Top Menu

Dear Reader, we make this and other articles available for free online to serve those unable to afford or access the print edition of Monthly Review. If you read the magazine online and can afford a print subscription, we hope you will consider purchasing one. Please visit the MR store for subscription options. Thank you very much. —Eds.

Workplace Democracy and Collective Consciousness: An Empirical Study of Venezuelan Cooperatives

Camila Piñeiro Harnecker graduated from the Latin American studies masters program at the University of California, Berkeley. This article is part of a larger project on workplace democracy and social consciousness in Venezuela’s Bolivarian socialism.

Liberal ideology insists that a society in which conscious solidarity is the dominating attitude/approach is impossible, because humans are primarily and perpetually motivated by individual material incentives. But the revolutionary process that Venezuela embarked upon in 1999, known as the “Bolivarian Revolution,” is challenging the core liberal tenet that narrow self-interest is the immutable human condition.

In common with notions of participatory democracy and democratic socialism, the Bolivarian process asserts that solidarity and collective action are possible because individuals’ preferences (i.e., needs and desires) are socially and historically constructed through their practices. Rather than being invariably egoistic, humans can come to value social solidarity if institutions are designed to facilitate and not to penalize cooperation.

Reacting to Venezuela’s experience with liberal representative democracy and neoliberal economic policies, the main objective of the Bolivarian Revolution from its inception has been to turn Venezuela into a more inclusive, humane, and solidaristic society, one that guarantees the “overall human development” of all Venezuelan citizens (Bolivarian Constitution, Article 299). Venezuelans’ direct participation in decision-making is being promoted not only as a tool of inclusiveness, but also as a learning process that allows individuals to develop the capabilities necessary to break with psychological barriers that feed the cycle of exclusion. The importance of genuine participatory democracy in advancing human capabilities and attitudes has been recognized. Indeed, Article 62 states that “the participation of the people in the formation, execution and control of public matters is the means necessary to accomplish the protagonism [social agency; the active subject of history is the “protagonist”] that will guarantee their complete development, both as individuals and collectively.”

Since the approval of a new constitution by 70 percent of the Venezuelan electorate in a 1999 referendum and the passage of a package of forty-nine laws (some about public administration) in December 2001, public decision-making is being decentralized and space has opened for direct participation of all citizens. More recently, in April 2006, with the Law of Communal Councils, a form of self-government has been promoted.

Workplace democracy—the model of democratic management of enterprises by workers—allows individuals in each working community to engage in the practice of democratic participation during production, and is therefore central to this model of human development. The number of co-managed and especially self-managed enterprises such as cooperatives (the most common form of workplace democracy) in Venezuela has increased significantly.

This ongoing experiment provided me with ample case studies to examine the process by which workers expand their narrow self-interest to include collective interests shared by their working communities. I will describe the internal organization of the democratic workplaces in my sample and present my findings on the relationship between workplace democracy and workers’ collective consciousness. I also analyze the most significant factors limiting or facilitating their advance.

The evidence is the result of a study of twelve workers’ cooperatives and three civil associations self-described as cooperatives conducted between early June and late August 2006. Due to the short time available to conduct research, and to make my sample more easily comparable, I focused on nonagricultural production cooperatives with at least one year of operation. The cooperatives I studied are in food production (four), construction (three), textile production (three), footwear (one), ironworks (one), and handcraft wool production (one). Because of their similar origins and circumstances to other cooperatives in the sample, I decided to include two cases of tourism services cooperatives.

Cooperatives in Venezuela

The sharp increase in the number of democratic workplaces, particularly cooperatives, in Venezuela has been—far more than a spontaneous process from below—largely the result of public policy. For the first time, the 1999 constitution recognized self-managed and co-managed enterprises as key actors in the Venezuelan economy (Article 70). Moreover, the state is mandated to “promote and protect” these forms of workplace democracy (Articles 118 and 308).

Although as early as 1995 Chávez had called for a “humanist self-managing economy” in his Bolivarian Alternative Agenda, not until November 2004—after his decisive triumph in a recall referendum— did the Chávez government commit itself to reshaping the Venezuelan economy. Since then, spaces for small enterprises, especially cooperatives, have been opened by a great number of local governments, public institutions, and enterprises. Presidential decrees demand that enterprises contracting with the state have transparent contract-bidding mechanisms that prioritize small enterprises and cooperatives. Financial institutions were created that lend at preferential terms with more flexible collateral requirements.

