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

Primary Effects of Machino-facture upon the Worker

MACHINERY AND LARGE-SCALE INDUSTRY: primary effects of machino-facture upon the worker

As has been shown, the starting-point of large-scale industry is a revolution in the instruments of labor, and the instruments of labor have been most effectively revolutionized in the organized system of machino-facture. Before we go on to consider how human material is incorporated into this objective organism, let us study the general effects of the aforesaid revolution upon the workers.

In so far as machinery does away with the need for any considerable expenditure of muscular power, it becomes a means for the utilization of workers with comparatively little strength, and those whose bodily growth is immature, but whose limbs are all the more supple. The labor of women and children was, therefore, the first word in the capitalist utilization of machinery! This mighty substitute for work and workers speedily transformed itself into a means for increasing the number of wage workers by enlisting all the members of the working-class family, without distinction of sex or age, to bring them under the direct sway of capital. Forced labor for the capitalist usurped the place, not only of the children's play, but also of free labor in the domestic circle, carried on for the family itself and within moderate limits.

The value of labor power was determined, not by the labor time necessary for the maintenance of the individual adult worker, but by that necessary for the maintenance of the working-class family. Machinery, by throwing all the members of the working-class family into the labor market, spreads the value of the man's labor power over his whole family, and thus depreciates his labor power.

To buy the labor power of a family of four workers may perhaps cost more than it formerly cost to buy the labor power of the head of the family; but the purchaser buys four working days in place of one, and the price falls in proportion to the excess of the surplus labor of four over the surplus labor of one. In order that the family may live, four persons must now, not merely work, but supply surplus labor for capital. Thus we see that machinery, while increasing from the first the human material that forms the essential field of capitalist exploitation, at the same time increases the rate of exploitation.

Machinery also works a complete revolution in the contrast between worker and capitalist which is the formal expression of their mutual relations. Taking the exchange of commodities as the basis, the primary assumption was that the capitalist and the worker were to confront one another as free individuals, as independent owners of commodities, one of them an owner of money and the means of production, and the other an owner of labor power. But now capital buys children or young persons.

In former days the worker used to sell his own labor power, being ostensibly, in this respect, a free person. Now he sells his wife and his children. He becomes a slave trader. . . .

By incorporating an overwhelming proportion of women and children among the workers it employs, machinery was at length enabled to break down the resistance which the male operatives in the manufacturing period continued to oppose to the despotism of capital. . . .

(, , , The enormous extensibility of the factory system, the way in which it increases production by leaps and bounds, and its dependence upon the world market, necessarily give a febrile impetus to production, with a glutting of the markets, a subsequent relative inadequacy of demand, and therefore a paralysis of industry. The life of industry becomes characterized by a succession of periods of moderate activity, prosperity, overproduction, crisis, and stagnation. Thanks to this periodicity of the industrial cycle, the uncertainty and instability which machino-facture imposes upon the occupation of the worker, and therefore upon the general conditions of his life, now become habitual features. Except in the periods of prosperity, the capitalists are always fiercely competing with one another for a place in the market. The size of each one's share is directly proportional to the cheapness of his product. This need for cheapness causes rivalry among the capitalists in the use of improved machinery able to replace labor power, and in the application of new methods of production. Furthermore, there always arrives a moment when the attempt is made to cheapen commodities still more by forcing wages down below the value of labor power. . . .)