Deville - The People's Marx (1893)
I. The composition of capital. —Circumstances under which the accumulation
of capital may induce a rise in wages. —The magnitude of capital does not
depend on the number of the working population.
II. Diminution of the variable part of capital compared to the constant part. —Concentration and centralization.
III. Relative and actual demand for labor. —The law of population peculiar to the capitalist period. —Formation of an industrial reserve army. —How the general rate of wages is determined. —Delusion of the law of supply and demand.
IV. Different forms of the relative surplus-population. —Pauperism is the inevitable consequence of the capitalist system.
We now have to consider the influence that the growth of capital exercises on the lot of the working-class. The most important factor in the solution of this problem is the composition of capital and the changes that it undergoes with the progress of accumulation.
The composition of capital may be looked upon from two points of view. As regards value, it is determined by the proportion in which the capital is divided into its constant part (the value of the means of production) and its variable part (the value of labor-power). As regards its substance, as it appears in the process of production, all capital consists of means of production and living labor-power, and its composition is determined by the proportion between the mass of the means of production employed and the quantity of labor necessary to utilize them.
The first mentioned composition of capital is the value-composition and the latter the technical composition. And, in order to express the close tie between them, we will give the name of organic composition of capital to its value-composition in so far as the latter is determined by its technical composition and, therefore, reflects the variations in the latter. When we speak without qualification of the composition of capital, its organic composition is always intended.
The numerous individual capitals invested in a particular branch of production and functioning in the hands of many independent capitalists, differ more or less in composition, but the average of their individual compositions constitute the composition of the total capital devoted to that branch of production. Between one branch of production and another, the average composition of capital varies widely, but the average of all these average compositions constitutes the composition of the total social capital employed in a country, and it is this last which concerns us in the following investigations.
A certain quantity of the surplus-value capitalized must be advanced in wages. Hence, assuming the composition of capital to remain constant, the demand for labor will advance with accumulation, and the variable part of capital will increase, at least, as rapidly as its total, mass.
On this assumption the constant progress of accumulation must induce, sooner or later, a gradual advance of wages. For, as each year furnishes employment for a larger number of wage-laborers than the preceding year, the constantly increasing requirements of accumulation will at last exceed the ordinary supply of labor, and, therefore, the rate of wages will rise.
But the more or less favorable circumstances in which the working-class reproduces and multiplies itself, in no wise alter the fundamental character of capitalist reproduction. Just as simple reproduction constantly reproduces the same social relation—the capitalist class on the one side, and wage-workers on the other—so accumulation merely reproduces the same relation, but with more or greater capitalists on the one side, and more wage-workers on the other. The reproduction of capital necessarily implies that of its great instrument of value-expansion—labor-power. Accumulation of capital is then at the same time increase of the proletariat—of wage-laborers transforming their labor-power into the vital energy of capital and remaining thus, whether they will or no, the serfs of their own product—a product that belongs to the capitalist.
In the situation that we are assuming—and which is the most favorable situation possible for the laborers—their state of dependence takes on more endurable forms. Instead of growing in intensity, the capitalist exploitation and domination simply grow in extent, as capital expands and the number of its subjects grows larger.
The latter get back then a larger portion of their constantly increasing net product, so that they find themselves in a position to enlarge the circle of their enjoyments, to buy better food, clothing, furniture, etc., and to lay by some money for a rainy day. But just as better treatment, more abundant food, more suitable clothing, and a little more pocket money do not free the slave from the fetters of his slavery, neither do they free the wage-serf from his servitude.
It must not be forgotten that formation of surplus- value is the absolute law of the capitalist mode of production. What the purchaser of labor-power proposes to himself is to enrich himself by making his capital breed or expand, by producing commodities containing more labor than he pays for, and by the sale of which he, therefore, realizes a portion of value that costs him nothing. Whether the conditions of the sale of labor-power are more or less favorable for the laborers, it is a part of the nature of wages always to cause a certain quantity of unpaid labor to be performed. A rise in wages indicates then, at best, only a relative diminution of the unpaid labor that the laborer must always furnish. But this diminution can never go far enough to endanger the capitalist system.
