CHAPTER 15: Machinery & Large-Scale Industy. Sections: 5-10

Dear all. The notes are going to go up progressively today (while i work around a few other deadlines). For now I present you my first point along with subheadings for the other things I will get to post (hopefully) before the day is out. And if i don’t get around to posting them, we can take them up for discussion at our meeting tonight. (sorry about sloppiness).


In the first 5 sections of chapter 15 we looked at how the machine, the definitive technology of Large Scale Industry creates contradictions within the logic of capital. In the second half of this chapter Marx crystallises some of the manifestations of ‘the contradictions and antagonisms inseparable from the capitalist application of machinery’:

‘…machinery in itself shortens the hours of labour, but when employed by Capital it lengthens them; since it lightens labour, but when employed by capital it heightens its intensity; since in itself is a victory of man over the forces of nature but in the hands of capital it makes man the slave of those forces; since in itself it increases the wealth of the producers, but in the hands of capital it makes them into paupers…’[1]

Where the machine comes in contact with the social world, Marx sees not only terrible misery under Capital, but also the “germ” for much potential for future revolutionary change beyond Capital. He sets up this potential for revolution with ‘Modern industry never views or treats the extsting form of a production process as the definitive case. Its technical basis is therefore revolutionary, whereas all earlier modes of production were essentially conservative [my emphasis].[2] Marx writes that the constant attraction and repulsion of workers by industries employing ever-changing technology does away with the old notions of rigidity of inherited trade/skill and consequently limits to human potential for being. In contrast to and in contradiction with the confining role of machinery in constricting the ‘many sided play of muscles’ to repetitive, one sided movements, machinery by giving rise to ‘large scale industry by its very nature, necessitates variation of labour, fluidity of functions, and mobility of the worker in all directions.’[3]

Harking back to some of the discussion last week about social realtions between machines, working men, women and children, Marx writes ‘large scale industry by assigning an important part in the socially organised processes of production, outside the sphere of the domestic economy, to women, young persons and children of both sexes, does nevertheless create a new economic foundation for a higher form of the family and of relations between the sexes.’[4]

Thus Marx spends half of this chapter laying bare the violence  of the instabilities caused by Capitalist apllication of machines and the other half drawing attention to moments of possibility amidst this anarchy. My summary of Marx’s overall ‘take’ is that machines are implements of ‘creative destruction.’

(incomplete subheadings now)


Marx briefly gestures towards how technological inovation can restructure society either graduly or in an acute fashion: ‘World history offers no spectacle mor frightful then the gradual extinction of the English hand loom weavers; this tragedy dragged on for decades… In India on the other hand, the English cotton machinery produced an acute effect…The misery hardly finds a parallel in the history of commerce’ [5] This offers a clue as to how to understand machinery and more broadly industrialisation when it comes into contact with people populating invaded countries. In quoting the Governor General in 1834 – 5 with  ‘The bones of the cotton-weavers are bleaching the plains of India,’ [6] Marx conjures up the picture of a genocidal manifestation of the acute development of machinery. Does this offer any insight into the experience of Aboriginal peoples in Australia in their encouter with the British Empire? Or perhaps the case of Australia is best understood by the model Marx provides for the development of industry within Englad: ‘First the labourers are driven from the land and then the sheep arrive. Very extensive thefts of land, as perpetrated in England for instance, are the means whereby largescale agriculture first gains a field of application.’[7]

Marx offers an account of the imperial instinct of capital that emerges from technological innovation. In increasing the sheer scale of production, machinery propels the colonisation of foreign lands in a number of parallel ways. Marx writes ‘the immediate effect of machinery is to increase the supply of raw material… on the other hand, the cheapness of the articles produced by machinery and the revolution of in the means of transport and communication provide the weapons for the conquest of foreign markets. By ruining handicraft production of finsihed articles in other countries, machinery forcibly converts them into fields for the production of raw materials. Thus India was compeled to produce cotton, wool, hemp, jute and indigo for Great Britain.’[8] He goes on to discuss another driving force of colonial expansion in his discussion of emigration to settler colonies with: ‘By constantly turning workers into ‘supernumeries’, large scale industry, in all countries where it has taken root, spurs on rapid increases in emigration and the colonization of foreign lands, which are thereby converted into settlements for growing the raw material of the mother country, just as Australia, for example was converted into a colony for growing wool.’[9]

We have thusfar seen a radical refashioning of the division of labour on the basis of ‘skill’ (or inherited knowledge) and a reshuffling of new regimes of division of labour along ‘biological’ lines of men, women and children. Historically, the emergence of industrialisation is offocurse accompanied by an explosion of activity in the natural and biological sciences, which in a sphere separate but connected to the economic world is inventing ‘nature’: by ossifying rigid gender, race and sexuality distinctions in the realm of science. As well as illuminating the reorganisation of labour around these ‘natural’ categories, Marx in his discussion of the motor of imperial conquest adds another order of the division of labour: ‘A new and international division of labour springs up, one suited to the requirements of the main industrial countries, and it converts one part of the globe into a chiefly agricultral field of production for supplying the other part, which remains a pre-eminently industrial field.’ [10]


Large scale industry gives rise to what Marx calls the ‘industrial cycle’:

‘The factory system’s tremendous capacity for expanding with sudden immense leaps, and its dependence on the world market, necessarily give rise to the following cycle: feverish productin, a consequent glut in the market, which causes production to be crippled. The life of industry becimes a series of periods of moderate activity, prosperity, over-production, crisis and stagnation. The uncertainty and instability to which machinery subjects the employment, and consequently the living conditions of the workers becomes a normal state of affairs, owing to these periodic turns of the industrial cycle.’[11] This industrial cycle, referred to in contemporary economic language as boom and bust cycles, makes crystal clear Marx’s sketch of capitalist time as simultaneously linear and cyclical. (This needs to be fleshed out more)


[1] Ibid., 569.

[2] Ibid., 617.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., 621.

[5] Ibid., 557 – 58.

[6] Ibid., 558.

[7] Ibid., 556 – 57.

[8] Ibid., 579.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid., 579 – 80.

[11] Ibid., 581 – 82.


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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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