Discipline & Punish, on and off the Shop Floor (Re: ...Trying to clarify Foucault)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Wed Feb 17 08:43:38 PST 1999

Angela & Rob:

I'm forwarding Michael Perelman's work that Lou posted on his list. I hope my forwarding doesn't bug Michael, Doug, & Lou. (BTW, is there any chance of seeing Doug & Lou together again? Does that happen on only PEN-L? Very naughty of them to get down & dirty only out of my sight. Must discipline them off-list.)

Anyway, Michael's description of primitive accumulation goes a long way to clarify where Foucault's work may be useful: analysis of labor discipline.

not yet subbed to PEN-L,



The Enduring Importance of Primitive Accumulation

"Common fields and pastures kept alive a vigorous co-operative spirit in the community; enclosures starved it. In champion [sic] country people had to work together amicably, to agree upon crop rotations, stints of common pasture, the upkeep and improvement of their grazings and meadows, the clearing of the ditches, the fencing of the fields. They toiled side by side in the fields, and they walked together from field to village, from farm to heath, morning, afternoon and evening. They all depended on common resources for their fuel, for bedding, and fodder for their stock, and by pooling so many of the necessities of livelihood they were disciplined from early youth to submit to the rules and customs of the community. After enclosure, when every man could fence his own piece of territory and warn his neighbours off, the discipline of sharing things fairly with one's neighbours was relaxed, and every household became an island unto itself. This was the great revolution in men's lives, greater than all the economic changes following enclosure. Yet few people living in this world bequeathed to us by the enclosing and improving farmer are capable of gauging the full significance of a way of life that is now lost."

Joan Thirsk, 1967, p. 255

========== Compulsion and the Creation of a Working Class

Primitive accumulation is the brutal process of separating people from the means of providing for themselves. From the point of view of those who wanted to profit from the increased efforts of the common people, workers had to be dispossessed of their means of production. Otherwise, those who could produce for their own needs would never submit to wage labor -- at least at the prevailing wage levels. Although primitive accumulation caused enormous hardships for the common people, it provided a basis for capitalist development.

The enclosing of the commons was the most well-known technique of primitive accumulation. Wealthy members of the gentry would claim as private property, land, which groups of people had previously shared. Joan Thirsk, one of the most knowledgeable historians of early British agriculture, described the nature of some of the social and personal transformations associated with the enclosures in the long citation at the top of this chapter.

Some people denounced this expropriation. Marx echoed this sentiment, charging, "The expropriation of the direct producers was accomplished by means of the most merciless barbarianism, and under the stimulus of the most infamous, the most sordid, the most petty and the most odious of passions" (Marx 1977, p. 928).

Still, this dispossession was legal in a sense. After all, the peasants did not have property rights in the narrow sense. They only had traditional rights. As markets evolved, first land-hungry gentry and later the bourgeoisie used the state to create the legal structure, which could abrogate these traditional rights (Tigar 1977).

Simple dispossession from the commons was a necessary, but not always sufficient condition to harness the common people to the labor market. Even after the enclosures, laborers retained privileges in "the shrubs, woods, undergrowth, stone quarries and gravel pits, thereby obtaining fuel for cooking and wood for animal life, crab apples and cob nuts from the hedgerows, brambles, tansy and other wild herbs from any other little patch of waste .... Almost every living thing in the parish however insignificant could be turned to some good use by the frugal peasant-labourer or his wife." (Everitt 1967, p. 405).

To the extent that the traditional economy might be able to remain intact despite the loss of the commons, a supply of labor satisfactory to capital would not be forthcoming and the level of real wages would be higher, thereby impeding the process of accumulation. Not surprisingly, one by one, these traditional rights disappeared. In the eyes of the bourgeoisie, "property became absolute property: all the tolerated' rights' that the peasantry had acquired or preserved ... were now rejected" (Foucault 1979, p. 85).

