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February 11, 2008 (the date of publication in Russian)

Marine Voskanyan

THE CONFLICT OF CAPITAL AND INTELLECT. Part 1

Postindustrialism creates a new "gravedigger of capitalism"?

MAKERS OF NEW KNOWLEDGE

Last year, Great Britain's Ministry of Defense published a special report (see full text here) focused on major risks and challenges the world community is going to encounter during the next thirty years. Among a variety of futurologist predictions, such as novel electromagnetic impulse-based weapons, impregnation of electronic chips into human brain, overpopulation of megapolises and relevant criminal risks, the report contained a very curious forecast: on the possibility of emergence of a new revolutionary class, based on ideas of universal equality.

The ghost of Communism evidently troubles the Western establishment until today. However, this ghost, as well as the world itself, has greatly changed since the times of Karl Marx. While in the industrial epoch, the role of the major revolutionary force was played by the working class, or Marx's proletariat, the post-industrial world, according to British analysts, is going to bring up a "middle-class", or "post-industrial" proletariat – the class of "white-collar" employees, engaged with intellectual labor.

Quite logically, the arena of the future global clash will be the sphere of information. "Representatives of the middle class are likely to unify, using access to knowledge, material and spiritual resource, personal experience, to establish international movements, capable to promote their interests", says the report.

What is the new class dissatisfied with? It has got a satisfactory material base; it is convinced of its indispensability for modern business technologies; it has overcome the long-time contradiction between self-actualization and hardships of hired labor. So, what is the subject of dissent, strong enough to challenge the very foundations of post-industrial reality?

Actually, the "new proletariat", emerging in the second half of the XX century, has since passed several stages of differentiation. Already in 1950s, theorists of postindustrial society described the major characteristic features of the new formation, emerging in the most developed urban regions of the West, as well as in some of the "new industrial countries". The central point was made on the transformation of new knowledge, information and means of communication into a basic economic resource. In a primitive interpretation, informational revolution is reduced to development of computer technologies and their role in management of economic processes. However, new technologies encompass not only novel kinds of technique but also new methods of management of organizations, as well as new ways of communication Ц which implies changes rather in the thinking process than in science and technologies. One more reason for the replacement of "blue robes" with "white collars" was the shift in the structure of economy in industrial countries, where services became the major sphere of employment and production of GDP.

The new class is distinguished from classical factory proletariat with a higher level of education and a predominantly intellectual kind of labor. Originally, the whole of this new community was referred to as "knowledge-workers". Still, a high-qualified programmer, a business manager, and a restaurant receptionist represent various types of employees. This difference was reflected in a more detailed systematization of the new class.

New terms included: "knowledge-producing workers" and "knowledge-using workers"; "data workers" (i.e. technical staff), and an even more conceptual differentiation into intellectual and "consumption workers". Still, this classification does not reflect the difference between those involved in the creative process and those performing formally intellectual but essentially routine work Ц minor clerks, broadly identified in Russia as "office plankton".

The industrial era-time assumption that for his work, a physicist needs a laboratory, a mathematician needs a pen, and a philosopher needs nothing, does not sound as a joke today. In fact, an intellectual worker, be he a manager, engineer or designer, does not need anything but a PC, which often serves as a secondary element of implementation of ideas which could actually be written on paper or remain in the form of ideas in the person's imagination. Using the lexicon of Marx's "Capital", the informational proletariat has acquired access to means of production; not only the owner but also all the workers share this privilege. While an industrial worker was an egoless labor item, an informational proletarian has got his means of production at his disposal, and is able to work both at the office and at home, or Ц with a laptop and mobile communication Ц practically anywhere and at any time. Traditional team office work, still popular in this sphere, fulfills rather an organizational and disciplinary function.

The traditional list of features, required in business practice from an employed professional, includes ability for independent decision-making, for search of new ideas, along with self-education and efficient communication. All these qualities are not promotive for transforming a human into a humble cog. Isn't modern capitalism creating Ц using Marx's expression Ц a new gravedigger for itself?

 

WHAT DISSATISFIES THE CYBERPROLETARIANS?

The intellectual worker and his owner are engaged with an invisible struggle for power Ц not in a literal meaning of this word regarding working schedule and subordination. They struggle for power of reasons. Manuel Castells, a prominent theoretician of post-industrialism, emphasized that "the new power is embedded in informational codes and representative images around which societies organize their institutions and people organize their lives and define their behavior: this power is concentrated in human conscience".

In case a corporation succeeds to convince an intellectual worker that the destiny of his labor is not only to increase the incomes of the owners but also to reach some kind of goals he pursues along with the company, the worker's efficiency is higher, as he works "not just for money but also for the ideal". On the other hand, in case an employee manages to convince the company that it can't do without his capabilities and personal qualities, he'll manage to sell his non-material asset for an acceptable price. Realizing that encouragement of creative capabilities of intellectual workers may be highly profitable, a company may attract him with a generous social package, comfortable conditions of labor, organization of leisure and minimization of formalities.

It is especially significant that business requires not only professional but also personal qualities from an employee. In case his work does not involve enthusiasm, energy, positive emotions and communicative capabilities, the efficiency of his work is many times smaller. In a lot of post-industrial professions, an intellectual worker is supposed to create not a particular informational product but intangible things like impression and confidence. That is what numerous specialists in advertising, PR, GR and marketing are engaged with.

