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Outline on technology and progress October 1979

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The following outline for an article is unfinished, incomplete, out of sequence and lopsided in emphasis.  A major section or companion article on Braverman's "Labor and Monopoly Capital" has not been prepared yet. Please return comments for consideration in next draft. 

(Note 2006) There was a further reply which is rather more dated than the originals and won't be published unless the originating author wants to resume the discussion in the light of subsequent developments.


1. Objections to the trend of modern technology and economic growth may be summarised under the following headings:

a)  Eco-catastrophe

b)  Environmental degradation

c)  Limits on Growth

d)  Third World Dependency

e)  Wasteful Consumption

f)  Technocratic Priesthood

g)  Centralisation

h)  Unemployment

i)   Commercialisation and rat race

j)   Degradation and Deskilling of Labor


2.  These themes are all part of the very fabric of "left wing" and "radical" thinking in Western countries.  Reference to them, often in a glib and trendy way, has become a trade mark to distinguish "them" ("the establishment") from "us" ("the radicals").  Rejection of these themes is generally considered heretical and a sign of impending desertion to the other side.


3.  Nevertheless, Third World revolutionaries actually engaged in armed struggle against imperialism, the classic founders of scientific socialism and the leadership of socialist countries have never stressed these themes in the same way.  This paper will challenge the widespread assumption that emphasis on these themes reflects a more "advanced" conception than other "simplistic" views, and will show that a polemic against opinions that are now most fashionable among the "left" was a central feature of the development of scientific socialism (by which I mean "orthodox" Marxism, or Marxism-Leninism).


4. This paper has nothing new or startling to say but will simply try to raise the banner of a position of whose existence most "radicals" seem quite unaware, without undertaking a comprehensive defence of that position.  Since in surveying the literature I couldn't find a single article advocating the position I hold, and which I understand to have always been the "orthodox" Marxist view on these questions, I felt obliged to write one myself.  Any assistance from readers who can point me to relevant material would be most appreciated.


5.  The major trends among Western "radicals" on issues concerning technology and progress can be summarised as follows:

a)  Outright opposition to modern technology and nostalgia for the past, summed up in the slogan "Small is Beautiful".

b)  Acceptance of modern technology if society was socialist, but Luddite hostility towards it in capitalist society, summed up in the slogan "For Whom".

c)  Acceptance of modern technology in present day capitalist society but a rejection of the social relations that have developed together with it and a romantic "nostalgia for an age that has not yet come into being", where the dignity of craft skills will prevail.


The dominant view is of course an eclectic mixture of all three, sometimes even combined with views taken from the pro-technology, pro-growth camp.


6.  In the camp which rejects the main objections to economic growth and modern technology listed above, and which criticises the reactionary, Luddite and romantic assaults on modern society, the dominant trend is straight forward bourgeois complacency or Liberalism, which explains the unpopularity of pro-technology, pro-growth views among the "left".


Closely allied to Liberalism, and subordinate to it, is a Social Democratic trend which dresses up much the same analysis of society with a few Marxist phrases about promoting the revolutionisation of society by developing the productive forces. This has more support than Liberalism within the "left" because it is more critical of modern society and therefore closer to the anti-technology, anti-growth camp on issues unrelated to technology and economic growth.


The dominant ideology in such allegedly "socialist" countries as the Soviet Union, post-Mao China, and Albania, reflects a mixture of Liberal and Social Democratic attitudes and therefore adds to the unpopularity of pro-technology, pro-growth views within the "left".


7.  But also in the pro-technology, pro-growth camp, is a quite different position, which I would call the "orthodox" Marxist, Marxist-Leninist, or scientific socialist view.  This fundamentally agrees with the Liberal and Social Democratic trends in opposing reaction, Luddism and romanticism (as Lenin agreed with Struve and the "legal Marxists" in fighting Narodnism in Russia).  But it fundamentally breaks with these trends in its analysis of the revolutionary implications of modern technology and economic growth.  While joining with the anti-technology, anti-growth camp in rejecting modern society, this rejection is positive in contrasting the present with the future and not negative in trying to retard the further development of modern capitalist society.


The views of this trend will be found in various works by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and Mao Tsetung, many of which are explicit polemics against romanticism etc.


8.  Let's review the various anti-technology, anti-growth themes one by one.  The first eight, which tend to attack modern technology and economic growth as things in themselves, will be dealt with rather quickly.  The last two,  concerning Commercialisation and the Rat Race, and the Degradation and Deskilling of Labor raise more serious issues about capitalist social relations, and will be dealt with more fully when analysing romanticism and commenting on Harry Braverman's "Labor and Monopoly Capital".


9. a) Eco-catastrophe

Various scenarios for the catastrophic destruction of humanity if present trends continue have been put forward by the more extremist opponents of modern technology and economic growth.  These range from the "population explosion" to the long term effects of heat pollution, carbon dioxide or the break up of the ozone layer.  Although in one sense a "lunatic fringe", these ideas do have some real influence within the "left" and people often fall back on them (without necessarily knowing any of the details) when otherwise stuck for arguments.


Detailed refutation of the various theories is not appropriate here.  But its worth noting that some people actually want their disaster theories to be true because they want there to be some barrier to the further development of industrialisation.  Feelings of "doom" are widespread because the present social system is in fact doomed, but instead of correctly identifying exactly what is doomed, people tend to transfer their feeling to anything convenient. Catastrophe theories are not being put forward by scientists who believe in technical progress and economic growth and are worried because they have come across some phenomena that might threaten this.  These theories are put forward by people (whether scientists or not), who already want there to be a barrier and go out looking for it.


They do not understand Marx's proposition that "the only barrier to capital is capital itself" and they look for some external obstacle to the further development of capitalism, lying outside capitalist society itself.


There is even a kind of "eco-fascism" with ideas and solutions remarkably similar to those of fascists in the 1930s, particularly in regard to population control.


10.  b) Environmental degradation.

This theme is also taken up by people who want there to be some external barrier to the further development of capitalism.  It is really only relevant to the technology and growth debate insofar as some catastrophe is predicted.  Insofar as one is talking about incidental environmental degradation, the classic answer given by Liberals cannot be refuted:

"It is easier to modernise plant and equipment (e.g. to incorporate pollution control mechanisms) and to engineer structural readjustments to the changing pattern of economic activity in a growth context than otherwise. More fundamentally, economic growth implies that the stock of resources (including technology) which the community has at its disposal is continually expanding... Nowadays we have the opportunity that comes with growth to opt for a more pleasing environment.  If that opportunity occurs in an expanding economy, opting for it need not involve an absolute reduction in presently enjoyed standards in other respects.  In short, 'growth' entails a positive contribution to pollution control in a way which a 'stationary state' cannot...

...If pollution control standards are set to high that the costs of control clearly exceed the resulting benefits, resources will be wastefully diverted from other purposes - including perhaps other forms of environmental improvement.  Moreover, it is already apparent - with the technology of pollution control only beginning to develop - that even modest expenditure can have large effects in reducing pollution.


In summary the damage from environmental pollution in a large and growing economy with effective pollution control standards certainly need be no greater and in practice is likely to be far less than the damage in a small and slower growing economy operating in the same area without effective pollution control measures.  The quality of the environment can be improved much more - and more quickly - by measures to counter pollution than by steps to contain economic growth.  It is doubtful in any case whether action of the latter kind will be deliberately attempted, and if it were, and the improvement in living standards were slowed down as a result, the resistance to applying resources to control pollution would be so much the greater."


(Treasury Economic Paper No 2 "Economic Growth: Is it worth having?" June 1973, AGPS Canberra, p19 and p21)


Even leaving aside the difference between capitalist and socialist attitudes to the environment, it is clear that industrialisation has markedly improved the environment compared with pre-industrial societies. Not only was the life of the "noble savage" something "nasty, brutish and short" but even in feudal times the environment can be summarised in this jingle:

                In days of old, when knights were bold,

                and lavatories weren't invented;

                People laid their loads, beside the roads,

                and went away contented.

Even the aristocrats, let alone the "solid yeomen" of pre-industrial society literally stank - and not only in the towns where the streets were used as sewers.  Forests were denuded and dustbowls and deserts created, before modern agriculture began to reverse  this process.


Over the last decade in particular (as a result of pressure from people concerned about the environment) we have seen a clear and definite improvement in environmental protection.  The increasing concern with pollution controls today precisely reflects the fact that as industrialisation proceeds, higher standards not only become necessary but also possible and are demanded.


11. c) Limits to Growth


Depletion of non-renewable resources is another fashionable attempt to find some barrier other than capital itself. The club of Rome's project, and all derivatives, carry out exactly the same exercise as Malthus in comparing geometric growth of consumption to arithmetic growth of production and drawing tautologous conclusions.


Of course its true that any positive rate of growth, no matter how small, must eventually (and in fact quite quickly) exhaust any finite non-renewable resources.  But if this spells doom for industrial society, then it should be added that any positive rate of consumption at all even if there is a declining rate instead of growth, must also eventually exhaust any finite non-renewable resources, though it may take longer.  The issue is whether "resources" are "finite".  If they are then we are doomed, growth or no growth.


As Ehrlich points out, with any positive rate of population growth, humanity would eventually occupy a volume larger than the planet earth and expanding faster than the speed of light.  But what does this actually have to do with the real and pressing problems of the world we really live in?


Again the Liberal answer to these themes is straightforward and irrefutable:


"As an historical fact, the long-term trend has been for the cost of mineral inputs to decline as a proportion of total production costs.  Numerous studies of the available statistical data, spanning more than a century, have demonstrated that the tendency during this phase of unprecedented growth in the world economy and in the use of minerals has not been towards scarcity but towards abundance.  In the United States the real cost of minerals output was less than one-half the average 1870-1900 level by 1929; and by 1957 it was less than one-half the 1929 level...(ibid p33)


...Such resources may be being 'used up', but they are also - and as an integral part of the same process- being 'created'.  It is in the twentieth century that the essential uniformity of energy and matter has been discovered, that the development of new synthetic materials has become almost commonplace, and that technological advance has become virtually continuous, each improvement creating new opportunities for further advance.  The extension of knowledge about the world has not only confounded past predictions of resource scarcity but has been in directions which make such predictions less and less defensible as time goes by." (p39)


Since such predictions are less and less defensible, why are they also more and more popular?  It seems clear that the degree of rejection of this "bourgeois optimism" is not related to the degree of one's knowledge of industrial processes, but to the degree of one's rejection of modern society.  Those who recognise there is a barrier, but do not fully understand the barrier is capital itself, look for that barrier in something else, like "Limits to Growth".


