Deville - The People's Marx (1893)

Chapter XIII: Co-operation

The collective power of labor.—Results and conditions of collective labor.—The leadership in industry belongs to capital.—The collective power of labor appears as a power immanent in capital.

The Collective Power of Labor.

Capitalist production does not, in fact, begin to exist until one master exploits simultaneously many wage-workers. A large number of workers working at the same time, under the control of the same capital, in the same place, in order to produce the same sort of commodities—that is the historic starting-point of capitalist production.

The laws governing the production of value are fully effective only for the exploiter of a collective body of laborers. In fact, the labor looked upon as the creator of value is labor of average quality, that is, the product of average labor-power. In every branch of industry, each individual laborer differs more or less from the average laborer. Although he takes more or less time than the average for a given operation, he receives the average value of labor-power, and in consequence his employer derives from his labor more or less than the general rate of surplus-value. These individual differences in the degree of skillfulness compensate each other and disappear when a large number of laborers working together are considered. The day of a sufficiently large number of laborers exploited simultaneously, constitutes a day of social labor, i.e., an average day.

Even without an alteration in the processes by which labor is performed, the employment of many laborers brings about a revolution in the material conditions of labor. A workshop occupied by twenty weavers with twenty looms, must be larger than that of an employer who hires only two weavers; but the building of ten workshops for twenty weavers working two in a shop, costs more than building one only, accommodating twenty together.

The value of the means of production concentrated and used in common is much less than the value of the scattered means of production that they replace. Besides, this value is spread over a mass of products, relatively much larger. The portion of value that they transfer to the commodities is consequently diminished. The effect is the same as if they had cost less. The economy in their employment is due entirely to their consumption in common.

When numerous laborers work together with a common object, in the same productive process, or in different but related processes, when their forces are combined, their labor takes the co-operative form.

Just as the offensive power of a squadron of cavalry is essentially different from the sum of the forces separately put in action by each of the cavalrymen, so the sum of the powers of the individual workingmen differs from the power that is developed when they work together in one and the same operation. We have here then not a simple numerical increase of individual productive powers, but a creation, by the aid of co-operation, of a new power, acting only as collective power.

Results and Conditions of Collective Labor.

Besides the new power resulting from the fusion of numerous forces into one common force, the social contact in itself acts as a stimulus which heightens the efficiency of the individual.

The co-operation of laborers makes it possible to apportion to different hands the divers operations that the manufacture of a product involves, and in this way to have them performed simultaneously, thus curtailing the time necessary for its manufacture. It also makes it possible to supplement the short duration of the time available under certain circumstances, by the great quantity of labor a collective body of laborers can perform in a short time. It also renders feasible vast undertakings, otherwise impossible, even while contracting the arena of production by the concentration of the means of production and the laborers, and thus reducing the relative cost of production.

Compared to an equal sum of isolated working-days, the collective working-day produces more useful objects, and thus decreases the time necessary to obtain a given desired effect. To sum up, collective labor gives results that individual labor could never yield. This special productive power of the collective day is a power immanent in social labor or labor in common. By acting simultaneously with others to achieve a common purpose and upon a preconcerted plan, the laborer strips off the limitations of his individuality, and develops the powers of his species.

Men must be brought together in one place as an essential condition of their common action, their co-operation. For a capitalist to be able to exploit simultaneously a number of wage-workers, he must buy their labor-powers simultaneously. The total value of these labor-powers or a certain amount of wages for the day or the week must be ready accumulated in the pocket of the capitalist before the laborers are brought together for the process of production. Hence the number of the laborers co-operating, or the extent of co-operation, depends in the first place on the magnitude of the capital available for the purchase of labor-power, that is to say, on the extent to which a single capitalist has command over the means of subsistence of numerous laborers.

On the other hand, the enlargement of the variable part of capital necessitates the growth of its constant part. Co-operation is accompanied by a marked increase in the value and quantity of the means of production—raw materials and instruments of labor. The more the productive powers of labor are developed, the greater the consumption of raw materials in a given time. The concentration of the means of production in the hands of capitalists is, therefore, the material condition of all co-operation between wage-workers.