In addition, a host of oftentimes harsh measures designed to undermine whatever resistance people maintained against the demands of wage labor accompanied the dispossession of the peasants rights, even before capitalism had become a significant economic force. For example, beginning with the Tudors, England enacted a series of stern measures designed to prevent peasants from drifting into vagrancy or falling back on degrading welfare systems. According to a statute of 1572, beggars over the age of 14 were to be severely flogged and branded with a red-hot iron on the left ear unless someone was willing to take them into service for two years. Repeat offenders over 18 were to be executed unless someone would take them into service. Third offenses automatically resulted in execution (Marx 1977, pp. 896ff; 1974, p. 736; Mantoux 1961, p. 432). Similar statutes appeared almost simultaneously during the early sixteenth century in England, the Low Countries, and Zurich (LeRoy Ladurie 1974, p. 137). Eventually, the majority of workers, lacking any alternative, had little choice but to work for wages at something close to the subsistence level.

Primitive accumulation consisted of two parts that we might compare to the two blades of a scissors. The first blade served to undermine the ability of people to provide for themselves. The other blade was a system of stern measures required to keep people from finding alternative survival strategies, outside of the system of waged labor.

In the wake of primitive accumulation, the wage relationship became a seemingly voluntary affair. Workers needed employment and employers wanted workers. In reality, the underlying process was far from voluntary. In Foucault's words:

"Historically, the process by which the bourgeoisie became the politically dominant class in the course of the 18th Century was masked by the establishment of an explicitly coded and formally egalitarian juridical framework, made possible by the organization of a parliamentary, representative regime. But the development and generalization of disciplinary mechanisms constituted the other, dark side of these processes ... supported by these tiny, everyday, physical mechanisms, by all those systems of micro-power that are essentially non-egalitarian." [Foucault 1979, p. 222]

Indeed, the history of the recruitment of labor is an uninterrupted story of coercion either through the brute force of poverty or through more direct regulation, which made a continuation of the old ways impossible (Moore 1951). A purported need for discipline justified the harsh measures that the poor endured. Indeed, writers of every persuasion shared an obsessional concern with the creation of a disciplined labor force (Furniss 1965; Appleby 1978). Supporters of such measures typically defended their position in terms of need to civilize the workers or to stamp out sloth and indolence.

Capital required these harsh measures to conquer the household economy in order to be able to extract a greater mass of surplus value. In fact, almost everyone close to the process of primitive accumulation, friend or foe of labor, agreed with Charles Hall's verdict, that, "if they were not poor, they would not submit to employments" (Hall 1805, p. 144) -- at least so long as their remuneration were held low enough to create substantial profits."

Employers were quick to perceive the relationship between poverty and the chance to earn handsome profits. Ambrose Crowley, for example, set up his works in the north rather than in the midlands, for there "the cuntry is verry poore and populous soe workmen must of necessity increase" (cited in Pollard 1965, p. 197).

This process was cumulative. An increase in poverty begat more population, which, in turn, stimulated further population. In this regard, Marx noted that the level of wages in agricultural districts of England varied according to the particular conditions under which the peasantry had emerged from serfdom (Marx 1865, p. 72). The more impoverished the serfs, the lower their descendants' wages would be.

========== Classical Political Economy and the War on Sloth

The classical political economists joined in the chorus of those opposing sloth and indolence on the part of the poor. Although they applauded the leisure activities of the rich, they denounced all behavior that did not yield the maximum work effort as sloth.

Consider the case of Francis Hutcheson -- "the never to be forgotten Dr. Hutcheson" as his student, Adam Smith, later described him (letter from Smith to Dr. Archibald Davidson, 16 November 1787; reprinted in Mossner and Ross 1977, p. 309) -- the same Francis Hutcheson, whose "A Short Introduction to Moral Philosophy in Three Books' (1742) seems to have served as a model for the economic sections of Smith's Glasgow lectures (see Scott 1965, pp. 235, 240). A later work, his "System of Moral Philosophy', exemplifies Dr. Hutcheson's contributions to that noble field of moral philosophy. After a few brief notes on the need to raise prices, Hutcheson mused:

"If a people have not acquired an habit of industry, the cheapness of all the necessaries of life encourages sloth. The best remedy is to raise the demand for all necessaries .... Sloth should be punished by temporary servitude at least". [Hutcheson 1755; 2: pp. 318-19; emphasis added]

These three sentences were all contained in the same paragraph. The menacing 'at least' in this citation suggests that the never-to-be-forgotten professor might have had even sterner medicine in mind than mere temporary servitude. What else might the good doctor recommend to earnest students of moral philosophy in the event that temporary servitude would prove inadequate in shunting people off to the work place?

