Head and Hand
TRIBUNE | March 28, 2021
Marxism delights in navigating capitalism’s manifold contradictions—use value and exchange value, forces and relations of production, essence and appearance, wage-labour and capital—but one particular contradiction often gets neglected from this panoply: that between intellectual and manual labour.
A notable exception is Harry Braverman, whose Labor and Monopoly Capital argues for the centrality of this growing schism in the face of the post-war period’s world-economic shifts. Writing in the midst of the West’s ‘scientific-technical revolution’, Braverman insisted that the job-specific knowledge available to assembly line workers in legacy industries was not so much increasing as evaporating. He attributed this to the subordination of science to industry as well as an advanced technical division of labour, which breaks down once-skilled mechanical work into a series of rote and repetitive actions. The labouring process thus becomes streamlined: not only are wages and job training investments lowered, so too is worker autonomy.
Research in Critical Marxist Theory
Recently did the sad news reach us that Leo Panitch died on 19 December 2020. He was a distinguished research professor of political science and a Canada Research Chair in comparative political economy at York University. He was author of many renowned books and articles, amongst which Brill’s Crisis and Sequels: Capitalism and the New Economic Turmoil since 2007 (ed. Martin Thomas). To commemorate Leo Panitch and his legacy his contributions to our Historical Materialismjournal are freely accessible until 1 March: Read More »
A Historical-Materialist Inquiry into the ‘Human and Animal’
The title of the conference for which this article was originally written, “Defining the Human and Animal,” raises for me two problems that required its reformulation.1 The first problem pertains to the syntactically conjunctive “and” that serves semantically to separate the “human” from the “animal.” Notwithstanding what I would call “ultraconstructionist” claims, most succinctly summarized by Anthony Synnott’s insistence that “the body social [or cultural] negates the body physical,” the differentiation implied by the formulation, “defining the human and animal,” begs a not irrelevant biological question, namely: is not “the human,” Homo sapiens, also an inhabitant of the animal kingdom; are human beings not, to paraphrase Friedrich Nietzsche, “animal, all too animal”?2 Nietzsche would certainly have grasped the irony of Carl Linnaeus’s somewhat sardonic, if not wholly misanthropic, choice to give the epithet sapiens to the genus Homo. In what was clearly intended as an insult, Linnaeus set his fellows firmly in the animal kingdom by baptizing humans with the same epithet he attached to ape species, Simia sapiens.3Read More »