THE STRUCTURE OF THE WORKERS' COUNTERSIGNS
The Monetization of Time
Labor is only another name for a human activity which goes with life itself, which in its turn is not produced for sale. . . . The commodity description of labor . . . is entirely fictitious.
Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation
The rites of practice in which the commodity form was brought to life not only structured agents' everyday relations to each other, but these conventions also defined the forms of understanding by which people would criticize and attempt to transform their social relations. As for the construction of practices by which employers and workers effected the transmission of "labor," so for struggles to modify that transfer the commodity form established the symbolic coordinates of the most fundamental dimensions of experience at the site of production—those of time and space themselves. Let us consider in this chapter a single field of effects, those resulting from the contrasting means of demarcating, exchanging, and consuming time in Germany and Britain.
Inspired by E. P. Thompson's classic essay on "Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism," historians have accumulated an imposing body of evidence about the development of time consciousness in early industrial societies. Their inquiries have focused on the historical processes by which individuals came to value the methodical expenditure of time and by which collective undertakings, including the daily labor activity, came to follow the rigid and precise cycles of the mechanical clock. For the comparative in-
quiry at hand, we know already that most producers in nineteenth-century Germany and Britain had sensitized themselves to this time economy. The question before us is more precise: how did the cultural definition of labor as a commodity influence workers' perception of the significance of time for remuneration in the labor process? The landmark studies conducted by Thompson and others correlated the differing appreciations of time with the necessities of work. Thompson, for example, associated the imposition of an unremitting time-discipline among the English common people with the transition from independent manufacture at home to supervised, regulated labor at the factory. More recently, in an investigation of the time regime of Tokugawa Japan, Thomas Smith underscored the functional requirements of social relations in agriculture. These studies treat the perception of time as a response to immediate instrumental requirements.
This chapter investigates instead the independent effect of the cultural encoding of practice upon producers' demarcation and manipulation of time. German workers and employers handled labor time itself as a commodity in the employment relation, whereas British workers and employers treated time only as a means for producing commodities. This difference shaped workers' understanding of the source of their income, their rationales for demanding payment from their employers, and, ultimately, the emergence and goals of their strike campaigns.
Units of Payment and Production
A conceptual scheme begins with division and distinction. The segments into which workers partitioned time to gauge their earnings reveals time's meaning for them in the employment relation. Unlike their British counterparts, German weavers calculated their earnings in a temporal framework based on the delivery of abstract work time at the site of production. In both countries, the piece-rate earnings of the weavers fluctuated severely from week to week even when business remained steady. Employers generally paid workers the earnings due at the end of each week, but the workers received credit for work performed only upon completion of an entire piece.
It required at least several days' effort to come to the end of a piece. If a weaver had not quite finished a piece at the end of a pay period, he or she would take home nothing for it that week. In the following week, however, the weaver might be paid for twice as much work as in the preceding week. The procedure for disbursing wages due was the same in both countries, yet German and British weavers arrived at different interpretations of the relation between remuneration and the passage of time.
Weavers could count their earnings in either of two basic ways: they could quote the wage they received per piece of cloth handed in, or they could convert their pay to a wage received over an interval of time. The reports about wages and working conditions submitted to the textile workers' newspapers in Germany and Britain provide an index of workers' choice of expression. I analyzed weavers' descriptions of their wages from the earliest surviving issues of the textile union newspapers, those from 1890 in Britain and from 1899 to 1902 in Germany. In both countries, the reports, which often quoted verbatim the negotiations over piece rates and the scales for remuneration, often cited wages in terms of earnings per piece without reference to time (see Table 6). This is hardly surprising, since the choice depended on the purpose for which the pay was cited. For example, comparing past and future earnings per piece (without reference to the time required for completion) sufficed to convey the magnitude of a pay hike or decline. The real question of interest, however, is how German and British weavers converted the bare amounts received
for cloth into a temporal framework to judge their well-being or the returns they received for their effort.
Sharp differences emerge if one considers the specific intervals selected by British and German weavers when they did allude to time. When British weavers put their earnings into a temporal framework, in virtually all cases they chose the week as their unit (see Table 7). They simply followed the cycle of paydays. German weavers were less likely to choose the period of a week, and when they did so they had a specific purpose in mind. They chose the week when they were complaining that the pay was inadequate for the survival of their household, as Table 8 shows. The week was the most meaningful unit for making a comparison between the family's receipts and its expenditures. Workers cited this fraction of time when they wanted to complain that their earnings granted only a beggarly existence or, as they often put it, amounted to "starvation wages."
In contrast to British practice, German weavers who converted their piece-rate earnings to a time equivalent expressed this in the majority of instances in periods other than the week. In more than a quarter of cases, they chose the interval of a day, whereas the British weavers never did so.
When German workers used the unit of a day to express their piece-rate earnings, they were demonstrating their orientation to the daily expenditure of labor power in the production process. If German weavers referred to specific daily earnings, they could relate the pay to the disposition over their activity during this time interval in the production process. For example, in the textile town of Schildesche the weavers who threatened a strike in 1905 informed the owner of their expectation that "a middling worker [should] earn with normal exertion at least two and a half marks a day." In only two out of twenty-six instances in which German weavers converted their piece-rate earnings to a daily average did they also make a reference to the adequacy of this wage for supporting themselves or their families. This indicates that the Germans did not associate the period of a day with the cycle of household expenditure or consumption.
In adopting diurnal or even hourly intervals to measure their earnings, German weavers applied an abstract time frame to their employment relation, one that was removed both from the tangible cycle of paydays and from the rhythm of finishing a piece of cloth. The vagaries of the weaving process, with unpredictable changes in the speed at which difficult warps could be turned into cloth and fluctuations in earnings over time, did not intrinsically suggest the day or the hour as a convenient measure of earnings, for no piece of fabric could be completed so quickly. German weavers distanced themselves from the delivery of cloth credited per week and from the weekly disbursal of wages, in order to analyze the wage they received as a return for the disposition of hypothetical intervals of time in the production process. For instance, weavers in Gera who required many days to complete a piece of fabric converted the piece-rate earning to a quotidian wage based on what they called the "daily expenditure of time." Even workers who were paid a fixed weekly wage converted their earnings into a remuneration for each day's work. German workers often negotiated with employers for wages measured by a daily calculus, even if the exact amount of remuneration depended on piece rates. German piece-rate workers were so accustomed to looking at the daily cycle of production that they determined average weekly earnings by first considering average daily earnings and then multiplying by the days of the work week. Regardless of the final time frame in which they were interested, they began their reckoning with the unit of a day.
An explanation for the difference in the units of time German and British piece-rate workers used to calculate their earnings is not to be found in the circumstances under which they spent their payments. In both countries, workers on piece-rate systems generally received their wages either weekly or biweekly. German workers did not differ from their British counterparts in the frequency with which they actually paid their rents or in the timeframe, that of the week, that they used for budgeting household expenses. When German workers expressed their earnings per day, therefore, they diverged from a consumption-based framework to orient themselves to the daily cycle of the production process. This assumption shows up in the way German workers expressed their grievances over low rates of pay: when they complained that this remuneration was not commensurate with their skills, experience, or effort, they spoke in terms of daily rates. "As a result of bad warp and
poor materials," the Märkische Volksstimme said in 1906, "a worker can with extremely hard effort earn at the most only 1.5 marks daily."
The preference for the interval of the day as the unit to calculate use of labor power was shared by German employers. When German managers considered the construction of their piece-rate scales, they often began by setting a proposed average daily wage. The in-house memos generated by company clerks on weavers' actual earnings also cited daily averages, and managers founded their calculations of production efficiency upon the unit of a day.
For the British weavers, time was a quantifiable resource but the use of time per se was not what they sold their employer. As would be expected, therefore, when British weavers looked at their earnings over time, they did so only with regard to the cycle of actual paydays. They did not invent an independent framework based on the delivery of abstract labor time; they merely reported what they received in the same units as it came to hand. Does this mean the German weavers (and German employers) were more adept at rational calculation? Did only the German weavers theorize receipt of the wage?
The abstractions of a conceptual system can of course take radically different forms. British weavers also calculated their earnings based on abstract theory, but what they considered the object of theory the Germans hardly noted. Rather than figuring the average pay per day, the British weavers calculated the average per loom per week, emphasizing that the total was nothing but the sum of the looms operated. For example, to summarize for its readers the level of earnings for weavers in the town of Hindley in Lancashire, the Cotton Factory Times in 1897 said that weavers "are not
averaging more than three shillings six pence per loom." For weavers assigned several looms at once, as most were, the pay per loom naturally oscillated more than the total take-home pay. Estimating a weekly loom average represented no less a feat of abstraction than the German calculation of daily total averages.
The direction of thought pursued by the British weavers was guided by their understanding of labor's commodity form. The language of the British weavers, as we have seen, revealed the assumption that they took charge of a loom to manage it for a profit, as if they were petty commodity producers. When they sought employment they inquired whether employers "had any looms to let." Once engaged, they were holders of a machine and its output rather than peddlers of labor power.
The British weavers carried into their trade union activities their picture of themselves as entrepreneurs who ought to net so much per loom. Whenever weavers in Yorkshire and Lancashire took up a special collection to provide strike support, to compensate their fellow workers for attending meetings, or to gather the initial funds necessary to support a
union, they imposed a levy on each weaver of so much per loom. An analyst might suppose that establishing a contribution on this basis served as a shorthand way of graduating donations to the earnings of weavers. In all likelihood the custom did originate with this purpose. Yet by the late nineteenth century weavers in the West Riding earned less on two looms than on one, because they tended two if they manufactured simpler fabrics. Weavers also charged a levy on each loom when they took up collections in districts or in factories where every weaver served the same quota of looms. In the Huddersfield district, for example, each worker served a single loom. Despite the uniform rate per person , weavers there still spoke of levying a fixed sum on each loom. This habit was not confined to fund-raising for the trade unions. Weavers adopted the same unit of calculation when they undertook voluntary subscriptions to charities such as "Indian Famine Relief." In Germany, by contrast, weavers who made special collections simply assessed themselves a certain sum per person.
The British custom of seeking donations per loom originated in the era of home manufacture, when weavers operated as independent commodity producers. It began at least as early as the mid-eighteenth century and, despite the changed technical environment, survived into the early twentieth century. In Germany, by contrast, the loom-based view of contributions did not surface in factories which an analyst might suppose would closely parallel the British case. It did not arise in Krefeld or the cities of Thüringen, for example, where handweavers had strong organizational traditions and legacies of collective struggle under the aegis of craft associa-
tions. The differences in how weavers in the two countries expressed their earnings and dues shows that their understanding of the transfer of "labor" gave weavers different conceptions of the source and denominators of their income over time.
For the purpose of comparing the development of textile labor movements in the two countries, the workers on piece rates represent the key group for investigation. In Germany weavers provided the leadership and the majority of members for the textile unions. The predominance of piece-rate workers in the unions was so great that the Christian newspaper reported in 1908, "For some time now the day-wage workers have planned to found their own organization, because in their opinion the Christian Textile Workers' Union is only for weavers or other piece-rate workers." Where the surveillance records of the police report the job category of a speaker at a textile meeting, it was almost invariably that of weaver.
In Yorkshire, too—that part of Britain which gave birth to the Labor Party and which most resembled Germany in the timing of formal unionization—the textile unions were led by weavers. In Yeadon and Guiseley, for example, the Factory Workers' Union began as the Powerloom Weavers' Association. Not until 1892, when it sought to organize the spinners, did it adopt a more inclusive name. In Lancashire, of course, mule spinners
played a key role in the development of unions, but this group, too, was one that depended upon remuneration by piece rates.
While keeping in mind the predominance of piece-rate workers in the union movements, a restriction on the applicability of my comparison to the British and German textile work forces should be noted. For unskilled workers who received a flat day-wage, British employers and workers found it convenient and probably unavoidable to carry over on occasion the same unit, the day, to measure earnings and production. This sometimes happened in ring-frame spinning, for example. In such an environment, however, the calculations of the owners and workers for output and earnings merely copied the temporal unit used for remuneration, a unit owners adopted for an entirely pragmatic reason: by paying a flat wage for each day worked, in place of a flat sum per week, owners could avoid paying workers a full wage during those weeks that included holidays. The position of these day laborers contrasts with that of weavers, who received irregular piece rates and had to rely upon implicit assumptions about the labor activity to choose a conventional unit of time over which to average them. However, as we have seen, it was the piece-rate workers who organized and led the labor movements among textile workers. They selected the ideas and planned the programs of the unions. It is they who are of most significance in any comparative analysis of the effect of workplace culture on the development of workers' responses.
The Influence of Concepts of Time on Strike Demands
The workers' understandings of the sale of time guided their efforts to protect their interests. Weaving mills in both nations suffered from frequent interruptions in production. Factories usually waited for a merchant house to submit orders for a particular run of fabric before they began its manufacture. If the orders arrived sporadically, weavers found themselves wait-
ing for overlookers to install warps in their looms. Or, if a mill had a full line of orders, it could mishandle the winding of warps and procurement of weft yarn. In this case, too, weavers were left waiting for materials for their work.
The days textile workers lost waiting for materials amounted to a significant portion of work time in both Britain and Germany. In Germany, the union for Christian textile workers kept statistics on the matter, and its reports show that days lost waiting accounted for most of the time that its members spent "unemployed." The union calculated that from 1910 to 1912, for example, 64 percent of the workdays members lost resulted from waiting for materials. In Britain, overlookers' estimates and the report of the secretary of the weavers' union in Yorkshire indicate that Yorkshire weavers normally lost about one-quarter of their work time for lack of warps or weft. Allen Gee, secretary of the union, testified to the Royal Commission on Labour, "A man never expects to be fully employed as a weaver."
British and German weavers developed contrasting responses to this shared predicament. The samples of complaints from the German and British newspapers near the turn of the century (see Tables 1–5, above, Chapter 4) provide one source of evidence of their divergence. In thirty-one cases cited by British weavers from 1890 to 1893, workers complained about higher-ups who distributed work materials unfairly. This grievance thus ranks among the dozen most frequently voiced. In my German sample, by contrast, weavers complained only five times about favoritism in the distribution of materials. This represented about 0.5 percent of the German sample. The relative absence of complaints about favoritism in distributing materials in Germany cannot be dismissed as an artifact of the circumstance that the German weavers minded less about waiting for warp and weft. After all, the list of major complaints shows that they
complained about waiting for materials slightly more frequently than did their British counterparts.
Does the lower incidence of complaints about unfair allocation of materials in Germany indicate that German overlookers dispensed the warps and weft more equitably? The possibility cannot be excluded. It seems significant, however, that many of the complaints about waiting for materials that did not blame the overlooker came from districts where mills concentrated on short runs of specialized patterns. Mills in these regions, such as Barmen and Aachen, gave the overlookers responsibility for allocating warps among the weavers so that overlookers could match the skills of individual weavers to specific fabric orders. The lack of blame assigned to the overlooker might indicate that, in reaction to favoritism exercised by overlookers, German weavers who waited for materials simply focused on the more basic issue of losing their time, whereas British weavers particularized the problem and interpreted it as a product of their overlooker's character. What remains certain is the outcome in workers' consciousness: the German workers' relative emphasis on the underlying issue of losing time is in keeping with their view of the employment relation as the sale of the disposition of a labor capacity. The German workers did not attribute lost time to the prejudices of overlookers but addressed it as a basic problem in the employment relation.
Drawing upon their view of employment as the commitment of the use of labor over time, German weavers argued that they had a right to payment for the period they spent waiting without working (Wartegeld ). "During the period of the labor contract we must place all our labor power [Arbeitskraft ] at disposal," the workers in Lörrach complained in 1906. "In return the firm is contractually obligated to take care of the prompt delivery of work tools and materials." In Forst, the textile workers issued a statement in 1899 that called the worker's time a kind of capital for which workers had to be paid even while waiting for materials. German workers attached a value to the commitment of time with such precision that when they formulated strike demands for
waiting money, they often requested that managers graduate the pay not only for lost days but for fractions of lost hours. From a cross-national perspective, the issue is not simply the lodging of the demand but its design and rationale: the indemnification did not just ensure workers' minimum take-home pay but was finely graduated to lost minutes and was justified as payment for the timed disposal of labor power.
The contestation of uncompensated time was so important to German workers that as individuals they initiated legal complaints against their employers. A weaver from Neugersdorf took the trouble to file a claim in court during 1909 to recover the value of two hours spent waiting. He demanded restitution for the lull caused when a company official had to check the fabric pattern installed on his loom. The difference between the German and the British responses to wasted time cannot be explained by the statutory environment. When textile employers in Germany wanted to be certain that they could escape from threatened litigation over lost time, they merely inserted a disclaimer in their factory rules against providing payment for "canceled time," a tactic which persisted into the 1920s.
Strike demands for reimbursement of waiting time originated in each of Germany's major textile regions, including the Wupper Valley, the lower Rhine, the Münsterland, Saxony, and Silesia. The demands arose both in urban centers and in remote areas where workers supplemented their factory employment with agricultural work. Not only weavers but spinners, beamers, and spoolers demanded "waiting money." The workers enjoyed a measure of success: reports from the textile workers' newspapers and factory rule books show that the custom of paying "waiting
money" was geographically widespread. In the Wupper Valley, a survey of thirty-nine ribbon-weaving firms near Barmen conducted on the eve of the First World War found that almost half paid weavers for waiting for materials, including sixteen companies that offered restitution calculated to the hour. The payments became a permanent and taken-for-granted procedure. They offered a first step toward demands for payment for vacation time in Germany. The female winders at a firm in Viersen included among their strike demands in 1909 the proposal that they receive their regular pay for labor on days before holidays, when the firm operated only part-time. Workers at a textile mill at Neugersdorf went a step further in 1914 when they asked for compensation for the complete days off for holiday observances.
By contrast with German practice, British textile employers did not offer their piece-rate workers waiting money. Nor did British textile workers ask for it in strike negotiations. In fact, the textile workers' press shows that British workers did not conceive of this as a possible issue of contention. A sampling of the Yorkshire Factory Times from 1890 to 1893 uncovered more than twenty complaints from weavers about reductions in earnings due to waiting for materials. Not one mentioned that the employer ought to compensate personnel for unused time. Nor did the complaints up to 1914 voice such a demand. Weavers argued, rather, that prices for fabrics delivered ought to take into consideration time lost waiting. For the intermittent time they spent installing the warp or waiting for a warp, they wished to receive payment via the selling price of the finished good in the market. A beneficent owner in Yorkshire proposed to pay workers for vacation time, but the mouthpiece for the textile union, the Yorkshire Factory Times , scorned the notion. For owners to offer money to workers for time not worked would be condescending, the paper claimed. "I should be glad if workers were sufficiently well paid to be independent even of these [payments]," its editorialist wrote on the front page of this journal in 1914. To avoid such "charity" at vacation time, workers had a right to earn enough for the work completed. True, the powerful unions for mule spinners in Lancashire saw to it that owners might pay workers something when the machines were stopped for repairs. But the employers owed such pay only if they needed the spinner's
assistance in carrying out the overhaul. The money served as compensation for extra labor, not, as in Germany, for the commitment of time when weavers were not used for any purpose in the mill.
British textile workers' failure to demand reimbursement for waiting time certainly cannot be attributed to a lack of "time thrift" or to a disregard for time as a resource. Even in Elland, a sleepy village outside Bradford, weavers complained in 1889 that their employer forced them to wait for weft at their shop rather than giving them the chance of "profitably utilising" their time at home. The textile workers' union in Yorkshire reported that some of its members were so concerned about waiting for a warp that they unrealistically expected to qualify for out-of-work benefits from the union. British textile workers sought remedies for the loss of income but did not articulate a demand for compensation from the employer.
Why did the German employers, but not the British, provide "waiting money"? From a comparative perspective, the economic environment does not offer promising ground for generating this variation. A market analyst would be apt to assume that owners paid "waiting money" to discourage the unoccupied workers from seeking employment at another firm. German
managers might have had a greater incentive for holding on to their workers under either of two circumstances: if labor resources were scarcer in Germany than in Britain, or if the skills the owners required were so specialized that they could not easily be purchased in the general labor market. The evidence does not support either hypothesis. Factories in Britain that suffered from severe labor shortages paid no waiting money, nor did British companies who relied on unique skills from their workers, such as the isolated silk firms in Bradford and Halifax. In Germany, the incidence of compensation for lost time also contradicts economic logic. The highly paid weaving branch, which offered "waiting money" more often than other textile departments, was the sector least likely to suffer from labor shortages, for spinners, who had lower status and wages, transferred to weaving when they had the opportunity.
The terms under which German firms dispensed waiting money also indicate that the practice was not crafted for the purpose of retaining labor. Companies began crediting the money to workers before the workers had lost enough time to consider changing employers. The payments could begin after as little as two hours of waiting, and almost always began within one workday after the commencement of idleness. If companies wanted to retain labor, moreover, they had other means at their disposal. They could, for example, offer bonuses to workers who stayed in their employ for a long period, a plan implemented by several German textile firms.
If the German employers did not introduce waiting money for their own benefit, then the workers' understanding of labor's commodity form must have comprised the critical force in its introduction. How did the demands for compensation of time originate? Could differences between Germany and Britain in the lodging of time revendications have reflected nothing more than textile union officials' decisions as to which among many grievances to support and articulate? This would be to say that formal organizations for the propagation of ideology intervened to decide whether workers would focus upon and engage the issue. Alternatively, did the claims that attached to time arise as an expression of assumptions about the workday that workers acquired in the labor process? If the specifications of labor as a commodity were imparted to workers by the daily enactment of cultural practices rather than by discursive instruction, then the ideology workers carried into their collective actions could have originated, almost naturally, from the very construction of the labor process. The initiation and distribution of the demands for waiting money allows us to adjudicate between these possibilities.
Weavers in Germany had laid claim to waiting money prior to their incorporation into the factory system. In that era, textile employers had shamelessly enjoyed a gross oversupply of skilled and common labor. They certainly did not institute the payment of waiting money as a response to labor scarcity. In the Wuppertal, for instance, where a surplus of workers in the 1840s led to a disastrous decline in their earnings, handweavers in that decade began to receive money for the time lost between contracts or for the time expended setting up the warps for their next job. Indeed, as early as the 1830s, the entrepreneurs who ran putting-out networks included the weavers' "loss of time" during the changing of the
loom's fabric patterns as part of the expenses to be covered. In 1848 weavers in the putting-out networks in the Wuppertal, on the left side of the Rhine, in Brandenburg, and in Saxony advanced demands for officially guaranteed compensation for waiting for materials. Cotton printers in manufactories also pressed for waiting money during those revolutionary days. But weavers in particular advanced such claims in the first days of the 1848 revolution, before organizations of workers had extended across trade lines and before standing, citywide assemblies of artisans and factory workers had convened. The articulation of claims for waiting time before weavers had come into contact with organizational leaders suggests that the demand emerged as part and parcel of the everyday experience of the employment relation rather than out of a formal discourse imported by intellectual elites.