This attitude, of course, is not unique to classical political economy. Indeed, we might ask, was there ever a nation in which the rich found the poor to be sufficiently industrious? The universal howl of 'sloth and indolence' could be heard as far away as nineteenth century Japan (see Smith 1966, p. 120). However, no country seems to have gone as far as England in its war on sloth. Writers of the time charged a want of discipline was responsible for criminality, as well as disease (Ignatieff 1978, pp. 61ff). By the late eighteenth century, even hospitals came to be regarded as a proper medium to instill discipline (see Ignatieff 1978, p. 61).

Almost poetically, Thomas Mun railed against the "the general leprosy of our piping, potting, feasting, fashions, and misspending of our time in idleness and pleasure" (Mun 1664, p. 193). Josiah Tucker employed a military metaphor of war to make a similar point:

"In a word, the only possible Means of preventing a Rival Nation from running away with your Trade, is to prevent your own People from being more idle and vicious than they are .... So the only War, which can be attended with Success in that Respect, is a War against Vice and Idleness; a War, whose Forces must consist of -- not Fleets and Armies -- but such judicious Taxes and Wise regulations, as will turn the Passion of private self-Love into the Channel of Public Good." [Tucker 1776a, pp. 44-5]

========== Primitive Accumulation and the Eradication of Holidays

Although their standard of living may not have been particularly lavish, the people of precapitalistic northern Europe, like most traditional people, enjoyed a great deal of free time (see Perelman 1977, chap. 18; and Ashton 1972, p. 204; see also Vernon Smith 1992, and Wisman 1989). The common people maintained innumerable religious holidays that punctuated the tempo of work. Joan Thirsk estimates that about one-third of the working days, including Sundays, were spent in leisure (cited in Thomas 1964, p. 63; see also Wilensky 1961). A much more extravagant estimate was produced by Kautsky, who estimated that 204 annual holidays were celebrated in medieval Lower Bavaria (Kautsky 1899, p. 107).

Despite their numerous holidays, the peasants still managed to produce a significant surplus. In English feudal society, for example, the gentry was powerful enough to extract on the order of 50 percent of the peasants' produce (see Postan 1966, p. 603). As markets evolved, the claims on the peasants' labors increased. For example, in southern France, for example, rents appear to have grown from about one-fourth of the yield in 1540 to one-half by 1665 (LeRoy Ladurie 1974, p. 117).

Although people increasingly had to curtail their leisure in order to meet the growing demands of non-producers, many observers still complained about the excessive celebration of holidays. Protestant clergy were especially vocal in this regard (Hill 1967, pp. 145-218; see also Marx 1977, p. 387).

We must not interpret the suppression of religious festivals as an indication that representatives of capital took working-class devotion lightly. In some rural districts of nineteenth-century England, working in one's garden on the Sabbath was a punishable offense. Some workers were even imprisoned for this crime (Marx 1977, pp. 375-76n). Piety, however, also had its limits. The same worker might be charged with breach of contract should he prefer to attend church on the Sabbath rather than report for work when called to do so (Marx 1977, pp. 375-76n).

In France, Voltaire called for the shifting of holidays to the following Sunday. Since Sunday would have been a day of rest in any case, employers could enjoy forty additional working days. This proposal caused the naive Abbe Baudeau to wonder about the wisdom of intensifying work when the countryside was already burdened with an excess population (Weulersse 1959, p. 28).

Of course, these changes in the religious practices of Europe were not induced by a shortage of people, but by their unwillingness to conform to the needs of capital. For example, the leaders of the French Revolution, who prided themselves on their rationality, decreed a ten day week with only a single day off.

Classical political economy enthusiastically joined in the condemnation of the celebration of so many holidays (see Cantillon 1755, p. 95; Senior 1831, p. 9). This suppression of religious holidays was a small part of the larger process of primitive accumulation.

========== Classical Political Economy and the Ideal Working Day

As society left its traditional moorings behind and entered into a life of capitalism, the bourgeoisie sought every possible opportunity to engage people in productive work that would produce a profit for those who employed wage labor. Accordingly, classical political economists advocated actions to shape society according to the logic of accumulation in order to strengthen the dependency on wage labor.

