Re: real and virtual worlds

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Fri Jan 02 2004 - 22:37:54 PST

Good Morning 2004!
I've inserted my response within your message in red:

WARNING! Not all the following has been as well-thought through as I would like, but it does present many of my questions and doubts concerning the future of Marxist thought and practice. Some of the writing is based on an ongoing Marxist analysis of democratic - and not so democratic - socialist economy based on economic records of a single kibbutz and general information on the kibbutz movement as a whole, other parts are based on more or less extensive readings on theory and current events, and still other parts are purely inspirational - such as that little bit on Enron and Dot Com at the tail end of 1.1. In short, nothing written here is in anything like a final form, rather it is more a call for discussion on questions which we'd better address if Marxism is to be anything but a old discarded utopian model that "didn't work."
Still, I suppose I did throw down the gauntlet, albeit somewhat prematurely, so..
En guard!
  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Andy Blunden
  Sent: Thursday, January 01, 2004 8:14 AM
  Subject: Re: real and virtual worlds

  Well, Victor has thrown down a bit of a gauntlet, hasn't he?

  I'm happy to let "false consciousness" go through to the 'keeper (as we cricket fans say), but I feel obliged to defend the legitimacy of the concept of "class consciousness."

  Firstly, "class consciousness" has an important double-meaning: (1) an individual's identification with a social class, and (2) the self-consciousness of a social class. These two are obviously inter-related and inseparable historically.

  I think there's more to it than that, particularly since WW 2. The successive waves of Trade Unionism, of Workers' Internationals and Peoples' Democratic Republics and the Capitalist responses to these: Taylorism, Fordism and Toyotaism (such as Deming's TQM management system) on the one hand and doctrinaire anti-communism, the adoption of the Pareto-Nash equilibrium principle as the foundation for relations between labor and capital, and the tremendous expansion of commodification both geographically and socially (Globalization) on the other has wreaked some interesting changes on both class consciousness and on the nature of class struggle.

  Several initial points:
  0.1. Revolutionary changes in Class relations are a permanent feature of all societies in which Class relations are an integral feature of the dominant mode of production. These revolutionary changes are usually incremental and often pass without remark by representatives of the Classes involved. The more dramatic events of these revolutions usually occur either when a classes situation is so desperate that there is no significant difference between suffering in silence or being punished for active rebellion - in which case the ruling class usually wins the contest (i.e. Wat Tyler rebellion against Richard II, the recurrent rebellions of the Flemish industrial towns in the last few centuries of Medieval Feudalism, and the Peasant revolts of Renaissance and Post-Renaissance Germany)- or when a class has become so powerful that it and its leadership judges that they can overthrow the last legal formations that frustrate their total control of production - in which case the revolutionary class is very likely to win (i.e. the English Civil War, the French Revolution and the American Civil War).

  0.2. It takes two classes to make revolution. Revolutionary changes in class relations are invariably the result of collaboration of ruling and ruled classes. This collaboration is usually unfriendly, but virtually all changes in class relations - even where domestic violence is involved - are the product of compromises between revolutionary and ruling classes. Obviously, the balance of benefits of these compromises reflect the balance of political-economic strengths between the collaborating classes.

  0.3. As classes evolve they diversify and tend to develop various and sundry sub-units whose unity is reduced to the point of the abstract relations to production shared between them. The late medieval bourgeoisie of Europe had already diversified into a high Bourgeoisie of international bankers , guild masters, and ship owners; a middle bourgeoisie of local entrepreneurs, bankers, and independent craftsmen; and a lower bourgeoisie of shopkeepers, peddlars, and apprentices. All these subdivisions of the bourgeoisie were in active competition with the landed, military feudal aristocracy and their struggles are the dominant features of European history from the 16th to the 18th century. In most cases the revolutionary campaigns of these different sectors of the bourgeoisie reflected their special interests and strengths or lack of strength and more often than not involved only the interested sectors of the bourgeoisie. Concerted revolutionary action by the bourgeoisie as a whole was limited and fleeting. The ruling Feudal aristocracy of late and post-medieval Europe was even more fragmented than was the bourgeoisie. Some, realizing the growing strength of the rising bourgeoisie, joined the ranks of the middle-classes; others, such as the Kings of 16 and 17 c France and several Princes of Germany made alliances with the High bourgeoisie against their fellow landed aristocrats, while others just dropped out and went home to vegetate in their family manses.

   Secondly, we come to this question not just as members of "postmodernity" but very specifically after a protracted period since World War Two when class-consciousness (in both meanings) has been eclipsed by the "struggle for recognition".

