Review: Negotiating Neoliberalism. Developing Alternative Educational Visions

Below is an extended pre-print of a book review for Power and Education journal. The first half talks directly about the book; the remainder tries to offer a critical response.

Rudd, Tim and Goodson, Ivor F. (Eds.) (2017) Negotiating Neoliberalism. Developing Alternative Educational Visions. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

This book, comprised of 13 peer-reviewed chapters, presents a coherent understanding of neoliberalism as an ideological project, the ways in which it is made manifest in all areas of formal education, and the need to develop conceptual and practical alternatives that serve humanity rather than the economy. The focus of the book is equally weighted between discussions of compulsory and higher education and similarly balanced between theoretical and empirical scholarship and research. In addition to the thematic coherence of the chapters, most of the authors engage with Goodson’s framework of ‘The five R’s of educational research’ (2015): Remembering, regression, reconceptualization, refraction, and renewal. In their introduction to the book, editors, Rudd and Goodson, extend this to ‘six R’s’ with the addition of resistance.

This framework serves the book’s authors well. For example, Mike Hayler argues that formative assessment can be combined with the principles of critical pedagogy to resist data-driven target-setting and similarly, Peter Humphreys proposes a more personalised education that is “invitational” and wholly democratic. Ingunn Elisabeth Stray and Helen Eikeland Voreland employ refraction to study UNESCO’s Education For All project through the cases of Norway and Nepal and conclude that the project is in danger of becoming “an exercise of political violence” that needs to become more sensitive to national and cultural contexts.

Two chapters in the book combine remembering with renewal through the theme of co-operative education. Following a brief history of co-operative education in the context of neoliberalism, Tom Woodin’s chapter discusses an in-school co-operative of more than 80 students who provide peer-support to other students in a variety of subjects. The experience of setting up and running the co-operative has introduced a sense of solidarity and collective purpose among its members. This small example of constituting social relationships differently within a neoliberal context is in itself an education in the possibility of alternatives that can be expanded both within and outside the education system. Co-operatives, argues Woodin, offer a form of “structural innovation” that is capable of proliferating and maintaining a sense of social struggle. John Schostak’s chapter extends this argument by acknowledging the recent movement of co-operative schools in the UK but recognising that without radical changes at the level of the curriculum, there is the “ever present danger of simply reproducing” the status quo. Schostak persuasively argues that the practice of co-operation is itself a form of collective education out of which a curriculum of learning emerges, based on the practice of democracy. The institutional forms that arise from the practice of democracy, solidarity and equality are themselves the subject of study as much as they are the object of collective management.

Richard Hall focuses on academic labour within UK higher education, discussing the influence of ‘human capital theory’ on the way in which the labour of academics is being valorised. What makes the chapter interesting is the way in which he provides a close reading of Marx through which he exposes human capital theory as a theory of productivity that is made manifest in the intensification of labour time. This now operates in policy and in practice inside higher education and elsewhere. Hall’s response is to work against this reconceptualization of academic labour by advocating solidarity inside and outside universities so that academic labour, including that of students, is recognised as having the same fundamental characteristics as other forms of labour and is therefore subject to the same crises of capitalism that are the focus of other social movements. Hall is not arguing for the militant defence of academic labour, but to see it for what it is: wage labour subject to the alienation of the capitalist valorisation process, and as such should be abolished. Resistance to the processes of work intensification are all the while necessary, but the discovery of new forms of social solidarity and large scale transformation (rather than reformation) of political economy are the end goals.

A chapter which shares a key critical category with Richard Hall’s is that of Yvonne Downs, who focuses on the difficult concept of ‘value’. She argues that “little is known about the value of higher education at all” (59) and offers critiques of two prevalent discourses: financialization and ‘privileged intrinsicality’. Financialization reduces everything to a single logic of financial value either in terms of individual income or public savings. Privileged intrinsicality is a nostalgic response to financialization that views education as being valuable in and of itself. Like financialization, it reduces the value of higher education to a single logic of value, only this time, non-financial and ultimately grounded in a particular (liberal) morality. To counter each of these discourses, Downs proposes a form of ‘refraction’ that understands how individual forms of value are always embedded in dominant cultures of valuation. This conception of value as an ongoing process of (e)valuation is referred to as ‘lay normativity’, defined as “that which already and actually matters to people.” (67) This is a reflexive and pragmatic conception of value that is irreducible to a single hegemonic logic and asserts this process of individual and class-based (e)valuation as an expression of agency.

