Here’s how I understand the story about formal subsumption and real subsumption. (I’ll find the references later.) Capitalism begins by taking charge of the existing way of producing things. That’s formal subsumption. Production proceeds a while this way. Over time it starts to remake the process of production. That remaking is real subsumption. In Negri’s version of these, they’re distinct stages that operate at the level of societies or of the whole mode of production.

I think this story is in tension with the story told in the primitive accumulation section of v1 of Capital. More on that later. For now, consider the following from the beginning to ch14 of v1.

“Manufacture takes its rise in two ways:

(1.) By the assemblage, in one workshop under the control of a single capitalist, of labourers belonging to various independent handicrafts, but through whose hands a given article must pass on its way to completion. A carriage, for example, was formerly the product of the labour of a great number of independent artificers, such as wheelwrigths, harness-makers, tailors, locksmiths, upholsterers, turners, fringe-makers, glaziers, painters, polishers, gilders, &c. In the manufacture of carriages, however, all these different artificers are assembled in one building where they work into one another’s hands. It is true that a carriage cannot be gilt before it has been made. But if a number of carriages are being made simultaneously, some may be in the hands of the gilders while others are going through an earlier process. So far, we are still in the domain of simple co-operation, which finds its materials ready to hand in the shape of men and things. But very soon an important change takes place. The tailor, the locksmith, and the other artificers, being now exclusively occupied in carriage-making, each gradually loses, through want of practice, the ability to carry on, to its full extent, his old handicraft. But, on the other hand, his activity now confined in one groove, assumes the form best adapted to the narrowed sphere of action. At first, carriage manufacture is a combination of various independent handicrafts. By degrees, it becomes the splitting up of carriage-making into its various detail processes, each of which crystallises into the exclusive function of a particular workman, the manufacture, as a whole, being carried on by the men in conjunction. In the same way, cloth manufacture, as also a whole series of other manufactures, arose by combining different handicrafts together under the control of a single capitalist.

(2.) Manufacture also arises in a way exactly the reverse of this namely, by one capitalist employing simultaneously in one workshop a number of artificers, who all do the same, or the same kind of work, such as making paper, type, or needles. This is co-operation in its most elementary form. Each of these artificers (with the help, perhaps, of one or two apprentices), makes the entire commodity, and he consequently performs in succession all the operations necessary for its production. He still works in his old handicraft-like way. But very soon external circumstances cause a different use to be made of the concentration of the workmen on one spot, and of the simultaneousness of their work. An increased quantity of the article has perhaps to be delivered within a given time. The work is therefore re-distributed. Instead of each man being allowed to perform all the various operations in succession, these operations are changed into disconnected, isolated ones, carried on side by side; each is assigned to a different artificer, and the whole of them together are performed simultaneously by the co-operating workmen. This accidental repartition gets repeated, develops advantages of its own, and gradually ossifies into a systematic division of labour. The commodity, from being the individual product of an independent artificer, becomes the social product of a union of artificers, each of whom performs one, and only one, of the constituent partial operations. The same operations which, in the case of a papermaker belonging to a German Guild, merged one into the other as the successive acts of one artificer, became in the Dutch paper manufacture so many partial operations carried on side by side by numerous co-operating labourers. The needlemaker of the Nuremberg Guild was the cornerstone on which the English needle manufacture was raised. But while in Nuremberg that single artificer performed a series of perhaps 20 operations one after another, in England it was not long before there were 20 needlemakers side by side, each performing one alone of those 20 operations, and in consequence of further experience, each of those 20 operations was again split up, isolated, and made the exclusive function of a separate workman.

The mode in which manufacture arises, its growth out of handicrafts, is therefore two-fold. On the one hand, it arises from the union of various independent handicrafts, which become stripped of their independence and specialised to such an extent as to be reduced to mere supplementary partial processes in the production of one particular commodity. On the other hand, it arises from the co-operation of artificers of one handicraft; it splits up that particular handicraft into its various detail operations, isolating, and making these operations independent of one another up to the point where each becomes the exclusive function of a particular labourer. On the one hand, therefore, manufacture either introduces diversion of labour into a process of production, or further develops that division; on the other hand, it unites together handicrafts that were formerly separate. But whatever may have been its particular starting-point, its final form is invariably the same a productive mechanism whose parts are human beings.”

In this passage, at the point where capitalist production exists, the labor process has already been remade to some extent from the labor process prior to capitalism. That is, capital doesn’t take on an unchanged labor process. Capitalization occurs on a changing labor process and changes it further.


What I really want to type about, though, is chapter 13, “Co-operation.”

The chapter opens “Capitalist production only then really begins, as we have already seen, when each individual capital employs simultaneously a comparatively large number of labourers.” The ‘really’ here is an honorific, as a marker of importance, not a claim about reality. (That is, actually existing capitalism and the important aspects of capitalism involves the employment of many workers by a capitalism, but there are capitalist production and capitalists – according to the minimum definition of capital – prior to this moment.)

“A greater number of labourers working together, at the same time, in one place (or, if you will, in the same field of labour), in order to produce the same sort of commodity under the mastership of one capitalist, constitutes, both historically and logically, the starting-point of capitalist production.” Where there is capitalism in any important sense, this will exist. Marx’s parenthetical remark is important: capitalist production requires a large number of workers in one physical location or a large number in the same industry.

