_Capital Volume 1_: "The limitless and flexible nature of his needs."

Marx, Karl. Capital Volume One: A Critique of Political Economy. Penguin Classics, 1992.


Here are a few quotations from Marx's Capital (Volume One) which might provide a starting point for someone who thinks about disability. I haven't tried to organise these references beyond separating those that discuss the anxieties of the capitalist from those that discuss the situation of the worker.


I am sure these contain transcription errors, missing italics, etc.


Content warning: Marx uses disability idiom and metaphor, and some of that is reproduced here.


Re: the situation of the worker


(458) “it is firstly clear that a worker who performs the same simple operation for the whole of his life converts his body into the automatic, one-sided implement of that operation."


(460) “As against this, however, constant labour of one uniform kind disturbs the intensity and flow of a man’s vital forces, which find recreation and delight in the change of the activity itself.”


(470) “If it develops a one-sided speciality to perfection, at the expense of the whole man’s working capacity, it also begins to make a speciality of the absence of all development.”


(481) “While simple co-operation leaves the mode of the individual’s labour for the most part unchanged, manufacture thoroughly revolutionizes it, and seizes labour-power by its roots. It converts the worker into a crippled monstrosity by furthering his particular skill as in a forcing-house, through the suppressing of a whole world of productive drives and inclinations.”


(482) “Unfitted by nature to make anything independently, the manufacturing worker develops his productive activity only as an appendage of that workshop.”


(484) “Some crippling of body and mind is inseparable even from the division of labour in society as a whole. However, since manufacture carries this social separation of branches of labour much further, and also, by its peculiar division, attacks the individual at the very roots of his life, it is the first system to provide the materials and the impetus for industrial pathology.”


(497) “man is a very imperfect instrument for producing uniform and continuous motion.”


(520) Marx discusses “The work of certifying surgeons, who adjusted the children’s ages in a manner appropriate to the capitalist’s greed for exploitation and the parents’ need to engage in this traffic.”


(523) “intellectual degeneration artificially produced by transforming immature human beings into [word missing from my transcription] for the production of surplus value (and there is a very clear distinction between this and the state of natural ignorance in which the mind lies fallow without losing its capacity for development, its natural fertility.”


(526) “In the first place, in machinery the motion and the activity of the instrument of labour asserts its independence vis-a-vis the worker. The instrument of labour now becomes an industrial form of perpetual motion. It would go on producing forever, if it did not come up against certain natural limits in the shape of the weak bodies and the strong wills of its human assistants.”


(527) “the lengthening of the working day, on the other hand, permits an expansion of the scale of production without any change in the amount of capital invested in machinery and buildings.”


(547) “Machinery is misused in order to transform the worker, from his very childhood, into a part of a specialised machine.


(548) “Factory work exhausts the nervous system to the uttermost; at the same time, it does away with the many-sided play of the muscles, and confiscates every atom of freedom, both in bodily and intellectual activity. Even the lightening of the labour becomes an instrument of torture, since the machine does not free the worker from the work, but rather deprives the work itself of all content.”


(552) “Every sense organ is injured by the artificially high temperatures, by the dust-laden atmosphere, by the deafening noise, not to mention the danger to life and limb among the machines which are so closely crowded together, a danger which, with the regularity of the seasons, produces its list of those killed and wounded in the industrial battle.”


(591) “women and excessively young children are subjected quite unscrupulously to the influence of poisonous substances.”


(591) “poverty robs the worker of the conditions most essential to his labour, of space, light, and ventilation.”


(794) “The relative surplus population exists in all kinds of forms. Every worker belongs to it during the time when he’s only partially employed or wholly unemployed.”


(797) “(...) the demoralized, the ragged, and those unable to work, chiefly people who succumb to their incapacity for adaption, an incapacity which results from the division of labour; people who have lived beyond the worker’s average life-span; and the victims of industry, whose number increases with the growth of dangerous machinery, of mines, chemical works, etc, the mutilated, the sickly, widows, etc.”


