This aspect of the Marxian critique of the production process as such, is absent in many later Marxists:

The working philosophy of Marxism, as distinguished from its holiday pronouncements, focused increasingly not upon the profound inner nature of capitalism and the worker’s position within it, but upon its various conjunctural effects and crises. In particular, the critique of the mode of production gave way to the critique of capitalism as a mode of distribution. Impressed, perhaps even overawed, by the immense productivity of the labor process, baffled by its increasing scientific intricacy, participating in the struggles of workers for improvements in wages, hours, and conditions, Marxists adapted to the view of the modern factory as an inevitable if perfectible form of the organization of the labor process. […] Now the revolution against capitalism was increasingly conceived as a matter of stripping from the highly productive capitalist mechanism certain “excrescences”, improving the conditions of work, adding to the factory organization a formal structure of “workers’ control”, and replacing the capitalist mechanisms of accumulation and distribution with socialist planning. […] The similarity of Soviet and traditional capitalist practice strongly encourages the conclusion that there is no other way in which modern industry can be organized. And this conclusion had already been sufficiently encouraged the tendency of modern social science to accept all that is real as necessary, all that exists as inevitable, and thus the present mode of production as eternal. In its most complete form, this view appears as a veritable technological determinism: the attributes of modern society are seen as issuing directly from smokestacks, machine tools, and computers. We are, as a result, presented with the theory of a societas ex machina, not only a “determinism” but a despotism of the machine. (Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century, p. 8 & 9 & 11)

For our part, we aren’t aware of the historical starting point of the logic of “co-management” of the factory by the workers and the capitalists. The older example we know of are the Management Councils of Italian factories established originally in Northern Italy close the end of WWII from the National Liberation Committee of Northern Italy. These Management Councils was recognised by all Italian antifascist parties with the Decree of 25 April 1945[2]. Ferruccio Parri, the first Italian prime minister after WWII, “supported increased worker participation in the management of industry, on the pattern of the management councils” (James Wilkinson, The Intellectual Resistance in Europe, Harvard University Press, 1981, p. 226). These Management Councils were instruments of class collaboration for the national rebuilding of the economy after the war.

The theory of compensation as regards the workers displaced by machinery

Thus then is the public benefited by machinery: these mute agents are always the produce of much less labour than that which they displace, even when they are of the same money value. (David Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, p. 31)

Since machinery is a product of less labour than that which they displace, capitalists are saving money that otherwise they had to invest in wages. This now unbound capital must be invested in the production to bring profit to the capitalist, therefore some jobs may have been lost due to the introduction of machinery, but new jobs will be created due to the investment of the now unbound capital. That rhetoric is widespread.