12. d) Third World Dependency

This theme has been adequately refuted by Bill Warren, who belongs to the Social Democratic rather than purely Liberal trend.  As a Social Democrat, Warren tends to defend imperialism, playing down its contradictions in a Kautskyite way opposed to Leninism, although some of this can be excused as iconoclastic shock treatment against the excesses of "dependency theory".  Warren's refutation of the "radical" conventional wisdom about the Third World is quite crushing and no serious attempt has been made to refute him.


It is a historical fact (not emphasised by Warren) that the development of technology and economic growth has been extremely uneven, with imperialist exploitation of the poor nations by the rich (just as internally too, industrialisation has meant the exploitation of the poor by the rich and polarisation of society).


But it is equally a historical fact (denied by dependency theorists), that imperialism has meant the more rapid spread of capitalist social relations throughout the world and that far from becoming more and more dependent, the backward countries are proceeding very rapidly along the same path of commercialisation and industrialisation that Europe undertook a few hundred years ago.


The world is becoming more polarised, with even imperialist "second world" countries joining the Third World in suffering from superpower exploitation and domination, but it is doing so in the course of a rapid progressive social development - just as the internal polarisation of capitalist societies into a smaller and smaller handful of exploiters (the Rockefellers and such) against a larger and larger proletariat including the ruined middle classes, was also part of a progressive social development.


Lenin's classic work "The Development of Capitalism in Russia" described this process, which is now taking place in most Third World countries,as it took place in the then backward agrarian and semi-feudal Tsarist Russia.  Answering the Narodnik "dependency theorists" of his day:    "The Russia of the wooden plough and the flail, of the water-mill and the hand loom, began rapidly to be transformed into the Russia of the iron plough and the threshing machine, of the steam-mill and the power-loom.  An equally thorough transformation of technique is seen in every branch of the national economy where capitalist production predominates.  This process of transformation must, by the very nature of capitalism, take place in the midst of much that is uneven and disproportionate: periods of prosperity alternate with periods of crisis, the development of one industry leads to the decline of another, there is progress in one aspect of agriculture in one area and in another aspect in another area, the growth of trade and industry outstrips the growth of agriculture, etc.  A large number of errors made by Narodnik writers spring from their efforts to prove that this disproportionate, spasmodic, feverish development is not development."  (Collected Works Vol 3, p597)


Precisely because the Third World is industrialising, its importance in world affairs is greatly increasing, to an extent that has not been recognised by most Western "radicals".  This profound social change which is affecting some two thirds of the world's people is obviously of enormous importance and cannot simply be dismissed.


We have lived through the post-war decolonisation and have only recently experienced the defeat of the USA by Vietnam, as well as the general rise of the Third World in the United Nations.  It is quite clear that economic growth and technical progress has not reinforced the conditions for dependence, but has been abolishing the situation which made it possible for backward regions to become colonies or "mandated territories" of the "civilised countries" who bore the "white man's burden".  "Countries want independence, nations want liberation, and the people want revolution".


On an international scale, the trans-national corporations are creating and uniting an international proletariat to be their grave diggers, as earlier the bourgeoisie broke down local boundaries and created nations with a national proletariat,  In defending national independence and other democratic rights, it is no task of the "left" to support protectionism and try to retard the integration of the world capitalist market.  We can only support "Free Trade", not oppose it - but in the same revolutionary and critical spirit that Karl Marx did.


13. e) Consumerism


Instead of the "old-fashioned" socialist critique, which condemned capitalism, even in England, the richest capitalist country of the time, for holding down the living standards of the masses,we have a "new" critique which condemns it for inundating us with "useless" and "wasteful" products.  Although often coupled with moralising lectures about the poverty of people in Third World countries, this is really quite irrelevant to the issue and the "new" theme bears a strong resemblance to the old "barracks communism" of Weitling.


Certainly some quite useless and even harmful products are sold because of advertising and this should be opposed.  But people who make "consumerism" their theme are talking about something more fundamental than that, and calling for a far reaching change in Western consumption patterns towards a "simpler" and allegedly more "wholesome" lifestyle based on "necessities" and with less emphasis on "unnecessary" consumer durables, "gadgets", motor vehicles etc.


It is not clear whether these changes are to be compulsory, with restrictions to prevent people from buying the dishwashers, cars or electric toothbrushes that our "radicals" disapprove of, by inhibiting their production.  Or is it to be voluntary, with a massive propaganda (advertising) campaign to dissuade people from buying products the "radicals" don't like?


Either way involves an enormous elitist contempt for the common sense of ordinary people.  Part of this is a reaction against the political backwardness which has led many people to accept the continuation of capitalism without revolt, in exchange for the post-war "affluence" (a mess of potage).  Understandable as this is, it is still elitist.


People are entitled to want, and to be satisfied to get, access to things that used to be regarded as  luxuries.  There has been a very substantial improvement in mass living standards since the 1930's and it is hardly surprising that while the post-war boom continued, the capitalist social order was relatively stable.  Not only material standards, but also the "quality of life" with access to culture, education etc has improved with the rise in real wages (even if the value of wages in terms of labour time has declined, exploitation increased and the social position of workers worsened).  There are even some progressive aspects to the way capitalism stimulates new "wants" to expand its markets.


The higher standards of living which have been achieved involve an increase in people's expectations and their determination to defend the greater dignity that they have won.  It is sheer arrogance to condemn all this as "consumerism".  People will revolt when they find that the existing social order cannot provide them with what they want, not when some "radical" persuades them that they shouldn't want it.  Now that living standards are again starting to decline, we will see whether the generation that was brought up on "consumerism" will put up with more or less shit from capitalism than their parents did in the last Great Depression.  From general attitudes towards "authority" etc, it seems likely that the "consumerist" generation will be more ready to revolt, not less.


At least Malcolm Fraser's proposal to reduce living standards by cutting real wages is more democratic than the "radical" attacks on consumerism.  Why can't the radicals who oppose "wasteful consumption" settle for demanding a general wage cut?  This would leave people free to choose for themselves without manipulation what they regard as necessary and what "wasteful" items they could do without.


Of course I'm not saying we'll all still have private cars after the revolution despite the various social problems that go with them.  We'll have helicopters.and spaceships.  ("We want bread and roses too...")


14.  f) Technocratic Priesthood


The very term "priesthood" evokes images of barbaric societies in which the mass of the population were ignorant of natural phenomena and paid homage to a minority elite who were sufficiently literate to be able to pass on knowledge about the seasons, tides and other matters essential to production as well as culture.


To believe that such a priesthood rules society today, requires considerable imagination.  It is perfectly obvious that power in our society is held by capitalists and stems from their wealth and not from any monopoly of technical knowledge.  In the more backward capitalist countries like the Soviet Union and China, one might confuse the ruling Party bourgeoisie with a priesthood because of superficial resemblances in forms of organisation and alleged service to a "Marxist-Leninist" religion.  This may have something to do with the survival of more backward semi-feudal relationships.  But there is clearly nothing "technocratic" about it and the interrelationship between wealth and power and the role of managers and bureaucrats is quite similar to more advanced Western capitalist countries.


Scientists and engineers are employed by the ruling class and work for wages like the rest of us.  They too have no monopoly on technical information, which is widely diffused among the literate population and can be readily acquired in libraries and even newsagents.  The mythology about a "technocratic priesthood" is most widespread among liberal arts graduates who have gone through school and university doing only "humanities" courses and have thus been denied the basic technical education which is acquired by most school and University students in our society.


There is no excuse for this one-sidedness however, since any literate person can pick up the fundamentals of modern technology by just browsing through the "How and Why" type of children's' encyclopaedias readily available in every newsagent.


Nuclear power is held up most often as an industry where the dangers of a "technocratic priesthood" are greatest.  In fact it is the most publicly regulated industry with the least initiative in the hands of technocrats.  The whole technology down to blueprints and detailed engineering reports is completely in the public domain and there is no mystery about it whatever.


The average worker today has far more grasp of basic industrial technology, and is given a far more "theoretical" education than in earlier times.  If some liberal arts graduates feel left behind and overawed by modern technology, they would do better to learn something about it than to continue writing speculative nonsense about a "technocratic priesthood".


15. g) Centralisation


Socialists have always welcomed the centralisation of capital as a progressive development paving the way for Communism.  In everyday practical terms, most people understand that the big multi-nationals have more "enlightened" management, produce better products and pay better wages than the smaller "sweatshops", that supermarkets are a better place to do one's shopping, that family farms are on the way out and so forth.


But many "radicals" actually stake their hopes on retarding monopolisation, propping up the small businessmen, shopkeepers and farmers against the multi-nationals and so on.


Fundamentally the complaints about "centralisation" reflect an awareness that wealth and power in our society is concentrated in the hands of a very tiny elite, but with a conservative reaction to try to turn the clock back, instead of pushing forward to socialism and communism.


But in its most absurd form, we even get complaints about the large scale and "centralisation" of the means of production themselves, and not of their ownership.  Thus in arguments about nuclear power, we are told to beware of oppression by the controllers of big, centralised power stations.  Apparently the theory is that if all power comes from a central source we have less control over our destiny than if we have smaller, local power stations.  Taken to an extreme, some people are mad keen on windmills, solar panels, methane generators etc and hope to combine these with vegetable plots, mud brick construction and what have you to create a life style in which one can escape the clutches of capitalism as completely as possible by avoiding all buying and selling and isolating oneself from the market economy.


While I have no objection to other people tinkering with such things if they really want to, personally I prefer being able to obtain electric power at the flick of a switch and without tinkering with anything.  This does not "alienate" me in the slightest and I am quite sure most people feel exactly the same way.  We have simply never felt oppressed by power stations (except by the bills which are of course much lower than they would be with less centralisation).


It is difficult to even imagine how centralisation of power stations could be used as an instrument of oppression.  Is it suggested that in a crisis the embattled bourgeoisie might take refuge in the power station and threaten to turn it off if we didn't return to wage slavery?  On the contrary, they seem concerned to ensure that "essential services" are not disrupted during major strikes.  In any case the electricity grid that links power stations in every industrialised country is about as "decentralised" as one could ask.


It is hard to imagine a more direct reversal of traditional socialist attitudes towards the implications of large scale industry. The point is not to refute this wooly thinking about "centralisation" but to ask what process of mental atrophy could produce such patent nonsense, repeated so often with such authority?