The demands raised by the British handloom weavers in response to similar predicaments reveal the influence of a different view of the exchange of labor as a commodity. The handloom weavers in Britain proposed all manner of remedies during the early nineteenth century to arrest the decline of their earnings, including a legislated minimum wage. Yet they never arrived at the notion that the employer owed them compensation for the simple commitment of time. Their proposals set forth minimum piece
rates for cloth actually delivered. In keeping with the principle of the exchange of labor via its products, they thought that they ought to earn enough for products delivered during the busy weeks to tide them over slow periods.
We should not suppose that the handweavers in Britain believed they sold their products instead of time; they sold time, but as it was embodied in products. When the putting-out system for home weavers was in its prime, the distributors sometimes assigned a standard piece of fabric a time equivalent, which they used to establish the weaver's payment. If the clothiers in this system altered the remuneration for completion of that cloth, they expressed this as a change in the time investment expected for the work. For example, the clothiers of Wiltshire in 1801 reduced the time allocation for a standard piece of cloth from twenty-three to twenty hours. From the earliest days of radical political economy in Britain, critics of the market system asserted that workers did not get back from their employers all the time they had delivered. In 1805, Charles Hall asserted that the poor enjoyed only "about one-eighth part, or the produce of one-eighth part of their time." But the British workers considered the unfair transfer of time only as it was embodied in products.
Not only the original appearance of claims for waiting money in Germany but its geographical incidence after the establishment of mature factory regimes demonstrates that the demand rested on a popular conviction about the nature of the labor transaction. Weavers demanded restitution for the commitment of time in backwater areas where neither union organizations nor union spokesmen had appeared. A strike in a rural area of the Münsterland offers a telling emblem of German textile workers' belief that they ought to be compensated for the loss of their time. When workers in the village of Neuenkirchen left work to counter a proposed wage reduction in May, 1891, they not only succeeded in maintaining the previous piece rates, but they also drew compensation (Entschädigung ) from the company for the time out of work due to the strike! The demand for the reimbursement could hardly have been recommended by union leaders, for organizers did not target this rural area until almost a decade later. German textile workers raised the demand for waiting money in other remote areas where union representatives had not campaigned. Requests for the restitution of time commitments rested on established assumptions that were generated and sustained by the arrangement of workaday practices.
The expectation in Germany that employers would provide compensation for the commitment of time also surfaced in the norms for disbursing wages in the event of the temporary closure of a factory. German textile workers successfully demanded that they receive compensation when their mill was shut due to breakdowns or alterations of machinery. British owners failed to offer compensation for disruptions in employment even when they required workers to wait in the vicinity for the mill to reopen. The columns of the textile workers' newspapers in Britain in the decades before the First World War frequently referred to engine breakdowns and stoppages due to the transfer of looms. They never suggested, however, that workers ought to receive compensation from employers during these intervals.
The German workers' readiness to battle for waiting money formed part of a larger struggle over the control and valorization of inappreciable segments of time, a contest in which British workers did not so readily engage. German workers not only complained about the petty ways in which employers controlled their time without compensating them for it, but they went ahead and seized upon that complaint as a cause for launching strikes. Weavers in Mönchengladbach struck with the sole demand of compensation for minutes that some of them lost waiting in line to punch out on the time clock. When the weavers at a mill in the same town went on strike in early 1900, they combined their request for higher wages with a demand related
to the expenditure of time. They proposed that the owner cease making the weavers wait to have their spools of yarn weighed (a means of calculating yarn wastage upon completion of a piece), or, alternatively, that the owner "compensate the worker for the resulting time loss." The German workers' enumeration of tasks for which they ought to receive compensation extended to the personal maintenance of their bodies. When the workers at a large silk firm outside of Krefeld in 1905 requested pay for auxiliary chores that consumed their time, they included the task of carrying the coffee water. In Mülhausen, textile workers told their owner in 1909 that for changing their clothing they wanted an extra five minutes' wage credit. If the workers transferred to the employer the labor power lodged in their person, they could expect compensation for sustaining it at the work site.
Even the ritual of handing workers the coins and currency of their pay absorbed time and as such became a contested interval in Germany. As early as 1848, home weavers in Chemnitz asserted that an excessive wait for the processing of their finished warps at the receiving office constituted a violation of the employment contract. When German textile workers negotiated with their employers over wages, they sometimes specified that clerks were to hand the pay out to them during work hours, not during a break or upon the conclusion of the regular workday. In Spremberg, police surveilling workers' meetings at the turn of the century reported that a major complaint of workers concerned the receipt of the pay packet after the close of the workday. In the course of strike negotiations at a mill in Mönchengladbach, the workers requested that their pay be brought to them at their machine. Reports from the Yorkshire Factory Times leave no doubt that British workers considered it offensive when employers detained them after normal working hours to dole out pay. Some employers made it a
policy to do so. Yet British workers never introduced these lost minutes into strike negotiations; they did not conceive of a small period of waiting as an unauthorized appropriation of their property—their time. British workers were no less vigilant than their German counterparts to protect themselves against the illegal prolongation of work for even a minute or two. In comparative perspective, the issue is not workers' concern about the length of the work shift—or, for employees on time wages, the performance of work without pay. The question is workers' sensitivity to payment for small increments of time in which the labor capacity is unused.
If German workers treated time itself as a kind of currency, so did their employers. They demonstrated this through their handling of the monies withheld from workers for coming to their jobs late. After 1891, German law prohibited factory employers from putting into their general till the funds they collected from disciplinary punishments. They had permission to pocket fines collected from workers for property damage, however. Employers could keep as compensation deductions made for broken windows or for the misuse of equipment, for example. Therefore employers kept two sets of books for the fines they imposed: one for the disciplinary fines, which they transferred to workers' welfare committees, and one for destruction of property. The important point here is that some German owners believed that the fines they levied on workers for tardiness belonged in the category of compensation for property losses.
It would be easy to dismiss the employers' conduct in this instance as underhanded, unprincipled attempts to appropriate funds. But the evidence conflicts with this interpretation for two reasons. The books in which employers recorded their fines, the very records the factory inspectors and the courts used to arraign the avaricious employers, did not group other disciplinary fines, such as those inflicted for socializing away
from one's workstation or for inattentiveness, in the category of damage compensation. In these cases as well, the employers had lost the full use of the labor time they needed for their machinery. But the company books showed that owners did not attempt to profit from these other kinds of disciplinary fines, as they would have been likely to have done if they had merely sought to enrich themselves. Second, the employers whom the factory inspectors accused of misappropriating fines for tardiness presented their reasoning to the courts. Rather than avoid the publicity of a trial—a matter about which employers generally showed acute sensitivity —they supported their practice in public.
In each country, the conflicting expectations of the employers and workers arose from a foundation of cultural agreement, a shared understanding of labor as a commodity. In Germany the transmission of labor via the disposition over workers' time monetized time itself, whereas in Britain the transfer of labor as it was materialized in products meant that time was a resource whose gain or loss was measured in merchandise. In Germany the scales on which employers graduated per minute the amount of the fine they would assess for lateness treated time itself as a form of property—and so workers reciprocated. In Britain employers who locked tardy workers out of the mill enforced their expectation that anyone working for them deliver products at a regular pace, but as a rule employers did not treat the workers' time itself as property for whose loss they claimed a metrically graduated restitution. And, in parallel fashion, neither did British workers. The form of labor as a commodity laid out a distinctive playing field.
In this culturally mediated struggle, the selection of labor's commodity form never conferred a univocal advantage upon a contestant. For example, the specification of labor in Germany may have enabled employers to justify shifting employees between jobs in the firm, since employers had purchased the disposition over the subordinates' labor power. But for employers it also had an unwanted effect. It immediately led German workers to press far-reaching demands based on the treatment of time as transferable property. Similarly, the specification of labor as a commodity that appeared in Britain may have discouraged textile workers from seeking pay for idle moments; at the same time, however, it encouraged workers to demand the full product of their labor. Even in the first decade of the century, Adam Smith's elaboration of labor's commodity form in The Wealth of Nations served as a handbook for working-class radicals who objected to sharing the product of labor with employers. The complex network of response and counterresponse engendered by a particular commodity form shows that the adoption of that form did not offer either side a straightforward instrumental benefit.
The German workers' treatment of time as a form of property guided their articulation of grievances about workloads. In both Germany and Britain, weavers opposed their employers' efforts to have each weaver tend more looms, a contest that reemerged in different periods during the nineteenth century for each kind of fabric manufactured. But in Germany, weavers saw the introduction of more looms per worker not just as an intensification of effort but as a prolongation of work time. For instance, a speaker at the weaving conference in Crimmitschau in 1910 said that if weavers operate an additional loom, it "is indirectly an extension of work time. We must try to combat this with all the strength at our disposal." German weavers converted an issue of concrete effort into a matter of the employer effectively controlling more time.
The contest that developed in Germany over the allocation of time did not just concern the total remuneration to which workers could lay claim. It revolved around the point at which the employer converted labor power into a product. Accordingly, strike demands about the use of time followed a different pattern in Germany than in Britain. German workers agitated for adjustments in the partitioning of the workday, not just for changes in its length. A recurring issue for German strikers was how the hours of the day, which as a rule in the late nineteenth century totaled at least ten, would be divided between morning and afternoon. For 1899 through 1906, the years in which official enumerations of the separate demands lodged by German workers in strikes have survived, the textile industry experienced thirty-five outbreaks in which workers lodged requests for changes in the periods for rest pauses, extensions in the lunch break (although this meant workers would labor until later in the evening), or other demands related to the apportionment of the work hours. Workers contested the allotment of time, which sometimes comprised the sole ground for strikes, under many different structures of workdays. Where the lunch pauses lasted an hour, they wanted one and a half; where one and half, they wanted two.
German workers bargained down to the requisitioning of small time fragments. Consider the long strike of weavers in Neumünster in 1888. Over one hundred workers there sustained a labor stoppage for two and a half months because employers refused to extend the lunch hour an extra fifteen minutes. In Luckenwalde the female workers in a weaving room launched a strike in 1904 to gain the right to a ten-minute wash-up break each day. Every fraction of time conceded to workers by, say, extending a
cleaning break from five to ten minutes comprised in their eyes a significant victory. Not surprisingly, when the textile union in Saxony surveyed the arrangement of workdays in its district, it found some byzantine schedules. The conflict over the apportionment of tiny intervals led to some markedly irregular lunch periods, such as one hour and twenty-five minutes, or to rotating fifteen-and twenty-minute early and afternoon breaks.
Apart from disputing the allocation of work time over the day, textile workers in Germany distinguished themselves by contesting the days of the week when they would deliver their labor power, given a fixed number of hours. For instance, textile workers struck at a mill in Augsburg in 1914 when the employer responded to a downturn by eliminating work on Mondays. The workers demanded that Saturday be free instead. In this instance the struggle was in no way confused with commercial issues of profit and loss, but related solely to authority over time: the employer denied workers their long-held dream of enjoying Saturday off even when the low volume of production could have fulfilled it. When German workers contested the regulation of working hours, they emphasized the delivery of time as an abstract potential that employers consumed. For example, when German workers complained about having to work so many days, they said they "had to put their meager day of rest at the disposal of their employer."
German workers and employers who saw time itself as a kind of property fought at innumerable points, not just over the total amount of time whose ownership would change hands, but when it would do so. In Britain, by contrast, the partitioning of the workday, given a fixed duration, almost never became the touchstone for workers' collective action. The Board of Trade provided a complete enumeration of the strike demands lodged in textiles for the years from 1889 to 1900. In only a single instance did British textile workers request a change in the distribution, given a fixed sum of hours. And even the circumstances surrounding this case seem deviant. It
occurred at a mill in Dundee whose weavers had been placed on a shortened work week in 1894 due to a business slowdown. They insisted on reducing the number of days they worked each week rather than continuing on brief shifts six days a week. British workers were ready, of course, to protest long workdays. But as a rule, the time sense of British workers paralleled that of the employers: the passage of the workday was not divided into minute increments, with the appropriation of singular moments being contested. Rather, the workday was a block of time during which workers created the products that were to be transferred to employers.
Would it have been more advantageous for British textile workers to have pursued the same demands as did their German counterparts? This question is unanswerable, for the focus among British workers on improving piece rates for cloth delivered may well have given them a higher return for their labor than they would otherwise have enjoyed. Culture guided but in no way blocked workers' struggles for improvements.
This chapter calls attention to a new method for attaching workers' articulation of discontent to the structure of the production process and, ultimately, offers a way of linking the domains of social experience and discourse. Cultural historians of labor have recently emphasized that the development of workers' grievances does not parallel the evolution of the conditions of work. These critics have contended that workers' grievances, instead of reflecting the material circumstances or institutional structure of production, depend principally upon discursive resources and the organization of the public sphere in which complaints can be lodged and debated. For instance, in Work and Wages , his exemplary study of prerevolutionary artisanal conflicts in France, Michael Sonenscher detaches (changing) discursive practices from the (unvarying) organization of work itself.
The present chapter shows instead that the signifying processes incorporated into the concrete procedures of work configured the concepts to which workers would have ready access for verbal analyses of the employment relation. Through their experience of the symbolic instrumentalities of production, such as the piece-rate scales, workers acquired their understanding of labor as a commodity and their expectations for its use in the same way that Pascal allegedly would have advised them to acquire religious conviction: "Kneel down, move your lips in prayer, and you will believe." They derived the categories of the discourse of complaint from their lived experience at the point of production, as is confirmed by the very manner in which weavers conceptualized their output. For example, German weavers who worked with piece-rate scales that centered the categories of payment on the execution of the labor activity could judge changes in output by the number of shots inserted in the course of a time interval rather than by the length of cloth delivered. At a meeting of textile workers in Cottbus in 1903, a discussant described in this manner the exploitation of weavers' labor: "Whereas a loom used to give forty-five shots per minute, the new looms have raised this to 105 shots per minute and now three hundred thousand shots are demanded each week from a worker on a new loom." This speaker expressed the additional work extracted in terms of the movements executed in a day—that is, in terms of the metered expenditure of labor power rather than the dimensions of requisitioned fabric. Verbal analysis followed the culturally variable ideas embedded in the execution of work for a wage.
To affirm the symbolic constitution of experience, historians influenced by post-structuralist philosophy, including Joan Scott, have emphasized the
linguistic mediation of social experience. In so doing they have come perilously close to severing the nondiscursive from the domain of experience. A focus upon the cultural construction of material practices allows us to reconnect language and social experience without reducing one to the other. Practice is not composed of arbitrary signifiers and does not follow a scripted logic to advance its propositions. This comparative inquiry suggests, however, that as the fixtures of production are employed as signs, they create a shared conceptual experience of the ongoing execution of material practice and thereby supply the constituents—although not the syntax—of formal discourse. Important national differences in workers' experience developed from the immediate execution of practice, apart from the intervention of language—that is, from a symbolically constituted order of reality that is distinct from the mere representation of the world via the divisions of language.
If workers brought into the realm of collective action and trade union struggle that specification of labor as a commodity which is embodied in the material performance of production, this reinforces the importance of the labor process for the formation of workers' discourse about labor, but it does not compel a return to the older view that this discourse reflects the material conditions of production. For if symbolic instrumentalities at the point of production—such as the operation of the piece-rate systems—guided the formation of discourse about exploitation, these instrumentalities are not the outgrowth of adaptation to the actual conditions of the environment. Production is not another order of reality more veracious than discursive practice. If I dare cite the words of Althusser, who has more to contribute to cultural history than most would nowadays admit, what workers' complaints express is not "the real conditions which govern the existence of individuals, but the imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they live."
In both Britain and Germany, the cultural specification of labor's commodity form rested on preposterous assumptions. British employers and workers supposed that labor could literally be embodied in a product that served as a vessel to transfer it—as if human activity could become a substance. As a matter of principle, the textile workers' labor no more resides
in the output than do the other elements that contribute to the creation of the fabric, such as the factory's land. The labor said to be incorporated in the ware reflects a social relation between producers, namely, the relative expenditures of labor time socially necessary for them to create the product—not something materialized in a discrete product. The German specification of labor's commodity form supposed that the employer could purchase time itself and that the expenditure of concrete labor power actually created value. In truth, of course, the use of labor as a factor of production does not create value: the value is conferred by the social relations structuring the activity, not by, say, the observable motions of the shuttle. Likewise, it is absurd to suppose that one can purchase the disposition over workers' time as a thing; time is the medium through which the disposition over human relations is expressed, not an item with a price. Karl Polanyi perspicaciously referred to labor power as an "alleged commodity." But what could only be claimed metaphorically in theory was in the practice of production affirmed as a fact in reality.
Theories of Exploitation in the Workers' Movements
All theory is grey unless it builds upon practical experience.
Fach-Zeitung: Organ des Niederrheinischen
Weber-Verbandes, July 16, 1899
If an analysis of the fabrication of labor as a commodity clarifies the installation of business practices—and thus people's engagement with culture as they come to terms with the commercial universe—it can also elucidate the other side of history: people's engagement with culture as they attempt to transcend that commercial universe. How did the fabrication of labor as a commodity influence workers' understanding of the fundamental sources of economic inequities? Did it guide their reception of formal political ideologies? Did the contrasting notions of labor as a ware that were lived in the humdrum routines of manufacture in Germany and Britain inspire contrasting dreams of the supercession of capitalism?
Historians of nineteenth-century labor and socialist movements have attributed an explanatory significance to culture in two fundamentally different ways. Following the example of E. P. Thompson, many investigators have assigned culture an enabling role as a creator of varying responses among workers. These inquirers associate culture with workers' creative agency. More recently, however, examiners such as Gareth Stedman Jones have assigned culture an explanatory role as a kind of restrictive structure, underscoring its function as an autonomous system of concepts that channel workers' insights and expression. Although both approaches have proven
their fertility, they are both demonstrably inadequate for the task of this chapter, that of explaining why workers in Britain and Germany developed contrasting ideologies of capitalist exploitation. Let us appraise the two prevailing views of culture to see how uncovering the cultural structure of the workplace offers a different means of explaining workers' adoption of specific political ideologies.
The Place of Culture in Labor Movements
As a pioneer investigator of workers' embrace of oppositional ideas, E. P. Thompson's writings express in pure form the tensions inherent in cultural analyses of workers' movements that underspecify culture's constitutive role in the labor process itself. In The Making of the English Working Class , skilled craftspeople, domestic weavers, field laborers, and the new textile operatives are described as having contrasting social experiences but making common cause by drawing upon the inherited discourses of the "free-born Englishman" and of radical republicanism to interpret their predicaments and to imagine alternatives. Their receptivity to political beliefs comes from their individual experiences of a more ruthless use of labor. But, given this exposure, what match between workers' social being and the political ideologies of the day permitted workers to take up as their own the ideals of cooperative manufacture and political reform that were initially formulated by prosperous artisans and middle-class radicals?
To cast the issue more concretely, does Thompson mean to tell us that given a different political legacy among the middle classes in England, workers in the early nineteenth century would not have acquired a shared class identity? Or, if some variety of class consciousness inevitably follows capitalist development (a vexing question for Thompson's argument), how did workers' experience of labor establish the range of ideas they could receive favorably? Thompson, as a man of letters, believed that incertitude suited his humanist goals. The commemoration of indeterminacy fulfills an hon-
orable commitment to human self-making, but it scarcely offers a foundation for a program of research into the forces shaping the adoption of ideologies in workers' collective movements.
Thompson's inexactitude makes a virtue of necessity. It follows unavoidably from his perspective on the labor process. In conceptualizing the generation of work experience, he "humanizes" the point of production in a peculiar fashion. He views the workplace as a site of personal experience, not as a set of practices patterned by culture; he highlights the subjective side of productive relations, not their cultural structure. Given this foundation, either the development and endorsement of particular complexes of political ideas appears capricious, an historical miracle in which the common people transcend the limitations of their social existence; or, alternatively, if the historical process is explained by the circumstances of workers' productive life, it is reduced to a mechanical reflection of crude material distress and economic compulsion.
This latter choice, irreconcilable as it seems with the tenor of Thompson's work as a whole, commands the argument of many passages in The Making. For example, artisans' sympathetic reception of Paine's The Rights of Man fluctuated with their standard of living. "Jacobin ideas driven into weaving villages, the shops of the Nottingham framework-knitters and the Yorkshire croppers, the Lancashire cotton-mills," he says, "were propagated in every phase of rising prices and of hardship." In his account of the Luddite movement's vision of political upheaval and insurrectionary objectives,
Thompson claims, "People were so hungry that they were willing to risk their lives upsetting a barrow of potatoes. In these conditions, it might appear more surprising if men had not plotted revolutionary uprisings than if they had. " Contrary to his own intentions, Thompson resorts to these pictures of mechanical response when he seeks not only to describe but to explain workers' reception of new ideas.
In similar fashion, Patrick Joyce adopts reductionist explanations in spite of himself in his sensitive analyses of Victorian factories. He draws correspondences between workers' political visions and the objective features of work. For example, in Work, Society and Politics Joyce explains the decline of political radicalism in the textile districts after midcentury as the result of "the power of mechanisation to re-cast the social experience of the worker." The decline of workers' independent political movements, he asserts, mirrored the erosion of their autonomy in the labor process. The supposition that the formulation and acceptance of political ideologies reflects the conditions of production, rejected in his theory, is embraced in his history.
The institutions and manufacturing procedures of the workplace, for Joyce as for Thompson, become technological and economic givens, not because these investigators would assert that work obeys only economic and technical determinations, but insofar as these elements are the only ones they treat as systemic forces in the construction of workplace procedures.
Joyce's unwitting reductionism issues from the same source as Thompson's: it results from leaving in place an unreconstructed, implicitly economic view of the development of the factory labor process, which makes possible the explication of determinant connections between the labor process and the acceptance of ideas only by forcing ideas to reflect the economic aspects of work.
Gareth Stedman Jones arrived at an alternative understanding of culture and work by following Thompson's problematic to a different terminus. In the acclaimed essay "Rethinking Chartism," he argued that workers in early industrial Britain discovered their interests through the political language of Chartism, and thus historians ought not to envision social classes with prior economic interests turning to a political medium. Rather, workers' primary experiences in work were constituted from the start by an inherited political language. Yet this linguistic model inhibits explanation of the vitality and acceptance of insurgent ideas. What kept the framework of radical ideas intact in the first half of the nineteenth century despite the proliferation of diverse protest movements and despite great change in the organization of the labor movement? Why did British workers not evolve an alternative discourse of resistance shortly after 1842, if, as Stedman Jones says, the radicals' emphasis on Parliament's responsibility for economic
oppression rang increasingly false after that date? Were laborers and their spokespersons incapable of articulating more resonant interpretations of their social predicaments? To address these questions of change and persistence, Stedman Jones would have to consider the connections between political ideas and the workers' lived experience—a divide which brings one back to Thompson's starting point.
By deciphering the signifying processes embedded in the labor process, the present study offers an alternative perspective which bridges workers' experience of production and their reception of public discourse without resorting to economic reductionism. Workers' experience of production did not develop as the subjective side of economic and technological conditions, but emerged through an engagement with the cluster of cultural signs that defined material practices. The definitions of labor that were communicated in the execution of work offered a foundation for the receipt of economic philosophies and radical programs of change.
