Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
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Hugo Gellert: Karl Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs

page 47. MACHINERY AND LARGE-SCALE INDUSTRY
Intensification of Labor


MACHINERY AND LARGE-SCALE INDUSTRY: intensification of labor

Machinery, in the hands of capital, thus leads to an immoderate increase in the length of the working day. This, as we have seen, ultimately brings about an intensification of labor, which had already been noticeable under the reign of machinery, becomes much more marked. When we were analyzing absolute surplus value, we were primarily concerned with the extension of labor, with its duration, its intensity being taken as fixed. We have now to consider how greater intensification can make up for less extension; we have to consider the degree to which labor can be intensified.

As a matter of course, in proportion to the spread of the use of machinery, and in proportion to the accumulation of experience among the members of a class of workers habituated to machinery, labor is speeded up, so that its intensity grows as if in virtue of a natural law. Thus in England, during half a century, an increase in the length of the working day went hand-in-hand with an increase in the intensity of factory labor.

It is obvious, however, that if we are dealing, not with transient paroxysms of intense labor, but with labor which has to be performed day in and day out for an indefinite period and with perfect regularity, there must come a crucial point at which an extension of the working day and an increase in the intensity of labor will be mutually exclusive, so that an increase in the working day can only be achieved if the intensity of labor be reduced, and, conversely, labor can only be intensified if the working day be shortened.

As soon as the gradually increasing indignation of the working class compelled the State to impose a legal limit upon the working day, and to make a start by imposing a normal working day in factories strictly so called -- from the moment, that is to say, when an increase in the production of surplus value by an increase in the working day had been rendered impossible once for all -- capital, wittingly and with all its might, devoted itself to the production of relative surplus value [see page 38.] by accelerating the development of machino-facture. . . .

A reduction in the hours of labor provides the subjective conditions requisite for the condensation of labor, inasmuch as it increases the capacity of the worker for expending more energy within a given time. As soon as a shorter day is enforced by legal enactment, machinery in the hands of capital is objectively and systematically applied to the squeezing out of more labor within a given time. This is effected in two ways; first by speeding-up the machinery, and, secondly, by increasing the size of the worker's working field, by giving him a larger amount of machinery to mind. . . .

. . . . In the year 1844, Lord Ashley, now Lord Shaftesbury, made the following statements in the House of Commons, supporting them by documentary evidence:

"The labor performed by those engaged in the processes of manufacture is three times as great as in the beginning of such operations. Machinery has executed, no doubt, the work that would demand the sinews of millions of men; but it has also prodigiously multiplied the labor of those who are governed by its fearful movements. . ."


In view of the remarkable intensity which labor had attained in this way under the dominion of the Twelve Hours Act, there appeared to be a certain justification for the assertion then made by the British factory owners, that any further progress in that direction was impossible, this implying that any further decrease in the working day would be tantamount to a decrease in production. . . .

Let us now turn to the period after 1847, when the Ten Hours Act had become operative in British cotton, wool, silk, and flax textile works. . . .

. . . James Nasmyth, the famous civil engineer of Patricroft, near Manchester, writing to Leonard Horner in 1852, explained the nature of the improvements that had been made in the steam-engine between 1848 and 1852. . . . "The modern steam-engine of 100 horse-power is capable of being driven at a much greater force than formerly, arising from improvements in its construction, the capacity and construction of the boilers, etc. . . . Although the same number of hands are employed in proportion to the horse-power as at former periods, there are fewer hands employed in proportion to the machinery." . . .

. . . It is absolutely indisputable that the tendency of capital, as soon as a prolongation of the working day is once for all prohibited, to compensate itself by systematically increasing the intensity of labor, and the tendency of capital to make of every improvement in machinery a more effective means of getting the utmost out of labor power, will ere long lead to a state of things that will make a further reduction in the hours of labor inevitable. . . .