The only answer I can see is that the extinction of Marxism by revisionism during the period of capitalist re-stabilisation has been so complete that most "radicals" have never even heard of Marxist views and have had to re-discover for themselves all the pre-Marxian socialist theories.  (This certainly seems to have been the case with the "New Left" that grew up in the middle sixties, even when Marxist phrases were used.)


16. h) Unemployment


It is a well known proposition of Marxism that as capitalism develops with an increasing organic composition of capital, the size of the industrial reserve army increases and this is particularly manifested in mass unemployment during crises.


The obvious conclusion is that capitalism should be abolished so that people are not "employed by" capital but instead "employ" means of production to satisfy their own requirements.


Instead we have extraordinary proposals from "radicals" to freeze technological development, or at least control and retard it, so as to "safeguard jobs".  The whole trend of most "left" analysis of technology and unemployment involves an acceptance of capitalist irrationality as permanent, and a willingness to restrict the growth in productive forces and therefore living standards so as to adapt them to this irrational economic system (without mass unemployment).


Surely the most elementary socialist consciousness would involve welcoming Labor saving technology and demanding its speediest and widest adoption.  If the social and economic system can't  cope then that's its problem!  It is very strange to see "socialists" arguing that since capitalism can't cope with new technology without unemployment, we should keep the capitalism, but do without the technology. Yet that is exactly what is implied when people complain about Labor saving technology.  They are even prepared to put up with having to work longer hours to produce fewer goods, just as long as they can keep their precious capitalism!


Ricardian economics long ago accepted that the introduction of new technology can be against the real immediate interests of workers who lose their jobs because of it.  But its a long way from there to adopting a program that tries to inhibit new technology.  In fact it has always been when technological change is most rapid that the scope for expanded capital accumulation is greatest and new jobs are created soaking up the reserve army and raising wages.  Stagnation simply means a larger and larger reserve army.


Actually most remarks about technology are prefaced by a reference to "the current economic climate".  This reflects awareness that technological change and the accompanying destruction and creation of jobs is a permanent factor of capitalism, both when there is "full employment" and when there is mass unemployment.


Obviously the fact that mass unemployment suddenly started to develop throughout the Western world a few years ago cannot be attributed to any equally sudden change in technology and must be attributed to the particular stage in the capitalist business cycle that was reached then.  So why do people persist in blaming a process of technological change that has been going on all the time?


It can only be because they don't want to face up to the implications of capitalism as the source of our problems.  Its easier to fight "the machines" than "the bosses", or at any rate its more respectable to do so.


17. Let us now review the major "radical" trends and their attitudes to these issues.


18. The ideology of the "soft technology" trend is well expressed in the journal Resurgence whose Editor Satish Kumar has summarised its aims thus:   "The breaking down of our over-large and over-centralised political and economic structure into smaller autonomous units in order that institutions should become responsive to the needs and desires of everybody and that everyone should thus feel involvement with and responsibility for the conduct of affairs."   ("Time Running Out? Best of Resurgence", Prism Press 1976)


The belief that smaller autonomous units guarantee responsiveness to the needs and desires of everybody is somewhat quaint in view of the history of feudalism.  Nevertheless, in one form or another, this whole approach is still extremely popular in "left" circles.  It seems that Marxism never did defeat anarchism after all.


Although many adherents of this trend are very nice, gentle people who would probably find themselves on the right side of the barricades if it came to that (even if only as stretcher bearers), the ideological content of this trend is undiluted reaction against modern society.


The best known exponent of this trend is E.F. ("Small is Beautiful") Schumacher, whose social views are not radically different from B.A. Santamaria's and are based on the same papal encyclicals (ibid p103).  But Resurgence points out Schumacher should be paired with Professor Leopold Kohr in a "Kohrmacher", like the "Chesterbelloc" of the last generation' (an interesting comparison with another pair of religious medievalists)(ibid p1).


To show just how openly reactionary this trend can be, without the admiring disciples even noticing, we need not consider the promotion of Zionist kibbutzes as a model for the new society (p108).  Let us just take an article by Professor Kohr on "The Economics of Progress" (p18).


Kohr starts with a conversation between two college professors discussing how to wash their shirts, and also "plumbing, floor polishing and cooking, glorying in the fact that progress had so simplified matters that all these things could now be done by themselves".


But one of them sighs and declares:

...fifty years ago we would have had maids.  Instead of having to wash, plumb, and cook like unspecialised pioneers, we might have been better engineers and economists.  Moreover, our shirts would have looked pressed, and our meals have tasted better.  And instead of discussing housework at a party of scholars, we might have discussed our subjects.


According to Kohr:

"The experience of the two professors is shared by an increasing number of people.  On one hand, we witness the gigantic pace of progress and continuously rising output figures.  But on the other hand, we have the strange feeling that, instead of getting ahead in life, we have to give up every year something we could afford when, according to living standard experts, we must have had less".


To support this conclusion, Kohr notes that:

"When I was a student in the early 30's, I drove a racy sportscar".  (During the Great Depression).  Now as a University Professor he rides a bus.


"And the income classes above me have fared still worse... Mr Dupont had to abandon his palatial residence.. Now it is a museum...Where are the people who have become richer as a result of Mr Dupont having become poorer?  On the contrary, most seem to be carried along the same road: downhill... Those who previously drank wine with their meals now drank water, and those who had maids now have none."


"As to maids, it is frequently said that their disappearance is precisely a sign not of decline but of rising standards. For maids of former days are now housewives or businesswomen.  Quite.  But why should maids have aspired to these higher levels except in the hope of having maids themselves?...


"And workers seem to have fared only outwardly better.  True, they have record incomes and record quantities of goods to spend them on.  But if all is taken into account, can they really be said to be better off than workers of earlier times?  They can write and read.  But what is their main literature?  They can send their children to college.  But what has college education become under the levelling impact of intellectual mass production made necessary by the unprecedented numbers of those now able to afford it?...With so many other workers going to school, higher education, already intellectually sterile, seems without added material benefit, having become the competitive minimum requirement for almost any job."


(Exactly  the same point is made by Braverman, but dressed up as "Marxism")


"As a result, what has actually risen under the impact of the enormously increased production of our time is not so much the standard of living as the level of subsistence.  We swim in more water, but we are still in it up to our necks,  In addition, along with the rising water level, many who previously enjoyed the luxury of the dry shore, are now up to their necks in water too".

(Braverman makes a similar point to this too).

"...the problem longer how to foster growth, but how to stop it.."


The above is not a distortion of Professor Kohr's views, but an accurate picture of the introduction to an article that goes on with the usual theme of the need for smaller, more decentralised communities.


It is perfectly clear what section of society this "aristocratic socialism" speaks for - that part of the financial aristocracy being ruined as the proletarianisation of society proceeds (just as the old feudal socialism spoke for the declining feudal aristocracy).


To his credit, Professor Kohr does not attempt to conceal this in the slightest.  But why are his views, or those of "Kohrmacher" nevertheless perfectly respectable in "left" circles?


Since a critique of Braverman's romanticism necessarily includes a critique of this even more reactionary opposition to modern society, I will leave the matter there.


19. A second major trend, which may be called "Luddite" has closer connections with genuinely working class and socialist movements, and is in part a theoretical reflection of the ideas naturally arising in the course of trade union struggles to safeguard the rights of workers affected by automation.


This trend is not opposed to modern technology in itself, and emphasises the benefits that could flow from it in a socialist society.  But it has a negative attitude towards the introduction of new technology within capitalist society, seeing this as a means of doing workers out of jobs and strengthening capitalist control.


The question "For Whom?" is repeated continuously and with enormous self-satisfaction as though it throws some penetrating light on the issues at stake, although in fact it obscures the question "What are the social implications?".  Since the answer to "For Whom?" in capitalist society is naturally "For them" (the capitalists), it is rare to find people who ask this question actually in favour of any new technology being introduced now.


20.  Typical of this genre is a pamphlet called "Computers vs Journalists who wins?" (40 cents from Box 175, P.O. 367 Collins St Melbourne 3000)


Under the subhead "Problems, Problems, Problems..." we read:

"Sub editors are particularly affected, as the new technology not only means removal of some existing skills, but makes it more difficult to perform many traditional ones.  'Casting off', or determining the length of a story, can be done automatically by computer, making redundant a skill acquired over a long period by subs...The skill in writing a headline, which "fits" will be greatly de-valued because the computer can reject those which "bounce" before they are set in type.

                        Some subs will welcome the job of casting off, or headline counts being made easier, but by transferring the skills involved from men and women to a computer the human component involved in the highly-skilled task of good sub-editing is weakened".


The appeal here is unmistakably conservative.  One can imagine similar warnings about moveable type being addressed to monks in defence of their highly skilled craft copying manuscripts (which was indeed completely destroyed by the new technology).


It  has not even occured to the writer that it might be an advance for a machine to do routine counting operations while the human sub-editor concentrates on the content of the material sub edited.  Obviously one should fight for people whose skills have been made  obsolete by new technology to be re-trained, re-employed and not to suffer in the slightest.  But this preference for human labour when something can be done as well by machine is really quite different, and quite reactionary.  It means using people like machines.


The conservatism involved is made quite explicit when the pamphlet quotes approvingly from an agreement between the Swedish Unions of journalists and Graphic Workers, recommending similar agreements between Australian unions:

                        "GF and SJF agree that the introduction of the new technology shall not affect the traditional basic principles of a division of labour among the categories of employees concerned.  Thus, mechanical production tasks fall to the lot of graphic workers, while journalistic tasks are the domain of the staff members.  Special importance must be attached to the workload of the staff, which must not be increased in such a manner that creative journalistic work is made to suffer.  Nor may the tasks of graphic workers be made to include functions embracing journalistic work of a creative or decision-making nature".


This desire to preserve "the traditional principles of a division of labour" against a new technology that tends to break down those divisions can only be called reactionary.  Why shouldn't journalists set their own copy?  Why shouldn't printers' jobs include work of a creative or decision making nature?


The other side of this coin is attempts to prove that a new technology is deepening the division of labour and therefore should be opposed, when in fact like most new technology the actual effect is to break down that division.


Word processing is a classic example.  No serious person could argue that a typewriter with editing and correcting features is in itself worse for humanity than one without these features (although some people have tried).  Yet from all the "left" literature on the subject, one would think that the main social impact of word processing under capitalism would be to reduce the status of typist/secretaries to the level of the typing pool, and reinforce the division between "executive" and "clerical" Labor.


