- Capitalism and Alternatives -

The Argument for Job Rotation

Posted by: Barry Stoller on October 19, 1999 at 10:44:29:

The social division of labor, as Marx and Engels famously put it, 'only becomes truly such from the moment when a division of material and mental labor appears.'(1) Everyone knows this distinction well: it is the difference between, say, sanding propellers and supervising those sanding propellers. But it is not only a separation of physical and mental work, it is a separation of unskilled and skilled work.

We are all familiar with arguments in favor of the social division of labor. Its classic proponent was Socrates, who said:

[W]e must infer that all things are produced more plentifully and easily and of a better quality when one man does one thing which is natural to him and does it at the right time, and leaves other things.(2)

Which led, logically enough, to the conclusion:

There will be discovered to be some natures who ought to study philosophy and to be leaders in the State; and others who are not born to be philosophers, and are meant to be followers rather than leaders.(3)

Thus the basis for minority rule.

Marx and Engels, of course, challenged the social division of labor cogently and consistently. Although The German Ideology, with its many well-known passages championing job rotation, has been called by many 'Marxists' an immature outlook that Marx changed later, Engels' late work returned to the necessity for job rotation with undiminished enthusiasm:

[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!(3)

It cannot be emphasized enough that job rotation is the key to democracy.

Only when the usurping 'experts' that 'represent' the 'will of the people' have been replaced by the people themselves will the opportunity for social equality appear. Only when those who make the decisions affecting the work of 'others' are required to, in turn, do some of that work themselves will those decisions lose their potential for abuse. Only when everyone participates equally in all manner of work will people then become qualified to judge which products and services are 'worth' making and doing.

The Bolsheviks were aware of this necessity and acknowledged it openly:

It is absolutely indispensable that every member of a soviet should play some definite part in the work of state administration. It is incumbent upon every member of a soviet, not merely to pass opinions upon matters that come up for discussion, but himself to take part in the common task, in his own person to fill some social office.

The next essential is that there should be a continuous rotation in these functions. This implies that every comrade must, after a definite time, change over from one occupation to another, so that by degrees he shall become experienced in all the branches of administrative work.(4)

What about specialists---scientists, doctors, artists? Of course, they should help run the state, but should they also be required to 'waste' their skills and perform 'menial' jobs?

Again, the Bolsheviks answered:

In communist society there will be no close[d] corporations, no stereotyped guilds, no petrified specialist groups. The most brilliant man of science must also be skilled in manual labor.(5)

It is easy to see why Stalin and his bureaucratic minions were so eager to put the Bolsheviks to death! Those who claim that 'Lenin laid the groundwork for Stalin' forget that almost every last Bolshevik---whose policies Lenin supported unreservedly*---died for egalitarian goals such as job rotation.

Stalin prevailed and so did the official line 'no work is menial.' Thus an entire career as a porter was justified!

In the capitalist world, a different official line prevails.

This line asserts that there 'just happens' to be 'someone for each job.' Those who 'end up,' say, doing unskilled work are considered those too stupid or too unambitious to do better. However, this process of selection is guaranteed by making higher education inaccessible (through exorbitant prices) to the majority of the population! In this way the labor market receives the unskilled labor it hungers for while the unskilled are said to 'get what they deserve' because, after all, they are unskilled.

Yes, there 'just happens' to be 'someone for each job'---but this fortuity is regulated by the very market that benefits from its intervention.

Which brings us back to Socrates' claim that:

There will be discovered to be some natures who ought to study philosophy and to be leaders in the State; and others who are not born to be philosophers, and are meant to be followers rather than leaders.(6)

But now we see how the trick is done! The workers are prevented from learning skills, which conveniently 'proves' they should do the unskilled labor! Plus be denied the opportunity to govern themselves!

Hence, the dire necessity for job rotation in all areas of social management.


1. Marx & Engels, The German Ideology, International 1939, p. 20.
2. Plato's Republic, Jowett Translation, Modern Library Edition, p. 61.
3. Ibid., p. 204.
3. Engels, Herr Eugen Duhring's Revolution in Science, International 1935, pp. 228-9.
4. Bukharin & Preobrazhensky, The A B C of Communism, University of Michigan Press 1966, p. 190.
5. Ibid., p. 237.
6. Plato, op. cit., p. 204.

* Lenin gave his unqualified support for Bukharin & Preobrazhensky's A B C of Communism, quoted above, at the 8th All-Russia Congress for Soviets, 22-29 December 1920. His speech stated: 'We have a Party programme which has been excellently explained by Comrades Preobrazhensky and Bukharin in the form of a book which is less voluminous [than another document mentioned, concerning the electrification of rural areas] but extremely useful. That is the political programme; it is an enumeration of our objectives, an explanation of the relations between classes and masses. It must, however, also be realized that the time has come to take this road in actual fact and to measure the practical results achieved.' (Lenin, 'Report of the All-Russia Central Executive Committee and the Council of People's Commissars on the Home and Foreign Policy,' Selected Works, vol. 3, International 1975, pp. 459-60, emphasis added.)

Only 25% of all available jobs require any education or skill above a high school diploma. (Source: Business Week 1 September 1997, p. 67.)

'Today, nearly a third of all workers are stuck in lower-skilled jobs paying less than $15,000 a year, EPI [Economic Policy Institute] figures show.' (Ibid.)

'Since the 1970s, a rising share of university-educated workers have wound up with high school level jobs.' (Source: Business Week, 6 October 1997, p. 30.)

'[A]ccording to one Labor Dept. projection, the growing supply of college grads could outstrip growth in demand by as much as 330,000 annually by 2005.' (Ibid.)

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