Returning to Rudd and Goodson’s six-point framework for research, they illustrate in their concluding chapter that it takes into account supra, macro, meso and micro levels of analysis, positioning the most abstract level of analysis at the top of the ‘axes of refraction’ (i.e. supra). However, in my view, this methodological separation of the abstract (ideology) from the concrete (individuals) has real, practical consequences in terms of the sixth ‘R’ of resistance. What, exactly, are we resisting? Is it, for example, the supra structures of neoliberalism or the micro agency of Chief Executives? Stephen O’Brien’s chapter on Resisting Neoliberal Education further illustrates this dilemma, where he writes about resisting “these neoliberal times”, resisting a loss of freedom to “an all-consuming capitalism”, and resisting the neoliberal “paradigm”. All of the chapters in the book show a concern with the concrete, qualitative specificity of neoliberalism as well as recognising its abstract nature, which suggests we need a methodology that reveals their inherent unity. One complementary approach is to employ Marx’s dialectical epistemology, which is the basis for his method of “rising from the abstract to the concrete”. For Marx, “the concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many [abstract] determinations, hence unity of the diverse.” (Marx, 1993, 101)

This approach is compatible with Rudd and Goodson’s framework but suggests that the technologies of neoliberalism are the ‘concentration’ of the fundamental (i.e. determinate) categories of capitalism. As a historically specific expression of capitalism (Clarke, 2004), a critique of neoliberalism requires us to understand and work with the analytical categories of critical political economy and in doing so recognise that capitalist society is structured by a quasi-autonomous developmental logic (Postone, 1993) whereby socially constructed abstractions have real, determining, concrete existence and power over people. This logic is laid out in the first chapter of Capital (1976) in Marx’s exposition of the value-form of commodities. It is a form of social domination that extends across all levels of analysis, from supra to micro, and, critically, is given substance and mediated by “the two-fold character of labour according to whether it is expressed in use-value or exchange-value” (Marx, 1987, 402). It is his unique discovery of the dual character of labour in capitalism (and therefore the possibility of its abolition) that fully establishes Marx’s mature work as a theory of emancipation.

Discussions of ‘neoliberal education’ tend to focus on concrete expressions of capitalism (e.g. policy, performativity or professionalism) while rarely engaging with its fundamental categories (e.g. labour, value, capital), let alone being grounded in them (Hall and Downs’ chapters are notable exceptions). As Moishe Postone has argued (1993), one of the problems with this approach is that anti-capitalist efforts to resist the concrete features of neoliberalism tend to be both dualistic and one-sided; they identify capital with its manifest expressions (its concrete appearance rather than essence) and in the act of resistance (e.g. violence, refusal) further hypostasize the concrete while overlooking the fundamentally dialectical nature of capitalism’s social forms and therefore allowing its abstract power to persist unchallenged (Postone, 1980). Thus, efforts to assert an identity and ethic of professionalism, the dignity of useful labour, or indeed, create oppositional alternatives, can themselves be seen as a form of reification which tends to lead to “an expression of a deep and fundamental helplessness, conceptually as well as politically.” (Postone, 2006).

This suggests that the real power of capitalism/neoliberalism is not in the structures of its institutions or the agency of certain individuals to discipline others or undertake acts of resistance, but rather in the impersonal, intangible, quasi-objective form of domination that is expressed in the form of value, the substance of which is labour. What distinguishes this approach from debates that dissolve into metaphysics and morality is that Marx’s category of value refers to a historically specific (i.e. contingent) form of social wealth. As today’s dominant form of social wealth, the form of value as elucidated by Marx (1978) offers the ability to render any aspect of the social and natural world as commensurate with another to devastating effect. The urgent project for education is therefore to support the creation of a new form of social wealth, one that is not based on the commensurability of everything, nor the values of a dominant class, but on the basis of mutuality and love: ‘From each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs.’

References

Clarke, Simon (2004) The Neoliberal Theory of Society. In Saad-Filho, Alfredo and Johnston, Deborah (Eds.) Neoliberalism. A Critical Reader. Pluto Press.

Goodson, Ivor F. (2015) The five Rs of educational research, Power and Education 7 (1) 34 – 38

Marx, Karl (1993) Grundrisse, Penguin Classics.

Marx, Karl (1978) The Value-Form, Capital and Class, 4: 130-150.

