Updates

Open education and the emancipation of labour from teaching and learning

Abstract submitted to the CfP on ‘Critical Approaches to Open Education‘, Learning, Media and Technology journal.

I have previously argued that open education is a liberal project with a focus on the freedom of things rather than the freedom of people. (Winn, 2012) Furthermore, I have argued that despite an implicit critique of private property with its emphasis on ‘the commons’, there is no corresponding critique of academic labour (Neary, Winn, 2012).

The imposition of private property and wage-labour is the organising principle of the capitalist mode of production (Neary, Winn, 2009), a “determinate logic” (Postone, 1993) which continually seeks to alienate labour from its full creative capacity (Wendling, 2011) and reduce the necessity of labour-time in the production of value. For capital, the crucial role of all forms of education is to ensure the reproduction and improvement of labour in a historical form that is conducive to the production of value. For the student, education becomes necessary in order to improve the value of the labour power commodity upon which their subsistence depends.

This paper will take up the conclusions of my earlier work where I argued that the critical power and potential of open education “is in its yet under-acknowledged re-conceptualisation of what it means to work as a researcher, teacher and student.” (Winn, 2012) In the work cited, I have argued that an emancipatory form of education cannot be created by the production of educational resources as ‘a commons’ and the socialisation of academic (i.e. teacher-student) labour through networked technologies.

In this paper, I will develop my critical position that an emancipatory form of education must work towards the emancipation of teachers and students from labour, the dynamic source of value in capitalism, and that this might be achieved through a co-operative pedagogical relationship between individuals out of which alternative organisational and institutional forms are developed that undermine the organising principle of capitalism. In making this argument, I will draw upon my involvement with the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, as well as my work with colleagues at the University of Lincoln (e.g. Neary, 2010; Neary and Hagyard, 2010; Neary and Amsler, 2010).

References

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2012) Open education: common(s), commonism and the new common wealth. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 12 (4). pp. 406-422.

Neary, Mike and Amsler, Sarah (2012) Occupy: a new pedagogy of space and time?. Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, 10 (2).

Neary, Mike (2010) Student as producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde?,  Learning Exchange, 1 (1).

Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010) Pedagogy of excess: an alternative political economy of student life. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Routledge, Abingdon.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience . Continuum, London.

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

Social Science Centre, Lincoln http://socialsciencecentre.org.uk

Wendling (2011) Karl Marx on Technology and Alienation. Palgrave Macmillan

Winn, Joss (2012) Open education: from the freedom of things to the freedom of people. In: Towards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. Continuum, London.

The university as a worker co-operative: Labour, property and pedagogy

Abstract of a paper accepted for the ‘Governing Academic Life‘ conference.

UPDATE 16th June 2014: My paper for this conference is available here.

We are witnessing an “assault” on universities (Bailey and Freedman, 2011) and the future of higher education and its institutions is being “gambled.” (McGettigan, 2013) For many years now, we have been warned that our institutions are in “ruins” (Readings, 1997). We campaign for the “public university” (Holmwood, 2011) but in the knowledge that we work for private corporations, where academic labour is increasingly subject to the regulation of performative technologies (Ball, 2003) and where the means of knowledge production is being consolidated under the control of an executive. We want the cops off our campus but lack a form of institutional governance that gives teachers and students a right to the university. (Bhandar, 2013)

Outside the university, there is an institutional form that attempts to address issues of ownership and control over the means of production and constitute a radical form of democracy among those involved. Worker co-operatives are a form of ‘producer co-operative’ constituted on the values of autonomy, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity (Co-operatives UK, nd). In most cases the assets (the means of production) of the co-operative are held under ‘common ownership’, a social form of property that goes beyond the distinction between private and public (Footprint and Seeds for Change, 2012)

In this talk, I will begin by discussing recent work by academics and activists to identify the advantages and issues relating to co-operative forms of higher education. I will then focus in particular on the ‘worker co-operative’ organisational form and question its applicability and suitability to the governance of and practices within higher educational institutions. Finally, I will align the values and principles of worker co-ops with the critical pedagogic theory of Student as Producer (Neary, 2009, 2010a, 2010b)

References

Bailey, Michael and Freedman, Des (2011) The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance, Pluto Press.

Ball, Stephen J. (2003) The teacher’s soul and the terror of performativity, Journal of Education Policy, Vol. 18:2, pp.215-228.

Bhandar, Brenna (2013) A Right to the University, London Review of Books blog, Retrieved 17th February 2014. http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/12/10/brenna-bhandar/a-right-to-the-university/

Co-operatives UK (nd) The worker co-operative code, Retrieved 17th February 2014. http://www.uk.coop/workercode

Footprint and Seeds of Change (2012) How to set up a Workers’ Co-op, Radical Routes. Retrieved 17th February 2014. http://www.uk.coop/workercode

Holmwood, John (2011) A Manifesto for the Public University, Bloomsbury Academic.

McGettigan, Andrew (2013) The Great University Gamble: Money, Markets and the Future of Higher Education, Pluto Press.

