Marx spends a ridiculous time on cloth, but it’s actually a good point. Nothing shows the parasitic nature of Capital better than the clothes on our backs and the back-breaking labor that got them there. We think we’re wearing the clothes, but that ain’t right. The clothes are wearing us—and the planet—out.
As Rollie Williams discusses in his video Fast Fashion Is Hot Garbage, the world in the 1800s was awash in cheap cotton because human beings were bought and sold to pick it. All of that stolen labor manifested as profits for enslaving bastards and cheap inputs for wave-slavers in places like England. Which is a subject Marx goes on about.
Marx said “It was in fact the cheapness of the human sweat and the human blood which were converted into commodities, which permitted the constant extension of the market” and he was talking about white people in that passage, not even enslaved Africans. Marx talked about “The cheapening of labour-power, by sheer abuse of the labour of women and children, by sheer robbery of every normal condition needed for working and living, and by the sheer brutality of overwork and night-work” and there were really horrific stories.
Marx speaks of children of 5 or 6 working in terrible conditions to make lace, and he says “their work is like slavery.”
Then there is the rank exploitation of women working sewing machines, those supposed labor-saving devices, which were just ways to extract more labor. He said, “the fearful increase in death from starvation during the last ten years in London runs parallel with the extension of machine sewing.”
Again, Marx is talking about white people here. Black people were completely exploited, being beaten, tortured, raped, and having their children sold, but even white people in the heart of White Empire (at the time) did not have it good. Capitalism has always been the worst to colored people, but it’s not good to anyone besides the capitalist, and even they’re usually personally miserable.
The result of all this in the cloth and clothing industry that Marx goes on about was relatively cheap and widely available clothes. As Rollie Williams (see above) said, “[people] were spending more time working in factories and had less time to make their own clothes, so a spike in demand for ready-made clothes was met with an abundant supply of cotton from America, because of slavery.”
But you can see the circular logic here, which is really a death spiral. People had less time to make their own clothes because they were working in these godforsaken factories, and sacrificing their women and children to them. What does it profit a man to gain the world and lose his own soul? Well, you do get nice clothes.
Fast forward today and we have spread this accursed model all over the world, such that the new center of White Empire—America—has gone from making 50% of its clothes in the 1990s to less than 2% now. The factory model has pooled like blood wherever wages are the lowest.
The whole world is bound in supply chains now, and they make it possible for Rollie to wear a $30 suit which probably costs more to dry clean. Clothes in America now get worn an average of just 7 times before being thrown. This is of course a climate disaster because that cotton and thread and yarn has probably traveled around the world three times already, and travels around more to end up in a landfill.
This is all hot garbage as far as human beings are concerned, so you have to ask what’s going on. My continuing point is that Capitalism is best analyzed as the evolution of an artificial species. While people just buy clothes and toss them, Capital as a species of artificial life keeps evolving. Its machinery gets better and it keeps sucking more and more life-force out of human beings, like a venomous symbiote.
Which is why I say that the clothes are wearing us. People laugh at Marx for spending so much time on linen and cotton and cloth, but it’s actually a very apt point.
Like Spiderman when he wore the black symbiote suit, the clothing which started as a convenience for us has now begun crushing us. The waste of capitalist life in general is choking the living Earth and killing most species, including us. It’s a riches to rags story and, biologically speaking, we’re the ones getting worn out.