Marx, Karl (1976) Capital, Penguin Classics.

Marx, Karl and Engels, Frederick (1987) 1864-68, Letters, Marx and Engels Collected Works Volume 42. Lawrence and Wishart Ltd.

Postone, Moishe (2006) History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism, Public Culture, 18 (1) 93-110.

Postone, Moishe (1993) Time, Labour and Social Domination, Cambridge.

Postone, Moishe (1980) Anti-Semitism and National Socialism: Notes on the German Reaction to “Holocaust”, New German Critique, 19 (1) 97-115.

 

 

Marx on wealth and freedom

Here is Marx pointing beyond the bourgeois form of social wealth (‘value’) and to the reduction of necessary labour and the expansion of freedom (cf. Gorz’s  ‘realm of heteronomy’ and ‘realm of autonomy’).

“…when the limited bourgeois form is stripped away, what is wealth other than the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc., created through universal exchange? The full development of human mastery over the forces of nature, those of so-called nature as well as of humanity’s own nature? The absolute working-out of his creative potentialities, with no presupposition other than the previous historic development, which makes this totality of development, i.e. the development of all human powers as such the end in itself, not as measured on a predetermined yardstick? Where he does not reproduce himself in one specificity, but produces his totality? Strives not to remain something he has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming? In bourgeois economics – and in the epoch of production to which it corresponds – this complete working-out of the human content appears as a complete emptying-out, this universal objectification as total alienation, and the tearing-down of all limited, one-sided aims as sacrifice of the human end-in-itself to an entirely external end.” (Grundrisse Ch.9)

“…the realm of freedom actually begins only where labour which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of actual material production. Just as the savage must wrestle with Nature to satisfy his wants, to maintain and reproduce life, so must civilised man, and he must do so in all social formations and under all possible modes of production. With his development this realm of physical necessity expands as a result of his wants; but, at the same time, the forces of production which satisfy these wants also increase. Freedom in this field can only consist in socialised man, the associated producers, rationally regulating their interchange with Nature, bringing it under their common control, instead of being ruled by it as by the blind forces of Nature; and achieving this with the least expenditure of energy and under conditions most favourable to, and worthy of, their human nature. But it nonetheless still remains a realm of necessity. Beyond it begins that development of human energy which is an end in itself, the true realm of freedom, which, however, can blossom forth only with this realm of necessity as its basis. The shortening of the working-day is its basic prerequisite.” (Marx, Capital Vol.3)

Special Issue of Workplace Journal on ‘Marx, Engels and the Critique of Academic Labor’

Karen Gregory and I have edited a special issue of Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, which focuses on the contribution that Marx and Engels’ work can make to the critical study of academic labour. This is also something I explored in my earlier article for Workplace, ‘Writing about academic labor‘. In addition to editing the issue, Karen and I contributed an extended, introductory article and Karen took the opportunity to interview Stanley Aronowitz, who was also interviewed in 1998 for the first issue of Workplace.

The Call for Papers was first announced here in December 2014 and I’d like to thank the authors for their contributions (and patience), as well as Karen, who has been a pleasure to work with, and Stephen Petrina, the general editor of Workplace, for his encouragement and support. Here’s the Table of Contents:

Articles

Marx, Engels and the Critique of Academic Labor PDF
Karen Lynn Gregory, Joss Winn
Towards an Orthodox Marxian Reading of Subsumption(s) of Academic Labour under Capital PDF
Krystian Szadkowski
Re-engineering Higher Education: The Subsumption of Academic Labour and the Exploitation of Anxiety PDF
Richard Hall, Kate Bowles
Taxi Professors: Academic Labour in Chile, a Critical-Practical Response to the Politics of Worker Identity PDF
Elisabeth Simbürger, Mike Neary
Marxism and Open Access in the Humanities: Turning Academic Labor against Itself PDF
David Golumbia
Labour in the Academic Borderlands: Unveiling the Tyranny of Neoliberal Policies PDF
Antonia Darder, Tom G. Griffiths

Interviews

Jobless Higher Ed: Revisited, An Interview with Stanley Aronowitz PDF
Stanley Aronowitz, Karen Lynn Gregory

Against Academic Identity

Mike Neary and I have a short article published in the ‘Points for Debate’ section of the Higher Education Research and Development journal. We were invited to write it following our contributions at the Academic Identities conference in Durham, 2014. It looks like the article is Open Access, but if that changes, 50 copies are available for download from the publisher’s website and here’s the pre-print.