Naturally some reactionaries will try to take advantage of any change in work methods to make things worse for the workers by introducing typing pools and what have you.  Although it is easier to maintain word counts and so forth with a word processor, there is nothing inherent in the technology that would make it easier for bosses to impose typing pools and other worse conditions on the workers, and in fact they have not been successful in doing so.


While word processors are still new and expensive, there is some tendency to try and achieve maximum utilisation of the machine and so attempt tighter control over the Labor using it (especially since such intensification of labour is feasible in the present economic climate of increasing unemployment).  But the inherent trend of the technology is in the opposite direction (as will become clear, when word processing keyboards and VDUs become cheaper than electric typewriters and replace them on a one for one basis - with a separate printer shared between several typists).


The actual impact of word processing has been and will be to reduce the total requirement for typing Labor, especially by eliminating the repetitive typing of similar documents with minor variations ("personalized" form letters with different addresses, revised drafts etc).  These are precisely the applications where typing pools have been common, and they are being eliminated, so typing pools must be declining.


The jobs previously done by "secretaries" are now being done by smaller numbers of "administrative assistants" on the one hand, and word processors on the other.  This elimination of the Executive's personal secretary/body slave is a clear-cut upgrading in job status (except for the Executive's some of whom are complaining) and a break down in the division of Labor.  As has already happened with printers and journalists, the next logical step is for all "word originators", whether "Executives" or not, to do their own typing, since no special manual dexterity is required with the new machines and the difference in wage levels does not "justify" specialisation.  These trends will be accelerated, with similar impacts on the Labor presently required for fileing and other clerical work, as communication between word processors on different desks, and direct access to mass data storage is developed.  Even for purely "typist" Labor in typing pools, the use of a machine with editing and correcting facilities is a clear upgrade in job function.


People who are afraid to confront bosses with the simple demand that there be no intensification of Labor under cover of the new technology will rationalise this fear by pretending that the new technology, rather than the bosses, are the source of the pressure for Labor intensification.  But most workers know how to fight such pressures and have been successful in doing so (although the degree of Success or failure always ultimately depends on the state of the Labor market and the ease of transferring between jobs, hence on the overall economic climate, rather than on the militancy of struggle in individual workplaces).


This awareness that one's fate is bound up with that of all other workers develops in the proletariat and helps develop its consciousness as a class for itself.  It seems to be sadly lacking in many "left" writers about the "Labor process" who picture the class struggle as unfolding in particular workplaces rather than on a national scale, and seem to be under the illusion that workers are tied to their particular employers for life.


21.  Leaving aside the overall struggle for a new society, even within capitalism, the natural reaction of socialist toward new Labor saving technology should be to demand its speedy introduction and a share of the benefits.  Thus the earlier replacement of handicrafts by machine industry prompted agitation for a shorter working day in the factories, and so should the latest stage in automation promote agitation for a shorter working day.


Instead we have the modern Luddites repeating the mistake of the earlier Luddites who tried to prevent the new machinery replacing handicraft Labor in the.first place.  An attempt as futile as it is reactionary.


22. This term "Luddite" is not used here simply as a form of abuse.  It is admitted by representatives of this trend themselves, despite the whole history of scientific socialism since the Industrial Revolution.  Here is Chris Harmon of the UK Socialist Workers Party in a pamphlet titled "Is a machine after your job? New Technology and the Struggle for Socialism". (p21)

                        "... the Luddites were a group of workers suffering from miserably low wages and facing a destruction of their jobs by new working methods.  Their attempts to fight back by destroying machines may not have been successful (although they did succeed in holding down a bigger army than the Duke of Wellington had in the same years to fight his war against the French in Spain).

"But the result of their failure was not something good.  It was grinding desperate poverty for hundreds of thousands of people, enduring for a whole generation...

"...Our response has to start from the same suspicion of the way the new technology is being used that motivates those who simply say "No".  We are on the same side as the Luddites, not against them ."


The "microprocessor revolution" promises (not "threatens") to have as big an impact on the Labor process as the development of automatic machinery in the earlier industrial revolution.  Just as the dexterity of human fingers was for most purposes replaced by machinery, so now some higher functions of control and supervision will also be replaced (although not yet much in the way of actually creative intellectual processes).  It is truly amazing that instead of the further development of Marxism, which based itself on a theoretical comprehension of the social consequences of the age of machinery, we should see a revival of earlier and cruder varieties of socialism that have long been discredited in favour of Marxism, by the history of modern society.


Once again, since a critique of Braverman's romanticism necessarily embraces a critique of modern Luddism, I will leave the matter there.  But I should stress that this "theoretical" difference does put me on the opposite side to modern Luddites on strictly practical questions.  When they are agitating against the introduction of word processors, I would be agitating for workers to demand their immediate introduction and refuse to operate obsolete typewriters that haven't got all mod cons.


23.  Before turning to Braverman and romanticism, it may be worth pointing out the important differences between the Liberal and Social Democratic defence of modern technology and economic growth on the one hand, and the Marxist view on the other, since so far we have been mainly talking about the similarities.


Both the similarities and differences are made clear in an article on "Technology and the Left" in the CPGB organ Marxism Today of May 1979.  Here Ian Benson, a British Labor Party and trade union activist, makes much the same criticisms of "romanticism" and the CPGB's line (similar to the CPA's), as would be made by Liberals on the one hand and Marxists on the other.


24.  After quoting Lenin's analysis of the socialisation of Labor, Benson argues:

                        "From this perspective the simple classification of technology into exploitative and non-exploitative is seen to contribute little either to the raising of the cultural level of mankind or the solution of the political problems of establishing democratic control over the means of production.

The defence of particular skills amounts to an attempt to freeze the existing division of Labor, and defers the satisfaction of material and cultural needs by the rest of the population which would be met by automation.  The principled opposition to centralisation on the grounds of the alleged greater democracy of decentralised production, is both contrary to the need for further integration of the world economy as a prerequisite for the breakdown of skill, class and national barriers, and offers nothing to solving the problem of establishing democratic control over the economy as a whole.

A socialist technology policy with these ends must be based on an analysis of the constraints on the development of science as a productive force, "preparing the ground for the dissolution of human alienation".


This whole approach is so foreign to the romantic outlook that dominates most "left" thinking that people replying cannot even grasp what is being said.  Consider this from a reply titled "What Type of Technology do we want" by Dave Elliott in the same issue of Marxism today:

                        "...Benson believes that science and technology somehow develop independently from other forces in society.  They are "neutral" resources of knowledge and techniques which can be applied either to the benefit of society generally (under socialism) or for the benefit of a few (under capitalism)."


Manifestly Benson does not believe that at all.

He quite clearly treats technology as a positive force which pushes society forward and helps transform it from capitalism to socialism.  This is a view common to Social Democrats and Marxists.  But it is so unthinkable to romantics that the worst accusation they can fling at the pro-technology camp is that we view technology as merely neutral, which we do not!


I have seen numerous articles loftily criticising the "old fashioned", "economic determinist" and "simplistic" view that technology is neutral and that a socialist society could simply take over the previous technology and apply it to more humane ends.  This "neutral" view is often attributed to Engels, Lenin and Stalin although Marx and Mao are often claimed to have been more sympathetic to the romantic school.  But I have hardly seen any material directly confronting the "unthinkable" explicitly pro-technology view which was in fact articulated loud and clear by Marx as well as the rest.


What this "criticism" proves is simply that the critics are quite ignorant of the views of their opponents, let alone being in a position to advance on those views from a more comprehensive understanding.


It is rather like accusing atheists of the Protestant heresy because we will not pray to the virgin Mary, when in fact the problem is even more serious!


26.  The differences between the Marxist and Social Democratic approaches to the social implications of modern technology are made clear when Ian Benson proceeds "Towards a Socialist Technology Policy": "It should call for the removal of all barriers to the full development of science and technology in the interests of society, through a programme of radical institutional, scientific and political reforms."


Benson then outlines a program of reforms to promote "re-skilling,"Democratic Control", "Social Ownership", "Development of Science" and "Socially Useful Production" - all with the aim of "liberation of science".


What this omits is precisely the Marxist concept that the main "institutional" barrier to the full development of science and technology in the interest of society, is the capitalist mode of production based on commodities and wage labour itself.  This has been obsolete since the age of electricity (never mind micro-electronics) and needs to be swept away by revolution (not reform).


Social Democrats share with Marxists the fundamental concept that the development of the productive forces, modern technology and economic growth, is the positive dynamic factor which pushes forward the transformation of social relationships.  But they stand this conclusion on its head by calling for reforms to push forward new technology and economic growth (which are dynamic and pushing forward spontaneously anyway), instead of concentrating on the obsolete social relations which are the passive factor that has been left behind and is acting as a brake on further progress.  In fact in an era such as this, where the social relations are obsolete, it is precisely by social revolution that the productive forces can be unleashed for further and more rapid development (and in the act of social revolution, the relations of production temporarily assume the role of the most active dynamic factor).


Although the terms "productive forces" and "relations of production" have been turned into an almost meaningless cliche, once grasped, the concept is almost tautologous in its simplicity.


27.  Economic growth, and especially technical progress, is essentially cumulative.  New developments, even if quite useless, or only capable of being used in a harmful way, always add to the range of possibilities open and never shut off possibilities that were open before.  We still spend most of our waking hours "Making a living" and our social relationships are formed in the course of doing so.  It is hardly surprising that the continous opening up of new ways of making a living should continuously leave behind and render obsolete the old social relationships founded on the basis of obsolete ways of making a living.


28.  The whole point about the productive forces being the active dynamic factor, is that they have an in-built tendency to develop spontaneously, which the relations between people do not.


Whenever an enterprise improves its production technique, or an individual worker improves his or her lot (eg. by obtaining a more responsible position), there is a development of the productive forces.  But it is not automatically accompanied by any corresponding change in social relations.  Under capitalism such developments are proceeding spontaneously all the time, indeed they are a necessary condition for the expansion of markets and the possibility of re-investing surplus value in the expanded reproduction.


29.  The social relations of production can get left behind as the productive forces develop, so that today for example, we still have essentially capitalist relations between people, based on commodity  exchange and wage labour, which were appropriate to the petty production of the middle ages but are no longer compatible with large scale machine industry (let alone being compatible with the latest developments).