A Puzzle in the Workers' Reception of Ideas
During the last decade of the nineteenth century, workers and employers in both Britain and Germany believed they were witnessing a revolution in the labor movement. In Germany this decade was marked by a surge in union membership and by the widespread adoption of a Marxist discourse. In Britain many trade unions during this same period adopted the goal of developing a socialist society. Membership in all trade unions of the United Kingdom rose from 750,000 in 1888 to over two million in 1901. In the country's textile industry, union membership doubled. The endorsement of socialism, though confined to a minority of unions, and rise in membership represented a significant departure from the previous history of British labor.
The textile employers in Britain believed that the new ideology of the unions represented a momentous pullback from their previous support for the settled customs of industrial relations. The businessmen's newspaper
the Textile Mercury took note of the changed atmosphere as early as 1890. This journal said, "The introduction of socialistic principles into English trades-unionism has completely transformed the character of the latter. . . . It is now unrecognizable in its objects, aims, and the means it is using to attain them compared with the trades-unionism of only ten or fifteen years ago." In a column entitled "The Apotheosis of Labour," the journal's editors concluded in the fall of 1890 that "almost everything is being turned topsy-turvy."
During these "topsy-turvy" years of change, continuing up to the First World War, Marxist economic discourse found a ready audience among literate workers in Germany, whereas among workers in Britain it fell on unprepared and partially closed ears. Is it reasonable to conclude that the German workers and their avowed spokespersons, in contrast to their counterparts in Britain, were frustrated by their confrontations with the autocratic German state and found Marxism congenial because they preferred an uncompromising program of change? Professed approval of Marx's analysis of the capitalist production process was neither sufficient nor necessary for support of a strong agenda for social transformation. Although articulate members of the trade unions in Britain proved resistant to Marx's analysis of the extraction of surplus value from labor power, they nonetheless endorsed programs for a dramatic reordering that included the seizure of state power and collectivization of the means of production. Conversely, in Germany some members of workers' organizations who endorsed Marx's economic analyses shrank from attacks upon the state or from calls for the expropriation of capitalist enterprise. The Social Democrat Carl August Schramm offers a well-known example of the divergent political uses to which Marx's economic analysis could be put. Schramm, an early, accomplished initiate into Marx's analysis of the generation of surplus value, combated party members' strengthening endorsement during the 1880s of
the necessity of political revolution. Likewise, in the 1890s the free trade unions helped disseminate Marx's economic doctrines but at the same time tried to moderate the influence of radicals in the Social Democratic party who were advocating forceful challenges to the political institutions of the old regime. These considerations remind us that Marx's economic analysis could be accepted or repudiated apart from any belief in the need for political revolution. Instead of serving as an index of radicalization, Marx's examination of the capitalist employment relation must be approached for what it is, a system of ideas that can be endorsed or discarded by workers or their avowed spokespersons for its perceived logic and plausibility.
In Marx's analysis of workers' exploitation in the capitalist system of production, as finally presented in Kapital , employers adhered to the principles of equitable market transactions. As with the purchase of any commodity, they paid living labor its full exchange value when they appropriated its use value. The degradation of labor did not occur because capitalists added interest and profit to the value of the labor embodied in the finished commodity before they disposed of the commodity in the market, or because capitalists used their power over dependent workers to subvert the operation of a market in labor power. Instead, employers used unpaid labor time at the point of production. If workers did not imagine they sold their labor in the form of "labor power," they could envision that the labor time they put into products for the employer was more than the labor time embodied in the products that they received in return, via their wage. But they could not conceive that employers exploited the difference between the exchange value and use value of labor time at the work site. The cultural constitution of factory practices encouraged members of the labor movement in Britain to focus on the unfair exchange of products in the market, as the histories both of the early socialist movement in Britain and of the reappearance of socialism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century demonstrate. In Germany, by contrast, Marx's dissection of the extraction of surplus at the site of production enjoyed a magnified resonance.
Economic Ideologies in the Workers' Movements of Britain
The recreation of a socialist labor movement in Britain during the last two decades of the nineteenth century invented for a second time the explanation for the exploitation of labor that had developed in the heroic decades of the 1820s and 1830s. In the earlier era, radical political economy supported the rise of a popular conviction that workers could collectively shape their destinies. As a letter writer to the Co-operative Magazine in 1826 proclaimed, "Labourers are beginning to think for themselves. And turning their attention to that science, which treats of the production and distribution of wealth." Middle-class educators such as the temperate Francis Place grew alarmed at workers' independent reshaping of this science. Place included Thomas Hodgskin, whose essay Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital grew out of personal experience in the London trades, among those who had caused "incalculable" mischief. During this period political economy became a staple of the labor movement's discourse instead of an esoteric body of theorems.
The view of the labor transaction that prevailed among these early working-class representatives was that of labor being exchanged as it had already taken shape in an object. William Thompson emphasized this mode of conveyance when he wrote in Labour Rewarded in 1827, "It is not the differ-
ences of production in different laborers, but the complicated system of exchanges of those productions when made , that gives rise to . . . frightful inequality of wealth." The "higgling of the market," not the subordination of labor in production, denied workers the full produce of their labor.
This view of the exchange of materialized labor did not arise from observers whose horizons were limited by the world of small craftshops. The press of the common people, which regularly surveyed and elaborated upon the ideas of Thompson, Hodgskin, and other economists, was perfectly cognizant of the new regimens and tactics of control deployed in the large textile mills. Popular writers in the industrial North formulated economic principles based on the conveyance of materialized labor as they studied the centralization of production under the eye of the mill owner. The Poor Man's Advocate , which covered problems in textile mills, drew an analogy between the consumer who bought finished cloth in a store and the mill owner who bought a quantity of labor from his workers.
The popular economists were capable of describing a difference between labor and its product when they discussed the manufacture of goods, but they did not theorize about the meaning of this difference for the wage contract. William Thompson, in An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth , drew a pregnant distinction between the products of labor and labor itself, defined as "that productive energy which called wealth into being." Seldom did British authors distinguish so carefully between the two as Thompson did. But in this work, printed in 1824, Thompson's very identification of the difference showed that in the end he did not imagine that under the regime of commercial liberalism surplus was appro-
priated from the labor activity itself, only from labor's products. For example, in his chapter entitled "Labour Must Receive Its Full Equivalent," Thompson pondered the seizure of "labor itself":
Take away what labour has produced, or anticipate and seize on, as it were beforehand, what labor is about to produce: where is the difference in the operation? Where the difference in pernicious effects? If any, the difference would be in favor of seizing the products after production rather than anticipating them, because the relaxation of the producing industry is avoided where the products already exist, and the effect of discouragement would be only against future productions. But where the labour is compelled, the product itself to be seized upon is raised and completed with diminished energy.
Thompson equated the appropriation of the workers' labor capacity with reliance upon "compelled," slave labor, not the incentives of marketed wage labor. From his standpoint, employers under the new regime of capitalism sequestered, not labor itself, but its products.
With this appreciation of labor as a commodity in mind, the early British socialists formulated a coherent set of propositions that placed the capitalist in the role of a middleman. "Betwixt him who produces food and him who produces clothing, betwixt him who makes instruments and him who uses them," wrote Thomas Hodgskin, "in steps the capitalist, who neither makes nor uses them, and appropriates to himself the produce of both." William Heighton defined the holders of capital in 1827 as those who "effect exchanges by proxy." The nomenclature middleman that denoted the capitalist also embraced such disparate groupings as small retailers, peddlers,
merchants, and master manufacturers. The odious term drew boundaries between laborers and their exploiters based not on the ownership of capital per se but on a market position as an intermediary. "[Middlemen] get their living by buying your labour at one price and selling it at another ," the Poor Man's Guardian warned its readers. "This trade of 'buying cheap and selling dear,' is of all human pursuits the most anti-social." Producers equated the capitalist with the trader and imagined his metier not as the control of production but as the manipulation of exchange.
In the periodicals aimed at the new factory operatives, the workers' exploiters were reduced to the "landowner and money-monger," a pairing that ignored the use of capital at the point of production.The Operative said in 1839 that "all the tyranny and misery in this world are the work of landlords and profit-mongers . . . that is to say, the man who lives by lending the use of land, which ought never to be individual property, and the man who
lives by the use of money, which ought never to be any thing more than a mere symbol of value." The journal's correspondent viewed money as a fraudulent token, for instead of allowing goods to exchange at their value in labor, it itself becomes the measure of value. The control of money leads to exploitation not because the owners invest in and control the production process but because it facilitates deceitful exchange.
Given this diagnosis, the corrective, too, lay in the marketplace. In Labour's Wrongs and Labour's Remedy , published in 1839, Bray located the problem and its solution. "Inequality of exchanges, as being the cause of inequality of possessions, is the secret enemy that devours us," he wrote. The introduction of trading cooperatives would short-circuit the market, allowing goods to be exchanged according to the value of labor they contained. "The general equality of condition which would be induced by equal exchanges," Bray said, "is, to the capitalist and economist, the last and most dreaded of all remedies." Bray, like other authors, acknowledged that the ultimate goal was to secure workers' ownership of the means of production. "To free Labour from the dominion of Capital," he said, "it is necessary that the land and reproducible wealth of the country should be in possession of the working class." The establishment of equal exchanges represented a sufficient means for this end. Fair exchange would lead to an adequate reform of production, not the reform of production to the establishment of fair exchange.
The focus of the socialist economists on the distribution of wealth insofar as this impinged upon equitable market exchange made it all too easy for the purification of exchange to become not only the means but the goal of reform. John Gray, for example, said that once the system of commerce was purified of distortion and the labor embodied in goods determined prices, it
was proper to sanction any inequalities of wealth that resulted. He endorsed "unrestricted competition between man and man," once prices had been cleansed of distortions. Likewise, William Thompson said that wherever the principle of "free interchange" of equivalents was respected, there property had been distributed in the most useful fashion. The socialist economists imagined that the concentration of the means of production in the hands of a few may have resulted from, but did not necessarily cause, inequitable exchange.
The work of Thompson, Gray, and Hodgskin received considerable popular attention and endorsement as the labor movement matured in the 1830s. "When Marx was still in his teens," E. P. Thompson wrote in The Making , "the battle for the minds of English trade unionists, between a capitalist and a socialist political economy, had been (at least temporarily) won." With the decline of agitation after 1848, popular political economy lost its bite and its critical legacy was forgotten. The theories' internal logic may have accelerated and completed their eclipse. As Noel W. Thompson has remarked, a preoccupation with the mechanism of exchange, rather than with the power of capital to shape workers' productive lives, could easily give way to a limited, conservative focus on the proceeds of wage agreements negotiated in the labor market.
The heritage of this critical political economy was never reappropriated by the labor movement as a native intellectual growth. The advocates for the socialist revival of the 1880s, including Beatrice Potter Webb, attempted to place the new movement in context by tracing the succession of prior socialist movements in the land. On the whole their surveys overlooked the early popular economists entirely; some, like H. M. Hyndman's The Historical Basis of Socialism in England , made passing reference to them in notes. Until nearly the end of the century, the labor organizers remained out of touch with early socialist economic theory from their own soil, regarding socialist economic conjectures as an alien import. Not until the issuance in 1899 of an English translation of Anton Menger's original German volume, The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour , with H. S. Foxwell's extended preface about British socialist works, were the popular British economists recognized again in their country of origin.
The rescue occurred due to the combined and uneven development of theory across the European landscape. Among the leading economic theorists of the second half of the nineteenth century, Marx was almost alone in taking notice of the contributions of the early British economists. The prestige of Marx's ideas in Germany led economists there to reexamine the British philosophers of labor who had long been forgotten by the British themselves. When the Austrian scholar Anton Menger wrote his history of The Right to the Whole Produce of Labour , he set out to discredit Continental Marxists by showing that Marx had disguised the true magnitude of his debt to these early British predecessors. Menger asserted that many of Marx's consequential assertions, including those concerning the mechanisms by which surplus value was generated and appropriated, had been anticipated, sometimes in embryonic form, by earlier French and British socialists, and in particular by William Thompson.
The English translation of Menger's work about Marx earned broad attention. In this circuitous manner the British became aware of their own early socialists. These pioneering socialists were brought back from the dead by the writings of the dead, through Menger's excavations of the deceased Marx. The roundabout rediscovery left its trace in language. When Foxwell highlighted the similarities between Ricardo's theory and those of the early British socialist economists, he helped establish the appellation "Ricardian socialists" for the popular British economists, following Marx's categorization of economic history. As everyone knows, Marx's commentary and elaborations on Ricardo lauded him as the most important advocate of the labor theory of value on which the early British socialists seemed to build. The label "Ricardian socialists" became a permanent, though deceptive, term of reference. It was misleading insofar as the British socialist economists rarely alluded to Ricardo, but made frequent reference to Adam Smith. Their preoccupation with the process of exchange resonated more strongly with Smith's rich descriptions of commercial transactions than with Ricardo's abstract models of the costs of production. By looking at their early writers as "Ricardian socialists," the British rediscoverers viewed their heritage from the standpoint of Marx, who, more than the early Brit-
ish socialists themselves had done, proceeded by developing the problematic suggested by Ricardo's theory.
Whereas Marx overlooked what was distinctively German about his thinking by deriving his conclusions from English economic history, the later British socialists overlooked what was distinctively British about the thinking of the early socialists in their own land by looking at them through the legacy of Marx. In a sense, Marx was a more faithful successor to Ricardo than the early British socialists were, since only he rigorously pursued Ricardo's emphasis on the labor invested at the point of production as the ultimate determinant of value. It was by a process of cross-cultural development, in which thinkers in each country expressed their own life experience in how they appropriated concepts from another land, that the later British socialists came into contact with their native predecessors.
More specifically, by accepting Marx's view of himself as a successor to the heritage of British political economy, the British socialists at the end of the nineteenth century failed to appreciate how Marx's account of the extraction of surplus from labor power at the point of production diverged from the early British socialists' preoccupation with exchange in the marketplace. They therefore acted as though they were condemned to rebuild an edifice that had been erected by their forebears. They supposed that Marx, like themselves, believed that the market comprised the site of exploitation and that labor was transferred as if it were concretized in a ware. Foxwell said that after a half-century of neglect, the ideas of the original socialists survived because they "remained germinating in the minds of Marx and Engels."
If the popular political economy of the newly emergent socialism in Britain at the end of the century and that created near its beginning contained parallel concepts of labor, how are we to explain this family resemblance? The similarity cannot be explained by a continuity of intellectual tradition or by the inertia of ideas among a literate elite. Instead, it points to similarities in the social environments. In particular, the specification of labor as a commodity, reproduced in everyday practice on the shop floor, came to the fore in both British movements' understanding of capitalist
exploitation. What the British labor movement had forgotten about its past it was bound to repeat.
The rebirth of socialist movements in the textile towns of Yorkshire and Lancashire illustrates the popular footing of the movements and the distinguishing features of their understanding of wage labor. Yorkshire served as the home base of the Independent Labour Party, perhaps the most influential propagator of a renewed socialism. The organization was tied to the textile mills from the start, for the first group of workers in Yorkshire to propose the establishment of a union in order to run independent labor candidates in local and parliamentary elections was assembled during 1891 in the weaving town of Slaithwaite. The earliest meetings of this group, the predecessor of the Independent Labour Party, were attended largely by weavers. As its name suggested, the association began with the simple objective of breaking with the Liberal Party to secure autonomous representation for workers. Many of its elected committee members, however, were already convinced socialists, as were the speakers at the local labor clubs sponsored by the new organization. When the delegates from likeminded committees in other provinces assembled in Bradford in 1893 to found the Independent Labour Party as a national organization, they counted "socialism" and the communal ownership of production among their goals.
The ideals of this labor party emerged through grass-roots debate, not through the speculations of a few intellectuals. The independent labor movement in Yorkshire inspired the growth of an extensive network of
neighborhood labor clubs, especially in textile towns. The clubs competed with taverns as places where workers could meet to talk after work. In them, workers were able to discuss socialist ideas. In 1892, twenty-three labor clubs, with about three thousand members, operated in Bradford alone. By 1895, the Independent Labour Party claimed thirty-five thousand members. Before the First World War, the Yorkshire textile districts provided the setting for some of the party's most significant electoral successes. By 1907 the party had managed to elect Labour M.P.'s from Bradford, Leeds, Halifax, and the Colne Valley, as well as representatives to municipal and county government in the region.
The textile unions were linked to the socialist campaigns not by geographic coincidence but by personnel. The leaders of the principal textile union in Yorkshire, the West Riding Power Loom Weavers' Association, also worked for the new labor party. Ben Turner, Allen Gee, and J. W. Downing, for example, worked for the committee for labor representation in Slaithwaite as early as 1891. The textile workers in Yorkshire adopted socialist ideas as their own during the 1890s. In Yeadon, the Factory Workers' Union, a purely local association whose membership consisted of weavers, dyers, and spinners, adopted the songbooks and message of the independent labor movement. The union's goal, the secretary said, was to help workers find their "social salvation." A correspondent to the Yorkshire Factory Times in 1914 assumed that the textile unions were vehicles for social trans-
formation, not just effective negotiation. "Organized working men," he said, "wish to use Trade Unionism as a means for ending the present conditions of society."
In Lancashire the admission of socialist ideas was more localized. They were perhaps received most enthusiastically in the Clitheroe district, which originally represented an outpost of liberalism in a large region captive to the Tory party. The district included the textile centers of Nelson, Burnley, and Colne. The quarterly report of the Nelson weavers for 1902 expressed the break that textile workers in this region had made with the bread-and-butter politics of conservative unions in other Lancashire districts. "Therefore, let us workers sink our little differences and go hand in hand and return representatives to Parliament and on all public bodies from our class," the Nelson union stated in the conclusion of its report, "and show the capitalist class that we are determined not to have them as our representatives any longer." To be sure, the textile workers in the unions of the Clitheroe district belonged to the United Textile Factory Workers' Association, one of Lancashire's ossified, conservative unions. At the same time, however, the local textile unions could affiliate themselves with a political party without receiving approval from the central office. The Nelson weavers attended the founding conference of the Labour Party in 1900. In 1902 the parliamentary constituency of Clitheroe elected the vice-president of the Weavers' Amalgamation as the first Labour M.P. in the north of England.
Blackburn represented another outpost of the socialist movement in Lancashire. Many weavers there were tied to the Social Democratic Federation, an avowedly Marxist league founded in 1881. If the best indicator of a movement's influence is the number of attempts to organize an
opposition, then the socialists in the textile unions were becoming a power with which to reckon. Textile workers in Blackburn who wanted to distinguish themselves from the socialists, who allegedly controlled the main textile union in town, founded a separate city union in 1912. Before the First World War, the Lancashire and Yorkshire textile regions provided the major base of support—the votes, the financing, and the ideas—for the emerging socialist groups.
The recreated socialist movement in Britain propagated what its members considered a novel, reinvigorated political economy. The socialist journals of the textile communities published regular columns, sometimes composed in simple language, that analyzed the origin of profit. The Bradford Socialist Vanguard even adopted the graces of dialect: in 1908 it told its readers, "Capital is nobbut stoored up labour." In the wool districts even the staple Yorkshire Factory Times recounted the lectures and debates over labor theories of value that were sponsored by the workers' clubs. The autobiographies of former textile workers describe workers' eager consumption of economic theory.
In the populist newspapers' rejuvenated discussions of the exploitation of labor, the portrayal of the capitalist evolved but did not depart from the essential form it had assumed in early British socialism. The capitalist became a financier who received a profit by charging interest on industrial investment or by coercing the worker to pay a rent for the use of the tools of production. The cause of the exploitation, the Blackburn Labour Journal said in 1900, is that "the capitalists permit you to use the means of production on certain terms." The workers paid a surcharge to use the means of production, but in this theory the capitalist did not occupy a special role as
the director of production. Although workers in their concrete complaints criticized their subordination to the mill owners, in their discourse of economic reform the capitalist's organization of work and his exercise of authority at the point of production did not appear as essential conditions for the extraction of profit. Instead, the surplus extracted by the capitalist was secured like a kind of rent: the capitalist, like the landowner, secured profit at a remove as a deduction from the product of the worker. The "explanation" for exploitation, the Blackburn Labour Journal said, is simple: "We allow a certain class to own all the land in the country. These landowners do not allow the land to be used unless a large share of what is produced is given up to them in the form of rent. The same remark applies to machinery. Unless a big profit can be made for the capitalists who own the machinery, they refuse to allow it to be used." By this reasoning, laborers who had no need of tools owned by another person were fortunate indeed, for even if these laborers were subordinated to an employer they could escape exploitation.
In the resuscitated socialist movement the capitalists were portrayed as usurious lenders, empowered by the unequal division of wealth to manipulate exchange relations in the market. In this respect, just as in the economic theories of early British socialism, so in those of the century's end the
capitalist could be likened to a middleman. The capitalist controlled the marketing of products by forcing laborers to use the means of production that he owned. The Burnley Gazette , in a column intended to explain why the attainment of higher wages represented an inadequate solution to workers' poverty, also exposed its understanding of exploitation. Socialism offers the only solution, it said, because a rise in wages does not "catch the profit-monger in the labour market." The Bradford Labour Echo , organ of the Bradford Independent Labour Party, told workers in 1898 that they were exploited because "all sorts of middle-men" cut workers out of the full value of the product. Robert Blatchford's Merrie England , published in 1894, one of the most widely distributed books that sought to revive the theoretic analysis of the exploitation of labor, succinctly identified the extraction of profit: "As a rule, profit is not made by the producer of an article, but by some other person commonly called 'the middleman' because he goes between the producer and the consumer; that is to say, he, the middleman, buys the article from the maker, and sells it to the user, at a profit." Blatchford went on to define all middlemen as capitalists.
Even the Social Democratic Federation, an organization which saw itself as the most loyal disseminator of Marxist ideas, supposed that the market was the site of exploitation. James L. Joynes, who translated into English Marx's Lohnarbeit und Kapital ("Wage Labour and Capital" ), also wrote "The Socialist Catechism," a sixteen-page pamphlet that served as perhaps the most influential introduction to socialist economic theory in Britain during the 1880s. In it Joynes argued that capitalism was distinctive because
exploitation arose from market forces rather than custom. Even the leader of the Social Democratic Federation, Hyndman, who was attempting to follow Marx's account of the generation of surplus value, tellingly misrepresented it in The Historical Basis of Socialism in England , published in 1883. To clarify the word Arbeitskraft , Hyndman introduced the clumsy translation "force of labour," which of course never acquired currency. Hyndman did not present the difference between the use value and the exchange value of labor power or the fact that the capitalist paid the worker the full exchange value of his ware. Stripped of these ideas, the elaborate phrase "force of labour" served no function in his presentation. Instead, he emphasized that the capitalist was able to buy labor power, in contrast to machinery and raw materials, "on the cheap," due to the competition among workers for subsistence. As a result, the fact that the capitalist can earn a surplus from this "human merchandise" appears to result from overcompetition among workers, which prevents labor from fetching its fair "market price." Thus the leading British proponent of Marxist economics transformed the theory of exploitation into market cheating.