POINTS FOR DEBATE
Against academic identity

‘Academic identity’ is a key issue for debates about the professionalisation of university teaching and research, as well as the meaning and purpose of higher education. However, the concept of ‘academic identity’ is not adequate to the critical task for which it is utilised as it fails to deal with the real nature of work in capitalist society. It is important to move on from the mystifying and reified politics of identity and seek to understand academic life so that its alienated forms can be transformed. This can be done by grasping the essential aspects of capitalist work in both its abstract and concrete forms, as well as the historical and social processes out of which academic labour has emerged.

The interest among the academic community in academic identity reflects a broader concern with the nature of academic work. This has been a preoccupation of researchers of higher education who have examined the changing nature of the profession (Tight 2000; Fitzgerald, White & Gunter, 2012), the impact of policy and bureaucracy on academic work (Slaughter & Leslie, 1999), and the politics of the workplace (Martin, 1998). Recently, the emphasis has been on identity and what it subjectively means to be an academic (Barcan, 2013) responding to a decline in the conditions of academic labour across the world and the increasingly instrumentalised role of higher education in national economies (Brown & Carasso, 2013). Yet, despite repeated calls for increased unionisation (Krause et. al., 2008), individual autonomy is decreasing (Hall, 2013), contractual conditions are worsening (UCU, 2013), individual mental health issues are rising (Kinman & Wray, 2013) and academic work is being intensified (Gill, 2009).

This research into academic work and identity has helped illuminate the crisis at the heart of academic life, yet it does not get beyond a sense of powerlessness and anxiety. For example, Ball (2003) offers a perceptive and emotive account of life in the neoliberal university yet stops short at offering an adequate theory of academic work and identity. Ultimately, Ball’s account lacks explanatory and emancipatory power while the forces that shape academic life remain a mystery (Winn, 2014). This limitation is not unique to sociologists of education. In general, the last few decades of critical thinking in the social sciences have privileged questions of identity (race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender) to the neglect of what we regard as more fundamental categories of critique, including that of labour and, as such, represent “an expression of a deep and fundamental helplessness, conceptually as well as politically” (Postone, 2006, p. 102).

An adequate, explanatory theory of academic life in the neoliberal university must begin from Marx’s negative critique of labour in capitalist societies. The focus on the principle of negativity is key to this analysis (Noys, 2010), operating against the notion of difference and the affirmation of a multiplicity of identities. The positive attitude towards the concept of the Other which emerges from the celebration of difference is a hallmark of contemporary critical social theory, e.g., feminism, black studies, ethnicity, Queer and various other types of post-structural subjectivities. The key issue should be not a celebration of how different we are but, rather, what forces us to be different: classified within a pre-determined paradigm of capitalist domination. Holloway, Matamoros & Tischler (2009) argue that identity thinking leads to the politics of reconciliation and adaptation (which falls to escape its liberal formulations), while negativity leads to the politics of refusal to be dominated, or “the movement of endless revolt” (2009, p. 7) or class struggle. Not identity, but non-identity.

The basis for a negative critique of identity was established by Marx in his exposition of the commodity-form. Labour in capitalism is defined by having a simultaneously concrete and homogenous, abstract social form, which is expressed as its product, the commodity, which has a corresponding concrete use-value and abstract exchange-value. Marx regarded this historically specific relationship between the form of labour and the form of commodities as “the pivot on which a clear comprehension of political economy turns.” (Marx, 1996, p. 51). Starting from this discovery, which is fundamental to an understanding of capitalism in general, academic labour has both a concrete and abstract character reflected in the concept of ‘value’ that mediates the exchange of commodities and the social division of capitalist work.

This theoretical approach does not seek to provide a critique of academic life from the standpoint of labour but, rather, through a negative critique of labour (Postone, 1993). Taking this approach, both academic identity and academic labour are treated as reified concepts, or “real abstractions” (Sohn-Rethel, 1978, p. 20) to be overcome, transcended and indeed ‘abolished’ (aufhebung), theoretically and practically.

There is a need to theorise, imagine and develop new forms of social institutions for higher education based not on the production and mediation of value (the substance of which is homogenous, abstract labour) but on a new form of social wealth defined by an abundance or excess of knowledge, rather than its imposed scarcity in the form of value (Neary & Hagyard, 2010).

