Manufacture takes two fundamental forms, the finished article being produced: 1) by assembling parts made independently and in relative isolation; 2) or by “a series of connected processes and manipulations.” (p. 461) The first form, Marx calls ‘heterogeneous’, and the second, ‘organic’.
In Marx’s time, watchmaking was a classic example of heterogeneous manufacture characterised, in that each individual part of a watch mechanism was produced by workers specialising in producing just that part, and the different parts being finally assembled “into one mechanical whole.” In this form of manufacture, it “is a matter of chance . . . whether the specialized workers are brought together in one workshop or not . . . [and] while in Geneva there exist large watch factories, i.e. establishments where the specialized workers co-operate under the control of a single capitalist”, even here, “the dial, springs and case are seldom made in the factory itself.” (p. 462)
By contrast, organic manufacture in “its perfected form, produces articles that go through connected phases of development, go step by step through a series of processes” (p. 463), all or most of which, because of the very nature of the processes involved, must occur in the one workshop or factory. In this kind of manufacture, the different stages in the production process, which under the first kind formerly took place sucessively and/or in different workshops, can now occur simultaneously under the same roof. “Hence a greater quantity of commodities is produced in the same period.” Although “[t]his simultaneity . . . arises from the general co-operative form of the process as a whole . . . manufacture not only finds the conditions for co-operation ready to hand; it also, to some extent, creates them by sub-dividing handicraft labour.” This is only accomplished “by riveting each worker to a single fraction of the work” and by connecting each fractional piece of work to form a continuous series. (p. 464)
“It is clear that the direct mutual interdependence of the different pieces of work, and therefore of the workers, compels each one of them to spend on his work no more than the necessary time. This creates a continuity, a uniformity, a regularity, and order, and even an intensity of labour, quite different from that found in an independent handicraft or even in simple co-operation. The rule that the labour-time expended on a commodity should not exceed the amount socially necessary to produce it is . . . in general . . . enforced from the ouside by the action of competition”, whereas “[i]n manufacture . . . the provision of a given quantity of the product in a given period of labour is a technical law of the process of production itself.” (p. 465)
“The division of labour under the system of manufacture not only simplifies and multiplies the qualitatively different parts of society’s collective worker, but also creates a fixed mathematical relation or ratio which regulates the quantitative extent of those parts – i.e. the relative number of workers, for each special function. Thus alongside the qualitative articulation, the division of labour develops a quantitative rule and a proportionality for the social labour process.” (p. 465) Thus, when output is to be increased, the capitalist can easily calculate how many workers in the different categories appropriate to the different parts of the production process are needed.
“The collective worker, formed out of the combination of a number of individual specialized workers, is the item of machinery specifically characteristic of the manufacturing period.” (p. 468) “After the various operations”, previously all performed by the one category of skilled tradesperson, “have been separated, made independent and isolated, the workers are divided, classified and grouped according to their predominant qualities” and any new skills developed “are by nature fitted only for limited and special functions.” (p. 468-469)
“The one-sidedness . . . of the specialized individual worker become perfections when he is part of the collective worker” and “[s]ince the various functions performed by the collective worker can be simple or complex, high or low, the individual labour-powers [belonging to individual workers] . . . require different degrees of training, and must therefore possess very different values. Manufacture therefore develops a hierarchy of labour-powers, to which there corresponds a scale of wages.” (p. 469) “Alongside the gradations of the heirarchy, there appears the simple separation of the workers into skilled and unskilled.” The patterns in this area of the division of labours are always changing, e.g., “[t]he relative devaluation of labour-power caused by the disappearance or reduction of the expenses of apprenticeship directly implies a higher degree of valorization of capital; for everything that shortens the necessary labour-time required for the reproduction of labour-power, extends the domain of surplus labour.” (p. 470)
The Division of Labour in Manufacture, and the Division of Labour in Society (p. 470 ff)
