Re: re comments on my Rethinking labor process theory

From: N*** (
Date: Sun Jan 25 2004 - 18:44:43 PST


Some of us shut off all html in our email programs, so color will not
come through anyway. I do know on my end it has made following the
messages difficult.

There are others, rumor has it, that use old 20th century unix machines
  where one has to boot up another operating system just to see color.


Steve Gabosch wrote:

> Victor's Jan 24 response to Paul was probably in color and clearly
> distinguished from Paul's words, but the color didn't show up on my
> computer this time around, so I had to insert names in the text to read
> through the dialogue. I am re-sending Victor's post intact, with these
> insertions added, for others that may have had this problem. I also
> removed trailing previous posts.
> Thanks so much to Mike for setting this excellent discussion in motion!
> - Steve
> *******************************************************
> From: "Oudeyis" <>
> To: <>
> References: <p06020410bc32264a7491 who-is-at []>
> Subject: Re: re comments on my Rethinking labor process theory
> Date: Sat, 24 Jan 2004 15:46:57 +0200
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> ****VICTOR:
> Paul,
> Hope these additional comments clarify the earlier replies.
> ****PAUL:
> ** Steve Gabosch (1/12/04): finds contradictory tendencies similar to
> those I outline in his experience at Boeing. He suggests that the
> 'socialization' argument might offer a new perspective for the union
> movement.
> Thanks so much for this, Steve! A story might be relevant. One
> of the experiences that set me on this path in my research dates to my
> time as a researcher in France in the late 1970s. At the time, important
> sectors of the union movement were developing a critique of the
> capitalist division of labor very much along the neo-Marxist lines my
> paper describes. (Braverman was a common reference. Similar arguments
> were heard on the left wing of the union movements in Germany, Italy,
> and the UK.) Since the French unions were rather strong in the service
> sector, we heard a lot from them about how computerization (under
> capitalism) inevitably led to a deskilling of office jobs, just as it
> had led to the deskilling of factory jobs.
> I recall vividly the frustration with this analysis that was
> expressed by union activists I knew in the insurance industry. These
> activists felt that the progressive wing of the union movement was
> totally discrediting itself with this deskilling analysis, since
> everyone who actually worked in the insurance industry had already
> concluded that computerization was having a hugely positive effect on
> most workers' well-being: eliminating a lot of truly mind-numbing
> form-filling-and-filing jobs, and encouraging the emergence of broader,
> "case management" job-designs where a single worker could handle many
> facets of a client's problem rather than passing it along the
> office-world equivalent of an assembly-line for processing by a series
> of ultra-specialized office workers. Yes, there was a risk of some
> relatively low-skilled workers losing their jobs, and even some highly
> skilled positions might be lost or "restructured," but these represented
> but a small number in comparison with the much larger number of workers
> for whom technological change and the associated work reorganization was
> largely positive.
> I was struck then that the unions -- esp. the most progressive
> ones -- were incapable of articulating a "progressive" position that
> simultaneously embraced the positive effects of (capitalist) automation
> on the majority of workers and defended the rights of the minority of
> workers who were "losers" in this automation process (rights to
> retraining and reemployment, for example). If workers are going to
> become the "leading force" in society, and if unions are going to play a
> role in that, then surely unions will need to articulate some such
> "progressive" line. To date, I have found very few unions capable of
> doing that. Perhaps the best of those I've studied are the Australian
> unions in the 1980s. (See Max Ogden's chapter in a collection I edited:
> Technology and the Future of Work, New York: Oxford University Press,
> 1992.)