Neary, Mike and Winn, Joss (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience . Continuum.

Neary, Mike (2010a) Student as producer: a pedagogy for the avant-garde?,  Learning Exchange, 1 (1).

Neary, Mike and Hagyard, Andy (2010b Pedagogy of excess: an alternative political economy of student life. In: The Marketisation of Higher Education and the Student as Consumer. Routledge, Abingdon.

Marx on individualism, equality and democracy

As I’ve mentioned before, I am one of several scholars participating in the Social Science Centre’s course on ‘Co-operation and education‘. This week (week five), we were discussing co-operative values and principles, with a particular focus on ‘autonomy’ (4th principle) and ‘democracy’ (2nd principle). The reading for this week was Ian MacPherson’s ‘Speech Introducing the Co‐operative Identity Statement to the 1995 Manchester Congress of the ICA’, and the article on democracy from the Stanford encyclopedia of philosophy.

In addition to this, I also went looking for something that discussed Marx’s views on democracy, partly because he usually acts as a counter to the dominant liberal history of ideas, and also because I have been thinking about the role of democracy, equality and the individual in the context of teaching and learning in a post-capitalist form of higher education. The article I ended up reading was Springborg (1984) Karl Marx on Democracy, Participation, Voting, and Equality, Political Theory, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Nov., 1984), pp. 537-556. Below are my rough thoughts and notes on Springborg’s article…

Marx’s views on democracy share things in common with classical political philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle and Hegel. He viewed participatory democracy negatively as a form of radical individualism as it emphasises first and foremost the agency of the individual rather than of the community as a whole through representatives. Springborg identifies three main arguments from Marx in defence of the idea of democracy:

1. Democracy is “the essence” of the political. It is more than its legal, juridical form. In his 1844 Manuscripts and 1843 Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, communism and democracy are described separately in the same terms.

Springborg paraphrasing Marx on communism:

“the resolution of the antithesis between essence and existence, form and content, individual and species; it is the riddle of history solved and knows itself to be that solution.”

Marx:

“Democracy is the resolved mystery of all constitutions. Here the constitution not only in itself, according to essence, but according to existence and actuality is returned to its real ground, actual man, the actual people, and established as its own work. The constitution appears as what it is, the free product of men… democracy is the essence of every political constitution, socialised man under the form of a particular constitution of the state… stands related to other constitutions as the genus to its species; only here the genus itself appears as an existent, and therefore opposed as a particular species to those existents which do not conform to the essence. Democracy relates to all other forms of the state as their Old Testament. Man does not exist because of the law but rather the law exists for the good of man. Democracy is human existence, while in the other political forms man has only legal existence. That is the fundamental difference of democracy.”

Springborg: “Under the aegis of democracy, first the abstract distinction between civil society and the state and second the state itself as an abstraction are surpassed. Thus “in true democracy the political state disappears.” (Marx) This is because democracy as unity of particular and universal, part and whole, is no mere constitutional form but a system whose principles actually govern.” (my emphasis)

“In democracy the constitution, the law, the state, so far as it is political constitution, is itself only a self-determination of the people, and a determinate content of the people.” (Marx)

I understand this to mean that rather than the state being an abstraction set apart from people, under a true democracy the people constitute the state (they are the “essence of the political”) to the extent that the state as a determinate abstract force in society is negated. True democracy is stateless. It is literally the ‘rule of the people’, expressed through social, human existence.

2. Democracy does not require the participation of all members of society as individuals in the decision-making process. Both direct or representative participation is to falsely conceive of the problem. Membership in a true democratic society does not demand participation in the state. The artificial distinction between society and the state is wrong in the first place.

“In a really rational state one could answer, ‘Not every single person should share in deliberating and deciding on political matters of general concern’, because the individuals share in deliberating and deciding on matters of general concern as the ‘all’, that is to say, within and as members of the society. Not all individually, but the individuals as all… Hegel presents himself with the dilemma: either civil society (the Many, the multitude) shares through deputies in deliberating and deciding on political matters of general concern or all [as] I individuals do this. This is no opposition of essence, as Hegel subsequently tries to present it, but of existence, and indeed of the most external existence, quantity. Thus, the basis which Hegel himself designated as external – the multiplicity of members – remains the best reason against the direct participation of all. The question of whether civil society should participate in the legislature either by entering it through deputies or by the direct participation of all as individuals is itself a question within the abstraction of the political state or within the abstract political state; it is an abstract political question.” (Marx)

This is, I think, a warning that questions about ‘participation’ in democracy are situated/trapped in the very conceptual approach they are trying to escape from. To suggest that everyone participate in deciding matters of political concern is to assume that the state continues to remain an abstract political force, apart from people, that benefits quantitatively from the direction of each individual. Marx wants to avoid “the methodological individualism of radical democracy.” (Springborg) In a true democracy, the state is not external to the people and therefore does not and cannot act apart from the will of individuals who act “as all.” It is a fundamentally different conception of large scale human social relations as well as posing a different “ontology” of the political. Marx notes that according to Hegel:

“In its proper form the opposition is this: the individuals participate as all, or the individuals participate as a few, as not all. In both cases allness remains merely an external plurality or totality of individuals. Allness is no essential, spiritual, actual quality of the individual. It is not something through which he would lose the character of abstract individuality. Rather, it is merely the sum total of individuality. One individuality, many individualities, all individualities. The one, the many, the all – none of these determinations changes the essence of the subject, individuality.

