The Capitalist Transformation of the Division of Labour

  • Ali Rattansi
Part of the Contemporary Social Theory book series


The development of capitalism brought in its wake a quite unprecedented multiplication of productive forces and a fundamental reorganisation of the labour process and the division of labour. Marx’s account of these profound transformations remained unmatched until the recent resurgence of interest in the capitalist labour process. Yet the brilliance of Marx’s analysis does not derive merely from the shrewd use of contemporary documents. Its discursive conditions of existence lie in a thorough reworking of the concept of mode of production, in turn deriving from a reconceptualisation of production in general (of which the specification of the labour process is an outstanding example) and the integration of this latter form of analysis with the theory of surplus value. Thus the delineation of the capitalist transformation of the division of labour can only be understood in the context of Marx’s more general remarks on the structure of modes of production, while its sophistication is inexplicable except as the result of the theoretical transformation which decisively separates the mature works from earlier texts.


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Notes and References

  1. 16.
    Ibid, p. 351. In his footnote to this passage Marx acknowledges that he has largely borrowed these distinctions from Frederic Skarbek’s, Theorie des richesses sociales, vol. 1 (Paris, 1839).Google Scholar
  2. 25.
    Results of the Immediate Process of Production, Appendix to Capital, I, ed. E. Mandel (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), p. 995.Google Scholar
  3. 36.
    For contrasting treatments see, for example, I. Gough, ‘Marx’s Theory of Productive and Unproductive Labour’, New Left Review, no. 76 (1972);Google Scholar
  4. 36.
    J. Harrison, ‘Productive and Unproductive Labour in Marx’s Political Economy’, Bulletin of the Conference of Socialist Economists, no. 6 (1973);Google Scholar
  5. 36.
    B. Fine and L. Harris, Rereading Capital (London: Macmillan, 1979) pp. 49–57.Google Scholar
  6. 46.
    Althusser and Balibar, Reading Capital, pp. 212–16. In an excellent historical essay, Gareth Stedman Jones has shown the usefulness of distinguishing between the relations of ownership and real appropriation in understanding different forms of working-class struggle in the nineteenth century: ‘Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution’, New Left Review, no. 90 (1975).Google Scholar
  7. 79.
    Cf. R. Samuel, ‘Workshop of the World: Steam Power and Hand Technology in mid-Victorian Britain’, History Workshop Journal, no. 3 (1977).Google Scholar
  8. 82.
    Cf., inter alia, C. More, Skill and the English Working Class, 1870–1914 (London: Croom Helm, 1980); Samuel, ‘Workshop of the World’.Google Scholar
  9. 86.
    Ibid, pp. 395, 395n. 2. Cf. V. Beechey, ‘Women and Production: a Critical Analysis of some Sociological Theories of Women’s Work’, in A. Kuhn and A. M. Wolpe (eds), Feminism and Materialism: Women and Modes of Production (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978) pp. 184–7.Google Scholar
  10. 89.
    Ibid, pp. 391–4. The term ‘aristocracy of the working class’ was in common use in the nineteenth century; Marx also used it, in the first volume of Capital, p. 667. Engels used the concept to explain the absence of socialism in England: cf. On Britain, p. 394. Modern historians of the nineteenth-century British working class have deployed and redefined the concept in a variety of ways: see, for example, E. Hobsbawm, Labouring Men (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1964) pp. 272–316;Google Scholar
  11. 89.
    J. Foster, Class Struggle and the Industrial Revolution, paperback edn (London: Methuen, 1977) pp. 203ff.;Google Scholar
  12. 89.
    R. Gray, The Labour Aristocracy in Victorian Edinburgh (Oxford University Press, 1976);Google Scholar
  13. 89.
    G. Crossick, An Artisan Elite in Victorian Society (London: Croom Helm, 1978); Stedman Jones, ‘Class Struggle’, pp. 61–8.Google Scholar
  14. 89.
    For an excellent critical survey, see H. Moorhouse, ‘The Marxist Theory of the Labour Aristocracy’, Social History, vol. 3 (1978).Google Scholar
  15. 92.
    For other relevant discussions, see M. Nicolaus, ‘Proletariat and Middle Class in Marx: Hegelian Choreography and the Capitalist Dialectic’, Studies on the Left, no. 7 (1967);Google Scholar
  16. 92.
    J. Urry, ‘Towards a Structural Theory of the Middle Class’, Acta Sociologica, vol. 16 (1973).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ali Rattansi 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ali Rattansi
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Leicester School of EducationUK

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