A Critique of Political Economy

Karl Marx

Volume I
Book One: The Process of Production of Capital

Chapter Fifteen: Machinery and Modern Industry

Section 3 – The Proximate Effects of Machinery on the Workman

First published: in German in 1867;
Source: First english edition of 1887 (4th German edition changes included as indicated) with some modernisation of spelling;
Publisher: Progress Publishers, Moscow, USSR;
First Published: 1887;
Translated: Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling, edited by Frederick Engels;
Online Version: Marx/Engels Internet Archive ( 1995, 1999;
Transcribed: Zodiac, Hinrich Kuhls, Allan Thurrott, Bill McDorman, Bert Schultz and Martha Gimenez (1995-1996);
HTML Markup: Stephen Baird and Brian Baggins (1999);
Proofed: and corrected by Andy Blunden and Chris Clayton (2008), Mark Harris (2010), Dave Allinson (2015).

The starting-point of modern industry is, as we have shown, the revolution in the instruments of labour, and this revolution attains its most highly developed form in the organised system of machinery in a factory. Before we inquire how human material is incorporated with this objective organism, let us consider some general effects of this revolution on the labourer himself.

A. Appropriation of Supplementary Labour-power by Capital. The Employment of Women and Children

In so far as machinery dispenses with muscular power, it becomes a means of employing labourers of slight muscular strength, and those whose bodily development is incomplete, but whose limbs are all the more supple. The labour of women and children was, therefore, the first thing sought for by capitalists who used machinery. That mighty substitute for labour and labourers was forthwith changed into a means for increasing the number of wage-labourers by enrolling, under the direct sway of capital, every member of the workman’s family, without distinction of age or sex. Compulsory work for the capitalist usurped the place, not only of the children’s play, but also of free labour at home within moderate limits for the support of the family. [38]

The value of labour-power was determined, not only by the labour-time necessary to maintain the individual adult labourer, but also by that necessary to maintain his family. Machinery, by throwing every member of that family on to the labour-market, spreads the value of the man’s labour-power over his whole family. It thus depreciates his labour-power. To purchase the labour-power of a family of four workers may, perhaps, cost more than it formerly did to purchase the labour-power of the head of the family, but, in return, four days’ labour takes the place of one, and their price falls in proportion to the excess of the surplus-labour of four over the surplus-labour of one. In order that the family may live, four people must now, not only labour, but expend surplus-labour for the capitalist. Thus we see, that machinery, while augmenting the human material that forms the principal object of capital’s exploiting power, [39] at the same time raises the degree of exploitation.

Machinery also revolutionises out and out the contract between the labourer and the capitalist, which formally fixes their mutual relations. Taking the exchange of commodities as our basis, our first assumption was that capitalist and labourer met as free persons, as independent owners of commodities; the one possessing money and means of production, the other labour-power. But now the capitalist buys children and young persons under age. Previously, the workman sold his own labour-power, which he disposed of nominally as a free agent. Now he sells wife and child. He has become a slave-dealer. [40] The demand for children’s labour often resembles in form the inquiries for negro slaves, such as were formerly to be read among the advertisements in American journals.

“My attention,” says an English factory inspector, “was drawn to an advertisement in the local paper of one of the most important manufacturing towns of my district, of which the following is a copy: Wanted, 12 to 20 young persons, not younger than what can pass for 13 years. Wages, 4 shillings a week. Apply &c.” [41]

