How Capitalism Wastes Increased Productivity of Automation

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Automation and Jobs

Automation and Jobs – 6 (concluded)

The immediate result of machinery is to augment surplus-value and the mass of products in which surplus-value is embodied.

Edwardian Servants

Edwardian Servants (unproductive employment of a larger and larger part of the working-class, and the consequent reproduction, on a constantly extending scale, of the ancient domestic slaves under the name of a servant class)

And, as the substances consumed by the capitalists and their dependents become more plentiful, so too do these orders of society. Their growing wealth, and the relatively diminished number of workmen required to produce the necessaries of life beget, simultaneously with the rise of new and luxurious wants, the means of satisfying those wants.

A larger portion of the produce of society is changed into surplus-produce, and a larger part of the surplus-produce is supplied for consumption in a multiplicity of refined shapes. In other words, the production of luxuries increases. [a]

The refined and varied forms of the products are also due to new relations with the markets of the world, relations that are created by modern industry.

Not only are greater quantities of foreign articles of luxury exchanged for home products, but a greater mass of foreign raw materials, ingredients, and intermediate products, are used as means of production in the home industries. Owing to these relations with the markets of the world, the demand for labour increases in the carrying trades, which split up into numerous varieties. [b]

The increase of the means of production and subsistence, accompanied by a relative diminution in the number of labourers, causes an increased demand for labour in making canals, docks, tunnels, bridges, and so on, works that can only bear fruit in the far future.

Entirely new branches of production, creating new fields of labour, are also formed, as the direct result either of machinery or of the general industrial changes brought about by it.

But the place occupied by these branches in the general production is, even in the most developed countries, far from important. The number of labourers that find employment in them is directly proportional to the demand, created by those industries, for the crudest form of manual labour. The chief industries of this kind are, at present, gas-works, telegraphs, photography, steam navigation, and railways.

According to the census of 1861 for England and Wales, we find

  • in the gas industry (gas-works, production of mechanical apparatus, servants of the gas companies, &c), 15,211 persons;
  • in telegraphy, 2,399;
  • in photography, 2,366;
  • steam navigation, 3,570;
  • and in railways, 70,599, of whom the unskilled “navvies,” more or less permanently employed and the whole administrative and commercial staff, make up about 28,000.

The total number of persons, therefore, employed in these five new industries amounts to 94,145.

domestic servants

domestic servants (a splendid result of the capitalist exploitation of machinery!)

Lastly, the extraordinary productiveness of modern industry, accompanied as it is by both a more extensive and a more intense exploitation of labour-power in all other spheres of production, allows of the unproductive employment of a larger and larger part of the working-class, and the consequent reproduction, on a constantly extending scale, of the ancient domestic slaves under the name of a servant class, including men-servants, women-servants, lackeys, &c.

According to the census of 1861,

the population of England and Wales was 20,066,244;
of these, 9,776,259 males,
and 10,289,965 females.

If we deduct from this population all who are too old or too young for work, all unproductive women, young persons and children, the “ideological” classes, such as government officials, priests, lawyers, soldiers, &c.; further, all who have no occupation but to consume the labour of others in the form of rent, interest, &c.; and, lastly, paupers, vagabonds, and criminals, there remain in round numbers eight millions of the two sexes of every age, including in that number every capitalist who is in any way engaged in industry, commerce, or finance.

Among these 8 millions are:

Agricultural labourers (including shepherds, farm servants, and maidservants living in the houses of farmers) 1,098,261
All who are employed in cotton, woollen, worsted, flax, hemp, silk, and jute factories, in stocking making and lace making by machinery [c] 642,607
All who are employed in coal mines and metal mines 565,835
All who are employed in metal works (blastfurnaces, rolling mills, &c.), and metal manufactures of every kind [d] 396,998
The servant class [e] 1,208,648

All the persons employed in textile factories and in mines, taken together, number 1,208,442;
those employed in textile factories and metal industries, taken together, number 1,039,605;
in both cases less than the number of modern domestic slaves.

What a splendid result of the capitalist exploitation of machinery!

a. F. Engels, in “Lage, &c.,” points out the miserable condition of a large number of those who work on these very articles of luxury. See also numerous instances in the “Reports of the Children’s Employment Commission.”

b. In 1861, in England and Wales, there were 94,665 sailors in the merchant service.

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

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