The Weight of the Chain

In “Wage Labour and Capital” Marx states that the forest of arms begging for employment becomes ever denser and the arms themselves ever leaner.” He points out that this is the inevitable result of the growth of the means of production, under capitalist conditions, but he says also that this development is at the same time in the interests of the working class—the sooner capitalism reaches the limits of its expansion the better.

In June, 1936, The Economic Journal con¬tained an article by A. E. Feavearyear on “Capital Accumulation and Unemployment,” in which he endeavoured “to make an estimate of the rate of capital accumulation in this country in recent years and, secondly, to give some indication of the quantity of investment likely to be required to set the present unemployed to work and provide for future recruits.”

The result of Mr. Feavearyear’s investigations are of great importance and, whatever one may think about his conclusions, it must be admitted that he has been painstaking and thorough in his work; he gathered an enormous amount of data and carefully sifted it before attempting to point out its significance.

It is obviously impossible, within the scope of an article, to deal exhaustively with the writer’s views : we will let him speak for himself.

“The whole subject is obviously bristling with theoretical difficulties. For instance, how are we to value the capital? Is it to be the written down value of the fixed assets together with working capital, or the market value of the business as a going concern—that is to say, in the case of a company, the total market value of the share and loan capital ? The chief objection to the latter is that where a business has been keeping its workpeople fully employed for some years, but making little profit and paying low dividends, the valuation will be too low, and where a business has temporarily had the advantage of windfall profits the valuation is likely to be much too high—that is to say, much greater than the cost of erecting such a business. … As the most practical method it was decided to take, for mining, manufacturing, and trading concerns, the sum of the paid-up share and loan capital at par, the reserves, and any long-term bank loans, less any substantial outside investments. The method involves the assumption that sundry debtors and cash are together equal to sundry creditors, and it values as capital goodwill and any other intangible assets which may remain in the balance sheet.”

The following table can be followed with comparative ease. The inquiry has been restricted by the fact that for only a limited number of firms is there any published information of the staff they employ, and in some of these cases, where there are subsidiary undertakings, it is not possible accurately to relate the capital to the labour.

Average Capital per Head of Labour in Various Industries

Industry No. of Firms.

Total Capital. (£000.) Total Personnel. Average Capital per Head. (£.)
Public works contractors 3 1,201 9,500 126
Clothing manufacturers 7 3,062 20,100 152
Confectionery and sweets 3 1,349 7,400 183
Mixed iron and coal-mining companies 3 9,328 43,300 215
Collieries 11 11,842 54,850 216
Potteries 2 2,018 8,000 252
Textile and other machinery, except electrical machinery 10 14,252 45,800 311
Shipbuilding and engineering 12 15,545 45,300 343
Motor vehicles, cycles and parts 8 8,373 24,000 349
Electrical machinery and apparatus 11 22,760 61,750 369
Textile manufacturers 10 25,648 58,000 442
Rubber and tyre manufacturers 3 3,684 8,300 444
Printers and bookbinders 2 1,534 3,000 512
Iron and steel works 8 12,730 23,800 535
Tobacco manufacturers 1 2,025 3,000 675
Bleachers, printers and dyers 2 16,618 24,000 692
Total 96 151,959 440,100 345

In addition to the figures given above we have other information.

In his estimate of the national capital in 1928 Sir Josiah Stamp placed the total of farmers’ capital at £450 millions, excluding the value of land and buildings. If the total of the operative staff at that period is taken at the round figure of one million, the average per head is £450.

Public utility undertakings of all kinds have a very high average of capital per head, due chiefly to the heavy absorption of capital in mains, whether they be water, gas, or electric mains, or telephone trunk line. A London gas company, for instance, has a capital of £4 millions and a total staff of 2,500, with an average of £1,600 per head; and a London electric, supply company a capital of £9 millions, a staff of 2,700 and an average of .£3,300 per head.

If all the assets of Railway Companies are taken together, including steamboats, canals, hotels, the total capital is £1,020 millions and the total staff about 630,000, the average per head being £1,620.

In the case of Shipping Companies there is the shore staff as well as the crews. A line of twelve cargo vessels of about 5,000 tons each stood on the owners’ books at £903,000 and employed crews numbering 600 altogether, an average of £1,500 of capital each.

In 1931 the book value of the P. and O. fleet of forty-six vessels was about £15 millions and they employed crews totalling 11,000, the average capital being £1,360 per head.

The Empress of Britain was reputed to have cost £3 millions and her crew numbers about 720, while the Queen Mary, which has cost £5 millions, apparently requires a crew of only 1,270. The average is about £4,000 in each case and it is clear that building luxury liners is a very costly way of giving permanent employment to the new recruits to industry.

