The division between mental and manual labour?

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Steven.'s picture
Steven.
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Oct 1 2005 11:47
The division between mental and manual labour?

I read this phrase in Aufheben, and heard redtwister utter the same on here:

Quote:
The social division between mental and manual labour is the basis of class society

Now either I don't understand it, or I think it's utterly wrong. So could someone explain it to me? Cheers!

Volin's picture
Volin
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Oct 1 2005 12:00

The division was commonly used in relation to the working class being the manual labour wheras the ruling classes have always decided (through their "mental work") how that labour is put to use. Today there's clearly both mental and manual labour within the working class, they aren't united and in fact often appear to be at odds -if you look at particularly revolutionary situations. The only way you can change the class relationship which affects us, is to create unity between these two groupings

rather than having;

a mental elite leading the (manual) workers [vanguard]

or

the workers trying to transform society without any theoretical basis

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Oct 1 2005 13:02

I'd agree with voline. Not sure that the aufheben quote is accurate, if I've understood it correctly. Surely a bank teller, call centre worker and office admin worker are all working class -- but not manual workers?

Lazy Riser's picture
Lazy Riser
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Oct 1 2005 13:19

Hi

I agree with the spirit of your point, but if you look at the content of the work, Bank Telling and Call Centre work are more manual than Welding. Typing and filing are as manual as cleaning toilets.

Love

Chris

Mike Harman
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Oct 1 2005 13:29

Yeah Lazy's point is a good one. manual/non-manual is probably better categorised now as rote/non-rote. But that's not perfect by any means.

Lazlo_Woodbine
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Oct 1 2005 13:32

Was it the Labour Party or the ILP or someone who talked about securing for the workers -- by hand or brain -- the fruits of their labour? Maybe that's a different usage to the aufheben one?

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Volin
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Oct 1 2005 14:05

Yeah that was a Labour policy until it was readapted and scrapped with Clause IV - I think! It does recognise a split between manual and mental work but Aufheben's obviously implying something which Labourites never accepted. Infact, they only emphasised the dichotomy with parliamentarianism and the election of bureaucratic, "mental" workers.

Quote:
Surely a bank teller, call centre worker and office admin worker are all working class -- but not manual workers?

They're non-manual, but Mental labourers are usually thinkers, and deal with theoretical work. According to the oldies they're where'll you find the greatest number of revolutionary conscious theoreticians, and planners of a future of society. Some of that's bunk.

Lazy Riser's picture
Lazy Riser
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Oct 1 2005 16:38

Hi

Skilled technical labour is the most revolutionary section of the working class, due to their potential for wealth creation. That's why government economic policy since the late 60's has been to minimise it. That's one of the reasons why reindustrialisation is pro-revolutionary.

Love

Chris

redtwister
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Oct 3 2005 16:04

The quote operates at two levels.

Most importantly is the idea that the ruling classes 'rule', that they make the decisions in society, that their thought becomes their exercise of power. In the meantime, the working classes do not make decisions and choices about how society works, they just do the work, which itself may or may not be physical labor. The end of the separation of who rules from who produces is the end of class society.

At the second level, historically intellectual labor was the province of the ruling classes, from the priests in the temples who figured out and established their power on the passing of the seasons to management and politicians today. However, this has never been the primary meaning, as Marx was quite well aware, as would be any student of the history of ideas, that the intellectuals, whether civil engineers in Rome or Philosophers in Greece or physicists in 17th century England or the political economists of Europe between 1700 and 1830, did not rule. Rather, this was always predominantly the intellectual labor of the middle classes in the service of the ruling classes. They provided a rationale, a worked out ideology, but they still did not do the intellectual labor of 'ruling', they carry out, if you will, adornment or justification of the mental labor of the exercise of power, even its rationalization and clarification, but it is not the mental labor of ruling.

This labor did not happen indepently however, and the idea needs to be linked with the idea that the dominant ideas of every age are those of the ruling classes to further clarify the comment on mental and manual labor.

The simplest response is not to think productive "mental labor", but the mental activity of power in all spheres of life, and the reproduction of separate spheres of life each needing to be theorized as a unique sphere. As such, the separation of life achieves its greatest form under capital, in which life is broken up into an almost infinite number of 'autonomous' spheres, reflected nowhere better than in the infinite number of academic disciplines which reproduce this fragmentation of practice in thought.

My defining problem with a lot of po-mo stuff in its rejection of totality (to get my geek on) is that it tends to reify this fragmentation by its denial of a totality, of a unity. This unity or totality may only exist in the mode of being denied, as a negative unity, but that is only because capital in practice as well as in thought fragments humanity (we'll be back at the market and commodities if I keep going, since the market is the place par excellence of infinite fragmentation re-assembled as a mass of individual commodities for sale.) but all this means is that to philosophize this fragmentation as the ontological condition of humanity is to provide the ultimate apology for capital.

On the other hand, the "Marxist" left has this obnoxious tendency to treat the totality as positive, as something knowable in theory, and therefore to have its little 'parties' and 'professional revolutionaries' who believe they can know what is in the best interests of the class as a whole beyond the need to overthrow capital. The defense of a positive knowledge of totality is indeed, as the po-mos point out, totalitarian in impulse. But to deny the negative totality, the knowledge that there is a totality that capital ruptures and fragments, is effectively to deny the possibility of its overcoming and leads one rather close to Thatcher's "There is no society".

Hmm, I'm having a Brittany Spears moment...

cheers,

chris