[OPE-L:2505] class demarcation

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Tue Mar 14 2000 - 09:34:53 EST

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Re Ernesto's [OPE-L:2503]:

> >The working class owns their own labour power. This is part of the meaning
> >of "free labour".
> This is an important problem. If workers own their labour power they own a
> form of human capital! But Marx was very critical on the notion of human
> capital. On the other hand, labour power becomes a commodity only after the
> exchange with a wage.

Yes, I agree that labour-power only _fully_ becomes a commodity after the
exchange with a wage. Prior to that time, it exists as potential, rather
than actuality. Thus, what workers own and then alienate in the employment
contract is "labour power potential" along with the legal right to own any
products produced with that labour and control their own labour process.

> >The assumption of zero savings by workers is a simplifying assumption
> >which can be relaxed at a more concrete level of abstraction. And, of
> >course, the "subsistence wage" is not really a "subsistence wage" since it
> >includes a "moral" and "cultural" component.
> Of course, but when you remove the hypothesis and allow some savings
> from the workers, you must admit that they become owners of some wealth.

Yes. I believe the most fundamental question, though, is whether this
savings has the capacity to alter workers' class position by "raising" them
into another class. Perhaps this is what you mean by a "class demarcation
problem". I would say that it is possible for _some_ workers (especially
skilled workers in advanced capitalist countries) to save enough money
over the course of a working life to become part of the petty-bourgeoisie.
Yet, this does not mean that they can gain entry into the other "typical"
class -- the capitalist class. [Indeed, small business owners often find
that they earn less income than if and when they received a wage. And
about 2/3 of all small businesses, at least in the US, go out of business
within the first 3 years of operation. And, of course, the long-term
historical trend of proletarianization suggests that far more are leaving
the petty-bourgeoisie and joining the working class than vice versa.]

> If you do not like the expression "accumulate capital", I can delete it.
> But the problem remains. If the workers save, they have wealth and earn
> some interest on it.
> Screpanti (to Marx) - You should do some effort at talking even on matters
> that you do not like. You still have not answered the question: Where does
> the interest earned by a worker on his bank deposit come from?

Jerry to Ernesto: The interest paid out by banks represents a
redistribution of surplus-value. Consequently, workers who save can lay
claim to some proportion of the surplus value produced. Yet, given the
marginal amount of money we are talking about, this does not represent any
real possibility for class mobility.

Another possible way of conceptualizing workers' savings in some
countries might be that when neither capitalists nor the state provide for
retirement funds then workers must provide for this themselves out of
their own savings. In a sense, this is what frequently happens in Japan
where [extended] families assume the responsibility of caring for elderly
and/or ill family members. In this case, the wage would _have_ to allow
for some amount of savings for retirement. Thus, wages during one's
working life might be higher in lieu of an understanding as part of the
employment contract that workers are required to save for their own
retirement. Yet, here we enter the realm of contingencies and depart from
what is systematically required for the reproduction of capitalism.
> Screpanti - I think the first questions Marx would rise is: Vladimir, how
> do you think the workers could emancipate by themselves if there is no
> democracy in the soviets? And how do you think the Kronstadt workers
> killed by the red army emancipated themselves?

It does not sound like that lunch date between Marx and Lenin is going to
go very well!

> Screpanti (to Jerry) - if you mean that we'd better leave Marx sleeping, I
> agree. But theoretical problems cannot be left sleeping.

Agreed, but there are an awful lot of theoretical problems that Marxists
have left sleeping. E.g. the relationship of changing patterns of
investment and depreciation of constant fixed capital to the trade cycle,
issues associated with the subjectivity of classes, how we systematically
connect the state-form to the capital-form, foreign trade, and the world
market and crises. These issues have been "on the table" even before
Marx's death but Marxists have, for the most part, let them remain asleep.

However, upon reflection, it is not the "theoretical problem" which are
asleep. Rather, _we_ (i.e. Marxists who are students of political economy)
who are slumbering. Awake, yee 21st century Marxists!

In solidarity, Jerry

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