Although there are some exemplary cases of co-managed enterprises (around twenty so far, and many more under negotiation), workers’ cooperatives have largely come to define the economic model of the Bolivarian Revolution. According to the National Superintendence of Cooperatives (Superintendencia Nacional de Cooperativas), there were 877 cooperatives in existence in 1998, but by September 2006 there were 158,917 cooperatives registered (only approximately 50,000 cooperatives seemed to have been actually in operation), involving more than 1.5 million Venezuelans or 12 percent of the labor force. Of the total number of cooperatives nationwide, more than 60 percent were in services and around 30 percent in production.

The sharp rise in the number of cooperatives was enabled by the September 2001 Special Law of Cooperative Associations, facilitating the creation of new cooperatives, emphasizing the obligation of the state to protect them, and extending their tax-exempt status. But growth accelerated in 2003 primarily as the result of direct promotion by state agencies, and the implementation of training and employment programs. From 2004 to 2006, the Vuelvan Caras (literally “about-face”) program promoted the creation of nearly 15,000 cooperatives. Five of the fifteen cooperatives in my sample were created as part of this program.

Cooperatives are certainly not new in Venezuela. Many of these organizations flourished in that country in the late 1960s and 1970s. They were characterized by the influence of young Catholics with experience in community work who adopted the cooperative as a tool for social transformation. After 1967, cooperatives voluntarily formed eighteen regional coordination bodies (Centrales Cooperativas Regionales). All five “traditional” (i.e., pre-1999) cooperatives in my sample are part of the regional coordination body located in the state of Lara. However, the initial enthusiasm had decreased considerably by the early 1990s. In 1997, there were 766 cooperatives with 201,366 members. Of this total, 32.4 percent were in savings and credit, 22.2 percent in transportation, 8.2 percent in agriculture, and less than 2 percent in industrial or handcraft production.

Workplace Democracy in Venezuelan Cooperatives

I examined workplace democracy in my sample by considering its: (1) extent, which workers can participate; (2) mode, how decisions are made; (3) scope, which matters are subject to democratic decision; (4) access to information; (5) elimination of the social division of labor;* (6) collective monitoring of the group’s performance; (7) workers’ sense of their power to control the process; (8) workers’ motivation to participate; (9) workers’ comprehension skills; and (10) workers’ communication skills. The first four are related to the “formal” dimensions of workplace democracy, and the rest to its “substantive” dimensions.

As to extent, Articles 21 and 26 of the Venezuelan Cooperative Law require that all members are included in decision-making. To ensure that the majority of the members participate, most cooperatives have stated in their rules that the minimum quorum for an assembly is at least 50 percent, and in some cases 75 percent for changing rules and elections. Cooperatives can hire temporary workers for a maximum of six months, after which they must be accepted as members (Article 36).

In regard to the mode of workplace democracy, participation in decision-making in cooperatives is generally direct. In most cooperatives it is one person, one vote. A decision is generally reached when a simple majority is achieved. But for rule changes, dissolution, or merger, the law requires a three-fourths majority. Voting is generally done by a show of hands, except for the election of directors or managers known as “coordinators,” where secret ballots are used. In any case, the voting mechanism can be proposed by members and decided on by the assembly before the decision is made. I observed that more informal voting mechanisms are used in small, especially traditional, cooperatives. But although they can facilitate building consensus, they can also inhibit those who are less extroverted from participating.

The Cooperative Law mandates that the assembly of all members has the final decision-making power over all topics (Articles 21 and 26). Thus, the scope of workplace democracy must include all subjects; some being directly discussed by the assembly, others by the coordinators whose proposal must then be submitted to the assembly. However, I found that in some cooperatives the most important decisions—for example involving distribution of surpluses or compensation—were taken by the coordinators or even just the president or general coordinator. This practice was more common in new cooperatives, where—as expressed by a consultant for Vuelvan Caras cooperatives—the first coordinators felt like owners.

The weakest component of formal workplace democracy is access to information. There is insufficient bookkeeping and few established mechanisms to present information effectively. This despite the fact that cooperatives are required to have meetings to discuss their financial situation and the distribution of net revenues at least once a year, as well as to keep record of all meetings in which important decisions have been taken—such as inclusion or exclusion of members, election of coordinators, application of sanctions, and credit requests. Also, cooperatives must submit quarterly reports on their financial situation as well as on the number of members and hired employees. But according to then superintendent Molina of Superintendencia Nacional de Cooperativas, of the more than 15,000 cooperatives that had requested a compliance certificate (required to apply for contracts with state institutions), less than 10 percent received it because most had not submitted the required information. For Molina, this shows cooperatives are not managing information transparently.

