Thursday, February 17, 2022

Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 7


Summary of Chapter 7: The Scientific-Technical Revolution

Braverman distinguishes between the "physical, chemical, and biological properties of materials and the processes which can be based upon them," and management, which does not directly engage with this central aspect of production: "it merely provides the formal structure for the production process." The process itself, or content, is originally a matter of technique and skill; but through the course of the scientific revolution, such skill is increasingly displaced by scientific knowledge. Thus the modern production process has come to be characterized by "a content supplied by a scientific and engineering revolution within a form supplied by the rigorous division and subdivision of labor favored by capitalist management” (107). Science itself has been transformed, from the province of "philosophers and tinkerers" to a well organized and funded system, supported by the wealth of the capitalist class (including tax revenues, which are controlled by the capitalist class).

A formerly relatively free-floating social endeavor is integrated into production and the market. (108)

 [Here an alignment with Bookchin, who would perhaps see such "free floating" scientific inquiry as a kind of spontaneous expression of human spirit, reigned in and coming under the control of capitalism].

This transition (from technique to science, and from independent to dependent science) is that from the Industrial Revolution, of the 18th and 19th centuries, to the scientific-technical revolution, starting in the late 19th century and continuing in Braverman's day (1974). Up through the Industrial Revolution, technique (meaning the working knowledge of mechanics, artisans, etc.) preceded scientific knowledge. He gives the example of the steam engine: all the improvements were made by working mechanics, not by [academic] scientists [who were focused on theory;] the scientific understanding of heat, for instance, was well behind the actual development of the steam engine at the time (108-9).

 The shift was in the late 19th century:

The old epoch of industry gave way to the new during the last decades of the nineteenth century primarily as a result of advances in four fields: electric­ity, steel, coal-petroleum, and the internal combustion engine. Scientific re­search along theoretical lines played enough of a role in these areas to demonstrate to the capitalist class, and especially to the giant corporate entities then coming into being as a result of the concentration and centralization of capital, its importance as a means of furthering the accumulation of capital. (109)

This was particularly true in the electrical industries, which were entirely the product of nineteenth-century science, and in the chemistry of the synthetic products of coal and oil. (110) 

[I wonder where my guys Ladd and Field would fit in here -- they are tinkerers and entrepreneurs, seemingly much more applied than scholarly].

Braverman discusses the importance of Germany as the place where the scientific development of capitalism began. [As an interesting aside I was just reading Foucault’s somewhat more esoteric claim that Germany was ahead of France in terms of developing a critical questioning of reason, during the same period]. One of the reasons Germany turned to science sooner was its relative lack of resources compared to other European powers (with greater colonial holdings) and the US (with greater land area and resources). In the US, Edison's lab is formed in 1876; the growth of monopoly capitalism leads to growth in corporate research laboratories from late 19th through early 20th centuries. He discusses the role of WWII in transforming US into the leading scientific nation.

In conclusion he reiterates the importance of the shift from industrial to scientific-technical revolution:

By the last quarter of the nineteenth century, what Landes called "the exhaustion of the technological possibilities of the Industrial Revolution" had set in. The new scientific-technical revolution which replenished the stock of technological possibilities had a conscious and purposive character largely absent from the old. In place of spontaneous innovation indirectly evoked by the social processes of production came the planned progress of technology and product design. This was accomplished by means of the transformation of science itself into a commodity bought and sold like the other implements and labors of production. (114)

The “key innovation” of modernity, argues Braverman, is not in itself technological, but rather the context in which technology is developed:

The key innovation [of the scientific-technical revolution] is not to be found in chemistry, electronics, automatic machinery, aeronautics, atomic physics, or any of the products of these science-technologies, but rather in the transformation of science itself into capital. (115)



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