[OPE-L:8344] Re: Re: Re: Education and Value

From: Paul Adler (padler@usc.edu)
Date: Wed Jan 15 2003 - 10:40:47 EST

Tony -- your questions take us back to what is, at least for me, at 
the heart of this issue. The reading of Marx that I find most 
fruitful is one that indeed sees capitalism's development (in 
particular, of the forces of production) increasing the capacity of 
workers as full people, as social beings.

At the same time this tendency coexists with two other features of 
the evolutionary path that are the effect of the persistence of 
capitalist relations of production:
* a minority of cases where quite the opposite happens (workers and 
even their productive capacity treated with utter disdain)
* a tendency to polarization -- the gap grows between the 
capabilities (and living conditions) of the many at the bottom and 
the few at the top of the distribution (note: polarization does not 
exclude those at the bottom improving their lot: it just means 
improvement is even faster at the top)

Let me cite the chapters and verses I find most compelling for this 

In Marx's famous passage in Capital I, we read:

This possibility of varying labour must become a general law of 
social production, and the existing relations must be adapted to 
permit its realization in practice.  That monstrosity, the disposable 
working population held in reserve, in misery, for the changing 
requirements of capitalist exploitation, must be replaced by the 
individual man who is absolutely available for the different kinds of 
labour required of him; the partially developed individual, who is 
merely the bearer of one specialized social function, must be 
replaced by the totally developed individual, for whom the different 
social functions are different modes of activity

What we must address is whether this general law only becomes such 
after capitalism is replaced by socialism. Braverman argues that it 
does. He writes, referring to this paragraph of Marx:

This, extracted from its context, has been understood to mean that 
Marx was predicting that with the further development of capitalism 
an "educated" and "technical" working class would be created by 
modern industry.  In fact, that was not his thought at all, as a 
reading of the section in question makes clear.  He saw capitalism as 
being in direct contradiction to the tendency of modern industry to 
call into being a new type of worker, a "fully developed individual," 
and what he is saying here is that society itself is threatened with 
extinction unless it rids itself of the capitalist system which, the 
more modern scientific industry makes it obsolete, the more 
tenaciously it holds on to and even deepens an outmoded division of 
labour. ... Every line Marx wrote on this subject makes it clear that 
he did not expect from capitalism or from science and machinery as 
used by capitalism, no matter how complex they become, any general 
increase in the technical scope, scientific knowledge, or broadening 
of the competence of the worker, and that in fact he expected the 

But Marx in the following paragraph, makes a very different case:

One aspect of this process of transformation, which has developed 
spontaneously from the foundation provided by large-scale industry, 
is the establishment of technical and agricultural schools.  Another 
is the foundation of 'écoles d'enseignement professionel,' in which 
the children of the workers receive a certain amount of instruction 
in technology and in the practical handling of the various implements 
of labour.  Though the Factory Act, that first and meagre concession 
wrung from capital, is limited to combining elementary education with 
work in the factory, there can be no doubt that, with the inevitable 
conquest of political power by the working class, technological 
education, both theoretical and practical, will take its proper place 
in the schools of the workers.  There is also no doubt that those 
revolutionary ferments whose goal is the abolition of the old 
division of labour stand in diametrical contradiction with the 
capitalist form of production, and the economic situation of the 
workers which corresponds to that form.  However, the development of 
the contradictions of a given historical form of production is the 
only historical way in which it can be dissolved and then 
reconstructed on a new basis.

It's the last sentence that's key to our debate. As I understand this 
last sentence, the "development of the contradiction" means not a 
growing tension between what should be (upgrading) and what is 
(deskilling), but (more materialistically) a growing tension between 
the real development of workers capabilities (and of the forces of 
production in general) and the equally real fetters on this further 
development created by capitalist relations of production. Under 
these relations, the growth trajectory of capabilities unfolds only 
unevenly, jerkily, subject to arbitrary limitations and distorting 
polarizations. But it does unfold, thus creating "the development of 
the contradictions" instead of their static reproduction.

Note that we are only talking about workers capabilities -- not their 
motivation. The class in itself, not the class for itself. To Tony's 
point: capitalism doesn't sponteneously generate the revolutionary 
consciousness necessary for its overthrow (or at least, it doesnt 
create it reliably enough for communists to sit back and just wait). 
Whether these cognitive capabilities are mobilized for revolutionary 
action is matter of ideology, politics, organization, etc. But 
capitalism, as I see it, creates its gravediggers by creating a class 
increasingly capable of taking the leading role.