We saw (Chapter XI.) that the owner of money must have a certain minimum amount enabling him to exploit a number of laborers large enough to relieve him from all manual labor. Unless this condition is met, the petty master workman can never be replaced by the capitalist, and production can never assume the form of capitalist production. The minimum magnitude of capital that must be accumulated in the hands of individuals, now appears as the concentration of wealth necessary to transform isolated, individual labor into collective labor.

The Leadership in Industry Belongs to Capital.

In the infancy of capital, its control over labor has an almost accidental character. The laborer works under the orders of the capitalist because he has sold him his labor-power, and he sold it because he had not the material means to work on his own account. But as soon as co-operation among wage-workers begins, the leadership of capital appears as an indispensable condition of the performance of labor. All social or common labor requires a directing authority to bring the individual activities into harmony. A musician performing a solo directs himself, but an orchestra requires a leader. This function of directing and superintending becomes the function of capital, as soon as the labor which is subordinated to it becomes co-operative, and, as a capitalist function, it acquires special characteristics.

The potent incentive of capitalist production is the necessity of making capital yield returns. Its controlling end and aim is the greatest possible formation of surplus-value, or, what comes to the same thing, the greatest possible exploitation of labor-power. As the number of laborers collectively exploited rises, their power of resisting the capitalist also increases, and a more energetic power of control must be brought into play to overcome all resistance. In the hands of the capitalist, this power of control is not only then a special function springing out of the very nature of co-operative or social labor, but it is also, above all, the function of exploiting social labor, a function based on the inevitable antagonism between the exploiter and the living power that he exploits. The form of this control cannot but become despotic. The peculiar forms of this despotism develop as co-operation develops.

The capitalist begins by freeing himself from manual labor. Then, when his capital expands and with it the collective power he exploits also grows, he gives up his function of direct supervision of the laborers and the groups of workers, and entrusts it to a special kind of wage-worker. As soon as he finds himself at the head of an industrial army, he feels the need of superior officers (directors, managers, etc.), and sub-officers (overseers, inspectors, foremen, etc.), who, during the labor- process, command in the name of capital. The labor of supervision becomes the exclusive function of these special wage-workers. The leadership in industry belongs to capital, just as in feudal times the functions of general and judge were attributes of landed property. Auguste Comte and the positivist school have tried to prove the eternal necessity for lords or captains of capital. They could just as well, and with the same arguments, prove the eternal necessity for feudal lords.

The Collective Power of Labor Appears as a Power Immanent in Capital.

The laborer is the owner of his labor-power so long as he is discussing its selling-price with the capitalist, and he can sell only what he owns—his individual labor-power. It is in this fashion that the capitalist makes contracts with one or with a hundred laborers, independent of each other, and whom he could employ without having them co-operate. The capitalist pays each of the hundred laborers for his separate labor-power, but he does not pay for the new power—the combined power of the hundred.

As independent persons, the laborers are isolated individuals who enter into relations with the same capital, but not with each other. The bond between their individual functions, their unity as a producing body or organism is to be found, not in them, but in the capital that brings them together. Their co-operation begins only in the labor-process; but, when that process begins, they have already ceased to be their own owners. From the moment they enter this process, they are only a particular form of the existence of capital. The productive power developed and shown by wage-workers, when they function as collective or co-operative labor, is, consequently, the productive power of capital. Because the social power of labor costs capital nothing, and, on the other hand, because the wage-worker does not develop it until after his labor belongs to capital, it appears to be a power with which capital is endowed by nature, a productive power immanent in capital.

If the collective power of labor developed by co-operation appears as the productive power of capital, co-operation appears as the specific form of capitalist production. In the hands of capital, this socialization of labor increases its productive powers, only in order to derive more profit from its exploitation.

The capitalist mode of production is none the less an historical necessity for the transformation of the isolated labor of the individual into social or collective labor. It is because this mode of production and the co-operative form of labor that it implies are developed in the progress of history in opposition to, and in competition with, the earlier system of petty agriculture and small handicrafts—it is because of this that co-operation appears as the specific form of capitalist production, when capitalist co-operation is, in fact, only one particular form of cooperation.