Tag Archives: Ben Fine & Alfredo Saad-Filho

Fine & Saad-Filho – Marx’s ‘Capital’

Karl Marx

THE WORKER AND THE MECHANISATION

Through the process of mechanisation, labour fragmentation and capitalist control, the factory system tends to transform the independent artisans and skilled craftspeople into appendages of the machines that they are payed to operate – the factory workers are minders of alien fixed capital. Marx calls this the real subordination of labour to capital. The detailed co-operation of labour within the factory contrasts sharply with the finer division by workers’ tasks that accompanies specialisation. The real detailed co-operation of labour within the factory contrasts sharply with the finer division by workers’ tasks that accompanies specialisation. The real subordination of labour marks the beginning of capitalist production proper, based on the extraction of relative surplus value. These are the economic battering rams with which capitalism can defeat other forms of production on the basis of its superior efficiency. Simultaneously, outside the factory, towns become rapidly growing industrial centres, disrupting every relation between town and country, while life itself is revolutionised by the diffusion of capitalist methods of production throughout the economy and across the entire world.

© Ben Fine & Alfredo Saad-Filho – Marx’s ‘Capital’ – PlutoPress

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Fine & Saad-Filho – Marx’s ‘Capital’

Karl Marx

WORKER AS SLAVE

To distinguish the workers themselves from their ability or capacity to work, Marx called the latter labour power, and its performance or application labour. These concepts are important but often misunderstood. The most important distinguishing feature of capitalism is that labour power becomes a commodity. The capitalist is the purchaser, the worker is the seller, and the price of labour power is the wage. The worker sells labour power to the capitalist, who determines how that labour power should be exercised as labour to produce particular commodities. As a commodity, labour power has a use value, which is the creation of other use values. This property is independent of the particular society in which production takes place. However, in capitalist societies use values are produced for sale and, as such, embody abstract labour time or value. In these societies, the commodity labour power also has the specific use value that is the source of value when exercised as labour. In this, labour power is unique.

The worker is not therefore a slave in the conventional sense of the word and sold like other commodities, but owns and sells labour power. Also, the length of time for which the sale is made or formally contracted is often very short (one week, one month, or sometimes only until a specific task has been completed). Yet in many other respects the worker is like a slave. The worker has little or no control over the labour process or product. There is the freedom to refuse to sell labour power, but this is a partial freedom, the alternative in the limit being starvation or social degradation. One could as well argue that a slave could flee or refuse to work, although the level and immediacy of retribution are of a different order altogether. For these reasons the workers under capitalism have been described as wage slaves, although the term is an oxymoron. You cannot be both slave and wage worker – by definition, the slave does not have the freedoms that the wage worker must enjoy, irrespective of other conditions.

On the other side to the class of workers are the capitalists, who control the workers and the product of labour through their command of wage payments and ownership of the tools and raw materials, or means of production. This is the key to the property relations specific to capitalism. For the capitalist monopoly of the means of production ties the workers to the wage relation, explained above. If the workers owned or were entitled to use the means of production independently of the wage contract, there would be no need to sell labour power rather than the product on the market and, therefore, no need to submit to capitalist control in society, both during production and outside it.

© Ben Fine & Alfredo Saad-Filho – Marx’s ‘Capital’ – PlutoPress

Fine & Saad-Filho – Marx’s ‘Capital’

Karl Marx

MARX’S PHILOSOPHY

The Hegelians believed that intellectual progress explains the advance of government, culture and the other forms of social life. Therefore, the study of consciousness is the key to the understanding of society, and history is a dramatic stage on which institutions and ideas battle for hegemony. In this ever-present conflict, each stage of development contains the seeds of its own transformation into a higher stage. Each stage is an advance on those that have preceded it, but it absorbs and transforms elements from them. This process of change, in which new ideas do not so much defeat the old as resolve conflicts or contradictions within them, Hegel called the dialectic.

Human consciousness is critical in Marx’s thought, but it can only be understood in relation to historical, social and material circumstances. In this way, Marx establishes a close relationship between dialectics and history, which would become a cornerstone of his own method. Consciousness is primarily determined by material conditions, but these themselves evolve dialectically through human history.

© Ben Fine & Alfredo Saad-Filho – Marx’s ‘Capital’ – PlutoPress