30.  Just as the institutions of slavery and serfdom once held back the further development of the productive forces and had to give way against the slave and surf revolts, so the institution of wage labour is now holding things back and giving rise to revolts.  Eg. apart from the obvious contradictions between capitalism and economic growth expressed in business crises, there is the day to day stifling of the enormous creative energies of the workers themselves, which could be unleashed in a system where they had an interest as masters of production, instead of a direct interest in sabotaging it and "conserving" their jobs.  Then scientific and technical innovation would not only be unhindered by mass unemployment and crises, but would be the conscious activity of the majority instead of the province of "management control".


31.  It follows from this analysis that the critical task facing society is to smash the obsolete social relations as the only way to liberate the productive forces or "liberate science" as Benson puts it.


32. Quite politically conservative people like businessmen or revisionist party bureaucrats can contribute to social progress by developing the productive forces, but only revolutionaries can tackle the central issue of overturning the obsolete social relations.


33.  Therefore in every society in transition from capitalism to communism, whether a capitalist society like Australia or post-Mao China, with the bourgeoisie in power, or a socialist society like Mao's China, the central political issues are often expressed in terms of whether to focus on developing the productive forces or on transforming the relations of production


34.  The representatives of the old capitalist relations, the bourgeoisie, the conservatives, whether they be"businessmen" or "party officials" share much the same rhetoric in calling for "hard work" to "make more cake" and in dismissing the workers struggle to transform social relations as an interference in that process.  It is interesting to note how Ian Benson appeals to both the Czechoslovak Communist Party Program of Dubcek's time, and the "four modernisations" stuff coming out of China today, in support of his views.  The only difference between Social Democrats and Liberals in this regard is that Social Democrats place greater stress on making necessary concessions to the workers: "share the cake more equally and don't waste it".


35.  In opposition to the Malcolm Fraser's and Hua Kuo-feng's, the representatives of the new communist relations of production the proletariat, the radicals, raise the question of "all power to the cooks".  This (after a certain amount of cake-mix spoiling due to confusion among the cooks), is the only way to really transform cake production.


36.  Unfortunately the Marxist analysis of forces and relations of production can only be grasped by the majority in communist society where the majority of humanity are consciously engaged in changing themselves.  If it was the dominant view, even among the "left", and did not have to continuously fend off assaults from reaction, Luddism, romanticism and Social Democracy, then we would have already have had the revolution.   




You suggest  that the "orthodox Marxist" position shares certain similarities with Liberal and Social Democrat  trends in that it also opposes reaction, Luddism and romanticism.  You suggest "it fundamentally breaks with these trends in its analysis of the revolutionary implications of modern technology and economic growth" (point 7).  I would argue that what you present as an "orthodox Marxist" position is in fact nothing of the sort; instead it is a classically Social Democratic position.  Like  classical Social Democracy it claims to be revolutionary but reduces revolution to an abstract, formal imperative - it is revolutionary only on the level of rhetoric.  In so far as it conserns day to day practice (the "true ground" of classical social-democracy, less so in your own case), it is incorrigibly reformist.  Thus, I would reverse the terms of your own polemic.


The basic problem resides in your conception of the development of the 'productive forces' ( or more narrowly 'technology').  You suggest that this development is autonomous.  (This in fact is the first line of Elliott's critique that you quote.  Elliott goes on to imply that the corollary of this is the view that science and technology are 'neutral' resources.  This is inept and I agree with you that it hardly comes to grips with the view of Benson or with the view that you are defending which treats science and technology as (unambiguously) positive.  But Elliot's first point remains pertinent).  You separate relations of production and productive forces and treat the development of the latter as autonomous ('spontaneous').  At the best you appeal to a spurious mechanical metaphor and talk of the former acting as a 'break' on the latter.  I would argue that this conception leads to a radical impoverishment of both the concept of 'relations of production' and the concept of 'productive forces', to a suppression of the chief points in Marx's analysis/critique of capitalism and to a capitulation to Social Democratic politics.


You suggest that the terms 'relations of production' and 'productive forces' have become almost meaningless.  But you do nothing to clarify their meaning or to invest them with meaning.  At its most basic level (literally) the concept of 'productive forces' refers to the development of the productivity of labour and designates these factors which contribute to the level of productivity which has been attained.  Thus, as well as what is summed up in the formula 'science and technology', it includes physical conditions, the social organisation of production, and the skills of the workers.  As is all to common, you tend to reduce the concept to just 'science and technology'.  In this reduced form it is easier to present it as something subject to an autonomous development (although this would still be incorrect).


The concept of 'relations of production' also tends to be impoverished in your discussion.  Although the discussion as it stands is vague you present it as "the passive factor that has been left behind".  At one point you even imply that these relations were only appropriate to the "petty production of the middle ages".  But by capitalist relations of production Marxists have generally referred first of all to the relations between capital and wage labour (hardly characteristic of the "petty production of the middle ages").  This 'capital relation' consists of two 'phases' or two 'processes' : firstly, the exchange relation whereby labour power is purchased in return for money (wages) and, secondly, the process in which the labour power is productively consumed, i.e., the immediate process of production itself.  Although we cannot discuss it in any detail here the second process encompasses those relations by which capital ensures that production results in commodities which embody more new value than that which would be equivalent to the value of labour power.  The immediate process of capitalist production is one in which the labour process is the 'instrument' of the valorisation process and encompasses most clearly so with relations in which the predominant function is to make sure the workers maintain or accelerate a given pace of work, eg. relations between foremen and workers.  These relations within the immediate process of production are far from being 'left behind' but are capable of assuming a bewildering variety of forms, all linked to the valorisation process.  Nor should this be surprising - this is just a corollary of the fact that capitalism remains capitalism.


In this conection it should also be noted that the concept of accumulation is also impoverished in your work.  Instead of talking about accumulation (expanded reproduction) you talk about economic growth, as if it were simply a question of the development of the productive forces.  But this misses entirely the point that accumulation is, first of all, the accumulation of capital and that the development of the productive forces occurs because it is a major avenue for the accumulation of capital.  Moreover, as implied above, it misses entirely the point that accumulation is also always the reproduction in new forms of the capital-relation.  In this way, you tend to strip capitalism of its distinctive features, and, in consonance with bourgeois ideology, present it as just a form of production of material goods which is free of any social determinants.


Once the concepts of 'productive forces' and 'relations of production' are properly understood, we can see that the two are not mutually exclusive and that their separation in the formula which talks about the contradiction between productive forces and relations of production needs qualification.  The concept of productive forces includes certain relations of production (relations within the immediate process of production).  This is so in a number of ways.  It is most obvious with relations which directly involve 'technique', eg. the detail division of labour in manufacture.  But it is also true with relations which appear more closely linked to the valorization process, eg. those relations in which the predominant function is to ensure that the workers maintain or accelerate a given pace of work.  In the latter case, too, the result can be a greater productivity of labour, thus a development of the productive forces.  All of this is merely the result of the fact that the valorization process can only take effect through the labour process, and that the labour process is transformed into a more or less adequate 'instrument' of the valorization process.


This returns us to the central question of the development of the productive forces and its 'autonomy' ('spontaneity').  The development of the productive forces is not autonomous.  This is so not just in the weak sense which relates this development to a general impulse of capitalism - valorization (whether seen as an initial impulse or a continuing one).  It is also true in the strong sense that the very form of the productive forces is partially determined by the needs of accumulation (valorization).  Factors which improve the productivity of labour are not inserted into a social vacuum but take their place within a capitalist labour process, ie., a labour process which is a more or less adequate instrument of the valorization process.  'Efficiency' here is not an abstract, purely technical judgment (in terms of the productivity of labour) but, firstly, 'efficiency' in terms of valorization, and, secondly 'efficiency' within the context of concrete capitalist labour processes.  We could point to many considerations here but perhaps it is sufficient to just mention the major one: one of the components of concrete capitalist labour processes are workers who, to differing degrees and in differing forms (depending on organisation of the labour process, political and ideological factors etc, as well as  the state of the labour market) are resistant to their exploitation.  The development of particular forms of productive forces will be dependent on the nature of this resistance.  This can occur in a huge variety of ways: certain productive forces may or may not be developed because of the strength or form of this resistance, certain productive forces may be introduced precisely to minimise or eliminate some form of resistance etc.  This resistance is not an extraneous factor but is internal to the immediate process of production - its determining influence is a reflection of the fact that productive forces are not developed in the abstract but in the context of concrete capitalist labour processes.  This development is by no means autonomous but occurs in (through) a context which supplies many determinants on this development.


I have spoken of 'productive forces' in general but the above considerations apply even if we reduce the concept of 'productive forces' to just 'science and technology'...


The above analysis (which of course is only sketchily presented) has certain practical implications.  It does mean, as the quote from Chris Harman indicates, a "suspicion of the way the new technology is being used" (although not only this: also a suspicion of the very forms of the new technology), just as it is a suspicion of capitalist methods of work in general.  It is thus an analysis which situates itself first of all on the real ground of history - which starts from the situation of the working class struggle between the working class and the capitalist class.  This, I think is the real (and valuable) sense in which Harman can say somewhat provocatively that "we are on the same side as the Luddites".  But it is by no means a Luddite analysis (without haveing read Harman's pamphlet I am sure that it goes on to differentiate between a Luddite analysis and a Marxist one.  You imply that Harman is a self-confessed Luddite, which by no means follows from what seems to be a very selective quote).  It is a Marxist analysis which is not concerned with attacking technology but with carefully investigating the links between the situation of the working class, including its situation in the context of the development of the productive forces, and the fundamental dynamic of capitalism.  It is infact an analysis which parallel's Marx's own investigations as well as utilising the concepts developed by Marx.  You make the elementary error of supposing that because the analysis sees a link between the development of the productive forces (more narrowly technology) and capitalist relations of production, then the analysis necessarily leads to an attack just on 'technology'.  Thus you talk of people who "don't want to face up to the implications of capitalism as the source of our problems"(p.48).  On the contrary, I would argue that this sort of analysis, in sharp contrast to your own, is the very precondition for an effective attack on capitalist relations of production.


