- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Industrialization, job rotation, and the end of utopianism

Posted by: Barry Stoller on January 29, 19100 at 12:20:11:

: Morris' argument does not conflict with Marx's, he states that eventually, in our abundance, we would return to craft production as a form of luxury that we can afford.

RD has lost this debate, if for no other reason, than the fact that he needs to invoke the thinking of William Morris in order to 'assist' Marx and Engels concur with his utopian and reactionary position on the social division of labor.

One quote---even half a sentence---from Marx and Engels regarding a return to craft production in the socialist future and I will gladly reopen the debate. As it stands, I will summarize my position now and offer one final, yet most significant, quote from Marx...

According to the dialectics of historical materialism, social relations and the corresponding consciousness of people thus far have been determined by the mode of production.

As Marx said:

[S]lavery cannot be abolished without the steam-engine and the mule and the spinning-jenny, serfdom cannot be abolished without improved agriculture...(1)

Moving ahead, only the development of capitalism's mode of production, industrialization, provides the objective conditions, the material basis, for socialism. This undoubtedly means a radical transformation in the social relations.

Does it, however, mean a radical transformation of the mode of production?

: After capitalism, something new will develop...

I do not believe that the literature of Marx and Engels will sustain any propositions that they envisioned a new mode of production.

The two writings that most clearly anticipate the communist future are Principles of Communism and The Communist Manifesto. In the first, Engels anticipates that the 'new social order’ will ‘take control of industry...and institute...a common plan, and with the participation of all members of society.'(2) He elaborates:

It is clear that up to now the forces of production have never been developed to the point where enough could be produced for all, and that private property has become a fetter and a barrier in relation to the further development of the forces of production. Now, however, the development of big industry has ushered in a new period. Capital and the forces of production have been expanded to an unprecedented extent, and the means are at hand to multiply them without limit in the near future.(2)

And, in the latter document, Marx and Engels posit that, the first task of the proletariat after assuming power will be 'to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.'(3)

NOWHERE do these two documents even hint that a new mode of production will supersede industrialization, let alone return to an earlier mode of production.

The return to craft production is Morris' utopian fantasy alone.

As I elaborated here and here, industrialization is predicated upon centralization and labor discipline. The division of labor in manufacture, as bad as it is (under capitalist social relations), is a necessary evil in the industrial (abundant) production of goods---the very quality of capitalism that makes socialism possible. Although nowhere do Marx or explicitly state that the division of labor in manufacture will be a feature of the socialist future (except perhaps in that machines will bear the brunt of the monotonous subdivided labor*), there is no doubt that Engels insisted upon centralization and labor discipline as necessary predicates of industrial activity (which will accompany the socialist future):

Wanting to abolish authority in large-scale industry is tantamount to wanting to abolish industry itself, to destroy the power loom in order to return to the spinning wheel.(4)

What sort of authority?

[T]he necessity of authority, and of imperious authority at that, will nowhere be found more evident than on board a ship on the high seas. There, in time of danger, the lives of all depend on the instantaneous and absolute obedience of all to the will of one.(5)

There must be an assigned authority to direct industrial activity. This authority---acknowledged only grudgingly by RD---will be voluntarily assumed or voluntarily rotated, as RD sees it. According to RD, authority, once the means of production are in the hands of the proletariat, will not need to be constrained, 'Folks'll do what is necessary to get on with life.' This premise, utterly utopian, will be dispatched later...

RD and I disagree fundamentally on the social division of labor, an institution that, according to Engels, resulted in the formation of classes.

RD defends the social division of labor, saying that it is a geographic necessity if nothing else. He has claimed that 'the point about division of labor [in manufacture], is that it denies people to invest their whole person into their life-activity, as would have, say, an artisan, involved in using many different skills as part of a production process...[C]ontrast the artisan shoe maker, involved in the whole process of the production of a shoe, in various tasks, with the modern shoe maker, who operates only one stage in the assembly line of shoe making.'

Back to craft production---and its ossified social division of labor.

This sort of preindustrial yearning to negate the evils of the division of labor in manufacture (under capitalist social relations) by reverting to a rigid social division of labor was soundly criticized by Marx:

What characterizes the division of labor inside modern society is that it engenders specialized functions, specialists, and with them craft-idiocy.

What characterizes the division of labor in the automatic workshop is that labor has there completely lost its specialized character. But the moment every special development stops, the need for universality, the tendency towards an integral development of the individual begins to be felt. The automatic workshop wipes out specialization and craft-idiocy.

