No problema - the challenge is appropriate. Good too that you remember your
proletarian roots - they're a good reminder that the intellectual ballets
that we perform here and elsewhere have real consequences to real people.
I'll take this opportunity to elaborate on and correct somewhat that first
paragraph of my last message.
This requires an explanatory preface:
I'm a member of a kibbutz that has, like many kibbutz's, recently (in
the last 10 years) undergone a process of "progressive" privatization.
Throughout the process I was a member of a left-wing caucus within the
kibbutz that first, tried to establish alternative socializing solutions to
the stresses that were pushing the community towards privatization; and
then, later, to stem the development of that "worst" alternative to
democratic socialism, the combination of privatized income with bureaucratic
centralization of control of the management of communal property. We had
some local successes, but we did not succeed in either of our objectives. Of
the members who led that caucus; three marxists (two Americans - one an
ex-party member and myself - and one English Trot) all with second degrees
or more in social and behavioral sciences and considerable experience as
activists, the ex-party member retired and now primarily concerns himself
with personal and family affairs, the English Trot drank himself to death,
and here I am trying to figure out "wha appened ere?"
The decline and fall of what M Buber called "the successful experiment"
is no less traumatic - at least to those of us living through it - than the
recent and more or less parallel fall of the PDR's (Peoples Democratic
Republics). Insofar as the Israeli socialist communities were the world's
longest lived and most powerful democratic socialist organizations, their
decline and fall may also be as significant as the recent collapse of the
PDR's. Unfortunately Israel has very few Marxist theoreticians with a good
grasp of marxist economics, and this is especially true of the kibbutz
movement. For example, D. Rosolio, a kibbutz movement leader of some
stature and a foremost economic specialist on the kibbutz movement uses a
grand array of economic and social theorists to build his models; Kornai,
Cardoso, Hudges, Giddens, Gerth, all very bourgeois intellectual
academicians. The main Israeli institution for research on Kibbutz is the
Institute for Research on the Kibbutz and the Cooperative Idea at the U.
Haifa and it has to the best of my knowledge only one marxist - and what P A
calls a neo-marxist at that - on the staff. It appears to me that a serious
marxist review of the recent history of the democratic socialist communes in
Israel - like that of the ex-PDR's - is important to the future development
of marxist science of society, and that it is unlikely to come from
experienced researchers and kibbutz members here in Israel.
All research into social life reflects the objective conditions of the
researcher; the breadth of his experience, the value judgments he makes in
making and selecting relationships, and so on. The recent history of the
kibbutz movement and its constituent communities as well as political
economic conditions here in Israel are clearly different from what was and
is going on elsewhere, and while a good analysis of their history demands a
thorough acquaintance with these local conditions, their utility as examples
of more general historical material processes must be tested against
experiences of others who may share a similar ideology (in the broad sense)
yet have encountered different objective conditions. It is in recognition
of the inevitable localism of my own experiences that I publicized some of
my preliminary thoughts on the value of labour, the state of the
proletariat, and the future of socialism. Some of the responses were most
interesting, all have been important in developing a critique of my own
thinking on these matters. Now, a short (I hope!) account of the
self-critique of my preliminary thoughts to date:
The decline and fall of kibbutz communitarianism has more than a few
motors; decline in fiscal discipline, the formation of informal but very
influential centers of authority, the diversification of the membership and
of consciousness, and so on. The main issue of our discussions was the
problem of false consciousness, so most of the problems I mentioned in
previous messages had to do with the current and future development of
proletarian consciousness; its homogeneity, its social solidarity, and its
objectives. A review of successive investigations of kibbutz society from
the '50s to the '80s ( 1983, Studies of Israeli Society Vol. II, The
Sociology of the Kibbutz, Ernest Krausz ed. is a collection of articles on
Kibbutz society and economy that record the evolution of kibbutz society as
well as the changing ideologies of the researchers over time) show that
throughout the history of the kibbutz there is a continuous and steady
process of differentiation between members mostly based upon differential
access to socially significant knowledge. This is particularly evidenced by
the development of a managerial and professional elite that replaced the
ideological elites of the founding period as the dominant decision makers of
public policy. Unlike the ideological leadership whose dominance was based
on their capacity to evoke public consensus for the policies they proposed,
the managerial and professional elites dominance was based on their special
knowledge (considerably enhanced by professional argot and their contacts
with other like professionals on the regional and national level)
unavailable and often as not incomprehensible to the rank and file. These
professional leaders eventually became the authors and important agents for
privatization of the community. A powerful motivation for this appears to
have been their awareness of the higher salaries and perks commanded by
their confreres outside the kibbutz system. While the declining sense of
solidarity with the community is strongest with the managerial elites, this
sense could also be detected for other kibbutz professionals, teachers,
accountants, and other technicians. This differentiation of proletariat
consciousness that contributed to the collapse of kibbutz communalism, has
been given an especially potent expression outside the kibbutz by the high
popularity of the newly-formed "Party for Change" a political party
comprising and mostly supported by a wide spectrum of professionals and
semi-professionals ranging from university professors to programmers. Most
of the membership and supporters of this party are ex-members of the Labor
and Likud parties which whose solidarity was more or less ideological rather
than social. This material is part of the background of the arguments I
provided in earlier messages.
