Flexible Employment - II

Zeynep Tufekcioglu zeynept at turk.net
Sat Aug 17 14:08:53 MDT 1996

-continuing from part I-

>>>Computers, in and of themselves, have only played a minor role,
>>>but the development of electronics and the introduction of large-scale
>>>automation, to cite two related examples, have revolutionized production.
>>Yes, electronics and large-scale automation have played a very important
>>role. But, the increase in relative value they caused in the post-war era is
>>not enough to offset the current squeeze.
>True. The reasons are, IMO, complex, not at all a matter of diminishing
>returns in the area of relative surplus-value. It's easy to point to some
>of the reasons schematically, but very difficult, I think, to weigh them

While it is obviously true the reasons are complex, what do you think the
reasons are? I suggest that the diminishing returns in the area of the
relative surplus value are a determining, basic dynamic reinforced and
sometimes partially offset by other factors.

>>If you don't take my word for it, take the capitalist's word. They would
>>prefer a world in which their profits rose, as well as real wages. Why rock
>>the boat by attacking the working class so viciously? They aren't stupid,
>>the welfare state era was during a boom era, which I think was rather
>>comfortable for capitalists.
>If it's all right with you, I'm not going to blindly accept the
>capitalists' judgment on such matters. Also, why would they like real wages
>to rise? They want stability, true, but the money is just a bunch of
>numbers to them -- it represents power, and the cheaper people are, the
>more you can buy.

They would want the real wages to rise, but fall as a ratio of the profit.
This is very logical, because political stability is also one of the key
factors required for the accumulation of capital, and future profits. Also,
you must remember that a worker is also a consumer, and a fall in the
real-wages triggers a consumption crises. (Hence, the importance of credit.
The household debts are rising in almost all industrial nations. The
consumption crises is postponed by a temporal shift - the worker spends on
possible future-earnings. The debt stock of all developing countries is also
rising, rather rapidly).

>They're not doing this out of some well-thought-out grand conspiracy, but
>rather as mere pawns of history, tools of the all-transcendent dialectic.

Sigh. What do you mean? I posit that the capitalists are forced by the logic
of the sustainability of capital accumulation to try to strike a balance
between their profits, workers wages both in terms of political consent and
consumer potential. When profits and growth rates are squeezed, the balance
becomes harder, and "manufacturing" political consent requires more
extra-economic activities and tools (such as a stupifying mass-media,
anti-terrorism laws, increased state repression), and the consumer potential
must be pushed rather hard. (advertising to promote consumerism in a way to
induce the worker to spend of future earnings).

>>>Furthermore, the whole idea of modern technocratic capitalism is that
>>>productivity increases by leaps and bounds even in the absence of explicit
>>>revolution -- constant improvement is "business as usual." It works more
>>>often than not.
>>Again, Rahul, do you think capitalists are just bad and mad, and too greedy
>>for their own good in the current vicious attack? This has real economic
>>basis, and that great monument to scholasticsm has the best answer I have
>>found so far, to the reason why this is happening now, since the 80s.
>Did you think that phrase referred to Capital, by any chance? No, no, I was
>talking about a very obscure, but lengthy, piece he wrote on Aquinas. Why
>would you have automatically thought of Capital?

Because Capital for me has the best answer to explain the current
"neo-liberalism/ flexible accumulation" era in terms of the social, cultural
consequences and the underlying economical dynamics.

>Capitalists are too greedy for their own good, and they have no choice but
>to be that way, here and now.

I agree that capitalists are too greedy for their own good, but not that
they would push the workers to revolting conditions and risk their profits
due to lack of consumers, if they had more room for maneouver. They have
lost the room for maneouver they had with the post-war boom.

>The changes in the way capitalism works, the
>dismantling of the welfare state, have been as close to objectively
>necessary as anything I can think of. The reason are more complex than the
>rather simplistic Marxist idea of their having an identity of class
>interest. Some of the self-destructive trends they've been involved in have
>started because of

>a need for competition,

(an objective feature of capitalism)

>and because of the impossibility
>of imposing a consensus on every member of any community

(and the main fault-lines are among class lines)

>while others have
>come about because they acted in a united fashion.

