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The Fragment on Machines

Karl Marx – from The Grundrisse (pp. 690-712)


The labour process. -- Fixed capital. Means of labour. Machine. -- Fixed capital. Transposition of

powers of labour into powers of capital both in fixed and in circulating capital. -- To what extent fixed

capital (machine) creates value. -- Lauderdale. Machine presupposes a mass of workers.

Capital which consumes itself in the production process, or fixed capital, is the means of production in

the strict sense. In a broader sense the entire production process and each of its moments, such as

circulation -- as regards its material side -- is only a means of production for capital, for which value

alone is the end in itself. Regarded as a physical substance, the raw material itself is a means of

production for the product etc.

But the determination that the use value of fixed capital is that which eats itself up in the production

process is identical to the


proposition that it is used in this process only as a means, and itself exists merely as an agency for the

transformation of the raw material into the product. As such a means of production, its use value can be

that it is merely the technological condition for the occurrence of the process (the site where the

production process proceeds), as with buildings etc., or that it is a direct condition of the action of the

means of production proper, like all matières instrumentales. Both are in turn only the material

presuppositions for the production process generally, or for the employment and maintenance of the

means of labour. The latter, however, in the proper sense, serves only within production and for

production, and has no other use value.

Originally, when we examined the development of value into capital, the labour process was simply

included within capital, and, as regards its physical conditions, its material presence, capital appeared

as the totality of the conditions of this process, and correspondingly sorted itself out into certain

qualitatively different parts, material of labour (this, not raw material, is the correct expression of the

concept), means of labour and living labour. On one side, capital was divided into these three elements

in accordance with its material composition; on the other, the labour process (or the merging of these

elements into each other within the process) was their moving unity, the product their static unity. In

this form, the material elements -- material of labour, means of labour and living labour -- appeared

merely as the essential moments of the labour process itself, which capital appropriates. But this

material side -- or, its character as use value and as real process -- did not at all coincide with its formal

side. In the latter,

(1) the three elements in which it appears before the exchange with labour capacity, before the real

process, appeared merely as quantitatively different portions of itself, as quantities of value of which it,

itself, as sum, forms the unity. The physical form, the use value, in which these different portions

existed did not in any way alter their formal identity from this side. As far as their formal side was

concerned, they appeared only as quantitative subdivisions of capital;

(2) within the process itself, as regards the form, the elements of labour and the two others were distinct

only in so far as the latter were specified as constant values, and the former as value-positing. But as far

as their distinctness as use values, their


material side was concerned, this fell entirely outside the capital's specific character as form. Now,

however, with the distinction between circulating capital (raw material and product) and fixed capital

(means of labour), the distinctness of the elements as use values is posited simultaneously as a

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distinction within capital as capital, on its formal side. The relation between the factors, which had

been merely quantitative, now appears as a qualitative division within capital itself, and as a

determinant of its total movement (turnover). Likewise, the material of labour and the product of

labour, this neutral precipitate of the labour process, are already, as raw material and product,

materially specified no longer as material and product of labour, but rather as the use value of capital

itself in different phases.

As long as the means of labour remains a means of labour in the proper sense of the term, such as it is

directly, historically, adopted by capital and included in its realization process, it undergoes a merely

formal modification, by appearing now as a means of labour not only in regard to its material side, but

also at the same time as a particular mode of the presence of capital, determined by its total process --

as fixed capital. But, once adopted into the production process of capital, the means of labour passes

through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the machine, or rather, an automatic system of

machinery (system of machinery: the automatic one is merely its most complete, most adequate form,

and alone transforms machinery into a system), set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that

moves itself; this automaton consisting of numerous mechanical and intellectual organs, so that the

workers themselves are cast merely as its conscious linkages. In the machine, and even more in

machinery as an automatic system, the use value, i.e. the material quality of the means of labour, is

transformed into an existence adequate to fixed capital and to capital as such; and the form in which it

was adopted into the production process of capital, the direct means of labour, is superseded by a form

posited by capital itself and corresponding to it. In no way does the machine appear as the individual

worker's means of labour. Its distinguishing characteristic is not in the least, as with the means of

labour, to transmit the worker's activity to the object; this activity, rather, is posited in such a way that it

merely transmits the machine's work, the machine's action, on to the raw material -- supervises it and

guards against interruptions. Not as with the


instrument, which the worker animates and makes into his organ with his skill and strength, and whose

handling therefore depends on his virtuosity. Rather, it is the machine which possesses skill and

strength in place of the worker, is itself the virtuoso, with a soul of its own in the mechanical laws

acting through it; and it consumes coal, oil etc. (matières instrumentales), just as the worker consumes