Many worker working together under one employer allows that employer to economize on the means of production:

“Even without an alteration in the system of working, the simultaneous employment of a large number of labourers effects a revolution in the material conditions of the labour-process. The buildings in which they work, the store-houses for the raw material, the implements and utensils used simultaneously or in turns by the workmen; in short, a portion of the means of production, are now consumed in common (…) and therefore on a larger scale than before. A room where twenty weavers work at twenty looms must be larger than the room of a single weaver with two assistants. But it costs less labour to build one workshop for twenty persons than to build ten to accommodate two weavers each; thus the value of the means of production that are concentrated for use in common on a large scale does not increase in direct proportion to the expansion and to the increased useful effect of those means.”

Marx gives a definition of what he means by co-operation: “When numerous labourers work together side by side, whether in one and the same process, or in different but connected processes, they are said to co-operate, or to work in co-operation.” Marx quotes Destutt de Tracy’s phrase “Concours de forces.” This co-operation involves benefits to the capitalist like the economizing I already mentioned. The only co-operation Marx mentions is that under the command of the capitalist (except for a passing reference to cooperation in corn production in “old communities” in East India, ones destroyed by the English). Marx explicitly defines co-operation as existing only under capitalism production:

“As a general rule, labourers cannot co-operate without being brought together: their assemblage in one place is a necessary condition of their co-operation. Hence wage-labourers cannot co-operate, unless they are employed simultaneously by the same capital, the same capitalist, and unless therefore their labour-powers are bought simultaneously by him.”

It has other possible benefits (historically progressive elements, perhaps) but co-operation is defined by Marx as a particular benefit to the capitalist which accrues as a matter of the scale of production. This also conflicts with Marx’s remark that workers in different but connected processes – presumably spatially distributed processes – can co-operate.

“[T]he number of the labourers that co-operate, or the scale of co-operation, depends, in the first instance, on the amount of capital that the individual capitalist can spare for the purchase of labour-power; in other words, on the extent to which a single capitalist has command over the means of subsistence of a number of labourers.”

If this means ‘in capitalist production,’ then this is true – but tautologically so – but it is not the case that those who sell their labor power can only co-operate in production.

“[T]he co-operation of wage-labourers is entirely brought about by the capital that employs them. Their union into one single productive body and the establishment of a connexion between their individual functions, are matters foreign and external to them, are not their own act, but the act of the capital that brings and keeps them together. Hence the connexion existing between their various labours appears to them, ideally, in the shape of a preconceived plan of the capitalist, and practically in the shape of the authority of the same capitalist, in the shape of the powerful will of another, who subjects their activity to his aims.”

Ditto: if this means ‘in capitalist production,’ then this is true – but tautologically so – but it is not the case that those who sell their labor power can only co-operate in production. I would put this rather as a matter that the workers’ co-operation in the capitalist workplace occurs largely in a setting and according to a plan determined by and functional for the capitalist.

I like this, though: Capitalist “control is despotic” in terms of forcing surplus value production.

Marx is inconsistent in his use of the term ‘co-operation,’ as he refers to it existing in ancient societies. He also makes a move from “didn’t” to “couldn’t” of the sort I commented on in my post on his comments on Aristotle, “the capitalist mode of production presents itself to us historically, as a necessary condition to the transformation of the labour-process into a social process.” All quotes thus far are from the Moore and Aveling translation. In the Fowkes translation, it doesn’t say “presents itself to us”, it says “is,” capitalism _is_ necessary. That’s false or at least unverifiable and a pointless utterance. Moore and Aveling’s “presents itself (…) as” allows a reading which would criticize the capitalist self-presentation along the lines of Marx’s criticisms of the capitalist (and/or classical political economy) myth analogous to the story of the fall. (Note to self, check the German.)

A few pages earlier Marx wrote “at first, the subjection of labour to capital was only a formal result of the fact, that the labourer, instead of working for himself, works for and consequently under the capitalist. By the co-operation of numerous wage-labourers, the sway of capital develops into a requisite for carrying on the labour-process itself, into a real requisite of production.”

The first sentence doesn’t make sense. S= subjection of labor to capital. W= worker working for the capitalist rather than being self employed. Marx writes that S results from W. ‘Result’ can be read in temporal terms. That is, W occurs first in time then S occurs. That doesn’t hold, though. As Marx notes, the capitalist’s control of production – that is, capitalist production – is despotic. To work for the capitalist is to be subject to the capitalist as despot. That is, W and S are synonyms. One doesn’t result from the other. Both result together from primitive accumulation.

Marx refers repeatedly to armies and once to an orchestras, bodies that need a controlling figure, as analogies for the capitalist production process. Running these bodies, for Marx, requires the controlling figure – the general, the conductor, the capitalist or manager. Perhaps, though there’s a long history of workers planning production themselves either against the boss or functional to the boss – this is what gives a work to rule its power – and Marx’s examples in terms of manufacture show modes of coordination which don’t require these figures. Even conceding Marx’s point, all this would prove is that those forms of organization require such controlling figures. They don’t prove the necessity of those forms or speak against possible alternatives.