Work in the Internet also requires hardly measurable personal properties that determine the capability for using the whole diversified potential of the web.

Thus, the term "knowledge worker" has acquired two special definitions for particular kind of labor: "souletarian" (a worker dealing with the soul) and "cybertarian" (a worker concentrated on work in the cyberspace).

Optimists assert that post-industrial capitalism ("capitalism with human face") has overcome the Protestant ethic that demands hard physical labor. Some theorists conclude that intellectual workers don't feel that they are being exploited as a class (P.F. Drucker). However, the idyll exists only on the pages of advertising posters, displaying professionals, beaming with inspiration and committed to work as efficiently as possible.

Even in case the proletarians of the information era don't care for global problems and are satisfied with the salary and personal attitude from their bosses, serious contradictions inevitably emerge in the very heart of the post-industrial world.

 

THE SUPER-RICH IRRITATE WHITE COLLARS

So, how can the "intellectual workers" find themselves in the epicenter of potential social cataclysms? The authors of the report, prepared for Britain's Ministry of Defense, point at the increasing gap between the two other classes of the post-industrial world: the super-rich and the new poor: "They are likely to experience dissatisfaction with the high distance from the rich strata, as well as with the expansion of lumpenized urban communities that erode public order".

The tendency of the last thirty years is unpromising in the whole world: the poor are getting poorer, and the rich are getting richer. The distance between utmost poverty and utmost luxury increases every year. In 2006, The Forbes Magazine calculated around a thousand billionaires whose aggregate wealth amount to almost $3.4 trillion. Personal fortunes sometimes exceed budgets of several countries taken altogether and inhabited by dozens of millions of people. According to some calculations, 0.25% of the planet's population owns as much as the rest 99.75%. The official UN report, dated 2006, admits that 1% of the global population owns 40% of global assets. The largest personal fortunes of today emerge not from family heritage but from "quick" speculative money and sale of natural resources.

None of the most high-paid intellectual employees can even dream of becoming a billionaire. The same was true for industrial proletarians, but today's gap is much more impressing. While in the 1970s, a director of a US plant earned 40 times more than an average employee, the difference between top managers and average employees in contemporary Western corporations exceeds 300 times.

One more sphere, generating huge personal fortunes, is show business. Glossy magazines regularly publish huge figures of royalties granted to movie and music stars, TV hosts and fashion tycoons. This community is most arrogant in demonstrating their wealth. Reports about new villas, acquired by pop idols, may undermine faith in the advanced "society of knowledge".

The "new proletarians" are also divided, the top stratum determined today as "gold collars". This category includes top managers of transnational corporations, financial companies, as well as a narrow circle of exceptionally successful owners of high-tech business and top PR makers comprising the prosperous vanguard of globalization. An ordinary "white collar" is supposedly able to rise to the "gold collar level", but this is available only for a few lucky guys. The super-rich class and its top-paid personnel constitute a narrow community, more distant from their fellow citizens than any foreign country.

 

THE VICE OF SYSTEMIC POVERTY

Poverty, concentrating on the opposite side of the social scale, is more massive than decades ago. At some stages of human history, this percentage of the poor was greater than today. However, the XX century promised improvement, which was really visible a decade after World War II. However, the shift towards the model of liberal financial systems, the gap started increasing again.

The "informational revolution" of the 1990s, as well as globalization, did not solve the problem. On the contrary, the advantage of the earlier years was nullified. Outsourcing of large-scale industries to third-world countries leaves millions of people without jobs and frequently without a perspective of employment, as the post-industrial army of unemployed is not adapted to the requirements of IT technologies. The number of insufficiently paid employees is also increasing.

The difference between traditional and new poverty is very significant, as new poverty is systemic. It can't be overcome with a momentary redistribution of ownership, as it was practiced in social revolutions. The very structure of post-industrial economy, provides opportunities for some people, deprives others. Earlier, a person, inheriting a massive fortune, could enter the bourgeois class. Today, he needs not money but a special kind of education to join the middle class. A 30-year-old worker without a higher education will never become and engineer, manager, or even a qualified worker of a modern plant.

Having no possibility to pay for education of their children, poor families are unable to get out of the vicious circle, the only option being a "career" in organized crime.

Thus, the three classes are becoming increasingly separated from one another. Some Western governments try to solve the problem of poverty by elevating taxes for the rich. However, this is not efficient, as the most successful companies have long acquired an international status, and globalization allows them to move their business to another country where conditions are more favorable. The same is true for the super-rich, as migration of capitals in the conditions of globalization is an easy business.

Meanwhile, medium-size business, as well as the middle class of intellectual workers, employed in services and information spheres, can't escape taxing. Governments tend to increase taxes on the middle class in order to maintain the poor for its expense, as well as to support the deteriorating system of social insurance, as well as communal facilities.

This fact can't leave the middle class indifferent. Recognizing the possible implications, the British Government in order to deal with growing social tension is already trying to reduce tax pressure on the middle class for the expense of wealthy foreigners.

(To be continued. Part 2)


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