15. Other issues

  1. Cooperation

Marx analyzes this in chapter 13, where he notes that capitalist production proper is large scale production, with many labourers grouped together working with a large amount of constant capital. While capitalist forms of production may emerge earlier, as small capital in separated and isolated branches of production, the true starting point for capitalist production, "both historically and conceptually" (p. 439) is when " a large number of workers working together, at the same time, in one place … in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the command of the same capitalist" (p. 439). Marx notes that this is merely a quantitative difference at first, but once a certain stage of growth of this process occurs, there is a qualitative difference.

One change is that labour becomes "labour of an average social quality" (p. 440) – the abstract or homogeneous human labour begins to appear. It is more interchangeable, of similar quality, and it is this change in level of production and markets that produces this average labour. Note the reference to the statistical idea of average and "errors" on p. 440.

A second difference is that the workplace itself is transformed into a place and process whereby "a portion of the means of production, are now consumed jointly in the labour process" (p. 441). That is, the production process is no longer just individual workers using raw materials, as might have occurred in the putting out system. Rather, the objects and instruments of labour "are used in common" (p. 442). For the capitalist-employer, this results in some economies and increases the productivity of labour; this reduces the average labour time required to produce commodities, is more efficient, and results in lower cost commodities.

In terms of what this means for workers and society, "this form of labour is called cooperation" and results in "the creation of a new productive power, which is intrinsically a collective one" (p. 443). While capitalism may seem to be an individualistic, competitive system, Marx notes how cooperative it is an economic system, in that workers and capitalists come together to expand production, productivity, and the accumulation of capital, thereby creating a more productive, cooperative system for production of commodities.

Further, Marx notes how this is accomplished under the direction and coordination of capitalists, with new forms of organization emerging. He notes that there will be managers and supervisors – "an industrial army of workers under the command of a capitalist requires, like a real army, officers (managers) and N.C.O.s (foremen, overseers) who command during the labour process in the name of capital" (p. 450). This foreshadows the major structural changes in business organization in the twentieth century, where large corporations with various strata of managers and various divisions emerged.

Finally, Marx notes how this new productive power "appears as a power which capital possesses by its nature – a productive power inherent in capital" (p. 451) when, in fact, this is the "socially productive power of labour" but is "a free gift to capital." (p. 451) This is analogous to commodity fetishism in that the socially productive power of labour appears not as value created by social, cooperative, human labour but by capital, thus masking the essential relationship.

b. Simple and expanded reproduction

In part seven of Capital, volume I, Marx examines the process of accumulation of capital. For the most part, the earlier analysis in Capital dealt with how value and surplus value are produced in the production process – this applies primarily to the way that production is organized within particular firms and branches of industry. In part seven, the emphasis shifts to analysis of capital accumulation within society as a whole. Here Marx examines the process of reproduction of capital, labour, and the capital-labour relationship, along with the original or primitive accumulation of capital and continued accumulation. As noted on pp. 709-10, Marx abstracts from several features of the complete economic system – prices of produciton, profits, interest, gains from trade, and rent (to be examined in volume III) – but examines capital accumulation from the view of the economy as a whole.

Simple reproduction is the process of capitalist production on a continuous basis, maintaining production at the same level – the process of replacing what was used up and maintaining and creating conditions for continued production. This process exists in all societies, so "the society can reproduce or maintain its wealth" (p. 711). In a capitalist society, the value of the constant and variable capital, productively consumed in the process of production, must be replaced. In addition, since this is a circuit of capital, there needs to be a definite quantity of surplus value produced – if this is to be a form of production exactly reproducing itself in value, this surplus value is consumed by capitalists, rather than reinvested in production to accumulate capital (p. 712). This ideal and artificial model, whereby production maintains itself at the same level in period after period, allows Marx to identify several features of economic and social relationships in capitalism.

First, Marx notes how more and more production occurs under the dominance of capital. Regardless of the origin of money that is used to employ workers and produce surplus value, "simple reproduction, brings about other remarkable transformations which seize hold of not only the variable, but the total capital" (p. 714). That is, all money employed as capital becomes capital and "converts all capital into accumulated capital, or capitalized surplus-value" (p. 715). This means that it is no longer just a sum of money that is the owner’s personal property, but is a product of "value appropriated without its equivalent" (p. 715). It acquires a social and exploitative character, since is reproduced with by "the unpaid labour of others" (p. 715).

