From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Thu Nov 02 2006 - 14:10:20 EST
I usually end up agreeing with Ian Hunt. My apologies for being hyper-bolic, but I do mean what I say, specifically "the notion that supervisory labour is NECESSARILY "unproductive" is a formalistic Marxism, which has nothing to do with Marx." Perhaps I should have capitalised "necessarily". Why do I say that? (1) Because there still is a strong Marxist prejudice, especially in the American Left, that all supervisory and managerial labour is necessarily unproductive. Indeed, Fred Moseley codes ALL supervisory and managerial workers as unproductive with respect to new value added, which affects his s/v AND s/c+V estimates. Yet there is almost no textual basis for that in what Marx himself said! I have always been aware of the TSV train of thought, but I am also aware that subsequently Marx wrote more about it, and developed a more refined sense of capitalistically productive labour. We should not simply look at the texts, we should also think of the substantive idea that inspires those texts. Otherwise we drift off into anarchism and "anything goes". Anarchists don't like authority, but they have very little idea about why authority exists, at all. (2) Orthodox Marxism tries to define productive labour in capitalism once and for all, and devises a fixed classification scheme. My own approach is directly opposite to that, i.e. dialectically, I think we should use our own brains and pick up the story from where Marx left off, i.e. I think we should look at the evolution of the real social and technical division of labour through time, in its specifics, which is what people like Harry Braverman did for better or worse. Even from a detailed occupational classification in labour force statistics, it is not immediately evident what exactly the precise function is of different jobs, with respect to augmenting capital value by adding value to a commodity output. (3) Socialist workers' self-management by the associated direct producers can never exist, if we adopt an unrealistic, prejudiced approach to management tasks. You can easily verify that, as Michael Lebowitz among others has done, by looking at the real experience of workers' self-management in Yugoslavia and so on. It is important to appreciate the DUAL and often CONTRADICTORY function of management jobs to which Marx refers, which, humanly, remains irrespective of what the social system may be, short of full communism. In quite a few Yugoslav enterprises under socialism, you had a situation where the director said: "okay, so you want me to lead this enterprise - but then either you accept my leadership or you don't, and if you don't, then I am off, and if you don't pay me adequately for my responsibility I am off", and the workers bloody well knew that, so they didn't simply criticise him for his status, but for what he actually did. They realised they did need a "conductor" for the "orchestra" and that just playing their own tune wouldn't get the job done. (4) Much controversy surrounds the excessively high salaries of managers, directors, executives etc. which contrasts with the paltry wages of ordinary workers. But as against this, it should also be noted that many modern enterprises are very large, and that these type of functions also mean carrying a very large RESPONSIBILITY for a very large amount of resources and employees' lives, and can mean workweeks of 60 hours or more. We can say that a good portion of these jobs are unnecessary gravy-train jobs, and that with such large incomes, the people involved don't lose much in material terms, when they become unemployed; but we can also say that, in fact, most workers as yet do NOT want to shoulder such a large responsibility themselves. To make the argument that "we don't need those bosses" we also need to show that we CAN do it ourselves, as a team together, and if we cannot, and until we can, we are still stuck with a boss. Of course, in a socialist economy you do not really have "bosses" as such, you mainly have "leaders" who lead on the basis of proven and transparent competency. That would be a real "meritocracy", not the ideology of a meritocracy which provides a cover for inherited status and wealth. You become a leader in your area of expertise because you have proved that you have a competency, and that you can really lead people in the direction of progress, rather than up the garden path or something. A real socialist does not criticise a manager for being a manager, that is a prejudice, he criticises a manager for misleadership which makes the condition of the people worse, shortterm or longterm, rather than better. And so there is a continuing dialogue between leaders and the masses, rather than a monologue of the powerful. (5) Marx's argument about productive labour has nothing to do with whether a particular kind of work is socially or economically useful - what he is talking about is the subordination of employment in production to the requirements of capital accumulation. Many jobs are very socially useful, but in fact they do not add value to the production capital of the bourgeois classes. Marx's argument about productive labour has nothing to do with the usefulness or worthiness of particular human work, he is only saying that commercial rationality focuses on the question "can we make money from employing that labour in production or not?", which refers to the ability to extract surplus labour from that employment as profit. If commerce proves you can, it's productive, if you cannot, is unproductive. The ability to reap the fruits of somebody else's labour rather than your own is obviously in part simply a question of power, and not just of clever trading, and thus the Marxian notion of productive labour refers to a power relationship. Mutatis mutandis, there exists no fully "objective" concept of productive labour, since what is "productive" for one class, is not for another, and whether labour will be productive depends in part on the outcome of a negotiation, the outcome of which cannot be predicted in advance. At most we can say there is a commercial logic which transcends individuals, that stamps labour as "productive" in the capitalist sense. (6) I am myself not a Marxist, at best a socialist as I said. I basically think Marxism is an error, my appreciation of Marx notwithstanding, though socialist thought isn't. Once you have a reasonable mastery of Marx's thought, you feel you've grasped the basic idea, there is a lot more to do and experience. Marxists typically believed that Marxism is about propagating Marxist ideas. But I tend to think the real challenge is what you do with the insights you've gained, and how you can make a personal input into doing something new that is satisfying. I confess I have been prone to a lot of doubts there - but I'm sure taking action will sooner or later overcome my doubts. You have to have your doubts about everything, as Marx - being a critical thinker - remarked, but it is wrong to be paralysed by doubt, the "benefit of the doubt" is a constructive doubt, paralysis through doubt is destructive doubt. In these days of deregulated "market uncertainty", of course the most grotesque and absurd doubts also find common currency, but really it is amazing how much you can be sure of, whatever the propaganda. Jurriaan Our love has fallen around us like we said it never could We saw it happen to all the others but to us it never would Well how could something so bad, darling, come from something that was so good? - Bruce Springsteen, "Loose Ends"
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