We have admitted that the rate of wages may rise in consequence of the accumulation of capital outstripping the growth of the supply of labor. Then we have this alternative. Either wages continue to rise, and this upward movement being caused by the progress of accumulation, it is evident that the diminution of the unpaid labor of the workers does not prevent capital from extending its domination. Or else, the continued rise of wages begins to interfere with accumulation, and the latter begins to abate; but this abatement of itself removes the first cause of the rise—viz., the excess of capital compared to the supply of labor. Then the rate of wage—a level which may be above, the same as, or below the level that wages stood at, just before the rise in wages took place.
Thus the mechanism of capitalist production of itself overcomes the obstacles it occasionally creates, even when the composition of capital remains constant. But a rise in wages is a powerful stimulus to the improvement of machinery and thereby leads to a change in the composition of capital which inevitably causes a fall in wages.
It is highly important to thoroughly comprehend the connection between the variations in the rate of accumulation of capital and the oscillations in the rate of wages which are related to them.
Now, it is an excess of capital due to more rapid accumulation which renders the labor supply relatively insufficient, and tends, therefore, to raise its price. Now, it is a slackening of accumulation, which renders the labor supply relatively excessive and lowers its price. The rise and fall in the rate of accumulation of capital produces then alternately relative insufficiency and superabundance of the supply of labor. But it is not an actual decrease in the number of the working population, which renders the capital superabundant in the first case, nor an actual augmentation of this number, which renders the capital insufficient in the second.
The relation between the accumulation of capital and the rate of wages is simply the relation between the unpaid labor transformed into capital, and the additional paid labor necessary to make this additional capital function. It is not at all a relation between two terms independent, the one of the other—that is, on one side the magnitude of capital, and, on the other, the number of the working population. It is, in the last analysis, simply a relation between the unpaid labor and the paid labor of the same working population.
If the quantity of unpaid labor supplied by the working-class, and accumulated by the capitalist class, increases so rapidly that its conversion into capital requires an extraordinary addition of paid labor, then wages rise, and, all other circumstances remaining the same, the unpaid labor proportionally diminishes. But as soon as, in consequence of this diminution of surplus-labor, accumulation abates, a reaction sets in; a smaller portion of revenue is capitalized, the demand for labor weakens and wages fall.
The price of labor, therefore, can rise only within limits which leave intact the foundations of the capitalist system, and assure the reproduction of capital on a progressively increasing scale. And how could it be otherwise under a system in which the laborer exists solely to increase the wealth of others—wealth created by him? Just as in the religious world, man is dominated by the products of his own brain, so, in the world of capitalist production, he is dominated by the products of his own hand.
As the raising of wages depends only on the continuous progress of accumulation and on its degree of rapidity, we must elucidate the conditions under which this progress is accomplished.
"The same cause," said Adam Smith, "which raises the wages of labor, the increase of stock, tends to increase its productive powers, and to make a smaller quantity of labor produce a greater quantity of work."
How is this result obtained? By a series of changes in the methods of production which enable a given quantity of labor-power to operate a constantly increasing mass of the means of production. This increase of the means of production, as compared to labor-power, is of two kinds. Some, such as machines, buildings, furnaces, etc., are increased in number, size, and efficiency, in order to make the labor more productive; while others—raw materials and auxiliary substances—increase because the labor, having become more productive, consumes more of them in a given time.
In the progress of accumulation there takes place not only a quantitative increase of the different elements of capital; but the development of productive powers, which this progress brings to pass, also manifests itself in qualitative changes in the technical composition of capital. The mass of the means of production—mechanical equipment and materials—increases more and more in comparison with the quantity of labor-power requisite for their productive employment.
These changes in the technical composition of capital re-act on its value-composition and involve a more and more considerable increase of its constant part at the expense of its variable part. So that if, for example, in an early stage of accumulation fifty per cent, of the capital-value is converted into means of production and fifty per cent. into labor, at a more advanced stage eighty per cent. of the capital-value will be laid out in means of production and only twenty per cent. in labor.
But this increase in value of the means of production is only a very approximate index of the much more rapid and considerable increase in their mass. The reason is that the development of the productive powers of labor, manifested by the increase of the means of production compared to labor-power, causes a fall in the value of the majority of the products of labor, and especially of those which function as means of production. Their value then increases, but not so rapidly as their mass.
