Das Kapital Questions and Answers
by Karl Marx

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What are some ways in which capitalism inflicts corporeal pain onto bodies?

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Capitalism inflicts corporeal pain on the body in several ways. Foremost, its logic demands maximizing profit to the greatest degree. This means, in a variety of forms, subjecting and subordinating the natural rhythms of the human body to the dictates of the machine. In essence, Marx said, profit came through dehumanizing the body by making it a part of the machine.

This led to pain as human bodies, which Marx said were naturally set to work eight hours a day, were forced into ever longer work days to accommodate the rigidities of the 24-hour factory. Work days stretched to as long as 15 and 16 hours. Marx, in Capital, quotes several observers:

 "Cruelty was, of course, the consequence...In many of the manufacturing districts, but particularly, I am afraid, in the guilty county to which I belong [Lancashire], cruelties the most heart-rending were practised upon the unoffending and friendless creatures who were thus consigned to the charge of master manufacturers; they were harassed to the brink of death by excess of labour...were flogged, fettered and tortured in the most exquisite refinement of cruelty;...they were in many cases starved to the bone while flogged to their work and...The beautiful and romantic valleys of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lancashire, secluded from the public eye, became the dismal solitudes of torture, and of many a murder. The profits of manufactures were enormous; but this only whetted the appetite that it should have satisfied, and therefore the manufacturers had recourse to an expedient that seemed to secure to them those profits without any possibility of limit; they began the practice of what is termed "night-working," that is, having tired one set of hands, by working them throughout the day, they had another set ready to go on working throughout the night; the day-set getting into the beds that the night-set had just quitted, and in their turn again, the night-set getting into the beds that the day-set quitted in the morning. It is a common tradition in Lancashire, that the beds never get cold."

... Mr. Broughton Charlton, county magistrate, declared as chairman of a meeting held at the Assembly Rooms, Nottingham, on the 14th of January, 1860, 'that there was an amount of privation and suffering among that portion of the population connected with the lace trade, unknown in other parts of the kingdom, indeed, in the civilized world...Children of nine or ten years are dragged from their squalid beds at two, three, or four o'clock in the morning and compelled to work for a bare subsistence until ten, eleven, or twelve at night, their limbs wearing away, their frames dwindling, their faces whitening ...'

Division of labor also dehumanized the laborer, according to Marx, leading to a withering of mental and physical attributes as people performed repetitive tasks over and over without producing any specific thing, only one tiny part of a larger whole. He deplored the loss of the artisan, who controlled the fruits of his labor. Once again, profit and the machine dictated that human bodies became separated or alienated from what they were producing.

 

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