To assist this practical, transitional work, inspiration can be drawn from the worldwide tradition of worker co-operatives – an historic organisational form that has always sought to overcome the imposition of wage labour and establish a form of social property or a ‘commons’ that is democratically governed. We have been working with other academics, students, and members of our local community on such a project for co-operative higher education since 2010 (http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk). We are continually encouraged by the responses we receive from colleagues who are struggling to perceive academic life beyond the neoliberal university. As we conceive it, a ‘co-operative university’ is not simply a form of resistance against what the university has become but, rather, it is a dialectical response which recognises that the conditions for a new social form of higher education are already being produced both inside and outside the university by the only productive and creative intellectual force that exists in society, described by Marx as the “general intellect” or the “social brain” (Marx, 1993, p. 694). In capitalist society, the power of this social intellect is captured as science and technology and turned against its immediate producers (Winn, 2013); in communist society, this process would be re-constituted as a form of “mass intellectuality” and be appropriated for the benefit of the social and the natural world.

References

Ball, S. (2003). The teacher’s soul and the terrors of performativity. Journal of Education Policy, 18(2), 215–228.

Barcan, R (2013). Academic life and labour in the new university: Hope and other choices. England & USA: Ashgate Publishing.

Brown, R. & Carasso, H. (2013). Everything for sale? The marketisation of UK higher education. London: Routledge.

Fitzgerald, T., White, J. & Gunter, H. (2012). Hard labour? Academic work and the changing landscape of higher education. Bingley: Emerald Books.

Gill, R. (2009). Breaking the silence: The hidden injuries of neo-liberal academia. In R. Flood & R. Gill, R. (Eds.), Secrecy and silence in the research process: Feminist reflections (pp. 228-244), London: Routledge.

Hall, R. (2013). Educational technology and the enclosure of academic labour inside public higher education. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 11(3), 52–82.

Holloway, J., Matamoros, F. & Tischler, S. (Eds.) (2009). Negativity and revolution: Adorno and political activism. London: Pluto Press.

Kinman, G. & Wray, S. (2013). Higher stress: A survey of stress and well-being among staff in higher education. University and College Union (UCU). Retrieved 1st December 2014 from http://www.ucu.org.uk/media/pdf/4/5/HE_stress_report_July_2013.pdf

Krause, M., Nolan, M., Palm, M. & Ross, A. (2008). The university against itself: The NYU strike and the future of the academic workplace. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Martin, R. (1998). Chalk lines: The politics of work in the managed university. Durham: Duke University Press.

Marx, K. (1996). Capital, Volume 1, Marx and Engels’ collected works, Vol. 35. London: Lawrence and Wishart Ltd.

Neary, M. & Hagyard, A. (2010). Pedagogy of excess: An alternative political economy of student life. In M. Molesworth, R. Scullion & and E. Nixon (Eds.), The marketisation of higher education and the student as consumer. London: Routledge.

Noys, B. (2010). The persistence of the negative: A critique of contemporary continental theory. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Postone, M. (1993). Time, labour and social domination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Postone, M. (2006). History and helplessness: Mass mobilization and contemporary forms of anticapitalism. Public Culture, 18(1), 93–110.

Slaughter, S. & Leslie, L. (1999). Academic capitalism: Politics, policies and the entrepreneurial university. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Sohn-Rethel, A. (1978). Intellectual and manual labour. New Jersey: Humanities Press.

Tight, M. (2000). Academic work and life: What it is to be an academic, and how this is changing. London: Elsevier.

University and College Union (UCU) (2013). Over half of universities and colleges use lecturers on zero hours contracts. News 5th September. Retrieved on 1st December 2014 from http://www.ucu.org.uk/6749

Winn, J. (2013). Hacking in the university: Contesting the valorisation of academic labour. Triple C: Communication, capitalism and critique, 11(2), 486–503.

Winn, J. (2014). Writing about academic labor. Workplace: A Journal for Academic Labor, 25, 1–15.

Complete archive of Marx and Engels’ papers now online

Hand written fragment of the original Communist Manifesto (click to download archival PDF)
Hand written fragment of the original Communist Manifesto (click to download archival PDF)

As from today, the papers of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels can be viewed free of charge and in their entirety through the catalogue website of the International of Social History.

The writings of Marx and Engels are among the most influential in world history. In the twentieth century much of the world was ruled by regimes claiming to be Marxist, and the writings of Marx and Engels continue to play an important role in thinking on capitalism, labour, economic crises and revolutions. The Manifest der kommunistischen Partei has been translated into almost every language.