All as individuals should share in deliberating and deciding on political matters of general concern; that is to say, then, that all should share in this not as all but as individuals.” (Marx, summarising Hegel)

Where Marx fundamentally differs from Hegel is in his conception of how the state exists as a social form, not in abstraction but ontologically and epistemologically as its members:

“The very notion of member of the state implies their being a member of the state, a part of it, and the state having them as its part. But if they are an integral part of the state, then it is obvious that their social existence is already their actual participation in it. They are not only integral parts of the state, but the state is their integral part. To be consciously an integral part of something is to participate consciously in it, to be consciously integral to it. Without this consciousness the member of the state would be an animal.” (Marx)

To consciously ‘be’ is more than to simply ‘participate’ in something. One’s existence is already participation to the extent that the state can only exist as a form of the social existence of all individuals. What ‘activates’ this integration or transcendence is being/becoming conscious of such an existence. Marx recognises that “it is a tautology that a member of the state, a part of the state, participates in the state, and that this participation can appear only as deliberation or decision”.

“The false alternatives of political participation either as “all” or “not all” is predicated on the abstract separation of civil society and the state, which in turn falsely presumes the political to be constituted by single political acts performed by individuals, focusing exclusively on the legislature as the locus of popular participation.” (Springborg)

“On the other hand, if we are talking about definite concerns, about single political acts, then it is again obvious that not all as individuals accomplish them. Otherwise, the individual would be the true society, and would make society superfluous.” (Marx)

“Let us note that although Marx dismisses the traditional concept of the state as a real collectivity with sovereign power that can represent and be represented, he retains the notion of society as a collectivity in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. One of his objections to the possibility of all participating in political decisions making as individuals is that this proposition is based on a radical individualism that fails to see society itself as a corporate entity representative of the interests of the individuals who constitute it.” (Springborg)

“The question whether all as individuals should share in deliberating and deciding on political matters of general concern is a question that arises from the separation of the political state and civil society.” (Marx)

In a true democracy, where “civil society is actual political society”,

“…it is nonsense to make a claim which has resulted precisely from a notion of the political state as an existent separated from civil society, from the theological notion of the political state. In this situation, legislative power altogether loses the meaning of representative power. Here, the legislature is a representation in the same sense in which every function is representative. For example, the shoemaker is my representative in so far as he fulfils a social need, just as every definite social activity, because it is a species-activity, represents only the species; that is to say, it represents a determination of my own essence the way every man is the representative of the other. Here, he is representative not by virtue of something other than himself which he represents, but by virtue of what he is and does.” (Marx)

I understand this to mean that representative power in a truly democratic society is not determined by legislative power, but rather by social activity which fulfils a social need. One individual is representative of another by virtue of their social activity as a human being. Representation exists in a natural state, before and apart from the fabrication of legislative representation. The shoe-maker represents me through her social activity. I represent the shoe-maker through my social activity. Our social activity is representative of each other and all others of our species. As Springborg notes, Marx goes

“against all attempts to impose the rubric of strict equality in such a way that functional substitution becomes the test of an individual’s integrity as a person. Such levelling egalitarianism is premised on radical individualism that aims to make all persons featureless monads, alike in the sameness and incapable of actualising the rich range of potentialities that human nature promises. Marx’s argument has serious implications for some of the campaigns waged in the name of Marxist humanism, feminism, etc., which, as he predicted, merely reproduce voluntarily the prerequisites for a higher state of capitalism that devours women and children allowing no distinctions of gender, race, ethnicity, etc…” (Springborg)

“For the first time, nature [in capitalist society] becomes purely an object for humankind, purely a matter of utility; ceases to be recognized as a power for itself; and the theoretical discovery of its autonomous laws appears merely as a ruse so as to subjugate it under human needs, whether as an object of consumption or as a means of production. In accord with this tendency, capital drives beyond national barriers and prejudices as much as beyond nature worship, as well as all traditional, confined, complacent, encrusted satisfactions of present needs, and reproductions of old ways of life. It is destructive towards all of this, and constantly revolutionizes it, tearing down all the barriers which hem in the development of the forces of production, the expansion of needs, the all-sided development of production, and the exploitation and exchange of natural and mental forces.” (Marx, Gundrisse)

This is a reminder, I would add, that in capitalist society, efforts towards ‘equality’ serve the purpose of ensuring everyone equally has the opportunity and capacity to sell (exchange for money – a wage) their labour power, the source of capitalist wealth (value). Marx showed that this is so-called ‘freedom’ under capitalism. Rather than view civil society equally and quantitatively as an abstract ‘population’ of individuals, Marx showed how the abstraction of exchange, (based on abstract labour, the measure of which is socially necessary labour time), is the necessary basis of capitalism’s equality. Human need and the capacity to produce goods and services to meet those needs is the precondition for an equality based on exchange, which capitalism exploits by separating individuals from the means of production (private property) such that they have to sell their labouring capacity in exchange for a wage so as to meet those needs through the exchange of money.

