28 September 2010

Absolute and Relative

Course on Marx's Capital: Week 17

Absolute and Relative

The three short Chapters 16, 17 and 18 of Marx’s Capital Volume 1 (download linked below) have very interesting things to say about absolute and relative Surplus-Value, and about the old political economists’ mistakes about it. Here are some of the points made by Karl Marx in these chapters:

“Capitalist production is not merely the production of commodities, it is essentially the production of surplus-value. The labourer produces, not for himself, but for capital. It no longer suffices, therefore, that he should simply produce. He must produce surplus-value. That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus-value for the capitalist, and thus works for the self-expansion of capital.”

“The production of absolute surplus-value turns exclusively upon the length of the working-day; the production of relative surplus-value, revolutionises out and out the technical processes of labour, and the composition of society. It therefore pre-supposes a specific mode, the capitalist mode of production, a mode which, along with its methods, means, and conditions, arises and develops itself spontaneously on the foundation afforded by the formal subjection of labour to capital. In the course of this development, the formal subjection is replaced by the real subjection of labour to capital.”

“Assuming that labour-power is paid for at its value, we are confronted by this alternative: given the productiveness of labour and its normal intensity, the rate of surplus-value can be raised only by the actual prolongation of the working-day; on the other hand, given the length of the working-day, that rise can be effected only by a change in the relative magnitudes of the components of the working-day, viz., necessary labour and surplus-labour; a change which, if the wages are not to fall below the value of labour-power, presupposes a change either in the productiveness or in the intensity of the labour.”

“Bourgeois economists instinctively saw, and rightly so, that it is very dangerous to stir too deeply the burning question of the origin of surplus-value.”

“Capital, therefore, is not only, as Adam Smith says, the command over labor. It is essentially the command over unpaid labor. All surplus-value, whatever particular form (profit, interest, or rent), it may subsequently crystallize into, is in substance the materialization of unpaid labor. The secret of the self-expansion of capital resolves itself into having the disposal of a definite quantity of other people's unpaid labor.”

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22 September 2010


Course on Marx's Capital: Week 16


Karl Marx begins this great chapter 15 of Capital, Volume 1, on “Machinery and Modern Industry”, (download linked below) by developing the idea of division of labour in manufacture, into the division of processes among machines.

“A real machinery system, however, does not take the place of these independent machines, until the subject of labour goes through a connected series of detail processes, that are carried out by a chain of machines of various kinds, the one supplementing the other. Here we have again the co-operation by division of labour that characterises Manufacture; only now, it is a combination of detail machines.”

“As soon as a machine executes, without man's help, all the movements requisite to elaborate the raw material, needing only attendance from him, we have an automatic system of machinery, and one that is susceptible of constant improvement in its details.”

“Modern Industry had therefore itself to take in hand the machine, its characteristic instrument of production, and to construct machines by machines. It was not till it did this, that it built up for itself a fitting technical foundation, and stood on its own feet. Machinery, simultaneously with the increasing use of it, in the first decades of this century, appropriated, by degrees, the fabrication of machines proper. But it was only during the decade preceding 1866, that the construction of railways and ocean steamers on a stupendous scale called into existence the cyclopean machines now employed in the construction of prime movers.”

“Modern Industry raises the productiveness of labour to an extraordinary degree, [but] it is by no means equally clear, that this increased productive force is not, on the other hand, purchased by an increased expenditure of labour. Machinery, like every other component of constant capital, creates no new value, but yields up its own value to the product that it serves to beget.”

The last paragraph of Section 3 is one of the most memorable and shocking in the whole of Capital, Volume 1, and the long last paragraph of Section 4 is a denunciation of the horrors of the factory system.

Section 5 shows the brutal effect of machinery on the working class from the beginning of machine-working, which effects have been felt all along and still are felt today, two centuries after the “industrial revolution”. Marx was an eye-witness to a great expansion of this system and a true witness of its terrible consequences for the working class.