In the utopia of early classical political economy, the poor would work every waking hour. One writer suggested that the footmen of the gentry could rise early to employ their idle hours making fishing nets along with "disbanded soldiers, poor prisoners, widows and orphans, all poor tradesmen, artificers, and labourers, their wives, children, and servants" (Puckle 1700; 2: p. 380; cited in Appleby 1976, p. 501).

Others called for new institutional arrangements to maintain a steadily increasing flow of wage labor. Fletcher of Saltoun recommended perpetual slavery as the appropriate fate of those who would fail to respond to less harsh measures to integrate them into the labor force (see Marx 1977, p. 882). Hutcheson, as we have seen, followed suit. Always the idealist, Bishop Berkeley preferred that such slavery be limited to "a certain term of years" (Berkeley 1740, p. 456).

Joseph Townsend proposed that in the evenings when farm workers return from threshing or from ploughing, "they might card, they might spin, or they might knit" (Townsend 1786, p. 442). William Temple argued for the addition of four-year-old children to the labor force (Temple 1770, p. 266; Furniss 1965, pp. 114-15). Not to be outdone, John Locke, often seen as a philosopher of liberty, called for the commencement of work at the ripe age of three (Cranston 1957, p. 425).

No source of labor was to be overlooked. For example, in a movement that Foucault has termed "the great confinement," institutions were founded to take charge indiscriminately of the sick, the criminal, and the poor (Foucault 1965, pp. 38-65). The purpose was not to better the conditions of the inmates, but rather to force them to contribute more to the national wealth (For a selection of citations that reflect more charitably on the early political economists, see Wiles 1968).

Occasionally, writers of the time found signs of progress. By 1723, Daniel Defoe was delighted to discover that so much progress had taken place in Norwich that "the very children after four or five years of age, could every one earn their own bread (Defoe 1724-26, p. 86; see also p. 493).

Classical political economy was dissatisfied that such edifying scenes of hard labor were not common enough. To his credit, Jean-Baptiste Say, generally a strong proponent of capitalist development, penned one of the few protests of the state of affairs in Britain in a letter to Robert Malthus:

"I shall not attempt to point out the parts of this picture which apply to your country, Sir .... But if social life [a term which Say used almost like the social division of labor] were a galley, in which after rowing with all their strength for sixteen hours out of the twenty-four, they might indeed be excused for disliking social life .... I maintain no other doctrine when I say that the utility of productions is no longer worth the productive services, at the rate at which we are compelled to pay for them." [Say 1821, pp. 50-51; see also Ricardo 1951-73; 8: p. 184]

Sadly, no other classical political economist was willing to side with Say in this regard.

========== Bentham and Laissez-Faire Authoritarianism

Classical political economy frequently couched its recommendations in a rhetoric of individual liberty, but its conception of liberty was far from all-encompassing. Liberty for capital depended on the hard work of the common people.

Lionel Robbins, a strong proponent of market society, also alluded to this authoritarian side of laissez faire, noting, "the necessity of a framework of law and an apparatus of enforcement is an essential part of the concept of a free society" (Robbins 1981, p. 8). Earlier, he wrote, "If there be any 'invisible hand' in a non-collectivist order, it operates only in a framework of deliberately contrived law and order" (Robbins 1939, p. 6; see also Samuels 1966).

Within this contrived law and order, workers found their rights to organize unions and even to act politically severely restricted. As Michael Tigar has explained, the entire judicial edifice was erected with an eye toward making ownership of capital more profitable (Tigar 1977).

Max Weber once noted that rational accounting methods are "associated with the social phenomena of 'shop discipline' and appropriation of the means of production, and that means: with the existence of a 'system of domination' [Herrschaftverhaeltniss]" (Weber 1968, p. 108; also Perelman 1991, Ch. 3). Similarly, the rational accounting system of political economy required a 'system of domination', but on a grander scale.

In this sense, Jeremy Bentham, rather than Adam Smith, may be seen as the archetypal representative of classical political economy. Indeed, Bentham's dogmatic advocacy of laissez faire far exceeded that of Adam Smith. For example, after Smith made the case for a government role in controlling interest rates, Bentham caustically rebuked him with the words, "To prevent our doing mischief to one another, it is but too necessary to put bridles into our mouths ..." (Bentham 1787b, p. 133).