Although traditional cooperatives have had enough time to perfect their organizational design, only one in this study reaches the highest levels of formal workplace democracy. This is because most traditional cooperatives are fundamentally family businesses, and their decision-making is generally too informal and irregular. For example, in one of the traditional cooperatives most decisions are made by the half of the membership really involved in production. In contrast, members of the traditional cooperative with the best formal participation understand the importance of deliberation. “We meet every week, even if it seems like there is nothing to talk about, because it is important to communicate,” said a member.

Seven of the fifteen cooperatives I studied had very high levels of formal workplace democracy, but not one had similar levels of substantive participation. This can be explained by the members’ low level of comprehension and communication skills. More than 85 percent of all cooperative members in my sample are women, and this coincides with the fact that more than 72 percent had no prior organized work experience, not even as informal workers. Moreover, although more than 62 percent of all individuals in this study had recently completed some educational program, the educational level of cooperative members is still relatively low. And educational level is significantly tied to the degree of substantive participation.

Despite non-hierarchical structures as well as the practice of job enlargement and even job rotation in most cases, traces of the social division of labor (i.e., the separation of work tasks, especially between intellectual and manual ones, that produce inequalities in social status and power) persist in the cooperatives in this study. In fact, in small cooperatives, most members have some responsibility. In larger cooperatives, the number of management-level positions is increased, and responsibilities are shared between multiple individuals, thus augmenting the percentage of members with leadership roles. These positions by statute have a maximum tenure of three years and only one reelection permitted, but they tend to be rotated.

Also, in most cooperatives in my sample, both traditional and new, job tasks are enlarged to include the less desirable activities, such as cleaning and security, by rotating them among the membership. In new cooperatives, there is stronger emphasis on the importance of equality and the recognition that “everyone should have the opportunity to learn everything,” so it is more common that members change production tasks periodically. In one of the Vuelvan Caras cooperatives in my sample members have insistently demanded that coordinators dedicate some time every day to production. They argued that they want to feel equal, and that coordinators can distance themselves from the others if they do not experience the reality of the shop floor.

This emphasis by members of Vuelvan Caras cooperatives on the need to transform the relations of production so as to eliminate the social division of labor can be tracked to the influence of the instructional materials used by the Vuelvan Caras program. There it is argued that the separation of intellectual and manual tasks is one of the contradictions of capitalism that was not solved by previous experiences of socialism, and that must be solved in the socialism of the twenty-first century because it limits human development. Intellectual tasks can be shared among workers, by establishing collective decision-making in equal conditions.

But creating this egalitarian environment has proven very difficult. The social division in cooperatives in this study mainly comes from the fact that, due to most members’ scant enterprise-management knowledge, accounting and administrative tasks generally remain among those few workers with some experience or higher educational levels. Most importantly, I found that success in eliminating these sources of inequality within cooperatives is tied to the willingness and effectiveness with which those knowledgeable members share their skills with the rest of the membership. For example, in one cooperative the person initially in charge of bookkeeping has patiently taught all the members how to do it, and now the task is rotated monthly under the watch of the member with that responsibility. In contrast, in another cooperative the only accounting-savvy member was an ineffective teacher.

These leadership issues are also related to members’ sense of their power to control the decision-making process. Some cooperatives have more diffuse leadership, contributing to the sense of equality necessary for effective participation. But many cooperatives suffer from having members who are exceptional leaders in their communities, making other members feel less capable or prepared to participate. Some leaders attempt to encourage others to play a more active role, but I would argue that their degree of success is linked to their personalities. Members with more dominant personalities tend to be less patient, thus providing fewer opportunities for other workers to assume leadership.

The sense of equality necessary for a genuine participatory practice is also affected by inequalities in members’ disposition to exercise their rights and obligations. Establishing mechanisms of collective monitoring is crucial to prevent some members from shirking their duty to participate actively in both decision-making and production activities. However, most new cooperatives have limited means for members collectively to evaluate their performance and thus make the corrections necessary to avoid free riding. Only one of the new cooperatives had formalized collective monitoring mechanisms in August 2006. Mechanisms for collective monitoring are much more common in traditional cooperatives than in new ones. For example, in weekly assemblies, members explain their progress in accomplishing tasks that had been delegated to them in previous meetings, and collectively decide sanctions and accolades.

