Human labor is what determines the value of goods and services. As a system, capitalism primarily aims at increasing the value of capital by employing the use of labor. Because the capitalist aims at making profits, he tries to get more value out of the labor used than what is actually invested in the labor. It is an attempt by the capitalist to accumulate capital by making high profits. It is the human labor employed by the capitalist that adds value to the commodities produced. However, the capitalist society determines to a greater extent the working environments of the labor force that are mainly shaped by the interests of the capitalist class. The capitalist faces a management problem while working with the labor force in an environment where technology is constantly changing, and there is a constant need to increase the levels of production to improve on profitability (Spencer, 2000). Therefore, the main problem is to determine how to buy and sell the labor. Whatever is sold by the worker and what is purchased by the capitalist does not determine the agreed amount of labor. It, however, defines labor over an agreed period.
‘Social division of labor’ and ‘detailed division of labor’ according to Braverman
The publication of ‘Labor and Monopoly Capitalism’ by Harry Braverman in 1974 was a crucial element in the analysis of the working of capitalism in America during the twentieth century. Braverman used concepts from Marx’s work to come up with a critique of the continuous degradation of work in America. His argument was primarily based on the dislike to a capitalist economy and the encouragement of a new efficient system where control and coordination of labor force were possible in the efforts of maximizing profits.
However, it is important to understand how capitalists manage to expand their capital in a market characterized by free labor force and the foundations that monopoly has in capitalism. Bervermen states that the earliest and most important mode of production in a capitalist economy is the detailed division of labor. The social division of labor breaks down the social labor on the basis of craft specialization. The social division of labor is important in determining how fast technological development takes place, the effects of inequality and stratification in the labor force and the extent of socio-cultural solidarity and cohesion (Braverman, 1999). On the other hand, detailed division of labor employs a breakdown method in the manufacture of a product. The manufacturing process is divided into several distinct processes each of which has an individual workman. Through the use of the detailed division of labor, productivity is improved as time is saved in passing a task to the next worker and improved skill due to repeated operations on functions.
Detailed division of labor is a significant factor in increasing the control of the labor process by the capitalists. The increase in the details when dividing up work gives more control to the manager over the pace of the whole process of work. Detailed division of labor involves specialization in a single task. This type of specialization makes the individual worker of a task become unskilled since the worker does not develop any other special skills to offer in the labor market. This makes it difficult for the unskilled laborer to try to increase his wage since the capitalist is not willing to provide more than the regional rate for such labor.
Detailed division of labor works in the interest of the capitalists as it leads to an increase in productivity and a decrease in the wage levels. These two elements play a significant role in controlling the process of labor by the capitalists (Spencer, 2000). Braverman goes ahead to analyze the effects this has on the social, cultural system. The result is a polarized capitalist society controlled at the top by small but powerful elite while the mass of the laborers is at the bottom.
Braverman further states that, under capitalism, the workers are transformed into a “labor force” which is considered to be just another factor in the production process by the capitalists. The goal of the capitalist mode of production is to increase capital by maximizing productivity and minimizing costs.
Social consequences of the capitalist organization of production
Some of the social implications of the capitalist organization of production include increased class struggles, inequality, anomie and other related social problems.
Class struggles continue to be at the center of capitalist accumulation. The process of capitalist accumulation has taken place in an uneven pattern over the years thereby intensifying class struggle with capital and labor being the two major determinants of the struggle. The conflict has resulted in tensions in the society between the classes due to the differences in the socio-economic interests. Class struggle has been experienced in different forms around the world. It may be in the form of direct violence as the social classes fight over the available resources and cheap labor. Indirect violence may take the form of unsafe working conditions, poverty, and even starvation in extreme cases. Class struggle may also be seen in political efforts at destroying labor unions and unfair labor practices (Spencer, 2000).
Another consequence of the capitalist organization of production is inequality. The major advantages derived from capitalism such as innovation, generation of profits and wealth has been accompanied by social inequalities which are primarily wealth and income inequalities. Even with the economic ability inherent in capitalism, it has been a natural mechanism that results in unequal economic systems and it, therefore, needs to be corrected. The primary cause of the inequality is having the factors of production being controlled by a few individuals who in turn take advantage and exploit those whose only means of sustenance is the provision of labor (Elwell, 2015). The implication of this is that unequal distribution of income and the means of production leads to more benefits being attained by the capitalist while the poor continue to provide their labor at cheaper costs. The only way to end this is to abolish the alienating form of division of labor and create an economic system that is diverse in the creation of sources of income and promotes equal distribution of wealth.
The state of anomie can also be attributed to the capitalist organization of production. The state of anomie can be brought about in the society by unchecked economic progress. This may lead to a change in the normalness of different segments of social regulation.
On the other hand, a capitalist organization of production can have some advantages. For instance, the emergence of industrialization as a consequence of capitalism has led to an increase in the levels of production. New methods of productions have made it easier to create daily necessities.
The Babbage principle and degradation of work
Harry Braverman argument about the degradation of work revolves around labor in the twentieth century. Several effects have resulted from mechanization and scientific management among other techniques used to control labor. Such techniques made it possible for management to gain control of the workers. The result of is that the management has taken advantage of the ever changing circumstances to impose alienating practices onto the workers across all industries.
Braverman goes ahead to explain that degradation of labor is as a result of a capitalist economy trying to achieve progress using the free labor. Division of labor is a major factor in determining the Babbage principle. Babbage principle is of the opinion that it is not only by splitting up the production process into simple units for the workers who in turn work for the whole day in a repetitive manner but the capitalist also tries to purchase the labor at the lowest possible price. The connection between the division of labor and the Babbage principle has led to the transformation of the working class, decreasing the number of skilled craftsmen while increasing the numbers of mass workers.
Even though Braverman’s argument mainly exposes the results that labor organizations have on workers regarding the rigidity and the constant demand for physical strength, his primary argument is the outcome of the onset of scientific management and how it has divested knowledge from workers to become management knowledge. Factory workers lost oversight of the production process compared to their craftsmen counterparts who had the complete knowledge of how to produce a variety of things. The workers are therefore subordinated to a system where the management makes their plans in such a way that the result for the workers is disempowering and disliking. Therefore, workers become more like animated tools of management.
How ‘Rice’s play’ illustrates the effects that Braverman describes
Rice’s play explores the human effects that are associated with the replacement of workers by machines. It also examines the effects of a capitalist rationalization. Rice’s play is important as it gives an in-depth look at the role played by information technology and robotics in the displacement of workers. Rice also looks, to a larger extent, the far-reaching effects and how dehumanizing capitalism can be. He portrays the understanding of alienation as the domination of the living by the dead. Rice argues that life under capitalism is an explicit representation of this domination (Thorpe, 2009).
Braverman, H. (1999). Labor and monopoly capitalism: The degradation of work in the twentieth century. New York: Monthly Review.
Elwell, F. W. (2015). Harry Braverman and the Working Class. Bureaucratic Culture and Escalating World Problems: Advancing the Sociological Imagination, 85.
Spencer, D. A. (2000). Braverman and the contribution of labour process analysis to the critique of capitalist production-Twenty-five years on. Work, Employment & Society, 14(2), 223-243.
Thorpe, C. (2009). Alienation as Death: Technology, Capital, and the Degradation of Everyday Life in Elmer Rice’s The Adding Machine. Science as Culture, 18(3), 261-279.
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