The socialist press emphasized that the capitalist's purchase of labor was in essence like that of the home consumer's purchase of finished products. The only difference was that the capitalist used his ownership of the implements of production and his position in the market to devise an unfair exchange. "Every child who buys a pennyworth of nuts or toffee in a tuckshop is, in one and a true sense, an employer of labour," the Bradford Labour Echo claimed in 1898. "But, though every buyer, as such is, like this child, an employer of labor, he is not an interceptor of part of his employees' earnings, nor therefore an earner of 'employers' ' profits." The products the capitalists purchased at an unfairly depressed price they resold at an inflated one. The emphasis on the "seizure" of profits by controlling the price at which finished goods were sold in the market tallied with the view prevailing among British socialists that labor was transferred to the capitalist as it was concretized in a ware.
As in the original socialist movement, so in the second a significant body of workers looked upon the assurance of fair exchanges not as the result of socialism but as socialism's very goal. The Labour Journal of Bradford imagined that variations in individuals' work effort would lead to variations in their income under socialism. But unequal income would no longer result from unequal exchange. "The sum of socialism," it claimed in 1892, "is equal economic opportunities for all, and then the reward proportioned to the use individually made of such equal opportunities." Many socialists' vision of the future rested on the presumption that both the injuries of capitalism and the justice of the coming order rested on equitable transfers in the sphere of exchange.
Economic Ideologies in the Workers' Movements of Germany
Workers' debates about political economy in Germany during the revolution of 1848–1849 did not inspire the formation of a group of thinkers so renowned as the so-called Ricardian socialists in Britain. Due perhaps to the legacy of corporate regulation in the urban crafts trades in Germany, the artisans who spearheaded the workers' movement there never expressed the degree of interest in formal theories of capitalist exploitation that their counterparts in the early British socialist movement did. When the labor periodicals which blossomed in the revolution analyzed the sources of workers' impoverishment, however, their portrayal of the labor transaction varied from the start from that of the British. The revolutionary press in Germany generally viewed the concentration of capital not as the result of ruinous exchange in the market but as its cause. It acknowledged that market forces reshaped the landscape, but market transactions themselves did not appear to it to comprise the site of exploitation. For example, the Cologne newspaper Freiheit, Arbeit declared in 1849 that the wealthy profited not just through trade but by "the administration of work" and by "guiding the manufacture" of products. It portrayed the subordination of labor in the workshop as a mechanism in its own right for extracting profit. In Die Verbrüderung the correspondent Oskar Stobek declared in 1850 that workers engaged in the workshops of superiors were exploited because they
were paid only for elapsed time on the premises, not for the value of the output.
When the German workers' press referred to commercial investment, it revealed some fundamental differences from the British. German writers offered a prescient distinction between money and capital. In 1850 the national organ of the German workers' associations asked, "By what do the people live, who claim that they pay taxes for support of workers? Simply by the circumstance that they use the labor power [Arbeitskraft ] of the worker to get the greatest possible use from their money and to elevate the money to the status of capital." In a word, money became capital when it employed labor in the production process. In Britain, by contrast, some writers in the same era made no distinction between money and capital, whereas others supposed that capital referred to any material holding, such as a house, without necessarily entailing an intervention in production. The definition of capital that prevailed in the German workers' press during the revolution emphasized its engagement with labor at the point of production, a necessary step for conceiving of the appropriation of surplus at this site. The convention of masters and business persons that met in Frankfurt during July and August, 1848, defined a capitalist not as a shady dealer in the realm of exchange but as a "producer who profiteers with labor power."
In Britain the emphasis on the realm of exchange as the locus of exploitation led spokespersons for workers to devote great attention to the use of money as a form of trickery. Reliance on the artificial symbols of pounds and pence, John Bray averred in Labour's Wrongs and Labour's Remedy , allowed people to avoid exchanging equal quantities of labor for labor.
Workers believed they could eliminate exploitation by effecting their transactions in labor notes denoting time rather than resorting to currency, as their support for the ill-fated labor-exchange movement illustrated. German workers, by comparison, did not focus on the use of money per se as a contributor to exploitation, since they did not see the mechanism of exchange as the crucial arbiter of their fate.
The chronology of the development of socialist ideas in Germany nonetheless displays a basic parallelism with that of Britain: in both countries, an early socialist movement was extinguished in the first half of the nineteenth century and a new one born in the second half. During the repression of the 1850s the German states succeeded in dismantling most of the labor organizations, such as Stephan Born's German workers' association, which had introduced workers to socialist ideas during the revolutionary years of 1848–1849. When the German labor movement reemerged in the 1860s, the leaflets about the exploitation of labor with which workers were most likely to come into contact were those of Ferdinand Lassalle. In his autobiography August Bebel testified that, "Like almost all others who were socialists back then, I came to Marx by way of Lassalle. Lassalle's writings were in our hands long before we knew one writing of Marx and Engels."
Lassalle emphasized that the use value of a good regulated its distribution in precommercial society, whereas its exchange value regulated its distribution in capitalist society. Consequently, he could not seize upon the difference between the use value and the exchange value of labor in the capitalist epoch to specify the extraction of surplus at the point of production, as Marx did. Unlike the early British socialists, Lassalle did not envision that the exploitation of labor occurred in the marketplace. He supposed
that the capitalist made a profit by controlling, like a feudal lord, "the will and acts" of workers under his authority. Lassalle and his followers, like British socialists, believed the capitalist employer made a profit by buying cheap and selling dear, but in addition they supposed that the employer's ability to do this depended upon his authority at the point of production.
In keeping with this outlook, Lassalle supposed that profit represented merely a deduction from the labor output. The Lassallians demanded that workers receive the full "return" of their labor, but they used the ambiguous term Ertrag , which did not refer clearly to either the product or the value of the work. In contrast to the early socialist movement in Britain, which had supposed that the workers' retention of the value of their labor through equal exchange would lead to the workers' acquisition of capital, the Lassallian movement made the acquisition of capital by the workers' cooperatives the necessary starting point for workers to receive the value of their labor. Lassalle's theory shows that even when the German labor movement lacked Marx's striking elucidation of the appropriation of surplus value in production, it did not focus upon unequal exchange in the product market as the locus of exploitation.
After the publication of Kapital , Lassalle's followers quickly adopted Marx's analysis of the capitalist employment relation, even though Marx had modified Lassalle's earlier presentation. The Social-Demokrat , organ of the Lassallians, succinctly identified Marx's innovation: the worker, this journal explained, "instead of being able to incarnate his labor into a ware,
must consequently sell his labor power itself. The value of this labor power itself is determined not by the value that it creates and can create , but by the value required to produce and maintain it." The columns of the Social-Demokrat emphasized that the site of production, not the market, represented the locus of exploitation. In 1870 the journal said that "the exchange of commodities in proportion to the labor they contain does not at all rule out the exploitation of labor power by capital; rather, it provides the basis on which it [exploitation] can develop." After the appearance of Kapital , the Lassallian journal also highlighted the significance that could be attached to the locution Arbeitskraft even when the subject matter was not economic theory. For example, an article on commercial development said that labor had become a commodity, but then added a clarification: "To put it more exactly, labor power is a commodity." By comparison with British misperceptions of Marx, the ready absorption of Marx's analyses and swift revision of Lassalle's economic tenets in Germany suggests that Marx's theory resonated with German experience.
Of course, only a small minority of the members of the free unions and of the Social Democratic party in Germany concerned themselves with matters of economic theory. Even some of the organizations' top officials, whose time was taken up by party business, paid no attention to Marx's analysis. In the first decade after the publication of Kapital , party members treated as savants those able to expound the theory at length. But the creed did not remain occult. In subsequent decades workers interested in Marx's examinations could find abbreviated summaries of his analysis of the production process in popular tracts published by Johann Most, Carl August Schramm, and, after 1887, Karl
Kautsky. Unlike the popularizations of Marx published in Britain, those in Germany remained true to his distinctive conception of labor as a commodity and to his theorization of exploitation at the site of production. The records of the libraries of workers' associations and of party libraries around the turn of the century show that Kautsky's popularization of the new theory of exploitation, Karl Marx' ökonomische Lehren ("Karl Marx's Economic Theories") , was frequently borrowed. Over 40 percent of the textile and metal workers who responded to the survey of workers' attitudes initiated by Adolf Levenstein in 1907 reported that they read socialist and trade union literature, including several who said they had read Das Kapital or other economic writings by Marx in the original edition.
How well could workers comprehend Marx's prose? The libraries of the workers' associations and of the Social Democratic party lent many copies of Marx's Kapital , but clerks at the lending institutions claimed few readers succeeded in digesting the material. Not all workers were mystified by the thinker in the original, however. In her luminous autobiography, Ottilie Baader reports that Marx's Kapital was the first socialist book with which she came into contact as a sewing machine worker during the period of the anti-socialist laws. Baader said she studied it to great profit, first with family
members and later in reading groups of socialist women. Testimony such as hers, in conjunction with the pattern of library lendings, suggests that a significant minority of educated workers had a serious encounter with Marx's theory of exploitation in the capitalist labor process.
Workers did not absorb Marx's ideas only in solitude, through texts. Members of workers' associations discussed Kapital soon after its publication. In Magdeburg, the cooper Julis Bremer announced a lecture to the workers' education club in Magdeburg on Marx's Kapital just five months after the book's appearance. In the next three years, programs of the Social Democratic workers' association there included the work frequently enough that the local liberal newspaper, the Magdeburgische Zeitung , took fright at the "propositions" of Karl Marx that "were interpreted and demonstrated."
During the period of union expansion in the two decades before the First World War, the newspapers and conferences of the Social Democratic (or "free") textile unions faithfully adopted the Marxist theory of the extraction of surplus. Local branches held meetings for workers on such topics as "The Value of Labor Power." The journal of the German textile union, Der Textil-Arbeiter , used the general term labor to describe the factors necessary for production but referred to labor power in the context of the employment relation.Der Textil-Arbeiter also emphasized that workers were exploited separately as "producers" at work and as "consumers" in the
market who paid taxes and higher prices due to tariffs. By comparison, the press of the British labor movement did not distinguish so carefully between these two modes of exploitation, but, rather, combined them under the general rubric of unfair exchange in the market.
The assumption that the worker transferred labor to the employer in the form of labor power shaped literate workers' descriptions of their productive activity. Der Textil-Arbeiter treated "labor power" as a detached thing which the capitalist tried to seize. For example, the newspaper enjoined its readers in 1901, "Above all, [your] labor power and [your] very selves must be protected from exploitation." The phrasing treated labor power as an entity apart from the concrete person and identified its use as the cause of exploitation. At a conference of workers from the jute textile industry in 1906, a representative complained that "the piece rates are arranged so that to achieve the pay of 1.6 marks, the labor power is fully absorbed [by the capitalist]." Labor power was seen as comprising a real substance which the employer "consumed." The choice of expression shows that even when textile workers did not engage in abstract discussions of political economy, they assumed that their struggles pivoted around the calibrated use of "labor power" in the production process.
The Practical Foundations for the Reception of Ideology
Where are we to turn for an explanation of the success of the dissemination and development of Marx's theory of exploitation in Germany, but its weakness in Britain? Could the difference in outcomes have resulted merely from
a difference in the supply and dissemination of ideas? Marx's initial volume of Kapital appeared in Germany in 1867, but did not appear in English until the journal To-day , under Hyndman's editorship, began to serialize it in 1885. Kapital lacked an English translation in one volume until the publication of Engels's edition in 1887. As is well known, Marx remained in contact with key intellectuals of the German labor movement during his long exile in Britain. Perhaps his ideas triumphed in Germany due to their more vigorous propagation by this intellectual elite, which was in place before the trade union movement took off in Germany. Is it possible that the difference in outcomes had little to do with the cultural horizon of the workers but resulted from differences in the trade union elites and publishing organizations responsible for diffusing ideas?
This line of reasoning does not match the circumstances of ideological development in either Britain or Germany. In Britain the failure of Marxist economic theory resulted, not from ignorance or rejection of Marx, but from misinterpretation. Marx was the single most important writer on economic theory for the revived socialist movement in Britain at the end of the nineteenth century, so much so that opponents of the labor movement in Britain criticized its members for inviting "German" theory into the land. At his
speech in Burnley in 1893, William Morris rebutted this attack upon the introduction of ideas from abroad, asserting, "It was said that Socialism was a German import. It was nothing the worse for that. And Socialism is English now." If, as Morris insisted, British workers gave socialist theory a native hue, much of the materials they used came from Germany. Some members of the Social Democratic Federation and founders of the Labour Party, such as the trade unionist Jem Macdonald, said they received the ideas of Kapital from European acquaintances, including German artisans. "When Das Kapital appeared in English," Macdonald later wrote," it was to me as a book that I had read over and over again." Tom Maguire, who said he had studied Marx intensively, organized for the Socialist League in Leeds after 1884. Many of the leaders of the Independent Labour Party in the textile districts of the north, including Margaret McMillan, an elected member of the Bradford school board, boasted that they had studied Kapital. Tom Mann used Wage Labour and Capital as his basic text for the socialist economics course he gave in Bolton in 1888. In Burnley, Lancashire, which had a long tradition of open-minded debate in workers' clubs, skeptical liberals pressed the socialists to demonstrate the feasibility of their blueprints for the future. The local socialists responded in 1894 that they believed, not in the discredited Owen, but in Marx. The letters from many Burnley workers published in the Burnley Gazette during the 1890s cite the descriptive portions of Marx's Kapital , though not segments defining the transmission of labor in the form of a commodity. In sum, Marxist economic analysis was both well-represented in Britain and, in predictable ways, misunderstood.
Whereas the reborn English movement misinterpreted its chosen step-father, the German labor movement grew up in its early years an orphan. There is no evidence of a network of communication between Marx and the largest workers' movement of the revolution born in 1848, the Arbeiterverbrüderung ("Workers' Brotherhood"). The members of workers' clubs in the 1860s had little acquaintance with Marx's early writings. In his autobiography, Bebel stressed the disconnection during this period between Marxist ideas and the workers' associations, for which Leipzig served as a traditional center: "That there were workers who were familiar with the Communist Manifesto , for instance, or who knew something about Marx's and Engels's activity during the revolutionary years in the Rhineland, of this I saw absolutely no indication at this time in Leipzig." In sum, the German labor movement after the repression of the 1850s did not begin with an established Marxist heritage. Marx had been sorely disappointed by the lack of response to his early Critique of Political Economy. His ideas did not gain an audience in the workers' movement until the publication of Kapital. Although the British workers' movements were exposed to Marxist ideas more than a decade later than their German counterparts were, the involvement, once it began, was intense. How, then, are we to explain the long-lasting divergences in Britain and in Germany in the interpretation of Marx's theory of exploitation?
If Marx's analysis of the exploitation of labor was widely distributed in Britain but systematically misrepresented, and if this analysis was transmitted more successfully to the German labor movement despite the absence of a standing Marxist tradition leading back to 1848, then the supply of ideas among intellectuals does not represent the critical variable for differentiating between the German and British outcomes. The differentiating circumstance is not the depth of engagement with Marx but the variations in
response among those who came into contact with Marx's propositions. Intellectual elites may serve as the tentative formulators of an explicit system of ideology, but that ideology will be received sympathetically by workers and sustained from below only if it resonates with portions of the conduct of everyday practice. Lloyd Jones, a prominent member of the co-op movement, noted the limits on workers' readiness to take up economic theories. "The working man accepts such of these views as his experience in the world and workshops justify to him," Jones wrote in 1877. "Where his experience does not do so, he rejects them."
A comparison of the textile industries of Yorkshire with those of early industrializing regions of Germany is well suited for comparing the reception of ideologies, because it proceeds from structural parallels in the environment in which the textile unions acquired their economic philosophies before the First World War. The characteristics sometimes used to label the British labor movement—early craft unionization based on occupational exclusivity, and delayed affiliation with a political party—do not fit Yorkshire textiles. In Yorkshire the first unions for factory weavers and spinners did not emerge until 1881 in Huddersfield and until the 1890s in other districts. The emergence of unions in Yorkshire well after the completion of mechanization matched experience in Germany, where textile union membership expanded rapidly after 1890. As in Germany, trade unions in Yorkshire developed in tandem with an independent workers' party with which union organizers were affiliated. Still another feature of the textile associations in Yorkshire makes it parallel to the German case. The major union for textile workers in Yorkshire admitted all workers in the trade, not just those in select occupations. This practice resembled the industrywide
recruitment practiced by German unions. The example of Yorkshire shows that the boundaries of unionization and the legacy of past organizational development do not account for the differential reception of analyses of the exploitation of labor.
The reception of ideas depended upon something more profound than the environment for union growth. Upon the publication of Kapital , attention in Germany focused on Marx's analysis of labor as a commodity, and the ready absorption of a Marxist vocabulary into the expression of ordinary problems shows that Marxism resonated with German producers' everyday experience of micro-practices on the shop floor. For the workers, cultural practice led theory: they lived out the Marxist specification of labor on the shop floor before intellectuals presented those categories to them as a formal body of propositions. Workers without advanced education could grasp the importance of the distinction between labor and labor power, Marx claimed, and could thereby prove themselves sharper economists than vulgar analysts were. But in Britain, despite the contacts between British trade unionists and their German counterparts, and despite the availability of Marxist-inspired discourse from British intellectuals, the trade unions resanctified a theory of exploitation based on the transfer of materialized labor.
The lived experience of the transfer of "labor power" represented a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the adoption of the belief that the owner's extraction of unpaid labor time was intrinsic to the employment relation. On the eve of the First World War, about one-quarter of the textile workers in Germany who joined unions chose the Christian textile workers' union. The Christian (predominantly Catholic) associations did not seek
to overthrow the capitalist system; they simply sought better treatment and higher earnings for workers.
Despite the self-proclaimed limits of the Christian movement, however, their deliberations about economic affairs revealed the distinctive influence of German experience of labor as a commodity. The Christian unions did not simply vindicate the noble character of work or its social value. They advanced a crude labor theory of value and reasoned in terms of abstract labor time. "Money is the representation of human labor," the Christian textile newspaper concluded in an editorial on economic principles, "minted, tangible, metallicized human power." The Christian unions adopted the German notion of the sale of labor power to portray the workers' insertion into the capitalist economy. In an article entitled "Is Labor a Commodity?" their Textilarbeiter-Zeitung made explicit in 1900 the telling and characteristic German distinction: employers, it explained, "regard labor or, rather, labor power as a commodity." This journal also identified labor power as an entity "alienated" by the worker: "Conceiving of labor as merely a commodity, which the owner of the labor power sells," it explained, "makes the worker dependent on the purchase offer that the employer makes to him." Christians also referred to the owner's exploitation "of the [labor] power of the worker"—though not, of course, with Marx's conclusion that the exploitation of labor represented the ultimate source of profit.
Similar worker demands emerged on the left bank of the Rhine, where Christian unions dominated most of the Catholic cities, as appeared in districts where Protestants and the socialist-affiliated "free" unions were ascendant: the same rationale for the payment of waiting time, the same contestation of the distribution of hours over the workday. In view of the pervasive differences between the experiences of Catholic and Protestant workers outside the workplace in the period before the First World War and between the intellectual roots of their leaders, the convergence in the underlying view of labor in the Christian and Social Democratic labor movements suggests the influence of something else their members shared in common: namely, the workers' everyday experience of the conveyance of "labor power" at the point of production.
In part, of course, the Catholic movement consciously distanced itself from the prevailing discourse of political economy in Germany, for both the established bourgeois economists and those of the Social Democratic movement accepted the commodification of everyday life and of labor as accomplished facts. Catholic intellectuals, by contrast, remained uncomfortable with these premises and developed an alternative discursive tradition based on the contributions to the social whole of organically related "estates." Yet when elite speakers for the Catholic labor unions reflected upon the essentials of the capitalist labor transaction, they, too, adopted the view that labor was sold in the form of labor power. Even when they rejected the world view of socialist and bourgeois economics, their social experience lent them much the same specification of labor as a commodity as circulated among their ideological opponents.
Practical Analyses of Exploitation
The contrasting forms of signifying practice in the workplace did not only support contrasts in the formal ideologies of exploitation; they correlated as
well with differences in workers' impromptu articulation of complaints about exploitation on the shop floor. Contrasts in the workers' immediate apperception of exploitation appeared in weavers' responses to fines imposed for fabric that the employers alleged to be defective, one of the problems about which workers complained most frequently. The British workers analyzed the amounts of the fines assessed in terms of the market cost of repairing the defect in the finished product. "3d per yard is deducted for ends down," the Yorkshire Factory Times reported of one mill. By the newspaper's reckoning, this totaled "three times more than it costs to sew them in." In its account of a fine imposed on a woman weaver from Batley, the newspaper claimed that the cloth checker "had fined her 4s 6d for a damage that could be mended in three hours, and that would not cause the piece to be sold for any less in the market."
The British weavers viewed fining as a violation of the rules of fair exchange of finished products in the market. "I think it is a burning shame," wrote a correspondent for the Yorkshire Factory Times , "that employers cannot be satisfied with the profit they make at market out of the goods they manufacture without taking a portion of an employee's hard-earned money from him to further swell their coffers." Comments such as this rested on the idea that exchanges in the market, not labor alone, generated ordinary profits. The fine constituted a separate, unusual means of making a profit from labor. The Yorkshire Factory Times expressed a female weaver's view that fining comprised a kind of additional profit for the employer this way: "The masters smoke a tremendous lot of four-penny cigars, and the two piece wages [fines] last week were for cigars."
Given the British weavers' treatment of fining as a deviation from the rules of fair market exchange, the solutions they proposed ought not to occasion surprise. First, they insisted that textile workers on piece rates be treated as contractors who delivered a product. "They are piece workers," the Yorkshire Factory Times claimed, and therefore "by law" could not be
fined simply for violating the mill's standards for cloth. By the workers' reasoning, if the employer wanted to fine them for bad cloth he had to prosecute them as he would a contractor who delivered a defective product. The British weavers' opposition to any form of fining for spoiled work led them to resist institutions that would regulate the fining system. For example, Parliament in 1896 passed a factory act that required employers to post a notice about all forms of fines to which employees at the site were subject. This legislation would have protected weavers by requiring employers to standardize the penalties imposed for each kind of defect. Yet the weavers' unions lobbied to have Parliament exempt textiles from the act's provisions—they preferred to suffer fining without safeguards than to recognize the legitimacy of the practice.
In contrast to the British weavers, who held up an ideal of the exchange of products in the market as a way of assessing the injustice of fines, German weavers included fines for purportedly flawed cloth in a list of more general abuses. They saw the imposition of fines as another expression of the owners' disposition over their labor. "Fines are always the order of the day," declared a union speaker at a shop meeting in Württemberg. "The workers at this firm are fined twice, for actually it is already a punishment if someone has to work at a plant with this kind of poor ventilation." This complainant drew a parallel between two grievances: just as submission to unhealthy air represented a kind of exploitation that resulted from the employers' domination of the production process, so did the payment of a fine. That is, German workers treated fines as just another strategy by which the owner could use his authority over the workplace to extract unpaid labor. They called the fines "pay deductions" (Lohnabzüge) , the phrase that referred to any lowering in the pay scale or in the amount workers actually earned.
