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

Prolongation of the Working Day

MACHINERY AND LARGE-SCALE INDUSTRY: prolongation of the working day

Though machinery be the most potent means for increasing the productivity of labor, that is to say, for reducing the amount of labor time necessary for the production of a commodity, in the hands of capital it becomes the most powerful means, in the industries on which it first establishes its grip, for lengthen the working day far beyond the bounds imposed by nature. For, on the one hand, it creates new conditions which enable capital to give free rein to its invariable tendencies in this direction; and, on the other hand, it supplies new motives with which to whet the hunger of capital for others' labor.

In the first place, in machinery, the movements and the activities of the implements of labor acquire, as it were, an independent life of their own, confronting that of the worker. Machinery constitutes a sort of industrial perpetual motion, which would go on reproducing without pause, did it not encounter in its human assistants certain obstacles -- their bodily weaknesses and their wills.

This automaton, machinery, possesses, as capital and through the instrumentality of the capitalists, both consciousness and a will; it is therefore animated with an urge to reduce to a minimum the resistance offered by the natural but elastic limitations of the human material through which it works. The resistance of the human material is, moreover, lessened by the apparent ease of work at the machine; and by the employment of women and children, who are more pliable and docile than men.

As we have seen, the productivity of machinery is in inverse ratio to the magnitude of the constituent value transferred by it to the finished article. The longer the life of the machine the greater is the mass of products to which it transfers its value, and the smaller therefore is the proportion of value which it contributes to any one commodity. The active life of a machine is, however, obviously dependent upon the length of the working day, or upon the duration of the daily labor process, multiplied by the number of days for which the process is carried on.

The wear and tear of the machine does not correspond with mathematical exactitude to the time for which it is used. Even if it did, a machine working for 16 hours a day during 7 1/2 years, works for the same period of time and transfers to the total product the same amount of value, as if it worked only 8 hours a day for a period of 15 years, but in the former case the value of the machine would be reproduced twice as fast as in the latter case, and the capitalist would, by this use of the machine, pouch [pocket] in 7 1/2 years as much surplus labor as, if the machine were used only half as fast, he would pouch in 15 years. . . .

The capitalist application of machinery thus, on the one hand, supplies new and powerful incentives for an excessive increase in the working day, and radically changes both the methods of labor and the character of the social working organism in such a way as to break down all opposition to this tendency. But, on the other hand, partly by opening out to the capitalist new strata of the working class previously inaccessible to him, partly by setting free the laborers it supplants, machinery produces a surplus working population, which is compelled to submit to the dictation of capital.

That accounts for one of the most remarkable phenomena in the history of modern industry; it accounts for the way in which machinery makes an end of all moral and natural restrictions on the length of the working day. This explains the economic paradox, that the most powerful instrument for shortening labor time, proved to be the most unfailing means for placing every moment of the worker's time and that of his family at the disposal of the capitalist, for the purpose of bringing about the accumulation of capital.

Aristotle, the greatest thinker of antiquity, letting his fancy run, said: "If every tool, when called upon, or even of its own accord, could do the work that befits it, just as the inventions of Daedalus moved of themselves, or the tripods of Hephaestus went on their own initiative to their sacred work -- if the weavers' shuttles were to weave of themselves -- then there would be no need either of apprentices for the master craftsmen or of slaves for the lords." Again, Antipater of Thessalonica, a Greek poet of Cicero's day, acclaimed the invention of the water-wheel for grinding corn (an invention that is the elementary form of all productive machinery) as the giver of freedom to female slaves and the establishment of the Golden Age. These were poor, benighted pagans! As the shrewd Bastiat and his abler predecessor, McCulloch, discovered, they knew nothing about economics or Christianity. For example, they never realized that machinery is the best possible means for establishing a longer working day. . . .