[OPE-L:2507] Re: class demarcation

From: Ernesto Screpanti (screpanti@unisi.it)
Date: Tue Mar 14 2000 - 10:13:30 EST

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Jerry wrote in [2505]

At 09.34 14/03/00 -0500, you wrote:
>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

Let me focus on the problem of class demarcation. The question is not
wether workers' savings enable them to achieve some social mobility. The
theoretical problem is: if you define the capitalist class as made up of
the owners of capital, then a worker who saves and owns some wealth (and
earns a proportion od surplus value in the form of interest payment) is not
different from the capitalist. It might be a quantitative difference (small
or big wealth) but not a qualitative one.
This is why I hold that the class demarcation critirion is not ownership,
but control of the labour process. The wage exchange (the employment
contract) gives the capitalist (a manager or a functionary or a owner or
whatever else) the authority to command the worker in the labour process.
Then a worker who owns some wealth and even some shares of "his" company,
remains an exploited worker so long as he has to obey the employer in the
factory. The employer's authority gives him the faculty to determine
(within certain limits) labour activity, labour productivity, labour
services so as to obtain from production a value which is higher than the
wage. This is how surplus value is produced.

In solidarity


Ernesto Screpanti
Dipartimento di Economia Politica
Piazza S. Francesco 1
53100 Siena
tel: 0577 232784
fax: 0577 232661

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