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Das Kapital

Karl Marx


Chapter 14: The Division of Labor and Manufacture

Chapter 14: The Division of Labor and Manufacture

Chapter 14: The Division of Labor and Manufacture

Chapter 14: The Division of Labor and Manufacture

Chapter 14: The Division of Labor and Manufacture

Chapter 14: The Division of Labor and Manufacture


In a section entitled "The Capitalist Character of Manufacture," Marx says that the modern division of labor makes it necessary to have an increased number of workers under one capitalist. The minimum amount of capital that the capitalist has must continue to increase. The worker is transformed by these manufacturing developments. He loses some of his identity in order to fit his specific job; he must become an appendage of a larger machine. Marx says, "the worker is brought face to face with the intellectual potentialities of the material process of production as the property of another and as a power which rules over him." The worker becomes impoverished of his individual productive power. Capitalists wish to discourage imagination, and they make the worker machine-like. Manufacture attacks the individual at his very basis, and is thus "the first system to provide the materials and the impetus for industrial pathology."

Manufacture is originally spontaneously developed. However, with time it becomes "the conscious, methodical and systematic" form of capitalist production. The division of labor is a specifically capitalist form of social production; it is a way of creating surplus-value at the expense of the worker. It is both a necessary part of civilization's progress and a more refined way to exploit workers. There are obstacles to the development of the division of labor during the manufacturing period. However, with the advent of machines these obstacles are pushed aside and capital takes center stage.


First, it is important to understand what Marx means by the division of labor. With the division of labor, workers specialize in one task and work together to produce commodities. For example, in building chairs, one person would cut the wood, one person would put the pieces together, and one person would paint it. No one person is responsible for the final product; each simply does his own task. This is typically thought to be more efficient than to have each person make a whole product, and it is considered to be an important aspect of the industrial revolution.

Now, considering that Marx believes labor to be integral to the human character, it is not hard to guess that he would find such as change in how people labor to be extremely important. According to Marx, its impact on the individual worker is quite devastating. Being forced to do the same repetitive task every day squelches the imagination. It makes the worker little more than a machine. Marx gives a very harsh critique of the role of manufacture and of the division of labor on the individual. However, he was far from alone in making such a critique. For example, Adam Smith, commonly thought of as the father of classical economics (and a major supporter of capitalism), was very concerned about the division of labor's detrimental effects on the worker. Smith's response was to encourage public support for education. Marx mentions Smith's observations, but he does not believe that education is a suitable solution. How convincing do you find Smith's and Marx's criticisms of the division of labor? Do you think there are solutions within the capitalist system for this problem?

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