  Now, let's take the three assertions? made above and see how they relate to modern conditions.
  1.1. First let's consider the current state and most probable future developments of the class struggle for proletarian class interests: Andy, the second chapter of your paper, (2003) For Ethical Politics, was one of the best very recent analyses of the dialogics between labor and capital I've seen in a very long time. It mapped out very precisely the changing relations between labor and capital from the end of the 19th century up to the the very end of the 20th c. Among the most interesting features of the evolution of industrial and "post-industrial" capitalism is the progressive diversification of the proletariat and the complementary decline of the control of the capitalist over ever larger sectors of production, relations to production and to some degree the mode of production. Reviewing my Father's books and papers I've come across some powerful evidences of the kinds of changes that characterize relations between labor and capital throughout the 20th century. First, I found a trade Union version of Wilson's treatise on scientific management, Gomberg, William (1948) A Trade Union Analysis of Time Study, which was designed to aid Union management engineers, mostly drawn from local council members and stewards, in accompanying company engineers and foremen, also drawn largely from skilled factory laborers, in evaluation of the labor of their fellow workers. The second document (documents) I found was the complete edition of 3 years of a weekly newssheet that he wrote and printed for the workers of the local which he represented on the union council. This was particularly interesting since it included considerable information about how deeply Fordism had penetrated even so large a factory complex as G. E. Schenectady of the late 40's and 50's. For example, both the General Manager and the Personnel manager of the factory were both skilled machinists who had started their careers on the factory floor and all prospective company professionals - even those who intended to go to college to learn engineering and business management - were required to take the machinist apprentice course (which my Father managed, taught, and, amazingly, even inspired to carry out an industrial action). These developments show that even in the early 50's the proletariat was no longer that homogeneous, easily interchangeable mass that characterized the labor force of early industrialism and that while capital was giving up some of its prerogatives for managing production, the proletariat was becoming ever more diversified into sectors quite estranged from one another in interests and practices. A. Toffler (1984 The Third Wave) and P Drucker (1999, Beyond the Information Revolution, The Atlantic Monthly 99.10; Volume 284, No. 4; page 47-57.) have certainly idealized the Information revolution and have not persuaded me that the "World belongs to the highly trained worker-intellectual," but the fact remains that industrial and financial complexity have reached a point at which management of private enterprise, like management of national economies, has lost control of many of the higher realms of management such as sales strategy, research and development programs, and large-scale organization of production. Problems of managing complexity have not only made inroads on capitalist control of industry and finance, they have begun to compromise managerial control of enterprise. An examination of Deming's writings on TQM (1986 Out of the Crisis, 2000 The New Economics for Industry, Government, Education) clearly shows the seriousness of the technological crisis that has inspired the development of Toyotaism. The increasing control of labor over the means and modes of production have not produced a workers' paradise, but they have situated the highest and at least some of the middle range echelons of the proletariat in positions that do threaten capitalist control of capitalist enterprise. At least one a

  1.2. Now let's examine the probable effects of current state and most probable future developments of the proletariat on working class consciousness: As I wrote above, the growing control of the labor force over the means for production of capitalist enterprise has been accompanied by diversification of relations to production within the proletariat and a corresponding increase of control over capitalist political economy by the middle and higher echelons of the proletariat. Naturally, the diversification discussed above has produced considerable division in the class-consciousness of the proletariat as a whole. From the data I have on G.E. Schenectady it appears that this process was already well-developed by the mid to late 1940's. This material indicates that the phenomenon of differentiation of proletarian consciousness was not only, as to be expected, a feature of factory organization, but was a growing characteristic of Trade Union organization as well. By this time union organization, both on the local and supralocal levels has undergone considerable division of labor and has acquired a well-developed chain of command. Labor organization professionals, the leadership and cadres, have a different and often very different view of the relations between labor and capital than does the rank and file. The labor professionals, armed with administrative and political economic theory, with access to and interest in the same kinds of political and economic information that interest their counterparts in management, and often without recent immediate experience with life on the factory floor regarded relations between the union and industry far more abstractly than did the rank and file. The apperception of industrial relations by the rank and file was far more concrete, more immediate and often more concerned than that of the leadership and cadres. It was, in fact, his awareness of these differences between leadership and general membership that motivated my Father to produce the Local newssheet. It also is, Gene, at the root of my differences with Pete Feruggio's interpretation of false consciousness. Actually Gramsci, (1933 The Modern Prince,) does a much better job than I ever could of analyzing the state of division of labor and of consciousness of the labor organizations of the mid 20th century. By the mid to late 60's diversification of class-consciousness (reflecting different relations to production of the membership) between unions in Union federations and between locals of individual trade unions was a wide-spread feature of labor organization in general. One of the most salient features of this decline in unified working-class consciousness was a growing indifference of the more powerful unions in the fate of unions representing weaker sectors of the proletariat. In the strong campaigns against union organizations of the mid to late 80's in the US and the current effort to break up labor organization in Israel truly powerful labor organizations such as the transport unions in the US and the electricians, port workers, and water-works unions in Israel can and do go-it-alone without any concern for the fates of the weaker unions that often virtually evaporated under the heavy blows of govt. supported attacks on labor. Naturally, the high proletariat, usually organized into professional organizations rather than unions, are more often in opposition rather than just indifferent to unions and industrial actions; after all, many industrial actions are immediately addressed to them as the planners, undertakers and supervisors of capitalist enterprise. Clearly, the grounds for general proletarian unity has become very, very abstract to say the least. About the only thing they could unite around is opposition to the legal rights of the owners to determine the practices and policies of their business enterprise - especially as these relate to the particular interests of at least the more powerful secto