In this section, Marx ‘touches lightly’ on “the relation between the division of labour in manufacture, and the social division of labour which forms the foundation of all commodity production.” He notes that “[t]he division of labour within society develops from one starting-point”, (an economic one) and that “the corresponding restriction of individuals to particular vocations or callings develops from another starting-point, diametrically opposed to the first.” (p. 471) This second starting-point of the division of labour is socially, rather than purely economically based, has its origins in the family and tribe, and is based on gender and age, etc. In the first case, exchange brings into relation different productive spheres “originally distinct from and independent of one another.” It thus converts them “into more or less interdependent branches of the collective production of a whole society.” But in the other case, where the “physiological” division of labour, e.g. on the basis of gender and age, is the starting-point, “the particular organs of a compact whole become separated from each other and break off”, this “process of disintegration” receiving “its main impetus from the exchange of commodities with foreign communities.” (p. 472)
“The foundation of every division of labour which has attained a certain degree of development, and has been brought about by the exchange of commodities, is the separation of town from country.” (p. 472) Moveover, “[j]ust as a certain number of simultaneously employed workers is the material pre-condition for the division of labour within manufacture, so the number and density of the population, which here corresponds to the collection of workers together in one workshop, is a pre-condition for the division of labour within society.” (p. 474)
“The colonial system and the extension of the world market, both of which form part of the general conditions for the existence of the manufacturing period, furnish us with rich materials for displaying the division of labour in society.” (p. 474)
“The division of labour within society is mediated through the purchase and sale of the products of different branches of industry, while the connection between the various partial operations in a workshop is mediated through the sale of the labour-power of several workers to one capitalist, who applies it as combined labour-power. The division of labour within manufacture presupposes a concentration of the means of production in the hands of one capitalist; the division of labour within society presupposes a dispersal of those means among many independent producers of commodities.” (p. 475-476) Within the workshop, the division of labour is proportional regarding the number and type of worker allocated to each specific operation – and thus can be calculated with relative accuracy — whereas in society the division of labour is relatively unplanned and subject to the caprice of producers, and to the fluctuations of the market. Within the workshop, the division of labour “implies the undisputed authority of the capitalist over men”, while in society, it “acknowledges no authority other than that of competition”, or of the “coercion exerted by the pressure of reciprocal interests”. (p. 476-477)
“While the division of labour in society at large, whether mediated through the exchange of commodities or not, can exist in the most diverse economic formations of society, the division of labour in the workshop, as practised by manufacture, is an entirely specific creation of the capitalist mode of production.” (p. 480)
The Capitalist Character of Manufacture (p. 480 ff)
The division of labour in manufacture makes an increase in the number of workers under the control of one capitalist “a technical necessity”. Moreover, “an increase in the variable component of capital necessitates an increase in its constant component too, i.e. . . . [in] workshops, implements, etc., and . . . in raw material”. . . [T]he transformation of the social means of production and subsistence into capital must keep extending.” (p. 480)
Manufacture revolutionises the labour of the individual, such that “[n]ot only is the specialized work distributed among the different individuals, but the individual himself is divided up, and transformed into the automatic motor of a detail operation”. Hence, manufacturing workers become “living automatons”. (p. 481)
“During the manufacturing period proper, i.e. the method in which manufacture is the predominant form taken by capitalist production, the full development of its own peculiar tendencies comes up against obstacles from many directions”, especially from skilled trades workers. “Since handicraft skill is the foundation of manufacture, and since the mechanism of manufacture as a whole possesses no objective framework which would be independent of the workers themselves, capital is constantly compelled to wrestle with the insubordination of the workers.” (p. 489-490) But “[i]t is machines that abolish the role of the handicraftsman as the regulating principle of social production. Thus, on the one hand, the technical reason for the lifelong attachment of the worker to a partial function is swept away. On the other hand, the barriers placed in the way of the domination of capital by this same regulating principle now also fall.” (p. 491)
Questions (ch. 14)
1. Although Marx regards the division of labour in manufacture as “a specific creation of the capitalist mode of production” (p. 480), it can also exist in planned economies (e.g. in the old Soviet Union). Should it exist under socialism and if so, in what form?
2. The division of labour in manufacture as Marx describes and analyses it seems to be true of “Fordist” systems of production. How true is it of of post-Fordist systems?
3. How much, if any, of Marx’s account of division of labour in manufacture still valid?