“the individual has an existence only as a producer of exchange value, hence that the whole negation of his natural existence is already implied; that he is therefore entirely determined by society; that this further presupposes a division of labour etc., in which the individual is already posited in relations other than that of mere exchanger, etc. That therefore this presupposition by no means arises either out of the individual’s will or out of the immediate nature of the individual, but that it is, rather, historical, and posits the individual as already determined by society.” (Marx, Gundrisse)

Human need and capacity are mediated indirectly through the abstract equivalence of value in the form of money, rather than the direct and reciprocal labour of individuals. This commodified relationship under capitalism, where both labour-power and its product is commodified , is in one sense unequal in that the labourer is paid less than her labour is worth. For a portion of the day, she works for ‘free’, enabling her employer, the capitalist, to sell the product of labour power for a value which is higher (i.e. not equivalent) than it cost them to produce. Thus, value, the substance of which is abstract labour measured by socially necessary labour time (time, being the ultimate measure of equivalence), determines human equivalence in capitalist society and not the direct meeting of human needs and capacity i.e. inequality (what Marx, in the Grundrisse, called “natural differences”).

“Only the differences between their needs and between their production gives rise to exchange and to their social equation in exchange; these natural differences are therefore the precondition of their social equality in the act of exchange, and of this relation in general, in which they relate to one another as productive. Regarded from the standpoint of the natural difference between them, individual A exists as the owner of a use value for B, and B as owner of a use value for A. In this respect, their natural difference again puts them reciprocally into the relation of equality. In this respect, however, they are not indifferent to one another, but integrate with one another, have need of one another; so that individual B, as objectified in the commodity, is a need of individual A, and vice versa; so that they stand not only in an equal, but also in a social, relation to one another. This is not all. The fact that this need on the part of one can be satisfied by the product of the other, and vice versa, and that the one is capable of producing the object of the need of the other, and that each confronts the other as owner of the object of the other’s need, this proves that each of them reaches beyond his own particular need etc., as a human being, and that they relate to one another as human beings; that their common species-being [Gattungswesen] is acknowledged by all. It does not happen elsewhere — that elephants produce for tigers, or animals for other animals.” (Marx, Grundrisse)

Later Springborg elaborates further, stating that

“equality as mutually substitutable individuals is equality by virtue of a false abstraction. For what is crucial about human beings is the variety and plenitude of their talents and functions. The cultural richness and depth of society is a reflection not of mere numbers of individuals, equal and undifferentiated, but of the opposite. Thus to fix on equality as a critical concept is a sign of intellectual mediocrity that cannot cope with the problem of unity and difference.”

Furthermore, Marx

“… gave depth to the Hegelian analysis by perceiving the phenomenon of exchange, and not merely the arithmetical abstraction of society as a collection of individuals, as the basis for equality. He was thus able to interpret the old socialist slogan demanding justice according to need not as the expression of equality, pace Hegel, but as its opposite, a formula tailored to the specific differences of need and capacity characteristic of individuals. When in the Critique of the Gotha Programme, he boldly proclaimed that distribution according to need, rather than strict equality, would herald the crossing of “the narrow horizon of bourgeois right,” Marx meant what he implied: that equality was an extrapolation from the presuppositions of capitalism. He had said as much in The Holy Family, declaring that the idea of “‘equal possession’ is a political-economic one and therefore still an alienated expression.”

3. Debates over direct or participatory democracy are misled. Political participation rests on universal political suffrage: the vote. Voting, “considered philosophically… is the immediate, the direct, the existing and not simply imagined relation of civil society to the political state”. (Marx) The unity of the political and the social is symbolised by universal suffrage. “Indeed it is the struggle for universal suffrage that brings about the dissolution of the dualism of civil society and the state.” (Springborg)

Thus, the struggle to achieve legislative power is the struggle of civil society to “transform itself into political society, or to make political society into the actual society… [this] shows itself as the drive for the most fully possible universal participation in legislative power.” (Marx) Legislature then, is “an articulation of the political will of the community as such”. (Springborg) Marx argues that it is not the depth of engagement in legislature but the universalism of suffrage that is key, whether active or passive.