  1.3. Changing states of the proletariat and corresponding changes in the objects of proletarian class struggle: The changing states of proletarian unity and of the relations of at least the middle and higher sectors of the working class to the means of production has and will have considerable influence on the way these elements will concretize the objectives of their struggle for class dominance. The proletariat of the 19th century was as Marx describes it in the Grundrisse (1939, Introduction pp.104 -105 ) and Capital (1906, Part 1. pp.41-54, Part 2. pp. 185-196 ) a homogeneous labor force whose work capacity was so undifferentiated that its contributions could be measured as abstract labor, i.e. purely in terms of labor hours. By the mid 30's and 40's engineers and economists who tried applying Taylor's (1911 The Principles of Scientific Management) time-motion study tool for measures of labor value realized that abstract labor was a sorely inadequate tool. Training, experience, talent, and general intelligence among other things all had important parts to play in the evaluation of labor. The relegation of time-motion study to an auxilliary tool for modern methods of job evaluation is indicative of just how heterogeneous is the current work-force. The socialist resolution of class conflict between labor and capital was theoretically and practically based upon the homogeneity of industrial labor. Where the only distinction between one job and the next is a measure of the intensity and duration of physical labor, then, outside of work-time, any just differentiation of income should be based on the diversity of needs between laborers. It also means that all jobs needed to maintain a viable society can be done by anyone. These two assumptions lie at the root of the theory and practice of egalitarian, democratic, socialist enterprise. The dilution and decline of socialist society is basically the history of the evolution of the consciousness of members of socialist communities towards the realization that their adherence to the principle of the homogeneity of industrial labor and its measurement as abstract labor endangered their survival as a community and even their capacity to physically survive industrial civilization. For example, among the practices that most compromised the survival of smaller democratic socialist communities was a the egalitarian distribution of income and the felt obligation to meet a considerable proportion of the individual needs of individual members. Operating together these two practices generally drove personal incomes to levels that seriously effected the capacity of communal industry for supporting community income. In general the community, coerced by market conditions, had to sell at a loss and fill in the deficit by taking out loans. In short, there are absolutely no signs that proletarian society will be a homogeneous one or that it will be any less competitive than its capitalist predecessor, so the likelihood of a dominant working class adopting socialist economic formations and of evolution of viable socialist organizations within a proletarian dominated economy is extremely small. While the high proletariat's access to great wealth and influence gives it considerable power for change this is counterbalanced by its relatively small size and its strong vested interests in current conditions. The working classes that are most likely to make the most extensive revolutionary changes in future political-economies of the developed and developing world are the middle ranges of the proletariat -the skilled technicians, researchers, and specialist operators and supervisors of productive systems. They are a much larger group than the high proletariat and the relative insecurity of their social position and their importance for the operation and development of current and future industrial society makes them the most influential and potentially disruptive force i

  I remain of the view that while the conditions which led to the eclipse of class consciousness after the second world war have not been dissipated, the forms of social consciousness which supplanted them (social movements, identity politics) have run their course. Consequently, I cannot but see a future in which class consciousness makes a comeback in some form, changed by the long period of identity and representation politics.

  2.1. Conclusions: Unified working-class consciousness is a thing of the past. It may crop up when the whole class is mobilized for some major effort at realizing the most abstract interests of the class, but the very abstract nature of these objectives and the great differences of objectives of the diverse elements comprising the proletariat guarantee that they will be of short duration. Also, given the high diversity of the proletariat it is certain that the socialist mode of production no longer will serve as the objective of proletarian revolutionaries; high, middle or low. Also, I would not be surprised to see the survival of the commodity and even of a vestigial form of private ownership and investment well into the aftermath of the proletarian revolution. These formulations strongly suggest that the proletarian revolution will not be the terminus of class struggle and social revolution.

  Even as we write there is evolving a new class; a class of consumers without any real ties to productive processes. What happens when the demand for labor in all sectors, declines to the point that a significant proportion of the population is comprised of chronically unemployed? Barbara Tuchman (1987 Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th century ) asserts that late medieval European society normally suffered high levels of unemployment. Institutionally, this enforced idleness was mitigated by the invention of many holidays, fairs, and so on. Less institutionally favored features of medieval unemployment were lots of uprisings, strange sectaries and periodic crusades (which the Church did its level best to transform into fairly harmless pilgrimages). It appears that the population of purchasing unemployed are important for economic well-being so it is likely that we will see some sort of social welfare instituted to give them the wherewithal to buy and to reduce the disruptive result of desperate crime and rebellion arising out of extreme poverty. Could a consumer class become a ruling class? An interesting issue for which not even the questions have been formulated.

  Do you really mean it Victor?

  Mean it? - yes; believe it? - I'm searching, not preaching.


  At 02:21 AM 1/01/2004 +0200, you wrote:

    Class-consciousness and false consciousness is, as I've written earlier, a non-issue that sells Newspapers and makes spurious reputations for moral crusaders of both left and right.

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