Application of the Critical Theory

Why is Competition a 'bad' thing?
Why can't an American Male Hold a Job?

"The greater division of labour enables one worker [a member of the proletariat] to do the work of five, ten, or twenty; it therefore multiplies competition among the workers fivefold, tenfold, and twentyfold. The workers do not only compete by ... selling himself cheaper than another; they compete by ... doing the work of five, ten, or twenty; and the division of labour, introduced by capital and continually increased, compels the workers to compete among themselves in this way.

Further, as the division of labour increases, labour is simplified. The special skill of the worker becomes worthless. He becomes transformed into a simple monotonous productive force that does not have to use intense bodily or intellectual faculties. His labour becomes a labour that anyone can perform. Hence, competitors crowd upon him on all sides, and ... we remind the reader that the more simple and easily learned the labor is, the lower the cost of production needed to master it, the lower do wages sink, for, like the price of every other commodity, they are determined by the cost of production. Therefore, as labour becomes more unsatisfying, more repulsive, competition increase and wages decrease.

The worker tries to keep up the amount of his wages by working more, whether by working longer hours or by producing more in one hour. Driven by want, therefore, he still further increases the evil effects of the division of labour. The result is that the more he works the less wages he receives, and for this simple reason that he competes to that extent with his fellow workers, hence makes them into so many competitors who offer themselves on just the same bad terms as he does himself, and ... [in the end] he competes with himself, with himself, as a member of the working class.

Machinery brings about the same results [as competition between the workers but] on a much greater scale, by replacing skilled workers by unskilled, men by women, adults by children. It brings about the same results, where it [the quest for cheaper labour and material] is newly introduced, by throwing the ... workers on to the streets in masses, and, where it is developed, improved and replaced by more productive machinery, by discharging workers in small batches. We have portrayed above, in a hasty sketch, the industrial war of the capitalist amoung themselves; this war has the particuliarity that its battles are won less by recruiting then by discharging the army of labour. The generals, capitalist, compete with one another as to who can discharge [the] most soldiers of industry.

The economist tell us, ... that the workers rendered superfluous by machinery find new branches of employment.

They dare not assert directly that the same workers who are discharged find places in the new branches of labour. The facts cry out too loudly against this lie. They really only assert that new means of employment will open up for other component sections of the working class, for instance, for the portion of the young generation of workers that was ready to enter the branch of industry which has gone under. That is, of course, a great consolation for the disinherited workers. The worshipful capitalists will never want for fresh exploitable flesh and blood, and will let the dead bury their dead. This is a consolation which the bourgeois give themselves rather than one they give the workers. If the whole class of wage-workers were to be abolished owing to machinery, how dreadful that would be for capital which, without wage labour, ceases to be capital!

Let us suppose, however, that those directly driven out of their jobs by machinery, and the entire section of the new generation that was already on the watch for this employment, find a new occupation. Does any one imagine that it will be as highly paid as that which has been lost? That would contradict all the laws of economics. We have seen how modern industry always brings with it the substitution of a more simple, subordinate occupation for the more complex and higher one.

How, then, could a mass of workers who have been thrown out of one branch of industry owing to machinery find refuge in another, unless and latter is lower, worse paid?

The workers who work in the manufacture of machinery itself have been cited as an exception. As soon as more machinery is demanded and used in industry, it is said, there must necessarily be an increase of machines, consequently of the manufacture of machines, and consequently of the employment of workers in the manufacture of machines; and the workers engaged in this branch of industry are claimed to be skilled, even educated workers.

Since the year 1840 this assertion, which even before was only half true, has lost all semblance of truth because ever more versatile machines have been employed in the manufacture of machinery, no more and no less than in the manufacture of cotton yarn, and the wokers employed in the machine factories, confronted by highly elaborate machines, can only play the part of highly unelaborate machines. [Now we have machines that make machines]

But in place of the man who has been discharged owing to the machine, the factory employs maybe three children and one woman. And did not the man's wages have to suffice for the three children and a woman? Did not the minimum of wages have to suffice to maintain and to propagate the race? What, then, does this favourite bourgeois phrase prove? Nothing more than that now four times as many workers' lives are used up in order to gain a livelihood for one worker's family.

Let us sum up: The more productive capital grows, the more the division of labour and the application of machinery expands. The more the division of labour and the application of machinery expands, the more competition among the workers expands and the more their wages contract [or the buying power of their wages decrease].

by Karl Marx, Wage Labour and Capital (1891 Pamphlet, Section V)
   The Marx-Engels Reader: Second Edition, pg. 214-216
   Edited by Robert C. Tucker
   WW Norton & Company 1978
   Italicized text added by Prof. Tucker for emphases.
   Bracked text and hyperlinks added for clarification by Walter Jensen.
   Section V is also know as 'Effect of Capitalist Competition
   on the Capitalist Class the Middle Class and the Working Class'

Comment: Over the last 50 years, the United States' manufacturing plants moved, and for that fact are still moving, to other countries in order to take advantage of cheaper and more submissive workers (a.k.a. labour markets). For example, China produces toys built by women and children for US children. In Mexico, Mexican women produce clothing and automotive parts. In India, 12-16 year old girls produce Nike shoes for America's youth. And in Malaysia, electrical and electronics goods are produced by a work force that has more females then males. In short, the reason American corporations moved their factors overseas is because US workers want too much money and healthcare benefits for their labour power. The reason I use the word 'submissive' is due to US corporate policy of hiring women & children over men. The unspoken rationality behind such an action is that corporate American understands that these countries have a patriarchal social structure (women have less rights then men), weak labor laws (no minimum wage and/or work place safety standards), and/or no unions. This allows these corporations to increase their profit because they have lessen their expenses. What politicians and people fail to understand, be they in the US, China, Mexico, India, or in Malaysia, is that as soon as a cheaper labor market appears on the radar screen's of the high bourgeois, the high bourgeois will start closing their factories and moving their capital to the location of cheaper labor force. Again, in short, when the workers of China, Mexico, India, and Malaysia want the money and benefits that were once enjoyed in the US, the US corporations will, once again, move their base of operation to other countries. What Marx prophesied, the cycle of the mobility of capital which was just emerging in his lifetime, will continue as long as ignorance rains supreme in minds of the proletariat. Economically speaking, the only thing that has changed, since Marx wrote 'Wage Labour and Capital' is that capital in now extremely mobile. The only for foreseeable change in this cycle is that US corporations will 'feel' effects of competition from corporations from other countries.

First Posted by Walter Jensen on 10-15-2003
Revised 11-12-2003

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