[OPE-L:8257] Re: electronics and value

From: OPE-L Administrator (ope-admin@ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu)
Date: Tue Dec 31 2002 - 14:32:04 EST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Jim Davis" <jdav@gocatgo.com>
Sent: Tuesday, December 31, 2002 1:10 PM
Subject: Re: electronics and value [for fwd'ing to the OPE-L list]

[Please consider posting this to the OPE-L list, in response to a couple
of items there, 8240 and 8241. Thanks, jd]

 In response to clyder@gn.apc.org ([OPE-L:8240] :

> I agree, there is nothing essentially new in electronic
> production that was not already present in the mechanical
> automation that Babbage and Marx described.

 This I think is the essence of the question of electronics and value:
Is electronics just more (faster, more accurate, etc.) of mechanics, or
does it represent something qualitatively new?

Because electronics enables the replacement of the command and control
function of the worker -- the activation, in the absence of the worker,
of the expropriated, externalized skills of the worker (represented by
software), we should think of electronics as a new quality in the
production process.

I say "new quality" in that the role of the human being in electronic
production is fundamentally different than the inversion that Marx
describes in Capital Vol I (where the worker flips from being the
operator of tools to becoming the appendage of the machine). The worker
in the case of electronics becomes completely superfluous to the
traditional production process. (Ramin Ramtin wrote about this in his
book of some 10+ years ago.)

[In Marx's discussion of "Machinery and Modern Industry", he stresses
the pivotal role of "motive power"; and the revolution in "motive power"
precipitates the revolution in production and, in the case of the steam
engine, results in emergence of modern industry and the industrial
working class. The introduction of electronics (taken broadly to
include all of the technologies that have flowed from that) is of the
same order.]

This process of the replacement of the worker, with all of the problems
that poses for capitalism as a system, is a _tendency_ I think, and
many counter-tendencies emerge. Marx outlined many of them in the
discussion of the Law of the Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit.

gerald_a_levy@msn.com comprehensive list of the new electronic-based
production techniques etc (8241) describes the process of capitalism
reorganizing around what the new technologies make possible. To his
list I made add something about the "surveillance society", not just in
electronic monitoring at the workplace, but also in the market, where
every electronic transaction leaves a digital trail; privacy
disappears; consumers are exposed and targetted in new ways that prop
up the circulation of goods at the cost of destroying the personal and

Also, and this may be just an extension of the turnover of capital --
new communication technologies allow for greater extension of credit,
and then the securitization of credit. Or maybe to say more and more
elaborate forms of fictitious capital, such that _speculative_ capital
takes an a bigger and bigger role. (Okay, I did a piece on this,
"Speculative Capital",
http://www.scienceofsociety.org/discuss/speccap4.pdf, of which I would
really appreciate comments)

Finally, just a note on the readings the gerald_a_levy@msn.com refers
to at the beginning of this thread:

"The Shape of History: Historical Materialism, Electronics and Value"
 is a discussion overview that I use in a class that I do as part of a
four-day introductory course on Marxism via our Institute for the Study
of the Science of Society. The cartoon
is one of the items we use to start up discussion. The paper I did for
the Marxism 2000 conference, "The End of Value"
 (http://scienceofsociety.org/discuss/eov.html), came several years
later. I think in the latter piece there is more, and hopefully more
complete, supporting discussion for some of the assertions about
electronics and value.


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