“It is not a question of whether civil society should exercise legislative power through deputies or through all as individuals. Rather, it is a question of the extension and greatest possible universalisation of voting, of active as well as passive suffrage.” (Marx)

Rather than see voting as a meaningless exercise, it should be considered philosophically:

“Voting is not considered philosophically, that is, not in terms of its proper nature, if it is considered in relation to the crown or the executive. The vote is the actual relation of actual civil society to the civil society of the legislature, to the representative element. in other words, the vote is the immediate, the direct, the existing and not simply imagined relation of civil society to the political state. It therefore goes without saying that the vote is the chief political interest of actual civil society. In unrestricted suffrage, both active and passive, civil society has actually raised itself for the first time to an abstraction of itself, to political existence as its true universal and essential existence. But the full achievement of this abstraction is at once also the transcendence [Aufhebung] of the abstraction. In actually establishing its political existence as its true existence civil society has simultaneously established its civil existence, in distinction from its political existence, as inessential. And with the one separated, the other, its opposite, falls. Within the abstract political state the reform of voting advances the dissolution [Auflösung] of this political state, but also the dissolution of civil society.” (Marx)

In theory then, universal suffrage transforms, for the first time, the existence of civil society into a political existence. The political state is no longer an abstraction and civil society, its dialectical opposite, is dissolved, too. The outcome of the synthesis of this dialectic, enabled by universal suffrage, is the political existence of all transformed into true social existence. This dissolution, I think, is resolved gradually through the praxis of consciously becoming political: At first with the struggle towards universal suffrage; and then the struggle to understand what this means philosophically and recognise that out-dated and out-moded legislation is no longer deemed suitable or necessary to the historical material conditions of this political existence. Such conditions are conditions of abundance that allow the “natural differences” among people to labour directly with one-another reciprocally, not mediated by the equivalence of exchange value. To labour ‘directly’ does not necessarily mean ‘local’ to one-another face-to-face, but rather directly meeting need with capacity regardless of and without concern for ‘equivalence’.

What does this mean for democracy, equality and freedom in post-capitalist society? Democracy will be the social existence of individuals who no longer have a juridical existence quantified by an abstract state.  A political existence is to be (ontologically and epistemologically) a social human being. i.e. not an individual. Equality will be mutual recognition of the difference in our needs and capacities i.e. inequality. Freedom will be a life of non-reciprocity where ‘equivalence’ is redefined as the meeting of one person’s needs with the abundant social capacity of others. It will be a freedom which tends to our natural differences (not ‘natural rights’), undetermined by ‘exchange’ conceived as an abstract calculation of one’s value.

Reserve army of labour

The Machine and Unemployment by Paul Herzel c.1935
The Machine and Unemployment by Paul Herzel c.1935

“…it is capitalistic accumulation itself that constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relativity redundant population of labourers, i.e., a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the self-expansion of capital, and therefore a surplus population… It is the absolute interest of every capitalist to press a given quantity of labour out of a smaller, rather than a greater number of labourers, if the cost is about the same. In the latter case, the outlay of constant capital increases in proportion to the mass of labour set in action; in the former that increase is much smaller. The more extended the scale of production, the stronger this motive. Its force increases with the accumulation of capital.” (Marx, Capital Vol. 1)

Wikipedia: Reserve army of labour

“…to the degree that large industry develops, the creation of real wealth comes to depend less on labour time and on the amount of labour employed than on the power of the agencies set in motion during labour time…” (Marx, Grundrisse, 705)

“Marx contrasts value, a form of wealth bound to human labor time expenditure, to the gigantic wealth-producing potential of modern science and technology. Value becomes anachronistic in terms of the system of production to which it gives rise; the realization of that potential would entail the abolition of value.” (Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory, 1993, 26)

Is an Open Access journal article a commodity?

I was recently asked this question and here is my reply based on Marx’s critique of the commodity. Implicit in the question is whether something that does not cost anything (zero price) to consume can still be a commodity.

Marx referred to the ‘commodity’ as “the elementary form of wealth. Our investigation begins accordingly with the analysis of the commodity.” That is, we start with the commodity, but have to unravel how it appears in order to understand the totality of capitalist social relations through which it was produced.

To cut to the chase, a commodity is the product of labour which is the source of value. The commodity is not the source of value. The commodity is a ‘bearer’ for value to meet its equivalent value in the market.

“It is the utility of a thing for human life that turns it into a use-value… Use-value realizes itself only in use or in consumption; use-values form the substantial content of wealth, whatever its social form may be. In the form of society which we are going to examine, they form the substantial bearers at the very same time of exchange-value.”

If a product or service deriving from physical and/or mental labour has utility and is consumed by someone other than its producer, it is a commodity. That is not to say that the owner of the commodity will certainly profit from it, but that it simply has the form of a commodity. Marx says nothing about payment here. It’s about two forms of value expressed by the commodity form. If an open access article is a commodity, according to Marx’s analysis, it must have use value and exchange value.

“Hence, commodities are first of all simply to be considered as values, independent of their exchange-relationship or from the form, in which they appear as exchange-values.”

Note that we can identify something as a commodity before knowing its exchange relationship with something else such as money (money is a universal equivalent in the exchange relationship). The price of something, even if zero, does not tell us whether it is a commodity or not. We must not confuse “price” with “value”. It’s about whether its utility is exchangeable and is destined for exchange. It’s about whether the thing is conceived abstractly as an equivalence of something else. What might that be?

If something can be deemed a commodity prior to knowing its eventual equivalence in exchange, then the commodity-ness of it must be the result of something prior to the act of exchange; that is, what is the source of value? Labour.

