Thursday, January 11, 2024

Labor and Monopoly Capital, Chapter 14

Summary of Chapter 14: The Role of the State

In the most elementary sense, the state is guarantor of the conditions, the social relations, of capitalism, and the protector of the ever more unequal distribution of property which this system brings about. But in a further sense state power has everywhere been used by governments to enrich the capitalist class, and by groups or individuals to enrich themselves. (197)

The state has always played this function, but it is expanded with monopoly capitalism. In the cases of post-war Germany and Japan, the state and the new capital form are created simultaneously; however, in older states such as the US and UK, a more circumscribed role for the state existed earlier, so the transformation to the more interventionist state appeared to be a struggle against capital, though this was only an illusion.

the maturing of the various tendencies of monopoly capitalism created a situation in which the expansion of direct state activities in the economy could not be avoided.

This is explored under four “headings.”

1. “Monopoly capitalism tends to generate a greater economic surplus than it can absorb,” leading to periodic stagnation and depressions. Government spending is necessary to buy up the surplus; Braverman points to Baran and Sweezy’s text for a more complete analysis.

2. The new, international/trans-national structure of capitalist production, along with resistance movements which arise to oppose it, means that, to police this order, the leading capitalist states need to have a permanent active military. This in turn assists in creating effective demand (per #1) with the added bonus that military spending, unlike welfare spending, does not redistribute income, and is thus more acceptable to the capitalist class. B states this solution originates with the Nazis, and is picked up by the US and other nations after WWII.

3. Increased poverty and insecurity under monopoly capitalism lead to a need for welfare spending focusing on cities to render this population manageable; “the disputes within the capitalist class over this issue, including disagreements over the scale, scope, and auspices of the welfare measures to be adopted, offer an arena for political agitation which engages the working population as well, and offers a substitute for the revolutionary movements which would soon gain ground if the rulers followed a more traditional laissez-faire course” (198).

4. Another new role for the state today is as provider of institutionalized education, replacing the home-and-community-based practical education of yore:

The minimum requirements for “functioning” in a modern urban envi­ronment—both as workers and as consumers—are imparted to children in an institutional setting rather than in the family or the community. At the same time, what the child must learn is no longer adaptation to the slow round of seasonal labor in an immediately natural environment, but rather adaptation to a speedy and intricate social machinery which is not adjusted to social humanity in general, let alone to the individual, but dictates the rounds of production, consumption, survival, and amusement. Whatever the formal educational content of the curriculum, it is in this respect not so much what the child learns that is important as what he or she becomes wise to. In school, the child and the adolescent practice what they will later be called upon to do as adults: the conformity to routines, the manner in which they will be expected to snatch from the fast-moving machinery their needs and wants. (199)

The opposition between “learning” (facts, techniques, etc.) and “getting wise” is interesting, and the latter has an interesting link to metis. B’s primary point is that it is the form of schooling which teaches the patterns of obedience, conformity, etc., which is more important than the content of what is taught; there is also the sense in which the actual knowledge that is relevant in this ever-changing work environment is very fleeting and always shifting, so it is more a sense of what is going on and a readiness to adapt, in order to “snatch from the fast-moving machinery their needs and wants,” that students need to obtain.

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