The phrase “what can pass for 13 years,” has reference to the fact, that by the Factory Act, children under 13 years may work only 6 hours. A surgeon officially appointed must certify their age. The manufacturer, therefore, asks for children who look as if they were already 13 years old. The decrease, often by leaps and bounds in the number of children under 13 years employed in factories, a decrease that is shown in an astonishing manner by the English statistics of the last 20 years, was for the most part, according to the evidence of the factory inspectors themselves, the work of the certifying surgeons, who overstated the age of the children, agreeably to the capitalist’s greed for exploitation, and the sordid trafficking needs of the parents. In the notorious district of Bethnal Green, a public market is held every Monday and Tuesday morning, where children of both sexes from 9 years of age upwards, hire themselves out to the silk manufacturers. “The usual terms are 1s. 8d. a week (this belongs to the parents) and ‘2d. for myself and tea.’ The contract is binding only for the week. The scene and language while this market is going on are quite disgraceful.” [42] It has also occurred in England, that women have taken “children from the workhouse and let any one have them out for 2s. 6d. a week.” [43] In spite of legislation, the number of boys sold in Great Britain by their parents to act as live chimney-sweeping machines (although there exist plenty of machines to replace them) exceeds 2,000. [44] The revolution effected by machinery in the juridical relations between the buyer and the seller of labour-power, causing the transaction as a whole to lose the appearance of a contract between free persons, afforded the English Parliament an excuse, founded on juridical principles, for the interference of the state with factories. Whenever the law limits the labour of children to 6 hours in industries not before interfered with, the complaints of the manufacturers are always renewed. They allege that numbers of the parents withdraw their children from the industry brought under the Act, in order to sell them where “freedom of labour” still rules, i.e., where children under 13 years are compelled to work like grown-up people, and therefore can be got rid of at a higher price. But since capital is by nature a leveller, since it exacts in every sphere of production equality in the conditions of the exploitation of labour, the limitation by law of children’s labour, in one branch of industry, becomes the cause of its limitation in others.

We have already alluded to the physical deterioration as well of the children and young-persons as of the women, whom machinery, first directly in the factories that shoot up on its basis, and then indirectly in all the remaining branches of industry, subjects to the exploitation of capital. In this place, therefore, we dwell only on one point, the enormous mortality, during the first few years of their life, of the children of the operatives. In sixteen of the registration districts into which England is divided, there are, for every 100,000 children alive under the age of one year, only 9,000 deaths in a year on an average (in one district only 7,047); in 24 districts the deaths are over 10,000, but under 11,000; in 39 districts, over 11,000, but under 12,000; in 48 districts over 12,000, but under 13,000; in 22 districts over 20,000; in 25 districts over 21,000; in 17 over 22,000; in 11 over 23,000; in Hoo, Wolverhampton, Ashton-under-Lyne, and Preston, over 24,000; in Nottingham, Stockport, and Bradford, over 25,000; in Wisbeach, 16,000; and in Manchester, 26,125. [45] As was shown by an official medical inquiry in the year 1861, the high death-rates are, apart from local causes, principally due to the employment of the mothers away from their homes, and to the neglect and maltreatment, consequent on her absence, such as, amongst others, insufficient nourishment, unsuitable food, and dosing with opiates; besides this, there arises an unnatural estrangement between mother and child, and as a consequence intentional starving and poisoning of the children. [46] In those agricultural districts, “where a minimum in the employment of women exists, the death-rate is on the other hand very low.” [47] The Inquiry Commission of 1861 led, however, to the unexpected result, that in some purely agricultural districts bordering on the North Sea, the death-rate of children under one year old almost equalled that of the worst factory districts. Dr. Julian Hunter was therefore commissioned to investigate this phenomenon on the spot. His report is incorporated with the “Sixth Report on Public Health.” [48] Up to that time it was supposed, that the children were decimated by malaria, and other diseases peculiar to low-lying and marshy districts. But the inquiry showed the very opposite, namely, that the same cause which drove away malaria, the conversion of the land, from a morass in winter and a scanty pasture in summer, into fruitful corn land, created the exceptional death-rate of the infants. [49] The 70 medical men, whom Dr. Hunter examined in that district, were “wonderfully in accord” on this point. In fact, the revolution in the mode of cultivation had led to the introduction of the industrial system.

