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.