Many people would regard it as a historical sensation to be able to see the original documents, though you have to be particularly determined if you really want to read them: Marx’s handwriting in particular is virtually illegible.

The digitized documents can be browsed and each item viewed in full-screen mode. All the documents can be downloaded as a PDF file and printed. Go to socialhistory.org for more information.”

Direct link to online catalogue of Marx-Engels papers.

Related:

Marx documents inscribed on UNESCO Register

Marx-Engels papers completely available online now

MEGA2 project to complete “a historical-critical edition of the complete works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels”.

As an Archivist for Amnesty International, I visited the impressive International Institute of Social History in the Netherlands, which holds the collections of many trade unions and NGOs, as well as revolutionary Marxists. The “particular focus” of the IISH is the “long term global shifts in labour relations”.

I wish I could read German…

Communism in practice: Directly social labour

While reading this extract below from Peter Hudis’ wonderful book, keep in mind the already existing practices of P2P production, such as free software and open education. As Michel Bauwens and others recognise, these are examples of a proto-mode of post-capitalist production. They conform to much of what Marx describes (below) as the features of directly social labour but have yet to overcome the determinate imperative of value production i.e. they do not replace the production of value but remain reliant on it. Tony Smith and Guido Starosta discuss this limitation in detail.

Source: Hudis, P. (2013) Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism, Leiden: Brill. pp. 110-113.

“‘Now if this assumption is made, the general character of labour would not be given to it only by exchange; its assumed communal character would determine participation in the products. The communal character of production would from the outset make the product into a communal, general one. The exchange initially occurring in production, which would not be an exchange of exchange values but of activities determined by communal needs and communal purposes, would include from the beginning the individual’s participation in the communal world of products…labour would be posited as general labour prior to exchange, i.e., the exchange of products would not in any way be the medium mediating the participation of the individual in general production. Mediation of course has to take place.’ (Marx, Grundrisse, 1986: 108)

This is a remarkable passage that is worth close analysis. First, Marx acknowledges that labour would have a ‘general’ character in a new society. However, its generality would be radically different from what exists in capitalism, where discrete acts of individual labour become connected to one another (or are made general) through the act of commodity-exchange. In contrast, labour becomes general in the new society prior to the exchange of products, on the basis of the ‘the communal character of production’ itself. The community distributes the elements of production according to the individuals’ needs, instead of being governed by social forms that operate independently of their deliberation. Labour is general insofar as the community directly decides the manner and form of production. Marx is not referring here to the existence of small, isolated communities that operate in a world dominated by value-production. As noted above, Marx never adhered to the notion that socialism was possible in one country, let alone in one locale. He is pointing, instead, to a communal network of associations in which value-production has been superseded on a systemic level. Labour is therefore directly social, not indirectly social. Second, Marx acknowledges that exchange of some sort would exist in a new society. However, exchange would be radically different from what prevails in capitalism, which is governed by the exchange of commodities. Instead of being based on exchange-values, prices, or markets, distribution would be governed by an exchange of activities that are ‘determined by communal needs and communal purposes’. The latter determines the exchange of activities, instead of being determined by the exchange of products that operate independently of it. Third, Marx acknowledges that social mediation would exist in a new society. However, mediation would be radically different from that under capitalism, where it has an abstract character, since ‘mediation takes place through the exchange of commodities, through exchange value’ and money. In socialism, in contrast, ‘the presupposition is itself mediated, i.e., communal production, community as the basis of production, is assumed. The labour of the individual is from the outset taken as [directly] social labour’.

Marx’s distinction between indirectly and directly social labour is central to his evolving concept of a postcapitalist society – not only in the Grundrisse but also (as I will attempt to show) in much of his later work. He contends that in capitalism the ‘social character of production is established only post festum by the elevation of the products into exchange values and the exchange of these exchange values’, whereas in socialism, ‘The social character of labour is presupposed, and participation in the world of products, in consumption, is not mediated by exchange between mutually independent labourers of products of labour. It is mediated by social production within which the individual carries on his activity’. Marx is envisaging a totally new kind of social mediation, one that is direct, instead of indirect, sensuous, instead of abstract: ‘For the fact is that labour on the basis of exchange values presupposes that neither the labour of the individual nor his product is directly general, but that it acquires this form only through objective mediation by means of a form of money distinct from it’. In sum, a society is governed by exchange-value only inso-far as the sociality of labour is established not through itself, but through an objective form independent of itself. Such a society is an alienated one, since (as Marx showed from as early as his writings of 1843–4), the domination of individuals by objective forms of their own making is precisely what is most problematic and indeed perverse about capitalism.