Let us try and take up some of these points.  It seems to me that it is a fundamental proposition of Marxism that the class struggle is the "immediate driving force of history".  Furthermore, as you yourself argue, capitalism must be seen as "obsolete" (I wont go into this here since it is tangential to my main argument, but of course my understanding of the nature of this 'obsolescence' differs from your own).  Given this, then the task of Marxists revolves around helping to develop the working class struggle in the direction of a break with capitalism and the establishment of communist relations of production.  This is the formidable problem of a properly socialist politics, the details of which do not concern us here.  My point is that in your argument there is not a hint of this general perspective.  Quite the contrary.  It instead displays all the hallmarks of what can be conveniently called a Social-Democratic perspective.  On the most general level this is characterised by a double dislocation: on the one hand the concept of 'capitalism' is narrowed down or, more properly, removed to the (theoretical and political) horizon;on the other hand, in the here and now, attention is turned to facilitating the development of forces which are no longer seen as linked to capitalist relations of production but are seen as simply forces which are inherently 'progressive'. The nexus which is implied in the Marxist concept of class struggle and which informs properly socialist politics is thereby broken.


This double dislocation is readily apparent in your work.  Firstly, the concept of capitalism or, more precisely, capitalist relations of production leads a totally shadowy existence.  There is talk about them being revolutionised, but what they are and the general process by which they are revolutionised remains unclear.  On the other hand there are many references to concrete processes in the here and now which are treated as inherently progressive and worthy of support from socialists.  The main one of course is the introduction of new technology -"surely the most elementary socialist consciousness would involve welcoming labour saving technology and demanding its speediest and widest adoption" (p.48).  But we are also told that "socialists have always welcomed the centralisation of capital..." (p.47).  Well, I don't think socialists are in the business of welcoming either of these developments.  Surely they are in the the business, as outlined above, of abolishing capitalist relations by means of their participation in working class struggle.  As the somewhat tired phrase has it, this is "on the agenda" now, and I can't see how it is helped- indeed, it is only undermined by dabbling with support for measures which are so clearly part and parcel of the further development of capitalism.  It can only mean that socialists are turning their backs on working class struggle.


At times the 'Social Democratic' character of this perspective emerges clearly.  I would instance here some of the remarks in the discussion of word processing.  You present the introduction of these machines as if they a product of technical experts working for the good of humanity.  But you then add there could be a small blemish on the unsullied features of this development: "Naturally some reactionaries will try to take advantage of any change in work methods to make things worse for the workers..."(p.53).  Some reactionaries!!  This suppresses almost entirely the Marxist analysis of the immediate process of production.  The problem does not lie with "some reactionaries" - victims of a bad consciousness - but, as suggested above, with the capitalist character of the labour process.  It is not that "some reactionaries will try to take advantage of any change in work methods" - as if these were purely technically determined - but that the capitalist qua capitalist (as a functionary of capital ) must organise the labour process in accordance with the needs of valorization.  And this is not something which occurs after the introduction of new methods or new machines - it is precisely the social context in which such methods or machines are introduced (although, clearly, different machines will offer different possibilities for such organisation).  One consequence is that the capitalist qua capitalist, and in practice precisely the most 'progressive' capitalists, is continuously and a priori endeavouring to "make things worse for the workers" (in the strict sense which refers to the rate of exploitation).  This is central to a Marxist analysis and is quite opposed to any analysis which presents capitalist production as a purely technical process marred only by the indirect presence of a few 'reactionaries'.  The latter has little in common with a Marxist analysis.


0I would also object to the way you use Marx's phrase that "the real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself" (which itself is significantly different from your version: "the only barrier to capital is capital itself".  Where did you get it?  In fact, your version is somewhat nonsensical, since capitalist production faces 'barriers' on such basic levels as the material properties of the elements of the labour process...).  The discussion is somewhat obscure but you seem to be counterposing it to theories which point to the effects of capitalist production, eg. environmental degradation etc.  There is something of an overtone that the phrase represents a denial of the importance of contingent events in the real world.  In this way the phrase is turned into a mystical formula.  But Marx is gesturing toward such contingent events - he talks of 'manifestations' of this barrier, of the limitations 'coming to the surface'.  He is pointing to the fundamental importance of the capitalist relations of production but this by no means excludes a role for other, more specific determinants.  This, for example, is clearly the case with what Marx saw as the chief 'manifestation' of this barrier, ie. economic crises.  But the phrase has a general meaning which is quite familiar - that capitalist production for private profit and not for social needs.  It embraces phenomena such as environmental degradation.  Nor does this necessarily stop short of 'ecological catastrophe'.  I don't see how such theories are refuted by referring to Marx's phrase (unless this phrase is taken to be a germ of a theory of 'economic catastrophe' - a theory which has a long history but which is theoretically more bankrupt than theories of 'ecological catastrophe').  Such theories should be scrutinised empirically and theoretically but I don't see how there can be an a priori theoretical objection to the whole genre.


As for your appeal to 'liberal' arguments I think they are far from 'irrefutable'.  The first (re. environmental degradation) is typical and blind in the way it severs production from its capitalistic framework.  The second (re. depletion of resources) amounts to little more than an appeal to faith and patience.  No thanks.




Albert Langer      10/12/79

1.  Most of the issues raised will be answered in forthcoming material on Harry Braverman's "Labor and Monopoly Capital".


2.When I say "orthodox" Marxism I am referring to the existence of a very definite, and once well known, literary tradition on the question of what attitude should be taken towards economic growth and technical progress in the light of the well known contradictions of capitalism (pointed out by socialists long before Marx).  That literature includes such works as the "Communist Manifesto", "The Poverty of Philosophy", "Anti-Duhring" (including "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific"), "On the Question of Free Trade", "Capital", "Theories of Surplus Value", "The Part Played by Labour in the Transition From Ape to Man", "The German Ideology" and others by Marx and Engels, as well as "A Characterisation of Economic Romanticism", "The Development of Capitalism in Russia", "What the 'Friends of the People' Are and How they Fight the Social-Democrats", various articles on Marx and Engels and others by Lenin.


This literature includes an extensive critique of earlier "unscientific" socialist ideas which were just as hostile to the "evils" of capitalist exploitation but did not understand it.  See for example the section on petit-bourgeois socialism in the "communist Manifesto".


3.By "orthodox" I certainly don't mean to imply dogmatic or fossilised.  As Lenin puts it in "Once More on the Theory of Realisation":

                        "Let us not believe that orthodoxy means taking things on trust, that  orthodoxy precludes critical application and further development, that it  permits historical problems to be obscured by abstract schemes.  If there are orthodox disciples who are guilty of these truly grievous sins, the blame must rest entirely with those disciples and not by any means with                 orthodoxy, which is distinguished by diametrically opposite qualities".


4. It is not up to me to restate the classical Marxist views on these questions.  People can do better by reading the relevant works themselves and avoiding the otherwise inevitable distortions.  But I am entitled to object to views which simply repeat that workers are exploited under capitalism, and indeed that this exploitation takes place at work, points which were well established by Sismondi and others long before Marx.  Attempts to foist this rather boring discovery, along with declarations in favour of abolishing it, onto Marxism, which in my opinion was not boring and had rather more to say, can be resisted by referring to "orthodox" Marxism.


5. It is not "incorrigibly reformist" to oppose a "day to day practice" of rearguard resistance to the further development of capitalism and whingeing about its effects, by demanding a perspective for overthrowing capitalism and moving on to Communism.


6. Marx explains the general conclusion and guiding principles of his studies with these words in his introduction to

"A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" (perhaps more fundamental than the others listed above):


"At a certain stage of their development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or - what is merely a legal expression for the same thing - with the property relations within the framework of which they have hitherto operated.  From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters.  At that point an era of social revolution begins...

...A social order never perishes before all the productive forces for which it is broadly sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the womb of the old society..."


7. This "spurious mechanical metaphor" about a "fetter", like my reference to a "break", implies clearly that the autonomy of the development of the productive forces is very relative, since they are greatly affected (developed or restricted) by the relations of production.


8. I clearly stressed that "the only way to liberate the productive forces is to smash  the obsolete social relations" (sections 26 to 31).  This does not seem to call for a lecture on the fact that the productive forces are not completely autonomous.


9. An explanation of the productive forces being the positive, dynamic, leading factor which develops spontaneously will be found in the works mentioned above and especially in Engels "Anti-Duhring" and Stalin's "Dialectical and Historical Materialism" (in the History of the CPSU(B)-Short Course).


10. The widespread "radical" belief that the shift from secondary ("manufacturing") industry to tertiary represents a "de-industrialisation" of Australia shows how difficult it will be to get basic concepts about forces and relations of production across, and I do not propose to attempt the job in this article.


11. The "social organisation of production" is part of the relations of production and the fact that it contributes to the level of productivity simply confirms that the forces and relations of production are closely interrelated.  Separating the two aspects of a contradictory whole is necessary to explain its development and does not mean denying that they are related.  Why would anybody talk about the relations of production acting as a brake on the productive forces if they did not think the two were closely related?


12. By "technology" I do not mean patents etc but basically the production experience and labour skill of the working class.  As Marx says:


"Technology discloses man's mode of dealing with nature, the immediate process of production by which he sustains life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formations of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them.  (Capital, Vol 1, Ch XV "Machinery and Modern Industry", s.1 footnote)


13. I did not say that capitalist relations were characteristic of the petty production of the middle ages, but that they were appropriate to it - i.e. they served to develop rather than fetter the productive forces.  Today not only wage labour, but commodity production itself has been made obsolete by the development of large scale machine industry, and is being made even more obsolete by the latest developments.  It is essentially conservative to accept capitalist relations as appropriate to modern industry and merely criticise it as "unjust".


14. A major aspect of the contradiction is the periodic occurrence of economic crises, explained with great clarity in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific" and the corresponding section of "Anti-Duhring".  This is what has produced the current revival of interest in Marxist political economy - the need to understand why another crisis is looming.


15. Another aspect is the increasing breakdown in the capitalist organisation of the Labor process, despite the "bewildering variety of forms" of management control.  Symptoms include increasing absenteeism and Labor turnover rates (modified recently by the increase in unemployment), and the general resentment and rejection of "authority".  The obsolete capitalist organisation of work is indeed being "left behind" and all the "human relations management" in the world won't save it.


16. Nevertheless, it is a "radical impoverishment of Marxism" to put aside the major aspect and investigate capitalist relations primarily in terms of the immediate Labor process in the workplace.  Economism, or a focus on day to day struggles over wages and conditions instead of political struggle for state power, is both a cause and consequence of this restricted outlook.


17. "Conditions" include the pace and organisation of work, and it is no more revolutionary to focus on this than on wages and hours.  Indeed so far as wages and conditions are concerned, a fight for shorter hours would have greater long and short term significance than most fights over technology and work organisation.  It is avoided because the bourgeoisie would resist it harder.