“The common social substance which merely manifests itself differently in different use-values, is ­ labour. Commodities as values are nothing but crystallized labour.”

I don’t think it’s easy at first to understand the distinction between use value, exchange value and value, but basically, things can have a use value without an exchange value and therefore only possess use value and not value. Value is the form that the use value and the exchange value take in the commodity. You can’t have value without the thing having an exchange value, but the thing can have use value without an exchange value (i.e. I can bake a cake for myself. It’s use is nourishment and pleasure, but it was not produced for the purpose of exchange, unless I become a baker).

Anyway, a commodity = value. What is the source of that value? It’s labour. Therefore, the substance of a commodity = labour.

“A use-value or good only has a value because labour is objectified or materialized in it.”

What is labour? Well, remember that we’re talking about labour in capitalist societies. We’re not concerned with any trans-historical sense of ‘labour’ as effort of some kind, but rather the nature of labour predominant today.

Marx shows that labour can also be analysed as having two forms: concrete and abstract labour. Concrete labour is the physiological effort that has a use. For example, I can employ intellectual and physical effort to write an article or to teach – that’s a concrete, useful expression of my labour power. Abstract labour is the form of equivalence in which capitalist labour is expressed and measured by time. Together, concrete and abstract labour = capitalist labour.

How are these forms of labour expressed in the life of an academic or anyone else? As use value and exchange value. Marx referred to this discovery of the “twofold character of labour” as “one of the two best points in my book (Capital)”. If labour is expressed as both use value and exchange value, then that, of course, makes it a commodity, too. Marx called it a “peculiar” commodity, because it is the only commodity which is capable of producing more value. How does it produce value? Either by lengthening the amount of time one labours (which has natural limits) or by introducing efficiencies in the labour process (e.g. greater division of labour, metrics, KPIs, new technologies and various innovations which replace the useful function of labour, etc.) Either way, the commodity of labour is able to produce a greater amount of commodities than before and therefore more value than before.

Finally and briefly, how is value created? Well, the capitalist pays the worker less than their labour is worth. That is, the employer does not pay the worker an equivalence of their labour power in money. Everywhere commodities are exchanged for their equivalence in the market except the commodity of labour power. That is exploitation. In this usage, ‘exploitation’ does not refer to the working conditions of the worker (the conditions might be wonderful), but rather the worker/labourer/employee/academic (different labels, same person) is not paid what they are worth to their employer. For the worker, there is a bare minimum that they need to sell their labour power for in order to survive, which differs across time and locale. Anything above that is to the benefit of the worker but to the detriment of their employer who is compelled by competitive markets to create surplus value (i.e. profit).

Competitive forces, driven by improved forms of efficiency and innovation, constantly push the price of the commodity down and therefore require the capitalist to ensure that the commodity of labour power is as low as possible, too, so that they continue to produce surplus value. If they don’t produce surplus value, they can’t invest and improve their product and another capitalist will beat them in the market because they did keep wages down, invest part of the surplus in innovation and lower their price.

In a university, we therefore have to first ask ourselves: what is the source of the institution’s value? The answer, according to Marx, has to be labour. Then we ask, how is that value expressed? Again, according to Marx, it is expressed in the form of commodities. What are those commodities? I think we can say they are the product of teaching and learning (e.g. the student, whose labour power we help improve, the courses we develop, validate and sell to the student), and research (e.g. patents, papers, books, etc.) which are, at some point, paid for in money as the equivalence of the specific commodity. (We often use the word ‘attract’ rather than ‘paid for’ – our work ‘attracts’ research income).

There may not be a direct relationship between the OA paper and money like there is for non-OA articles, but if the OA paper is used by someone to improve their labour, which is being paid for by a wage, then there is an equivalence between the wage which pays the worker to improve their labour power which makes them a better teacher, researcher, etc. which results in them writing more/better papers, reproducing better students, improving the reputation of the institution, attracting more external revenue of one kind or another. The point is, that capital is a social relation and the creation of value is a dynamic social process that can be distilled down to the time it takes for labour to produce a commodity: “socially necessary labour time”.

Up until recently, UK universities haven’t had to worry so much about the exchange value (value) of their commodities, because of significant public subsidy. A university which exists in a non-subsidised, competitive market, will be forced to analyse itself in this way, and we see this in the various techniques of metrics, costing of courses, emphasis on ‘staff development’, and so on. If OA research outputs do not appear as commodities, it’s because the forces of competition and the measure of productivity haven’t fully caught up with their producers yet. These things take time. Look at what’s happened to the Internet over the last two decades.

As we know, the writing of a journal paper is a huge undertaking in terms of labour time. Most academics write them partially outside of their contracted employment time. This is an example of how labour in the university is paid less than its value (‘exploited’). Innovations in publishing (e.g. word processing, ePrints, OJS) also help reduce the labour time of producing an article. In the case of Open Access, the price of the journal article to the reader is zero, but the value of the paper to the academic’s employer is something else. In the UK, the REF is now the main measure of value of journal articles, regardless of their price to the reader. What happens in preparation for the REF? There’s a huge amount of activity in the academic labour market as employers seek to purchase better sources of value prior to the periodic measure of value being undertaken. The REF determines the exchange value (value) of the journal article, not the purchase price. As such, the REF is also one measure of the value of academic labour, the primary source of all value in higher education.