In contrast to the British workers' refusal to bargain over fines for allegedly spoiled work, German workers at some mills formed committees to negotiate with the owners on this issue. They also composed lists specifying how much weavers ought to be fined for each defect and included such charts among their strike demands. This difference between German and British reactions to fining cannot be dismissed by assuming that German textile workers were invariably more cooperative than their British counterparts. As we have seen, the German workers pressed ambitious demands concerning many facets of mill life. The example of fining shows that the contrasting "theories" of the labor transaction hidden in the disciplinary regime of German and British factories generated their counterpoints in
workers' formulation of grievances: in each country, workers relied upon a corresponding theory of exploitation to criticize capitalist practice. When the concrete procedures of everyday manufacture "directly possess the naked and abstract form of the commodity," then workers are in immediate possession of economic theory.
The pervasive effect of the contrasting theories of the hiring of labor also emerged when German and British textile workers attempted to reach industrial bargains with their employers. In Lancashire representatives of the spinners' unions proposed that workers be paid according to piece-rate scales that would fluctuate to allow employers a stipulated percentage of return on their invested capital. For example, at a meeting in 1900 with the Federation of Master Cotton Spinners' Associations, the operatives said they preferred that "wages be adjusted on a net margin allowing for the fluctuations in the prices of cotton, coal, etc." The workers suggested that negotiators agree on the average capital invested in a spinning factory per spindle, figure the cost of depreciation, grant the owners a shifting allowance for working capital, and then assign a rate of return. The "net margin" between all these sums and the proceeds from disposing of the finished product in the market would provide workers with their wages fund. The representatives of the employers acceded to the workers' idea, provided that owners receive at least a 5 percent rate of return. According to the workers' research, for yarn of standard fineness mill owners needed a profit on average of one farthing per pound of cotton spun in order to realize an annual return of over 5 percent on investment.
More important than the figures, perhaps, are the principles they illustrate. The conduct of the negotiations shows that both the workers and the employers conceived of the factory proprietor as an investor in the marketplace rather than as a manager of labor power. For if the selling prices of the finished product were far above the cost of production, the owners were not entitled to reap the benefit of efficiently converting the raw materials
and labor power into a completed ware. Like bankers, they received only interest on investment. The workers, conversely, were not selling a resource, labor power, which had a fixed market value prior to being converted to a product. Rather, the operatives handed their labor over as if they were traders in products, who paid a rent on the mill, purchased supplies, and then delivered yarn at its current market appraisal. In the event, workers and employers could not reach agreement on the average capital invested per spindle and on the grade of yarn to take as a standard, but they did not fail for lack of effort. The spinning employers and their operatives sought for more than a dozen years to reach an accord on the "net margin" principle. To certify actual expenditures, mill owners offered to open their accounting books to the workers' inspection. Weavers, too, negotiated for piece rates by "net margin." The complications of putting the workers' "net margin" proposal into effect were so daunting that only well-established assumptions about the nature of the labor transaction could have kept employers and spinning operatives engaged with the idea for so long.
Although the "net margin" proposal legitimated the mill owners' rates of return, British workers in many industries were ready to let their wages fluctuate according to the selling price of their product because this index seemed to eliminate the most odious form of profit-taking, that appropriated by the "middleman" in the market for finished wares. In the coal trade, the miners at Newcastle declared as early as 1831 that they wanted to peg their earnings to product markets. "The Men and Boys are willing to abide the Risk of Fluctuations of the Coal Trade," their handbill declared. The miners' response showed, of course, that they saw their labor as a commodity and imagined the organization of work as a market relation. But their reaction did not entirely accept the commercial system, for it resisted
the middleman predator. Near the turn of the century, the president of the miners' federation in Leicester endorsed sliding scales with a similar line of reasoning: "The giving away of value to middlemen," he said, "should not determine the rate of wages." In Germany the initiative for pegging wages to the selling prices of products came only after the First World War, and then not from workers but from employers, who adopted it to cope with the country's runaway inflation.
The Labor Process as an Anchor for Culture
The flow of ideas between German and British analysts of the exploitation of labor confirms the persistence of fundamental differences in the nationally prevalent concepts of labor. Cross-cultural exchange did not soften the contrasts in definitions of labor as a commodity, but, rather, demonstrated their rigidity. If a correspondence emerged in each country between the labor movement's concept of labor as a commodity and the definition of labor incorporated into manufacturing procedures, how can we ascertain that the production process served as the original source of these concepts? Is it not possible that the political and union movements acted as a precursory cradle of ideas that in turn shaped the institutionalization of factory practices?
In the case of Germany we can confirm that the conceptions of labor were lodged in the production process before they circulated in a trade union movement or in workers' political parties. The inscription of concepts of labor on the piece-rate scales, on the rules of employment, and on the measurement of time for factories was in place by the 1860s, before substantial numbers of workers had enrolled in the labor or political movements and, more particularly, before the dissemination of Marxist economic theory. The movements of artisanal workers that flowered during the revolution of 1848–1849 in Germany were suppressed and disabled in the 1850s. When the labor movement began to take shape again in the 1860s, it engaged a tiny segment of workers incapable of changing the face of mechanization. The process of industrialization, considered in terms of quantity of output, was at this time far from complete. In qualitative terms, however, the transformation was well under way, for the installation in the factory of the cultural
concept of labor that would govern production was in large measure accomplished.
In Britain the distinctive procedures by which textile factory employers received materialized labor—the accounting methods, techniques of remuneration, and factory layouts—coincided with the development of early socialism and the labor organizing of the 1820s and 1830s. In this instance we cannot exclude the possibility that the philosophies of commerce in the insurgent workers' movements contributed to consistencies in the shape of factory practice. But we have also seen that the stereotypical understanding of labor as a ware in Britain had been articulated by elite economists in the second half of the eighteenth century and had already been experienced in the practices of the handweavers. Theories of value and exchange in the original socialist movement of the first half of the nineteenth century replicated and sometimes actively drew upon this antecedent intellectual and industrial heritage. In the British case, then, the early labor movement may have served as a momentary transmitter of ideas put into practice on the factory shop floor, but not as their originator.
Even if the cultural formation of manufacture was established before the labor movements developed their own economic outlooks, another question remains. Once manufacturing procedures are in place, if workers inventively call upon the resources of their culture as a whole to construct their experience of production, there is no original source or ultimate center to that experience. By this reasoning, the discursive resources deployed in civic politics, religion, family networks, or other contexts may also intervene firsthand in workers' (and employers') understanding of life at the point of production. On these grounds, cultural analysts of labor who emphasize the role of discourse in constituting workers' experience of production have
effected a decisive shift in the agenda that guides research in social history. Not only have they removed the institutions of the workplace from their pride of place as the original generator of workers' experience; they have discounted as tunnel vision the attempt to trace determinate connections between the structure of work and the development of workers' economic or political outlook. In so doing, they take two steps backward. By treating the dissection of the structure of political ideas as a self-sufficient enterprise, they return to old-fashioned intellectual history. But if we drop the supposition that the economic base dictates an ideological superstructure—resorting for the sake of exposition to this anachronistic vocabulary—the workplace can still play a central role in the generation of experience and in the reception of ideologies. We may grant to the signifying practices of the labor process (rather than to the economic and technological conditions of production) an unwavering influence upon the development of collective movements and political organizations.
Further, the uncanny stability in the understanding of the transmission of labor despite profound shifts in other aspects of public discourse indicates that this understanding was rooted in an immediate and unchanging experience, that is, in the exposure to labor's conveyance at the work site. The course of development in nineteenth-century German and British industry suggests that ideas which are incorporated into and reproduced through forms of manufacturing practice have greater permanence than those that float in the realm of civic politics. In Britain in particular the idioms of politics, religion, education, and domestic culture underwent significant change between the start of industrialization and 1914. Yet in cross-
national perspective the definition of labor as a commodity remained relatively fixed. It provided a stable point of reference that informed the diagnoses and prescriptions of the labor movement from the commencement of the nineteenth century and at its end. Upon the break-up of the early workers' movements in each country the distinctive appreciation of labor faded from the public sphere, only to resurface there, unchanged, because it had been preserved in the practices of production.
Ideas incarnated in a constellation of manufacturing techniques can be reproduced with less variance than ideas whose transmission depends principally upon discursive formulations. The definition of labor as a commodity was recreated day in, day out by a cluster of micro-procedures that did not require the producers to lend their attention to the meaning of labor in order to preserve its shape. The concept was received through experience rather than instruction; it was lived before it was turned to account. The specification of labor escaped those vagaries of constant reinterpretation and reappropriation to which verbal formulations are subject. Verbal formulations draw upon language's modulation of register, its interminable ability to inflect and ironize statements. These communicative resources discourage the stable transmission of concepts. Although the concepts of labor could be put into words for political and theoretic excursus, there was no need of words for their social reproduction. They survived through the arrangement of industrial practices and through the relative univocality of their material operation. Unlike the leading myths and narratives deployed in the realms of civic politics and religion, the manufacturing practices did not derive their power from their ability to act as a reservoir of multiple and potentially inconsistent meanings.
This chapter has not sought to explain workers' choices of conservative versus socialist parties. It does not account for marginal variation in rates of participation in the socialist movement by occupation or geographic region. Rather, with a cross-national perspective, it shows why ideologies of exploi-
tation were apt to take a certain shape among those workers who affiliated themselves with a socialist movement. In none of the domains outside work could practice have so vividly incarnated differing forms of labor as a commodity. As a cultural apparatus the workplace seemed to uphold, without perturbation, a specification of labor as a commodity despite tremendous change in workers' educational, religious, and electoral experiences.
The Guiding Forms of Collective Action
Meaning is not decreed: if it is not everywhere, it is nowhere.
Claude Lévi-Strauss, Totemism
Strikes have entered sociologists' imagination as if they were events prefabricated for numerical analysis. They seem to present themselves with ready-made dimensions such as number of participants, duration, and frequency. Yet before strikes can be enumerated, they must be identified, and doing so requires that one define the cessation of the transfer of labor. In every society labor and its exchange are conceived before they are perceived. Accordingly, the occurrence of labor stoppage, like the transmission of the social force called labor , takes place in the imagination of the agents themselves.
In The Rise of Market Culture , William Reddy compellingly demonstrated the symbolic constitution of strikes in early nineteenth-century France. The operative principles of culture become visible only by descending to the particulars of practice. Consider one of Reddy's examples. In 1839 the employer at a spinning mill near Rouen asked his workers to pay for illuminating oil so he could extend the hours of manufacture into the evening. The operatives consigned themselves to the prolongation of work but rejected the surcharge for lighting. They made no concerted effort to abstain from labor, but at starting time each morning they mounted a demonstration against the new exaction for oil, causing the insulted owner to shut them out day by day afresh. "They were ready to work, they wanted to work; 28 centimes per kilogram of yarn was acceptable to them," Reddy concludes. "This was not a strike, so much as a state of refusal to pay for oil that resulted each morning in a new closing of the mill." Attaching the term strike to the event may suit a blind statistical vision of such events, since the result , to be sure, was a labor stoppage of quantifiable dimensions. But the workers did not intend to withhold their
labor in order to bring the employer to terms. French industrial workers of this era had not yet adopted the concept of the strike or coined a locution for it. For the investigator to label it as such results in an anachronistic generalization; it effaces the character of the event and falsely abstracts the human agency that created it.
The agents' cultural schema determines not only whether a strike is a conceivable course of action but the forms the strike could imaginably take. The meaning and constitution of strikes assumed their contrasting forms in late-nineteenth-century Germany and Britain in accordance with those of the commodity of labor. What were hallmarks of a strike in one country were extraneous in the next. The workers' understanding of the labor transaction shaped the goals of strikes, the means by which strikes were executed, and, indeed, whether workers' collective action could be classified as a strike at all.
Scripts on Stage and on Paper
The workers used their definition of labor as a commodity to orchestrate the unfolding of a work stoppage in space. When British workers had a grievance they wanted corrected, they typically filed out of their workrooms into the central mill yard, which served as a theater for their demonstration. The tactic was habitual, as the documentary sources as well as oral history collections in Britain show. Textile workers from both Yorkshire and Lancashire, asked in interviews what they did to correct a workplace problem, responded, "We went out to the mill yard." The workers in some instances transformed this action into a raucous assembly, singing and shouting slogans in the yard. For example, at Glossop, just southeast of Lancashire, the
weavers at one mill who filed into their yard delivered a message that merged rebellion and patriotic conformity when they commenced singing "Rule Britannia" as loudly as possible.
The British textile workers also imported community traditions of demonstration into the factory. At the end of the nineteenth century, textile workers in urban areas, especially women, still subjected miscreant supervisors to the proverbial ceremony of "rough music." At a mill in Bradford, for example, the female workers in 1893 condemned the advances of their overlooker by preparing an effigy of him. They banged on cans and shouted. In 1891 at Great Horton, near Bradford, weavers who were "members of the weaker sex" jeered and hissed on the shop floor at a team of new overlookers with whom they were supposed to work. When the overlookers informed the employer of the rude distractions, he locked the women out and closed the mill. To put an unpopular overlooker in his place, workers at another mill in Bradford in 1890 formed a procession on the factory grounds, playing on tin kettles and a ram's horn. In these instances, workers drew upon repertoires of protest that had traditionally been used to censure those who transgressed community norms.
Textile strikes had long drawn upon community repertoires of mockery. In the Preston strikes of the 1850s, strikers who had turned out called upon itinerant musicians to stand opposite the mill and accompany their dances, which employers interpreted as a form of "ridicule and defiance." Even after the turn of the century, work boycotts could become an occasion for carnival merrymaking. At a village near Burnley, strikers in 1908 lent their
stoppage a festival atmosphere when a female participant "masqueraded in man's attire." In mockery of their owner, these revelers also paraded a pig in a cart through the town streets. With such opportunities for entertainment, an incident such as occurred at a Bradford mill in 1893 could only have been expected: officials of the textile workers' union, called to investigate the cause of the stoppage, claimed that many of the merrymakers demonstrating at the mill gate could not cite a grievance. The workers said they had "come out to have 'a little fun.'" The union officials said that "upon inquiry it turned out that few of the women really understood why they were on strike, many of them coming out as sympathizers with the first malcontents."
The British workers thought of their assemblies as a means of signaling their insistence upon bargaining, not just as a means of withdrawing labor. A newspaper account of a stoppage in the Colne Valley during 1891 makes plain the importance workers attached to turning the cessation of work into a visible gesture of disobedience. "The workmen were seen to be making their way to an open space close by their mill," the report stated," and when anything of this kind takes place all eyes are upon them in wonderment." At a mill in Apperley Bridge in 1893, the weavers were delighted to see that the head of the company "stood stock still when he saw all the weavers outside the mill gates."
The physical arrangement of the British mills often created a stage for workers' demonstrations. The central location of the yard in many mills ensured that a congregation there would be visible to workers and supervisors in every department of the factory. When not used as a site for protest, the mill yard was used by employers and public figures as a platform for addresses. In the Colne Valley, for example, politicians campaigning for
office used yards inside the mills as sites for public addresses to workers. A weaver from Yeadon, born in 1861, chose the mill yard as the setting in his autobiography in which to portray the turning point of his spiritual development. There he rejected a job offer from a shady music agent from London and threatened to heave a rock at the man. Well could the central yard, encircled by buildings as if by grandstands, serve as a stage for dramatic confrontation.
The surviving record of evidence in Germany does not easily yield instances before 1914 in which workers turned the mill yard into a theatrical arena for their protests. Yet many examples of conduct come forth that draw on an alternative symbolism: German workers stopped work at their looms and refused to continue until their grievances were corrected. At a weaving mill in Rheydt, for example, weavers stopped work for two days in 1909, but stayed in their shop rooms, to protest against what they viewed as a reduction in piece rates. The workers employed this tactic in Saxony, Bavaria, the Vogtland, the Rhineland, the Münsterland, and the Osnabrück district. Since the workers left whenever owners requested it, this conduct cannot be taken to represent an attempt to occupy the factory by means of a sit-down strike. A police report from the district of Burgsteinfurt said the
inoperative workers had even left "obligingly." Workers sometimes used the sit-down technique after telling the owner that they did not intend to work. Therefore it was not a silent way of striking without verbal communication, nor a way of denying to authorities that a strike was in fact underway. Like their colleagues in Britain, many German workers remained skeptical of employers' claim to authority and were ready to mock it by pranks on the shop floor, such as falsely pulling emergency alarms. Starting a strike by sitting at the machine was not a sign of greater subordination to managerial directives. It simply exemplified the German workers' conception in this period of the stoppage of work.
The tactic of merely sitting at the machine did not represent a less active response than demonstrating in the yard, or one that required less coordination than marching in a body out of the factory. German workers who adopted the tactic of the "passive strike" showed a high degree of discipline. According to police records from Emsdetten, for example, the weavers who initiated a passive strike in 1904 stopped work at their looms "suddenly, according to an arranged signal." These protesters then sat in the workroom all day. A decade later, at another mill in the same town, the weavers repeated this tactic during the morning shift to protest against weft yarn of substandard quality. The owner eventually shut off the steam power and asked the weavers to leave the premises. When the weavers complied, they did not scatter. Having made their point, they had the discipline to return "punctually" to work in a body at the beginning of the afternoon shift. Details such as these indicate that German workers conducted well-orchestrated stoppages. But they hardly drew upon established techniques such as rough music, nor did they regularly mount protests that depended upon a visual display of disobedience in the yard. The German strikes emphasized the precise, timed withdrawal of labor. At some citywide work stoppages, all
workers in town stopped their work at the same instant. "On May 10th, at nine o'clock in the morning," a factory inspector from Greiz reported, "the strike broke out as if on command in all mechanical weaving mills and in the dyeing and finishing branches." Since workers often began work in the morning with the intention of stopping shortly thereafter, their conduct seemed to affirm the symbolic importance of the act of collectively ceasing the motion of production, rather than merely preventing that motion from starting at all.
The absence of visible workplace demonstrations in the enactment of German strikes made it awkward for some to distinguish between a strike and the contractual withdrawal of labor. Legal-minded German bureaucrats of the time found it so. In the Rhineland, local officials thought that if a large group of workers canceled their employment contract by giving prior notice, they were legally withdrawing their labor and therefore not launching a strike. The Imperial Bureau of Statistics in Berlin had to keep the provincial authorities informed that a mass labor dispute which transpired according to orderly procedures of terminating a labor contract still constituted an event that the officials should report as a strike. The district record keepers in Thüringen may have reflected the prevailing uncertainty about the sighting of a strike in the title of a volume of handwritten enumerations for the period 1882–1906: they called their compilation "Supposed Strikes." In contrast with the British stoppages at the workplace, German protests in the quarter-century before the First World War seem elementary and austere.
How are we to explain the difference between the German and the British forms of protest? Certainly the German workers did not adopt this particular style of action because they lacked acquaintance with forms of crowd action. In the early days of factory development at midcentury, workers also employed rough music (Katzenmusik ) against their employers, though not in the workplace. A minister reported in this era that the workers in the Wuppertal district treated their employers to this ceremony whenever "it became known that a moral lapse had occurred in an eminent family." The tradition of rough music still enjoyed a rich life in industrial towns of imperial Germany. At a village in the Lausitz in 1886, weavers suffering from a wage reduction subjected the mayor's house to these raucous sounds. Protesters used this repertoire for issues unrelated to the workplace. At a textile town near Mönchengladbach, one hundred people, including workers from the local mills, joined a rough music demonstration in 1902. They banged pot tops and clanged bells for several nights around the home of a carpenter whom they accused of carrying on an indecent sexual liaison. German textile strikers also organized street processions after the cessation of work. Striking weavers at a firm in the Löbau district in 1886 paraded through the streets with their colorful fabrics mounted on poles. German workers had the repertoires for collective demonstrations at hand in the community, but seldom imported them into the workplace.
Nor did the divergence in British and German repertoires of action originate in the legal statutes that applied to protest. To be sure, the laws regarding public assembly in Prussia, and in most other German states, required workers to give local police forty-eight hours' notice of a meeting. Yet the courts ruled that the laws that prevented public meetings of associations without prior announcement did not apply to gatherings of employees at work. The courts reasoned that the participants at meetings on shop property discussed workplace matters, not "public affairs." Therefore the law did not require German workers to give police notice of meetings or assemblies on the mill grounds. On this score the laws governing assembly at work in Germany were no different from those in Britain.
If the difference in the repertoires of action at the workplace cannot be explained by the legal environment, where can we turn to discover their significance? One of the terms workers used to describe their actions provides an initial clue, though not a monolithic response. British textile workers who went on strike often said they had "turned out," a figure of speech which highlighted the crossing of a boundary between inside and outside the mill rather than focusing on the stoppage of labor per se.
A confrontation between workers and employers at a Blackburn weaving mill in 1865 implemented this principle. The insurgent weavers assembled in the mill yard before leaving, but they defined the start of the strike as the moment at which they passed through the main gate and left the premises.
Managers, too, framed the cessation and resumption of work in spatial terms. The director of a factory in Bradford described the readiness of strikers to begin work again with the expression "They were glad to come in." To "come out" became synonymous with going on strike. In their own accounts of work stoppages, workers described the start of a strike with the standard phrase that they "came out" together or "in a body." The phrase "in a body" connoted a highly patterned form of group conduct. Both the middle-class and the working-class press took care to distinguish between actions committed by a "crowd" and those that workers committed "in a body." A crowd, The Dewsbury Reporter noted in 1875, moved "without arrangement," even when it seemed a peaceable assemblage, whereas workers organized and coordinated their movements when they acted "in a body." In a word, the spatial form assumed by many strikes was purposeful and methodical.
German workers who struck said they had "ceased their labor" (die Arbeit eingestellt ). A similar phrase appeared in German dialect speech. The memoirs of Friedrich Storck, a German poet from the Wuppertal who worked in textile mills as a teenager, document the evolution of workers' language. Storck said that in the Wuppertal, a region known as a pioneer in the development of factory workers' movements, the word strike (Streik) did not acquire currency until after the 1860s. The popular expression of that era was de Brocken hennschmieten ("throw down the work"), a colloquialism which survived into the early twentieth century. Modern histori-
cal research confirms that in other regions of Germany, the phrase "cessation of labor" (Arbeitsniederlegung ) was employed before use of the word strike became commonplace.
The German workers' tactic of sitting at the machine indicates that the withdrawal of the owners' command of the conversion of labor power comprised a symbolic statement of its own. The only "language" the employer knew how to interpret, the Social Democratic textile union said, was "the language of the work stoppage." In Britain, by comparison, the exchange of labor as it was embodied in finished products meant that the withdrawal of the conversion of labor power per se at the point of production did not constitute a symbolic end to the employment relation. Instead, workers supplemented this with the crossing of the boundary of the workroom, combined with a visible demonstration of protest in the mill yard, to express their flouting of the owners' authority. British textile workers enacted their protests by responding to the employers' own emphasis on the surveillance of traffic at border zones rather than on the control of the transformation of labor power into labor. They took hold of the employers' use of space as a handle by which they could turn the employers' authority upside down in the theater of the central mill yard.
In both Germany and Britain, the workers' tactics of collective action represented the appropriate counter-symbols to use against the employers' own ways of asserting their authority over the factory. British textile workers did not as a rule sign contracts or other documents when they entered into an employment relation. Custom and implicit agreement, to which the courts referred if called upon, governed workers' association with their employers. Only a few mills posted notices in the workroom about the
terms of employment or about the conduct of the hired hands on the shop floor itself. No wonder, then, that British textile workers did not break the employment relation merely by withdrawing the use of their labor power, for there was no official code giving the owner control on the shop floor over the workers' labor time. Instead, workers reacted by crossing the factories' physical boundaries.