18. Economism is evident in a lot of "radical" material about technology and the labour process, which clearly sees the class struggle as something primarily occurring within each individual workplace, between workers and their immediate bosses over the pace and organisation of work, and not as a political struggle embracing the whole society.  This incidentally rests in part on the romantic misconceptions about what actually goes on within industrial workplaces commonly held by intellectuals.


19. In fact the working class is highly mobile between different industries and workplaces and working conditions tend to move primarily in accordance with movements in society as a whole, at a national and international level, rather than varying sharply from place to place.  The proletariat has long been a united "class for itself" rather than scattered into separate groups with separate fights with their own separate employers.  (Hence too the meaninglessness of many "radical" analyses of the profits and ownership of particular firms and particular industries as though these were not part of a unified system of exploitation of the working class as a whole by the imperialist finance capitalist class as a whole).


20. The term "accumulation" tends to suggest a mere piling up of one thing on top of another(profit on capital), which is indeed the way most people seem to see it.  I used the terms "economic growth" and "technical progress" because the first is much closer to Marx's concept of "expanded reproduction" and the second is closely associated with the first but needs to be mentioned separately because it doesn't mean exactly the same thing.


21. The development of the productive forces does not occur "because it is a major avenue for the accumulation of capital" or because capitalists want want to increase relative surplus value etc.  On the contrary this development, which was previously hindered by feudalism is now again hindered although less so, by the fact that capitalism only allows it to proceed through the accumulation of capital.


22. True enough, capital accumulation does imply economic growth since an addition to the total value of productive capital requires either an extension of the capitalist mode of production to include new opportunities for investment, new sources of labour power and new markets from the remaining incompletely capitalist areas (imperialism and the industrialisation of the Third Word; or else it requires deepening capitalist production through an increase in the amount of capital per worker (organic composition of capital).  The former involves both social and technical progress and the latter develops the productive forces either by increasing the quantity of means of production and improvements to land etc or by substituting new and more productive technology (with which each worker transforms a larger value and larger mass of raw materials into finished products).  Certainly Marxists have always agreed that rapid capital accumulation, rather than stagnation, provides the most "favourable" conditions for workers (within the framework of increasing capitalist exploitation).


23. But capital accumulation requires investment of profits made by capitalists from the exploitation of workers, conditioned on the sale of the product on the market at a price greater than its cost of production.  This is not an absolute condition of economic growth and technical progress in general, but only a condition of capitalist economic growth and technical progress through the accumulation of capital.


24. Consequences of this restriction include:

a) Periodic economic contraction instead of economic growth, at times when capital accumulation is interrupted by a crisis of overproduction preventing the sale of the products at a sufficient profit.  This is usually accompanied by some reversion to more primitive, Labor intensive technology during depressions.  Also wastage and actual destruction of productive forces (including the workers themselves) during crises and the associated wars.

a) Restriction of consumption (and hence of the development of the productive forces) because mass purchasing power is limited by wages instead of consumption being determined by social requirements.

c) Inhibition of new technologies which would devalue existing fixed capital investments (eg suppressing patents etc)

d) Inhibition of production which would be socially useful but not profitable (eg public goods etc)

e) Promotion of production that is profitable but socially harmful (eg damage to the environment etc, as well as those products complained about as "consumerism" which really are useless or harmful).

f) Retardation of technical progress because the majority of workers have no interest in promoting it.  (eg. Research and development confined to laboratories instead of involving the creativity of most workers, inevitable opposition of workers to Labor saving technology when the result under capitalism is unemployment)

g) Retardation of the introduction of new Labor saving technology because low wages make workers make workers cheaper than the equipment required and to ease the social tensions of mass unemployment.  (Hence I still say that if Communists take up the issue of new technology as part of that aspect of the class struggle which occurs within particular workplaces, then it should be along the lines of black banning or sabotaging ordinary typewriters and other such obsolete Labor intensive equipment and demanding their prompt replacement by modern equipment and demanding their prompt replacement by modern equipment more fit for humans to work with, along with shorter hours, job security, retraining etc)

h) Inhibition of production techniques that would require a reorganisation of the production process with less control by management, because with alienated and hostile workers this would lead to lower productivity through "slacking off".  (eg preference for assembly lines etc).


25. All these (and not just the last one), are examples of the productive forces being fettered or braked by capitalism.  Nevertheless, capitalism is an inherently dynamic mode of production which cannot exist without expanding and accumulating capital and therefore revolutionising continuously the technology used and so developing the productive forces.  In doing so, it not only reproduces, but also undermines its own basis (falling rate of profit).  Hence the absurdity of "socialists" opposing economic growth instead of opposing capitalism which restricts and hinders economic growth to that achievable through capital accumulation.  How are we to develop all the potential within (and beyond) human beings without economic growth?  How could a new Communist humanity put up with the miserably low standard of living which still exists in the "advanced" countries as well as the Third World, and still requires us to work many hours each day just to produce food, clothing and shelter as though we had only recently come down from the trees?

26. The particular restriction on the development of the productive forces mentioned in point h), far from being the most significant, is in fact an example of capitalism undermining its own basis, since capitalism actually has developed to the point where the bourgeoisie is entirely parasitic, playing no part in the direct Labor process, which is entirely administered, supervised and controlled by employees, and the complexity of which requires an increasingly educated and responsible working class entirely capable of taking the direction of society into its own hands.


27. The domination of capital over labour rests on capitalist ownership of the means of production which compels workers to sell their labour power for wages.  It does not rest on the various techniques used to compel the full delivery of that Labor power once it has been sold.  The essential measure of control by capitalists consists in the fact that if you won't work for them they won't employ you.  A focus on management control over work tends to suggest that capitalist control is something inserted forcibly into the immediate process of production from outside, instead of being inherent in the relation of employer and employee, and that it could be altered by "self-management" type action on the job without a political revolution to change the system of ownership.


28. The detail division of Labor in manufacture has long been superseded by large scale machine industry despite the fact that this has, against the interests of capital, created a proletariat conscious of itself not as "carpenters" or "pin-sharpeners" with no common interests, but as a class of "employees" with interests opposed to employers (this consciousness is very widespread, even when people call themselves "middle class").


29. Capitalists re-organise the Labor process with a view to increased profit and without concerning themselves much about the long term future of capitalism.  Profit is mainly increased by increasing relative surplus value through more productive technology, without necessarily requiring the maintenance or acceleration of a given pace of work or any increase in absolute surplus value.

There are many examples of technological change being accompanied by increased profits and a reduced pace of work with looser control of workers (eg on the waterfront).  Historically, capital accumulation has led to a tremendous progressive development of the productive forces, which has produced a more educated and conscious and less easily controlled working class, as well as a richer and more parasitic capitalist class.  The general standard of living and culture has been raised and the material basis established for a higher form of society not based on exploitation.  Measures for tightening control over Labor have not been the main method of increasing Labor productivity under capitalism since the Industrial Revolution.  Productivity has increased far more from the development of new materials, processes and equipment and the associated experience and skills in using them.  Overall this increase in productivity has been associated with shorter hours, a slower pace of work and looser factory discipline - as a result of the class struggle of the workers.


30. Many aspects of the organisation of the immediate Labor process do reflect the need for "management" (representing Capital) to "control" essentially hostile employees.

Communist Labor will therefore be able to achieve greater productivity simply by doing away with the need for foremen, supervisors, inspection systems, guards and a large amount of office work associated with supervision and control (as well as the realisation of the product as a commodity through sale) which are required by capital rather than by the actual production process even with existing technology.


31. The fact that certain productive forces may be promoted or restricted in response to the resistance of workers to their exploitation is simply an example (one among many) of capitalism restricting these forces from developing along the lines most beneficial to humanity.  To conclude from this that economic growth and technical progress are not worthwhile goals is to accept that capitalism is not restricting them (i.e. they are "autonomous"!) and indeed that capitalism is the only means of promoting them - a bourgeois lie.


32. Refinements to the boss system do increase capitalist Labor productivity just as heavier ploughs increased slave productivity because slaves could break them less often. But to regard this as a development of the productive forces means accepting exploiting class ideology wholesale. A more reasonable conclusion would be that the institution of slavery was a fetter on the productive forces because it inhibited the use of lighter and less clumsy ploughs which could plough more land with less effort.  Likewise, abolition of the boss system will increase Labor productivity.


33. Of course factors which improve productivity are not inserted into a social vacuum and "efficiency" is not an abstract purely technical judgement (in terms of Labor productivity) but both develop within the context of capitalism.

If this were not the case, then how could capitalism be restricting or hindering the development of the productive forces?  It would have no influence on them.


34. Turning to the question of Luddism, my impression is that they were not ignorant fools hostile to machinery, as suggested by bourgeois historians, but a very well organised working class movement using militant tactics to defend their livelihoods under attack with the introduction of machinery.  I doubt that they were unaware of the useful potential of machinery in other circumstances, but their strategy was wrong because it was in fact neither possible nor desirable to prevent the introduction of machinery.  What was possible and desirable, and what the Marxist program advocated, was to fight for various social reforms such as the Factory Acts and shorter hours, as part of a wider fight for a new social system in which the machinery would be owned by the working class and used for their benefit instead of being owned by an exploiting class and used against them.


35. I stressed that modern Luddism is not anti-socialist or anti-working class in the same sense as the other trends I discussed, but is "in part a theoretical reflection of ideas naturally arising in the course of trade union struggles to safeguard the rights of workers affected by automation."


36. Chris Harmon does not present an attack just on "technology" and I never suggested he did.  On the contrary I stressed that modern Luddism emphasises the benefits that could flow from advanced technology in a socialist society.  What makes him a Luddite (quite apart from the confession) is the fact that he, like most of the "left", advocates a strategy for impeding and retarding the introduction of new technology by means of black bans etc.  If such a strategy was ever appropriate, then it would be far more consistent to propose actually sabotaging or smashing the new equipment, since this would have a lot more chance of successfully retarding its introduction than the sort of pissweak resistance now being advocated.  The old Luddites were at least serious about it!


37. There is no a priori reason why"radicals" should react against Labor saving technological developments and look for ways to restrict them, and those who do, I call "Luddites".  Romantics like Braverman can be distinguished by the act that they do not propose a struggle against new technology, accepting it within capitalism as well as for the future.  What they struggle against instead, is the breakdown in craft skills and new forms of organisation of work that have been developed by monopoly capitalism side by side with the new technology.  As a Communist looking forward to the complete abolition of what Marx called "craft idiocy" I consider this far more reactionary than Luddism, because it attacks the social progress that has been associated with technical progress.  But I would not call it Luddism because it does not advance a strategy for trying to retard the introduction of new techniques (but instead tries to cramp them within the framework of older forms of the division of labour).


