Re: by way of a common reading

From: Oudeyis (
Date: Mon Jan 12 2004 - 15:37:25 PST

Re: by way of a common readingPaul,
 A very interesting paper. These are my immediate reactions.
I'd like to divide my responses into three groups:
1. About those parts of the paper that address the issues discussed earlier in the CHAT discussion on false consciousness.
2. About issues that address the nature and development of the contradictions between the forces of production and the mode of production in current Capitalism.
3. Some general theoretical considerations of Marxist theory.

1. About those parts of the paper that address the issues discussed earlier in the CHAT discussion on false consciousness.

     We pretty much agree that in the last 100 years of development of productive labour in Capitalism, most or at least a sizeable proportion of productive labour has been progressively socialized mostly as a consequence of the effect of development of new forces of production on the relations between labour and capital. I also agree that new forms of labour management are among the agencies facilitating increased socialization of labour, e.g. Taylorism, the Toyota -Deming model, and so on.
     We also agree that there has been a general "upgrading" of the work force -at least within the orbit of developed capitalism. A very significant feature of this process that you alluded to but did not develop is that of the exportation of much deskilling labor to the third world and the importation of cheap labor from the third world into the metropolis. One thing about living in Israel is that you can't avoid seeing the "unmentionable end" of modern capitalism and globalization!
     An issue closely related to this last observation that you touched on briefly and ambiguously, is the polarization of the proletariat, to a limited degree within the developed world and to an immense degree between the proletariat of the metropolis and that of the hinterlands. At one point you state that
"And where scholars have been able to use independent measures of skill such as the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, none has found evidence of aggregate deskilling nor meaningful polarization: a modest upgrading trend is the almost universal conclusion (see the comprehensive review of U.S. studies by Spenner, 1988; for more recent U.K. data, see Falstead et al., forthcoming. By "meaningful polarization," I refer to the possibility discussed by Braverman (1974: 425) that a sizeable proportion of the work force experience deskilling while another large segment experience upgrading"pg. 6
yet your subsequent comment:
"Much of the upgrading literature has often simply ignored the scandalously large mass of low-skilled workers that still anchors the bottom of the occupational skill distribution. Many write about the long-term trends they claim to discern as if this mass were about to disappear overnight. Some recent champions of the "knowledge society," for example, write as if we will all shortly be "symbolic analysts," while, in reality, low-skilled, routine jobs continue to proliferate (R. Reich, 1991; US Bureau of Census Statistical Abstract, 2000: 419)."

If you've been following the discussions on "false consciousness" than you may recall that I postulate that one of the diversification of the proletariat is a prominent feature of the management schemes such as Taylorism , Fordism and the newer schemes and is one of their more attractive features to the generic capitalist. Let me make it clear that while it is surely the forces of production that provide the main impetus to both the socialization and increased division of labor that characterises significant sectors of modern industrial production, the social practices associated with the particular character of these new organizational relations to production (as they are imposed by capitalism and its servants) serves to divide and conquer a possibly restive proletariat. Certainly, the recent history of proletariat organization for political expression and action (throughout most of the developed world) have indicated just how well the diversification of labor has served for the preservation of the capitalist idea.

2.About issues that address the nature and development of the contradictions between the forces of production and the mode of production in current Capitalism.

     Your discussion here was particularly detailed and interesting. So much so that I went through the net searching for others of your articles on the subject. It certainly updates the descriptions of the relations between developing forces of production and the emerging Capitalist mode of production that make Capital interesting!

