The 'cultural and moral' component (was Meillassoux on population and wages)

From: michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@SFU.CA)
Date: Fri Jun 06 2003 - 10:43:14 EDT

At 03:46 05/06/2003 -0400, Jerry wrote:

>What strikes me as missing, though, in the Meillasoux interview,
>and in Rakesh's musings on Marx's theory,  is the non-recognition
>of the "cultural and moral" component of the wage.  To grasp
>the cultural and moral component more concretely, one must:
>a) recognize that wage determination is brought about through
>class struggle.  One can not simply assert that wages will adjust
>to whatever the 'needs' of capital are.
>b) recognize how different histories of struggle internationally
>have resulted in different national 'standards' (or averages) of
>wages -- which are constantly in flux.  These international
>disparities in wages -- and the value of labour-power -- must
>be comprehended....

         Those who have been on the list for a long time will know I agree
completely with Jerry's excellent comment on this point. It is one of the
central themes in my 'Beyond CAPITAL: Marx's Political Economy of the
Working Class' .The new, expanded edition is due out this month, and I'll
send out a note shortly in relation to the changes. Here's an excerpt from
Ch. 8 in the new edition relevant to Jerry's intervention:

>         Of course, the wage-labourers who face capital do not only live
> in families. They live in neighbourhoods and communities--- indeed, are
> concentrated by capital in particular neighbourhoods and cities, and they
> live in different nations (Engels, 1845: 344, 394.). They are
> distinguished not only as men and women but also as members of different
> races, ethnic groups, etc. Once we acknowledge that 'every kind of
> consumption... in one way or another produces human beings in some
> particular aspect,' then it is not a great leap to extend this discussion
> of differently-produced wage-labourers to differences based on age, race,
> ethnicity, religion, nationality, historical circumstances and, indeed,
> on 'all human relations and functions, however and in whatever form they
> may appear.'
>         Marx did not take this step. He limited his comments to the
> matter immediately at hand--- the question of the value of labour-power.
> Thus, he acknowledged that 'historical tradition and social habitude'
> played an important part in generating different standards of necessity
> for different groups of workers (Marx, 1865b: 145). Not only do necessary
> needs vary over time; they also vary among individuals and groups of
> workers at any given time. An obvious example was the situation of the
> Irish worker, for whom 'the most animal minimum of needs and subsistence
> appears to him as the sole object and purpose of his exchange with
> capital' (Marx, 1973: 285). Marx argued that their low necessary needs
> (compared to those of the English male worker) reflected the historical
> conditions under which Irish workers entered wage-labour, conditions
> which drove the standard of necessity to which they became accustomed to
> the level of physiological needs (Marx, 1977: 854-870).
>         Yet, differences in the value of labour-power reflect more than
> differences in 'the social conditions in which people are placed and
> reared up.' The latter are merely the 'historical' premises; and, on this
> basis, we could never explain changes in relative wages--- e.g., the
> equalisation (upward or downward) of the value of labour-power of
> differing groups of workers. Limited to historical premises as an
> explanation, 'the more or less favourable conditions' under which various
> groups of workers 'emerged from the state of serfdom' would appear as
> original sin (Marx, 1865b: 145).
>         In short, just as in the case of changes in the standard of
> necessity over time, differences in that standard for different groups of
> workers are the result of class struggle--- the result of capitalist and
> worker pressing in opposite directions. The historical premises (insofar
> as they have affected the level of social needs) may explain why
> particular workers do not press very hard against capital; however, it is
> what workers accept in the present rather than the historical premises
> that determines the level of their necessary needs.
>         The principle, of course, goes beyond the case of Irish and
> English workers. It encompasses not only workers of differing ethnic and
> national background but also male and female workers. Unless, for
> example, we recognise the central place of class struggle in the
> determination of the value of labour-power, we are left with an
> explanation of male/female wage differentials that rests upon the
> assumption of lower subsistence requirements for women. This would be as
> absurd as to assume that Marx believed that the value of labour-power of
> Irish workers would always be below that of English workers.

         in solidarity,
          Michael L

Michael A. Lebowitz
Professor Emeritus
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: Phone (604) 291-4669
          Fax   (604) 291-5944
Home:   Phone (604) 689-9510 [NOTE CHANGE]

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Sat Jun 07 2003 - 00:00:00 EDT