The Economic Doctrines of Karl Marx

8. Co-operation

IN a preceding chapter we have shown that the employment of wage workers alone is not enough to become a capitalist in the full sense of the word. The employer of wage workers only becomes a capitalist when the mass of surplus-value created by them is large enough to assure him a comfortable income and to increase his wealth, without his being obliged to put his own shoulder to the wheel. This presupposes the simultaneous employment of a number of workers which far surpasses the limits assigned by guild handicraft. “A greater number of labourers working together, at the same time, in one place (or, if you will, in the same field of labour), in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the mastership of one capitalist, constitutes, both historically and logically, the starting point of capitalist production.”

The distinction between the capitalist and the handicraft mode of production is therefore at first only one of degree, not of kind. Whether I employ three cloth weavers at three looms or thirty weavers at thirty similar looms in the same room and at the same time, would at first seem only to involve the distinction that in the latter case ten times as much value and surplus-value is created as in the former.

But the employment of the larger number involves still further distinctions. In the first place, we may recall the law of numbers. Individual peculiarities are all the more marked the fewer the persons concerned, whereas they tend to disappear in the degree that we are concerned with mass phenomena. If I wanted to learn the average length of life of a man, I should probably be liable to error if I calculated it from the length of life of five or six persons. I could, however, be pretty sure of approximating to the truth if I calculated it from the length of life of about a million persons.

Similarly, the individual differences between workers are much more marked if I employ only 3 than if I employ 30. In the latter case the greater output of the good and the lesser output of the bad cancel each other, and an average amount of work is performed. According to Burke, with the simultaneous employment of 5 field labourers, all individual differences disappear, and consequently any given 5 adult farm labourers taken together will, in the same time, do as much work as any other 5.

For the small master it is a matter of chance whether his workers perform average social labour. Only in the case of the capitalist is it possible for the labour he sets in motion to be average social labour.

The simultaneous employment of many workers at the same place brings with it still further advantages. I do not have to pay ten times more for the erection of a workplace in which 30 weavers weave than for that of a shed in which only 3 weave. Nor does a warehouse for 100 bales of wool cost ten times as much as one for 10 bales, etc. Consequently the value of the constant capital, which reappears in the product, diminishes, other things being equal, in inverse ratio to the number of workers employed in a given labour process. This is accompanied by a growth of the surplus-value in proportion to the total capital advanced, and a decline in the value of the product, and also, under the circumstances discussed in the previous chapter, in the value of labour-power. In this case the surplus-value also grows in relation to the variable capital.

The simultaneous employment of many workers at the same place for the achievement of a definite result leads to their systematic working together, to co-operation. This creates a new social productive power, which is more than and different from the sum total of the individual units of labour-power of which it consists.

The new power is mass power from the start; it renders many labour processes possible which were not practicable or only incompletely so under previous conditions. Thirty men easily lift a tree in a few moments at which three men would vainly exert themselves the whole day.

Co-operation also makes possible the performance of work for which, not mass power, but the concentration of the greatest possible amount of effort within a short period is necessary; this is the case, for example, with the harvest.

Even where neither a great volume of power nor its spatial or temporal concentration is required, co-operation has a beneficial effect; it raises the productivity of labour. Every one is familiar with the way in which the building stones are despatched to the scaffolding in the building of a house; a chain of workers is formed, each of whom passes the stones to his neighbour. In consequence of this systematic co-operation, the building stones perform their journeys much more quickly than if they were carried up to the scaffolding by the individual workers.

Finally, it should not be overlooked that man is a social animal, that his intellectual life is animated by social activity, and that ambition and emulation come into play. Thus the social labour progresses more quickly, and the output is correspondingly greater than that of isolated workers.

Under the capitalist system wage workers can only co-operate if their labour-power is purchased by one and the same capitalist. The more labour-power there is to be purchased, the more variable capital is necessary; the more wage workers to be employed, the greater the quantity of raw materials, of tools, which they will use, and therefore the greater will be the amount of constant capital that is necessary. Consequently, the realisation of a certain degree of co-operation presupposes a certain magnitude of capital. The latter now becomes a prerequisite of the capitalist mode of production.

