August 6, 2008

Throw it on a fire

I'm trying to catch up by posting on a chapter a day as often as possible (so..not always everyday).

Marx continues in chapter thirteen to speak about the transformation from individual laborers to capitalist production (historical? logical?) and a dichotomy that is best captured in this quote from chapter eleven:
Here, as in natural science, is shown the correctness of the law discovered by Hegel, in his Logic, that at a certain point merely quantitative differences pass over by a dialectical inversion into qualitative distinctions (423).
Again, I'm going to bracket the terms Hegel and dialectics for another time and for someone else to talk about

----> [Hegel] [dialectical inversion]

Instead, I just want to point out that Marx seems to say that yes one can speak of the limits of capitalist production as passing over a quantitative threshold, but eventually we also have to pay attention to how that affects the work itself, qualitatively, and why ten workers in cooperation will make more than ten workers individually. So, the qualitative and quantitative.

The qualitative of course comes out strongly in Marx's description of the animality and sociality that comes with factory labor, which turns the workers from a collection of individuals into a collective whole, like an army which requires sergeants and generals to guide them en masse (not exactly sure what 'en masse' means). Here's a good example:
Whether the combined working-day, in a given case, acquires this increased productive power, because it heightens the mechanical force of labour, or extends its sphere of action over a greater space, or contracts the field of production relatively to the scale of production, or at the critical moment sets large masses of labour to work, or excites emulation between individuals and raises their animal spirits, or impresses on the similar operations carried on by a number of men the stamp of continuity and many-sidedness, or performs simultaneously different operations, or economises the means of production by use in common, or lends to individual labour the character of average social labour whichever of these be the cause of the increase, the special productive power of the combined working-day is, under all circumstances, the social productive power of labour, or the productive power of social labour. This power is due to co-operation itself. When the labourer co-operates systematically with others, he strips off the fetters of his individuality, and develops the capabilities of his species (447).
Again, Marx, a humanist. He thinks there is some foundational value in labor, something like species-being, which appeared in his earlier work but only pops up periodically in the present text. Marx emphasizes that this new collective creation, rather than being multi-headed or lead by one of the workers themselves, is in advance appropriated by capital. Formally, of course, having bought the workers' labour-power in advance, capital appears to rightfully own the fruits of the cooperation process. As Marx talked about in chapter six, a temporal ruse is played wherein the worker is forced to give up any claim on its labor's use-value and only settle for wages, that is, its exchange-value.

Significantly, he notes on page 449 that because the logic of capital knows that the more workers, the more productivity, it will demand more workers, and as more workers are united, the more they will need to be disciplined. In other words, we begin to get some hints of class struggle and labor politics, as opposed to an exclusive focus on the capitalist class as the only active agent in this narrative.

The quantitative stuff is directly addressed on the first page (439), where he speaks of the first capitalist production being one where manufacture merely grows out of handicraft trades, distinguished only "by the greater number of workers simultaneously employed by the same individual capital. It is merely an enlargement of the workshop of the master craftsman of the guilds" (439). And then the qualitative stuff kicks in.

What I'm interested with this quantitative stuff, though, is not the quantitative part itself but rather what is going on at this early, early stage, which is when Marx sets the point at which capitalism tears itself apart from non-capitalist production. As he says, "a large number of workers working together, at the same time, in one place ... in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the command of the same capitalist, constitutes the starting-point of capitalist production. This is true both historically and conceptually" (439).

This quote seems to confirm what we discussed a million times so far, that Marx's text is crazy obsessed with history without, at the same time, being a purely historical text but rather one trying to figure the fuck out what is the logic of the temporal progression of capitalist production. Capitalist production, which, remember, was more or less incredibly, intensely developed by the time Marx starting writing Capital, which means he was in a similar boat we are in.

And even though capitalist production becomes far more complicated than the initial manufacture trades, Marx wants to emphasize that machinery, division of labor and all the other techniques are ephemeral (remember, competition), and the only real lasting foundation that signifies capitalist production is cooperation, or, scale of production. It remains because, deep down, that is the base: "Co-operation remains the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production" (454). So, although concerned with the historical developments of machinery and rationalization of production in his time, Marx is not a technological determinist, even though he may be sort of an economic one. It's important to remember that capitalist production is above all marked by its social formation, not by its technical components.

Final note, and this is a quote that I completely missed while reading but only noticed from listening to the Harvey. On page 448, we see the first traces of a distinction that becomes sort of a big deal in later debates: the distinction between formal and real subsumption. The connection to the rest of the chapter, or chapters, is that there seems to be a temporal movement from formal to real subsumption. The formal part sort of sits somewhere between the quantitative to qualititative movement, and real subsumption is the final stage of social reification. I guess in my mind it looks like this:

quantitative enlargement --> formal subsumption (selling of labour-power) --> qualitative structural changes (division of labor, animality kicks in, etc.) --> real subsumption (total discipline of work force, worker becomes only an extension of the logic of capital)

Anyway here's the quote:
We also saw that at first, the subjection of labour to capital was only a formal result of the fact, that the labourer, instead of working for himself, works for and consequently under the capitalist. By the co-operation of numerous wage-labourers, the sway of capital develops into a requisite for carrying on the labour-process itself, into a real requisite of production. That a capitalist should command on the field of production, is now as indispensable as that a general should command on the field of battle (448).

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