Unlike their British counterparts, German workers signed written contracts when they began employment. As early as midcentury, most German mills had printed rules posted in the shop. After 1891 such posting became obligatory. Workers usually received a personal copy of the factory rules. These ordinances typically told workers how to carry out their work effectively, banned political or religious conversations on the shop floor, and specified the fines that would be levied for misbehavior. According to the provisions of the factory ordinances posted in the mills, stopping work at the loom indicated that workers had "deliberately disobeyed" the factory
managers. Such defiance provided grounds for immediate dismissal, according to the provisions of the state industrial labor code. The importance German employers attached to the posting of written rules as a means of enforcing their authority over the labor process can be judged from the composition of the rules. Before 1891, factory owners frequently entitled the factory regulations "laws" (Gesetze ). On their own initiative, employers had the local police stamp the rules before posting them. In some instances, they entitled their rules "police regulations." Through these tactics German employers could give the impression that conduct on the shop floor was subject to legal scrutiny and punishment.
It seems clear that German workers took a more legalistic view of the employment relation than did their British counterparts—when it was to their immediate advantage. In both Germany and Britain, the workers' newspapers reported that managers typically responded to workers' grievances with the comment, "If you don't like it, you can leave." But workers responded to these taunts in a different way in each country. German workers took such casual challenges as grounds for departing, for they had, literally, been told they could go home if they wanted to do so. In each of the principal textile districts of Germany, the work force left without notice on the grounds that by saying anyone could return home if things did not suit them, factory officials had terminated the employment relation. Individual workers used the same reasoning before the business courts. A bobbin winder told the court in Elberfeld in 1899 that she had left without offering notice because a supervisor had told her, "If you don't want to work
for the pay, you should get out of here." In response, she left her machine, never to return.
The legal savvy of German workers can be detected in their treatment of written contracts as well. A spinning mill owner in Rheine complained to a district official in 1908 that workers were acutely aware of their legal situation in the factory during the first hour of their hire, before they had been handed their personal copy of the factory ordinance. During these few minutes, the owner said, the workers believed they were "justified" in committing "the worst kinds of mischief" because they knew they did not yet stand under the legal provisions of a labor contract. Not surprisingly, the "people's bureau" (Volksbüro ) in that town, set up by Catholic organizations to inform workers of their legal rights in housing and employment, reported frequent inquiries from workers about the terms for concluding labor contracts. In Rheine, weavers in 1891 stopped work instantly when a clerk took down the sign that listed their piece rates. The workers did not ask why the sign had been removed, but they refused to continue until the clerk replaced it—in the absence of a posted agreement about rates, the workers believed that they had no contract.
The German strikers treated a halt to the process of converting labor power into labor as an essential and dramatic challenge to the owner's authority. They oriented their action to the technical violation of the printed factory rules, which specified the employer's authority over conduct on the shop floor. British textile workers, by contrast, considered a visual demonstration of defiance, "coming out" of the mill into an open theater, to be one of the hallmarks of a strike. In each country the workers' actions represented the appropriate counterstatement to daily practices on the shop floor. In German mills, where the rituals for entering the mill and the timing of workers' entry focused on the appropriation of workers' labor power, strikers acted out the withdrawal of labor power as such. In British mills, where owners focused on the appropriation of products and the assertion of control over border spaces, strikers, too, thought in terms of "coming out" and staging visible protests in the mill yard.
For many Germans who reflected on their economy in the middle of the nineteenth century, the treatment of labor as a commodity still appeared
monstrous and perverse. Ferdinand Lassalle pointed to industrial conflict in Britain as evidence that the complete objectification of human labor was unrealizable. The melancholy course of strikes in Britain, Lassalle claimed, represented the vain attempt of human beings "to disguise themselves as commodities." In the closing decades of the nineteenth century, however, the specification of labor as a commodity was taken so thoroughly for granted that it guided not only the humdrum enactment of production but the small insurrections workers improvised on the shop floor against the system's indignities. In all likelihood, only a minority of workers could have offered a detailed verbal exposition of their understanding of labor's commodity form. But the eloquent patterning of work stoppages shows, as philosophers and social historians alike have remarked, that although people may not be able to put their knowledge into words, they can put it into action.
The Formulation of Strike Demands
In both the German and the British textile industry, the decade of the 1890s began an upsurge in labor disputes that was sustained until the First World War. Karl Emsbach, in his sample of reports from the textile industry in the Rheinland, found a threefold increase in strikes during the decade 1890–1899 over the averages for the three preceding decades. The trend accelerated in the decade after the turn of the century. In Britain the years from 1888 to 1892, the critical years of development for the New Unionism, also initiated an extended increase in textile strikes. Despite this shared trajectory, however, strike demands at the textile factories of each country reached toward different ends, based on the workers' definition of labor as a commodity. In Germany, textile strikers transcended requests concerning wages and hiring to propose changes of their own in the conditions under which workers carried out the labor activity.
The German workers went beyond their British counterparts in requesting changes to protect the labor power they entrusted to the employer. They lodged strike demands for technical improvements to prevent accidents at work. In Borghorst, for example, striking weavers requested the introduction of "arrangements for the transport of warps according to the accident prevention regulations" of their company. German strikers also requested the installation of shuttle guards to prevent shuttles from flying off the loom and injuring nearby workers. According to the Imperial Bureau of Statistics in Berlin, demands for safer or healthier working conditions contributed to the outbreak of eleven strikes in textiles from 1901 through 1906 (these are the years for which the official figures can be disaggregated into precise demands).
Unfortunately, the average frequency with which German strikers presented such demands for changes in the organization of work will never be ascertained. Local authorities who submitted strike reports to the Imperial Bureau of Statistics often omitted reference to the demands workers submitted that did not relate to wages or the length of the workday. The officials forwarded only those demands that seemed palpably understandable and that fit into their conventional view of industrial conflict, but the researcher who sifts through police notes or newspaper accounts will find a veritable underground of grievances which the workers themselves incorporated into strike negotiations. Historians who rely on the published government statistics in Germany to enumerate the instigating causes of work stoppages merely recirculate the crass assumptions of German officialdom. In Gummersbach, for example, textile workers in 1900 submitted demands for more light and air in the workplace, for a better canteen, and for cleaner toilets. City officials submitted reports to higher-ups only about the wage demands, however, so only the wage demands entered the published tabulations. Similar misreporting occurred for textile strikes in Saxony, in Luckenwalde, and in the district of Lingen. "The official overview of the results of the
strike statistics," the Social Democratic Volkszeitung concluded in 1892, "is absolutely worthless."
The significant point from a comparative perspective is that German textile workers often formulated such demands in strikes, whereas British workers rarely did. No evidence that British textile workers voiced strike demands for protection against accidents appears in British workers' textile newspapers or in the parliamentary listings. Does the inclusion of demands for workplace safety in German strikes, but their absence in Britain, mean that this issue was of concern only to workers in Germany?
The comments of British workers in the Yorkshire Factory Times indicate that they certainly harbored dissatisfaction with unsafe machinery. In my sample of stories from this journal for the years from 1890 through 1893, twenty-seven complaints about unhealthy or dangerous working conditions appeared. Most frequently the workers mentioned the lack of guards to prevent the shuttles from flying out of the loom; they also cited the lack of mesh fencing around some equipment. Yet proposals to correct these problems, in particular the installation of loom guards, were not apt to enter into strike negotiations as they did in Germany. This seems even more curious in view of the British textile workers' legendary obstinacy and readiness to strike over minor arrangements in the workplace that concerned pay.
German textile workers, again unlike British workers, included among their strike demands the building of factory canteens and the cleaning of toilet facilities. At Düren in the Rhineland, for example, the workers at a
mill for weaving metal sheets bargained in 1899 for better eating facilities as part of the strike settlement. The male dyers who went on strike in 1899 around the district of Krefeld included among their demands a request that the owner provide dressing rooms in which they could change clothes. In Thüringen, workers pressed for free soap and towels from employers. In Mönchengladbach, striking textile workers in 1900 bargained not only for higher wages but for unsoiled toilets. German workers treated the condition of water closets as a topic meriting separate discussion at their union meetings. At Coesfeld, for example, thirty-seven weavers at a meeting in 1910 signed a petition whose sole object was cleaner toilets.
The circumstance that in strikes only German workers advanced demands for better factory facilities does not imply that only German workers concerned themselves with these amenities. The great majority of British textile workers felt the lack of cloakrooms, cafeterias, and undefiled restrooms, but they did not make this an issue of contestation with employers. Instead, they submitted letters to their newspapers express-
ing their discontent about toilet and eating facilities. In my Yorkshire Factory Times sample for 1890 through 1893, for example, ten complaints about sanitation and two about the absence of canteens appeared. (Remarks about canteens appeared only under unusual circumstances, however: in one case the air in the workroom itself was so noxious people felt they could not safely eat there; in another, the owner punished someone for eating near their loom and spilling crumbs on the cloth.) Thus, the British workers complained informally about toilets, but they did not introduce the state of these facilities into strike negotiations as the Germans did. Nor did the discussion of toilets become a topic for public meetings in Britain, as it was in Germany.
The German strikes and complaints concerning toilet facilities, canteens, and safety all took for granted the owner's responsibility for providing for workers' needs on the shop floor. These strikes assumed that the small rituals of life in the factory—eating, cleaning oneself, going to the toilet—could be treated as confrontations with the owner's authority over the production process. When seen in those terms, apparent details grew into suitable issues to introduce into strike negotiations. Speakers at German union meetings turned them into symbols of the owners' command over the worker. The union secretary in Gera declared it "scandalous" in 1906 that female workers at a mill could clean themselves only by putting water in their mouths and spraying it over their bodies. British workers, by contrast, lacking the notion of the owner's embrace of the expenditure of their labor power, did not dramatize those parts of their vie intime that
transpired within the factory walls as points of contact with their employer.
German textile workers also displayed a tendency to broaden the issues in strike movements to cover many seemingly unrelated points of contention. They extended the conflict to consider the employers' authority over the manufacturing process in multiple ways. According to the reports of the Imperial Bureau of Statistics in Berlin, 44 percent of the strikes that German textile workers launched from 1899 through 1906 included multiple demands (these are the only years for which strikes with more than one ultimatum are distinguishable in published reports). The surviving copies of workers' original demands indicate that strikers sometimes compiled long lists. For example, workers at Schiefbahn in 1905 submitted eleven separate demands, including hourly pay for waiting time, restraints on abusive language, and regular consultation between representatives of management and workers. In Britain, by contrast, in a count of the Board of Trade's strike reports for textiles whose format permits a comparison (the years 1894 through 1900), only 5 percent of strikes included more than one demand.
It is possible, of course, that the greater incidence of multiple demands in Germany meant only that German workers planned their strikes more carefully or conducted them in a more organized fashion. Were this explanation accurate, strikes in Germany that were initiated with the two weeks' advance notice legally required to terminate the employment relation would revolve around multiple demands more frequently than would more spontaneous strikes begun without sufficient notice. Government statistics are not the last word on the matter, but they lend no support to this hypothesis. For the years 1899 through 1906, the period for which the official German data can be cross-tabulated, textile workers issued multiple demands in 43 percent of the abrupt, illegal strikes. There was no statistically significant difference in Germany between the rate at which textile workers in well-organized, lawful strikes presented multiple demands and the rate at which workers in illegal strikes lodged them.
The variation between Germany and Britain in number of demands lodged probably did not derive from the institutions that factories had in place for mediating workplace conflicts. In both countries, conflict usually broke out in individual mills without turning into district-wide confrontations between the unions and the employers' associations. In Germany, if negotiations at a mill preceded the launching of a strike, workers usually conducted them without assistance from trade union officials. The lack of close union guidance in German textile strikes can be gauged from the circumstance that most of them began without the legal notice necessary to end employment. The so-called worker committees some German mills formed to administer health insurance funds hardly became known for representing the workers' interests in disputes. And in Yorkshire most
strikes broke out before the unions had received word of the dispute. The Socialist Review reported in 1910 that in one woolen district, workers launched or threatened half a dozen strikes within three months "without a single Union member being concerned or official intervening."
Still another possible explanation for the greater incidence of multiple demands in Germany is that the German textile workers struck less frequently. By this hypothetical line of argument, fewer strikes would build up a backlog of demands that would then be expressed in a single strike. But in terms of the size of the textile work forces, strikes were actually slightly less frequent during the period from 1899 through 1913 in Britain than in Germany. The annual ratio of strikes to workers was about one to seven hundred in Britain and one to six hundred in Germany.
The tendency of textile workers in Germany to formulate an extensive list of demands rather than to strike over a single issue coincided with another trend: German textile workers included among their strike demands requests that employers reform their governance of the work activity. Strikers at a Chemnitz mill told their employer in 1889 he had to make a "better arrangement of the production techniques" and allow workers to monitor the run-
ning of the engine. In Aachen the weavers demanded that the company create a new job, that of carrying warp beams, to relieve weavers of this burden. Challenges such as this were not simply defensive responses to employers' efforts to introduce new machinery or heavier workloads. At a spinning mill in Viersen, on the lower Rhine, for example, the striking spinners in 1899 listed several demands for the maintenance of machinery. They gave the manager a schedule that stipulated how often he was to carry out preventive maintenance and replace frayed parts on various types of spinning frames. In both Germany and Britain, weavers considered it proper that overlookers dispense warps among the looms in the order in which weavers had finished their previous jobs. At a mill in Eupen, Germany, the weavers even demanded that the overlooker himself, who tended a loom of his own in his spare moments, receive warps in the same order as the ordinary weavers. When the owner disapproved the request, the weavers went on strike. They wanted to override the overlookers' and employers' authority to determine the distribution of work on the shop floor.
How dissimilar are these demands from those of the British? British weavers, like those in Germany, resisted changes in the labor process, such as the change to the two-loom system. Like the German weavers, they struck over the poor quality of raw materials, especially in the cotton industry, because defective materials reduced their piece-rate earnings or caused them to work harder for the same wage. They also struck over the arbitrary sacking of co-workers and, in the spinning departments, over the owners' failure to promote workers in order of seniority from the apprenticeship position of a piecer to the full position of a mule minder. British workers were no less concerned with authority than their German counterparts, but they focused on defending against encroachment rather than challenging
the governance of production. British textile-factory workers did not propose changes to control the manager's methods of administering production, as did their German counterparts.
British contemporaries believed that some of the strikes over wages disguised textile workers' wishes to change aspects of the manufacturing process. For example, at the Alston wool combing works in Bradford, the director found in 1892 that men who had gone out on strike were glad to come in once he agreed to changes in the organization of work. He concluded that the wages had not been the overriding issue at all; rather, it was "a problem of work operations concerning the disposal of suds and potash." William Drew, an executive of the Yorkshire textile workers' union, testified in 1891 that many strikes over wages were an "excuse," a pretext. Wage demands concealed other concerns, he said, in particular, mismanagement of the looms. Even when British textile workers were both dissatisfied with the technical methods of production and willing to strike, they did not focus on the governance of work as a contestable issue.
Each of these differences between the goals of British and German strikers parallels the differences between their cultural definitions of the commodity of labor. The German concept of the delivery of labor in the form of labor power accentuated the employer's exercise of authority at the point of production to convert this labor capacity into labor. The distinguishing
features of German textile workers' strike goals—the greater focus on safety conditions and on hygienic care of the worker's person, the multiplication of grievances in a single strike about the employer's administration of the mill, and the advancement of proposals for changes in the governance of production—all focused on the employer's domination of workers by the exercise of authority at the point of production. British textile strikers did not focus on the small rituals of daily life inside the mill as a point of contact with the employer's authority. Rather, they converted disputes that might have addressed the organization of production into an issue of receiving adequate compensation for products delivered.
German workers' understanding of the labor transaction did not always lead them to reject the owner's authority on the shop floor; sometimes they embraced it. The union of workers employed at home in the sewing industry demanded the erection of central workshops for themselves, though not to boost productivity. Instead, they sought to make employers responsible for providing better working conditions and wanted union and state inspectors to certify and monitor the wages and hours of labor, which would be possible only if workers labored under the employer's supervision. British sewers, by contrast, were far from preferring centralized work. As the example of the home sewers in Germany shows, the specification of labor as a commodity did not inevitably make workers in Germany more rebellious against the capitalist labor transaction or against authority on the shop floor. Factory workers contested employers' authority while home workers embraced it, yet the struggle in both situations started with the presumption that the renter of labor power, entrusted with the disposition over the person of the worker, also bore responsibility for the care of that labor power. Depending on the tactical advantages to be secured, German workers used the prevailing specification of the labor transaction in different ways, but always in a
manner that reveals consistent differences from the cultural paradigm for conflict in Britain.
Overlookers' Role in Strikes
The role of overlookers in Germany helped to sustain German workers' understanding of the labor process as the submission of the labor activity to the employer's domination. When German workers labored under overlookers, they understood themselves as having immediate contact with executants of the employer. In Britain, by contrast, the overlookers' relative independence from the factory owners lent support to the workers' understanding that they transferred their labor as it was embodied in products. The German overlookers' status as agents, not just servants, of the owners prevented them from mediating between workers and owners. By contrast, British overlookers, who boasted that they did not "fawn" on the owners, saw themselves as intermediaries between workers and owners. For example, the rules of the Huddersfield and Dewsbury Power Loom Tuners' Society, issued in 1882, set down as one of the association's goals the "regulating" of relations between workmen and owners. Weavers in Yorkshire and Lancashire could even consult with their overlookers about the chances of obtaining wage concessions or ask for advice about the best timing for a strike. Textile workers in Germany prevented even the lowest supervisors from getting word of a possible strike. The German courts ruled that if an overlooker heard of a planned strike and did not report it to the owner, he had betrayed his duty to the owner and given grounds for immediate dismissal.
The contrast between the roles of overlookers in Germany and in Britain left their marks upon the organization and course of strikes. Overlookers in Britain sometimes supported weavers' strike demands. At Manningham, for
example, in one of Yorkshire's most famous labor disputes, in 1890 and 1891 the tuners refused to teach silk weaving to the new hires whom the higher management set on to break the weavers' strike. Instead, the tuners walked off the job in support of the striking weavers. Weavers cheered their supervisors' decision with the cry, "Good owd overlooker!" In the great weavers' strike of 1883 in the Colne Valley, too, tuners from the district voted against training learners and against filling in on the looms for the striking weavers.
British overlookers also supported weavers' opposition to increases in the number of looms per weaver. For example, the overlookers at a firm outside Bradford in 1891 accused the owner of plotting to shift from two to three looms per weaver. They refused to carry out what they called the owner's "dirty work" of "spotting" for dismissal the least favorite weavers in their sections. This, they charged, would only fit into the owner's plan to begin assigning three looms to each weaver. They ceased work even though the owner did not propose an increase in their own allotments of looms. In Lancashire, too, the overlookers struck in support of workers' demands. In a strike at Nelson in 1891, many of the weaving overlookers left work to force the dismissal of an overlooker who had made immoral propositions to a female subordinate. Overlookers in Lancashire also supported an end to the so-called slate system, in which overlookers posted their workers' earnings to shame the slower ones.
Can we find analogous episodes in Germany where overlookers supported their underlings? In Germany, the professional journal Der deutsche Meister reported sympathetically in 1904 on weavers' efforts in Mönchengladbach to resist a move in some branches to the two-loom system. But German overlookers did not make formal statements or take stronger action to support the weavers. In Germany, business journals, textile workers' newspapers, police reports, and factory inspectors' reports appear not to mention such acts of solidarity.
The most telling indicator that overlookers stood closer to the workers in Britain than in Germany lies in the workers' collective actions. In Yorkshire and Lancashire, strikes by subordinates to protest the firing of their overlooker occurred in each of the textile districts and in all branches of the trade, especially among women, but among male workers as well. When companies attempted to replace striking tuners, the Yorkshire Factory Times
reported, "the weight of the evidence is that women weavers will refuse to work with imported overlookers." This newspaper even believed that the ability to retain favorite supervisors in the spinning branch comprised an incentive for workers to join unions. "It's a great pity, to my mind," a correspondent wrote, "that even the spinners do not combine, if for no other reason than to keep a good overlooker." British weavers supported the demands of their tuners for higher commissions. German overlookers received comparatively little support from workers. In Britain, workers' strike support for overlookers was discussed as common knowledge, but in Germany it was considered an extraordinary event. A German supervisor said in 1912 that if an overlooker appealed to underlings for support, "they would laugh at him and declare him insane."
To complete this comparison of overlookers' positions, we must consider the form of union organization pursued by overlookers in the two countries. Although German overlookers could not legally strike, they could unite in collective associations and organize demonstrations. Two major organiza-
tions represented the interests of German textile overlookers. The oldest, the German Foremen's Union, founded in 1884, included overlookers from all industries. Before the turn of the century, this group counted over twenty thousand members, including more than one hundred in each of several towns in northwest Germany where textiles predominated: Aachen, Mönchengladbach, Rheydt, Barmen, and Elberfeld. Another association, the German Supervisors' Union, admitted overlookers only from the textile branch. This group, founded by weaving overlookers in 1899 in Mönchengladbach, had over five hundred members in northwest Germany by 1903.
These German overlookers' unions varied in a crucial respect from those in Britain: the lowest loom fixers and the highest foremen united in a single organization. The lowest loom fixers and the highest supervisors in Germany shared the position of salaried servants, in contrast to those below them who received piece rates. German foremen used their organization to support the rights of the lesser overlookers. For example, the German Foremen's Union petitioned to ensure that state officials classified its loom fixers as technical professionals, eligible for the government's pension plan. In each of the major centers of weaving in Yorkshire—Bradford, Leeds, Halifax, Keighley, and Huddersfield—citywide overlookers' unions developed at the same pace as in Germany. But the British overlookers' unions severed the lower-level overlookers from higher-ups; foremen did not join. The titles of the Yorkshire unions reflected this exclusion: the local associations named themselves Power-Loom Tuners or Power-Loom Overlookers. In contrast to their German counterparts, the British overlookers had an organization in which the
highest foremen, who were tied most closely to the owner, could not put a brake on action directed against the owners. In Germany, by contrast, the overlookers' unions classified the loom fixers, who actually stood near to the status of ordinary workers, as occupants of the same basic position as the employers' closest assistants.
The absence of foremen from overlookers' organizations in Britain also enabled the overlookers to move closer to the position of the textile workers' unions. From their founding in the mid-nineteenth century, the overlookers' organizations endorsed the principle of providing strike support to weavers if weavers in turn supported the overlookers' cause. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, affiliation became more explicit. The tuners' societies in the cities of Yorkshire relinquished their status as mere friendly societies and registered as trade unions. By the eve of the First World War, the overlookers' unions in Bradford, the Colne Valley, and the Heavy Woollen District had endorsed the Independent Labour Party. They donated funds and sent representatives to the Labour party's parliamentary council meetings. Even in Halifax, where the overlookers' club was slow to act, some overlookers identified themselves more as laborers than as supervisors. One member of the Halifax society, in a debate during 1909 on a resolution to affiliate with the General Union of Overlookers, a national organization, expressed this view with special clarity. According to the minutes of the union's meeting,
He said it was the same ol' thing over again, Capital versus Labour.
