[iDC] Social Production and the Labor Theory of Value (2)

Sean Cubitt scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Fri Nov 6 22:29:52 UTC 2009

Curiously I just received a copy of a piece by colleagues from melbourne on
the topic of resistance: Looking for the Good Soldier, Svejk:
Alternative Modalities of Resistance in the Contemporary Workplace, Peter
Fleming and Graham Sewell, Sociology Volume 36 n Number 4 n November 2002

The piece argues that looking for major spectacular resistance (strikes,
sit-ins) is passé; that footdragging, flannelling, pretending ignorance,
skrimshanking and false compliance etc are the typical forms of resistance
in teamwork managemed workplaces and the like. They called it Sveikism,
after the Good Soldier Sveik

We know that capital historically has observed worker techniques for dodging
work and adopted them as efficiency techniques. (There is an analogy with
avant garde art being observed and adapted as advertising technique). It is
certainly possible that eg time stolen from work to play on social networks
is being recapitalised as creative labour. This doesn't necessarilty mean
that it isn't resistant, or that resistance is pointless, but that
resistance has to be endlessly inventive to keep ahead of its cooption.
Which in turn makes resistant invention the driver for capital's vaunted
ability to innovate.

One aspect raised in Michel Bauwens' post from Barcelona is the strictly
political idea that to become political (to seek large scale change rather
than short-term opportunism) requires becoming conscious - aware that the
stakes are political, and perhaps also motivated by a goal that is not
otherwise available in the political-economic system of the hour

Marx's ideas of class consciousness were always among the weakest aspects:
they certainly need updating to cope with the kind of seizure of
consciousness Michel is talking about. Ezio manzini's ideas of SLOC (small,
local, open, connected) innovations may also be significant here, in
parallel with but apart from the global projects of FLOSS?


On 6/11/09 10:46 PM, "Michael Bauwens" <michelsub2003 at yahoo.com> wrote:

>  Dear Brian,
> very interesting and illuminating contribution.
> I have two remarks, Adam's point about the ethical economy does not refer to
> any social democratic pipe dream, but to capital is reacting to new social
> demands. For example, when a corporation operates on a open social network, it
> needs to behave differently in the context of that transparency and the
> circulating ethical demands of network users; or, when a corporation uses
> common code, as in GPL-based free software, it cannot but change its behaviour
> in accordance to these new demands. Of course, it can also destroy the commons
> for short term gain, but then it looses the advantage of the commonly
> developed code. In other words, communities, whether they are of sharers or
> commons-based peer producers, do carry weight. More fundamentally though,
> there is a growing new structure of desire, a new form of agency developing
> and emerging, which forces a mutual adaptation and a new tension between
> community and corporation. This doesn't necessary invalidate
>  your pessimistic scenario, but qualifies it, and I'm also keen to dispell any
> superficial analysis of Adam's point.
> There is a second point I want to make. Are you sure that activists from the
> old waves are not too wedded to particular types of spectacular resistance?
> What I see for example is a huge constructive shift towards new forms of being
> that go beyond the commodity form, the building of commons of knowledge,
> software and design, and new infrastructures based on it. Struggles that are
> based on the old contradictions are not the only ones to look for, nor are
> purely antagonistic protest attitudes. Just as interesting is a profound shift
> in values, relationships, infrastructure building, and the creation of a new
> culture.
> If you take that into account, saying that there is 'no resistance' makes less
> and less sense. Perhaps some people are tired of fighting 'against capital'
> and rather more interested in constructing what comes emerging beyond it?
> Michel
> ----- Original Message ----
>> From: Brian Holmes <brian.holmes at aliceadsl.fr>
>> To: idc at mailman.thing.net
>> Sent: Sat, October 31, 2009 3:39:54 AM
>> Subject: Re: [iDC] Social Production and the Labor Theory of Value (2)
>> I should stress that the critique in my previous post is not
>> specifically directed at Christian Fuchs (whose knowledge of the Marxist
>> tradition I quite admire) nor is it a rejection of Marx himself (still
>> the most important philosopher of social existence in my view). But I do
>> think there is a lot of time wasted trying to apply Marx's ideas
>> verbatim to vastly changed situations.
>> It's a matter of layers, and there is always a next layer. Thus, the
>> ontological status of human labor as the source and measure of value in
>> capitalist societies continues to justify the hyper-exploitation of
>> factory workers and sweatshop laborers all over the planet, and
>> therefore, to govern important aspects of the economic relations between
>> classes, as well as the geo-economic relations between core and
>> peripheral states. But at the same time, at least two further types of
>> social relations that Marx did not directly observe are layered onto
>> that. The first layer came in the 1930s and reached maturity in the
>> 1950s: it is the welfare state, which created large tracts of socialized
>> capital (public facilities of all kinds, redistribution mechanisms for
>> retirement, health care, education etc). This has been described
>> extensively by David Harvey as the "secondary circuit of capital" and it
>> has made a huge change in the way capitalism works within the core
>> states where it was applied, creating a new mediator class between
>> bourgeoisie and proletariat which is commonly and perhaps rightfully
>> described as the "middle class." One important consequence of this for
>> Marxist thought was the realization that the "socially necessary labor
>> time" required for the reproduction of the labor force was itself a
>> function of the standards that apply in any given society at any given
>> time, a fact to which Marx does allude at one point, but whose full
>> implications only became visible with the rise of the welfare state.
>> Today, some theorists including Harvey speak not of the labor theory of
>> value but rather of the "value theory of labor," stressing that it is
>> the agency of the working classes, gained through conflict and struggle,
>> that determines what the standard wage and the minimum acceptable
>> standard of living will be. For this, see an excellent short piece by
>> Bob Jessop:
>> http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/sociology/papers/jessop-limits-to-capital.pdf
>> So that's one important layer, and Marx did not theorize it because he
>> did not live to the 1930s. Another important layer is added from the
>> 1980s onward, and that is neoliberal finance. Of course, Marx has lots
>> of things to say about finance capital; but as he did not foresee the
>> vast expansion of the secondary circuit and therefore, the partial
>> socialization of the capitalist state, nor perforce the rise of the
>> "middle classes" as the mediators between what he thought was the
>> essential and inevitable conflict between the proletariat and the
>> bourgeoisie, he obviously did not foresee the emergence of a kind of
>> finance that would prey upon the vast amounts of capital won by working
>> class agency. Yet this is what has happened in our time: under the logic
>> of neoliberalism, much of what used to be welfare state entitlements has
>> been transformed into fungible private assets (health insurance
>> policies, 401k accounts, private suburban homes, etc) and delivered over
>> to the nominal control of individuals or relatively small and localized
>> groups. These individuals and groups then find themselves at the mercy
>> of large, sophisticated, rapacious financial operators who offer them
>> further market schemes encouraging them to speculate on their tiny stake
