Introducing the Self-Management Project – Viewpoint Magazine


“This is exactly the reason why in certain chains and stores, such as Starbucks, individual workers are given supervisory roles with a small degree of managerial power; they lessen the burden on management proper and help to relieve burnout among higher-level employees, while simultaneously decreasing what is termed “boreout” among workers. This even has a special term within the management literature: “vertical loading.” Workers are urged to take on the responsibilities of work scheduling, tracking their own work times and breaks, directing training sessions, and handling recruitment decisions instead of management. One can therefore observe a very interesting convergence here with classical notions of radical self-management – the idea that the workforce could quite easily take on the tasks of management without the need for an externalized and top-heavy management structure – and which has recently been glimpsed in the Argentinian example, where workers took over factories abandoned by capital and ran them as cooperatives.

Another uncanny convergence can be seen in the literature that makes up the interdisciplinary field of Organizational Behavior, and its usage within the broader field of Industrial Relations. Industrial Relations delineates four “frames of reference” to industrial conflict, typically between unions and management.4 Of the four frames, there are two that, in particular, are of interest for our concerns here. The first is the “interactionist frame,” which sees organizational conflict as crucial to the process of innovation within the workplace. Managers are actually encouraged to stimulate a certain level of conflict, with the assumption that conflict between workers and management is an inevitable occurrence that sets dynamics of self-criticism, change, and innovation in motion. Management is encouraged to deploy specific tactics in order to foment workplace “crises”: allowing a financial loss to occur, not correcting repeated errors, or setting targets so high that they can’t be reached through business as usual. The conflict that results is then employed to advance and impel the organization forward.

There are superficial similarities between the interactionist frame and Mario Tronti’s theory of capitalist development, in terms of the perpetuity of workplace conflict. Tronti fundamentally refined the paradigmatic thesis of Italian operaismo: capitalist development follows from the struggles of the working class. In “Lenin in England,” his 1964 essay later included in Workers and Capital, Tronti argued that “at the level of socially developed capital, capitalist development becomes subordinated to working class struggles; it follows behind them, and they set the pace to which the political mechanisms of capital’s own reproduction must be tuned.”5 While Tronti ultimately looked for ways in which working class power could be politically recomposed on the basis of these conflicts, the similarities are evident.” …


“The goal of the Self-Management Notes project is not to develop a socialist form of management theory – in the disastrous way, for example, that the Bolshevik government in the Soviet Union attempted to apply wholesale Taylorism to replace the factory committees, via the implementation of forms of “one-man management.”6 Rather, the goal of untangling the intricacies of management science serves a dual purpose. First, the strands that promote the need for a self-managing workforce in capitalist enterprises serve to show, by example, that workers really don’t need capitalist management structures to effectively administer the means of production, should they pass into common rather than private ownership. This helps to demonstrate – contra the skeptics – the possibility of a world in which workers can control the means of production. As theorists such as Amadeo Bordiga have long argued, self-management is by no means equivalent to the abolition of capital. But it is nevertheless a central axis of revolutionary struggle.

Second, if socialist activists can understand and properly integrate studies on the nature of group dynamics and how workers socially interact with one another, this could provide a powerful framework that can contribute to the organizing process as a whole. Organizer-training programs developed by unions like the Industrial Workers of the World already make use of concepts adapted from the SEIU, including socially mapping the workplace to reveal informal group dynamics. Further research into the niches of social psychology from which these techniques were drawn – heavily referenced by management science – can help create new theoretical tools for workers in order to devise better tactics and strategies throughout the organizing process. This is important considering the changed nature of the workplace today, especially in the United States and United Kingdom, where a great deal of the economy is made up by an expansive “service sector.” – Deconstructing Management Science: Introducing the Self-Management Notes Project


About bolshevikpunk

Mainline Marxism or Die. Activist, Student, and Degenerate.
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