Although Bentham theoretically championed laissez faire in the name of freedom, he was intent on subordinating all aspects of life to the interest of accumulation. Bentham limited his passionate concern with laissez faire to those who conformed to the norms of a capitalist society; a jarring confrontation with state power was to be the lot of the rest. According to Bentham, "Property -- not the institution of property, but the constitution of property -- has become an end in itself" (Bentham 1952; i, p. 117).

Bentham was clear about the need for this 'constitution of property'. He realized that, although control over labor is a major source of wealth, labor stubbornly resists the will of the capitalist. In Bentham's inimitable language:

"[H]uman beings are the most powerful instruments of production, and therefore everyone becomes anxious to employ the services of his fellows in multiplying his own comforts. Hence the intense and universal thirst for power; the equally prevalent hatred of subjection. Each man therefore meets with an obstinate resistance to his own will, and this naturally engenders antipathy toward beings who thus baffle and contravene his wishes." [Bentham 1822, p. 430]

Bentham never acknowledged a contradiction between his advocacy of laissez faire and his proposals for managing labor. For him:

"Between wealth and power, the connexion is most close and intimate: so intimate, indeed, that the disentanglement of them, even in the imagination, is a matter of no small difficulty. They are each of them respectively an instrument of the production of other." [Bentham 1962, p. 48; cited in Macpherson 1987, pp. 88-89]

Bentham understood that the struggles to subdue the poor would spill over into every aspect of life. He hoped to turn these struggles into profit for himself and, to a lesser extent, others of his class. Given labor's natural resistance to creating wealth for others, unfree labor held an obvious attraction for Bentham. He designed detailed plans for his fabled Panopticon, a prison engineered for the maximum control of the inmates in order to profit from their labor.

A 1798 companion piece to his design for the Panopticon, "Pauper Management Improved', proposed a National Charity Company, organized on the model of the East India Company. It was to be a privately owned, joint stock company, partially subsidized by the government. It was to have absolute authority over the "whole body of the burdensome poor" starting with 250 industry houses accommodating one-half million people, expanding to 500 houses with one million people (Bentham n.d, p. 369; cited Himmelfarb 1985, p. 78).

Bentham planned to profit handsomely from these inmates, especially those born in the houses who would have to work as apprentices within the company. He rhapsodized, "So many industry-houses, so many crucibles, in which dross of this kind [the poor] is converted into sterling." A strict regimen, unremitting supervision and discipline, economies of diet, dress, and lodging would make profits possible. Jeremy Bentham, vigorous advocate of freedom of commerce that he was, dreamed of the profits that would accrue from the use of inmate labor:

"What hold can another manufacturer have upon his workmen, equal to what my manufacturer would have upon his? What other master is there that can reduce his workmen, if idle, to a situation next to starving, without suffering them to go elsewhere? What other master is there whose men can never get drunk unless he chooses that they should do so. And who, so far from being able to raise their wages by combination, are obliged to take whatever pittance he thinks it most his interest to allow?" [Bentham 1797, p. 56; see also Ignatieff 1978, p. 110; and Foucault 1979]

Bentham was intent on subordinating every facet of human existence to the profit motive. According to classical political economy, all social conditions and all social institutions were to be judged merely according to their effect on the production of wealth. Bentham recommended that children be put to work at four instead of fourteen, bragging that they would thereby be spared the loss of those "ten precious years in which nothing is done! Nothing for industry! Nothing for improvement, moral or intellectual!" (cited in Himmelfarb 1985, p. 81).

Bentham even wanted to promote the "gentlest of all revolutions," the sexual revolution. In this regard, Bentham was not the least concerned with furthering the bounds of human freedom, but with ensuring that the inmates would have as many offspring as possible (Ibid., p. 83). Bentham was even planning to call himself "Sub-Regulus of the Poor." Unfortunately, because of lack of government support, his plans came to naught. In his memoirs, he complained, "But for George the Third, all the prisoners in England would, years ago, have been made under my management" (Bentham 1830-1, p. 96).