It must, moreover, be remarked that the progress of accumulation, though it diminishes the variable capital compared to the constant capital, is not inconsistent with an absolute increase of the variable capital. Suppose that a capital-value of $1,200 is, at first, equally divided between constant capital and variable capital, and that after a while, when in consequence of accumulation the capital-value amounts to $3,600, the variable element forms only one-fifth of the whole, then, in spite of its relative decrease from a half to a fifth, this variable element will have actually risen from $600 to $720.
Co-operation, manufacturing division of labor, mechanical production—in a word, the methods that naturally tend to develop the productive powers of collective labor—can only be introduced when production is already carried on a comparatively large scale, and as this scale is extended, the more rapid becomes the development of these methods. On the basis of the wage-system, the scale of operations depends, in the first place, on the magnitude of the masses of capital accumulated in the hands of individual producers. This explains why a certain preliminary accumulation—the origin of which we will look into further on—is the starting-point of the capitalist mode of production. But all the methods that this mode of production employs to render labor more productive are so many methods or increasing the surplus-value or net product which is the source of accumulation. If then accumulation must have reached a certain stage of development before the capitalist mode of production could be established, conversely this mode of production accelerates accumulation, and this more rapid rate of accumulation makes it possible to enlarge the scope of industrial undertakings, and thus causes a further extension of the scale of capitalist production. This reciprocal action and reaction brings about changes in the technical composition of capital which diminish more and more the variable constituent—which serves to pay for labor-power—compared with the constant constituent—which represents the value of the means of production employed.
Every one of the individual masses of capital which in their totality form the social capital, represents in the first place a certain concentration of means of production and subsistence in the hands of a capitalist. And, as accumulation progresses, this concentration increases. While increasing the reproductive components of wealth, accumulation at the same time concentrates them more and more in the hands of individual producers.
All these individual capitals, which form the social capital, pass side by side through the accumulative process—i.e., they are simultaneously reproduced on a progressively increasing scale. Each individual capital is enriched by new increments resulting from this reproduction, and thus, while expanding, preserves its distinct existence, and limits the field of action of others. Therefore, not only are there as many centres of concentration as of accumulation, but the division of the social capital into many independent capitals is maintained precisely because every individual capital functions as a centre of concentration.
The enlargement of individual capitals increases the social capital in the same proportion. But the accumulation of social capital results, not only from the progressive growth of individual capitals, but also from their multiplication in number, caused, for example, by the conversion of stagnant values into individual capitals. Moreover, great capitals that have been long accumulating may suddenly be split up into several distinct capitals, as happens when the estate of a capitalist family is divided among the heirs. Concentration is thus thwarted, both by the formation of new capitals, and by the division of old ones.
The process of social accumulation produces then two sets of phenomena :—on the one hand, the greater and greater concentration of the reproductive elements of wealth in the hands of individual proprietors, and, on the other, the dispersion and multiplication of centres of accumulation and concentration.
At a certain point in economic progress this splitting up of the social capital into many individual capitals comes in conflict with an opposing tendency—the tendency of different centres of accumulation and concentration to mutually attract each other and finally to unite Here, then, we have the fusion of a number of capitals into a smaller number—in a word, this is what is properly called centralization. Let us briefly examine this attraction of capital by capital.
The weapons in the war of competition are low prices. The cheapness of products depends, ceteris paribus, on the productivity of labor, and the latter depends on the scale of production. Therefore, the great capitals beat the smaller. We saw above, in Chapters XI and XIII, that the more the capitalist mode of production develops, the larger becomes the minimum amount of capital necessary to carry on a particular industry under its normal conditions. The petty capitals, therefore, rush into those branches of production which modern industry has not as yet invaded, or which it dominates as yet only in a sporadic and partial fashion. There the most furious competition rages and always ends in the ruin of many petty capitalists whose capitals are in part wiped out, and in part pass into the hands of the victors. The development of capitalist production brought forth an altogether new force—the credit system. This was, originally, slyly introduced as a modest aid to accumulation. It soon became a new and terrible weapon in the war of competition, and finally developed into an immense, complex, widely ramified, social apparatus for the centralization of capitals.