>> of capital, in order to expropriate some generous percentage of their
>> assets as we have just seen done so blatantly in the course of the
>> recent housing bubble. I think Marx can be used pretty successfully to
>> describe a lot of this, but just repeating his concepts adds nothing:
>> you have to get into the materiality of the social relations that have
>> emerged since the 1980s. For that there is a really excellent book by
>> James K. Galbraith, who interestingly enough is the son of the great
>> theorist of the welfare-warfare state, John Kenneth Galbraith. I really
>> recommend this short and well-written book to everyone: it is called
>> "The Predator State."
>> OK, all that takes us far from the Internet and it's another long,
>> soaring post which any uninterested person has already, I trust, stopped
>> reading. The point remains that treating Facebook users as the
>> nineteenth-century working class is not only absurd; it also distracts
>> from the enormous changes that are going on before our eyes. Adam
>> Arvidsson says we are moving into an "ethical economy" and he expects
>> that the reputation-ranking functions of social media will create a new
>> breed of what you might call "clean and serene" corporations, to replace
>> the old "lean and mean" ones. I would submit instead that while
>> intellectuals waste their time pandering to people who are fascinated by
>> the tawdry narcissism of networked environments organized to promote the
>> delusion of transparency and community, the major predators are
>> organizing the last great suicidal development of the capitalist
>> economy, in which a newly concentrated and now truly global banking
>> sector will systematize and intensify the chaotic trends of the three
>> preceding decades, in order to promote and realize an extreme version of
>> neoliberal development unencumbered by any organized resistance
>> whatsoever. This new social order will continue to depend on large
>> consumer and prosumer classes to manage surplus and to waste lots of it,
>> while laying waste to the environment at the same time; so I am afraid
>> you will still not have the simple face-off between bourgeoisie and
>> proletariat that Marx predicted. But the new social order, if it is left
>> to establish itself without resistance as is presently being done, will
>> also require all the trappings of an extreme security state, in order to
>> ward off the attacks of great percentages of the population thrown into
>> poverty even in the core states, and also great numbers of people,
>> initially in the underdeveloped world, whose cities will be underwater
>> and who will be migrating towards the golden towers. Under these
>> conditions, those who labor, and do not speculate on their assets or
>> human capital as most middle-class Internet users do -- nor much less
>> have access to venture capital, as was just described in the interesting
>> post by Christopher Kelty -- will see their capacities for resistance
>> and agency reduced to nil, and both the "labor theory of value" and the
>> "value theory of labor" will finally be obsolete. What's left in the
>> absence of organized resistance is just one thing: capital as power, the
>> power to create social relations and impose an order upon them. This is
>> subject of Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan's new book, Capital as
>> Power: A Study of Order and Creorder, which among many other things
>> contains a specific refutation of the labor theory of value.
>> I actually don't think we are there yet -- that is, I think there is
>> still some organized resistance left in the world, from the working
>> classes, from peasant classes unwilling to be entirely expropriated of
>> their traditional relations to the land, and also among middle classes
>> who know how to protect and develop their relative political autonomy
>> won over the course of centuries -- but nonetheless, I do highly
>> recommend reading Bichler and Nitzan if you want to understand how
>> corporate power is expressing itself right now, and how far we are from
>> the social-democratic pipe dream of an "ethical economy." The first
>> chapter of their book can be downloaded from their archive, as can an
>> earlier essay including similar references to the subject of our
>> conversation here, the famous labor theory of value:
>> http://tinyurl.com/capital-as-power
>> http://tinyurl.com/dominant-capital
>> For the next layer of capitalist power to be fully installed -- and for
>> the economy to "recover" from its present state of uncertainty and flux
>> -- I think the developed societies need a perfected system of
>> second-order cybernetic control over the consciousness of their middle
>> classes, exactly the kind of world-creating and attention-channeling
>> system that is discussed by Greg Elmer and his co-authors in their
>> excellent article. The initial basis of this system is contemporary
>> social media in its dominant corporate 2.0 forms. It really has to be
>> explored a little more seriously, within the existing social relations
>> and not in terms borrowed from the past. But that kind of exploration
>> remains very rare, leaving media theory in a realm of fantasy. So in my
>> opinion, friends, we can talk all we want about the marvelous freedoms
>> of playlabor, or on the contrary, about the horrifying expropriation of
>> our proletarian toil by Facebook or Orkut: so doing, we'll be shooting
>> the breeze, no autonomy will be won and the processes underway will run
>> their course.
>> Here's hoping for a better future,
>> Brian
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Prof Sean Cubitt
scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Media and Communications Program
Faculty of Arts
Room 127 John Medley East
The University of Melbourne
Parkville VIC 3010

Tel: + 61 3 8344 3667
Fax:+ 61 3 8344 5494
M: 0448 304 004
Skype: seancubitt

Editor-in-Chief Leonardo Book Series

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