Second, simple reproduction is sufficient to demonstrate that the capitalist production process is "the production and reproduction of the capitalist’s indispensable means of production: the worker" (p. 718). This means that the "capitalist produces the worker as a wage-labourer" (p. 716) so that simple reproduction is also reproduction of the capital-labour social relationship. Since more and more of society is involved in this form of production, this means an extension of this basic social relationship in a capitalist society. Marx summarizes this in the last sentence of chapter 23, noting how this process reproduces the capital-labour relationship, the capitalist, and the worker.

In chapter 24, Marx moves beyond simple reproduction, so that surplus value is not consumed but is itself employed as extra capital, thus producing an expansion of capital at each stage, or capital accumulation and self-expansion of capital. This is sometimes referred to as expanded or extended reproduction. Marx then moves on to examine this process of capital accumulation in chapters 25 through 33. In particular, he is concerned with the way in which this accumulation affects the proletariat. In volumes II and III, Marx devotes more attention to capital and economic conditions.

c. Industrial reserve army of labour

Marx introduces the concept of the industrial reserve army earlier in volume I but develops a more complete analysis in sections 3 and 4 of chapter 25. He refers to this as a relative surplus population and argues that this surplus population increases as capital accumulates. Perhaps because Malthus considered there to be laws of population, Marx develops a model of laws of population, noting that "this is a law of population peculiar to the capitalist mode of production" (pp. 784-5). While Malthus considered his law of population (population grows faster than the means of subsistence) to apply regardless of mode of production, Marx argues that "every particular historical mode of production has its own special laws of population" (p. 784).

In terms of the long-term trend, Marx notes that since the trend is to increase the constant capital at the expense of variable capital, and since the latter determines the demand for labour, "capitalist accumulation … constantly produces … a relatively redundant working population" (p. 782). The capitalist form of production expands and creates a greater demand for workers. But this expansion of the capitalist form also results in more workers coming into the labour market; the long term trend is one whereby there is a progressively increasing number of unemployed workers.

A second form of the industrial reserve army is that it expands and contracts over the course of the economic cycle. For example, when there is economic expansion, "there must be the possibility of suddenly throwing great masses of men into the decisive areas without doing any damage to the scale of production in other spheres. The surplus population supplies these masses." (p. 785) But at other times, the accumulation process "constantly sets free a part of the working class" (p. 786). Thus the reserve army contracts as economic expansion occurs and expands as economic decline takes place. This produces cycles of employment and unemployment for workers and wages expand and contract in proportion to the size of the industrial reserve army (pp. 790-1). This process does not threaten capital accumulation, since a reduction in the reserve army produces forces that renew this reserve.

In section 4, pp. 794-6, Marx describes the composition of the industrial reserve army – the floating (cyclical and frictional unemployment), latent (women in household, former agricultural workers), and stagnant (lumpenproletariat) portions.

d. Primitive accumulation

The issue that Marx deals with in part eight, "So-Called Primitive Accumulation" is the origin of capitalists and workers, capital, and the capital-labour social relationship. Marx introduces this topic in chapter 26, chapters 27 and 28 deal with the origin of the working class, and chapters 29 and 30 with the origin of capitalist farmers and industrialists. Most of the discussion here is historical, with a review of the broad developments that took place in Europe after 1500.

In theoretical terms, the issue is twofold – how capital originated, that is, "how money is transformed into capital" (p. 873) and how a working class of free labourers is created – free from feudal structures of guilds and serfdom and "free from, unencumbered by, any means of production of their own" (p. 874). That is, workers are free from the feudal forms but have nothing but their own labour power to sell. Marx argues against earlier political economists who claimed that capital emerged because some were frugal and saved and others did not and were "lazy rascals spending their substance, and more, in riotous living" (p. 873). Marx argues that instead of this, the primitive accumulation developed more through theft and extortion. He says "in actual history, it is a notorious fact that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, in short, force play the greatest part." (p. 874) Marx notes (p. 876) that the history and development of primitive accumulation differs country by country, with England representing the classic or ideal form.

In chapter 27, Marx traces some of the ways that the agricultural population was removed from the land, with peasants expelled from the land as landlords took ownership of land and turned land into landed capital. The "feudal retainers" (p. 878) that had been attached to wealthy households were expelled by kings and nobles, land that peasants earlier had access to was taken over for sheep and commercial farming, and monasteries were closed so that residents were forced into the proletariat. Communal property was increasingly enclosed so that peasants no longer could survive on the land. In chapter 28, Marx describes some of the forms of legislation used by the emergent bourgeoisie to enclose land, limit movement of wage-labourers, and prevent "combinations of workers" (p. 903).

