Harry Braverman: Rockin' steady after all these years

October 20th, 2010

Harry Braverman’s seminal work on labour process, Labor and Monopoly Capital still kicks it nearly 40 years after its writing. A coppersmith by trade, Braverman was active in the socialist movement in the early years of his working life. He later became a journalist for the socialist press and eventually headed up 2 publishing houses. He held the Marxist view that rejects not science and technology per se but the way in whicfh these are used as “weapons of domination in the creation, perpetuation and deepning of a gulf between classes in society” (5). He acknowledges that his views are influenced by nostalgia for an age not yet come – one in which the worker gains the satisfaction born out of the conscious and purposeful mastery of their labour, aided by the “marvels of sicence and the ingenuityuof engineering” (ibid).

Marx shows in Vol. 1 of Capital how the processes of production are constantly transformed in capitalist society by its driving force, the accumulation of capital

Marx’s “General Law of Capitalist Accumulation”, which states that capitalism is characterized by the “amassing of wealth at one pole and of deprivation and misery at the other, are from being the egregious fallacy which bourgeois social science has long held it to be , has in fact turned out to be one of the best founded of all Marx’s insights…” (xxvii)

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The triumph of the bourgeoisie

June 12th, 2008

I’m now re-reading (for the umpteenth time) The Communist Manifesto. I love this book! It’s so poetic, so forceful, so snarky! I like this passage about the accomplishments of the bourgeois revolution in post-feudal Europe:

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.”

Hmmm… sounds good so far.

“It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley fuedal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors…”

Yep. All good.

“…and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.”

Ouchy. (y’know, just a little.)

“It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless, indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom -
Free Trade.”

Shifting uncomfortably.

“In one word, for exploitation veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploration.”

Slam dunk.

And returning to familiar territory, the following could be a contemporary critique (think globalization):

“Constant revolutionizing of production, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones.”

Sounds like post-Fordist jive to me… flexible production ‘n all that.

And here Marx sums up the essence of globalization:

“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the whole surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connection everywhere.

(This also gets to heart of Manuel Castells essential concept in The Network Society.)

Marx further lays out some consequences of of globalization:

1. Colonial exploitation (something Western scholars only began to figure out a few decades ago):

“..[industries] no longer work up indigenous raw material, but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed, not only at home, but in every quarter of the globe.”

2. Consumerism:

In place of the old wants, satisfied by the productions of the country, we find new wants, requiring for their satisfaction the products of distant lands and climes.”

3. Information sharing:

“In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal interdependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production. The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible, and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.”

Here Marx intuits what the hackers would later sum up in the rallying cry for copyleft: “Information wants to be free”… if only it weren’t for that handy handmaiden of capitalism, copyright! Marx did not foresee the privatization of information, and its conversion into a commodity exchangeable on the market like any other good. But that’s another post…

I (heart) radio

March 11th, 2008

My old friend Trevor Klundert, from the alt weekly days, is the new host of an old show on CJAMfm, Windsor-Detroit campus community radio, every Monday night. He invited me to the Facebook group for Girlie So Groovy, and I’m listening to the MP3 of tonight’s show as I type. Trevor’s voice, tinged with a maturity, a slight roughness, that I suppose age has brought, is unfamiliar. Yet I am transported back in time. I see his blond head swing under the low furnace duct that bisected our basement office, back when Trevor was listings editor and we were churning out Windsor’s only alternative newsweekly, ROOM Magazine. Trevor was always a sight for sore eyes – ruddy cheeks, broad, knowing smile and the best outfits ever – usually some combo of bright orange, pink or red – often in stripes. He was a sly one – always taunting me with tales of hot upcoming dates…. with his grandma or some other female family member.

It also took me back to my days in the CJAM studio, back before they bought the new board, and things often didn’t work, for no apparent reason. The show, ROOM Radio, started off as a spoken word edition of the magazine. But it soon morphed into a music hour, with me playing whatever I felt like grabbing from my collection of review CDs, plus CJAM’s latest release shelf. It was fun. I really liked sitting in that darkened, shitty little room, all by myself at night, manning the board, the phones and the whole station, really – no one else was there. Today, with the shake-up at WDETfm, some of their luminaries, including Judy Adams and John Moshier, have moved over to CJAM, spiffing up its image no doubt. What a coup! And what good luck too.

Ever since I moved to Vancouver and started my PhD at SFU, I’ve thought about hosting a show again. I used to pass regularly by CJSFfm and feel a small pang, a hit of wistfulness. It’s funny, just the other day, I was talking to an old Windsor friend who also lives here now, and who used to host his own show on CJAM. He just got a spot for his new show on CJSF. It made me think about it all over again. And then Trevor reappeared on my radar with Girlie So Groovy. Weird. So I’m thinking about my own show again. I have the time – or I can make it. As a journalist, I always loved radio. The CJAM show was therapeutic. But when I started freelancing for CBC radio, it was a dream realized. I wouldn’t mind getting back together with radio. Not a bit.

Hello world!

February 1st, 2008


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