(capitalists have acted in a united fashion for their own good)

>An example of the first
>would be individual corporations' elimination of "labor rigidities," while
>one of the second would be the severe decreases in corporate taxes of the
>past couple of decades.

How do you think the reasons you provide are differentiated from the
"simplistic" Marxist answer? Also, I think the first is so general that it
is not a reason because it holds in every era, the second is also too
general and doesn't explain any current change (my position that the
economic basis of the consensus has eroded is, even if simplistic, a proper
reason), and the third reason also is not a reason, but a result of the need
to act together to squeeze the working class more (due to lack of
elbow-room, in my simplistic terms).

>This is a complex phenomenon, and one that I am unwilling to dismiss with
>one-line analyses of any kind. I think it is important to add to the
>traditional Marxist categories the fact that much of the "short-sighted"
>behavior of corporations in the past few years does stem from increasing
>competition. On the other hand, for some years now, we seem to have been
>embarked on an opposing trend, toward monopolization, just as Lenin so
>blithely said some time ago. My guess is that this trend will not allow or
>impel corporations to start taking the long view again, but why?

Increased competition has always resulted in monopolisation. That's the
basic contradiction of the "free-market", isn't it? Monopolisation increases
as competition increases because a smaller companies fail (vertical
monopolisation), and are swallowed by larger ones and also capitalists can
find themselves in a more powerful position to compete, so they also
monopolise horizontally (through mergers and acquisitions).

>BTW, how could you possibly get that interpretation (about capitalists
>being merely too greedy for their own good) out of the above-quoted passage
>of mine?

Because you reject the economical basis argument without providing an
alternative explanation. The only other explanation I could (and still can
think of) is that capitalists are just too greedy for their own good. Unless
you provide an alternative, whaddya want me to think?

(I'm skipping the sub-thread about the Soviet Union. That's another
argument, one I'm not sure I want to spend time on now).

>>Rahul, are you crazy? Do you think Marxists love to see the gains of the
>>working class eradicate? We love to see sweatshops pop up in places where
>>they weren't, love to see humans waste their lives as they work 6-7 days a
>>The only thing I welcome as a Marxist is the chance to end this
>>polarization, which we do not create nor aid, once and for all.
>Good for you. Not all Marxists agree. Check out Marx's speech on free trade
>to find one who doesn't, at least some of the time.

Well, bad for Marx then. It doesn't change the merit of the argument one bit
if you think that Marx liked capitalism's inhuman effects on workers. I'm
not going to even bother to argue in defense of Marx.

>>What do you propose, comrade? Perhaps, we should pray that they come up with
>>some peaceful means to end their crisis. What should we do, if they'll
>>possibly bury the rest of us in it first? If we sit very very quietly in our
>>corners, will everything get better? Should we all sign-up to R&D labs, or
>>perhaps becomes manager ourselves?
>Why are honest analyses so frequently mistaken for advocacy of passivity?
>It seems to me that certain Marxists have a subconscious feeling that,
>politically and intellectually speaking, they're sitting on top of a house
>of cards that may come down at any time, so they lash out at anyone who
>threatens to pull one out.

Rahul, you know that I said that because you said :

>Neo-liberalism eradicates the middle ground with regard to the social
>policy of the state. No more social democracy, no more vaguely leftist
>bourgeois nationalist regimes in the third world. The shifting of war from
>the international to the domestic arena is, much more slowly, eliminating
>the middle ground with regard to attitudes of citizens toward the state. In
>general, Marxists lick their chops over this kind of polarization. I'm not
>so sure myself.

>Yes, the capitalists are digging their grave, and digging
>it fast, but it's entirely possible they'll bury the rest of us in it

As for your analysis of my subconscious fear of sitting on top of a house of
cards that may come down anytime (so, I'm aggresive towards those that
threaten to pull one out), what can I say, except thanks for the
free-of-charge (I assume) counseling and advice.

In fact, that I wish that people like you would come up with substantive
alternative arguments, and try more to challenge whatever view you think is
weak. The left needs some good polemic. Oblige us, and we'll be brave. I
don't  mind if my intellectual construction falls apart. I mind if we lose
because we have a wrong, misleading analysis.

>What do I propose? Fight, whether there's a chance of winning or not --
>which, of course, we can't calculate in advance. The proletariat *is* the
>only hope for the human race.

Aw, I like happy endings.


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