co-operation is not peculiar to the capitalist mode of production alone. We saw that it existed, in primitive forms among the Indians. It was clear to us that their systematic working together in the business of hunting required a systematic direction. This is necessary for all social labour, in whatever form it may be carried on. Under the capitalist mode of production the direction of production necessarily becomes a function of capital. Even in this investigation is revealed to us the fruitfulness of the Marxian distinction of the double sided character of commodity-producing labour. Corresponding to this double-sided character, under the capitalist mode of production, the production process is, as we have seen, a combination of labour-process and value-breeding process. So far as the production-process appears as a labour-process, the capitalist figures as the director of production, and the function which ho performs appears to be one which would. be more or less necessary under any social labour-process. But in so far as it is a value-breeding process, the capitalist production-process is based on the antagonism of the interests of capital and labour, as has already been demonstrated in respect of the working-day. If the value-breeding process is to proceed undisturbed in the manner desired, it involves the subjection of the worker and the despotic rule of the capitalist. Value-breeding process and labour process, however, form two different sides of one and the same process, of the capitalist process of production, and consequently the direction of production and the despotic rule of capital over the worker also seem inseparable. As the former is a technical necessity, bourgeois economy tolls us that the rule of capital over labour is a technical necessity imposed by the nature of things, that with the abolition of the rule of capital, production itself, so far as it is a social process, would be destroyed, and that the rule of capital is a natural and necessary prerequisite of civilisation!

Even Rodbertus declared that, as directors of production, the capitalists were officials of society and entitled to receive a salary. But as the capitalist only causes use values to be produced because he cannot obtain possession of values in any other manner, the direction of production is for him nothing but a necessary evil, which he only undertakes because it is inseparably connected with the breeding-properties of his capital. He evades this evil where he can without jeopardising the surplus-value. If his undertaking is large enough, he transfers its management to subordinates. Sometimes he employs other methods to escape from the direction of production. During the cotton crisis at the beginning of the eighteen-sixties, for example, the English cotton spinners shut their factories in order to gamble an the Cotton Exchange, and extract their “salary” from these operations. The assertion that the capitalists deserve to be paid for their direction of production reminds us of the youngster who saw a tree full of splendid apples, which he could not reach without climbing a high wall. The apples were so seductive that he undertook the labour of climbing the wall, in which he succeeded after much toil. He was just enjoying the apples when the owner of the orchard came and inquired what right he had to take the apples. “I have honestly earned them,” answered the boy, “they are the payment for the hard work of climbing the wall.” Just as the boy can only reach the apples by way of the wall, so as a rule the capitalist can only obtain surplus-value by way of directing production.

Another strange idea which is to be found in economic books should here be rejected. As we have previously assumed, the capitalist buys each unit of labour-power at its full value. But in the course of the systematic co-operation of the total labour-power which he purchases, a new productive force is developed. It produces more than if each of its units were employed on its own account. The capitalist does not pay for this new productive power. It has nothing to do with the commodity-value of labour-power, it forms a peculiarity of its use-value. It is not until during the labour process that this new force manifests itself, and therefore not until after the commodity labour-power has passed into the possession of the capitalist, after it has become capital. Consequently, it seems to the capitalists and their advocates as if this increase in the productivity of labour is not to be ascribed to labour, but to capital. “Because the social productive power of labour costs capital nothing, and because, on the other hand, the labourer himself does not develop it before his labour belongs to capital, it appears as a power with which capital is endowed by Nature.”

As already mentioned, co-operation is not peculiar to the capitalist mode of production. Social, common production was a feature of the primitive communism which is found in the cradle of the human race. Originally agriculture was co-operative, carried on in common. The assignment of land to particular families was only a later development. In the first part we have given instances of co-operation among the Red Indians and the Indians.

The development of commodity production destroyed this primitive co-operation. Although commodity production widened the circle of those who work for one another, working with one another essentially ceased, except under the form of compulsory labour, the labour of slaves, serfs, or subjects for their lords.

Capital, which arises in opposition to the isolation and dispersion of forces incident to peasant economy and handicraft, again develops co-operation, common social work. co-operation is the basic form of the capitalist mode of production, its peculiar historic form within commodity production. Capital strives more and more to develop social production, it unfolds ever higher forma of co-operation: manufacture, the great industry. Its object in doing so is to increase the sum of surplus value. But without wishing to do so, it prepares in this way the ground for a new and higher form of production.

Handicraft commodity production was based on the dispersion and isolation of business; a capitalist business, on the other hand, is based upon the combination of labour, upon social common production. Handicraft commodity production presupposes the existence of many small independent commodity producers; the capitalist business, based on co-operation, implies the absolute authority of the capitalist over the individual workers.

In the first part we have considered primitive co-operation and division of labour in the light of two examples; we have traced the rise of commodity production; now we see developing the capitalist mode of production, which is commodity production and co-operative production at the same time.

If capitalist commodity production is distinguished from handicraft commodity production through the concentration of the business and the organisation of common social labour, capitalist co-operation, on the other hand, is distinguished from the primitive communistic co-operation by the absolute authority of the capitalist, who is at the same time the director of production and the owner of the means of production, and who also receives the products of the co-operative labour which, under primitive co-operation, went to the workers themselves.

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