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15 September 2010

Division of Labour

Course on Marx's Capital: Week 15

Division of Labour

Karl Marx makes use of the original distinction between Manufacture, meaning organised co-operation of many workers in a single workshop, and Industrial Production, which is the same, but with powered machinery. In modern usage, this distinction is not always clear. So, Marx begins this chapter thus:

“That co-operation which is based on division of labour, assumes its typical form in manufacture, and is the prevalent characteristic form of the capitalist process of production throughout the manufacturing period properly so called. That period, roughly speaking, extends from the middle of the 16th to the last third of the 18th century.”

The rest of Section 1 of this chapter is a description of division of labour in the early form of capitalism: Manufacture.

Then, in Section 2, Marx describes the effect on an individual or “detail labourer”, and on production, as a consequence of division of labour.

In Section 3, Marx looks at the gain that is made when serial production can be achieved, as opposed to batch or individual piece production.

“The different detail processes, which were successive in time, have become simultaneous, go on side by side in space. Hence, production of a greater quantum of finished commodities in a given time. [11] This simultaneity, it is true, is due to the general co-operative form of the process as a whole; but Manufacture not only finds the conditions for co-operation ready to hand, it also, to some extent, creates them by the sub-division of handicraft labour. On the other hand, it accomplishes this social organisation of the labour-process only by riveting each labourer to a single fractional detail.”

In Section 4, Marx compares division of labour in a factory, with division of labour in society.

Section 5 is a readable essay on division of labour as treated by the bourgeois Political Economists, including Adam Smith.

In short, this is another chapter of “Capital” that you can conquer without difficulty.

Image: Walter Crane was a 19th-century artist who illustrated many socialist pamphlets. This work was done for May Day, the Workers’ Day, in 1895.

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08 September 2010


Course on Marx's Capital: Week 14


Chapters 11, 12 and 23 of Capital, Volume 1 (download linked below) which follow the enormous Chapter 10, are short, and require little introduction, because they are straightforward.

They are plain enough to provide plenty of material for study-circle discussion, especially if there are people with work-experience present.

The following two excerpts demonstrate how well Karl Marx understood the workplace.

The co-operation Marx writes about here is co-operation in general, whereby people work together under a capitalist.

Rate and Mass of Surplus Value

“Within the process of production, capital acquired the command over labour, i.e., over functioning labour-power or the labourer himself. Personified capital, the capitalist takes care that the labourer does his work regularly and with the proper degree of intensity.

“Capital further developed into a coercive relation, which compels the working-class to do more work than the narrow round of its own life wants prescribes. As a producer of the activity of others, as a pumper-out of surplus labour and exploiter of labour-power, it surpasses in energy, disregard of bounds, recklessness and efficiency, all earlier systems of production based on directly compulsory labour.

“At first, capital subordinates labour on the basis of the technical conditions in which it historically finds it. It does not, therefore, change immediately the mode of production. The production of surplus value — in the form hitherto considered by us — by means of simple extension of the working day, proved, therefore, to be independent of any change in the mode of production itself. It was not less active in the old-fashioned bakeries than in the modern cotton factories.”


“When numerous labourers work together side by side, whether in one and the same process, or in different but connected processes, they are said to co-operate.”

“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.”

“The directing motive, the end and aim of capitalist production, is to extract the greatest possible amount of surplus-value, [14] and consequently to exploit labour-power to the greatest possible extent. As the number of the co-operating labourers increases, so too does their resistance to the domination of capital, and with it, the necessity for capital to overcome this resistance by counterpressure. The control exercised by the capitalist is not only a special function, due to the nature of the social labour-process, and peculiar to that process, but it is, at the same time, a function of the exploitation of a social labour-process, and is consequently rooted in the unavoidable antagonism between the exploiter and the living and labouring raw material he exploits.”

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03 September 2010

African Revolutionary Writers

African Revolutionary Writers

Comrades of the CU Africa Forum,

I am compiling a new series on African Revolutionary Writers.

It will be channelled through the CU Africa Forum in due course. First, it will go out as work-in-progress to the Communist University list (read it on the blog if you wish, here).

Please send any suggestions of other authors to include, and if possible, texts, be they articles, speeches, links to pages on the Internet, or text files.

Here is the African Revolutionary Writers list as it is at present. Click on the names for further information (mostly from Wikpedia).