Let us assume that a capitalist employs 100 workers at £30 a year each in a carpet factory. The variable capital annually laid out therefore amounts to £3,000. Let us then assume that he dismisses fifty of his workers, and employs the remaining fifty with machinery that costs him £1,500. To simplify matters, we take no account of buildings, coal, etc. Finally, let the raw material annually consumed cost £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 for labour-power; variable has been changed into constant capital. Other things being equal, the capital of £6,000 can now employ no more than fifty men. With each improvement in the machinery, it will employ fewer people. If the newly introduced machinery had cost less than the labour-power and implements displaced by it, if for instance instead of costing £1,500, it has cost only £1,000, a variable capital of £1,000 would have been converted into constant capital, and locked up in it, and a capital of £500 would have been set free. The latter sum, given the same annual wage-bill, would form a fund sufficient to employ about sixteen out of the fifty men dismissed, or rather less than sixteen, for, in order to be employed as capital, a part of this £500 must in its tum be transformed into constant capital, thus leaving only the remainder to be laid out in the purchase of labour-power. But suppose, in addition to this, that the making of the new machinery employs an increased number of mechanics. Can this be regarded as compensation for the carpet-makers who have been thrown on the streets? At best, the construction of the machinery will still employ fewer men than its application displaces. The sum of £1,500, which previously represented the wages of the dismissed 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 who constructed it and (3) the surplus-value falling to the share of their “master”. Moreover, the machinery need not be renewed until it is worn out. Hence, in order to keep the increased number of mechanics in constant employment, one carpet manufacturer after another must replace workers with machines. In fact the apologists for capitalism do not have in mind this sort of liberation of capital. They are thinking more of the means of subsistence of the workers who have been “set free”. It cannot be denied in the above instance that the machinery not only liberates fifty men, thus placing them at the disposal of other capitalists, but also, at the same time, withdraws from their consumption, and sets free, £1,500 worth of means of subsistence. The simple and by no means new fact that machinery sets the workers free from their means of subsistence is expressed in economic language by saying that machinery sets free means of subsistence for the workers, or converts those means of subsistence into capital with which to employ them. Everything, as you see, depends on the way things are put, it is proper to lighten evils with words. This theory implies that the £1,500 worth of means of subsistence was capital that was being valorized by the labour of the fifty men dismissed. Accordingly, the capital ceases to be employed as soon as the workers begin their forced holiday, and never rests until it has found a new “placing” in which the above-mentioned fifty can again consume it productively. On this theory, the capital and the workers must sooner or later come together again, and that is when the compensation will appear. Hence the sufferings of the workers displaced by machinery are as transient as worldly wealth. But the £1,500 worth of means of subsistence never confronted the dismissed workers as capital. This role was reserved for the sum of £1,500 later on, when it had been transformed into machinery. If we look more closely, it will be seen that the initial sum of £1,500 represented only a portion of the carpets produced in a year by the fifty dismissed men, and they received this part as wages from their employer, paid in money instead of in kind. With the carpets thus transformed into £1,500 they bought means of subsistence to the same value. These means, therefore, were to them not capital but commodities, and they, as regards these commodities, were not wage-labourers, but buyers. The circumstance that they were “set free” by the machinery from the means of purchase changed them from buyers into non-buyers. Hence a lessened demand for those commodities. Voilà tout. If this diminution of demand is not compensated for by an increase in demand from another direction, the market price of the commodities falls. If this state of things lasts for some time, and increases in extent, there follows the displacement of the workers employed in the production of those commodities. A part of the capital, which previously produced the necessary means of subsistence, is now reproduced in another form. While prices are falling, and capital is being displaced, the workers employed in the production of the necessary means of subsistence are in turn “set free” from a part of their wages. Instead, therefore, of proving that when machinery frees the worker from his means of subsistence, it simultaneously converts those means into capital for his further employment, our friends the apologists, with their well-tried law of supply and demand, prove the opposite, namely that machinery throws workers onto the streets, not only in that branch of production into which it has been introduced, but also in branches into which it has not been introduced. The real facts, which are travestied by the optimism of the economists, are these: the workers, when driven out of the workshop by the machinery, are thrown onto the labour-market. Their presence in the labour-market increases the number of labour-powers which are at the disposal of capitalist exploitation […] workers who have been thrown out of work in a given branch of industry can no doubt look for employment in another branch. If they find it, and thus renew the bond between them and the means of subsistence, this takes place only through the agency of a new, additional capital which is seeking investment, and in no way through the agency of the capital that was already functioning previously and was then converted into machinery. […] Furthermore, every branch of industry attracts each year a new stream of men, who furnish a contingent from which to fill up vacancies, and to draw a supply for expansion. As soon as machinery has set free a part of the workers employed in a given branch of industry, the reserve men are also diverted into new channels of employment, and become absorbed in other branches; meanwhile the original victims, during the period of transition, for the most part starve and perish. (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 565-568)

The emergence of the middle-class

The more the production is mechanised, the more workers are “thrown out” the production process. Then, what happens with the commodities produced in constantly increasing numbers precisely due to the mechanisation? Who consume them?

[T]he extraordinary increase in the productivity of large-scale industry, accompanied as it is by both a more intensive and a more extensive exploitation of labour-power in all other spheres of production, permits a larger and larger part of the working class to be employed unproductively. Hence it is possible to reproduce the ancient domestic slaves, on a constantly extending scale, under the name of a servant class, including men-servants, women-servants, lackeys, etc. According to the census of 1861, the population of England and Wales was 20,066,224; 9,776,259 of these were males and 10,289,965 females. If we deduct from this population, firstly, all who are too old or too young for work, all “unproductive” women, young persons and children; then the “ideological” groups, such as members of the government, priests, lawyers, soldiers, etc.; then all the people exclusively occupied in consuming the labour of others in the form of ground rent, interest, etc.; and lastly, paupers, vagabonds and criminals, there remain in round numbers eight millions of the two sexes of every age, including in that number every capitalist who is in any way engaged in industry, commerce or finance. […] All the persons employed in textile factories and in mines, taken together, number 1,208,442; those employed in textile factories and metal industries, taken together, number 1,039,605; in both cases less than the number of modern domestic slaves [1,208,648 persons]. What an elevating consequence of the capitalist exploitation of machinery! (Ibid, p. 574 & 575)