Married women, who work in gangs along with boys and girls, are, for a stipulated sum of money, placed at the disposal of the farmer, by a man called the “undertaker,” who contracts for the whole gang. “These gangs will sometimes travel many miles from their own village; they are to be met morning and evening on the roads, dressed in short petticoats, with suitable coats and boots, and sometimes trousers, looking wonderfully strong and healthy, but tainted with a customary immorality and heedless of the fatal results which their love of this busy and independent life is bringing on their unfortunate offspring who are pining at home.” [50]

Every phenomenon of the factory districts is here reproduced, including, but to a greater extent, ill-disguised infanticide, and dosing children with opiates. [51]

“My knowledge of such evils,” says Dr. Simon, the medical officer of the Privy Council and editor in chief of the Reports on Public Health, “may excuse the profound misgiving with which I regard any large industrial employment of adult women.” [52]

“Happy indeed,” exclaims Mr. Baker, the factory inspector, in his official report, “happy indeed will it be for the manufacturing districts of England, when every married woman having a family is prohibited from working in any textile works at all.” [53]

The moral degradation caused by the capitalistic exploitation of women and children has been so exhaustively depicted by F. Engels in his “Lage der Arbeitenden Klasse Englands,” and other writers, that I need only mention the subject in this place. But the intellectual desolation artificially produced by converting immature human beings into mere machines for the fabrication of surplus-value, a state of mind clearly distinguishable from that natural ignorance which keeps the mind fallow without destroying its capacity for development, its natural fertility, this desolation finally compelled even the English Parliament to make elementary education a compulsory condition to the “productive” employment of children under 14 years, in every industry subject to the Factory Acts. The spirit of capitalist production stands out clearly in the ludicrous wording of the so-called education clauses in the Factory Acts, in the absence of an administrative machinery, an absence that again makes the compulsion illusory, in the opposition of the manufacturers themselves to these education clauses, and in the tricks and dodges they put in practice for evading them.

“For this the legislature is alone to blame, by having passed a delusive law, which, while it would seem to provide that the children employed in factories shall be educated, contains no enactment by which that professed end can be secured. It provides nothing more than that the children shall on certain days of the week, and for a certain number of hours (three) in each day, be inclosed within the four walls of a place called a school, and that the employer of the child shall receive weekly a certificate to that effect signed by a person designated by the subscriber as a schoolmaster or schoolmistress.” [54]

Previous to the passing of the amended Factory Act, 1844, it happened, not unfrequently, that the certificates of attendance at school were signed by the schoolmaster or schoolmistress with a cross, as they themselves were unable to write.

“On one occasion, on visiting a place called a school, from which certificates of school attendance, had issued, I was so struck with the ignorance of the master, that I said to him: ‘Pray, sir, can you read?’ His reply was: ‘Aye, summat!’ and as a justification of his right to grant certificates, he added: ‘At any rate, I am before my scholars.’”

The inspectors, when the Bill of 1844 was in preparation, did not fail to represent the disgraceful state of the places called schools, certificates from which they were obliged to admit as a compliance with the laws, but they were successful only in obtaining thus much, that since the passing of the Act of 1845,

the figures in the school certificate must be filled up in the handwriting of the schoolmaster, who must also sign his Christian and surname in full.” [55]

Sir John Kincaid, factory inspector for Scotland, relates experiences of the same kind.

“The first school we visited was kept by a Mrs. Ann Killin. Upon asking her to spell her name, she straightway made a mistake, by beginning with the letter C, but correcting herself immediately, she said her name began with a K. On looking at her signature, however, in the school certificate books, I noticed that she spelt it in various ways, while her handwriting left no doubt as to her unfitness to teach. She herself also acknowledged that she could not keep the register … In a second school I found the schoolroom 15 feet long, and 10 feet wide, and counted in this space 75 children, who were gabbling something unintelligible” [56] But it is not only in the miserable places above referred to that the children obtain certificates of school attendance without having received instruction of any value, for in many schools where there is a competent teacher, his efforts are of little avail from the distracting crowd of children of all ages, from infants of 3 years old and upwards; his livelihood, miserable at the best, depending on the pence received from the greatest number of children whom it is possible to cram into the space. To this is to be added scanty school furniture, deficiency of books, and other materials for teaching, and the depressing effect upon the poor children themselves of a close, noisome atmosphere. I have been in many such schools, where I have seen rows of children doing absolutely nothing; and this is certified as school attendance, and, in statistical returns, such children are set down as being educated.” [57]

In Scotland the manufacturers try all they can to do without the children that are obliged to attend school.

