Das Kapital: Karl Marx Exposes the Myth of the ‘Last Hour’ (1867)

Author’s Note: Karl Marx points-out that many industrialists ‘resisted’ legal reforms regarding the reducing of the length of the working day (in the 1800s) through a fallacious argument that can only be described as ‘pseudo-economics’. In this bizarre argument, bourgeois economists colluded with the industrialists by suggesting that the last hour of the twelve-hour working day was the time-period of expended labour that produced the ‘net profit’ the industrialists enjoyed! Reducing the working day by one hour, therefore, would ‘remove’ the ‘net profit’ enjoyed by the industrialists! Furthermore, the same theory suggested that the ‘wages’ of the labourer were produced only in the second from last hour of labour of the usual twelve-hour day! Marx deconstructs this nonsense, and explains why it is merely an excuse used by the bourgeoisie to not stop (or alleviate) in anyway the rampant exploitation experienced by the workforce! The ‘last hour’ theory seems to be a ‘metaphysical’ belief system – similar to that observed in ‘faith-based’ religions – which offers a distorted (and ‘inverted’) interpretation of material reality. A twelve-hour working day for both adults and children was considered something of a ‘mystical’ necessity which could not be altered in anyway. This allowed the industrialists to run their factories continuously over a 24-hour period – comprised of two-shifts of 12-hours (to extract the maximum exploitation of labour from the workforce). Furthermore, as this theory possessed no logical justification – it can be assumed that for the first ten-hours of the day – the workers achieved ‘nothing’. This theory (and its implications) stems from the 1836 work of Oxford Professor Nassau W Senior (Das Kapital – Page – to whom Marx is replying in the following extract. ACW (4.12.2020) 

‘According to your figures, the workman in the last hour but one produces his wages, and in the last hour your surplus-value or net profit. Now, since in equal periods he produces equal values, the produce of the last hour but one, must have the same value as that of the last hour. Further, it is only while he labours that he produces any value at all, and the amount of his labour is measured by his labour-time.’ 

Karl Marx: Das Kapital (Capital), Lawrence & Wishart, (1974), Page 217 – The Rate of Surplus-Value – Section 3 – Senior’s “Last Hour” 

Footnote 1 – Pages 219-220 

If, on the one hand, Senior proved that the net-profit of the manufacturer, the existence of the English cotton industry, and England’s command of the markets of the world, depend on “the last working-out,” on the other hand, Dr. Andrew Ure showed, that if children and young persons under 18 years of age, instead of being kept the full 12 hours in the warm and pure moral atmosphere of the factory, are turned out an hour sooner into the heartless and frivolous outer world, they will be deprived, by idleness and vice, of all hope of salvation for their souls. Since 1848, the factory inspectors have never tired of twitting the masters with this “last,” this “fatal hour.” Thus Mr. Hovell in his report of the 21st May, 1855: “Had the following ingenious calculation (the quotes Senior/0 been correct, every cotton factory in the United Kingdom would have been working at a loss since the year 1850, “(Reports of the Insp. Of Fact, for the half-year, ending 30th April, 1855, pp. 19.20.) In the year 1848, after the passing of the 10 hours’ bill, the masters of some flax spinning mills, scathed, few and far between, over the country on the borders of Dorset and Somerset, foisted a petition against the bill on to the shoulders of a few of their workpeople. One of the clauses of this petition is as follows: “Your petitioners, as parents, conceive that an additional hour of leisure will tend more to demoralise the children than otherwise, believing that idleness is the parent of vice.” On this the factory report of 31st Oct., 1848, says: The atmosphere of the flax mills, in which the children of these virtuous and tender parents work, in so loaded with dust and fibre from the raw material, that it is exceptionally unpleasant to stand even 10minutes in the spinning rooms; for you are unable to do so without the most painful sensation, owing to the eyes, the ears, the nostrils, and mouth, being immediately filled by the clouds of flax dust from which there is no escape. The labour itself, owing to the feverish haste of the machinery, demands unceasing application of skill and movement, under the control of a watchfulness that never tries, and it seems somewhat hard, to let parents apply the term “idling” to their own children, who, after allowing for meal-times, are fettered for 10 whole hours to such an occupation, in such an atmosphere… These children work longer than the labourers in the neighbouring villages… Such cruel talk about “idleness and vice” ought to be branded as the purest cant, and the most shameless hypocrisy… This portion of the public, who, about 12 years ago, were struck by the assurance with which, under the sanction of high authority, it was publicly and most earnestly proclaimed, that the whole net-profit of the manufacturer flows from the labour of the last hour, and that, therefore, the reduction of the working-day by one hour, would destroy his net-profit, that portion of the public, we say, will hardly believe its own eyes, when it finds, that the original discovery of the virtues of “the last hour” has since been so far improved, as to include morals as well as profit; so that, if the duration of the labour of children, is reduced to a full 10 hours, their morals, together with the net profits of their employers, will vanish, both being dependent on this last, this fatal hour.(See Repts., Insp. Of Fact., for 31st Oct., 1848, p. 101.,) The same report then gives some examples of the morality and virtue of these same pure-minded manufactures, of the tricks, the artifices, the cajoling, the threats, and the falsifications, they made use of, in order, first, to compel a few defenceless workmen to sign petitions of such a kind, and then to impose them upon Parliament as of the present status of so-called economic science, that neither Senior himself, who, at a later period, to his honour be it said, energetically supported the factory legislation, nor his opponents, from first to last, have ever been able to explain the false conclusion of the “original discovery.” They appeal to actual experience, but the why and wherefore remains a mystery.’ 

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