Sunday, September 10, 2023

Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 11

Summary of Chapter 11: Surplus Value and Surplus Labor

Braverman starts off this third section of the book, on “Monopoly Capital,” with a very brief chapter of barely four pages, relating the growth of surplus value in financial/monopoly capitalism, to the growth of “surplus labor,” here referring not only to the labor that produces surplus value, but the surplus of labor available in a heavily automated society, and the uses (other than direct production) to which that labor is put.

He begins with the observation that the atomized and competitive capitalist system of Marx’s day has been replaced by something very different. Observers have differed over what to call it: finance capitalism, late capitalism, and so on. Braverman chooses “monopoly capitalism” as the most felicitous, citing Lenin, and Baran and Sweezy, as precursors in this regard (175). Monopoly capitalism had its beginnings in the last decades of the 19th century, which saw the end of colonialism (everything had been conquered) and the birth of true imperialist era:

Monopoly capitalism thus embraces the increase of monopolistic organi­zations within each capitalist country, the internationalization of capital, the international division of labor, imperialism, the world market and the world movement of capital, and changes in the structure of state power. (175)

This also corresponds in time to the scientific-technical revolution, and the birth of scientific management, etc.

He discusses how this book relates to and differs from that by Baran and Sweezy: they focused on the movements of value, whereas Braverman’s emphasis is on the corresponding movements of labor. He cites Marx on the relation between the movements of labor and of value, and how the creation of vast amounts of capital in need of investment goes along with the creation of the reserve army of labor, in need of employment. Marx had described this capital as rushing into old branches of production which it transforms, and into new branches which it creates anew; Braverman adds that both labor and capital are being funneled into new non-productive jobs, similar to what David Graeber called “bullshit jobs” which exist just to keep the economy expanding despite the fact that more than enough wealth is already being generated:

In tracing this mass of labor, we will be led not only to “newly formed branches of production” in Marx’s sense, but also, as were Baran and Sweezy, into branches of non-production, entire industries and large sectors of existing industries whose only function is the struggle over the allocation of the social surplus among the various sectors of the capitalist class and its dependents. (177)

This leads capitalism, and commodification, to colonize more and more aspects of social life:

In this process, capital which “thrusts itself frantic­ally” into every possible new area of investment has totally reorganized society, and in creating the new distribution of labor has created a social life vastly different from that of only seventy or eighty years ago. And this restless and insatiable activity of capital continues to transform social life almost daily before our eyes, without heed that by doing so it is creating a situation in which social life becomes increasingly impossible.

Obviously, many links/contrasts with Bookchin are here available, and no doubt will come up again and again in the rest of the book. For now, he states that his plan going forward is to discuss how the occupational structure of capitalism has changed, and the forces at work in this.

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