He said if the masters of Halifax wished to reduce overlookers'
wages, this Society could not resist it. Therefore he would support Joining the General Union or he was prepared to go further and amalgamate with the workers of the world.
The collaboration between overlookers and workers extended to Lancashire as well. In 1907, when overlookers in Blackburn, Lancashire, joined the United Textile Workers' Association, a national confederation of textile unions, they justified their decision by citing the "spirit of mutual help and brotherhood that ought to exist among all unionists."
Whereas overlookers' unions in Britain supported their members' interests by fighting for improvements in the factory, their counterpart German unions focused their efforts on the political arena outside the factory. They persuaded the German government to admit them in 1911 to a government pension program similar to one enjoyed by white-collar workers. They advocated that technical professional workers be represented on the government's labor boards. Yet the German overseers' unions did not directly
confront the issue of raising overlookers' salaries. "In our social program the question of pay is almost completely forgotten," said a speaker at the overlookers' convention in 1911. The first requirement for raising the salaries of overlookers would have been to admit into the union only those who were already able to command a minimum salary, so that all in the union would have some bargaining leverage. Such an entrance requirement the union rejected. The overlookers' societies in Yorkshire and Lancashire, by contrast, imposed a rule that applicants prove they already earned a high wage. British overlookers took on the issue of pay directly, whereas their German counterparts moved to the political arena, a shift which, in the factory itself, upheld the role of German overlookers as servants of the owner.
The forms of association for overlookers in Germany and Britain reflected the basic difference between their perceptions of the overlooker's role in the factory. The German organizations detached the overlookers from the workers and linked them to the highest foremen; they defined their members' status by reference to the exercise of authority. From the German viewpoint, even the lowest loom fixer was unlike a worker, since the loom fixer had to exercise authority over others and made decisions for workers. The British associations for overlookers, by contrast, severed overlookers from the higher foremen close to the owner; they defined their members as workers who delivered a labor product.
The inability of workers in Germany to unite with their immediate supervisors against employers meant that workers' collective action was directed against the employers' domination of the labor process per se. In Britain, the affiliation of workers with their overlookers meant that workers were comparatively insulated on the shop floor itself from regular contact with the employers' authority. They oriented their collective action to a greater degree toward the price at which workers would deliver their materialized labor.
The theory of the capitalist labor process that Marx presented in Volume One of Kapital is critical for unraveling the differences between the German and British labor movements—but not for reasons that Marx would ever
have dreamed of. The text reveals the cultural assumptions acquired by German workers in the labor process. Marx's emphasis upon the capitalist's exercise of authority in the factory as a means of extracting surplus forecasts the greater importance German textile workers would place, both in their complaints and in the enactment of strikes, upon aggressively contesting the capitalist's disposition over the labor activity itself.
Concluding Reflections on Part Three
The reified forms of consciousness that were manufactured at the point of production molded the shape of workers' resistance to the appropriation of their labor. Workers in each country advanced their interests vis-à-vis employers as straightforwardly as they could, but in so doing they confirmed their allegiance to a nationally prevailing concept of labor's commodity form, a concept that ironically united workers and employers in each locale. In The Rise of Market Culture William Reddy examined the essential terms of liberal capitalism, in particular the concept of labor as a commodity, as alien, intellectual imports with which nineteenth-century workers never authentically identified. He treated market categories as universalistic tools of scholarly analysis. By illuminating the inconspicuous differences between German and British workers' understanding and use of labor as a commodity, the present study instead suggests that the concept of labor as a commodity represented for workers not just an abstract doctrine but a set of popular repertoires that were linked to the course of industrialization and formed an essential component of popular culture. Rather than juxtapose an ethereal market model to real practices in one country, as Reddy did, we compared practices across countries to detect the impressive, but necessarily incomplete, materialization of market categories in everyday life and tactics of resistance.
The distinctive form of labor as a commodity in each country, as opposed to the alternative specifications operating in other capitalist societies, remained out of view of pointed critique. The cultural order was not immune to radical transformation before the First World War. But change could issue from below only through struggles guided by the definition of labor as a commodity that was, literally, "in place."
Under the Aegis of Culture
History is just the history of the unceasing overthrow of the forms of objectivity that shape the life of humankind.
Georg Lukács, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein
It is the submission of this book that in the contrasting transitions to capitalist labor markets in Germany and Britain, a different understanding of the transmission of labor as a commodity emerged in each country, where it was shared by both its common people and its economic elites; that these divergent specifications of labor subsequently configured the daily use of time and space in the developing factories of nineteenth-century Germany and Britain independently of the immediate economic and technological circumstances in which manufacturing techniques arose; that once these nationally diverging models of the conveyance of labor were incarnated at the point of production, they were reproduced among managers and workers through the execution of work rather than through the reception of a discourse; and that, by this means, the stipulations of labor as a commodity acquired an uncanny stability in Germany and Britain throughout the nineteenth century. We have seen, further, that the contrasting German and British definitions of the exchange of labor provided the cultural schemata through which workers identified abuses in the workplace, articulated their demands, and invented tactics for resisting employers' power; that Marx arrived at the decisive revelations of Kapital by mediating between the opposing German and British experiences of the commodification of labor; and, finally, that reception of Marx's economic perspective among members of the labor movements of Germany and Britain depended on whether the symbolic structures of manufacturing techniques corresponded to Marx's specification of labor as a commodity. In this extended drama culture played a causal role first by configuring factory procedures and, once embodied and reproduced in such practices, by shaping the ideologies of labor movements and the conduct of struggles between workers and employers. The moment has arrived to sum up, on a formal level, the method employed in this study to isolate and specify culture's independent effects.
The Explanatory Method
Rather than make an appeal to culture as the sum of beliefs or implicit background assumptions that together comprised "Britishness" or "Germanness," I condensed the relevant differences between culture in Germany and in Britain into a single principle, the specification of the conveyance of labor as a commodity. I handled this feature in two ways: first as a key for identifying meaningful configurations of practices and, second, as a discrete variable whose causes and consequences could be specified. When I treated culture as an intelligible schema that came to life in a complex of practices, I reasoned from the viewpoint of synchrony; when I treated it as a variable, I reasoned from diachrony. These two approaches employed different comparative strategies.
On the synchronic level, I endeavored to show by judicious comparison that the differences between German and British wool mills in the symbolic patterning of manufacturing techniques could not be explained by the tangible conditions of the immediate business environment. In this part of the inquiry I excluded the economic environment as a source of variation between countries. True, factory practices served economic purposes, but the means employed to meet functional demands emerged from the cultural assumptions the agents applied. The German weaving managers' consecration of the "efficiency ratio," for example, served the purpose of measuring the level of production, but it hardly represented a natural or superior adaptation to the conditions of production. To review a second instance, the implementation of "waiting money" in German textiles before 1914 correlated with the workers' distinctive insistence upon payment for the commitment of labor power, rather than conforming to economic features of the German labor market that differed from those in Britain before 1914. The demonstration that culture had a pervasive, but specifiable, influence on industrial technique was complete after the initial, synchronic stage of comparison.
A different set of issues arises and a separate method of analysis must be called into service when one inquires into the historical origins of the German and British cultural systems. Culture does not descend from the clouds. Although the growth of the wool textile industries and the imme-
diate circumstances of production in textiles were parallel in Britain and Germany, the national contexts of economic development in the countries as wholes contrast sharply. The conjunctural differences in the way Germany and Britain negotiated the transition from the feudal-corporate organization of work and exchange to factory manufacture in the era of capitalism enabled the agents to import contrasting definitions of labor's commodity form into the factory. On the diachronic level of analysis, therefore, I included economic institutions as a context for the emergence of cultural differences at the level of the countries as wholes. In identifying the autonomous causal contribution of culture, we are not required to treat culture as an unmoved mover.
But does this entire study then merely lead to the conclusion that the "economy" generated cultural impressions which subsequently assumed a stable life of their own? For the purpose of stipulating the causal contribution of culture, this is no different in its implications from the viewpoint that supposes that the economy is the active motor of change but that culture does not perfectly reflect economic circumstances, due either to cultural inertia or, if culture is treated as more plastic, due to the incomplete impression made by present economic conditions; nor is it different in its implications from the perspective that asserts that the differences in the national economies, the alleged foundation of social change, were naturally "reflected" in cultural conceptions which were then imported into diverse local undertakings, such as the regionally circumscribed wool industries. From each of these points of view, culture serves as a component, possibly a necessary one, in the creation of institutions, but it is the conduit, even if imperfect, of an original economic logic, not a systematically structuring force in its own right.
In order to override this reductionist interpretation of the findings of this study, wherein cultural differences only mirrored antecedent economic conditions, it is plausible but unsatisfactory to insist dogmatically, as a general rule of social theory, that what we designate the economy could not come into existence except through the medium of culture. Certainly the succession of economic structures cannot serve as the ultimate foundation of cultural change, for the economy has no history of its own apart from its realization in the culture, which gives shape to human practice. But this peremptory culturalist line of argument no longer makes appeal to an evidentiary demonstration; it no longer advances a research program by showing that the study of culture parsimoniously explains a wide range of phenomena that purely utilitarian or adaptive theories of practice do not
seem to cover. Not to waste words, the dogmatic culturalist interpretation of the results of the present inquiry into the origins of industrial differences is disenchanting because, if accepted, it means that the evidence marshalled in this study cannot be used to adjudicate between theoretic alternatives. It might well return us to the starting point of choosing an allegiance to a variety of theory based on a priori inclinations.
Perhaps we can apply the conventional method of distinguishing between cause and effect by temporal priority. A survey of the transition to liberal commercialism in each country shows that the definition of labor as a commodity emerged in speculative intellectual ruminations upon economic processes before it was embodied in micro-procedures on the factory shop floor. In their characteristic specifications of labor's commodity form, Adam Smith and Johann Lotz each uncannily foretold the shape of practice in his own country's industrial future. If this sequence of development shows that the definition of labor did not reflect established practice in the factory, does it also show that culture represented a force in its own right for institutional development? By itself, the chronological precedence of distinctive national differences in discourse about labor does not resolve this issue, for it might well be the case that the strategic goal of legitimating a profitable factory system was responsible for sustaining or resurrecting traditions of thought about labor which would not otherwise have been reproduced. Even if cultural definitions of labor display striking continuities, an advocate of utilitarian modes of explanation can still maintain that economic requirements decide which cultural features survive at the national level.
Because of its extensive reliance upon configurational analysis, however, this study enables us to make limited causal inferences from the temporal priority of the cultural template. For the outcome we are analyzing is not an isolated element or a single appurtenance of institutions, but a comprehensive constellation of practices. If the outcome to be explained were a simple trait, such as the affirmation of paternalism, then it might be treated as an accompaniment of factory systems which would have been legitimated in some other fashion in the absence of this feature; or it could be dismissed as a trait that was unsubstitutable, but had it not already been in place, would have been invented to meet the needs of the factory system; or, finally, it could be acknowledged as a resource that the economic agents could not have created, but which they put to the service of a structuring economic logic. But the outcome to be explained, as our synchronic comparison emphasized, was a complete cluster of practices. The tendency toward a pattern-
ing of these techniques shows that culture was not just an ingredient or a resource but a structuring principle. In this case, the appearance of the specification of labor in discourse prior to its embodiment in factory procedures is causally definitive; as a system of practice with an internal symbolic logic, culture stands revealed as a positive shaper rather than an accompaniment or passive resource for institutions.
The synchronic comparison of parallel segments of the British and German wool industries shows that practices were configured to form meaningful constellations, but it does not identify in positive fashion the historical genesis of these patterns. It contributes to explaining their initial emergence only by ruling out utilitarian accounts of their genesis. But excluding a competing mode of explanation for historical developments does not by default endorse one's own explanation if one's alternative represents not the simple negation of the rival but an entirely different approach. What is more, the differences in the economic environments may not account for the installation of differing factory practices, but they could still account for the invention of different specifications of labor before they took on a life of their own. Thus the question for delimiting culture's causal influence is not only whether culture "did" something, but from where that culture came. Even if a specification of labor as a commodity imposed a constitutive logic of its own once it was lodged in the factory, the argument might go, this fact offers slight reason for centering the comparative study of history on culture if national differences in cultural conceptions originated as a mere aspect of corresponding economic conditions.
Yet in Britain and Germany the features of the newly emergent discourse about labor that were uncovered in this inquiry debar attempts to see economic circumstances as the cause of the creation of distinctive concepts of labor as a commodity. In Britain the notion that wage workers transfer their labor as it is embodied in a product represented an idealized interpretation, not a mirror image, of the institutions of work in the transition to liberal commercialism. In seventeenth-century Britain, when wage laborers were prevented, at least in official opinion, from offering their labor as a freely marketable ware, and the independent artisan became the exemplary seller of labor, the bulk of the working population was excluded from the paradigm of commercial labor. When labor power became formally marketable in the course of the eighteenth century, Adam Smith, the prototypical philosopher of petty commodity production, recognized in The Wealth of Nations a continued divergence between fact and orienting model. Even while Smith employed the model of labor incarnated in a finished ware by a small
producer as his paradigm of the circulation of commodities, he acknowledged that nearly all worked in the service of a master, not as independent artificers. In Germany the exclusion of craft work as an imaginary locus for the emergence of labor as a commodity in the first half of the nineteenth century depended on the small urban producers' continued allegiance to a world of corporate production, seemingly in ignorance of the inescapable "reality" of a secular economic transition. Yet the response of the artificers in Germany did not appear out of thin air: unlike their British counterparts, they had in the main lost their guild monopolies only recently, and they confronted the institutionalization of liberal commercialism at a more threatening point on the clock of world development than British artificers did, a point at which it was evidently feasible for centralized factories to supersede craft production. But for this fact to be interpreted and thereby to bear consequences, the agents in Germany had to draw upon the outlying domains of their experience: the imagined past, the global and national economic context, and the projected future. When the manufactory and the textile mill comprised a statistically small portion of employment, they still served as the key site in Germany for the exemplification of capitalist wage labor. The forms of labor as a commodity to which the agents subscribed grew out of the conditions of economic development and exchange, but only as the agents conceived of their relation to them.
That the element of labor became the centerpiece of economic speculation during the transition to commercial liberalism underscores the symbolic process by which the agents established their relation to the commercial world. The young Karl Marx, upon making initial contact with classical political economy, understood that this received body of thought comprised a monumental break with prior reflections on commercial intercourse. Previously wealth had seemed to inhere in natural objects; now, under the sign of capital or, more fundamentally, accumulated labor, agents conceived of it as a form of human subjectivity. As is well known, Marx called Adam Smith "the Luther of political economy," for Smith reoriented belief by showing that development no longer issued from external forces
but arose from the labor of the human subject. The focus on human labor as both the generator and the regulator of value in Smith's eighteenth-century Britain coincided with the consecration of market categories as an effective ideology—that is, as the source of the operative schemata of everyday practice. The agents of commercial life incorporated the conditions of existence into their culture in such a way as to define themselves as the subjects of the economic process, but precisely in so doing they made it possible for themselves to become enmeshed in—and become subject to —these economic procedures. The discourse in which the specification of labor's commodity form can first be detected did not just record the landscape of commodities in motion, either straightforwardly or by a natural camera obscura; rather, it performed the symbolic work of constituting people as autonomous subjects even as it enveloped them in a sovereign economic system.
On some of the underlying uniformities identified between the German and British mills—their staffing, the distribution of tasks to overlookers, the general reliance on piece rates for weavers—cultural differences did not impinge. Culture is situated in every institution of society, but not everything is culturally determined. If we admit that the necessity of adapting to the economic environment accounts for certain uniformities between German and British mills—such as the general reliance on piece rates for weavers—do we then fall back on the position that culture was nonetheless determinative "in the last instance"? Such ultimate causes have no observable incarnation in history. But neither has this study retreated to the chicken-and-egg position in which culture and the economy are both necessary for each other's substantiation and the contribution of culture to the constitution of the labor process is limited to one category of prerequisite factors in an inextricable combination of causes. The manner in which culture is seen as making its separate contribution to the historical process differs fundamentally according to whether one is assessing the institution-
alization of practice through contrasting specifications of labor or whether one is considering the origins of those conceptual assumptions. Culture operates in spite of economic similarities in the essentially synchronic comparisons between matched textile factories, so the typical differences in the symbolic orchestration of practice can be attributed to culture alone at this stage in the analysis. Only an argument based upon configurational reasoning can advance such a claim to causal exclusivity. Of course the material components of production were indispensable for the incorporation of culture into practice, but the systematic differences in the typical meaningful configuration of those resources obeyed nothing but an internal cultural logic. In the comparisons between Germany and Britain as wholes for the sake of identifying the origins of divergent conceptions of labor, culture is seen to operate in an environment of established contrasts in economic institutions. In each country, the agents moved in a cultural milieu that enabled them to isolate certain sectors in the country's economy as the prototypical site for the transmission of labor under liberal commercialism and to simplify and idealize features of the labor transaction.
To filter and interpret the record of evidence, historical investigators bring to bear a theoretical lens formed by their own vantage point in history. Since the researchers themselves stand inside history, the lens they use may comprise a product of the very course of change they are subjecting to examination. This principle offers an explanatory key for the present study. Marx's analysis of the difference between "labor power" and "embodied labor" and his influential emphasis on the ultimate genesis of profit in the conversion of "labor power" developed in response to the experience, shared by German employers and workers in the nineteenth century, of a rapid transition from feudal-corporate institutions of work to the capitalist factory system. As a scholar marked by the German developmental experience and steeped in German economic history, Marx unintentionally replicated in his texts the symbolic forms of everyday practice enacted by German workers and employers. My analysis of the history of economic thought suggests that Marx's position in the German milieu permitted him to recycle the cultural definition of labor as labor power which governed German practice and to present it in the form of a theory. If Marx can be used to analyze the development of German factories, so, too, can the development of German factories be used to analyze Marx.
This principle gives us new means both for theorizing history and for historicizing theory. The late-twentieth-century sociologist who uses Marx's concept of labor power as a tool to analyze the history of factory
relations has found a powerful lever, not because the concept necessarily penetrates the hidden essence of capitalism, but thanks to the concept's encapsulation of the particularities of the German experience of industrialization. To this extent, my method may carry subversive implications. In drawing upon the distinction between embodied labor and labor power I have changed the status of those terms. I converted them from analytic distinctions in the realm of high theory into cultural categories that people used in the inconspicuous procedures of everyday life. Making them a constituent part of sensuous human practice, rather than an outward description of action imposed by the analyst, makes them more "real" but, paradoxically, less objective—for, as realized categories of culture, they become genuine appurtenances of subjects rather than theoretic properties of economic objects.
Having established the cultural formation of the instrumentalities in the workplace, I considered the consequences of those practices for the articulation of grievances and for the adoption of ideologies of exploitation in workers' labor movements. The historical significance of the differences between the cultural construction of labor in German and in British textile factories does not lie in their effects upon economic efficiency, which in all likelihood remained exiguous. Rather, the cultural differences are notable for the differing ways in which they shaped workers' lived experience of the employment relation and thereby provided the underlying assumptions for their union movements. British textile workers focused on the acquisition of products at less than their true market value as the source of exploitation. Without the concept of labor power as a commodity, they did not move from theories about the creation of profit in the market to theories that focused on the extraction of surplus value at the point of production. Their textile unions, which in the 1890s sponsored the rebirth of socialist ideas, focused on the need to redistribute capital and access to the market rather than on the need to remove the subordination of living labor. In Germany, the textile workers' daily experience of the buying and selling of labor power on the shop floor gave them the cultural resources necessary for the positive reception of Marxist economic theory, or at least of a Marxist economic idiom, from the Social Democratic textile union.
In its appropriation of Marx's economic categories as cultural constructs, this inquiry may seem double-edged. In fact, it contains another paradox. Every act of rejection has a moment of reaffirmation. At the same time that this study shows how culture constituted the means of production, it lends qualified support to Marx's emphasis on the importance of the labor activity
for the formation of people's understanding of social relations. The respective cultural definitions of labor in Germany and in Britain did not survive through sheer inertia or through the might of intellectuals' discourse. They were sustained by a constellation of practices at the factory—from the small rituals of entering the mill to the fining systems for defective cloth—that gave them palpable form. Culture was enacted, not permanently absorbed. Even within the grey walls of the factory, the meanings that the activity of manufacturing sustains may bear ideological consequences as significant as are its instrumental outcomes. German workers were not duped by Marxist ideologues when they focused on the use of Arbeitskraft as the source of the owners' profit, nor did they thereby necessarily discover the essential workings of the capitalist system. Rather, the cultural categories that practices on the shop floor sustained provided German workers with a spontaneous theory of exploitation—a lived truth, if you will—that proved critical for their sympathetic reception of Marxist ideas.
Examining the independent influence of culture on the institutions of the factory solves two problems in labor history with one piece of evidence. It bridges the perplexing divide—established, if not discovered, by E. P. Thompson—between the structured relations of the economy and what Thompson celebrated as the fluid, creative, and heroic formation of political beliefs among workers. The present study identifies the determinate ways in which the symbolic apparatuses of production established the assumptions about labor that workers brought to the arena of politics, but it makes this causal linkage without resorting to economic reductionism. The ideologies of exploitation accepted in the labor movements were fixed, not by the workplace's economic structure, but by the cultural forms inscribed in the micro-practices of production, forms which varied independently of the material or socio-organizational conditions of the manufacturing process.
As a cross-national comparison conceived with a selective question, this investigation has of necessity focused upon a decisive contrast between countries rather than upon variation within them. But this expansive comparison nonetheless affords a perspective from which to study differences within each country in workers' experiences, above all those emerging from the divisions of gender. Consider the inflection of gender distinctions upon the factories' control of intervals of labor in the course of the workday. In Germany, many textile mills granted a special schedule to female workers in charge of households. For example, at lunch time or on the eve of holidays, for the sake of readying the family meal, these women could leave the
factory at least half an hour earlier than other workers. The arrangement was consistent with the procedure of partitioning the use of labor power into increments of time that were indefinitely divisible. It also tallied with other rotating or irregular schedules for adult workers in Germany, such as rest pauses whose length alternated according to the day of the week. In Britain, factory owners before the First World War often discussed ways of attracting more workers, especially women, to mill work. They considered giving the mill a more wholesome atmosphere and offering cleaner working conditions. But they did not grant women an extended lunch or single them out for early release on the eve of holidays. This would have fragmented the block of a complete day and slowed the delivery of products. Female textile workers in Britain could instead adjust workdays to their household schedule by sending substitute workers to take their place at the looms. Unlike their German counterparts, they had to offer prompt delivery of products, not necessarily access to their own labor power. These differences in the treatment of women's labor show that the form assumed by labor as a
commodity did not exhaust the determinants of factory life, but operated as a pivotal category that mediated the influence of gender distinctions.