Not surprisingly, it is in those cooperatives with less collective monitoring where the debate about how to make some members more disciplined and to diminish free riding is leading towards the establishment of payment in accordance to work contribution, as admitted to me by the president of one Vuelvan Caras cooperative. Cooperatives’ egalitarian principle of income distribution was interpreted in the Vuelvan Caras program as equal monthly earnings (anticipo societario) for all members, only discounting those with unjustified absences. But of all cooperative workers surveyed, only 27.8 percent stated that income distribution should be equal for all.

Nevertheless, cooperative members’ motivation to participate in decision-making is relatively high. Even in those cooperatives where workplace democracy is least developed, workers recognize the opportunities and advantages of participation for them. Meetings have high attendance. “Though I feel bad when my coworkers do not agree with me, to give my opinions makes me feel, well, useful,” one member said.

Factors Affecting Workplace Democracy

It might be argued that since most of the cooperatives I studied were of recent creation, the novelty of the experience would exaggerate rates of motivation, but I found that not to be the case. Members’ interest in participation is strongly tied to the extent that formal and substantive workplace participation has been established in their cooperatives. The two oldest cooperatives benefit from the highest levels of members’ motivation because they have the most consolidated mechanisms for workplace democracy.

I also found that members’ earnings from the cooperative had a small but considerable impact on their motivation. In fact, 27.8 percent of all members surveyed said they very likely would leave the cooperative if they had an opportunity to work for a private enterprise with a better income, while 24.3 percent were not sure, and 47.3 percent said that they would not. In most cases, although acknowledging the advantages of not having bosses, interviewees explained that they would be willing to leave the cooperative only because they need higher incomes to satisfy their basic needs. In one small and rural Vuelvan Caras cooperative, most women who had left had done so because their earnings were lower than their transportation expenses.

In any case, this study does not confirm the idea that the quality of a cooperative’s workplace democracy is consistently tied to its economic situation. In my sample, half of the most genuinely democratic cooperatives had the best economic situations, while the other half had the worst. Two cooperatives with consolidated workplace democracy but poor economic situations do not suffer from low levels of productivity but from deficient demand and machinery, respectively. But, certainly a less crippling economic situation allows cooperatives to expand and perfect their participatory practice, as in the case of two cooperatives with the best economic situations where weekly collective self-evaluations have been established, and less skilled members are encouraged to dedicate more time for study.

Coinciding with the idea that participatory skills and attitudes can be transferred from one space to another, levels of workplace democracy are strongly tied to levels of members’ participation in political and social organizations in their communities. Such workers feel more prepared to participate and are more willing to assume initiative and responsibility. Does this imply that individuals’ previous experience of participation is a precondition to achieve a truly democratic workplace? My observation suggests that is not the case. It is true that many members, especially in traditional cooperatives, were actively involved in community work or political organizing prior to their incorporation. However, in both traditional and new cooperatives, it is common to find members who have become active organizers in their communities after joining their cooperatives.

Showing that participation is easier to achieve in smaller workplaces, I found that those cooperatives with the largest membership have been less successful in achieving genuine workplace democracy. More spontaneous interactions are possible when the participatory community is small, allowing each individual to play a role. Equality in access to information, work roles, and control over the decision-making process, as well as collective monitoring, become more difficult to implement as the size of the cooperative increases.

Collective Consciousness in Venezuelan Cooperatives

Theorists of participatory democracy have explained how the practice of genuinely democratic decision-making by a community (i.e., a group of people bound by common concerns and problems) produces in participants a collective consciousness (i.e., an understanding of the interests of others in that community followed by a disposition to contribute toward their realization). Although not explicitly, they suggest that the expansion of individuals’ self-interests is a result of both their moral self-transformation and the sense of community that the participatory process creates among them; which are mutually reinforcing. Their moral self-transformation is the result of the “educative effect” of participation, manifested in greater self-confidence and feelings of being in control. In turn, this sense of empowerment makes it easier for individuals to break with their individualism and embrace their interdependence. Facilitated by this, a sense of community emerges among the participants due to the “integrative effect” of democratic collective decision-making, which makes them feel that they belong as equals in the participatory community, because decisions made through a genuinely democratic process are seen as impersonal rules that do not limit their individual freedoms.

Consistent with this idea that the experience of true participation in an egalitarian environment encourages individuals to view the interests of others in the participatory community as their own, this study finds a very strong connection between degrees of each cooperatives’ workplace democracy and its members’ collective consciousness. In workplaces with the highest levels of genuine democracy, workers appeared to be more aware of the needs of coworkers. I observed meetings where the situations of members with absences but also with health or personal troubles were analyzed. The focus was on how these problems impinged on members’ well-being rather than on their diminished productivity or extended sick leaves.