All quotes from: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/commodity.htm

These chapters are directly relevant, too:

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch06.htm

http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch07.htm

For a co-operative university?

In April, I am running a workshop with Richard Hall at the Discourse, Power and Resistance 14 conference. Details below.

This discussion takes as its premises the following:

  1. The University is being restructured through a neoliberal politics as part of a global pedagogical project.
  2. This project is aimed at the dispossession of free space/time so that all of life becomes productive and available for the extraction of surplus value.
  3. This pedagogic project is recalibrating and enclosing the roles of teachers and students as entrepreneurial subjects. In part it is also creating a surplus academic population, consisting of the academic unemployed, the precariat, the outsourced, and so on.
  4. If this project is to be resisted then the premises that underpin the economic utility of higher education as a positional good need to be revealed.
  5. If this project is to be resisted then the idea of academic labour that underpins employment in the increasingly digitised and stratified universities of the global North needs to be critiqued.
  6. If this project is to be resisted then the marketised organising principles that underpin the idea of the University need to be challenged.
  7. If this project is to be resisted then educators need to define structures and practices that reinforce the sociability of everyday life, in order to realise new opportunities for pedagogic co-operation.
  8. If this project is to be resisted then histories and cultures of co-operative education need to be revealed and critiqued.

The session will briefly position these headline statements about the idea of the University, and of academic labour, in the UK. The session will then ask participants to uncover stories of how and where pedagogy/educational institutions might be used for co-operation rather than competition. The session will ask participants to discuss what a co-operative University might look like.

An escape from value is an escape from the economic

In some earlier notes, I argued that Jossa’s conception of a Labour Managed Firm (a form of worker co-operative where the workers democratically divide the surplus rather than receive a wage) did not take into account the central, determining role that value plays in controlling the labour process in any organisation. I said that “What Jossa seems to overlook is that ‘value’, not the wage, mediates labour in a capitalist society.” I wrote:

“In the absence of the wage-relation i.e. the LMF, workers sell the products that they created and own, rather than sell their labour for a wage. It seems that for Jossa, the key to the capitalist firm and therefore the ‘anti-capitalist’ LMF, turns on how property relations are organised. For Jossa, freedom from capitalism is equated with owning the means of production and from that “decisive” moment, a transition from the capitalist mode of production to the socialist mode of production occurs (Jossa, 2012b:405). For Jossa, once property relations are re-organised in favour of the worker, such that the wage can be abolished, labour is no longer a commodity and its value is no longer measured in abstract labour time because “work becomes abstract when it is done in exchange for wages.” (Jossa, 2012a: 836)”

I am currently re-reading John Holloway’s book, Crack Capitalism, and in thesis nine, section four, he makes a strong case for the determinate logic of value, which I think speaks directly against Jossa’s argument for LMF co-operatives and to any form of market socialist enterprise. 1)See also, McNally (1993) Against the Market. Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique. Below, I quote at length…

“Value is what holds society together under capitalism. It is a force that nobody controls. Capitalism is composed of a huge number of independent units which produce commodities that they sell on the market. The social interconnection between people’s activities is established through the sale and purchase of commodities or, in other words, through the value of the commodities, expressed through money. Value (manifested in money) constitutes the social synthesis in capitalist society, that which holds together the many different, uncoordinated activities. The state presents itself as being the focal point of social cohesion, but in fact the state is dependent on money and can do little to influence its movement.

… Behind money stands value, the all-conquering drive of the cheap commodity, the commodity produced in the least amount of time. This is hard to resist.

… We can occupy factories, set up our alternative systems of production, but we will not be able to match the prices of capitalist commodities, we will not be able to produce things as cheaply and as quickly, and, if we were, we would probably be producing them in just the same way as the capitalists.

Value is incompatible with self-determination, or indeed with any form of conscious determination. Value is the rule of necessary labour time, of the shortest time necessary to produce a commodity. Value is controlled by nobody. Capitalists are capitalists not because they control value, but because they serve it.

How can we resist the rule of the cheap commodity and all that it brings with it, especially when the struggle to survive shapes the lives of so many people in the world? The traditional answer is that the only way is a system of planned production that would be even more efficient than capitalism and would respond to people’s real needs. Traditional socialist analysis contrasts the anarchy of the market with the rationality of central planning, but in practice central planning has never been either rational or central, and it certainly has not been an example of self-determination.

… If there is no central planning, then how do we coordinate our different processes of creation or production, if not through the market? And if we produce for the market, what distinguishes us from any other capitalist enterprise?

Whatever the crack, whatever the form of the struggle to break with capitalism, value lays siege, not just as an external force, but through the corrosive, destructive force of money. Money embodies the rationality of capitalism that stands against the non-sense of rebellion. In capitalism, it is the movement of value that determines what should be done and how it should be done: no human, not even the capitalist class, makes those determinations.