     Your discussion is mostly concerned with the organizational characteristics of modern industry, and only tangentially refers to the laws that are the most decisive measures for preservation of the rights of private property and of the capitalist mode of production. Modern laws of ownership, e.g. the issues concerning private rights to intellectual property, of civil rights, e.g. restrictions on the projection of power of proletarian organizations, and (perhaps most significant of all) of contract all have undergone considerable changes in response to the growing control of labor over productive processes. One of the more interesting documents of what you call "Lean Production" and what Andy calls "Toyotaism" is W. E. Deming's 1986 Out of the Crisis. Among its many interesting anecdotes and wise counsels is a very critical chapter on the nature of the contract and the role of law in TQM (his term for what you call QA, though he appears to extend the term to the general principle of Lean Production). Anyway, Deming regards the only kind of contract valid for "Lean Production" industrial organization is the personal contract (that was almost exclusively used for higher management during the '50s and '60s). This is the contract between labor and capital that is least sympathetic to labor. It virtually insures the proletarian's absolute dependence on the decisions of management for almost everything under the sun; work hours, wages, and work conditions. But for Deming, this is not enough. In the chapter on contracts between labour and capital he presents us with a long diatribe on the damage that law inflicts on business enterprise. Deming's intimate contacts with Japanese industry partly explain his disdain for law. Modern Japanese culture sublates older traditions of Japanese Feudalism which was founded primarily on emotional ties of personal loyalty rather than on contracts of vassalage as in Europe, see for example Barrington Moore 1966 Social Origins of Dicatorship and Democracy,pp. 253- 4, and this kind of relation apparently is still very important in relations between worker and owner in Japanese business enterprise. The Euro-american metropolis has hardly reduced the role of law in the operation of business enterprise, but the practice of hiring on personal contracts is growing every where and promises to be an exemplary means for preserving the interests of capital in this era of socialized production.

     Though the Japanese certainly carry the emotional-social basis for solidarity far beyond what we are used to here in the West (including the Near East of course) modern capitalism has in fact mobilized these elements along with those discussed in "Rethinking LPT" I'm somewhat surprised that your discussion of socialization of labor did not include considerations of the work of the Human Relations School (1925-1955) which worked to improve on Taylorism by focusing on uncertainties generated by the workgroup and the workers' social needs. Elton Mayo Fritz Roethlisberger and William J. Dickson attempted to reduce variations in output and performan ce by manipulating the social organization (Roethlisberger and Dickson 1939). Since then the developments of Industrial Psychology as well as the less professional but no less effective institution of morale-building practices into the proletarian round in Toyotism-Lean Production-TQM-etc. organized industry has expanded the role of emotional-social solidarity for the socialization of the productive process. It seems to me that managed emotional-social solidarity , though younger and less well-developed than socializing labor management, it's importance in the preservation of both fluid work relations and in the reduction of conflict between labor and capital is and will encourage its increased importance for production management. (two comments)

2.About issues that address the nature and development of the contradictions between the forces of production and the mode of production in current Capitalism.

 First comment: While the revival of Orthodox Marxism (regarding the 60's as the Late Marxist Paleozoic is an exaggeration even in the hyped-up 21st century) is a welcome change from what seemed to me to be an era of the muddiest Marxist thinking, often bordering on Objective Idealism and even Subjective Idealism. On the other hand, a revived Orthodox Marxism should not be an imitation of that real social dinosaur that "learned nothing and forgot nothing" or, worse, " learned nothing and forgotten everything" (Allen Woods April 2003"The Lessons of France A warning to the workers of Europe" writing about the behavior of the French parties of the Left in the last elections). Orthodox Marxism was seriously - and ultimately fatally - compromised by confusion between Marx's materialism and one or another version of positivist materialism. This confusion was not only the product of those were responsible for the formation of Orthodox Marxism, but also of those who criticised it. Take for example this section from your paper; many labor process theorists - along with other social constructionists - have been adamantly opposed to "technological determinism." To attribute a causal role to technology would be, they argue, to naturalize the socially constructed, historically specific, capitalist relations of production." (pg. 3). First, the term "technological determinism" actually refers to the "forces of production" which are, properly, the instruments of production - there's the technology- and the subjects of production which are whatever is processed by the instruments through the agency of human labor, and the human labor that operates the instruments that processes the subjects of production, which are certainly not tools by any definition. Second, the idea that the "forces of production" are nature or natural is in the context of Marxist theory a most sublime absurdity; after all the whole of his theory is to show how distinctive is human perception, consciousness and action from natural conditions. The origin of this criticism is, of couse, anothe sublime absurdity, the identification of "forces of production" with the positive stuff of nature made by Orthodox Marxist theoreticians. The designation by Marx of "the forces of production" as objective phenomena means in fact that they are products of perception, association, conceptualization and objectification all conditioned by the social-historical contexts of the hour. (Sorry the hour is late so no references)