Paul Adler's article on the socialization of labor reminded me of some
of our earliest efforts (1991-92) to deflect the impetus to privatization by
"pushing" modern methods for increased socialization of work used in modern
business enterprise; first, industrial psychological programs developed from
the early work of the Human Relations School (one of our group was an
experienced Industrial psychologist) and, later, the E. Deming version of
Lean Production. These efforts were unequivocally rejected, especially by
the kibbutz's managerial and professional elites and their supporters. It's
a little early to consider all the conditions lying behind this categorical
rejection, but both his and your discussion of the adjustment difficulties
of academically trained professionals for adapting to rational organization
of intellectual activity adopted by some businesses rings a bell. I'm not
the first to point out that among the least rationalized aspects of modern
society is the transfer and treatment of professional knowledge. One
respected British specialist in business organization has argued
convincingly that the actual skills called for from Public Accountants can
be acquired in less than one year and that the four year program for
training CPA's is mostly devoted to imparting the "ancient customs" of
accountancy (I can find the reference if you wish). Closer to my immediate
experience are the effectiveness of military training programs to "make"
effective medical, social work, and research technicians sometimes in a
matter of months. Naturally, these latter cannot receive licenses for
practice outside the military without undergoing a year or more of special
training in certified civilian educational institutions, even after
considerable practical experience in their specialty. The development of
the kinds of production practices researched by Paul suggest that the
special status and higher salaries that currently accrue to university
trained professionals that contribute to the diversification of the
proletariat may well be just a phase in the evolution of the proletariat.
There are some indications that this may be a future development from
outside the work-place. One of these is the rise in academic tuition
throughout the whole metropolis thereby restricting the future size of the
population of academic intellectuals that are likely to play an ever smaller
role in productive processes. Another of these that appears to complement
the restriction of high education to the privileged, the more pliable, and
the specially talented is the apparent expansion of local colleges, short
one and two year courses for technicians and the growth of careers, like
paramedics and professional negotiators, that are expected to replace some
of the functions of the higher and more expensive professionals such as
medical doctors and lawyers.
It may well be that the diversification of the proletariat that has
played an important part in the collapse of the kibbutz is a temporary phase
of capitalist society, and that future developments of rationalization of
intellectual labor and socialization of work may renew the socialist option
as an alternative to capitalism.
What do you think?
----- Original Message -----
From: "Steve Gabosch" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Sent: Tuesday, January 13, 2004 11:40 PM
Subject: Re: real and virtual worlds
> Hi Victor,
> Paul's excellent paper got me a bit fired up, reminding me of my
> proletarian and not just academic roots. Please forgive the somewhat
> sharper tone in my responses below - I just want to get to the core of the
> matter, labor versus capital.
> At 02:10 PM 1/13/04 +0200, you wrote:
> >abstract labor, as in " ... it's becoming ever more difficult to measure
> >labor abstractly ..." and " ... The basic fact [is] that labor can no
> >be measured in abstraction ...".
> > If labour was truly abstract, i.e. measurable solely by minimal
> >conditions for its reproduction (which under conditions of de-skilling
> >mean that all labor has more or less the same reproduction cost) and the
> >socially necessary labor time for producing use value,
> In my opinion, the phrase "if labour was truly abstract" does not reflect
> Marx's concept of abstract labor. Labor cannot be "truly abstract"
> at the same time it must also be concrete. The abstract labor contained
> a product refers to a social relationship that humans have learned and
> agreed to exchange, especially under the capitalist mode of production:
> socially necessary labor time required to make that kind of product. All
> exchangeable products contain abstract labor because humans calculate and
> measure the average labor time required to make them, and use this
> measurement as a basis for determining exchange value. I suggest that
> there is no change whatsoever from Marx's time in the ability of humans to
> measure socially necessary labor time in producing products in our modern
> world, and that Marx's version of the labor theory of value holds up very
> well to scrutiny.
> >then we would expect
> >that wage and salary scales would be a simple matter of determining a
> >minimal subsistence budget and then marketing jobs to the lowest
> >whatever the particular position or positions to be filled.
