[Marxism] Social versus Technical Division of Labor

shaun may mnwps at hotmail.com
Sat Nov 23 09:25:38 MST 2013

Marinus Hooft wrote:
MH : It seems to me that we often see a technical division of labor within a

firm come to be mediated by commodity exchange through contracting


I used to work in aerospace, and it was common practice for engineers to

email part specifications to a firm that specialized in CNC machining,

where workers would do a bit of tweaking to the gcode (a specification of

movements for the tool head) but had little in the way of an on-going

relationship with my employer. 

SM : So Aerospace engineers sent out details to another firm or even self-employed technicians who had the technical knowledge to adjust specifications for the given production purposes of the Aerospace engineering firm which you worked for. The payment for this would come out of the firm's fund for constant capital or perhaps faux frais. Its fund for variable capital would only be used for its own directly employed staff who are reproducing the value of this variable capital plus surplus value. The 'tweaked' tool head (incorporating the added value of the 'tweaking') would then enter into the firm's constant capital and be transferred to the commodities produced over time. The value would be recovered in the realisation of the value of the commodities over time i.e. sale on the market at production price + average profit. (k + p) 

MH : Workers in the CNC machining firm never needed to take an interest in what all of these parts were for in order to do their jobs, and were in that sense deskilled. I worked in larger firms that owned CNC equipment and employed operators directly.

SM :  In what sense were they "deskilled"? Because they were not skilled in - or unaware of the nature of - the skilled labour performed by the workers done or commodities produced in other branches of capital to which these CNC 'tweaked' products were sold? 

MH : All of this to say: mediation by commodity exchange seems incidental in

this case. 

This seems problematic for Marxian views which affirm the necessity of the

social division of labor, but cast the technical division of labor as

specific to the capitalist mode of production. It's politically important

to be normative here, I think.




SM :  Exchange here falls within the remit of the firm's acquistion of the constant portion of its productive capital. There is nothing incidental or problematic about it in or for Marx. We can see and study that in Volume 2 of Capital on the process of the circulation of capital. It is merely the metamorphosis of circulating money capital into constant capital and its recovery in the sale of the Aerospace product (commodity capital).  Then, of course, re-transformed again back into constant capital. The division of labour is a product of the unfolding of the historical process and reaches its highest point of development in the epoch of capital. It is only necessary for this epoch and becomes increasingly unnecessary as this epoch is transcended. The division of labour within the workplace and in society as a whole are inseparable sides of the singularity of this division of labour within the developing historical process of capitalist production as a whole. If  "Marxian views affirm the necessity of the social division of labour" under the capitalism then it follows that the "technical division of labour as specific to the capitalist mode of production" is also intrinsic to that self-same historic necessity whilst capital continues to exist as the dominant social relationship of production and distribution. Exchange remains just as intrinsically necessary to this process as production and distribution under capital which, of course, does not apply in the stages of communist society far beyond the epoch of capital. 

Shaun May




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