Video School

David Harvey: Reading Capital Vol. 1, chapter 15, part 1

In this lecture, part of the larger Reading Capital series filmed at the City University of New York Graduate Center, David Harvey examines Marx’s theory of social change, the role that technology plays in this theory, and how the interconnected “moments” of the societal process are deeply affected by the introduction of new technologies. Harvey explicates the first three sections of Chapter 15, entitled “Machinery and Large Scale Industry,” with a particular emphasis on footnote 4. In this chapter, Marx extends his discussion of the production of relative surplus value started in chapters 13 (on cooperation in the labor process) and 14 (on division of labor in manufacturing) to the intensification of the labor process and therefore an increase in the rate of relative surplus value caused by technological change and innovation. Harvey distinguishes Marx’s method of analysis from both simpler causal theories of change and Hegel’s totality, referring to it as ecological and a matter of the relations between moments of the societal process. To wit, technology is embedded within social relations and social relations are embedded in technology. The question of technology in daily life and its ability to more effectively and efficiently turn daily life into a process of value production is a complex one that requires a consideration of multiple dynamic factors in relation to one another. This method can seem daunting, but as Harvey deftly points out, the method simply entails a clear-eyed attention to material relations. As Marx says, technology reveals the relation of man to nature. Technology for both Marx and Stiegler (and Harvey) is an expression of inherent qualities of the human (of hominization, in Stiegler’s words); but for Marx and Harvey—indeed for all good historical materialists—the nature of technology in a given society is tied inextricably to the other categories of the societal process. The argument also differs from Stiegler in that the emphasis is on the material conditions of the production of human subsistence, not human memory. Marx (and Harvey by extension) would argue that placing the construction of consciousness within the process of grammatization misses the structuring power of the arrangement of the material relations of society as whole. This would be historical materialism versus Derridian deconstruction.

Harvey argues briefly for a consideration of Deleuze as a Marxist thinker, suggesting that his concept of the assemblage is very close to Harvey’s own analysis of Marx’s “moments.” Harvey’s analysis of machinery in the production process—what Marx calls an automaton—could be rephrased in Deleuzian terms as an assemblage of the machine and the capitalist, creating a mental conception of productivity and work and the role of technology that is by nature a power relation between the machinic assemblage of capital and the worker and her existence. In chapters 13 and 14 of Capital, Vol. 1, Marx discusses how cooperation and the division of labor, although not specific to capitalism, were absorbed by capitalism as useful processes that produce relative surplus value. Cooperation and the division of labor were free goods to the capitalist; they were simply the effect of the reorganization of the labor process. But the machine is a commodity that is bought in the market—it has a value. The machine is not a source of value; rather, the value embodied in the machine is transferred to the product. How much of that value is compensated by the labor saving of the machine? What is the limit of that labor saving? Removing labor from production, according to Marx’s labor theory of value, lowers surplus value, since surplus value is produced by labor itself. Once could argue that the extension of the surplus value process into everyday life solves (or simply elides) the contradiction created by the introduction of machinery into the labor process. The speed of the machine sets the pace of the intensity of work. What is the intensity increase that we feel in everyday life, or at least in the communicative nature of everyday life, but the speed of the machinic assemblage of capital?

David Harvey is the Distinguished Professor of Anthropology & Geography at The Graduate Center, CUNY.

Andrew McKinney‘s Video School explores the relationship between technology, human labor, and everyday life in late capitalism.