I bought this several years ago, but I had left it on my shelf for too long, one of those books I know I should have read, but other books just kept getting in the way. I don’t remember the impetus, but I was looking at all my unread and half read books that I had relegated to the shelves - their newness lost and becoming dusty fixtures - and I grabbed Braverman’s study of the nature of work.
What struck me most about this work was that it was researched and written in the late 60s and early seventies, right before the breakdown of the Bretton Woods system and contemporary with the flashes of revolt amongst the various people who had been forgotten in the capitalistic system (students, women, african-americans). In a way, a naive look at the time is that it was the last time that Capitalism may have been said to work in the way its cheerleaders say it will work with shared growth like Kennedy’s rising tide lifting all boats.
Knowledge of the historical record will show that there was always that undercurrent of malaise in the working world as capitalism may have worked on the surface, but underneath that work was born on the back of unpaid women at home and underpaid workers in the factories and mines and white collar workers. Braverman examines how labor was atomized and demarcated and prescribed even for those who were highly educated. What is also striking is how current and relevant the examination is, even with 40 years passing between the initial publication and today. The machines feared have become the robots in our discourse, but the theme underneath it all is the fear of the lack of autonomy and self-direction that takes craftsmen to laborers, no matter if the skill is working with your hands or your mind.
Braverman did work within the tradition of the folks at the Monthly Review, and this speaks to Sweezy and Baran’s “Monopoly Capital,” which I have not read. Despite my own failings, I think this was a worthwhile read.