“If we deduct from Sir Josiah Stamp’s figure of £18,045 millions for the total wealth of the United Kingdom in 1928 the value of the land and items such as furniture and movables, which are not a part of the industrial equipment, we have a sum of £14,000 millions as the value of the capital being used to house and employ the working population, which, for an occupied popula¬tion of 21 millions, represents an average of £666 per head. Since by far the greater part of this is old equipment and old houses, it seems unlikely that the average amount of new investment required to house and employ the additional personnel for which the nation still has to provide each year can be much less than £1,000 per head.”

This is certainly interesting, especially when we perceive the gigantic developments now taking place in the armament race.

Where will our masters obtain the necessary capital with which to employ those at present unemployed in the production of munitions, etc.? The workers are compelled to forge the very chains that enslave them. Let’s see what Marx says:—

“The law by which a constantly increasing quantity of means of production, thanks to the advance in the productiveness of social labour, may be set in movement by a progressively diminishing expenditure of human power, this law, in a capitalist society—where the labourer does not employ the means of production, but the means of production employ the labourer—undergoes a complete inversion and is expressed thus : the higher the productiveness of labour, the greater is the pressure of the labourers on the means of employment, the more precarious, therefore, becomes their condition of existence, viz., the sale of their own labour power, for the increasing of another’s wealth, or for the self-expansion of capital. The fact that the means of production and the productiveness of labour increase more rapidly than the productive population expresses itself, therefore, capitalistically, in the inverse form that the labouring population always increases more rapidly than the conditions under which capital can employ this increase for its own self-expansion.
“Within the capitalist system all methods for raising the social productiveness of labour are brought about at the cost of the individual labourer; all means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the producers; they mutilate the labourer into a fragment of a man, degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, destroy every remnant of charm in his work and turn it into hated toil; they estrange from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as an independent power; they distort the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labour-process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness; they transform his life-time into working time and drag his wife and children beneath the wheels of the Juggernaut of Capital. But all methods for the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation; and every extension of accumulation becomes again a means for the development of those methods. It follows, therefore, that in proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of the labourer, be his payment high or low, must grow worse. The law finally, that always equilibrates the relative surplus population, or industrial reserve army, to the extent and energy of accumulation, this law rivets the labourer to capital more firmly than the wedges of Vulcan did Prometheus to the rock. It establishes an accumulation of misery, corresponding with accumulation of capital. Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore, at the same time, accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole, i.e., on the side of the class that produces its own product in the form of capital.”

Marx was evidently full of moral indignation when he penned this analysis; he often wrote at a white heat, for it was his passionate sympathy with the victims of the industrial revolution that made him see the importance and significance of facts which were hidden from the academically minded economist.

Karl Kantsky says: “Political and social struggle is impossible without moral indignation against the opponent. The moral indignation against given political and social conditions, against the material oppression of the social powers, is therefore the first and the last, the basic form of the manifestation of the class differences, the most primitive and lasting mainspring of the class struggle.”

And then he states, referring to Menger’s ethical theory and the statement of some reviewers, that it was identical with the theory of ethics of the Materialistic Conception of History:

“To say that the conception of historical materialism is generated by the material conditions of society, is the same as Menger’s conception, that it is generated t>y material force is just as false and misleading as is the oft-repeated confusion of material conditions with the material interests of the individual, which reduces Marxism to that low level of ethics according to which all morality is reduced to egoism. People who so represent and propagate the Materialist Conception of History may consider themselves good Marxists, but they really belong to those who reflect little credit on the Marxian teachings, who made Marx shudder and with whom he begged not to be confounded.”
“….. While the growing contradiction between the changing social conditions and the sta-gnating morality expresses itself in the Conservative, that is, in the ruling classes, in growing immorality, hypocrisy and cynicism, which often go hand in hand with a weakening of the social instinct, the effect upon the rising and exploited classes is entirely different. The interests of those classes stand in direct opposition to the social foundations which created the reigning morality. They have not the slightest reason to defer to it, and all the reasons to oppose it. With the growth of their consciousness of their opposition to the existing social order, grows their moral indignation, their opposition to the old, antiquated morality, to which they oppose a new morality, which they advocate as the morality of society as a whole. Thus there arises in the rising classes a moral ideal, which grows in intensity with the growth of the power of these classes. At the same time, as we have already seen, the social instincts of these same classes gain in strength and are particularly developed by the class struggle, so that with the intensity of the new moral ideal grows also the enthusiasm for the same.”

Capital is the means of exploitation. It is the chain on labour’s limbs and grows heavier.

Slavery is involved in the wages system. As a result of realising the cause of their enslavement the working class will obtain a knowledge of what is essential to their emancipation.

When they understand what capital is and the place they occupy in society as a result of being bound to it the working class will generate within themselves the will to be free.


Leave a Reply