The Fetishism of Quantified Labor
The discovery that the apparatuses of production were organized as signifiers of labor's commodity form has important implications for our understanding of the constitution of liberal capitalist society by labor. In his legendary analysis of the fetishism of commodities, the founding charter for Western critical theory, Marx contends that commodity producers grasp their social dependency upon each other only through the moment of exchange. The agents' discovery of the social character of their labor through the trade of products causes human labor to appear under an absurd guise: as the comparative exchange value of products. In Marx's account, not only do the mutual relations of the producers take the misleading form of a social relation between things, but the category of social labor in general disappears from the producers' sight. In his view, liberal capitalism has the peculiarity that it structures social relations by abstract labor at the same time that it effaces abstract labor as a category of social consciousness. Even the classical political economists, by his reading, never identified abstract labor as such but contented themselves with comparing quantities of labor. These brilliant articulators of capitalist logic had "not the least idea, that the merely quantitative difference between kinds of labor presupposes their qualitative unity or equality, therefore their reduction to abstract human labor."
For Marx, the categories of recognition arise from the process of production and exchange depicted only in terms of its most fundamental mechanics. In his discussion of the fetishism of commodities, Marx temporarily suspends his prior characterization of the production process under capitalism and defines it only by the circumstance that articles are produced for the purpose of exchange. Indeed, at this point in his exposition Marx resorts to the counterfactual premise that the economic agents are independent commodity producers who handle the exchange of their own products: "Since the producers do not come into social contact with each other until they
exchange their products, the specific social character of the producer's labor does not show itself except in the act of exchange." This simplification allows Marx to reason from the social horizon of the marketplace, in which officially free and equal owners are associated by exchanging their commodities in terms of values that appear imposed by an objective necessity from without. The experience of production itself, the use of concrete living labor, is not theorized as a process generating the agents' misrecognition of the governing categories of capitalism.
Marx's emphasis upon the generation of the forms of understanding out of the "deep structure" of the exchange of labor gives rise to several questions which the unveiling of the symbolic apparatuses of production on the shop floor can address. The economic agents, in point of fact, are not all independent producers separated except at the moment of exchange: capitalism from its inception required workers to dispose of their living labor by entering into social relations of subordination to employers. Why, then, are the agents' "mutual personal relations" in the performance of labor "disguised under the shape of social relations between products"? Can Marx's simplified model of independent commodity owners who labor in isolation be applied to explain the development of the categories of recognition among dependent wage laborers? The meaningful arrangement of micro-apparatuses on the shop floor suggests that workers acquired the categories of their culture, not from the deep structure of relations of exchange, but from the discernible shape of procedures on the surface of production. Not in the fleeting moment of concluding a wage contract but in the minute details of work itself, in the ongoing experience of systems of payment, accounting, and time discipline, did the dependent British workers learn that human practice revolves around the imagined exchange of labor materialized in a product. Workers in Germany learned to think of their concrete exertions as the expenditure and transmission of a quantity of labor power that appeared to them as a measurable thing with a commercial metric attached to it by the external force of the market. In both countries, the subordination of workers in the factory did not simply appear as the direct personal domination of the employer but came into view as an effect of the impersonal workings of the transmission and circulation of quantified labor. In each country, both workers and employers pursued their interests within shared forms of
understanding of labor which neither group alone had created and which confronted both as a prior fact.
Marx's presentation of the fetishism of commodities gives rise to still another issue. In focusing on the fetishization that took place behind people's backs via the market, he depreciated the fetishization of labor as a commodity on the shop floor. In his view, once production is structured to become a mere means of exchanging commodities, the labor process appears to obey natural technical imperatives and relations between producers are structured as instrumental relations. Marx's descriptions of capitalist factories endow the machines themselves with the ability to dictate relations between producers on the shop floor. For Marx, of course, the emergence of technological determinism at the work site is only an effect of the historically unique institutions of capitalism and is in the end, therefore, socially structured. But the use of labor is socially determined at a remove, by the underlying commercial structure which makes of production a mere means for the exchange of commodities. In Marx's account, if the use of labor inside the capitalist factory appears determined by technical imperatives, this is not an illusion but a local reality.
In the realm of the factory itself, Marx mistook as a simple technical outcome or as a set of relations between things what was in truth a set of human relations structured by communication about labor's commodity form. The configuration of procedures on the shop floor in conformity with varying cultural assumptions about labor shows that the fetishism of commodities emerges not just in the marketplace but in the process of production, not just in the exchange of labor but in its use. The factory producers mistook the form of labor as a commodity as an objective force controlling the enactment of their life activity because they were enmeshed in minute procedures structured as signifiers of labor's commodity form. As they engaged in the order of practice, they treated themselves and their fellow agents as if they were things, bearers of objectified labor. This "objectivating attitude" was not a simple correlate of production for
exchange, but was sustained by the communicative function of unobtrusive procedures in the execution of work itself.
The disclosure of signifying practices on the shop floor helps to specify the historically unique mode by which culture shaped human activity in nineteenth-century capitalism. At the outset of this study, we saw that Marshall Sahlins aptly demonstrated how non-capitalist societies have used the instrumentalities of production to communicate a symbolic schema. They have incorporated kinship distinctions, which shape society into a functional whole, into the minute procedures of work. But these kinship principles for social relations are also supported by a transcendent cosmology. The principles, received from the gods, stand above production so that the preservation of the social relations based upon them appears as the very motive of production. In the liberal capitalist factory, by contrast, the structuring form of labor as a commodity was neither explicated nor solemnized through transcendent norms or through principles standing above the sensible processes of production and exchange. The reproduction of culture did not rely upon a sacred cosmology to make its preservation appear as an end in itself. The purpose of social life was nothing more than the production of commodities. In noncapitalist societies, the unspoken principles and assumptions of sacred tradition may comprise the undisputed foundation of social life; in the liberal capitalist order, it is not the unspoken parts of enunciated laws or acts of
religious ritual but the symbolic form of instrumental practice itself that represents the supreme domain of the culturally undisputed. Nineteenth-century economic theorists and demagogues could put concepts of labor into words for their own, fleeting purposes. But capitalist culture at work did not depend upon its verbal articulation, for the logic of practice did not have to refer to something greater than itself.
The nationally specific understandings of labor as a commodity appeared to the producers in Germany and Britain as natural appurtenances of the capitalist order. Even when spokespersons for the labor movement at the end of the nineteenth century called for the supersession of capitalism, they did not question the particular form in which labor was designated a commodity in their country; that form acted as a reference point for their nationally distinctive visions of socialist society. In noncapitalist societies, that which is unquestionable about social arrangements is merged with the structure of the natural universe. In the nineteenth-century factory, by contrast, the undoubtable fundament was merely the representation of human labor as an objectified and natural thing: the unquestionable procedures of conduct appeared to the agents as if they were attached, not to nature outside of humankind, but to the nature of humankind; not to objects outside of people, but to people as objects. The institutions of the factory are grasped as human creations, but human agency is misrecognized in the guise of quantified human labor. In noncapitalist society, utilitarian action is hidden under the guise of disinterested conduct that conforms to transcendent norms. In this setting the very haziness and incompleteness of the discursive tradition are part of its usefulness, because they make it pliable enough to legitimate unforeseen strategies. In noncapitalist society, practices that appear to serve nothing but noninstrumental goals actually disguise the pursuit of profit. In the nineteenth-century factory, the reverse occurs: the very practices that appear to serve nothing but the pursuit of profit actually conform to a communicative logic. Because the reproduction of the specification of labor as a commodity did not depend upon its legitimation as part of the sacred but could appear as a mode of strictly instrumental conduct, it was less vulnerable to the questioning that occurs with the disenchantment of the modern social world.
Forms of Passage
Comparison of the paths of cultural development in Germany and Britain teaches a paradoxical lesson about the possible advantages of relative underdevelopment for the articulation of economic thought. In Germany the conception of the commodity of labor which proved so suitable for analyzing the utilization of labor in the mechanized factory depended not only upon the commercial logic of a free market but upon the cultural model of feudalism. Many historical analyses emphasize the manner in which the exceptionally rapid economic growth in nineteenth-century Germany outpaced cultural change as a result of the relatively late dismantling of the corporate-feudal order there. The present study evaluates the unusually strong feudal template as a helpful resource for the construction of Germany's factory institutions in the image of fully realized capitalist categories. The compressed progression from feudalism to the market-industrial order in Germany, far from creating a lag or an imbalance in economic categories, was distilled in a pure capitalist form: it propelled the Germans to place special emphasis on the timed subordination of labor power per se. Thorstein Veblen wisely appreciated the advantages of initial backwardness; at the level of the economic infrastructure, as is well known, he highlighted the benefits of starting with only up-to-date technology, and at the level of cultural resources, he noted that the Germans' unusual combination of ideas from the medieval and mechanical ages created the potential for "an acceleration of change."
In Britain the precocious development of a unified national market with formally free exchange in finished products bestowed upon the country a pioneering role in economic reasoning. But the development of a set of commercial assumptions centered on labor before labor power itself became a freely marketable commodity led to the installation of practices in the workshops that revolved around the exchange of materialized labor. Nineteenth-century capitalists and political economists in Britain, who emphasized labor as the generator and regulator of value, did not develop
categories for assessing the significance of labor's systematic use in the classical age of the factory. Their commercial ideology of practice remained within the social perspective of exchange relations between juridically equal property owners. The introduction in Germany of officially free market transactions in products only when juridically free markets in labor power were created, and the survival of feudal templates of the appropriation of labor services, together allowed the Germans to incorporate asymmetric social relations at the point of production into the economic specification of the labor transaction. The precipitous introduction of free exchange relations into the feudal-corporate order afforded German political economists a position from which they could critique the social outlooks centered upon the equalitarian sphere of exchange. Marx's penetrating theory of the exploitation of labor power, intriguingly similar to that of other German economists of his time in its treatment of labor power in production, relied upon the peculiar experience of late and rapid development in his homeland as a reference point for the development of critical social theory. As Marx drew upon British assumptions about labor in the sphere of exchange and compounded them with German assumptions about labor at the point of production, he incorporated the combined and uneven development of capitalism across Europe into the very core of his economic theorems.
Britain's early development of an integrated national market and the country's subsequent weakening in the world economy of the twentieth century have prompted vigorous debate about the distinctive features of Britain's movement to a capitalist regime. Many analysts, from Perry Anderson and Tom Nairn to Martin Wiener, have attributed Britain's modern industrial descent to its early and "incomplete" development of a capitalist social order under the auspices of a commercially minded, yet aristocratic, landed elite. Ellen Meiksins Wood has departed from this view in her notable work The Pristine Culture of Capitalism. Wood suggests that Britain's industrial fate can be attributed to the consummation of capitalist culture in Britain rather than to the system's unfinished incarnation. In Britain, where free-market principles left entrepreneurs to their own devices, people of business focused upon short-term profit in the consumer
goods sectors rather than upon the transformation of technique in heavy industry. In Germany, fewer of the business and political elites converted to the culture of liberal "free enterprise." The Bismarkian state drew upon the authoritarian and military traditions of the precapitalist past to organize technological innovation and to coordinate longterm industrial investment for geopolitical advance. In Wood's opinion, it is not accidental but paradigmatic that state-guided industrialization in Germany proved economically superior to the "pristine culture of capitalism" in Britain.
Likewise, in the present study, the British factory system exemplified "pure" capitalist categories. In the British case the concept of the sale of labor as a commodity was shorn of traditional relations of subordination for its content. In this sense it depended less upon precapitalist forms of labor appropriation than its counterpart in Germany did. Yet, as we have seen, the focus upon the equalitarian realm of product exchange in Britain grew out of the protracted suppression of a market for the transmission of labor power itself after the recognition of a market in goods. The selection of the peculiarly commercial and liberal specification of labor as a commodity in Britain developed as a result of the long survival of the "archaic" corporate administration of wage labor in Britain, not because of a relatively early or clean supersession of the medieval-corporate order. In a word, the pristine cultural outcome emerged from a corrupted transition. In Germany, the protection of contractual relations in industrial wage labor occurred relatively early compared to a recognition of an integrated market in products. The conjuncturally early establishment of a formally free market in labor power in Germany permitted the carryover of feudal relations of domination into the understanding of capitalist wage labor. In my study, Germany's feudal past does not figure as an obstacle to the expression of a purely capitalist culture; rather, the strong legacy of feudal relations of labor defined the fundamental concept of wage labor itself.
By returning Marx's well-known analysis of the capitalist labor process to its home in German practice, this study helps us to appreciate how the past shaped an economic theory that is alive in the present. Does the contextualization of Marxist categories as the representation of a particular cultural experience also differentiate between past and present by restricting the applicability of Marx's nineteenth-century theory of exploitation to the era in which it originated?
Recent developments in Marxist theory have removed from scholarly discourse that part of Marx's theory which initially derived from the German context, and, in fact, have jettisoned the concept of labor power in toto. In Kapital , Marx counted the employer's control over the execution of work as the first defining feature of the production process under capitalism. Like nineteenth-century German employers and workers, Marx unified the relations of domination and appropriation at the point of production. Contemporary Marxist theory has disengaged the exercise of authority in the workplace from the appropriation of surplus. John Roemer, among the most influential Marxist economists at present, has offered an intriguing reanalysis of the mechanisms by which surplus is transferred between workers and capitalists. In A General Theory of Exploitation and Class , Roemer concludes that surplus labor can be transferred from one class to another if productive assets are unequally distributed among classes, even if the classes with the lesser assets still own the means of production that they employ for their labor. Roemer's demonstration has even led theorists to remove wage labor from the necessary design of capitalism. Adam Przeworski has participated in this analytical shift by turning away from the analysis of the actors' locations in the production process and emphasizing the distribution of labor surplus. Erik Olin Wright has also contributed to this continuing realignment of theory. In a revision of his earliest parsing of class categories, Wright eliminated authority over the labor process as a criterion of class position in capitalist relations
of production. The ongoing process by which capitalists rely upon their domination at the work site to extract surplus from living labor power is losing its centrality in the leading Marxist analyses of contemporary economic functions.
This sea-change is telling because it alters the way Marxist theory connects the functioning of the capitalist system to the understandings of the economic agents. In Marx's perspective, the sale of labor power comprises an encounter between the functional requirements of the valorization of labor for the capitalist system on the one side and the lived experience of the producers on the other. Labor power for him is both an analytic mold and a category in the producers' social consciousness. The shift of contemporary Marxist analysis away from the experienced moment of the use of labor power means that the operation of the economic system is theorized without reference to its constitutive and governing forms of understanding and experience. To be sure, Marx assumed that only one definition of labor power emerges in capitalist culture, in keeping with his premise that its apparent form is an inseparable expression of the essence of the capitalist system. Yet he believed that the lived experience of the monetization of labor is essential both for the system's reproduction and for struggles to change it. The appearance of abstract human labor as a category shaping the practices of production establishes at the outset the cultural foundation for the agents' pursuit of their interests. The present study reaffirmed the constraining effect of the form of abstract labor in the example of the Huddersfield weavers, who were unable to recognize and measure their own activity except under the guise of the objective properties of the fabric itself.
For this comparative study of culture I am interested only in ascertaining what the producers themselves believed was true and in identifying the origins and consequences of their beliefs. This is not a blind strategy of convenience. On the contrary, the truth value of Marxism depends on the interpretations of the producers. Their categories of understanding prompt the development of economic processes, shape the course of change, and continue to alter the relevance of theory. It is not up to theorists to decide with equations from afar whether Marx's definition of the commodity of labor as labor power remains valid at the end of the twentieth century. How the producers themselves interpret the labor process will resolve this fateful question. The history of practice on the shop floor suggests that the concept of labor as a commodity may have long ago lost its position as the center-point of a constellation of practices.
The two decades leading up to the First World War comprise the last days of the classical factory system that was established in the heyday of commercial liberalism. Until the onset of the war, there was little evidence that the cluster of practices based on labor's commodity form was losing its coherence. Yet German and British producers could not inhabit unconnected and uncompared conceptual worlds forever. As they came into tighter contact, they inadvertently reaffirmed their distinctive cultural starting points. In the weaving branch, the diffusion of the so-called pick clock, a technical contrivance mounted on looms in order to count the motions of the shuttle across the warp, caused British managers closely to examine German procedures for executing work. On the very eve of the war, managers in Britain became aware that the philosophy of remunerating weavers by shots in Germany marked the major difference between the two countries' pay systems. In Germany, the concept of pay by shots had preceded the technology of the pick clock, whereas in Britain it happened the other way around. The first batch of pick clocks to arrive in Yorkshire, purchased for inspection and experimentation in 1911 by the Huddersfield employers' association,
came from Germany. Before that date, contemporaries claimed, not a single loom in Yorkshire had a pick clock.
Even after they began testing the pick clocks, the British were unsure whether they would restructure their pay scales or would use the clocks just to measure cloth length more precisely. A change in one element of the technical environment did not call into question the overall view of the labor process. The concept of pay by shot in Germany made the usefulness of the pick clock apparent from the start. The slow adoption of pick clocks in Britain resulted not from technical backwardness but from a particular outlook upon labor. The emphasis on measuring production by the length of the output made it difficult for the British to envisage how such clocks could be used until after German industry had provided a complete demonstration. Decades earlier, British technicians had discussed the feasibility and usefulness of assembling pick clocks for looms. A mechanic in Britain had inquired as early as 1879 in the Textile Manufacturer , the central forum for technical discussions for British textiles, whether a gadget existed for registering picks as they were inserted. The magazine dismissed the notion of building a pick clock. "We are almost certain that no instrument is in the market specifically intended for this purpose," its technical editors replied, "and if there were, it is a moot point whether there would be a great demand for it." Thoughts of a pick clock disappeared until foreigners reintroduced them.
In the Lancashire cotton district, the idea of remunerating weavers by the total shots inserted appears to have occurred only among managers who, after 1902, installed American-designed Northrop automatic looms with pick clocks. In 1914 only 1 percent of the looms in Britain were of this type. The Gregs of Styal, Cheshire, began to install these new looms in 1909. The surviving account books indicate that the machines alone did not bring about a revised appreciation of weaving. This company placed Northrop looms with pick clocks next to its older weaving equipment. Only weavers on the new machines were paid by thousands of shots, since pick clocks were measuring
their output. British weavers on the Northrops contested the number of looms each of them would operate as well as the total amount of their wage, but they did not resist the new principles on which their piece earnings were based, another indication that survival of the old piece-rate systems cannot be attributed to organizational inertia or rigidity in industrial relations. The bookkeepers at the Greg firm maintained the accounts for the old and the new machines in the same volume. They awkwardly divided the pages into different sets of columns for the two types, because they calculated the net efficiency only of the new looms. The categories used to measure output and efficiency with the alien technology on new looms were not generalized to the mill as a whole. Their introduction did not lead to revision in the symbolic apparatuses of production for old looms. When the British came into contact with imported technologies, they lost some of the techniques that reproduced their own construct of labor as a commodity. But given the stability in the other parts of the ensemble of practices, the established concept of labor was reproduced.
When the British adopted methods for calculating an efficiency ratio on new looms, their methods did not always conform to the cultural framework in place in Germany. At the firm of Benjamin Thornber and Sons in Burnley, records show that managers began calculating the efficiency of production no later than 1919. Unlike German managers, however, they did not begin with the maximum production possible in a given unit of time. They calculated the hours required to complete a piece of cloth of a fixed length with uninterrupted operation of the loom and then compared this with the actual number of hours used to produce cloth of that length. To be sure, the formula expressed efficiency as a percentage of the maximum possible, as in Germany. Yet fabric partitioned time, not time fabric; British practitioners
reasoned in this instance from hours per cloth, not, as the Germans did, from cloth per hour. Even when the British analyzed the use of labor in time, then, they sometimes began with the length of cloth, not the motions executed, as labor's denominator, a sign that change did not necessarily push them toward the German perspective of transmission of labor as a commodity.
Whether the systems of industrial practice in Germany and Britain contained endogenous forces for change that would have revealed themselves but for the intervention of the First World War, no one is in a position to determine. In the event, the force summoned to dislocate the systems was the organizational influence of the state, which broke the liberal-capitalist occultism of commodity production. In both Germany and Britain, during the war the state assumed greater responsibility for determining the rate at which workers were paid. In Germany, the workers' receipts from employers for piecework were adjusted to provide additional allowances, regardless of performance, to men for each dependent child. Government intervened to decide not just the social benefits workers received as citizens but the wages they received as wage laborers, which now diverged from the quantity of labor power expended. The state determined not just the amount of pay but the formula by which it was calculated. The purchase of labor as a commodity through the autonomous workings of the market was not circumscribed; rather, it was completely undermined.
In Britain the breakdown of a market in raw materials and labor is illustrated by the policies of the Cotton Control Board, an association of textile manufacturers appointed in 1917 by the government Board of Trade. The Control Board allocated raw cotton at controlled prices to manufacturers, who were required to purchase a license to operate all their standing machinery. The more equipment the mill owners operated, the greater the levies they owed to the Cotton Control Board; the funds were used to provide unemployment relief for operatives in the industry. The board also controlled wage agreements. When the spinners, weavers, and card-room workers began negotiations in 1918 for large pay raises, the Cotton Control Board threatened (with great effect) to eliminate unemployment relief. Clearly, the bargaining no longer revolved around the sale of materialized labor, but centered on the collectively managed maintenance of labor power.
The war brought about a fundamental shift in the symbolic apparatuses of production in Britain. Perhaps because manufacturers had to purchase a license for each machine they wanted to run, they began to abandon the custom of locking tardy workers out; instead, they threatened to make latecomers put in a full day of labor by working past quitting time. Government-sponsored costing principles made it superfluous to reckon expenditures on overlookers' labor as an input embodied in the cloth; instead, overlookers received a guaranteed wage whether or not they or their underlings worked. In Germany, workers' struggles in the postwar period were no longer played out through the anonymous
mechanisms of the market, but shifted to the political and state administrative sectors. The revolutionary conflicts over the state constitution and over employee management of factories upon the conclusion of the war allowed struggle between employers and workers to appear for an instant on the ground of their "own mutual personal relations."
The intensifying governmental responsibility for the constitution of the labor process since the First World War suggests that the principle of labor as a commodity has lost its salience as the primary mechanism that both integrates social exchange as a whole and organizes the lifeworld of the producers. Perhaps, then, the disappearance of labor power as a category of human experience in contemporary Marxist theory at the end of the twentieth century was only to have been expected. Perhaps, too, labor power could be rediscovered by scholars as a lived category of nineteenth-century production only through a retrospective inquiry: so long as capitalism appeared as a unitary system with an historical dynamic of its own, researchers would conceive of labor's specification, not as a culturally variable form, but as a universal form of understanding that emanated from the essence of the system. But to investigate the symbolic constitution of practices on the shop floor at the end of the twentieth century, the question may no longer be what form labor takes as a commodity on its own terms, but how that form is intertwined with categories that supplement the role once played by labor alone. As Habermas has emphasized, the commodity of labor has been supplanted by the juridical categories, increasingly salient for citizens and clients of state bureaucracies, that autonomously connect the parts of society apart from the mechanism of exchange value.
Although the effective forms of culture may have changed, the past still offers guidance for the exploration of the institutions of manufacture in the present. From the geometry of the factory portals to the denominators of fabric, labor's commodity form in the nineteenth century did not lie underneath practice but in it. Likewise, for researchers of the present, as for poets and theologians, divinity is contained within life's humblest details. To find the treasure in the concrete, investigators of factories in our own age require neither faith nor dogma, only theory, as Marx's fading categories continue to show us.