M. 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...

To sum up, M. Proudhon has not gone further than the petty bourgeois ideal. And to realize this ideal, he can think of nothing better than to take us back to the journeyman or, at most, to the master craftsman of the Middle Ages.(6)

Marx again approached the topic of the 'revolutionary side of the automatic workshop' which engenders 'the tendency towards an integral development of the individual'---while anticipating the socialist future:

Modern industry never looks upon and treats the existing form of a process as final. The technical basis of that industry is therefore revolutionary, while all earlier modes of production were essentially conservative. By means of machinery, chemical processes and other methods, it is continually causing changes not only in the technical basis of production, but also in the functions of the laborer, and in the social combinations of the labor-process. At the same time, it thereby also revolutionizes the division of labor within society, and incessantly launches masses of capital and of workpeople from one branch of production to another. But if Modern Industry, by its very nature, therefore necessitates variation of labor, fluency of function, universal mobility of the laborer, on the other hand, in its capitalistic form, it reproduces the old division of labor with its ossified particularizations.(7)

He observed that modern production, ever advancing in technology, displaces workers rapidly as machinery assumes more and more of human's work. Although he lamented the social relations of capital that discard workers (creating unemployment and lowing wages), he welcomed the developments that necessitated workers being called upon to learn new jobs, several jobs:

Modern Industry... through its catastrophes imposes the necessity of recognizing, as fundamental law of production, variation of work, consequently fitness of the laborer for varied work, consequently the greatest possible development of his varied aptitudes. It becomes a question of life and death for society to adapt the mode of production to the normal functioning of this law. Modern Industry, indeed, compels society, under penalty of death, to replace the detail-worker of today, crippled by life-long repetition of one and the same trivial operation, and thus reduced to the mere fragment of a man, by the fully developed individual, fit for a variety of labors, ready to face any change of production, and to whom the different social functions he performs, are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural and acquired powers.(8)

He criticized the division of labor in manufacture as well as the social division of labor, envisioning workers who are as protean as the revolutionary mode of production that is modern industry. He does NOT suggest a return to craft production. He does NOT suggest that an entirely new mode of production will emerge.

Here's what he imagined:

[T]here can be no doubt when the working class comes into power, as inevitably it must, technical instruction, both theoretical and practical, will take its proper place in the working-class schools. There is also no doubt that such revolutionary ferments, the final result of which is the abolition of the old division of labor, are diametrically opposed to the capitalistic form of production, and to the economic status of the laborer corresponding to that form.(9)

Note that Marx did NOT say 'mode of production,' he said form, as in 'capitalistic form' (above). He is clearly talking about the social relations of capital attendant upon the mode of production. What will be abolished will be the 'old division of labor,' the social division of labor. Industrial activity will remain---the industrial activity that, according to Marx, requires a worker to master many different jobs.

He is most specific on this point, including in a footnote a quote from a French worker recently landed in San Francisco:

'Once in the midst of this world of adventurers, who change their occupations as often as they do their shirt, egad, I did as the others. As mining did not turn out to be remunerative enough, I left it for the town, where in succession I became typographer, slater, plumber, etc. In consequence of thus finding out that I am fit for any sort of work, I feel less of a mollusk and more like a man.'(10)

Which realizes the material basis for the prediction:

[I]n communist society, where nobody has one exclusive branch but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd or critic.(11)

When Morris, on the other hand, says the socialist future is 'not an age of inventions' (News From Nowhere and other writings, Penguin Classics, p. 192) he is rejecting the very advancements in technology that necessitate the 'variation of work' that Marx embraced. Morris wants us to go backwards into the 'craft-idiocy' of closed guilds and 'ossified particularizations'; Marx wants us to go forward into future where people's needs to do many types of work is mandated by a protean modern industry.

Again, Engels:

The form of the division of labor which makes one a peasant, another a cobbler, a third a factory worker, a fourth a stock-market operator has already been undermined by machinery [notice how this anticipates Marx's later observation of the 'revolutionary' quality of modern industry] and will completely disappear. Education will enable young people quickly to familiarize themselves with the whole system of production and to pass from one branch of production to another in response to the needs of society or their own inclinations. It will therefore free them from the one-sided character which the present-day division of labor impresses upon every individual.(12)

: Socially divided labor still retains the fullness of human engagement with life-activity, a professional porter - such as worked at our college halls - is a multifaceted and skilled task, that engages mind and spirit, particularly if the subject is willing. To rotate jobs is to replicate the fractioning of the human spirit of productive division of labor.

Again, Engels:

[I]n time to come there will no longer be any professional porters or architects, and that the man who for half an hour gives instructions as an architect will also push a barrow for a period, until his activity as an architect is once again required. It is a fine sort of socialism which perpetuates the professional porter!(13)

RD's argument is demolished.

As I stated above, the dialectics of historical materialism insist that the socialist future will be predicated upon the material basis of capitalism. A return to craft-production is not possible.

RD, facing this conclusion, has at times conceded that there will be job rotation. His caveat is that it shall be voluntary.

I, too, expect it shall be voluntary---in the higher phase of communism.