Alas, Bentham never succeeded in his personal goals. Perhaps, he was too greedy. Perhaps, his methods were too crude. Instead, as we shall see that capitalism found more subtle methods for harnessing labor. As a result, today we remember Bentham as a valiant defender of the ideals of laissez-faire .

========== Victory

Classical political economy was generally more coy about its intentions than Bentham. Despite its antipathy to indolence and sloth, it generally covered itself with a flurry of rhetoric about natural liberties. On closer examination, we find that the notion of the system of natural liberties was considerably more flexible than it appeared. Let us turn once again to Francis Hutcheson, who taught Adam Smith about the virtue of natural liberty. In a work that served as a model to Smith's own lectures, Hutcheson wrote:

"It is the one great design of civil laws to strengthen by political sanctions the several laws of nature .... The populace needs to be taught, and "engaged by laws', into the best methods of managing their own affairs and exercising mechanic art." [Hutcheson 1749, p. 273; emphasis added]

In effect, Hutcheson realized that, once primitive accumulation had taken place, the appeal of formal slavery diminished. Extra-market forces of all sorts would become unnecessary since the market itself would ensure that the working class remained in a continual state of deprivation. Patrick Colquhoun, a London police magistrate, noted:

"Poverty is that state and condition in society where the individual has no surplus labour in store, or, in other words, no property or means of subsistence but what is derived from the constant exercise of industry in the various occupations of life. Poverty is therefore a most necessary and indispensable ingredient in society, without which nations and communities could not exist in a state of civilization. It is the lot of man. 'It is the source of wealth', since without poverty, there could be no labour; there could be "no riches, no refinement, no comfort', and no benefit to those who may be possessed of wealth." [Colquhoun 1815, p. 110]

In Marx's words, "we find on the market a set of buyers, possessed of land, machinery, raw materials, and the means of subsistence, all of them, save land, the products of labour, and on the other hand, a set of sellers who have nothing to sell except their labouring power, their working arms and brains" (Marx 1865, pp. 55-56). Consequently, later political economists argued as if the market, alone, were sufficient to guarantee that the accumulation process could advance without the aid of extra-market forces.

Workers generally understood the strategic importance of these measures to foster primitive accumulation. Thomas Spence, a courageous working-class advocate, proclaimed, for example, that "[It] is childish ... to expect ... to see anything else than the utmost screwing and grinding of the poor, till you quite overturn the present system of landed property" (cited in Thompson 1963, p. 805).

The system, however, was not overturned. Instead, it became stronger. The workers were forced to surrender more and more of their traditional periods of leisure (see Hill 1967; and Reid 1976, pp. 76-101). The working day was lengthened (Hammond and Hammond 1919, pp. 5-7). The working class, in the person of Thomas Spence, cried out:

"Instead of working only six days a week we are obliged to work at the rate of eight or nine and yet can hardly subsist ... and still the cry is work -- work -- ye are idle .... We, God help us, have fallen under the hardest set of masters that have ever existed." [cited in Kemp-Ashraf 1966, p. 277; see also Tawney 1926, especially p. 223]

This statement was eloquent enough to earn its author a sentence of three years' imprisonment after its publication in 1803. This incident is typical of the fate of those who challenged the capitalist order. Whenever the working class and its friends effectively protested against capitalism, the "silent compulsion' of capital (Marx 1977, p. 899) gave way to compulsory silence.

Spence's silencing was not completely effective. Although some merely wrote him off as a "radical crank" (Knox 1977, p. 73), more recent studies have demonstrated that Spence deserves a more respectful reception (Kemp-Ashraf 1966). Indeed, Spence's biographer asserts that Owenism and the subsequent heritage of British socialism follows a direct line of descent from Spence's critique of capitalism (Rudkin 1966, pp. 191ff). Journalists of the day agreed with this evaluation (see Halevy 1961, p. 44fn). Unfortunately, the Spences of the world were unable to reverse or even impede the process of primitive accumulation.

No society went so far as the British in terms of primitive accumulation. This aspect of capitalist development is all but forgotten today. Instead, separated by two centuries, modern economists, such as Milton Friedman, gloss over the dark side of capitalism, ignoring the requisite subordination, while celebrating the freedom to dispose of one's property (Friedman 1962). These modern economists, as we shall see, are very much mistaken in their interpretation of the evolution of the so-called free market.

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