However, and especially in those cooperatives with ineffective or no collective monitoring, there was often no recognition that some members have special needs, or that there is a difference between work effort and work contribution (i.e., productivity). Indeed, of all cooperative workers surveyed, 24.3 percent stated that income distribution should be according to work contribution; 26 percent, according to work effort; 27.8 percent, equal for all; only 5.7 percent, according to need; and 15.7 percent, equally but taking into consideration some members’ special needs. When asked why not give a higher monthly compensation to those with greater needs, some explained that “everyone has many needs,” and “only the cooperative’s social funds should be used for those special cases.” In one of the most democratic cooperatives one member said, “The idea is that we all produce the same so that we all get paid the same.” But a member of another highly democratic cooperative argued, “It does not happen to me, but there are other persons here with more necessities and different capacities. I do not think payment should be in accordance to work.”

The more democratic workplaces were also more inclined to contribute resources towards the solution of members’ individual problems. As one member said—“If there is a member in need, the cooperative ought to help.” And this willingness generally took the form of credit at no interest and with a flexible repayment period. In some cases cooperative members made house visits, conversed with family members, and, especially in cooperatives with a better economic situation, gave donations or awarded paid hours for study.

The transformatory dynamics of participation are evidenced in a strong relationship between levels of cooperatives’ workplace democracy and its most immediate effect—members’ own sense of self-transformation. As members said—“I feel useful and happy, and my understanding of many things has increased” “I feel like a better human being. The cooperative has changed my life. Before I was afraid to talk to people, now I even give my opinions to my husband and feel more secure when I run errands.” More than 86 percent of all cooperative members surveyed felt better prepared; 82.2 percent valued manual labor as important or almost as important as intellectual labor; and 56.5 percent asserted that relations with their neighbors had improved since they joined the cooperative.

The sense of community among members—the least immediate effect of participation— was expressed in their awareness of the concerns they share (“We all have the same problems”) and in workers’ sense of equal status, rights, and obligations (“This cooperative is mine, here we are all owners, we are all the same” “We are all accomplishing something together, without bosses” “The cooperative is like a family—one works as hard as one can, and one’s problems are better understood”).

Factors Affecting Collective Consciousness

In my study, although members’ sense of self-transformation and their level of collective consciousness are both highly tied to their participatory experience within their workplaces, the connection among them is not as clear. Other factors intervene diminishing or promoting a sense of community among the members.

The most significant factor limiting the emergence of collective consciousness in the cooperatives in my sample is the level of internal conflict, which also coincides with the size of the cooperatives. With the exception of one small cooperative, where conflict emerged from animosities between two families, the cooperatives with the most intense internal conflict were indeed those from the Vuelvan Caras program with the largest membership.

Also, Vuelvan Caras cooperatives are supposed to be formed by persons who have spent at least six months together in a classroom environment that promoted solidarity and egalitarianism. But the reality is that, given that significant numbers of participants left the program before the training period ended, all Vuelvan Caras cooperatives I studied were created by groups from different classrooms that had never spent time together. Where lasting conflicts arose between factions, they generally coincided with previous classroom groups.

Another source of conflict in Vuelvan Caras cooperatives is that some government instructors crossed the fine line between providing support and imposing their views, thus delegitimizing the cooperatives’ coordinators. In one case, it was the instructors who nominated the first group of coordinators, leaving the assembly only the power to approve the decision. Some discrepancies within cooperatives membership also stemmed from the fact that those who work the hardest feel “exploited” by those who work below their capacities. This occurred in cooperatives where income distribution was egalitarian and collective monitoring was non-existent or entirely ineffective. In cooperatives where there are systems of collective monitoring, egalitarian distribution did not result in free riding.

The amount of “sociopolitical formation,” or education on citizenship and cooperativism (with an average of thirty-six days of classes), is an important factor promoting the expansion of workers’ solidarity. The emphasis of Venezuela’s traditional cooperatives on sociopolitical formation is a result of the influence of the Canadian Antigonish Movement, which for the first time integrated the principles of cooperativism with adult education. Since their main objective was for cooperative members to experience a “liberating education,” cooperatives were understood as achieving adult education through economic cooperation. Other than members of traditional cooperatives and some individuals with a particular interest in these topics, individuals who had received the highest levels of sociopolitical schooling are participants of the Vuelvan Caras program. But, this experience has had limited influence, due to this immense program’s uneven quality.

