Tue Dec 11, 2012, 08:35 PM
joshcryer (51,586 posts)
Marx predicted it, but his position on automation is iffy at best.
The commercial worker, in the strict sense of the term, belongs to the better-paid class of wage workers: to these whose labour is classed as skilled and stands above average labour. Yet the wage tends to fall, even in relation to average labour, with the advance of the capitalist mode of production. This is due partly to the division of labour in the office, implying a one-sided development of the labour capacity, the cost of which does not fall entirely on the capitalist, since the labourer's skill develops by itself through the exercise of his function, and all the more rapidly as division of labour makes it more one-sided. Secondly, because the necessary training, knowledge of commercial practices, languages, etc., is more and more rapidly, easily, universally and cheaply reproduced with the progress of science and public education the more the capitalist mode of productions directs teaching methods, etc., towards practical purposes. The universality of public education enables capitalists to recruit such labourers from classes that formerly had no access to such trades and were accustomed to a lower standard of living. Moreover, this increases supply, and hence competition. With few exceptions, the labour-power of these people is therefore devaluated with the progress of capitalist production.
This is of course totally correct, particularly with institutionalized capitalist education.
However, he scorns Proudhon (in his typically mocking way) in The Poverty of Philosophy:
The automatic workshop wipes out specialists and craft idiocy. Mr. Proudhon, not having understood even this one revolutionary side of the automatic workshop, takes a step backward and proposes to the worker that he make not only the twelfth part of a pin, but successively all twelve parts of it. The worker would thus arrive at the knowledge and the consciousness of the pin.
How else do you maintain a revolutionary workshop that is automated if you are not involved in the entire process? At this point you have a choice, you remove the hierarchical relationship created by the division of labor and educate all people on all forms of automation or you maintain the hierarchical relationship as created by institutionalized capitalist education and create a social class that only has access to automation technology while denying said technology to the rest.
Which way is it? I think that Marx lived in a time where he couldn't envision automation, the "Rise of the Robots" actually making the totality of a given thing, and that people would have to be involved in the process on some subdivided level. That is, you're not a "specialist" if you simply put one widget into a part and send the part down the line for someone else to put a part in.
Proudhon argued, even then, that one should be involved in the totality of the process, so that you put in a widget, you move down the line, put in another widget, and there you go, at the end of the line you have your product that you yourself have put together using schematics. Of course back then it was possible, though probably not as efficient as the industrial model (since all you're doing is following instructions, but you have to read each instruction as you go down the line and therefore are not doing the actions by rote).
As we move forward with automation I argue that Proudhon was correct, as technology is going to allow individuals to create the totality of an object with their own schematics, while they may not actually understand the underlying nature of said product, they will be able to specialize in the creation of products at a higher more transcendent level.
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