Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 13

Summary of Chapter 13: The Universal Market

This chapter is a succinct, eloquent, and quite accessible iteration of the classic leftist critique of [formal subsumption]. B points out the rapid growth of market relations, percolating into all aspects of social life and reproduction, largely replacing older forms of organization, in particular the family and community. This is the “universal market,” in which everything is for sale.

It is only in its era of monopoly that the capitalist mode of production takes over the totality of individual, family, and social needs and, in subordinating them to the market, also reshapes them to serve the needs of capital. (188)

All of society transformed into a “gigantic marketplace.” This is contrasted with the more limited range of goods which had been available in early industrial capitalism, many of which were raw materials to be made use of by household, farm, etc. labor (e.g., flour instead of bread). The role of the family remained essential before 1810. Family farms produced own food, clothing, construction work, etc.; even many urban families had some livestock or gardens to supplement income. Most of this work was done by women.

But during the last hundred years industrial capital has thrust itself between farm and household, and appropriated all the processing functions of both, thus extending the commodity form to food in its semi-prepared or even fully prepared forms. (190)

This conquest of the labor processes formerly carried on by farm families, or in homes of every variety, naturally gave fresh energy to capital by increasing the scope of its operations and the size of the “labor force” subjected to its exploitation.

Women were transformed from housewives into workers, and many of the new, particularly poorly paid jobs, end up done by woman, doing the same work they had done before, but now being profited off of.

B ties this to the separation of town and country:

the tighter packing of urbanization destroys the conditions under which it is possible to carry on the old life. The urban rings close around the worker, and around the farmer driven from the land, and confine them within circumstances that preclude the former self-provisioning practices of the home. (191)

The availability of cash makes it easy to buy instead of make, and the cheapening of manufactured goods renders home production uneconomic. This is compounded by social pressure, style, fashion, marketing, educational [propaganda/indoctrination], and the loss of the skills which had been passed down through previous generations. The market becomes a source of individualization/atomization, bringing about

the powerful urge in each family member toward an independent income, which is one of the strongest feelings instilled by the transformation of society into a giant market for labor and goods, since the source of status is no longer the ability to make many things but simply the ability to purchase them.

But the industrialization of food and other elementary home provisions is only the first step in a process which eventually leads to the dependence of all social life, and indeed of all the interrelatedness of humankind, upon the marketplace.

Thus the population no longer relies upon social organization in the form of family, friends, neighbors, community, elders, children, but with few exceptions must go to market and only to market, not only for food, clothing, and shelter, but also for recreation, amusement, security, for the care of the young, the old, the sick, the handi­capped. In time not only the material and service needs but even the emotional patterns of life are channeled through the market.

It thereby comes to pass that while population is packed ever more closely together in the urban environment, the atomization of social life proceeds apace. (192)

Acc B, this “often noticed phenomenon can be explained only by the development of market relations as the substitute for individual and community relations.”

The social structure, built upon the market, is such that relations between individuals and social groups do not take place directly, as cooperative human encounters, but through the market as relations of purchase and sale.

Apart from its biological functions, the family has served as a key institution of social life, production, and consumption. Of these three, capitalism leaves only the last, and that in attenuated form, since even as a consuming unit the family tends to break up into component parts that carry on consumption separately.

...like machinery in the factory, the machinery of society becomes a pillory instead of a convenience, and a substitute for, instead of an aid to, competence. (192-3)

Work ceases to be a natural function and becomes an extorted activity, and the antagonism to it expresses itself in a drive for the shortening of hours on the one side, and the popularity of labor-saving devices for the home, which the market hastens to supply, on the other.

Corporations come to dominate entertainment and “free” time consumption:

By their very profusion, they cannot help but tend to a standard of mediocrity and vulgarity which debases popular taste, a result which is further guaranteed by the fact that the mass market has a powerful lowest-common-denominator effect because of the search for maximum profit.

The stress and alienation of this system create a “human detritus”:

Whole new strata of the helpless and dependent are created, or familiar old ones enlarged enormously: the proportion of “mentally ill” or “deficient,” the “criminals,” the pauperized layers at the bottom of society, all representing varieties of crumbling under the pressures of capitalist urbanism and the conditions of capitalist employment or unemployment. (194)

Thus understood, the massive growth of institutions stretching all the way from schools and hospitals on the one side to prisons and madhouses on the other represents not just the progress of medicine, education, or crime prevention, but the clearing of the marketplace of all but the “economically active” and “functioning” members of society, generally at public expense and at a handsome profit to the manufacturing and service corporations who sometimes own and invari­ably supply these institutions.

The growth of the service industry

brings into being a huge specialized personnel whose function is nothing but cleaning, again made up in good part of women who, in accord with the precepts of the division of labor, perform one of the functions they formerly exercised in the home, but now in the service of capital which profits from each day’s labor.

He discusses the product cycle, “which invents new products and services, some of which become indispensable as the conditions of modem life change to destroy alternatives.”

In this way the inhabitant of capitalist society is enmeshed in a web made up of commodity goods and commodity services from which there is little possibility of escape except through partial or total abstention from social life as it now exists.

Just as in the factory it is not the machines that are at fault but the conditions of the capitalist mode of production under which they are used, so here it is not the necessary provision of social services that is at fault, but the effects of an all-powerful marketplace which, governed by capital and its profitable investment, is both chaotic and profoundly hostile to all feelings of community. (195)

This is the paradox of expanded social services under the conditions brought about by the universal market:

As the advances of modern household and service industries lighten the family labor, they increase the futility of family life; as they remove the burdens of personal relations, they strip away its affections; as they create an intricate social life, they rob it of every vestige of community and leave in its place the cash nexus.

The condition of service sector labor is contrasted to the manufacturing sector:

It is characteristic of most of the jobs created in this “service sector” that, by the nature of the labor processes they incorporate, they are less susceptible to technological change than the processes of most goods-producing indus­tries. Thus while labor tends to stagnate or shrink in the manufacturing sector, it piles up in these services and meets a renewal of the traditional forms of pre-monopoly competition among the many firms that proliferate in fields with lower capital-entry requirements. Largely nonunion and drawing on the pool of pauperized labor at the bottom of the working-class population, these industries create new low-wage sectors of the working class, more intensely exploited and oppressed than those in the mechanized fields of production.

There is the irony that by mainstream economic accounting, this represents a massive growth in the economy, even though it is really just a shift in how and where work is done:

The goods and services produced by unpaid labor in the home are not reckoned at all, but when the same goods and services are produced by paid labor outside the home they are counted.

The work of the housewife, though it has the same material or service effect as that of the chambermaid, restaurant worker, cleaner, porter, or laundry worker, is outside the purview of capital; but when she takes one of these jobs outside the home she becomes a productive worker. Her labor now enriches capital and thus deserves a place in the national product. This is the logic of the universal market. (196)


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