Where RD and I part ways, however, is on the topic of the first phase of communism, the dictatorship of the proletariat. RD minimizes the need for state intervention in overcoming the resistance of the bourgeoisie (and the overwhelming influence of bourgeois enculturation), saying that the dictatorship of the proletariat will last 5 minutes.

Marx's study of the first dictatorship of the proletariat, the Paris Commune, refutes such an estimate as importunately utopian.

RD feels confident that, after this 5 minute social transformation, everyone will be suffused with the spirit of cooperation and will voluntarily rotate jobs. Conceding that some bosses may be necessary (in a post titled No Bosses no less) in the socialist future, he imagines that while some people will cheerfully volunteer to be bosses, others will as cheerfully volunteer to follow orders. Some will gladly do the mental work of society; others will equally gladly do the menial work of society. This cannot be humankind as it emerges from today's society!

Anticipating no conflicts necessitating state structure, RD states that no rules---such as a constitution---will be necessary, rules will emerge 'organically.' His words: 'Folks'll do what is necessary to get on with life.'

Of course, all of this utopian speculation (offered in the spirit of Morris' 'Useful Work versus Useless Toil') neglects the fundamental premise of historical materialism---that people emerge into one set of social relations out of another:

What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges.(14)

Socialists will emerge out of capitalist society---and capitalist ideology.

Hence the necessity of the 'first phase of communism.' Hence the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat.** Hence the necessity of the state as an apparatus of class oppression.***

Hence the necessity for a set of laws to govern behavior.

Job rotation---ending the separation of mental and manual work that engendered hierarchy and classes---, I believe, is the key to communism.

To leave such an important component of Marxism to chance, as RD wishes to do (for all the best reasons, I'm positive) is NOT Marxism---it is anarchism, utopianism, ideological indeterminism.


* In The Grundrisse, Marx anticipated that machinery will become automated to the point that, in the socialist future, '[t]he human factor [will be] restricted to watching and supervising the production process'---thus '[i]ndividuals [will] then [be] in a position to develop freely. It [will be] no longer a question of reducing the necessary labor-time in order to create surplus labor, but of reducing the necessary labor of society to a minimum. The counterpart of this reduction [will be] that all members of society can develop their education in the arts, sciences, etc., thanks to the free time and means available to all' (The Grundrisse, McLellan, ed., Harper & Row 1971, p. 142).

Perhaps this passage in The Grundrisse, and similar ones, has led RD to say: 'Reckon I've mentioned buckminster fuller's calculation that we only need two hours work a week, each to do all the work - perhaps less now there's more of us...'

Marx's speculations regarding socialistic automation were limited to The Grundrisse, a work clearly rejected to make way for the composition and subsequent publication of Capital (volume one). In the later work, such optimism made way for his far more guarded, realistic comments regarding the abolition of the social division of labor in the socialist future. As explicitly stated above, his anticipation regarding the abolition of the social division of labor was based on empirical observation whereas his earlier sentiments regarding automation, while possessing much merit, were based primarily upon speculation.

Fuller's speculations, of course, disregard production being determined by the workers...

* * 'Between capitalist and communist society lies the period of the revolutionary transformation of the one into the other. There corresponds to this also a political transition period in which the state can be nothing but the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat' (Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, International 1938, p. 18). As Engels was quite clear that the Paris Commune was the dictatorship of the proletariat (see his introduction to Marx's The Civil War in France, last paragraph), it seems reasonably clear that this 'political transition period' can be expected to last longer than 5 minutes, as RD would have it.

* * * '[S]o long as the proletariat still uses the state, it does not use it in the interests of freedom but in order to hold down its adversaries...' (Engels, Letter to Bebel, 18-28 March 1875, Marx and Engels' Selected Correspondence, International 1934, p. 337). So much for RD's statement that 'Dictatorship of the Proletariat, simply means the dreaded old tyranny of the majority, i.e. fully functioning democracy - we outnumber them vastly, we have no need to inhibit their voting or speaking rights.'



1. Marx, Theories of Surplus Value volume two, Progress 1968, p. 372.

2. Engels, Principles of Communism, Monthly Review 1952, p. 13, emphasis added.

3. Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto, International 1948, p. 30.

4. Engels, 'On Authority,' Marx and Engels' Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, Anchor 1959, p. 483.

5. Ibid, pp. 484.

6. Marx, The Poverty of Philosophy, International n.d., pp. 121-2, emphasis added.

7. Marx, Capital volume one, International 1967, pp. 486-7.

8. Ibid, pp. 487-8.

9. Ibid., p. 488.

10. Ibid., p. 487.

11. Marx and Engels, The German Ideology, International 1939, p. 22.

12. Engels, Principles of Communism, Monthly Review 1952, p. 17.

13. Engels, Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science, International 1935, pp. 228-9.

14. Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, International 1938, p. 8.

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