Second comment: What is Marx's theory of "Production in general"? The closest Marx comes to a general theory of production is in Capital Part III The Production of Absolute Surplus Value Chapter VII The labour-Process and the Process of Producing Surplus-Value Section 1- The Labour-Process or the Production of Use Values pp. 197-206. "The elementary factors of the labour-process are 1, the personal activity of man, i. e. work itself, 2, the subject of that work, and 3, its instruments.(pg.198). In another place Marx writes; In so far then, as its instruments and subjects are themselves products, labour consumes products in order to create products"(pg. 204), and, finally; the labour process resolved as above into its simple elementary factors, is human action with a view to the productions of use-values, appropriation of natural substances to human requirements; it is the effecting exchange of matter between man and Nature; it is the everlasting nature-imposed condition of human existence, and therefore is independent of every social phase of that existence."(pg. 205)

     This is not the proposed schema; worker>tool>object>community, back to> worker, but Marx's system ( a real system) of notions; labor (human activity)>tool>subjects of production> product and then >labor. In other words the intentional use of a product for a purpose transforms it into a tool whose use on another product in order to turn it into a product makes it the subject of production and finally, the combination of labor, tool and subject of production makes products that are the condition for subsequent labour. The intentionality of the sequence is a function of the conditions of production, but these need not be specified for descibing a general theory of production. Note too that Marx's theory of production in general is itself a subsystem of the theory of emergence and change of political economies; namely that part of the system that is called "the forces of production."

Enough for now.




  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Paul Adler
  Sent: Sunday, January 11, 2004 8:12 PM
  Subject: Re: by way of a common reading

  Mike proposed that I post my draft paper for discussion, and I am delighted to. I've gotten interested in activity theory over the past few years, prompted mainly by my reading of work by Mike and Yjro, and have been a lurker on xmca for some time. So I'd be very interested in any comments my paper provokes.

  Mike asked for some background. My field of research is work organization and how it is evolving. I've worked on the impact of computerization on banking work, on manufacturing, on engineering design. I've worked on Toyota-style "lean production". More recently I've been studying software development and hospitals.

  My academic training was in sociology and economics (and all too little of it in psychology), with a strong predilection (intellectual and political) for Marx. For the last 10 years or so, I've been on the faculty in a business school. Given my predilections, this is admittedly a strange choice of vantage point, but (a) it is not so strange given the kind of marxist ideas that appeal most strongly to me (discussed in the paper), and (b) to "atone for my sins," I've helped form a radical caucus within the Academy of Management (critical management studies )

  Since marxism is so marginal a point of reference for most of my institutional colleagues, much of my prior work has focused on points of intersection between marxist ideas and those of more mainstream sociology and "organizational theory," and has left the specifically marxist components in the background (one might say, in the closet). More recently, I have come around to thinking that rehabilitating Marx as a source of inspiration for social scientists is a worthy goal, and so I have written a couple of pieces that push in that direction.

  Activity theory (Engestrom-style) has given me one platform for doing that, and I have a paper that uses activity theory in a fairly explicitly marxist variant to analyze recent changes in the organization of software development work.

  The paper I've posted starts from a different platform, that of "labor process theory." LPT, whose founding text is Harry Braverman's Labor and Monopoly Capital, was immensely popular among progressive sociologists interested in work and industry in the late 1970s and 80s. LPT was the common intellectual matrix for an annual conference series based in the UK (now in its 24th year! LPT also had numerous advocates in US radical and industrial sociology. LPT's fortunes waned somewhat in the 1990s, under attack from several quarters, most notably post-modernists.

  LPT took inspiration from Marx, esp Marx's discussions of work organization in Capital vol. 1. In the posted paper, I take issue with the reading of Marx that underpins most LPT -- I call that reading "neo-Marxism" and contrast it with a reading I call (tongue in cheek) "paleo" to signal that (a) it was a commonly received understanding of Marx up till WW1, and (b) I think it corresponds better to the "original" spirit of what Marx "really meant."

  The paper use a stripped-down version of Engestrom's "triangles" model of the structure of activity systems to chart the progressive "socialization" of the forces of production under capitalism (which I take to include workers' cognitive capabilities). Basically, the paper attempts to rehabilitate the notion of "socialization" as Marx uses it -- I think it's a terrifically fruitful way to understand the evolution of work.

  This draft does not do a good enough job defining exactly what I mean by socialization. And it assumes the reader is familiar with G.A. Cohen's reading of Marx's theory of history. I'll be interested to see what other flaws you find! And I hope you can find something of interest in it nevertheless.


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