Capital I. Chapter 13: Co-operation.

“Capitalist production only really begins . . . when each individual capital simultaneously employs a comparatively large number of workers, and when, as a result, the labour-process is carried on on an extensive scale, and yields relatively large quantities of products. A large number of workers working together, at the same time, in one place (or, if you like, in the same field of labour), 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.” (p. 439)

In its earliest stages, ‘manufacture’, as Marx uses the term, “can hardly be distinguished” from ‘handicraft trades’; “[i]t is merely an enlargement of the workshop of the master craftsmen of the [mediaeval] guild”, and hence “[a]t first . . . the difference is purely quantitative.” Accordingly, “the surplus-value produced by a given capital is equal to the surplus-value produced by each worker multiplied by the number of workers simultaneously employed.” (p. 439)

“In the production of value a number of workers merely rank as so many individual workers, and it therefore makes no difference in the value produced whether . . . [many] men work separately or united under the command of one capitalist.” (p. 439) “Neverthless,” Marx goes on to say that “within certain limits, a modification does take place” (p.440) owing to variations between workers in different workshops having different working regimes. However, “it is clear that the collective working day of a large number of workers employed simultaneously, divided by the number of these workers, gives one day of average social labour”, i.e., labour of an average social quality, expressing average labour-power.

Each individual worker’s day is a fractional part of  the “collective working day, no matter whether . . . [e.g.] twelve men help each other in their work, or whether the connection between their operations consists merely in the fact that the men are all working for the same capitalist.” However, if they work in pairs for different “small masters”, more significant variations are likely to occur. Marx therefore assumes “a fixed minimum of efficiency in all labour”, and is later to show “that capitalist production provides the means of fixing this minimum.” (p.441)

“The law of valorization therefore comes fully into its own for the individual producer only when he produces as a capitalist and employs a number of workers simultaneously, i.e. when from the outset he sets in motion labour of a socially average character.” (p. 441)

“Even without an alteration in the method of work, the simultaneous employment of a large number of workers produces a revolution in the objective conditions of the labour process. The buildings where the workers actually work, the store-houses for the raw material, the implements and utensils they use simultaneously or in turns; in short, a portion of the means of production, are now consumed jointly in the labour process.” (p. 441)


“When numerous workers work side by side in accordance with a plan, whether in the same process, or in different but connected processes, this form of labour is called co-operation . . . In such cases, the effect of the combined labour could either not be produced at all by isolated individual labour, or it could be produced only by a great expenditure of time, or on a dwarf-like scale. Not only do we have here an increase in the productive power of the individual, by means of co-operation, but the creation of a new productive power, which is intrinsically a collective one.” (p. 443)

Requirement of a Directing Authority

“All directly social or communal labour on a large scale requires, to a greater or lesser degree, a directing authority, in order to secure the harmonious co-operation of the activities of individuals, and to perform the general functions which have their origin in the motion of the total productive organism, as distinguished from the motion of its separate organs . . . The work of directing, superintending and adjusting becomes one of the functions of capital, from the moment that the labour under capital’s control becomes co-operative. As a special function of capital, the directing function acquires its own special characteristics. (p. 448-449)

Marx believed that an increase in the number of co-operating workers leads to an increase in workers’ resistence to the domination of capital, and as the motive and purpose of capitalist production is the maximum possible self-valorization of capital, “[t]he control exercised by the capitalist is not only a special function arising from 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 conditioned by the unavoidable antagonism between the exploiter and the raw material of his exploitation.” (p. 449)

Marx makes the point that “the co-operation of wage-labourers is entirely brought about by the capital that employs them.” Hence it is capital which brings about “[t]heir unification into one single productive body, and the establishment of a connection between their individual functions,” a connection which lies “outside their competence.” He emphasises that “[t]hese things are not their own act, but the act of the capital that brings them together and maintains them in that situation [and] [h]ence the interconnection between their various labours confronts them, in the realm of ideas, as a plan drawn up by the capitalist, and, in practice, as his authority, as the powerful will of a being outside them, who subjects their activity to his purpose.” (p. 449-450)

“If capitalist direction is thus twofold in content, owing to the twofold nature of the process of production which has to be directed – on the one hand, a social labour process for the creation of a product, and on the other hand capital’s process of valorization – in form it is purely despotic. (p. 450) Marx points to the development of a managerial hierarchy under the command of the capitalist, and likens the managers, foremen, (and team leaders?) in directing and supervising production to officers and N.C.O.s in the military. Hence, the working class can be seen as “[a]n industrial army of workers under the command of the capitalist” (p. 450)

“Just as the social productive power of labour that is developed by co-operation appears to be the productive power of capital,  so co-operation itself, contrasted with the process of production carried on by isolated independent workers, or even by small masters, appears to be a specific form of the capitalist process of production. It is the first change experienced by the actual labour process when subjected to capital.” Co-operation is “the social form of the labour process [which] is a method employed by capital  for the more profitable exploitation of labour, by increasing its productive power.” (p. 453)

Near the end of the chapter, Marx distinguishes simple co-operation from its “more developed” forms: it is that form of co-operation in which “the division of labour and machinery play only an insignificant part.” Neverthless, the chapter concludes by pointing out that “[c]o-operation remains the fundamental form of the capitalist mode of production, although in its simple shape it continues to appear as one particular form alongside the more developed ones.” (p. 454) In the next chapter he analyses these “more developed” forms by focusing on the nature, role and development of division of labour in relation to ‘manufacture’ (in Marx’s sense of the term). 

Questions (ch. 13)

1. Does Marx reify ‘capital’, i.e., make it into a thing? Or is it merely a short-hand expression signifying how capitalists operate the process of wealth creation? How should it be interpreted?

2. Are managers and supervisors workers? What role do they play in the production process? What role do they play in the social relations of production?

3. Marx talks of despotism and capitalist authority in the capitalist production process. How can his theory be applied to the later development of managerial hierarchies in advanced capitalist corporations, and to our present-day working conditions?

4. How might it be different under socialism? Is this a reasonable question?

5. How is one to interpret the problematic anthropological material, e.g. on p. 452-453? How significant is it in itself, and what bearing does it have on the main argument?


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Reading Capital in Sydney records reading notes on Marx's Capital I, II and III, and other bits and pieces.

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