> ****VICTOR:
> Considering that differential “skilling”(if I may) was one of the
> more divisive of forces working on the proletariat of the century, it
> suggests the not very surprising observation that the Neo-Marxism
> critique of “deskilling” may represent more the consciousness of the
> professional sectors of the “higher proletariat” than it does the
> proletariat as a whole. More recently Unions in the European
> Community, have begun to sit up and take notice of the new developments
> in labour relations that maintain capital’s control of means of
> production under conditions of extensive, large-scale socialization of
> forces of production. Interestingly enough it appears that the
> “shwerpunkt” of their strategy is the “personal contract” that isolates
> the contracting worker from all agencies that might represent his
> interests, Report of a Seminar Organized by UNI 7-8th Oct. 1999,
> “Personal
> Contracts and the Trade Union Role” TUC Online (2 Jul 2002) “Unions win
> ruling in European Court of Human Rights”
> <>
> Details: (2.7.2002) Press release, CHAMBER JUDGMENT IN THE CASE OF
> UNITED KINGDOM issued by the Registrar,
> rather than changes in the forces of production (including “deskilling”
> or rationalization of intellectual work). In my opinion these Unions
> have read well the changing landscape of the forces of production and
> relations of production and are building a firm basis for strategies
> that will make advances on the other issues you raised; the rights of
> the minority of workers who were "losers" in this automation process and
> rights to retraining and reemployment, among others.
> ****PAUL:
> ** Victor (1/12/04) made several points. First, that my account ignores
> the way that capitalist relations of production give a distinctive
> "form" to socialization, one he calls "diversification" (by which I
> understand him to mean fragmentation) -- which serves to "divide and
> rule" the working class.
> There are certainly centrifugal forces at work. But perhaps it's
> useful to distinguish a few types of such forces:
> * Many of these forces operate in what Marxist theory calls the
> ideological and political "superstructure" (the world of Karl Rove...).
> Obvious enough.
> * Under the pressure of capitalist relations of production, workers in
> competing firms find that their employment prospects are conditioned by
> their success in competition against workers in other firms and regions.
> Thus fragmentation rather than unification. Understood.
> * Under the pressure of evolving forces of production, workers in a
> given occupation sometimes find that occupation broken up into more
> specialized components (some higher-skilled and some lower-skilled. But
> here, you see, I think capitalist firms must simultaneously ensure the
> "integration" of this more "differentiated" (i.e. heterogeneous)
> collective worker. Thus "socialization".
> ****VICTOR:
> It appears that the history of the socialization of labour can be more
> or less be divided into stages representing both the changes in the
> forces of production and the relations between labour and capital
> throughout the 20th century. I was and still am rather struck with
> Andy’s discussion of the evolution of management policies throughout the
> century Blunden, A (2003) For Ethical Politic: Part Two: From Political
> Party to Cultural Politics and favour his Taylorism, Fordism, and
> Toyotism schema for representing these stages. Taylorism and Fordism
> certainly worked to diversify the working class and to disestablish
> working-class unity by building large industrial technical and
> administrative hierarchies accompanied by elaborate differentiations of
> status and income. Galloping automation, introduction of qualitatively
> improved instruments for information management and communications and
> the closely related rationalization of the intellectual aspects of all
> labour has rendered these expensive hierarchies (expensive to train –
> college and university educations and so on – and expensive to maintain)
> obsolete and is “making them history.” It is quite likely that
> rationalization of intellectual labour and automation of most manual
> labour will generate a much more homogeneous labouring force than even
> that of the earliest phases of capitalist industry. Such a change would
> be reflected in a much more homogeneous relation between labour and
> capital and would likely be associated with a higher level of
> proletarian class solidarity than was witnessed in the 20th century.
> ****PAUL:
> Second, he points out that I miss the importance of
> "emotional-social solidarity" in contemporary workplaces, esp. evident
> in Japan, Deming's views, the 1930s Human Relations School.
> This is a terrific point. I have another paper that discusses
> what I think you're getting at, and you're surely right that it deserves
> discussion here. The "human relations" school is much maligned (as "cow
> sociology" arguing for giving cows nicer surroundings so they can be
> milked more productively...), but, I agree with you, represents
> something much more ambiguous and more interesting.