Main Candidate Text
1745 - 1797
Interesting Life of Olaudah Equiano
1743 - 1803
Haiti Constitution
1818 - 1895
My Bondage and My Freedom
1876 - 1932
Native Life in South Africa
1903 - 1959
What Must Be Done?
1905 - 1978
Cradock Letter
1901 - 1989
Notes on Dialectics
1918 - 1970
Memoirs of 1st Palestine War
1898 - 1976
Here I Stand
1868 - 1963
Africa in Battle Against Colonialism
1898 - 1967
Peace Prize acceptance
1923 - 2007
God’s Bits of Wood
1925 - 1961
Speech in front of Baudouin
1925 - 1961
The Wretched of the Earth
1910 - 2001
The Peasants Revolt
1909 - 1972
Neo-Colonialism, Last Stage of Imperialism
1911 - 1994
Not Yet Uhuru
1929 - 1968
Beyond Vietnam
1939 -
The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born
1920 - 1969
The Struggle for Mozambique
1917 - 1993
Speeches ex ANC web site
1925 - 1965
By Any Means Necessary
1925 - 1985
In the Fog of the Season’s End
1938 -
1911 - 1986
Strategy for a Black Agenda
1942 - 1980
How Europe Undeveloped Africa
1922 - 1979
Sacred Hope
1922 - 1999
Freedom and Development
1933 - 1986
Sowing the Seeds of Revolution
1922 - 1984
Strategy and tactics of the revolution
1946 - 1977
I Write What I Like
1924 - 1973
Unity and Struggle
1923 - 1986
Civilisation or Barbarism
1944 -
Women, Race and Class
1925 - 1982
Mozambican Miner: Proletarian and Peasant
1955 - 1991
Cooking the rice inside the pot
1949 - 1987
Thomas Sankara Speaks
1920 -
Coloniser and colonised
1947 -
Citizen and Subject
1946 -
The Struggle for Democracy
1931 -
The American Ideology
1918 -
Liberation still unachieved
1942 -
The One-State Solution

Image: Amilcar Cabral

01 September 2010

All bounds broken down

Course on Marx's Capital: Week 13

All bounds broken down

In the last three sections of Chapter 10 of Capital, Volume 1, Karl Marx is concerned to show the unrestrained pressure for the “unnatural extension of the working day”.

“Capital cares nothing for the length of life of labour-power. All that concerns it is simply and solely the maximum of labour-power, that can be rendered fluent in a working-day. It attains this end by shortening the extent of the labourer's life, as a greedy farmer snatches increased produce from the soil by robbing it of its fertility,” says Marx.

In a notable aside in Section 5 on slavery, Marx remarks: “once trading in slaves is practiced, become reasons for racking to the uttermost the toil of the slave; for, when his place can at once be supplied from foreign preserves, the duration of his life becomes a matter of less moment than its productiveness while it lasts. It is accordingly a maxim of slave management, in slave-importing countries, that the most effective economy is that which takes out of the human chattel in the shortest space of time the utmost amount of exertion it is capable of putting forth.”

Marx uses this remark on slavery to compare with capital, which he finds equally careless of life, and narrates how workers were terrorised into accepting these terrible conditions.

In Section 6, Marx records: “After capital had taken centuries in extending the working-day to its normal maximum limit, and then beyond this to the limit of the natural day of 12 hours, [98] there followed on the birth of machinism and modern industry in the last third of the 18th century, a violent encroachment like that of an avalanche in its intensity and extent. All bounds of morals and nature, age and sex, day and night, were broken down.”

This is the Section that contains Marx’s account of the Chartists, some of whom he had befriended, and of their campaign for a Ten Hour Day.

At the beginning of Section 7 Marx writes, in case we should forget: “The reader will bear in mind that the production of surplus-value, or the extraction of surplus-labour, is the specific end and aim, the sum and substance, of capitalist production, quite apart from any changes in the mode of production, which may arise from the subordination of labour to capital.” This section, two pages long, summarises the chapter on The Working Day, while also mentioning the US agitation for the 8 Hour Day, and the support it got from the International Working Men’s Association (the First International) of which Marx had been the founding Secretary.

The Working Day is a readable, prose chapter. Anyone can understand it.

Image: Johnson and Johnson factory, USA, 1886

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