Marx proceeds to go deeper into what he means by directly social ‘communal production’ by addressing the role of time in a new society. He writes, ‘Ultimately, all economy is a matter of economy of time’. All societies strive to reduce the amount of time spent on producing and reproducing the necessities of life. No society is more successful at doing so than capitalism, in which production-relations force individual units of labour to conform to the average amount of time necessary to produce a given commodity. Since this compulsion issues from within the production-process, instead of from a political authority which lords over it from outside, capitalism is far more effective at generating efficiencies of time than were precapitalist modes of production. Marx repeatedly refers to this as capitalism’s ‘civilising mission’. He says this because the development and satisfaction of the individual ultimately depends upon the saving of time so that life can be freed up for pursuits other than engaging in material production.

But how does the economisation of time relate to a new society governed by ‘communal production’? Marx indicates that it becomes just as important as in capitalism, although it exists in a different form and for a different purpose:

If we presuppose communal production, the time factor naturally remains essential. The less time society requires to produce corn, livestock, etc., the more time it wins for other production, material or spiritual…Economy of time, as well as the planned distribution of labour time over the various branches of production, therefore, remains the first economic law if communal production is taken as the basis. It becomes a law even to a much higher degree. However, this is essentially different from the measurement of exchange values (of labours or products of labour) by labour time.

Marx does not detail exactly how the economisation of time operates in a society governed by communal production; the text mentions no single mechanism or lever for accomplishing this. However, in light of his earlier writings, we can surmise that he sees the motivation for the economisation of time in a new society as resting upon the effort to achieve what he called in 1844 a ‘totality of manifestations of life’. When society is freed from the narrow drive to augment value as an end in itself, it can turn its attention to supplying the multiplicity of needs and wants that are integral to the social individual. Instead of being consumed by having and possessing, individuals can now focus upon what is given short shrift in societies governed by value-production – their being, their manifold sensuous and intellectual needs, whether ‘material or spiritual’. The more people get in touch with their universality of needs, the greater the incentive to economise time, to reduce the amount of hours engaged in material production, so that such multiple needs (such as cultural, social, or intellectual enjoyment) can be pursued and satisfied. In a word, whereas in capitalism the incentive to economise time is provided by an abstract standard, exchange-value, in socialism it is provided by the concrete sensuous needs of the individuals themselves. The drive to economise time no longer comes from outside the individuals, from value’s need to grow big with value, but from within, from the quest to manifest the totality of the individuals’ intellectual, sensuous, and spiritual capabilities.”

The general intellect, mass intellectuality, and the value-form

Source: Smith, Tony (2013) The ‘General Intellect’ in the Grundrisse and Beyond. In: In Marx’s Laboratory. Critical Interpretations of the Grundrisse, Leiden: Brill.

“I believe Virno and Vercellone understate the role of the general intellect in the era extending from the first Industrial Revolution to Fordism, while overstating its flourishing in contemporary capitalism. But they are surely correct to stress how mass-intellectuality has become increasingly important as a productive force. Does this development push Marx’s theory of value into the trash heap of outdated theories? Not if the main form of social organisation continues to be the dissociated sociality of generalised commodity-production. Not if social reproduction continues to be mediated by the circulation of things, that is, the sale of commodities for money. And not if social reproduction continues to centre on the reproduction of the capital/wage labour relation. All these things continue to define global capitalism today. As long as value-relations are in place, the accomplishments of diffuse intellectuality will tend to be either appropriated by capital as another sort of ‘free gift’ (as occurs, for example, when corporations make use of ‘open-source’ computing code), or else pushed to the margins of social life. Marx’s value-theory will retain descriptive accuracy and explanatory power as long as this remains the case. To comprehend the production of wealth we must indeed take into account mass intellectuality, and grant it increasing importance vis-à-vis simple labour. But this has little to do with Marx’s theory of value, at least not with the most satisfactory all-things-considered interpretation of that theory.”

See also: Is Socialism Relevant in the “Networked Information Age”? A Critical Assessment of The Wealth of Networks.