38. I do not see how a Luddite analysis and strategy can be transformed into a Marxist one merely by recognising that advanced technology would be OK under socialism.  Even Romantics, let alone Luddites, can recognise this, while still taking an essentially reactionary stand against progress and against Marxism.  As Lenin points out in his extremely lucid "Characterisation of Economic Romanticism"(1897), a Marxist analysis must recognise "the role of machines as a factor of progress under the present capitalist system."


39. Marx and Engels consistently condemned "sentimental, moral and psychological criticism against existing conditions".  For them"...the subjection of craft labour to large scale industry is comprehended here as a step forward and celebrated, while at the same time, in the results and productions of large-scale industry, the real preconditions of the proletarian revolution, generated by history itself and daily generating themselves anew, are recognised and revealed."(Collected Works Vol 10 p485)

No revolutionary movement led by Marxists has ever had anything to do with fighting futile rearguard actions against new technology, whether in Europe or the Third World.  Why do those infatuated with such a strategy now insist on being called "Marxists"?


40. Workers do resist intensified exploitation depending on political and ideological factors as well as the state of the Labor market (which I over emphasised).  A major consequence of this is to compel capitalists to develop the productive forces in direction which undermine such resistance - i.e. by replacing human labour rather than intensifying it.  The greater the success of workers economic struggles, the more attractive labour saving technology becomes (to recreate a pool of unemployed and because workers have become more expensive in comparison to machinery).  But this is hardly an argument against labour saving technology.  It is a demonstration that the class struggle of the workers does not fetter, but promotes the development of the productive forces, which stagnate when there is no resistance to exploitation.


41 Marx and Engels pointed out that the new technology of the 19th century (machinery) was not "linked to capitalist relations of production" but fundamentally incompatible with those relations.


"...In each crisis society is suffocated beneath the weight of its own productive forces and products of which it can make no use, and stands helpless in face of the absurd contradiction that the producers have nothing to consume because consumers are lacking.  The expansive force of the means of production bursts asunder the bonds imposed upon them by the capitalist mode of production.  Their release from these bonds is the sole prerequisite for an unbroken, ever advancing development of the productive forces, and thus of a practically unlimited growth of production itself.  Nor is this all.  The social appropriation of the means of production puts an end not only to the current artificial restrictions on production, but also to the positive waste and devastation of productive forces and products which are now the inevitable concomitants of production and which reach their zenith in crisis...("Anti-Duhring", part III, chapter II)


42. What else but the capitalist mode of production prevents some 500,000 Australians from producing and from consuming more than the dole at the moment?


43. With the "microprocessor revolution", Engels point must become even more blindingly obvious.  What use is private ownership, wage labour and a market economy when most of secondary industry is being transformed into an integrated continuous flow automatic process like oil refining or electricity generation?  How can crises be avoided when consumption rests on the purchasing power of wages for Labor increasingly peripheral to the total value of the product, and when investment rests on a rate of profit relating the value of an enormous output to the value of an almost equally enormous input and a relatively small amount of direct labour?


44. "Working class struggle" has been going on for centuries without the "participation" of socialists. It is part of the capitalist system and cannot by itself lead to "abolishing capitalist relations".  Of course its necessary to keep fighting, not only for higher wages and better conditions including increased control over work, but also for a better environment, more welfare, increased leisure, more public facilities, against useless and harmful products and so on.  Important victories have been won for example on wages, hours, social welfare and environmental protection, but these and other struggles must certainly continue.  Like the 10 hour day, the 8 hour day, pensions, the dole and so on, environmental protection has only been won through struggles and so will improved working conditions and control over the job only be won through struggle.  Nevertheless, these reforms are not "what its all about".  The very fact that we have to fight for them implies that somebody else has the power to grant them - i.e. that we are an exploited, oppressed class of wage slaves living in a society ruled by our masters, the employers.


45. Slavery had to be abolished because people would not tolerate being slaves, not because the slave system couldn't look after the living conditions of slaves well enough.  The task of socialists (Communists) is not simply to "participate in working class struggle" but to introduce the ideas of scientific socialism to that struggle so that it will aim beyond an improvement in the situation, by working for the seizure of political power by the proletariat.  Capitalist relations of production cannot be abolished through struggle on the job without abolition of capitalist ownership which requires a political and social revolution - a struggle for power in which the working class has to actually take over and run everything., instead of being employed by those who do.


46. "Abolishing capitalist relations" cannot be achieved while most "socialists" are not even raising the question of political power and are instead urging workers to fight a rearguard action against modern technology.  Nor can it be achieved when "socialists" are opposing  the centralisation of capital and trying to defend small businesses, farmers and shopkeepers against "the multinationals" by pretending to them that there is some way they could preserve their existence as a "middle class" (even when many farmers for example are already reconciled to joining the proletariat).  As a minimum it requires some effort to find a basis for unity with people being pushed into the proletariat by the centralisation of capital instead of futile attempts to keep them out of it.


47. Preoccupation with the questions of technology and the Labor process, centralisation of capital and so forth is an obvious feature of a substantial "socialist" literature today, none of which has much to do with actual working class struggle.  Theoretical clarification is the most important thing in this period of total confusion, and it is hardly fair to accept theoretical material advocating one line in regard to technology etc as legitimate, while denouncing opposition to this line as "socialists turning their backs on working class struggle" - in fact it is sheer demagoguery.  Why shouldn't one question and oppose the direction others are advocating for working class struggle - especially when it is obvious they aren't getting anywhere?  Exactly the same anathemas about neglecting the actual day to day working class struggle were hurled against "orthodox" Marxism (Leninism) in the Russian revolution and refuted very well by Lenin in "What is to be Done".


48. At a day to day practical level, why isn't the demand for shorter hours being pushed by "socialist" theoreticians, as it was during the industrial revolution?  It would seem a more natural response to the combination of high unemployment with Labor saving technology than opposing the introduction of that technology.  Also many objections to "consumerism" are really a reflection of opposition to working extra hours for the negligible benefit obtained.  So why not place the focus on the shorter hours rather than the useless goods?


49. If I shared the widespread belief that the introduction of word processing involves a general downgrading of job functions in that area then it would certainly not be Marxist for me to attribute this to "some reactionaries".  But I clearly stated that I hold the opposite view, that it involves a general upgrading of job functions, and it is perfectly consistent for me to then explain attempts (largely unsuccessful) to use word processing as an excuse for re-introducing typing pools etc as due to "some reactionaries" and not as due to "some employers who have a better understanding than the majority of their true function as capitalist qua capitalist".  The trouble is that reactions to modern technology are so much a matter of prejudice that people insist on taking it for granted that you share their premises.

Given the "true function" of capitalists to "make things worse for the workers" please explain why the introduction of word processing has in fact resulted in less typing pools and improved job conditions for the surviving (minority of) typists.


50 On Marx's phrase about the barrier of capital being capital itself, its probably true that I overdid this as a bit of a mystical formula.  Nevertheless, I still think the popular "left" infatuation with issues concerning Eco-catastrophe, Environmental degradation and Limits to Growth goes beyond a (perfectly correct) recognition that the effects of capitalist production include damage to the environment, waste of resources etc.

It involves a program to inhibit economic growth in order to protect the environment and conserve resources, and of opposing capitalism because it promotes economic growth, which is quite opposite to the Marxist approach of opposing capitalism because it restricts economic growth and hinders the "conquest nature".


51 Catastrophe theories etc are indeed a "whole genre" and it is precisely because they are, that we are entitled to look for a common explanation for what lies behind the thinking of "Eco-nuts" rather than treating each prediction of doom as a separate phenomena on its own merits.  My explanation that an eclectic mixture of these theories is popular because people recognise that this society faces a barrier but don't understand what the barrier is, was not meant as a comprehensive refutation of all the various theories at once.  Such refutation can only be done by examining each particular prediction of doom concretely on its own merits, which was not the function of my article.


52. But if any one of the catastrophe theories are correct then surely we all ought to concentrate our efforts on averting the particular catastrophe involved (saving the ionosphere or whatever), since there is not much point winning the class struggle on an empty planet.  Only "Econuts" actually do so and so I conclude that most "leftists" who adopt these theories do not really take them seriously but simply add them to a general background feeling that this society is no good.

Since everyone else obviously assumes that the catastrophe theories are not really true, or they would do more about it, I am entitled to make the same assumption while explaining why these theories nevertheless remain popular.


53 I stressed that the quote from the Treasury Economic Paper was "liberal" because it does indeed sever production from its capitalist framework.  Nevertheless, it does refute the widespread "left" idea that production (or "industrial society"), and not capitalism, is responsible for environmental degradation, by pointing out that economic growth provides the means for solving environmental problems as well as intensifying them.  Greater control over nature means more freedom either to create or destroy, and less limitation by "necessity".


54. The second liberal quote was not "an appeal for faith and patience" at all.  It asserted that the alleged "problem" of resources depletion and limits to growth has in fact been becoming less and less significant at the same time that people have become more and more concerned about it - i.e. no faith and patience is needed because the problem is mythical.

The "Club of Rome" book "Limits to Growth" was a very well sensationalised cheap appeal to panic and hysteria, based on nothing more substantial than the obvious (tautologous) conclusion that anything finite must get used up eventually.  Why is this crude Malthusianism, for good reason historically and currently associated with extreme reaction, suddenly popular among "radicals"?

Availability of natural resources is a dramatically less significant problem today than when Malthus was first refuted by socialists.  Land is a much less significant factor of production and absolute rent has largely disappeared.  Despite this, we have a great enthusiasm for "energy accounting" instead of value accounting, as though energy was only consumed, and not produced.  This at a time when the costs of energy are not a major item of expenditure (cf the times when water mills had to be located near streams, horsepower was provided by horses, firewood was a major fuel, factory machinery was driven by belts and pulleys from a central steam engine etc).


55. Yet some people are so much more concerned about this "problem" today, that they assume everybody agrees it exists and will read a non-existent plea for patience solving it, into a straightforward (and in my view convincing) denial that there is such a problem at all.

If this obvious blindness isn't due to a misdirected search for the barrier confronting modern society, then what is it due to?



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