I see two big obstacles to acceptance of this paleo-marxist story:

1. it is difficult to hold the two thoughts at the same time, that 
capitalism continues to deliver on its civilizing mission but that 
this is no justificiation for its persistence: it's much easier to 
adopt a purely negative, critical posture: the message is less 
complex. (But if it doesn't jive with workers experience of changes 
in the workplace, we lose credibility for our general account. We are 
seen as wonderfully sensitive to the plight of the minority of 
workers deskilled by capitalist progress, but insensitive to the 
advantages experienced by the bulk of them. This was precisely the 
situation created when the CFDT union confederation adopted a version 
of deskilling in the 1970s (with Braverman dutifully cited in the 
footnotes), and on that basis began organizing against the deskilling 
effects they expected from the computerization of insurance 
companies. The CFDT was very strong among the clerical workers in 
this industry. But with this position, it quickly lost credibilty 
with the workers, since it became apparent within a few years that 
computerization was having substantial and widespread upgrading 
effects, effects that workers in this industry welcomed.)

2. it has an implication we are reluctant to endorse: that workers 
today are better qualified to transform and to lead society than 
workers a hundred years ago. We've all read EP Thompson and so many 
others  who are so eloquent about the revolutionary capacities of the 
working classes in the 19th century and even earlier. It seems 
arrogant to disparage these capacities. But I would ask: isn't there 
a bit too much romanticism in these stories? To take an extreme case, 
we would probably agree that the backward state of the mass of 
working people in Russia was a huge handicap for soviet revolution. 
So what about the UK or the US? I am not arguing that workers in the 
US circa 1900 were incapable of leading society -- just that they 
have become much more capable in the intervening century, and that 
this growth in capability is a function of the changing requirements 
of the (capitalist) labor process.

On the role of formal education in this process: I assume (a) that 
increases in formal education are driven to some extent by these 
changes in industry's skill requirements. I'd agree (b) that they are 
also driven by more or less autonomous working class pressure on the 
State, perhaps in (partial) contradiction to the needs of industry 
and the desires of capitalists. I would also allow (c) that the 
level, form, and content of education have something to do with 
capitalists desire for docile, disciplined workers. But I find it 
hard to take seriously the idea that (b) or (c) dominate (a).