With the extension and growth of accumulation and capitalist production, competition and the credit system, the most powerful instruments of centralization, develop proportionally. And so, in our time, the tendency to centralization is stronger than in any prior historical epoch. The main point which differentiates centralization from concentration, which is simply the consequence of reproduction on an increasing scale, is that centralization does not depend on an actual increase of the social capital. The latter is the sum of the individual capitals, and these form the subject-matter of centralization. They may be more or less considerable, according as accumulation is more or less advanced, but centralization involves only a change in the distribution of existing capitals, only a change in the number of the individual capitals composing the social capital.
In a particular branch of production, centralization would not have reached its ultimate limit, until all the capitals engaged in it should form only one single individual capital. In a given society, it would not have reached its ultimate limit, until the entire national capital should form only one single capital in the hands or a single capitalist or of a single company of capitalists.
Centralization only promotes the progress of accumulation by placing the industrial magnates in a position to extend the scale of their operations. Whether this result be due to accumulation or to centralization, whether the latter be effected by the process of forcible annexation—i.e., by certain capitals overthrowing others and absorbing their dispersed elements, or whether the fusion of many capitals be accomplished by the process of "benevolent assimilation" by stock-companies, trusts, etc., the economic effect will remain just the same. The extended scale of production will always be the starting point of a more comprehensive organization of collective labor, of a greater development of its material instruments, in other words, of a more and more thorough transformation of the routine processes of production on a small scale into processes of production socially combined and scientifically directed.
But it is evident that accumulation—the gradual increase of capital by means of its reproduction on an increasing scale—is but a slow process compared to centralization, which, in the first place, merely changes the quantitative arrangement of the component parts of the social capital. The great railway systems, for example, would not yet be built, if they had had to wait for accumulation to raise up individual capitals equal to this cyclopean task which the centralization of capital, by means of stock-companies, accomplished, as it were, in a trice.
The great capitals created by centralization are reproduced like the others, but more quickly than the others, and become, therefore, in their turn powerful agents of social accumulation. By enlarging the scale and accelerating the rate of accumulation, centralization multiplies and precipitates alterations in the technical composition of capital, alterations which enlarge its constant part at the expense of its variable part, or cause a relative diminution of the demand for labor compared to the magnitude of capital.
The actual demand for labor occasioned by a particular capital depends, not on the absolute magnitude of this capital, but on the absolute magnitude of its variable part which is the only part of it exchanged for labor- power. The relative demand for labor occasioned by a particular capital—i.e., the ratio between the magnitude of this capital and the quantity of labor that it absorbs, is determined by the ratio between the total magnitude of this capital and the magnitude of its variable part. We have just shown that, while accumulation enlarges the social capital, it at the same time reduces the relative magnitude of its variable part, and thus diminishes the relative demand for labor. What now is the effect of this process on the lot of the wage-working-class? To solve this problem, it is clear that we must begin by inquiring how a diminution in the relative demand for labor reacts on the actual demand for labor.
Suppose a capital of $240; let the relative magnitude of the variable part be one-half of the whole capital. If, while the latter remains unchanged, the variable component falls from a half to a third, its actual magnitude will then be only $80, instead of $120. The rule is that so long as the magnitude of a capital remains constant, every diminution of the relative magnitude of its variable part is also a diminution of it actual magnitude.
If the capital of $240 be tripled, it will be $720; and, if the relative magnitude of the variable part falls in this same proportion—i.e., if it is divided by 3, and, therefore, falls from a half to a sixth, its actual magnitude will be $120 as in the beginning, since $120 is the sixth of $720, just as it is the half of $240. The rule is that, if the capital varies in magnitude, the wage-fund, in spite of a diminution of its relative magnitude, will preserve the same actual magnitude, if this diminution is proportionate to the increase of the entire capital.
If our capital of $240 be doubled, it will be $480; and, if the relative magnitude of the variable part falls at a more rapid rate than this rate of increase of the entire capital—if, for instance, it falls, as before, from a half to a sixth, its actual magnitude will then be only $80. The rule is, if the ratio of decrease of the relative magnitude of the variable part of capital be greater than the ratio of increase of the entire capital advanced, the wage-fund will suffer an actual diminution in spite of the increase of the capital.
