Automation, More Jobs, Less Work – Possible?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Automation and Jobs

When workers object to automation, capitalists blame them as being anti technology and anti development. But, the working class opposes only the capitalist quest for increased profits by discharging workers rather than use the increase in productivity to reduce working hours for the workers.

A capitalist could not separate employment of machinery from exploitation of the workman by the capitalist. In reality what happens?

Automation and Jobs – 4

No doubt he [the bourgeois economist ] is far from denying that temporary inconvenience may result from the capitalist use of machinery. But where is the medal without its reverse!

“Whoever, therefore, exposes the real state of things in the capitalistic employment of machinery, is against its employment in any way, and is an enemy of social progress!”

Any employment of machinery, except by capital, is to him an impossibility. Exploitation of the workman by the machine is therefore, with him, identical with exploitation of the machine by the workman.

“Whoever, therefore, exposes the real state of things in the capitalistic employment of machinery, is against its employment in any way, and is an enemy of social progress!” [a]

Exactly the reasoning of the celebrated Bill Sykes. “Gentlemen of the jury, no doubt the throat of this commercial traveller has been cut. But that is not my fault, it is the fault of the knife. Must we, for such a temporary inconvenience, abolish the use of the knife? Only consider! where would agriculture and trade be without the knife? Is it not as salutary in surgery, as it is knowing in anatomy? And in addition a willing help at the festive board? If you abolish the knife — you hurl us back into the depths of barbarism.” [b]

Although machinery necessarily throws men out of work in those industries into which it is introduced, yet it may, notwithstanding this, bring about an increase of employment in other industries.

This effect, however, has nothing in common with the so-called theory of compensation. Since every article produced by a machine is cheaper than a similar article produced by hand, we deduce the following infallible law:

If the total quantity of the article produced by machinery, be equal to the total quantity of the article previously produced by a handicraft or by manufacture, and now made by machinery, then the total labour expended is diminished.

The new labour spent on the instruments of labour, on the machinery, on the coal, and so on, must necessarily be less than the labour displaced by the use of the machinery; otherwise the product of the machine would be as dear, or dearer, than the product of the manual labour.

But, as a matter of fact, the total quantity of the article produced by machinery with a diminished number of workmen, instead of remaining equal to, by far exceeds the total quantity of the hand-made article that has been displaced.

Suppose that 400,000 yards of cloth have been produced on power-looms by fewer weavers than could weave 100,000 yards by hand. In the quadrupled product there lies four times as much raw material. Hence the production of raw material must be quadrupled.

But as regards the instruments of labour, such as buildings, coal, machinery, and so on, it is different; the limit up to which the additional labour required for their production can increase, varies with the difference between the quantity of the machine-made article, and the quantity of the same article that the same number of workmen could make by hand.

Hence, as the use of machinery extends in a given industry, the immediate effect is to increase production in the other industries that furnish the first with means of production. How far employment is thereby found for an increased number of men, depends, given the length of the working-day and the intensity of labour, on the composition of the capital employed, i.e., on the ratio of its constant to its variable component.

This ratio, in its turn, varies considerably with the extent to which machinery has already seized on, or is then seizing on, those trades.

a. MacCulloch, amongst others, is a past master in this pretentious cretinism. “If,” he says, with the affected naïveté of a child of 8 years, “if it be advantageous, to develop the skill of the workman more and more, so that he is capable of producing, with the same or with a less quantity of labour, a constantly increasing quantity of commodities, it must also be advantageous, that he should avail himself of the help of such machinery as will assist him most effectively in the attainment of this result.” (MacCulloch: “Princ. of Pol. Econ.,” Lond. 1830, p. 166.)

b. “The inventor of the spinning machine has ruined India, a fact, however, that touches us but little.” A. Thiers: De la propriété. — M. Thiers here confounds the spinning machine with the power-loom, “a fact, however, that touches us but little.”

From Karl Marx Capital Volume One
Chapter Fifteen: Machinery and Modern Industry

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