food, to keep up its perpetual motion. The worker's activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is

determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of the machinery, and not the opposite. The

science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully,

as an automaton, does not exist in the worker's consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the

machine as an alien power, as the power of the machine itself. The appropriation of living labour by

objectified labour -- of the power or activity which creates value by value existing for-itself -- which

lies in the concept of capital, is posited, in production resting on machinery, as the character of the

production process itself, including its material elements and its material motion. The production

process has ceased to be a labour process in the sense of a process dominated by labour as its governing

unity. Labour appears, rather, merely as a conscious organ, scattered among the individual living

workers at numerous points of the mechanical system; subsumed under the total process of the

machinery itself, as itself only a link of the system, whose unity exists not in the living workers, but

rather in the living (active) machinery, which confronts his individual, insignificant doings as a mighty

organism. In machinery, objectified labour confronts living labour within the labour process itself as

the power which rules it; a power which, as the appropriation of living labour, is the form of capital.

The transformation of the means of labour into machinery, and of living labour into a mere living

accessory of this machinery, as the means of its action, also posits the absorption of the labour process

in its material character as a mere moment of the realization process of capital. The increase of the

productive force of labour and the greatest possible negation of necessary labour is the necessary

tendency of capital, as we have seen. The transformation of the means of labour into machinery is the

realization of this tendency. In machinery, objectified labour materially confronts living labour as a

ruling power and as an active subsumption of the latter under itself, not only by appropriating it,


but in the real production process itself; the relation of capital as value which appropriates value- creating activity is, in fixed capital existing as machinery, posited at the same time as the relation of the

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use value of capital to the use value of labour capacity; further, the value objectified in machinery

appears as a presupposition against which the value-creating power of the individual labour capacity is

an infinitesimal, vanishing magnitude; the production in enormous mass quantities which is posited

with machinery destroys every connection of the product with the direct need of the producer, and

hence with direct use value; it is already posited in the form of the product's production and in the

relations in which it is produced that it is produced only as a conveyor of value, and its use value only

as condition to that end. In machinery, objectified labour itself appears not only in the form of product

or of the product employed as means of labour, but in the form of the force of production itself. The

development of the means of labour into machinery is not an accidental moment of capital, but is rather

the historical reshaping of the traditional, inherited means of labour into a form adequate to capital. The

accumulation of knowledge and of skill, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus

absorbed into capital, as opposed to labour, and hence appears as an attribute of capital, and more

specifically of fixed capital, in so far as it enters into the production process as a means of production

proper. Machinery appears, then, as the most adequate form of fixed capital, and fixed capital, in so far

as capital's relations with itself are concerned, appears as the most adequate form of capital as such. In

another respect, however, in so far as fixed capital is condemned to an existence within the confines of

a specific use value, it does not correspond to the concept of capital, which, as value, is indifferent to

every specific form of use value, and can adopt or shed any of them as equivalent incarnations. In this

respect, as regards capital's external relations, it is circulating capital which appears as the adequate

form of capital, and not fixed capital.

Further, in so far as machinery develops with the accumulation of society's science, of productive force

generally, general social labour presents itself not in labour but in capital. The productive force of

society is measured in fixed capital, exists there in its objective form; and, inversely, the productive

force of capital grows with this general progress, which capital appropriates free


of charge. This is not the place to go into the development of machinery in detail; rather only in its

general aspect; in so far as the means of labour, as a physical thing, loses its direct form, becomes fixed

capital, and confronts the worker physically as capital. In machinery, knowledge appears as alien,

external to him; and living labour [as] subsumed under self-activating objectified labour. The worker

appears as superfluous to the extent that his action is not determined by [capital's] requirements.

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End of February, March. End of May -- Beginning of June 1858

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The Chapter on Capital (continuation)

The full development of capital, therefore, takes place -- or capital has posited the mode of production

corresponding to it -- only when the means of labour has not only taken the economic form of fixed

capital, but has also been suspended in its immediate form, and when fixed capital appears as a

machine within the production process, opposite labour; and the entire production process appears as

not subsumed under the direct skillfulness of the worker, but rather as the technological application of

science. [It is,] hence, the tendency of capital to give production a scientific character; direct labour [is]

reduced to a mere moment of this process. As with the transformation of value into capital, so does it

appear in the further development of capital, that it presupposes a certain given historical development

of the productive forces on one side -- science too [is] among these productive forces -- and, on the

other, drives and forces them further onwards.

Thus the quantitative extent and the effectiveness (intensity) to which capital is developed as fixed

capital indicate the general degree to which capital is developed as capital, as power over living labour,