The Dirty Roots of Capitalism
Marx’s description of the origins of capitalism is a systematic process of alienation of the worker from the means of production, preventing you from consuming what you produce without the interface of the market.
This is a process that is ever expanding, reaching into new markets and colonies and offshoring. A look at the process of capitalism readying these new areas for exploitation quickly makes it clear that capitalism is not a natural form. At least not natural in the sense that people would choose it if they had other options.
But then force has never been far beneath the surface of any society.
Exertion is separated from its recompense
If the market is unfettered, it moves from competition to monopoly; consolidation as things get bigger and bigger to derive the benefits of scale. The worker does not benefit, the rich get richer as they accumulate and the poor become more and more dependent on the capitalist as it’s the only work in town.
Masks and Mirrors
Capitalists and labour are stuck in a cycle of production: production of growth for the capitalist and production of surplus value for the labourer.
As often happens when people are stuck in something they don’t like, and a mirror is held up to it they seek to mask the nature of that reality.
So growth is unequivocally good because it’s a structural necessity that the system has to grow. Productivity is good, so a productive person is good.
For all his faults, Marx is unremitting in questioning underlying assumptions. In a world of fake news, this is more important than ever.
A type of labour force jiu-jitsu
Things can’t be uninvented, and that includes capitalism and the manufacturing system. So Marx looks for solutions from within the capitalist mode.
While wanting workers who just follow orders, in order to advance, capitalism needs educated scientists and engineers to maintain and develop its systems.
So there might be a way in here, using the systems that already exist, to develop them in a way that is positive for the worker. A type of labour force jiu-jitsu.
Machinery and Large-Scale Industry
Machines free up time, but not for leisure. Capitalism has other plans for the worker.
speed things up, standardise and control. More gets produced at an ever-accelerating rate, but increasing that rate is the end goal. Machines are not a liberator of workers from labour. Instead, they draw ever more people into the capitalist mode.
Busy Bees Might Not be Happy Bees
With a limit to the hours of work and the works who can work them the only way to increase surplus value is to increase productivity.
Shrinking time and space by bringing all the functions together in a single factory allows the entire process to be seen as a whole, and reconfigured to be more efficient. Tasks that were the role of the skilled craftsmen are broken down into tasks capable of being performed by the unskilled labourer.
Tasks that were the role of the skilled craftsmen are broken down into tasks capable of being performed by the unskilled, but specialist labourer, with a corresponding loss of understanding and control.
The delights of honey-gathering in the fields is swapped for the the drone of the factory.
Labour is the Only Thing
There are a lot of inputs into the creation of a product, but they can be broken down into two categories:
- constant – the materials and tools of production; the value of these is the same at the beginning and end of the process.
- variable – or labour, which is the catalyst for creating value in the process and tied tightly to time.
The usual framework for capitalism is to throw these two together to give a profit ratio, but pulling them apart leads to some uncomfortable insights.