“It requires no further argument to prove that the educational clauses of the Factory Act, being held in such disfavour among mill-owners, tend in a great measure to exclude that class of children alike from the employment and the benefit of education contemplated by this Act.” [58]

Horribly grotesque does this appear in print works, which are regulated by a special Act. By that Act,

“every child, before being employed in a print work must have attended school for at least 30 days, and not less than 150 hours, during the six months immediately preceding such first day of employment, and during the continuance of its employment in the print works, it must attend for a like period of 30 days, and 150 hours during every successive period of six months…. The attendance at school must be between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. No attendance of less than 2½ hours, nor more than 5 hours on any one day, shall be reckoned as part of the 150 hours. Under ordinary circumstances the children attend school morning and afternoon for 30 days, for at least 5 hours each day, and upon the expiration of the 30 days, the statutory total of 150 hours having been attained, having, in their language, made up their book, they return to the print work, where they continue until the six months have expired, when another instalment of school attendance becomes due, and they again seek the school until the book is again made up…. Many boys having attended school for the required number of hours, when they return to school after the expiration of their six months’ work in the print work, are in the same condition as when they first attended school as print-work boys, that they have lost all they gained by their previous school attendance…. In other print works the children’s attendance at school is made to depend altogether upon the exigencies of the work in the establishment. The requisite number of hours is made up each six months, by instalments consisting of from 3 to 5 hours at a time, spreading over, perhaps, the whole six months…. For instance, the attendance on one day might be from 8 to 11 a.m., on another day from I p.m. to 4 p.m., and the child might not appear at school again for several days, when it would attend from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.; then it might attend for 3 or 4 days consecutively, or for a week, then it would not appear in school for 3 weeks or a month, after that upon some odd days at some odd hours when the operative who employed it chose to spare it; and thus the child was, as it were, buffeted from school to work, from work to school, until the tale of 150 hours was told.” [59]

By the excessive addition of women and children to the ranks of the workers, machinery at last breaks down the resistance which the male operatives in the manufacturing period continued to oppose to the despotism of capital. [60]

38. Dr. Edward Smith, during the cotton crisis caused by the American Civil War, was sent by the English Government to Lancashire, Cheshire, and other places, to report on the sanitary condition of the cotton operatives. He reported, that from a hygienic point of view, and apart from the banishment of the operatives from the factory atmosphere, the crisis had several advantages. The women now had sufficient leisure to give their infants the breast, instead of poisoning them with “Godfrey’s cordial.” They had time to learn to cook. Unfortunately the acquisition of this art occurred at a time when they had nothing to cook. But from this we see how capital, for the purposes of its self-expansion, has usurped the labour necessary in the home of the family. This crisis was also utilised to teach sewing to the daughters of the workmen in sewing schools. An American revolution and a universal crisis, in order that the working girls, who spin for the whole world, might learn to sew!

39. “The numerical increase of labourers has been great, through the growing substitution of female for male, and above all, of childish for adult labour. Three girls of 13, at wages of from 6 shillings to 8 shillings a week, have replaced the one man of mature age, of wages varying from 18 shillings to 45 shillings.” (Th. de Quincey: “The Logic of Political Econ.,” London, 1844. Note to p. 147.) Since certain family functions, such as nursing and suckling children, cannot be entirely suppressed, the mothers confiscated by capital, must try substitutes of some sort. Domestic work, such as sewing and mending, must be replaced by the purchase of ready-made articles. Hence, the diminished expenditure of labour in the house is accompanied by an increased expenditure of money. The cost of keeping the family increases, and balances the greater income. In addition to this, economy and judgment in the consumption and preparation of the means of subsistence becomes impossible. Abundant material relating to these facts, which are concealed by official Political Economy, is to be found in the Reports of the Inspectors of Factories, of the Children’s Employment Commission, and more especially in the Reports on Public Health.