If this capital of $240 is tripled (as in a prior illustration), it will be equal to $720; and, if the relative magnitude of the variable part falls, but in a ratio smaller than the capital's ratio of increase—if it be divided by 2 while the capital was multiplied by 3, it will fall from a half to a quarter, but its actual magnitude will rise to $180. The rule is, if the ratio of decrease of the relative magnitude of the variable part of capital be smaller than the ratio of increase of the entire capital, the wage-fund will receive an actual augmentation, in spite of the diminution of its relative magnitude.
These illustrations show us, both the successive stages which the masses of the social capital distributed among the different branches of production pass through, and the various conditions which different branches of production simultaneously present.
We have the examples of factories in which the same number of workers suffice to operate an increasing quantity of means of production. As, in this case, the increase of capital is due to the increase of its constant element, it, therefore, proportionally diminishes the relative quantity of the labor-power exploited, without changing its actual quantity. We also have examples of an actual diminution of the number of workers employed in certain branches of industry, and of their simultaneous actual increase in other branches of industry, although in both eases there is an actual enlargement of the capital invested.
We pointed out, in Chapter XV, the causes which, in spite of contrary tendencies, swell the ranks of the wage- workers with the progress of accumulation. We will here recapitulate what was there said that is pertinent to our present subject.
The same development of machinery, which occasions a diminution, not only relative, but often actual, of the number of workers employed in certain branches of industry, enables these branches to turn out a larger mass of cheap products and, in this way, promotes the development of other industries—those to which the branches already revolutionized furnish the means of production or else those from which they draw their materials, tools, etc., and thus there are formed so many new openings for labor.
Besides, there are times when this process of technical revolution seems to pause, and in such intervals accumulation appears as a process of growth on the technical basis last established. Then, the law according to which the demand for labor increases in the same ratio as capital again comes into partial operation. But, at the very times when the number of workers attracted by capital reaches its maximum, products become so abundant that the smallest obstacle to their distribution seems to bring the social mechanism to a standstill, and the demand for labor abates or temporarily ceases. The necessity for economy on the part of the capitalists leads to technical improvements which naturally diminish the number of the workers required. And the intervals, during which accumulation tends to increase the demand for labor, become shorter and shorter.
Thus, as soon as mechanical industry gains the ascendancy, the progress of accumulation redoubles the energy of the forces which tend to diminish the relative demand for labor, and weakens the forces which tend to increase the actual demand for labor. The variable capital, and consequently the demand for labor, increases with the growth of the social capital, of which it forms a part, but it increases in a decreasing ratio.
As the actual demand for labor is controlled not only by the magnitude of the variable capital already functioning, but also by the average rate of its continued increase (Chapter XXIV), the supply of labor remains normal so long as it follows this movement of the variable capital. But when the rate of increase of the variable capital falls, the same supply of labor, which up to that time was normal, becomes superabundant, so that a larger or smaller portion of the wage-working-class, having ceased to be necessary for the expansion of capital, is now superfluous or supernumerary. As this circuit is repeated with the progress of accumulation, it leads to the formation of a constantly increasing surplus-population.
The progress of accumulation and the movement, which accompanies it, of a relative diminution of the variable capital and of a corresponding diminution of the relative demand for labor, which, as we have just seen, involve the actual increase of the variable capital and of the demand for labor in a decreasing ratio, also involve, as a sort of final complemental consequence, the creation of a relative surplus-population. We say "relative," because it is due, not to an actual increase of the working- population, but to the condition and composition of the social capital, which enable it to dispense with a larger or smaller proportion of the working-population. As this surplus-population exists only with relation to the temporary requirements of capitalist exploitation, it may increase and diminish suddenly as production contracts and expands.
By causing the accumulation of capital, and, in proportion to their success in accomplishing this, the wage- working-class themselves, therefore, produce the means of their own transformation into a relative surplus-population. That is the law of population peculiar to the capitalist period, and corresponding to its particular mode of production. Every historical mode of social production has its own law of population, a law applicable only to it, and which passes out of existence with it, and has, therefore, only an historical value.