The manner that capitalist farmers emerged was a result of some of these same developments, along with improvements in agricultural productivity. These allowed some farmers to expand and employ other agricultural labourers, thus creating capitalist farmers and a rural proletariat. In contrast, Marx considers the industrial capitalist to have emerged in less peaceful conditions, so that the "colonial system, public debts, heavy taxes, protection, commercial wars" (p. 922) all contributed to the development of manufacturing and industry.

Marx describes some of the difficulties of establishing capitalism in the colonies (chapter 33). The problem there was the availability of free land, so that workers could leave for new areas. Marx notes "so long, therefore, as the worker can accumulate for himself – and this e can do so long as he remains in possession of his means of production – capitalist accumulation and the capitalist mode of production are impossible." (p. 933).

16. Notes on Marxian analysis of social class

Following are a few issues concerning social class that were discussed in class. For more extensive notes, see the notes from September 28, 1999: Marx's Theory of Social Class and Class Structure.

  1. Property and Class.
  2. Classes are formed by the forces that define the mode of production, and classes are an aspect of the relations of production. That is, classes do not result from distribution of products (income differences, lender and borrower), social evaluation (status honour), or political or military power, but emerge right from relationship to the process of production. Classes are an essential aspect of production, the division of labour and the labour process. Giddens notes:

    Classes are constituted by the relationship of groupings of individuals to the ownership of private property in the means of production. This yields a model of class relations which is basically dichotomous [since some own and others do not, some work and others live off the fruits of those who labour]: all class societies are built around a primary line of division between two antagonistic classes, one dominant and the other subordinate. (Giddens, p. 37).

    In describing various societies, Marx lists a number of classes and (antagonistic) social relationship such as "freeman and slave, ... lord and serf, ... oppressor and oppressed" that characterize different historical stages or modes of production. While Marx also mentions various ranks and orders of society, such as vassals and knights, the forms of struggle between classes are primarily viewed as occurring around control and use of property, the means of production, and production as a whole, and the manner in which these are used. The basic struggle concerns who performs the labour, and who obtains the benefits from this labour.

    An elite is not necessarily a class for Marx. Examples of elites are military elites, priests or religious leaders, and political elites – these may may very powerful and oppressive, and may exercise formal rule at a certain time or place. An elite could form a class, but a political or military elite is not necessarily a class – an elite may be based on recruitment (rather than ownership) and may not have much ultimate say in determining the direction of society. Or the elite may be based on religious, military, political or other structures. This would especially be the case in pre-capitalist or non-capitalist societies. For Marx, and especially in capitalism, domination came from control of the economy or material factors, although it was not confined to this. Thus, the dominant class was the class which was able to own, or at least control, the means of production or property which formed the basis for wealth. This class also had the capability of appropriating much of the social surplus created by workers or producers. An elite may have such power, but might only be able to administer or manage, with real control of the means of production in the hands of owners.

  3. Group Basis.

For Marx, classes cannot be defined by beginning observation and analysis from individuals, and building a definition of a social class as an aggregate of individuals with particular characteristics. For example, to say that the upper class is all families with incomes of $500,000 or more is not an adequate manner of understanding social class. The latter is a stratification approach that begins by examining the characteristics of individuals, and from this amassing a view of social class structure as a whole. This stratification approach often combines income, education, and social prestige or status into an index of socioeconomic status, creating a gradation from upper class to lower class. The stratification approach is essentially a classification, and for Marx classes have meaning only as they are real groups in the social structure. Groups mean interaction among members, common consciousness, and similar types of behaviour that are connected in some way with group behaviour. Categories such as upper class, middle class and lower class, where those in each category may be similar only in the view of the researcher are not fully Marxian in nature.

Classes are groups, and Marx discusses the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, not individual capitalists and individual workers. As individuals, these people may be considered members of a class, but class only acquires real meaning when it the class as a whole and the social relationships defining them that are considered. For example, "The bourgeoisie ... has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. ... " (Giddens and Held, p. 21). Here the bourgeoisie is historically created and is an actor in politics, economics and history.

In terms of individuals as members of classes, they are members of a class as they act as members of that class. For example, Marx notes that burghers or members of the bourgeoisie in early capitalist Europe:

the class in its turn achieves an independent existence over against the individuals, so that the latter find their conditions of existence predestined, and hence have their position in life and their personal development assigned to them by their class, become subsumed under it. (Giddens and Held, 20).

To the extent that individuals are considered in the social system, they are defined by their class. For Marxists, class structures exist as objective facts, and a researcher could examine class and membership of a class, but would have to understand the nature of the whole social and economic structure in order to do so. To the extent that these members act in society, they act as representatives of their class, although Marx would leave some room for individual freedom of action.

c. Class as Social Relationship – Conflict and Struggle. At several points, Marx notes how the class defines itself, or is a class only as it acts in opposition to other classes. Referring to the emergence of the burghers or bourgeoisie as a class in early capitalist Europe, Marx notes how

The separate individuals form a class only insofar as they have to carry on a common battle against another class; otherwise they are on hostile terms with each other as competitors. (Giddens and Held, p. 20).

