Accounting and Control of the Labour Process

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* Article: Rob Bryer Critical Perspectives on Accounting Volume 17, (2006), 551–59.



"Textbooks and business managers presume that accounting is the most important management control system, but modern scholars think its role and status are problematic. Most argue that although accounting is important, it is inherently subjective and is only one among many control systems. The paper uses Marx’s theory of the labour process to argue that accounting is the premier control system because it provides senior managers with objective measures of the generation and realisation of surplus value that they use to hold workers accountable for the circulation of capital. Prima facie support for Marx’s theory is that it gives us a theoretical foundation for textbook presentations of management accounting that resolves controversies over the allocation of overheads and the role of accounting information in decision-making and performance evaluation. The paper re-evaluates some key aspects of the ‘labour process debate’ sparked off by Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital [Braverman H. Labor and monopoly capital: the degradation of work in the twentieth century. London: Monthly Review Press; 1974]. It highlights misunderstandings of Marx caused by neglect of accounting. It concludes that accounting is the key to controlling modern business organisations in the interests of capital, that social scientists have too readily jettisoned Marx’s labour theory of value and his theory of class." (