Submitted by martin on 2 September, 2003 - 1:36

Discussion notes on the working class in "globalised" capitalism

"The End of Organised Capitalism": introduction

The introduction to Scott Lash and John Urry's book summarises their whole argument and raises three questions:
a) The basic templates of "organised" and "disorganised" capitalism;
b) The role of the "service class";
c) Cultural changes.

On cultural changes, the basic argument sketched in the introduction seems to be that with the rise of "disorganised" capitalism:
a) culture has become more fragmented and pluralist. This is a direct contradiction to the commonplace argument that globalisation has made culture more homogeneous and uniform. Is the answer, maybe, that culture has been cosmopolitanised, so that you get approximately the same variety everywhere, but it is a larger variety?
b) culture has been "cosmopolitanised" in cross-class as well as cross-national terms, so that there is much less of a walled-off "working-class culture".
c) the result is greater cultural resources for general "radical-democratic" struggle, but fewer for self-consciously specific working-class struggle.
- If there has been a loss of "working-class culture", is this, under capitalism, a real loss? Or is it the loss of a sense of defiant exclusion, pauperisation, subordination?
- In the Grundrisse, Marx sees "consumerism" as "an essential civilising moment" of capital. "In spite of all his 'pious' speeches [the capitalist] therefore searches for means to spur [the workers] on to consumption, to give his wares new charms, to inspire them with new needs by constant chatter, etc. It is precisely this side of the relation of capital and labour which is an essential civilising moment..." (p.287). Is this anachronistic? Or not at all so (cf Murray Kane's article in "The Point of Change" pp.214ff or in Workers' Liberty 50/1)?
- How do we rigorously check out any of these hypotheses about cultural changes? And how, specifically, do we establish how they are connected with the economic changes?

All these points need to be noted for further discussion when we come to the last chapter of the book, when Lash and Urry look at cultural changes in detail.

On the basic templates, Lash and Urry's fourteen-point list of defining characteristics of "organised" and "disorganised" capitalism lacks structure. Which of the fourteen points are central? Which structure and shape others?

The list also has a curious omission. "Organised" capitalism is, at least to a large extent, about a *national* economy which is organised - its general conditions of production set up, its credit system regulated, its labour market managed, its industries clustered - by a *national state*. "Disorganised" capitalism is, at least to a large extent, about capitalism "organised" on a world scale, by transnational corporations but also by states which now define their policy in terms of gearing their economies into the world market and by associations of states (IMF, WTO, G8, etc.)
Up to a point the fundamental contrast is global/national rather than disorganised/organised.

Maybe connected with this is the way that Lash and Urry describe the rise of "organisation" in different capitalist countries, with an apparent assumption that this rise is universal (why?) but its agent differs from country to country (big industrial capitalists, state bureaucracy, or even, in Sweden, the labour movement). Why and how do these different agents carry out basically the same process? Are the agencies really so different?

Also connected is the fact that, it seems to me, the role of the First and Second World Wars, and militarism more generally, in pushing along the "organisation" of capitalism is seriously underplayed by Lash and Urry.

There are at least two other dimensions to what Lash and Urry call the rise of disorganised capitalism. One is "spatial restructuring";
a) the reorganisation of large corporations into larger numbers of smaller plants;
b) the decline of old industrial cities and a shift of factories to the suburbs or small towns.

It is not yet clear to me whether (b) is a new trend, or just the latest turn in a continuous capitalist cycle of capitalist relocation dating back to the very start of the Industrial Revolution. (If it is the latter, however, it doesn't follow that it is unimportant or has no effects).

The other is the rise of the "service class". The peculiarity to note at this point for further discussion when we come to the relevant chapters is that Lash and Urry see this professional-managerial class as being generated by "organised" capitalism, but in and of itself being a force for "disorganised" capitalism. This is the exact contrary of the usual story, in which the rise of the managers is seen as pushing towards statism, technocracy, and bureaucracy - in the most radical versions, doing so by totally eclipsing the proprietors, but in any case pushing towards an "organised" economy in the terms of Lash and Urry.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.