Both competition and unity can thus characterize a class; there can be very cut-throat competition among capitalists, but when the property relations and existence of the bourgeois class is threatened, the bourgeoisie acts together to protect itself. This becomes apparent when rights of private property or the ability of capital to operate freely comes under attack. The reaction of the bourgeoisie may involve common political action and ideological unity, and it is when these come together that the bourgeoisie as a class exists in its fullest form. In commenting on France, Marx notes that the French peasantry may be dispersed and lacking in unity, but

In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that separate their mode of life, their interests and their culture from those of the other classes, and put them in hostile opposition to the latter, they form a class. (Giddens, p. 37)

It is when the peasantry as a group is in opposition to other classes that the peasantry form a class. These quotes do not provide an example of the same with respect to the proletariat, but in his other writings Marx noted that the proletariat is a true class when organized in opposition to the bourgeoisie, and creating a new society.

Class, for Marx, is defined as a (social) relationship rather than a position or rank in society. In Marx's analysis, the capitalist class could not exist without the proletariat, or vice-versa. The relationship between classes is a contradictory or antagonistic relationship, one that has struggle, conflict, and contradictory interests associated with it. The structure and basis of a social class may be defined in objective terms, as groups with a common position with respect to property or the means of production. However, Marx may not be primarily interested in this definition of class. Rather, these classes have meaning in society and are historical actors only to the extent that they do act in their own interests, and in opposition to other classes. Unlike much other sociology, Marx's classes are defined by class conflict.

d. Class in and for itself (Adams and Sydie, p. 134)

Marx noted that there were many reasons why the proletariat would become a class that is conscious of its own position, power, responsibilities, and opportunities. The objective situation of a class exists because of its place in the productive process. Ownership or non-ownership of the means of production, position in the labour process, and the control over surplus determine this. But a class such as the bourgeoisie or proletariat, may not be aware of this position, or at least the implications of this position. A bourgeoisie may be in disarray and factions of the class may fight with each other. The peasantry rarely is aware of its common position, and situations such as the peasantry in the French Revolution are unusual.

A class in itself is a class that exists in common conditions in a society. These are the classes such as the bourgeoisie, the proletariat, or the petty bourgeoisie. But members of such a class may not be aware of their common position or interests, and are not able to act on these. Adams and Sydie argue that the proletariat was initially such a class since "they do not recognize their common interests" (p. 134).

A class for itself is a class that develops consciousness of itself, knows its position and capabilities within society, and is able to take actions in its own interests using this knowledge. The working class may acquire a subjective awareness of its own position and situation, and thus develops a working class consciousness. This means that workers become aware of their common position, see the possibility of acting in their own interest, and believe it is possible to carry out action, and exercise change. If they take action, such as forming trade unions or using political measures to improve labour legislation, they become a class for itself, able to act in the interests of the working class. The bourgeoisie was able to do this in an earlier period, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the capitalist class today seems very aware of its interests and power.

Some of the means by which the proletariat can become a class in itself is through forming trade unions and political parties. Trade unions may begin with narrow, sectional interests but move beyond this and act on behalf of the working class as a whole. Political parties, such as a labour party may also be necessary, because class struggle moves beyond the economic and into the political sphere. The experience of class conflict and class struggle is the school whereby the working class learns this. Farmers and farm movements in the early twentieth century on the Prairies exhibited a certain degree of class consciousness.

It may be that some workers, or the working class as a whole, is not able to develop into a class for itself because of false consciousness. Workers may believe the dominant ideology, or enough believe it to have a divisive effect on the working class. Other factors that may limit this are the development of a segmented working class (by income, strata, region, occupation, sex, ethnicity, etc.), the lack of struggle and experience, or open repression.

While Marx's views on these issues are incomplete, these are some of the ideas that followers have Marx have considered important. The necessity to link struggles, be involved in conflict experiences, and counter bourgeois ideology, all have become an important part of trade union and socialist movements.



Adams, Bert N. and R. A. Sydie, Sociological Theory, Thousand Oaks, Pine Forge, 2001

Giddens, Anthony, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory: An Analysis of the Writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1971) HM19 G53.

Giddens, Anthony and David Held, Classes, Power, and Conflict: Classical and Contemporary Debates (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982). HT675 C55 1982

References to Marx’s Capital are from the Penguin edition.


Last edited October 14, 2002

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