Hoping this helps move the discussion forward,

At 12:29 PM -0500 1/14/03, Tony Tinker wrote:
>Paul (Adler):  The are a number of parts to your thesis that I wonder about.
>First, a minor item,  Braverman does not argue that deskilling is the
>dominant tendency. Rather, his thesis is that there is a 'polarization' (his
>last chapter for instance).  Given this, any empirical studies (that we
>cite) must be careful not to focus on just one end of the continuum (e.g,
>the skill level of worker in  West/ North" and ignoring those in the
>Second, contrary to vulgar popularizations (i.e, the morbid deskillers)
>Braverman states in his, 'Reply to my Critics' in the Monthly review, that
>"obviously" the average skill level has gone up!  But he makes the
>distinction (that I haven't noticed in the listserv discussion so far)
>between "skill" of the kind that is productive of surplus value, and skill
>that enhances the consciousness and capacities of the full person as social
>being (see my "Fourth" point below) .
>Third, you seem to step a bit too quickly from aggregating dated labor time,
>to 'valuing' dated labor time.  The latter is a valuation, involving a
>discount rate, or more problematically, multiple discount rates/ solutions.
>It takes us into a Sraffian world of switching of techniques and the absence
>of no unique equilibrium (or better, no counter-intuitive equilibrium).  All
>such problems apply to 'valuing' labor expended over time in developing
>skill (or any 'asset').
>Fourth, the notion of 'education levels' has to be viewed in a critical.
>'Education' under capitalism acclimates workers for producing surplus value
>product (look at the pap served-up in most business schools for evidence).
>How is this kind of education 'productive' in producing a consciousness that
>ripens the possibilities of social change?  Surely, we might argue that an
>increase in these 'education levels' diminishes the chances of social
>change?  (I assume that we agree that MBA's are now wage labor and therefore
>productive of surplus value).
>Finally, 'educational levels' cannot be viewed in a monolithic manner.
>Insofar as consciousness is productive of social change (and that needs to
>be researched, not taken for granted) it surely must be a consciousness that
>is aligned with specific historical dis-junctures in time and place.  If
>this is so, does it still make sense to talk about 'levels' of education?
>As Chris Arthur has so lucidly pointed out previously, the order of
>measurement is important (here, we would seem to have a classificatory
>variable, not a cardinal or ratio measure).
>Fraternally,  TT
>Tony Tinker
>Professor and Editor
>Critical Perspectives on Accounting
>The Accounting Forum
>Baruch College: CUNY Box B12-225
>17 Lexington Avenue
>New York, NY 10010
>Email: TonyTinker@msn.com
>Tel: 646 312 3175
>Fax: 646 312 3161
>Critical Conference Site: http://zicklin.baruch.cuny.edu/critical/
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "Paul Adler" <padler@usc.edu>
>To: <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
>Cc: <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
>Sent: Tuesday, January 14, 2003 8:06 AM
>Subject: [OPE-L:8333] Re: Education and Value
>>  Jerry -- I'm not sure where the line of questioning you open up will
>>  lead, nor how it impinges on the questions we've been addressing so
>>  far. So perhaps I'm missing your point. But a couple of thoughts:
>>  * There are two quite distinct issues under the "reduction" from
>>  complex to simple labor: a question of how to measure the value of
>>  complex labor power relative to simple (expressed as relative wages),
>>  and a question of whether capitalist development actually simplifies
>>  complex labor by deskilling. On the former, presumably we can rely on
>>  the relative amounts of "socially necessary labor time involved in
>>  producing" the relevant capabilities. On the latter, my view is,
>>  obviously, not. (Just so I know where we're up to in this discussion:
>>  do you really think deskilling is the dominant tendency?)
>>  * Globally, I think we might agree that international competition
>>  tends over the longer term to bring wages into closer alignment. As
>>  imperialism reaches into less-developed regions to exploit low wages,
>  > wages do tend to rise relative to advanced countries -- as we saw
>>  with the "Asian tigers". The demands of capitalist industrialization
>>  lead these countries to build their education system, upgrading the
>>  country-specific standards of simple labor and the supply of complex
>>  labor. (As you can see, my paleo- proclivities have led me close to
>>  Bill Warren's position!) The state and workers' movements can help or
>>  hinder in this upgrading, and give it the skill-formation
>>  institutions their specific shape.
>>  Are we moving forward in this?
>>  P
>>    At 4:22 PM -0500 1/13/03, gerald_a_levy wrote:
>>  >Re Paul A's [8327]:
>>  >
>>  >>  To focus on overall skill levels -- I'm curious if you and others on
>>  >>  the list would agree with me: while the data are very difficult to
>>  >>  synthesize, have not the cognitive resources of US workers -- the
>>  >>  combined result of childhood socialization, education, training,
>>  >>  on-the-job learning -- increased on average over the last 100 years?
>>  >
>>  >Yes.
>>  >
>>  >>  If you grant that these cognitive resources have increased, then as
>>  >>  marxists, we have to ask ourselves whether and where this fits with
>>  >>  our basic story. (Of course, out story also has to accomodate the
>>  >>  many cases of real deskilling we observe --such as the supermarket
>>  >>  cashiers.) It seems to me that it fits nicely with the paleo-marxist
>>  >>  story I summarized.
>>  >
>>  >How does this fit in with 'our basic story', you ask.  Presumably you
>>  >and others will also grant that the standard for what has become
>>  >simple average labour varies internationally and temporally.  Indeed,
>>  >if one focuses on the effect of education on workers 'cognitive
>>  >resources', one can easily determine that there are different standards
>>  >internationally as a result of differing educational/social/cultural
>>  >practices.
>>  >
>>  >In describing 'simple average labour',  Marx notes that it "varies in
>>  >character in different countries and at different cultural epochs, but in
>>  >particular society it is given"  (_Capital_, Volume 1, Penguin ed., p.
>>  >When we look at different social formations and expand our time horizon
>>  >so that a society and culture can itself change, we see that the 'basic
>>  >story' becomes more complex.
>>  >
>>  >* How would you and others explain more concretely this complexity
>>  >vis-a-vis the 'reduction' from complex to 'simple labour' in world
>>  >
>>  >* Is there any kind of  social mechanism that leads over time to  less
>>  >international disparity for simple average labour standards in different
>>  >social formations?
>>  >
>>  >* What has been the role of the state -- and  workers' struggles -- in
>>  >changing social standards for simple average labour?
>>  >
>>  >In solidarity, Jerry
>>  --
>>  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
>>  Prof. Paul S. Adler,
>>  Management and Organization Dept,
>>  Marshall School of Business,
>>  University of Southern California,
>>  Los Angeles, CA 90089-0808
>>  USC office tel: (213) 740-0748
>>  Home office tel: (818) 981-0115
>>  Home office fax: (818) 981-0116
>>  Email: padler@usc.edu
>>  List of publications and course outlines at:
>>  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Prof. Paul S. Adler,
Management and Organization Dept,
Marshall School of Business, 
University of Southern California,
Los Angeles, CA 90089-0808
USC office tel: (213) 740-0748 
Home office tel: (818) 981-0115
Home office fax: (818) 981-0116
Email: padler@usc.edu
List of publications and course outlines at: http://www-rcf.usc.edu/~padler/ 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

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