Das Kapital – Vol. I: Examples of Labour Exploitation in the UK (c. 1863)

Karl Marx at the British Library

Author’s Note: I am currently researching the extent to which Karl Marx makes a comment on ‘religion’ in his (1867) Das Kapital Vol. I. The results are startling in that the references are more or less consistent – either directly or indirectly – contradicting the statements of some bourgeois scholars who claim that Marx said ‘very little’ about religion! It is clear that for Marx – the critique of religion within a Bourgeois State was central to his ideology. Of course, with the ‘Blacksmith’ we have the allusion to a ‘stable’ whilst with the ‘Baker’ we have our daily bread! I like to share interesting snippets from the more in-depth texts of Marx for people to access more readily, instead of having to trawl through his complex tomes. This is no excuse for not reading Marx – and I hope this work will inspire others to read about our own history that Marx recorded for us. ACW (9.3.2021) 

French Edition of Das Kapital

The Blacksmith 

We will take the blacksmith as a type; he rises early and strikes his sparks before the sun; he eats and drinks and sleeps as no other man. Working in moderation, he is, in fact, in one of the best of human positions, physically speaking. But we follow him into the city or town, and we see the stress of work on that strong man, and what then in his position in the death-rate of his country. In Marylebone, blacksmiths die at the rate of 31 per thousand per annum, or 11 above the mean of the male adults of the country in its entirety. The occupation, instinctive almost as a portion of human art, unobjectionable as a branch of human industry, is made by mere excess of work, the destroyer of the man. He can strike so many blows per day, walk so many steps, breathe so many breaths, produce so much work, and live an average, say of fifty years, he is made to strike so many more blows, to walk so many more steps, to breathe so many more breaths per day, and so increase altogether a fourth of his life. He meets the effort; the result is, that producing for a limited time a fourth more work, he dies at 37 for 50. (1) 

Footnote 1: Dr Richardson 

Karl Marx: Das Kapital, Progress (USSR), (1867), Pages 244-245 

Marx Continuously Studying

The Baker 

At all events the Committee had directed the attention of the public to its “daily bread,” and therefore to the baking trade. At the same time in public meetings and in petitions to Parliament rose the cry of the London journeymen bakers against their over-work, etc. The cry was so urgent that Mr HS Tremenheere, also a member of the Commission of 1863 several times mentioned, was appointed Royal Commissioner of Inquiry. His report, together with the evidence given, roused not the heart of the public but its stomach. Englishmen, always well up in the Bible, knew well enough that man, unless by elective grace a capitalist, or landlord, or sinecurist, is commanded to eat his bread in the sweat of his brow, but they did not know that he had to eat daily of his bread a certain quantity of human perspiration mixed with the discharge of abscesses, cobwebs, dead black-beetles, and putrid German yeast, without any regard to his holiness. Free-trade, the free baking-trade was therefore placed under the supervision of the State inspectors (Close of the Parliament session of 1863), and by the same Act of Parliament, work from 9 in the evening to 5 in the morning was forbidden for journeymen bakers under 18. The last clause speaks volumes as to the over-work in this old-fashioned, homely line of business. 

“The work of a London journeyman baker begins, as a rule, at about eleven at night. At that hour hr ‘makes the dough,’ – a laborious process, which lasts from half an hour to three quarters of an hour, according to the size of the batch or the labour bestowed upon it. He then lies down upon the kneeling-board, which is also the covering of the trough in which the dough is ‘made’; and with a sack under him, and another rolled up as a pillow, he sleeps for about a couple of hours. He is then engaged in a rapid and continuous labour for about five hours – throwing out the dough, ‘scaling it off,’ moulding it, putting it into the oven, preparing and baking rolls and fancy bread, taking the batch bread out of the oven, and up into the shop, etc. The temperature of a bakehouse ranges from about 75 to upwards of 90 degrees, and in the smaller bakehouses approximates usually to the higher rather than to the lower degree of heat. When the business of making bread, rolls, etc, is over, that of its distribution begins, and a considerable proportion of the journeymen in the trade, after working hard in the manner described during the night, are upon their legs for many hours during the day, carrying baskets, or wheeling hand-carts, and sometimes again in the bakehouse, leaving off work at various hours between 1 and 6pm according to the season of the year, or the amount and nature of their master’s business; while others are again engaged in the bakehouse in ‘bringing out’ more batches until late in the afternoon… During what is called ‘the London season,’ the operatives belonging to the ‘full-priced’ bakers at the West End of the town, generally begin work at 11pm and are engaged in making the bread, with one or two short (sometimes very short) intervals of rest, up to 8 o’clock the next morning.  They are then engaged all day long, up to 4, 5, 6, and as late as 7 o’clock in the evening carrying out bread, or sometimes in the afternoon in the bakehouse again, assisting in the biscuit baking. They may have, after they have done their work, sometimes five or six, sometimes only after they have done their work, sometimes five or six, sometimes only after they have done their work, sometimes five or six, sometimes only four- or five-hours’ sleep before they began again. On Friday’s they always begin sooner, some about ten o’clock, and continue in some cases, at work, either in making or delivering the bread up to 8pm on Saturday night, but more generally up to 4 or 5 o’clock, Sunday morning. On Sundays the men must attend twice or three times during the day for an hour or two to make preparations for the next day’s bread… The men employed by the underselling masters (who sell their bread under the ‘full-price,’ and who, as already pointed out, comprise three-fourths of the London bakers) have not only to work on the average longer hours, but their work is almost entirely confined to the bakehouse. The underselling masters generally sell their bread… in the shop. If they send it out, which is not common, except as supplying chandlers’ shops, they usually employ other hands for that purpose. It is not their practice to deliver bread from house to house. Towards the end of the work… the men begin on Thursday night at 10 o’clock and continue on with only slight intermission until late on Saturday evening.” 

Karl Marx: Das Kapital, Progress (USSR), (1867), Pages 238-240 

Marx and Lenin in China!

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