(799) “All methods for raising the social productivity of labour are put into effect at the cost of the individual worker (...) they distort the worker into a fragment of a man, they degrade him into the level of an appendage of a machine, they destroy the actual content of his labour by turning it into a torment; they alienate [entfrender] from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour process in the same proportion as science is incorporated in it as an independent power;”


(841) “The overcrowding which so favours the extension of contagious disease also favours the origination of disease which is not contagious.”


(982) (the capitalist) “has purchased living labour. This belongs to him just as effectively as do the objective conditions of the labour process. Nevertheless, a specific difference becomes apparent here: real labour is what the worker really gives to the capitalist in exchange for the purchase price of labour, that part of capital that is translated into the wage. It is the expenditure of his life’s energy, the realization of his productive faculties; (...)”


(987) “If the labour time of the worker is to create value in proportion to its duration, it must be socially necessary labour-time. That is to say, the worker must perform the normal social quantity of useful labour in a given time. The capitalist therefore compels him to work at the normal social average rate of intensity. He will strive as hard as possible to raise his output above this minimum and to extract as much work from him as possible in a given time.”


(989) “a specific social relationship in which the owners of the conditions of production treat living labour power as a thing.”


(1050) “All this conflicts with, for example, the antiquated view typical of earlier modes of production according to which the city authorities would, for instance, prohibit interventions so as not to deprive workers of their livelihood. In such a society the worker was an end in himself and appropriate employment was his privilege, a right which the entire order was concerned to maintain.”


(1061) “It entails the new creation of wage-labourers, of the means to realise and increase the available amount of capital (...) on closer inspection it becomes evident that capital itself regulates this production of the mass of men it intends to exploit in accordance with its own needs.”


(1067) “As has been shown, the exchange value of labour-power is paid for when the price paid is that of the means of subsistence that is customarily held to be essential in a given state of society to enable the worker to exert his labour-power with the necessary degree of strength, health, vitality, etc, and to perpetuate himself by producing replacements for himself.”


(1068) “Man is distinguished from all other animals by the limitless and flexible nature of his needs. But it is equally true that no animal is able to restrict his needs to the same unbelievable degree and to reduce the conditions of his life to the absolute minimum. In a word, there is no animal with the same talent for ‘Irishing’ himself.”


(1071) “The form of piece work is used for example in the English potteries to engage young apprentices (in their thirteenth year) at a low rate so that they overwork themselves ‘for the great benefit of their masters’ in the very period of their own development.”


(1079) “ ‘Property (...) is essential to preserve the common unskilled worker from falling into the condition of a piece of machinery, bought at the minimum market price at which it can be produced, that is at which it labourers can be got to exist and propagate their species, to which he is invariably reduced sooner or later, when the interests of capital and labour are quite distinct, and are left to adjust themselves under the sole operation of the law of supply and demand.’ “ (Samuel Laing, National Distress, London, 1844, p. 46).


See also: Marx's repeated discussion of the demand for the worker to be versatile in the appendix.


Re: the capitalist:


(741) “Thus although the expenditure of the capitalist never possesses the bona-fide character of the dashing feudal lord’s prodigality, but, on the contrary, is always restrained by the sordid avarice and anxious calculation lurking in the background” (...)


(739) He is fanatically intent on the valorization of value; consequently he ruthlessly forces the human race to produce for production’s sake (...) what appears in the miser as a mania of the individual is in the capitalist the effect of a social mechanism in which he is merely a cog.”


(986) “He must also see to it that the work is performed in an orderly and methodical fashion and that the use-value he has in mind actually emerges successfully at the end of the process. At this point to the capitalist’s ability to supervise and enforce discipline is vital.”


(989) “The capitalist functions only as personified capital, capital as a person, just as the worker is no more than labour personified. That labour is for him just effort and torment (...)”


See also: Rae Armantrout's Wobble, page 111:


“My survival instincts are a normal

form of momentum.


I don’t feel bad

about crushing others

to achieve my goals”


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