If accumulation, the development of wealth on a capitalist basis, necessarily creates a surplus laboring population, the latter becomes, in its turn, the most powerful lever of accumulation—even a condition of existence of fully developed capitalist production. This surplus- population forms an industrial reserve army belonging to capital just as absolutely, as if it had raised and disciplined it at its own expense. Independently of the natural increase of population, it provides capital, to meet its varying requirements, with a mass of human material always at its disposal for exploitation.
The presence of this industrial reserve army, the recall of part or all of it to active service, followed by its reformation on a larger scale—all this is part and parcel of the checkered life traversed by modern industry—a well nigh regular, decennial cycle—not to speak of other irregular perturbations—made up of periods of ordinary activity, overproduction, crisis, and stagnation.
This peculiar course of modern industry is not met with in any of the former epochs of human history. These recurrent cycles, which always end in a general crisis— the end of one cycle and the starting-point of another—only date from the time when mechanical progress, having struck its roots deep in the economic soil, began to exercise a preponderating influence over the entire national production; when, thanks to it, foreign commerce began to surpass domestic trade in importance; when the universal market annexed successively vast areas in America, Asia, and Australia; and when, finally, the industrial nations had become sufficiently numerous. Up to the present time the length of these periods has been ten or eleven years, but there is no reason why this figure should be permanent. On the contrary, it is a necessary conclusion from the laws of capitalist production, which we have just developed, that it will vary, and that the cycles will grow shorter.
The industrial progress which follows the advance of accumulation, while it constantly reduces the number of laborers necessary to operate an increasing mass of means of production, at the same time increases the quantity of work that the individual laborer has to furnish. As it develops the productive powers of labor and thereby derives more products from less labor, the capitalist system also develops the means of extracting more work from the wage-laborer, either by prolonging his working-day or by rendering his labor more intense, or else by apparently increasing the number of the workers employed, by replacing one skilled and high-priced worker by several unskilled and cheap workers—men by women, adults by children, one American workingman by three Chinese. These are all methods for diminishing the demand for labor and rendering the supply of it excessive—in a word, for producing supernumeraries.
The over-work inflicted on the portion of the wage- working-class in active service, the employed, swells the ranks of the unemployed—the reserves—and the competition of the latter against the former in the search for employment places a pressure upon the employed that forces them to submit more meekly to the dictates of capital.
The variations in the general rate of wages are exclusively determined by the varying proportions in which the working-class is divided between the active army and the reserve army; and the increase or decrease of the relative surplus-population corresponds to the periodic changes of the industrial cycle.
Instead of making the supply of labor depend on the alternate increase and decrease of the actively functioning capital, the gospel of bourgeois political economy makes the expansion or contraction of capital depend on an absolute rise or fall in the number of the working population. According to this doctrine, accumulation produces a rise in wages, and this rise gradually causes an increase in the number of the laborers, which continues until the labor-market is so overstocked, that the capital is no longer adequate to employ them all at once. Then wages fall. This fall is a mortal blow to the working population. At the least, it prevents them from increasing, so that, compared to the number of the laborers, capital again becomes excessive, and the demand for labor once more begins to exceed the supply, wages rise again, and so on.
And a cycle of this sort would be possible under the capitalist system of production! Why, before the rise of wages could have produced the slightest actual increase in the absolute number of the population really capable of working, again and again would the time have passed by during which the industrial campaign must have been opened, the battle fought, and the victory won! However rapid human reproduction may be, in any case, there must be an interval of a generation before adult workers can be replaced. Now, the profits of factory-owners depend especially on their ability to take advantage of the favorable moment when there is a brisk demand. They must, therefore, be able to respond to a sudden change in the market by an immediate increase of their output. They must, therefore, find ready and waiting on the market plenty of disposable "hands." They can not wait until their demand for hands causes, by raising the rate of wages, a sufficient increase of the population to provide them the hands they need. Capitalist accumulation could not proceed without a surplus working-class population. The expansion of production at a given moment is possible only with a reserve army under the orders of capital, only when the working force may be increased independently of the natural increase of population.
The economists confound the laws that regulate the general rate of wages, and express the ratio between capital and labor-power—both considered in their totality—with the laws which distribute, in detail, the population among the various branches of industry.
