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Bina, C., Davis, C. (2009). Contingent Labor and Omnipotent Capital: The Open Secret of Political Economy. Political Economy Quarterly 4 (15), 166-211

Despite the passage of nearly 150 years of contentious debate and controversy, not only Marx’s Labor Theory of Value1 but also the corpus of his methodology2 in political economy of differentia specifica of capitalism—particularly the depth of class polarization, height of capital accumulation, and the limitless spread of capitalist social relations in today’s twenty-first-century reality—is right on the mark. Marx’s incisive and insightful method is particularly relevant when put into action at the intersection of contemporary labor process, present technological change, and accumulation of capital beyond the border of nation-state for purpose of illuminating the present-day state of capitalism. As we shall demonstrate below, technological change and accumulation of wealth obtain no epochal meaning without a critical examination of the labor process, in the face of unremitting outsourcing and universal contingency of laboring population everywhere.
Our objective in this article is to capitalize on dialectical interaction of the above facets and to demonstrate that, from the standpoint of social capital (i.e., capital in its macroeconomic meaning); technological change in capitalism is another name for ultimate and unending cheapening of labor power across the board. And to this end, this leads to simultaneous value formation and value destruction in conjunction with ceaseless skilling and deskilling of labor at the various levels of economic activity. Accumulation of global capital and transformation of the labor process are reflective of the twofold expression of the dynamics of global technological change in capitalism, a careful study of which underpins the theoretically-informed strategy for the multitude of organized labor movements and thus proves potentially beneficial to progressive economic and social change across the globe. We intend to explore the role of technological change and its potential effects on the labor process holistically and—far from the fragmented individual production—according to the dynamic of social capital. This entails emphasis on the global spread of capitalist social relations and the extension of the hegemony of social capital over labor power—and by implication, over wage labor—everywhere. Here, we view capitalism as a system of hegemonic social relations that tend to unify the world economy through the
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incessant creation of real subsumption and renewal of the subordination of labor universally under social capital. The universality of such subordination, of course, can be measured by the spread of capitalist social relations and materialization of social form of value— replicated in transnationalization of social capital—across the globe.
Historically, capitalism has emerged as the veritable tendency toward production and accumulation of surplus value, following a multifaceted, varied, and tortuous period of “primitive accumulation.”3 The compulsion for increasing the production of surplus value through accumulation, via competition, requires systematization of expansion and intensification of control, and subordination of labor under capital. Yet, there were (are) physical limits to human endurance beyond which the subject will perish and accumulation would come to the grinding halt. In other words, in this case, subordination and further exploitation of labor essentially depend upon the length and limitation of working day, which ultimately would limit the accumulation of capital based upon the production of absolute surplus value. This, of course, is not what capitalism proper is cracked up to be.4 In capitalism proper, however, via the unremitting pace of technical change, and nonstop subversion of existing skills and formation of new skills, capitalism, as a sui generis mode of production, overcomes the physical and moral limitations of the working day. This expanded production and reproduction is indeed possible by transforming the labor process from absolute surplus-value production to the production based on extraction of relative surplus value—via the application of technology and intensified labor activity.5 This transformation thus changed the course of class struggle universally and set the historical stage for qualitatively new dynamics in the subsumption of labor under capitalism.
In Section II, the concept of social capital shall be explored in order to demonstrate the misuse (and abuse) of this term by present-day liberals and to fall back on its original meaning based upon Marx’s overall project on the differentia specifica of capitalist mode of production. Issues surrounding the technical change and global transformation will be clarified in Section III. Here, we emphasize the evolution and epochal import of globalization, dynamics of technological change and value formation, and the universal devaluation of labor power. In
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Section IV, we shall introduce and argue the process of skilling/deskilling of labor in terms of Bina’s hypothesis of “destructive creation,” and its organic synthesis with Schumpeter’s “creative destruction,” particularly concerning the desirability of a unified theory, i.e., a unified dialectic of technological change and skill formation in differentia specifica of capitalism. In the meantime, it will be shown that the “deskilling thesis,” advanced by neo-Marxist Braverman is a half-truth based on the false impression of Marx’s methodology, on the one hand, and total reliance on Marx’s incomplete theory of skill formation, on the other. The question of labor’s global challenges and revitalization shall be discussed in Section V. Despite the residue of traditional appeal to nationalism, we will argue that labor internationalism (i.e., unifying all global struggles in one) is the only credible countervailing response to the transnationalization of capital, and that this question becomes much more urgent in the view of proliferation global social capital, particularly through the preempting pace of technology, and the divide-and-conquer global strategies—such as outsourcing—at nearly all levels of economic activity worldwide; this will be followed by a brief concluding remark.

Authors

Bina, Cyrus

Davis, Chuck

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