BEAMISH: div of labor

jones/bhandari djones at
Tue Oct 10 18:14:59 MDT 1995

Several months ago, Ralph Dumain wrote:

Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992.  x, 196 pp., [1].

I think I mentioned this one before.  It seems to be an important
innovation in Marxology, because it focuses on Marx's actual
intellectual work process, and his method of assimilating
empirical material as well as deploying logical frameworks, and
fills an aching void in studies of Marx.  I don't think any
serious Marxologist can afford to neglect this book.

Upon Ralph's recommendation, I have just finished this painstakingly
-researched work.

Beamish focuses on the method by which Marx came to theorize "capitalism's
major period of revolutionary transformation: the emergence of
machine-based, large-scale industry." (6)

Beamish is elaborate about how such theorization required
"simultaneously...a logical and an empirical dimension." In showing how
Marx came to ferret out and analyze the mechanism that would sufficiently
increase productivity to enable the transition  from absolute to relative
surplus value.  Beamish shows that "in January 1863, while working with
empirical material related to machinery, Marx finally drew out of it the
conceptual framework needed to present the division of labor as a
transitional dimension of production that led to machine production."

By focusing on this method by which this mechanism was isolated and how
exactly it served a transitional function, Beamish has provided us "an
excellent opportunity to see how Marx's concepts evolved both logically,
and in conjunction with empirical evidence." (7)

It is indeed exciting to understand the relation between such concepts as
absolute and relative surplus value and the empirical history of the
division of labor and machinery.

This book is really so chock full of insights and important developments in
Marx's thought that it would require a lengthy summary of each chapter.
Beamish introduces the reader to how Marx grapsed the historical
determinateness of capital via a study of how the ancients' conceived the
division of labor basically in terms of quality, use-value improvements,
not in terms of the possibilities for the reduction of socially necessary
labor time.

In many important passages, Beamish shows how Marx's alienation problematic
went through substantive changes as he better acquainted himself with the
actual technical division of labor both during manufacture and
machino-facture. He also shows how Marx came to distinguish and relate the
social division with the technical division of labor and perfect his
criticism of Adam Smith.

In a difficult chapter "From Abstract to Concrete" Beamish  acquaints us
with Marx's careful reading on the history of technology which allowed him
to grasp the distinction between a tool and a machine and on that basis
fully analyze, as Marx put it to Engels,  "the interconnection of human
social relationships with the development of the material means of
production." (Quoted in Beamish, p106) (As a side note, the short exchange
between Paul C and Jerry Levy months back on whether automation is now
taking on qualitatively new qualities is obviously of greatest importance
if we are to theorize by the Marxian method).

In a very important section of  the chapter "Final Form and Content"
Beamish shows how Marx finally entered and studied the details of the
hidden abode of production.  In the previous chapter Beamish had already
extracted from the 1861-1862 manuscripts this: "the increased productivity
and complication of the total process of production, its enrichment, is
thus pruchased through the reduction of labor capacity in each particular
function to a purely barren abstraction--as simply property which appears
in unvarying monotony in the same operation and for which the total
production of capacity of the worker, the manifoldness of his abilities, is
confiscated." (Quoted in Beamish, p. 109)

Then in the following chapter, Beamish shows how through greater attention
to empirical material Marx deepened this insight, drew from Adam Smith in
the course of this critique, and still fundamentally transformed the
bourgeois conception of the division of labor.   Along the way, Beamish is
able to relate this back to Marx's developing ideas about alienation and
capital fetishism.  It should be noted that such concerns are at the heart
of Postone's monograph, to which Beamish's work is in many ways
complementary. For example, Beamish discusses "how workers are prevented
from developing their full human potential as they become one-sided
appendages to detail tasks while simultaneously producing the social
relations that oppose and exploit them." (154)

But I do have a serious criticism of this book.  In a word, Beamish tends
to reduce Marx's conception of theory to an absract apprehension of
historic specificity.  In other words, Beamish seems most interested in
grasping the distinction between manufacture and machino-facture and
grasping that distinction in terms of abstract concepts. He puts particular
attention for example on the concepts handwerkmassig (handicraft labor)
and Gesamtarbeiter (collective worker) because these concepts allow Marx to
distinguish manufacture from machino-facture:

"In 1867, Marx presents more actual concrete material on the division of
labor by drawing it from histories of machinery and technology rather than
from various largely theoretical treatises on political economy.  At the
same time, however, he employed such new conceptual terms as handwerkmassig
and Gesamtarbetier to encapsulate concrete trends leading woward the
simplication of work tasks and the conglomeration of specialized tools
under a single source of control.  Within this theme, Marx deals with the
transition from manufacture to large-scale industry, from the tool to the
machine, from human-based, handicraft-like production to machine-like,
industrial production, and from the collective workers in the workshop to
the machine." (p.153)

But Marx's study of the change in the technical conditions of production
effected by the emergence of machino-facture only begins with the
differences from the period of manufacture.  And it is not enough to say
that it makes possible the production of relative surplus value over and
above absolute surplus value.

Marx's goal is to theorize the tendencies in capitalist development to
which the emergence of machino-facture gives rise.    The point is not only
to describe or even grasp a historical transition with a combination of
abstract concepts and through empirical study of the actual mechanisms but
to theorize the long-terms tendencies of the new stage of capitalism and in
the process of doing so to develop the necessary concepts.

In his analysis of the  effects of machino-facture, Marx studied the
changes it would bring in family structure (as women and children could now
be exploited) and formulated new concepts to study the unique dynamics (the
threat of *moral depreciation* of new machinery; the rise in the *organic
composition of capital*; the growth of the *industrial reserve army of
labor*;  *law of tendency of the rate of profit to fall*; the speed-up of
labor and other *countertendencies* to falling profit rate;  and the
growing importance of *fixed capital*, its tendendential overproduction and
the dynamics to which that gives rise).

 All this arises only on the basis of a change in the technical division of
labor; it does not belong to the period of capitalist manufacture.  This is
the real fruit that Marx's historical specification of machino-facture
bears-- a  theoretical analysis of the real tendencies of capitalist
development which is now based on  transformed technical division of labor,
a transformation which Marx could have only grasped through careful
attention to empirical materials. So Beamish is correct to emphasize the
connections between abstract concepts and empirical research.  My point is
that Marx's concepts are more dynamic than Beamish recognizes.

One other criticism would be in order: Beamish does not mention at all
Marx's interest in the emergence of the international division of labor, as
Marx came to see it as suited to the interests of the advanced capitalist
nations. One wonders what preliminary research Marx had done in order to
arrive at a non-equilibrium theory of the world market in the first volume
of Capital.

Rakesh Bhandari
UC Berkeley

     --- from list marxism at ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list