Robert Synopsis (I apologize in advance if this oversimplifies Marx’s work; I really tried to condense this)
In the selected sections from Capital, Karl Marx asserts that machines, as the conduit of industrial capitalist expansion, reveal the evolutionary exploitation of men, women and children as they simultaneously nurture capitalistic greed. Marx employs a number of sub-claims to support his stance–among them are the following:
- The machine does more in less time, which increases the capitalist’s greed and presses workers to meet greater demands in less time (work intensity).
- Machines simplify tasks, which increases the use of child labor and women’s labor and lowers the overall cost of labor (I could smell the underlying patriarchy & rigid gender roles, but we can save that for another discussion).
- Machines, though meant to serve humans, have come to determine human production (and replace workers), which incites rebellion against the machines first and lead capitalists second.
- The capitalist metrics of time, value, labor, and intensity are further complicated with the advancement of technology
- The machine’s evolution over time under the capitalist framework presents an interesting paradox: humans created the machines that would eventually replace their jobs.
- Machines, like the capitalist, embody a system of self-preservation–just as the capitalist mitigates the use of time, labor, and value to optimize profit for his/her own preservation, the machines eventually create the machines that will preserve the factory model.
Professor David Harvey explains the underlying analytical framework that Marx employs throughout the entire text, Chapter 15 included. According to Harvey’s analysis, technology does not determine, but rather reveals humans’ complex interactions with nature, labor, reproduction of daily life, social relations, and mental conceptions. Even when we apply Harvey’s framework, we still see technology as an integrated, fetishized tool of the capitalist superstructure. Marx, sharing a similar trajectory with his good friend Darwin, essentially argues that technology is an extension of the very evolution of capitalism. The model goes as follows: handicrafts stage to manufacturing stage, and manufacturing stage to factory stage. But Harvey cautions against a deterministic conceptualization of machines and capitalism; he contends that Marx’s purpose is to elucidate the ongoing dialectic between the capitalist and the laborer. Machines are merely an element in this ongoing dialectical struggle.
The recurring conversation of the growth and development of machines and their connection with increased exploitation is a critical one, carrying implications of class, gender, age, & racial oppression. Even in the early factory stages, we see fights for reductions of work hours, followed by a subsequent increase in labor intensity that marked the need for more productivity in less time–the new machine’s efficiency as justificaiton for such. With this reduction in physically complex labor came the employment of women and children. Education yielded to the capitalist superstructure, and entire families were now factory employees who, in the eyes of the capitalist, represented one uniform payout. Marx, more than once, references the U.S. and Transatlantic slave trades as powerful parallels to this factory power dynamic. While the face of both technology and western society have changed significantly since Marx, the thread of exploitation remains constant. With this in mind, I would like to ask the following:
1) To what extent does current exploitation–within the realm of technological production and use–mirror the conditions expressed in Marx’s work? Explain.
2) How has the face of this particular brand of exploitation changed?
3) Considering previous conversations in class regarding contemporary humans’ current relationships with technology and Marx’s key points, what are some predictions you have about the future relationship between humans and technology?
4) Am I the only one who thought about the Matrix trilogy while reading?
Harvey, D. (2011, January 16). Reading Marx’s Capital Vol 1 with David Harvey. Lecture presented at Class 08 in The Graduate Center, CUNY, New York.
Marx, K. (1968). XV. In Capital. New York: Dutton.