The increasing surplus due to the use of machinery leads to an increase of expenses for non-productive labour. These expenses aren’t only due to an inclination of the capitalists for luxury, like having servants. Some of these expenses are for the necessary general conditions of the capitalist society: e.g., the existence of the State, thus of various salaried bureaucrats and civil servants. In addition, the enlargement of the enterprises has as a result the enlargement of the non-productive expenses for its operation:

Right from the beginning, this office is always infinitesimally small in relation to the industrial workshop. Yet it is evident none the less that, as the scale of production is expanded, the commercial operations that the circulation of industrial capital requires are increased, both those required to sell the product in the form of commodity capital and those required to transform the money thus obtained back into means of production, as well as to keep the accounts for the whole process. Price calculation, book-keeping, fund management and correspondence are all part of this. The more the scale of production grows, the greater are industrial capital’s commercial operations, although the increase is by no means in the same proportion, and the greater also the labour and other circulation costs involved in the realization of value and surplus-value. It is necessary therefore to employ commercial workers who make up a proper commercial office. The expenditure on this, even though incurred in the form of wages, is distinct from the variable capital laid out on the purchase of productive labour. It increases the outlays of the industrial capitalist, the mass of capital he has to advance, without directly increasing the surplus-value. For this is an outlay for labour employed simply in realizing values already created. Just like other outlays of the same kind, this too reduces the rate of profit, because the capital advanced grows, but not the surplus-value […] the greater the scale of production and the greater the value and surplus-value to be realized, the greater therefore the commodity capital produced, the more, accordingly, do office expenses grow in absolute terms, even if not relatively, and provide the occasion for a particular kind of division of labour. The extent to which profit is the prerequisite for these outlays is shown among other things by the way that, as commercial salaries increase, a part of these is often paid as a percentage of the profit. (Marx, Capital, vol. 3, p. 413-414; our italics)

Through the attainment of all the more increasing surplus-value a part of which is expended to non-productive labour, and the displacement of workers by machinery, “the mass of the middle class grows and the proletariat (those who work) constitutes a constantly declining proportion (even though it increases absolutely) of the total population. This in fact is the course taken by bourgeois society” (Karl Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value, part III, Progress Publishers, 1971, p. 63). This is the result of the mechanisation of production: a constantly growing wealth is produced by a constantly declining percentage of the population, and this wealth is distributed via taxes, rents, interests, profits, salaries for non-productive labour, etc., to the rest of the population.

There are two tendencies which constantly cut across one another; to employ as little labour as possible, in order to produce the same or a greater quantity of commodities, in order to produce the same or a greater net produce, surplus value, net revenue; secondly, to employ the largest possible number of workers (although as few as possible in proportion to the quantity of commodities produced by them), because -at a given level of productive power- the mass of surplus value and of surplus produce grows with the amount of labour employed. The one tendency throws the labourers on to the streets and makes a part of the population redundant, the other absorbs them again and extends wage slavery absolutely, so that the lot of the worker is always fluctuating but he never escapes from it. The worker, therefore, justifiably regards the development of the productive power of his own labour as hostile to himself; the capitalist, on the other hand, always treats him as an element to be eliminated from production. These are the contradictions with which Ricardo struggles in this chapter. What he forgets to emphasise is the constantly growing number of the middle classes, those who stand between the workman on the one hand and the capitalist and landlord on the other. The middle classes maintain themselves to an ever increasing extent directly out of revenue, they are a burden weighing heavily on the working base and increase the social security and power of the upper ten thousand. According to the bourgeoisie the perpetuation of wage slavery through the application of machinery is a “vindication” of the latter. (MECW 32, p. 198)

Marx gave as a hint for this result of the introduction of machinery into production from the very first sentences of the chapter on machinery and large-scale industry: “John Stuart Mill says in his Principles of Political Economy: ‘It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day’s toil of any human being’. Mill should have said, ‘of any human being not fed by other people’s labour’, for there is no doubt that machinery has greatly increased the number of distinguished idlers” (Marx, Capital, vol. 1, p. 493).

Notes:
1. See Helen Nianias, “As Rental Prices Rise, Women Stay In Bad Relationships to Survive”, Broadly, 20/2/2016, at the url: https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/4xkzxq/as-rental-prices-rise-women-stay-in-bad-relationships-to-survive.
2. In 19 April 1945, the Italian National Liberation Committee called for an insurrection against the fascist regime. National Liberation Committee of Northern Italy was the Northern Italian branch of National Liberation Committee. In a few day, various regions in Italy were liberated and in 28 April Mussolini was arrested by the Italian resistance and was executed. To above-mentioned decree was issued by the National Liberation Committee.