> This is what we should expect, and what we all see every day. It is the
> historic power of the working classes to organize unions and demand
> governments to enforce decent living standards that makes the difference -
> a struggle for human dignity that is only partially successful in only
> places (for the "high proletariat", what I sometimes call the "upper
> working class," and what others have called the labor aristocracy). As we
> all know all too well a look around the world reveals at least a third or
> more of the world population living in intolerable poverty, on worse than
> minimal subsistence budgets. In my opinion this is capitalism and the law
> of value at work.
> > Those hired
> >would then be paid a flat rate in accordance with the amount of time they
> >take to produce a standardized unit of use value (market value as
> >by that universal commodity we call money).
> The term "standardized unit of use value" is not the market value of a
> commodity. Perhaps you meant to say exchange value.
> > I don't think that it is really
> >necessary to prove that this relation has undergone considerable
> >modifications in the last 100 years!
> In my opinion, it is. Marxists argue that this essential relationship
> between labor and value has not changed.
> > Modern wage and salary scales are
> >considerably biased by considerations that have nothing to do with either
> >subsistence or with the labor time invested to produce standardized units
> >use value;
> It appears that you did mean to say "standardized units of use value"
> above; you've used this phrase again. I don't know what a standardized
> unit of use value is. Speaking roughly, money is the standardized unit of
> exchange value. But I am not familiar with such a concept for use values.
> >the rise of a large, and well-organized population of working
> >professionals, the formation of powerful labor organizations of high
> >workers and technicians, and the complementary avoidance of local class
> >struggle by exporting businesses and industrial operations to the third
> >world (formation of a priveledged working class in the metropolis).
> These are listed as considerations for how wages and salaries are
> determined that have nothing to do with subsistence or labor time, but
> could also be seen as examples where issues of subsistence and labor time
> (including schooling in the case of the highly skilled) are precisely the
> > I do not, by the way, argue that Marx's law of value (the labor
> >of value), while correct in the 19th Century, has become invalid in our
> >modern era is all wrong or that it may not become a more salient feature
> >labour value at some future time. When we examine global political
> >economies Marx's law of value becomes a much more powerful tool for
> >explanation than it is for that of the metropolis.
> Marx's law of value, where it is invalid, needs to be replaced by
> something. What?
> >Outscourcing, imported
> >foreign labor, and exportation of industry into the third world all
> >the attraction of the cheapness of truly abstract labor for capitalist
> Here is that term "truly abstract labor" again, used in a way Marx never
> >Also, as I mentioned earlier some of the effects of
> >socialization of labour described by Paul and illustrated by your last
> >message may serve capital as a means for "democratizing" what were once
> >grade jobs particular to the metropolis and reducing them to the level of
> >abstract labour - not de-skilling but with very similar effect - thereby
> >countering the diversification of the proletariat discussed in the
> >you quote.
> Yes, many of your observations on the democratization of labor are very
> As I see it, the way you use the phrase "reducing [jobs] to the level of
> abstract labor" is another unusual use of this Marxist term.
> > Still, as I wrote to Paul, I'm still not convinced that Lean
> >Production, CMM, AQ and so on have effectively ended the diversification
> >the proletariat into different conflicting sub-classes.
> True, it can't. Lean Production and all these other methods of organizing
> labor will only be used to continue to divide and conquer, exploit and
> profiteer. The essential point Paul makes is that the socialization
> process these methods represent also creates capitalism's gravedigger, a
> socialized proletariat.
> > His writing on this
> >issue is far from decisive. What he has shown is that cookie-cutting
> >sub-professionalism has great potential for combining increased
> >control of productive processes, higher socialization of work, and more
> >democratization of skills to the point of sending the proletarian "middle
> >classes" back to the "black hole" of undifferentiated labor.
> Yes, but also the increased socialization raises workers to new levels of
> skill - social skills, and general technical skills.
> The term "undifferentiated labor" sounds like way you use the term
> "abstract labor." When one is laboring, it is neither abstract nor
> undifferentiated. It is when we measure the socially necessary labor one
> has put into a product that the labor becomes abstract and
> > In this vein
> >check out this article on surveillance at the workplace: "The discipline
> >teams: the control of team-based industrial work through electronic and
> >surveillance".(Special Issue: Critical Perspectives on Organizational
> >Control) Administrative Science Quarterly, June, 1998, by Graham Sewell
> Thank you, I will take a look.
> > In conclusion, if the socialization of labour (including the
> >surveillance issue) envisioned by Adler is in fact the future of all
> >production, then it would seem to me that the proletarian revolution will
> >eventually evolve towards a socialist solution.
> Thank you. On this we agree, although I must add the socialization
> in the working classes also and predominately takes forms such as
> unionization, politicization, social activism, etc., and not just
> participating in lean production projects or improved teaming
> methods. Paul's paper is impressive because it points so well to the
> socialization process under capitalism, an historic process that is
> creating a world working class capable of organizing a much more rational
> and socially just place for all humans to live as we should.
> (Hops down from soap box),
> - Steve
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