The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx

9. Division of Labour and Manufacture

(1) The Two-fold Origin of Manufacture; its Elements; the Detail Worker and his Tool

IN the first part of this book we were able to use, as the basis of our exposition, Marx’s Contribution to the Criticism of Political Economy and also, to some extent, his Wage Labour and Capital, in addition to Capital. Apart from Capital itself, we shall draw upon Marx’s Poverty of Philosophy, especially section 2 of the second chapter, entitled Division of Labour and Machines, with regard to this and the following chapters, which deal with the division of labour and manufacture, machinery and modern industry.

The literature dealing with the disadvantages to the worker which are involved in the division of labour in capitalist manufacture is discussed more fully in The Poverty of Philosophy than in Capital.

The above-mentioned section 2, therefore, forms not only a precursor, but also a supplement to the two chapters of Capital, which have now to be taken into consideration. In our opinion, they occupy the highest position among all the writings of Marx, and, unfortunately, do not receive the attention they deserve from most of the readers of Capital.

First of all we have to consider manufactures, “that industry which is not yet the modern large industry with its machines, but is no longer either the industry of the Middle Ages or home industry” (Poverty of Philosophy). As the characteristic form of the capitalist process of production, it prevailed on the whole from about the middle of the sixteenth until towards the end of the eighteenth century. [1]

Its origin is of a twofold nature. On the one hand, capital finds in existence products which have to pass through the hands of various artisans before they are finished. Thus a coach passes out of the hands of the frame-maker into those of the saddler, the upholsterer, the painter, the glazier, etc. In the plane of the various kinds of independent craftsmen, the capitalist puts wage workers belonging to these branches of labour, who systematically co-operate in the building of a coach in a common workshop.

But manufacture also develops on opposite lines. The capitalist assembles a number of workers who all produce a similar product, for example, a pin-maker in a workshop. To each of them is assigned all the successive processes necessary for the manufacture of the product. As soon as a larger number of workers came to be employed in this way, it led naturally to a distribution of the various processes among the various workers. On the one hand, manufacture arose through the combination of various independent handicrafts, on the other, through the division of the various processes of a handicraft among various workers.

Whether, however, the process which is temporarily assigned to the worker in manufactures was formerly the independent process of a special handicraft or arose from splitting up the processes of a handicraft, handicraft always formed its foundation, not only historically, but also technically. It remains an essential condition that every single operation is executed by the human hand. Alike in manufacture as in handicraft the success of the work is essentially dependent upon the skill, reliability and despatch of the individual worker.

But there is an immense distinction between the worker engaged in handicraft and the worker engaged in manufacture. The variety of processes which marks the former gives place in manufacture to the simplicity and monotony of processes which the worker executes day in and day out, year in and year out. The worker is no longer a deliberate, independent producer, but an independent part of a great labour mechanism.

The dexterity of the worker is, of course, enormously increased in the restricted sphere in which he moves. He discovers all kinds of tricks of the trade, passes them on to his colleagues, and learns others from them. The change of position and of tools involved in the variety of labour causes a waste of time and labour-power; this is obviated in the case of the detail worker in manufacture, who continuously works in the same place with the same tool. On the other hand, change of activity brings recuperation and stimulation which the detail worker lacks.

The division of labour in manufacture not only develops the dexterity of the worker, it also brings about a perfecting of his tools. A tool which is to serve for the most various processes cannot be perfectly adapted to each of these; a tool that is exclusively employed upon a particular process can be adapted to this and thereby rendered much more effective than the former tools.

All these circumstances bring about an appreciable increase in the productivity of labour in manufacture as compared with handicraft.

(2) The Two Fundamental Forms of Manufacture

So far we have considered the twofold origin of manufacture and its simple elements, the detail worker and his tool. Let us now turn to its aspect as a whole.

Manufacture possesses two fundamental forms essentially different from each other, which are determined by the nature of the product. The latter is either composed of a series of independent partial products, or is formed by a series of manipulations and processes intimately connected with each other, all of which, however, are successively applied to the same subject of labour.

We may use a famous example to illustrate each of these two fundamental forms of manufacture. Sir William Petty quoted watch-making, which belongs to the first of the fundamental forms of manufacture, to illustrate the division of labour in manufacture. The watch was originally the product of the labour of one worker, who manufactured it himself from start to finish. When watch-making became subject to the conditions of capitalist enterprise, the manufacture of each constituent part of the watch was assigned to a special detail worker, and likewise its putting together. Thus there were main-spring-makers, dial-makers, case-makers, pin-makers, pivot-makers, etc., and finally the repasseur, who puts the whole watch together and sets it going.

An example of the second fundamental form of manufacture has been given us by Adam Smith in his famous description of pin-making as carried on in his time. “One man draws out the wire,” he says, “another straightens it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is a peculiar business; to whiten the pins is another, it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands” (The Wealth of Nations, Chap.I).