Special circumstances favor accumulation, now in one branch, now in another. As soon as the profits in one branch surpass the average rate of profit, additional capitals rush into it, the demand for labor grows stronger and wages rise. Their rise attracts a larger part of the working-class to the privileged branch of industry until by force of this continued influx of labor-power wages fall back to their ordinary level, or even fall below it. Then the rush of laborers into that branch of industry not only ceases, but is followed by an exodus from it into other branches. Accumulation of capital really produces a rise of wages; this rise, an increase of laborers; this increase, a fall of wages; and, finally, this fall, a decrease of laborers. But the economists err by proclaiming as a general law of wages a rule based upon a local oscillation of the labor-market, produced by changes in the distribution of the laborers among the various branches of production.
After it has once become the pivot on which the law of supply and demand of labor turns, relative surplus- population permits this law to function only within limits consonant with capitalist domination and exploitation.
Let us revert, in this connection, to a theory already referred to in Chapter XV. When a machine displaces laborers hitherto employed, the utopians of political economy pretend that this operation at the same time sets free a certain capital destined to employ them anew in some other branch of industry. We have shown that this is in no sense true. No part of the former capital is set free for the discharged laborers, who, on the contrary, are set free for new capitals to dispose of—if there chance to be any such new capitals. We are now in a position to understand how little heed should be paid to this pretended "theory of compensation."
The laborers displaced by the machine and set free, are at the disposition of every new capital about to enter upon productive activity. Whether this capital attracts them or others, the effect produced on the general demand for labor will always be nil, if this new capital is just sufficient to withdraw from the market as many hands as the machines threw upon it. If it withdraws a less number, the result will be an increase in the number of the unemployed. Lastly, if it withdraws a larger number, the general demand for labor will increase only to the extent that the number of laborers thus newly employed exceeds the number of those displaced by the machine. The increase that would have taken place in the general demand for laborers as a consequence of the new capitals seeking investment, is, therefore, in every case neutralized to the extent of the competition of the laborers thrown upon the labor-market by machinery.
And that is the general effect of all the methods that contribute to render laborers superfluous. Thanks to them, the supply and demand of labor cease to be independent movements of two opposing forces—labor-power and capital. Capital acts on both sides at once. If its accumulation increases the demand for laborers, we know that it also increases the supply by making supernumeraries. Its dice are loaded. Under these conditions, the law of supply and demand of labor completes the despotism of capital.
And so, when the laborers begin to perceive that their function as instruments of the expansion of capital becomes more precarious with the increase in the productiveness of their labor and the growth of the wealth of their masters; when they discover that the deadly violence of the competition among themselves depends entirely on the pressure exerted by the reserve army; when, in order to weaken the baleful effect of this "natural" law of capitalist accumulation, they combine and organize to secure common, concerted action of the employed and the unemployed, then straightway capital and its authorized defender, the bourgeois political economist, cry out against this sacrilegious attempt to violate the "eternal" law of supply and demand.
Although the relative surplus-population is infinitely varied in form, yet we can distinguish a few great categories, a few very pronounced differences of form—the floating form, the latent form and the stagnant form.
The centres of modern industry, factories, manufactories, iron-works, mines, etc., without cessation, alternately attract and repel laborers; but, generally speaking, they attract more in the long run than they repel, so that the number of laborers exploited goes on increasing, although it relatively decreases compared to the scale of production. Here the surplus-population exists in the floating form.
Factories and most manufactories employ male laborers only until they reach maturity. After that only a very small portion of them are retained, and the majority are regularly discharged. This majority forms an element of the surplus-population that grows with the extension of modern industry. Capital requires a larger proportion of women, children and young people than of mature men. The exploitation of labor-power by capital is, moreover, so severe that the laborer is worked out, used up at an age when he ought to be only half-way along life's pathway. When he reaches mature age, he must make room for a younger worker, and must drop down a step in the social scale, fortunate if he is not irrevocably relegated to the ranks of the supernumeraries. Moreover, it is among the modern industrial working-class that there is found the shortest average duration of life. Under these conditions the ranks of this portion of the proletariat can grow in numbers only by a frequent renewal of the individual elements. Therefore, the generations must follow, one the other, in rapid succession. This social necessity is met by means of early marriages, and by the premium that the exploitation of children places upon their production.
