Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Immaterial Labor

Posted to Marxmail on Tue, 18 Dec 2007
Some time ago I noticed a strange jam of a certain creature when I was rambling on the side streets around my house. They were everywhere, even on the sidewalks and it was impossible to walk without some ability of acrobatics. One has less chance to perceive this farce on main streets since we have the presupposition that it is their habitat. I fancied myself like Ford Perfect, an alien adventurer in the movie "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy". Who was mistaken about the major life form in earth and is almost run over when he tries to greet a car.

So, what is the illusion behind overlooking the process of production while the commodities are consistently accumulating here and there? We all know the "fetishism of commodities" and "the world of commodities with the products of men's hands", etc, etc… There is no time for truisms.

Comrade Ben advocates concept "immaterial labor" one of the keystone concepts of the Negri & Hardt’s Empire :

"The central role previously occupied by the labor power of mass factory workers in the production of surplus value is today increasingly filled by intellectual, immaterial, and communicative labor power. It is thus necessary to develop a new political theory of value that can pose the problem of this new capitalist accumulation of value at the center of the mechanism of exploitation (and thus, perhaps, at the center of potential revolt)."

"We will elaborate the three primary aspects of immaterial labor in the contemporary economy: the communicative labor of industrial production that has newly become linked in informational networks, the interactive labor of symbolic analysis and problem solving, and the labor of the production and manipulation of affects"

"We will argue that among the various figures of production active today, the figure of immaterial labor power (involved in communication, cooperation, and the production and reproduction of affects) occupies an increasingly central position in both the schema of capitalist production and the composition of the proletariat."

"The passage toward an informational economy necessarily involves a change in the quality and nature of labor. This is the most immediate sociological and anthropological implication of the passage of economic paradigms. Today information and communication have come to play a foundational role in production processes."

"With the computerization of production today, however, the heterogeneity of concrete labor has tended to be reduced, and the worker is increasingly further removed from the object of his or her labor."

"The service sectors of the economy present a richer model of productive communication. Most services indeed are based on the continual exchange of information and knowledges. Since the production of services results in no material and durable good, we define the labor involved in this production as immaterial labor-that is, labor that produces an immaterial good, such as a service, a cultural product, knowledge, or communication."

"The other face of immaterial labor is the affective labor of human contact and interaction. Health services, for example, rely centrally on caring and affective labor, and the entertainment industry is likewise focused on the creation and manipulation of affect… This second face of immaterial labor, its affective face, extends well beyond the model of intelligence and communication defined by the computer. Affective labor is better understood by beginning from what feminist analyses of "women's work" have called "labor in the bodily mode." Caring labor is certainly entirely immersed in the corporeal, the somatic, but the affects it produces are nonetheless immaterial."

"Finally, a third type of immaterial labor involves the production and manipulation of affect and requires (virtual or actual) human contact, labor in the bodily mode. These are the three types of labor that drive the postmodernization of the global economy."

And finally, after undergoing sarcastic and decisive critics, Negri & Hartd were obliged to make a contradictory clarification:

"a)When we claim that immaterial labour is tending towards the hegemonic position we are not saying that most of the workers in the world today are producing primarily immaterial goods;
b) The labour involved in all immaterial production, we should emphasise, remains material – it involves our bodies and brains as all labour does. What is immaterial is its product."

In other words, most of the workers of the "world" are producing material goods but there is a current under the surface towards hegemony immaterial production. (What a fantastic talent of farsightedness) Although the product is immaterial, labor remains material since production consumes our labor power.

One must explain me clearly that how could my labor power, life energy, remains material if it was consumed by an immaterial product. Probably as a image of a ghost haunting the paper money. And how can I change my own nature without changing the external world, i.e. nature? And how can I change the existing forms of the relations of production without changing my own nature and the external world?

Actually this new theories of labour reflects the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisation of working class in imperialist countries. Lenin writes:

"Imperialism has the tendency to create privileged sections also among the workers, and to detach them from the broad masses of the proletariat."

The theories like "immaterial labor", "new proletariat", etc. are the immaterial products of the hitherto overlooked masses of the "upper stratum" of the workers raised above woldscale division of labor.

According to the CIA factbook, the main area of the Empire's occupation, services, covers 64% of the GDP of the World. First of all, the concept of services does not completely indicate "immaterial production". This misunderstanding is adequately explained here, probably written by Andy Blunden.

Secondly, the sectorial composition of GDP doesn't represents the sectoral division of labor since in the sector of services the price of labor power shows a constant tendency of rise according to the accumulation of commodities which requires more expenditure of repair and maintenance, monopolization which boosts advertisement wars and its costs, new contradictions causing new judiciary expenses, etc. etc.

Anyhow I made list of countries where the proportion of services is under 50% based on CIA factbook, excluding some of the tiny ones:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bhutan, Botswan, Brunei, Burma, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Chile, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, North Korea, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Mozambique, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Togo, Turkmenistan, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Vietnam.

As regards to "affective labor" and the place of women in capitalist production, this theorists might be more affected if they mind to take the trouble of exploring the army of unpaid or underpaid females in the sweetshops Asia, rather than lighten with the outgoing welcome of McDonalds girls.

Furthermore, as represented by Woods and Grant, if there is more poker chips than the value of actual goods, this mirrors the speculative character of the economy. In "Reason in Revolt" they quote from Akio Morita, former chairman of Sony Corporation:

"It is a heady game, full of excitement, but wins and losses at the poker table don’t obscure the frightening fact that the ship is sinking and no one realizes it."

In his recent posts, Comrade Ben duplicated the ideas of Negri and Hardt word by word. None of our comrades felt a necessity for reply since we think that these jokes have already lost their artistic value of humor. But, they tend to reappear on the sidewalks here and there.

The difference between Ford Perfect and postmodern theorist is they are trying to greet automobiles, commodities, as though they came up against an alien life form: "Hello aliens, we are human". I hope that this time automobiles will not miss the target.
(Note: Comrade Jeffrey Thomas Piercy corrected me here that the true name of the character is Ford Prefect).


Teri said...

NICE Blog :)

MERRY Christmas :)

Mehmet Çagatay said...

Thank You.. You Too:

Renegade Eye said...


In earlier decades, the rise of the service sector, was considered the end of the proletariat as we know it. We learned either you own it, or work fot it.

The value of your labor, is determined by what happens if you walk off your job. What effects society more, busdrivers or psychologists?

My email is down tonight. I was going to tell you to visit my comrade from Lebanon's blog at:

He is a Trotskyist from Lebanon.