Capitalism cannot be said even to begin before a number of individual owners of money employ simultaneously a number of workmen on the same terms, that is to say before the development of a concert of action towards profit among the employers, and a concert of action towards production for the profit of the employers among the employed.
'A greater number of labourers working together at the same time in one place (or if you will, in the same field of labour) in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the mastership of one capitalist, constitutes, both historically and logically the starting-point of capitalist prodiuction.'
It differs from the mediæval system, that of the gilds and their craftsmen only by the greater number of the workmen employed; but this change to a new form of organization made at once considerable difference in the rate and manner of production: there was less comparative expense of the means of production, ie., buildings, tools, warehouses, etc(1). A consequence of this concentration of workmen under one roof was the development of the function of direction in the master as independent of his qualities as a craftsmen (sic), and the forcing on the system of this function as a necessary part of production. The master of the gild craftsman period held his place because he was a better workman and more experienced than his fellows; he did not differ from them in kind but in degree only; if he fell sick, for instance, his place would be taken by the next best workman without any disturbance in the organization of the workshop; but the master of even the earliest period of capitalism was from the beginning unimportant as a workman (even when he worked, as he often did at first) but all-important as a director of work.
'Simple co-operation', says Marx, 'is always the prevailing form, in those branches of production in which capital acts on a large scale, and division of labour and machinery play but a subordinate part.' This sentence leads to the next development of capitalism, that of the division of labour, which brings us into the system of manufacture, as the word is generally understood; though it has a final development, that of machinery and the factory. This period of the division of labour, more or less pure, extends from the middle of the 16th to the end of the 18th centuries, when it was brought to perfection; but it must be understood that these systems overlapped one another considerably.
The division-of-labour or manufacturing system starts under two conditions.
The first is where the employer collects into one workshop workmen of various crafts, the results of whose labours are finally combined into one article, as eg., a carriage-maker's in which wheel-wright, coach-builder, upholsterer, painter, etc., work each at his own occupation, and their products are combined into the one article, a finished carriage.
The other is the system in which the employer collects his workmen under one roof, and employs the whole of them as one machine in the simultaneous production of one article which has to go through various processes, these processes being apportioned to various parts of the workman-machine. This system affords a distinct example of evolution by means of survival of the fittest; sudden increase of production seems to have been called for, and the work accordingly had to be reorganized by being apportioned to different workmen in order to save time. Thus this system is the reverse of that illustrated by the carriage-making, in which a number of crafts had to be combined into the manufacture of one article; whereas in this (pin or needle-making may be taken as an illustration) a number of processes which once formed portions of one craft, now become each of them a separate craft in itself.
From this follows the complete interdependence of each human being forming a part of the workman machine, no one of whom can produce anything by himself. The unit of labour is now no longer an individual, but a group.
But all these processes, however sub-divided, and however combined, were still acts of handicraft; the same necessities which forced the simple co-operation of the first capitalistic period into division of labour, now forced the latter system to yet further development; though, indeed, other causes besides merely economic ones were at work, such as the growing aggregation of people into towns and the consequent increasing division of labour in Society itself as to the occupations of its members. This final development was the substitution of the machine and the complete factory-system for the division of labour and workshop-system. Under the new system the group of workmen, every member of which by the performance of a special piece of handicraft turns out some special part of the article made, gives place to a machine which produces the results of all these manoeuvres combined together; or to an association of machines acting in a group, as the workmen acted. The workman is no longer the principal factor in the work, the tools which he handled are now worked by a mechanism connected by another mechanism with the power, whatever it may be, which puts the whole in motion. This is the true machine of modern times, as contrasted with the mere tool-machine of the earlier period, which was an aid to the workman and not a substitute for him. Furthermore, the workshop gives place to the factory which is not a mere assemblage of machines under one roof, but rather a great machine itself, of which the machines are parts; as Marx says: 'An organized system of machines to which motion is communicated by the transmitting mechanism from a central automaton is the most developed form of production by machinery. Here we have in place of the isolated machine a mechanical monster whose body fills whole factories, and whose demon power, at first veiled under the slow and measured motion of his giant limbs, at last breaks out into the fast and furious whirl of his countless working organs.'
This is the machine which has produced the great revolution in production of our epoch. The workman once a handicraftsman, having all control over the article he produced, next became a part of a human machine, and finally has become the servant and tender of a machine; and by means of all this the fully developed modern capitalist has come into existence.
1. The master worker of the gild-system was not really a master at all even after he began to employ journeymen, because their number was limited veryy closely, and they were all sure to become masters in their turn: the reall 'employer of labour' was the gild and the 'master' of that period was simply a foreman of the gild; the great change consisted in the breaking down of the position of the gild as employer, and the turning of its foreman into a real master or capitalistback.
Commonweal, Volume 3, Number 80, 23 July 1887, PP. 234-235