40. In striking contrast with the great fact, that the shortening of the hours of labour of women and children in English factories was exacted from capital by the male operatives, we find in the latest reports of the Children’s Employment Commission traits of the operative parents in relation to the traffic in children, that are truly revolting and thoroughly like slave-dealing. But the Pharisee of a capitalist, as may be seen from the same reports, denounces this brutality which he himself creates, perpetuates, and exploits, and which he moreover baptises “freedom of labour.” “Infant labour has been called into aid … even to work for their own daily bread. Without strength to endure such disproportionate toil, without instruction to guide their future life, they have been thrown into a situation physically and morally polluted. The Jewish historian has remarked upon the overthrow of Jerusalem by Titus that it was no wonder it should have been destroyed, with such a signal destruction, when an inhuman mother sacrificed her own offspring to satisfy the cravings of absolute hunger.” (“Public Economy Concentrated.” Carlisle, 1833, p. 66.)

41. A. Redgrave in “Reports of lnsp. of Fact. for 31st October, 1858,” pp. 40, 41.

42. “Children’s Employment Commission, Fifth Report,” London, 1866, p. 81, n. 31. [Added in the 4th German edition. — The Bethnal Green silk industry is now almost destroyed. — F. E.]

43. “Children’s Employment Commission, Third Report,” London, 1864, p. 53, n. 15.

44. l.c., Fifth Report, p. 22, n. 137.

45. “Sixth Report on Public Health,” Lond., 1864, p. 34.

46. “It (the inquiry of 1861)… showed, moreover, that while, with the described circumstances, infants perish under the neglect and mismanagement which their mothers’ occupations imply, the mothers become to a grievous extent denaturalised towards their offspring – commonly not troubling themselves much at the death, and even sometimes… taking direct measures to insure it.” (l.c.)

47. l.c., p. 454.

48. l.c., pp. 454-463. “Report by Dr. Henry Julian Hunter on the excessive mortality of infants in some rural districts of England.”

49. l.c., p. 35 and pp. 455, 456.

50. l.c., p. 456.

51. In the agricultural as well as in the factory districts the consumption of opium among the grown-up labourers, both male and female, is extending daily. “To push the sale of opiate… is the great aim of some enterprising wholesale merchants. By druggists it is considered the leading article.” (l.c., p. 459.) Infants that take opiates “shrank up into little old men,” or “wizened like little monkeys.” (l.c., p. 460.) We here see how India and China avenged themselves on England.

52. l.c., p. 37.

53. “Rep. of Insp. of Fact. for 31st Oct., 1862,” p. 59. Mr. Baker was formerly a doctor.

54. L. Horner in “Reports of Insp. of Fact. for 30th June, 1857,” p. 17.

55. L. Horner in “Rep. of lnsp. of Fact. for 31st Oct., 1855,” pp. 18, 19.

56. Sir John Kincaid in “Rep. of Insp. of Fact. for 31st Oct., 1858,” pp. 31, 32.

57. L. Horner in “Reports, &c., for 31st Oct., 1857,” pp. 17, 18.

58. Sir J. Kincaid in “Reports, &c., 31st Oct., 1856,” p. 66.

59. A. Redgrave in “Rep. of Insp. of Fact., 31st. Oct., 1857,” pp. 41-42. In those industries where the Factory Act proper (not the Print Works Act referred to in the text) has been in force for some time, the obstacles in the way of the education clauses have, in recent years, been overcome. In industries not under the Act, the views of Mr. J. Geddes, a glass manufacturer, still extensively prevail. He informed Mr. White, one of the Inquiry Commissioners: “As far as I can see, the greater amount of education which a part of the working-class has enjoyed for some years past is an evil. It is dangerous, because it makes them independent.” (“Children’s Empl. Comm., Fourth Report,” Lond., 1865, p. 253.)

60. “Mr. E., a manufacturer … informed me that he employed females exclusively at his power-looms … gives a decided preference to married females, especially those who have families at home dependent on them for support; they are attentive, docile, more so than unmarried females, and are compelled to use their utmost exertions to procure the necessaries of life. Thus are the virtues, the peculiar virtues of the female character to be perverted to her injury – thus all that is most dutiful and tender in her nature is made a means of her bondage and suffering.” (Ten Hours’ Factory Bill. The Speech of Lord Ashley, March 15th, Lond., 1844, p. 20.)


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