> In much neo-Marxist work, this "emotional-social solidarity" is
> presented as if it were merely a matter of securing consent and
> obscuring exploitation -- i.e. "false consciousness" (M. Burawoy is the
> main reference on this idea, almost hegemonic in (neo-) Marxist labor
> sociology.) I think you and I are on the same wavelength (but perhaps
> not!) in seeing this "subjective" aspect of the labor process not as
> reflecting only capitalist relations of production, but also (and
> mainly?) as reflecting the advanced state of the productive forces:
> modern factories need workers’ constructive engagement. First, much
> production is organized in teams, and these teams require of workers
> considerable social skills. This team organization is an organizing
> principle that should be understood as part of the forces of production
> of modern capitalism. Second, modern production relies on highly
> automated machines whose functioning often requires more than merely
> following rules (think of the proactive problem-solving required to use
> a PC!!). Compare these conditions to the much "coarser" requirements of
> factory production a century or so ago.
> ****VICTOR:
> Emotional-social issues are in my view an integral part of all
> conscious activity. Any consideration of values whether conscious or
> unconscious involves emotional issues, and there is no way that one can
> disassociate the issue of values from Historical-Materialist analysis.
> See Leont’ev, (1978) Marxism and Psychological Science, 5. Activity and
> Personality, 5.4. Motives, Emotions, and Personality, “Emotions are not
> subordinated to activity but appear to be its result and the “mechanism”
> of its movement”
> One of the most irritating features of Neo-Marxist theorizing is
> their profound ignorance of the conditions of the proletariat to which
> most apparently have only the most ideational of relations. The worker
> and the organizations that represent him in his relations with capital
> have as much of an interest in the economic survival of his work place
> as do its capitalist owners, and the enhancement of emotional-social
> solidarity involved in the work process reflects both the consciousness
> of labour and of capital of the advanced state of productive forces
> rather than confusion on class issues. Frankly, as you may have noted, I
> have little use in general with the concept of “false consciousness.” In
> general I regard it as an excuse for the failures of incomplete or
> otherwise faulty analyses to realize the objectives of their makers,
> period.
> ****PAUL:
> Third, you express concerns about "orthodox Marxism" and about my
> discussion of "technological determinism"
> Frankly, I had trouble following your argument here Victor: I
> wasn't sure I understood. I wonder if you could clarify your argument.
> Perhaps we should do that off-line so we don't bore the list.
> ****VICTOR:
> I agree. My thoughts here are still “in process” and though
> relevant to the discussion, are not well enough developed for public
> discussion.
> ****PAUL:
> Finally, you had concerns about whether my model (worker, tool,
> organization, object) was indeed one of "production in general" and
> suggested a different reading of Marx ("human activity > tool > subjects
> of production > product and then > labor").
> Here too I confess that I had difficulty following your argument
> -- but I'm most eager to pursue the discussion, since there is probably
> something fishy about my argument if I had to "tweak" Marx's own
> characterization of the labor process so substantially (in particular,
> replacing "purposeful activity, the work itself" with "worker"). I may
> be reading Marx's characterization of the elements of the labor process
> in too static a way. My approach was based on my reading of Engeström’s
> triangle chart. I would love to hear people's thoughts on this.
