[OPE-L:2407] Re: the employment contract and capitalism

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Thu Feb 24 2000 - 08:01:41 EST

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Re Ernesto's [2401]:

> Marx and Engels make this assumption to make sure that the
> analysis of exploitation is focused on production conditions and not on
> unequal exchange in the market.

Yes, the condition that commodities exchange at their values is:
a) an assumption; and
b) chosen for precisely the reason you state.
It should be noted, though, that this was also a typical assumption in
classical political economy as well.

Yet, there is nothing in Marx's theory which prevents us from noting that
there are conditions in which unequal exchange *does* in fact happen.
Such a development would take place, however, at a more concrete level of
abstraction than that which is analyzed in _Capital_. Thus, it is not that
unequal exchange can't happen in Marx's theory, rather it is that unequal
exchange is assumed not to take place at the level of abstraction of
_Capital_ (i.e. Book 1).

> Samuelson - No. You assumed comnpetition. Therefore no bargaining.
> Marx: OK. So what?

Why did Marx say "OK"? Why can't there be bargaining within the context of
a competitive environment?

> Enters Veblen - Pricesely what I say: Habits and customs are endogenous in
> the long run.
> Marx - Yes, but I insist: so what?

Habits and customs are endogenous to the system but not to capital alone.
I.e. the customs and habits can be influenced by capital (e.g.
through advertising) but workers as well can change for their own reasons
their customs and habits ... within limits.
> Samuelson - This means that the law of value, that you assumed to avoid
> explaining exploitation as a production phenomen and not as a market
> phenomen, does not apply to labour power. You can account for exploitation
> only if the law of value does not apply to labour power.
> Marx - what does that mean?
> Samuelson - It means that you are explaing exploitation as a market
> phenomenon: there is exploitation because there is no perfect competition
> in the labour market!
> Marx - OPEL comrades, help!

*Karl Marx appeals to OPE-L for help!* How can we refuse to answer
such an appeal, comrades?

My brief answer is that while exploitation takes place in the production
process (because that is where surplus-value is created by labour), there
are pre-requisites for that exploitation. Such pre-requisites (both
logically and historically) include a class system in which there is
private ownership and non-ownership of means of production and land and
the creation of markets in which commodity transactions can take place.
One of those "commodity" transactions is what you call the "employment
contract". One should note in this connection that:
a) _all_ market transactions could be conceived in one sense as
   "contracts". In this sense, the *state* could be seen as a
   pre-requisite for the employment contract since the state establishes
   contract law.
b) there are other examples of market transactions in which the commodity
   delivered is not payed for until a, agreed upon, later date;
c) If workers truly and completely gave up their "freedom" in the
   employment contract, then superintendance of workers in the labour
   process would be largely unneeded. I would say, rather, that in the
   employment contract capitalists _only_ create a pre-requisite for
   exploitation. Whether there _will be_ exploitation depends initially
   on whether surplus-value can be pumped-out of workers in the labour
   process by management. Thus, the control over the labour process,
   while perhaps formally written into or implied by the employment
   contract, must be created and maintained *in the labor process itself*
   for the exploitation to happen.

> 2) The paradox of "class demarcation". Now I have no time to present you
> this second problem. Let me reserve it for another message.

OK, I look forward to it.

In [2400], you asked me about whether I was aware of the historical role
that police and military personnel have played in revolutionary
situations. Indeed, I am aware of the examples you cite. *But* at the very
moment that police *refuse the commands* given to them by the state -- and
thereby unite with the working-class in the revolution -- then they cease
to be police. Let me assure you that if a revolution fails after some
segment of the police supports the revolution, then they won't be police
any longer! Indeed, they'll be lucky if they are still alive.

Re "You have nothing to lose but your chains!" also discussed briefly in
[2400], I agree that the assumption that workers are driven to
revolutionary action by "absolute deprivation" alone should be rejected.
I think you put it well when you said that what increases revolutionary
sentiment is "social, political and economic frustration". If that is the
case, then a revolution can develop both within advanced capitalist social
formations where workers might have higher than average wages and benefits
and ... even during a period when there is _not_ an economic crisis.

In solidarity, Jerry

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