Government officials acknowledge that the design and implementation of the first cycle of Vuelvan Caras was highly improvised. Instructors were hired without a selective process to ensure that they were technically and ideologically prepared to teach students from the most marginalized sectors of the Venezuelan society. Also, many groups did not receive any sociopolitical schooling, and there were delays in the delivery of the required reading materials. All Vuelvan Caras cooperatives in this study had received their sociopolitical schooling either in a hurry at the end of the program, afterwards, or not at all.

Finally, the most important explanation of collective consciousness, in addition to members’ experience with workplace democracy, is the extent of their engagement in political and social organizations in their communities. Members’ community participation facilitates the development of their collective consciousness, because participatory skills and attitudes are reinforced by participation in other spaces.


This empirical study of Venezuelan cooperatives shows that there is a strong connection between the quality of workplace democracy and members’ collective consciousness. It is members’ genuine participatory practice—more than other particular characteristics or circumstances of the cooperatives and its members—that produces these social effects. Indeed, the most important alternative explanation for the development of both workplace democracy and the expansion of workers’ solidarity is workers’ level of experience in community participation.

It is also clear that, although the participatory experience has a straightforward educative or self-transformative effect on cooperative members, other factors prevent the full realization of its integrative effect. The emergence of a sense of community among the workers’ collective is undercut by internal conflicts largely stemming from members’ inexperience in social relations and administrative tasks, especially when mechanisms for collective monitoring are lacking. But I found that these clashes are only significant in cooperatives with a large membership, where participatory practice is also considerably limited.

The process of developing workers’ participatory skills and attitudes, as well as collective consciousness, entails fundamental psychological and ethical changes that require time and regularity. Most new cooperatives have not entirely consolidated their workplace democracy because they need more time to learn from mistakes, as evidenced by the lack of mechanisms for information sharing and, especially, collective monitoring. The elimination of the social division of labor necessary to create a climate of genuine equality has also proven difficult to accomplish. Members’ slight professional and administrative experience, as well as relatively low educational levels, sometimes combined with flawed leadership, encourages the concentration of intellectual tasks.

The effects of the political, cultural, and socio-economic environment in which these cooperatives operate require further analysis. Venezuelan cooperatives’ economic exchange largely takes place through a somewhat regulated capitalist market, a situation that undermines both the implementation of genuine workplace democracy and the development of members’ collective consciousness. Indeed, traditional cooperatives in this study are only partial cooperatives, operating only a few days a week or corrupted by permanently hiring labor.

In order to consolidate themselves, Venezuelan cooperatives (and all democratic workplaces in general) ought to institute mechanisms of coordination among themselves and with communities. This, by changing the logic of economic exchange, would create an environment more consistent with their democratic, egalitarian, and solidaristic principles.

Moreover, establishing democratic planning would also advance the Bolivarian process’s goal of expanding workers’ self-interests beyond the frontiers of their workplaces. Since people are capable of internalizing the interests of others with whom they interact (directly or indirectly) through a genuine participatory practice, workplace democracy, although critical, is not sufficient for this endeavor. The findings of this study suggest not only the feasibility of creating a society where human behavior is characterized by conscious solidarity but also how to get us there.


The term “social division of labor” as it is employed by Camila Piñeiro Harnecker here, following the work of Venezuelan sociologist Carlos Lanz, refers broadly to social hierarchies of status and power, and particularly to the division between mental and manual labor. This should not be confused with the classical use of this concept in Marxian theory, which distinguishes between the social division of labor (especially the division of labor into crafts) characteristic of all societies and the detailed division of labor (the division of labor within the workshop) that is the differentia specifica of the capitalist labor process. In the classical Marxian sense, it would be utopian to refer to the “elimination of the social division of labor”nor would it be in the least desirable as an end in itself. As Harry Braverman put it, “while the social division of labor subdivides society, the detailed division of labor subdivides humans, and while the subdivision of society may enhance the individual and the species, the subdivision of the individual, when carried on without regard to human capabilities and needs, is a crime against the person and against humanity” (Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital [Monthly Review Press, 1998], p. 51). The main object of socialism then is to eliminate as much as possible the detailed not the social division of labor. The social division of labor would be maintained but radically transformed in the society of associated producers, according to Marx’s conception, with individuals encouraged to shift from one form of social labor to another, developing their many-sided human capacities. Consistent with this is the negating of all invidious divisions of social labor related to race, gender, etc. —Ed.

2007, Volume 59, Issue 06 (November)
Comments are closed.