Value attacks as a force operating behind our backs, as the silent power of money, introducing cheap commodities, luring people away in the hope of escaping from poverty (the Zapatistas that migrate to find employment in Cancun, for instance). As market, it also stands against us as a palpable limit to what we can do.

Occupied factories, like the hundreds occupied in Argentina in recent years, face immediately the question of their relation to the market. In general, the factories occupied (or ‘recovered’) were faced with closure before the occupation – closure motivated by the inability of their owners to sell their products on the market. When the workers seize the factory, they are faced with the dilemma of having to produce the same commodities for sale on the market: that is the only way that they can ensure their own physical survival. It may be possible to introduce different working relations within the factory or workplace, to do away with hierarchies or introduce the rotation of tasks; it may be possible to use the workplace after working hours for political meetings or cultural activities, but all such changes (significant though they undoubtedly are) take place within the context of the pressures generated by the need to sell the products as commodities on the market. It may perhaps be possible to change the nature of the commodities produced, to produce things that are more obviously socially beneficial, but this will depend on the skills of the workers and the equipment at their disposal, and any alternative products will, in any case, normally require to be sold as commodities on the market.

The action of value may be very subtle and gradual. Fighting it is much more difficult than throwing stones at the police. Many radical groups have seen producing cooperatively for the market as an alternative to working for a capitalist company, or accepting funds from the state. It is an alternative, but at what point does the market impose itself to create the same sort of pressures as exist in any capitalist enterprise? Is there any escape?

… The point is surely that there is no purity here. In order to create a different world, we need to survive physically and, unless we cultivate our own food from the land (a real possibility in the case of peasant revolutionary groups, but difficult in the cities), this requires some sort of access to money, and money, whether it comes from external funding or crime or some sort of employment, always brings limitations and contradictions with it. The challenge is always to see to what extent we can use money without being used by it, without allowing our activities and our relations to be determined by it.

Funding can perhaps be seen as a particular way of building structures of mutual support. A more direct way of doing this is to construct links of mutual assistance between the different cracks.

… This building of links of mutual support between the different cracks in capitalist domination is sometimes seen in terms of the construction of an alternative economy or an economy of solidarity (economia solidaria). This refers to the construction of an economy that is not dominated by value or the pursuit of profit. This is an important development, but there are problems. First, the notion of an alternative economy already seems to impose a definition on the organisation of activities. If I say ‘No, I will not follow the logic of capital, I shall do something else’, then I do not consider my other-doing to be economic, but rather an escape from the economic. In addition, the notion of an alternative economy or economy of solidarity can easily obscure the fact that our other-doing is an act of rebellion, an against-and-beyond. If this against-ness is overlooked, the alternative economy can become simply a complement to capitalist production. If this is the case, then far from constituting a break in capitalist social relations, it helps to underpin them. Certainly, at the end of the day what we want is a social connection based on trust, solidarity, generosity, gift, in place of the social synthesis of value, but for the moment this can only exist as an assault on value, not as a complement to value production.

Value is the enemy, but it is an invisible enemy, the invisible hand that holds capitalism together and tears the world apart. Value creates a powerful and complex field of tension around all our attempted breaks with capitalism, in which it is difficult to draw clear lines between what is ‘revolutionary’ and what is ‘reformist’. Beyond the state, beyond our personal contradictions, it is value, the power of the market, of the cheap commodity, of money, that threatens all the time to overwhelm our cracks.”

The key to overcoming the determinate logic of value is an understanding of the “twofold character of labour according to whether it is expressed in use-value or exchange-value”, which Marx regarded as one of the two “best points in my book (Capital)” (Marx, Letter to Engels 24th August 1867). Most of Holloway’s Crack Capitalism is about the two-fold character of labour (use value and exchange value of commodities, and the corresponding concrete labour and abstract labour). Further on in the book, he reflects on the thesis on value and proposes a way to counter value:

“Going to the root of things and understanding that root as our own activity is crucial. Think back to the previous discussion of the force of value and the way in which it imposes the social synthesis upon us (thesis 9, 4). That section was very depressing to write and should be depressing to read because we feel that there is no way out. It is when we open up value and ask what it is that produces value and see that it is our own activity, our abstract labour, then the skies begin to open, we begin to see a way forward, simply because it is not a thing (value), but our own activity that is at the centre. There is a world of difference, then, between an analysis that takes value as its pivot and one (such as this) that places the dual character of labour in its centre.”

Contrary to this approach, in dismissing abstract labour as something overcome in the wage-less Labour Managed Firm, Jossa remains trapped by an economistic understanding of social relations and therefore trapped by value. The same can be said for the worker co-operative form in general. It is a transitional organisational form that moves away from attributes of capitalist labour (towards ownership of the means of production, a democratic division of surplus), but does not in itself overcome the determination of value imposed by the competition of the market.

Freedom is not the emancipation of labour, as in Jossa’s argument, but rather the emancipation from the twofold character of labour, a point also made by Postone, Neary, the Krisis group and others.

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