The single pin successively passes through the hands of various detail workers; but these workers are all busy at the same time. In a pin factory pins are simultaneously drawn, straightened, pierced, pointed, etc.) in short, the various operations which the handicraft worker has to perform successively are performed simultaneously in the factory. It is thus possible to turn out more commodities in the same period. In manufacture a productive power is also gained as compared with handicraft, a gain which springs from its co-operative character. But a limitation still attaches to manufacture; whether it be the first kind, which we have illustrated by watch-making, or the second kind, for which we found an example in pin-making, the product or its constituent parts have to be transported from one hand to another, which involves time and labour. The limitation is only overcome in modern industry.

By means of this transport from hand to another one worker supplies another with his raw material, one worker therefore employs another. Thus, for example, the worker who has to place the heads on the pins cannot do this unless a sufficient quantity of pins ready for this operation are supplied to him. If, therefore, the whole of the work is to proceed without interruption, the necessary labour-time for the production of a certain product in a branch of detail labour must be fixed, and a numerical proportion established among the workers employed in each of these branches. If for instance, the pin-cutter can cut an average of 1,000 pins an hour, while the worker who puts the heads on can only finish 200 pins in the same time, two pin-cutters must be employed in order to keep 10 head-fixers busy. On the other hand, the capitalist who engages one pin-cutter must also employ five head-fixers, if he wishes to make the fullest use of the labour-power of the former. If he decides to extend his business, the number of additional workers he must engage is not an arbitrary one, if he wants to utilise their labour-power to the utmost. To keep to our example; if he employs another pin-cutter, he will only derive a corresponding advantage if he employs five, and not three or four, additional head-fixers.

The manufacture of a commodity is the labour-time socially necessary therefor is, as we know, a requirement of commodity production in general; it is enforced by competition. With the development of capitalist manufacture, however, the production of a specific quantity of products within the socially-necessary labour-time also becomes a technical necessity.

If the artisan works quicker or slower than is socially necessary, this affects the earnings from his work, but does not render the latter impossible. In capitalist manufacture the whole labour process comes to a standstill whenever production deviates from the rule in a branch of detail labour. But we have seen above that the simultaneous employment of a large number of workers upon the same work reduces their labour to average labour.

It is therefore not until production is conducted on capitalist lines that the individual commodity producer (the capitalist) produces as a rule with socially-necessary average labour, and must do so. It is only under the capitalist mode of production that the law of commodity value is in full operation.

With manufacture machines begin here and there to be employed; at this period, however, they only play a subsidiary part. The principal apparatus of manufacture remains the body of detail workers, each of whom resembles a cog or wheel in a machine. Under the manufacturing system the worker is, in fact, only a part of a human machine which has to operate as steadily and systematically as a real machine. If the machine is composed of more or less complicated parts, the various detail processes require more or less skilled workers, whose labour-power consequently possesses more or less value. When pin-making was still carried on as a handicraft, the same degree of skill was required for each pin-maker, and consequently the value of the labour-power of each of them was on the whole the same and comparatively high. When pin-making was absorbed in the manufacturing system, it was split up into detail processes which required considerable practice and others which could be acquired with ease. The labour-power of those which required a long time in which to achieve the necessary facility had, of course, a much higher value than that of those which were easily mastered. Thus there arose “a hierarchy of labour-powers, which corresponded to a scale of wages.”

The table on page 139, taken from Babbage (On the Economy of Machinery and Manufacture, London 1835), shows very clearly the hierarchical arrangement of the various rates of wages, and the technical necessity of adapting the number of workers to the nature of every process, and enforcing the average necessary labour-time. The table exhibits the conditions of a small English pin-maker at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

At the lowest rung of this ladder are those who perform tasks of which any person is capable without special experience and preparation. Such simple tasks occur in every production process; in handicraft they form a change from complicated activities; in manufacture they become the continuous and uninterrupted occupation of a special class of people, who are now distinguished as unskilled workers from skilled workers.

Name of Process

Workers

Daily Wage

 

s.

d.

Pin-drawer

One man

3

   3   

Straightening the pin

One woman

1

   0   

One girl

0

   6   

Pointing

One man

5

   3   

Preparing the heads

One man

5

   4½

One boy

0

   4½

Fitting the heads

One woman

1

   3   

Whitening

One man

6

   0   

One woman

3

   0   

Putting in Paper

One woman

1

   6   

The wages therefore vary between 4½d. and 6s.

Almost every worker in manufacture has a shorter period of apprenticeship to undergo than that of the handicraftsman of the corresponding branch of industry. The latter has to learn all the processes that are necessary for the fabrication of the product of his business, while in the former case, each worker has to learn only one or a few of such processes. In the case of the unskilled worker, the expense of apprenticeship is entirely saved.

Thus the value of labour-power falls under the manufacturing system, and consequently the labour-time necessary for the maintenance of the worker falls. With an unaltered working-day, the duration of surplus-labour is prolonged, and the relative surplus-value increases.

But the worker is crippled physically and intellectually; his work loses all meaning and interest for him; he himself becomes an appendage of capital.

Note

[1] The word manufacture is formed of the Latin words manus (hand) and factus (made, completed). One of the most important branches of industry to be dominated by manufacture was the working-up of fibrines, such as wool, cotton, and the like. Consequently, the workplaces of the textile industry are still called manufactures, although they do not fall within the province of manufacture, but are carried on with machines.