Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 4, 2017

Machines

Filed under: Counterpunch,Film,india — louisproyect @ 5:32 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, August 4, 2017

CounterPunch readers who follow my film reviews probably are aware that I avoid superlatives. That being the case, when I tell you that “Machines”, a documentary that opens on Wednesday August 9th at the Film Forum in New York, is the most powerful Marxist treatment of labor exploitation that I have seen in 25 years of reviewing film, you’d better believe me.

This is the first film ever made by Rahul Jain, a 25-year old Delhi-born director who originally considered titling the film “Machines Don’t Go On Strike”. Filmed almost entirely in a vast dungeon of a textile mill in Gujarat, it is hard not to see the workers as being an extension of the machines they operate. Marx described such factory life in Chapter 10 of V. 1 of Capital, titled “The Working Day”:

It usurps the time for growth, development, and healthy maintenance of the body. It steals the time required for the consumption of fresh air and sunlight. It higgles over a meal-time, incorporating it where possible with the process of production itself, so that food is given to the labourer as to a mere means of production, as coal is supplied to the boiler, grease and oil to the machinery.

This is exactly what you see in “Machines”, a process in which workers are slaves to the machine. It is what Charlie Chaplin depicted comically in “Modern Times” and Fritz Lang depicted more darkly in “Metropolis”. As long as capitalism exists, this is the fate of the working class. In the USA, many workers wax nostalgic for the $20-40 jobs that prevailed in the 60s but for the Gujarat textile workers, the hope is for an 8-hour day and a wage that enables them to send a bit home to their family, some living thousands of miles away. Most of them appear to be ex-farmers who have been crushed by debt and drought. In the decades before Marx was born, it was the Enclosure Acts that accomplished the same results. Peasants were robbed of their means of self-subsistence and forced into the textile mills of Birmingham and Manchester that William Blake referred to as dark and satanic.

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