[Marxism] Braverman-Foster on education

Leonardo Kosloff holmoff10 at hotmail.com
Sat Jul 9 11:42:54 MDT 2011

A few months back I translated an essay critiquing Braverman
as well as Italian workerism by two comrades who specialize on the
investigation of labor processes, Marina Kabat and Eduardo Sartelli, who write
for Razon y Revolucion. As the essay has been submitted for publication in some
magazines I can’t reproduce it, but there is another one in Spanish which
overlaps with it here http://www.razonyrevolucion.org.ar/textos/revryr/prodetrab/ryr7Kabat.pdf

The points against Braverman, and thus Foster, since he
reproduces his claims uncritically, I would say come down to this. First
Braverman assumes that the period of large-scale industry has been superseded,
as he does in chapter 9 of his book, without explaining this at all. In fact,
this occultation leads him, as Foster puts it, to the inversion that

“A key element in the evolution and stabilization of this
new stage of accumulation, lay in the opportunity it afforded for what Marx
called “the real,” as opposed to the “formal subsumption of labour under
capital.” In nineteenth-century capitalism, workers were in a position to
retain within their own ranks the knowledge of how the work was done, and
therefore exercised a considerable degree of control over the labor process.
Hence, control of the labor process by owners and managers was often more
formal than real. As corporations and their workforces and factories got bigger
with the rise of monopoly capitalism, however, it became possible to extend the
division of labor, and therefore to exercise greater top-down managerial
control. This took the form of the new system of scientific management, or
“Taylorism,” within concentrated industry. Control of the conception of the
labor process was systematically removed from the workers and monopolized by
management. Henceforth, according to this managerial logic, workers were merely
to execute commands from above, with their every movement governed down to the
smallest detail.”

As if “Taylorism”, “scientific management”, etc. were a
product of the real subsumption of labor instead of being what they are, organizational
forms remaining from the period of manufacture, highly exacerbated of course. For
Braverman-Foster the impetus on “real” managerial control through the division
of labor emanates from the owners and monopolists’ will. But this “real”
control, is not the real real subsumption of labor, the latter refers to the
subjugation of workers to the technical conditions of production, not to the
evil greed of evil monopolists. Whereas capital had to take into account the
individual attributes of workers for accumulation, in large-scale industry this
condition is wiped out, which is where the real necessity of the process of
deskilling comes from, which Braverman to his credit acknowledged. 

Hence, in order to support this inversion, the whole
analysis becomes an overdrawing of the characteristics proper to the division
of labor (e.g. the naturalization of the Babbage principle) and at the same
time it must occlude the developments of mechanization. And without the latter
transformations considered, everything fits perfectly into the framework of
monopoly capital, the need for innovation disappears since there is no impetus
coming from competition, and productivity lags. Reality speaks otherwise I’m
afraid, unless you want to say that science is the same today as it was 50
years ago.

What about education? Education is still in a period with
features defined by the organization in manufacture. Compare this to the
textile industry, or the oil industry, do you see owners cracking their brains
to control the labor process in its minute details? In other words, the features of "Taylorism" (manufacture) are preponderant in education because it hasn't reached a phase of
automation where the control itself becomes automated. The subjective element of labor in education is still there, or as
Marx put it, “If, on the one hand, the workman becomes adapted to the process,
on the other, the process was previously made suitable to the workman, this
subjective principle of the division of labor no longer exists in production by

With Taylorism, the owners and managers have to appropriate
the skills of the workers so as to mold them, the basis of the process is still
craftwork, but it is broken down, and so whereas the individual workers are
de-skilled the collective worker is not. With the development of science this
becomes irrelevant, the workers become appendages of machinery in a system
where the conception of the labor and the execution has been totally separated,
and it is on this basis that the collective worker, the working class, is

How is it possible then that the former (Taylorism) represents
the latter’s supersession? 		 	   		  

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