As soon as capitalist production seizes upon agriculture and introduces the use of machinery, the demand for labor absolutely falls in proportion to the accumulation of capital. Therefore, part of the agricultural population is always on the point of transition into an urban or manufacturing population. The country could not furnish the towns and cities with new elements of population, as it does, if there were not in the country itself a latent surplus-population, which becomes apparent in its full extent only at periods of emigration on a large scale from the country to the towns and cities. The farm laborer is, therefore, reduced to the minimum of wages, and has one foot already in the slough of pauperism.
On the other hand, notwithstanding this relative surplus-population the population of the agricultural districts is, at the same time, insufficient. This lack is felt, not only locally in those places where there is a rapid drain of population to the towns, the mines, the railways, etc., but generally, in spring, summer and autumn, at the season when agriculture requires additional hands. There are always too many laborers for the ordinary requirements always too few for the exceptional and temporary requirements of agriculture.
The third category of the relative surplus-population—the stagnant—really belongs to the active industrial army, but at the same time the extreme irregularity of its employment makes it an inexhaustible reservoir of disposable labor-power. Wonted to chronic misery, to conditions of existence altogether precarious and shamefully below the ordinary level of the working-class, it becomes the broad basis of special branches of exploitation in which labor-time attains its maximum and the rate of wages its minimum. The so-called domestic industry furnishes us a frightful example of this. This stratum, which is incessantly recruited from the supernumerary forces of modern industry and agriculture, reproduces itself on an increasing scale. If the deaths are many, the birth-rate is also very high. Such a phenomenon reminds one of the extraordinarily rapid and copious reproduction of certain weak and constantly hunted species of animals. "Poverty," said Adam Smith, "seems favorable to generation."
Finally, the lowest residuum of the relative surplus-population dwells in the hell of pauperism. Without counting the tramps, criminals, prostitutes, beggars and all those who are called the dangerous classes, this social stratum is composed of three categories.
The first comprises the laborers able to work. Its numbers increase at every crisis, and diminish at every revival of business. The second category comprises orphans and the children of the dependent poor. These are so many candidates for the industrial reserve army, and, in times of great prosperity they are, as a body, drafted into active service. The third category embraces the most wretched of the poor, first, working men and women whom the social development has, as it were, demonetized, by suppressing the special detail operation which the division of labor had made their only means of support; then, those who have, unhappily, passed the normal age of the productive laborer; and, finally, the immediate victims of industry—the sickly, the maimed, widows, etc., whose numbers rise with the rise in the number of dangerous machines, mines, chemical works, etc.
Pauperism is the military hospital (Soldiers' Home) of the labor army. Its production is included in that of the relative surplus-population it is equally inevitable. Together with surplus-population, it forms a condition of the existence of capitalist wealth.
As the same causes which develop the accumulation of capital with the productive power of labor lead to the setting free of labor-power, the industrial reserve army must increase with the development of the material instrumentalities of wealth. But the more the reserve army grows in proportion to the active army of labor, the greater also is the growth of official pauperism. That is the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation. The action of this law, as of every other, is naturally modified by the particular circumstances.
The analysis of relative surplus-value (in the Fourth Section) led us to this conclusion: in the environment of the capitalist system, where the laborer does not make use of the means of production, but the means of production make use of the laborer, all methods for multiplying the resources and the power of collective labor are brought into use at the expense of the individual laborer; all means for developing production transform themselves into means for dominating and exploiting the producer; they mutilate him till he is nothing but a fragment of a man, an appendage of a machine; they array against him, as so many hostile forces, the scientific powers of production; they take away all charm from his labor and convert it into compulsory toil; they render the conditions under which his labor is performed more and more oppressive, and subject the laborer during his working hours to a despotism as unlimited as it is degrading; they convert his entire life into labor-time, and drive his wife and children into the factories—the hard-labor penitentiaries of capitalism.
But all the methods that promote the production of surplus-value are equally conducive to accumulation, and all progress in accumulation promotes, on its side, the development of those methods. It follows, therefore, that, whether the rate of wages be high or low, the condition of the laborer must grow worse in the same measure that capital accumulates. Therefore, accumulation of wealth, on one side, is offset by the equal accumulation of poverty, suffering, ignorance, brutality, physical and moral degradation, and slavery, on the other side—the side of the class that produces this very capital.