For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"The political economy of datafication and work: A new digital Taylorism?"

by Cole, Matthew; Radice, Hugo; Umney, Charles (2020)


In his analysis of the workplaces of the first industrial revolution, Marx concludes that ‘Large-scale industry possesses in the machine system an entirely objective organization of production, which confronts the worker as a pre-existing material condition of production’,3 and elsewhere he defines this condition as the real subsumption of labour. 4 A hundred years later, his analysis underpinned modern socialist studies of labour and the struggle for control in the workplace. Indeed, ever since the birth of industrial capitalism socialists have not only critically examined technology in its social context, but also looked forward to futures of work based on radically different principles. As Alfred Barratt Brown wrote in 1934, ‘We need to look at the whole world of industry with fresh eyes, to ask ourselves again what we want to produce, and how we can best employ our powers in producing it, to the end that the work and its results may alike satisfy human capacities and human needs’.5 This essay is concerned to look with fresh socialist eyes at the technologies that underpin our present world of work, and how they have been shaped and applied by capital to meet the needs of capital, oriented firmly towards the subsumption of wage labour in all its concrete forms. We cannot repurpose them towards our fundamental goal as socialists to build a world based upon equality and justice for all without directly challenging and contesting the existing social order. This requires, as always, both a broad vision of a sustainable, egalitarian and democratic society, and concrete proposals that can connect to existing struggles while also prefiguring radical change


Automation, Technology, Artificial Intelligence, Algorithms, Algorithmic Management, Digital Taylorism, Political Economy


Socialism, Taylorism, Digital Taylorism, Automation

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