> ****VICTOR:
> Engeström’s triangle chart ref is derived from Leont’evs writings
> on Marxism and Psychology (1877) Activity and Consciousness, (1978)
> Marxism and Psychological Science, 1. Marxism and Psychological Science,
> 1.2. The Theory of Consciousness, which has its theoretical sources in
> Marx’s materialist adaptation of Hegel’s Philosophy of Consciousness
> Hegel (1830) Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Preliminaries
> and Logic, Marx (1845) The German Ideology and (1866) Capital, and some
> of Lenin’s work such as his critique of Positivist interpretations of
> Marx, Lenin (1908) Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. Naturally as a
> student of Vygotsky, he derives much of the experimental proofs of the
> general theory of consciousness from Vygotsky and his school Vygotsky
> (1932) Thought and Language- esp. chaps. 4 and 5. The General Theory of
> Consciousness (essentially the relation between subject and object as
> mediated by labour, i.e. the negation of subject by labour, and the
> negation of the negation by object) is of critical importance to
> Historical Materialism because as the “General Theory of Consciousness”
> it is the paradigm for Historical Material analysis of all subjects of
> conscious thought. It is for this reason that Lenin (couldn’t locate
> the reference but Andy probably know it) emphasized the importance of a
> sound acquaintance of Hegel’s Philosophy of Consciousness for
> understanding Capital. The role of the “General Theory of
> Consciousness” as the paradigm for research does NOT make it a catchall
> for all theories of human activity. If the subject of consciousness
> under investigation is the labour process (production regarded in
> isolation from relations and modes of production) then the paradigm of
> the “General Theory of Consciousness” is used to develop a separate
> Theory of the Labour-Process Marx (1866) Capital, Part II The Production
> of Absolute Surplus Value, Chapter VII The Labour Process and the
> Process of Producing Surplus Value. Now, it appears to me that the
> subject of your paper is an extension of Marx’s investigations of
> elementary production (Production>Labour>Instruments of
> Production>Subjects of Production> -note I’ve changed it a bit-) rather
> than an elaboration of theories of consciousness
> (Subject>Labour>Object>) hence my proposal. Would it be presumptuous to
> suggest that your tweaking of the Engeström model was an intuitive
> recognition of its limitations as a Theory of Production?
> Marx is very explicit about there not being a “General Theory of
> Production,” Marx (1859) Critique of Political Economy, Appendix I.
> Production, Consumption, Distribution, Exchange (Circulation), 1.
> Production A Theory of Production involves not only considerations of
> the “Forces of Production,” but also of the “Relations” and “Modes of
> Production, Marx (1859) Contributions of a Critique of Political
> Economy, Preface. and these as well as the forces of production are
> situated in singular historical-material conditions. It would be most
> interesting to develop a Theory of Capitalist Production that is based
> on your convincing presentation of the current state or, better, the
> probable future state of the Forces of Production in developed
> capitalist political economies. As I intimated earlier it appears that
> European Unions are well along the way in realizing such an analysis.
> ****PAUL:
> ** A final query: The basic story I try to explore is how the experience
> of socialized production changes the worker's subjective identity. I
> probably need to develop a more cogent story about exactly how this
> causal chain really works. Perhaps folks on this list might have some
> suggestions. So far, I have these elements of a story line:
> ****VICTOR:
> Leont’ev’s paradigm for the relation between action and need, as
> represented in (1978) Marxism and Psychological Science, 5. Activity and
> Personality, 5.4. Motives, Emotions, and Personality – especially the
> section concerning Motives, Emotions, and Personality (Action > Need >
> Action)– is a good starting point for building theories of particular
> subjective identities, even if it is not itself a theory. Like
> “production” and for the same reasons as for “production” there can be
> no general theory of the formation of particular subjective identities.
> To build a theory of particular subjective identities and their
> evolution you must identify the particular subject/s of consciousness
> (relevant actions if you will) that represent the experiences relevant
> to the formation of that identity, determine the needs that are likely
> to be generated by the experiences that “populate” the selected subject
> of consciousness, and then to derive from the relations between
> experience and consequent needs the subsequent activities of those whose
> subjective identities you’re investigating. In your paper the subject
> of consciousness is the productive process, the needs that arise from
> these are labour, instruments of production and subjects of production,
> and the active results are the production and reproduction of the
> productive process, including that of labour, the instruments of
> production and so on. Determination of how the experience of socialized
> production changes the worker’s subjective identity would involve
> locating the contradictions that arise between the diverse
> experience-derived needs and between subjective consciousness and the
> activities produced by the interaction between experiences and needs.
> Steve’s comments on his personal experiences as well as the recorded
> interviews cited in your paper provide excellent material for
> identifying these contradictions and researching their resolution.
> Regards,
> Victor

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