Re: (OPE-L) Re: the _struggle_ over the length of the working day

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Tue Jun 10 2003 - 09:37:34 EDT

>Re Rakesh's post sent Monday, June 09:
>  > In his reply to Weston, didn't Marx say that nine out of ten worker
>  > struggles are in fact defensive in nature? Perhaps my memory fails me.
>Your memory is playing tricks on you.

not really Jerry. In the paragraph which you Marx clearly has labor
reacting to the previous action of capital, not vice versa. And then
there is the other paragraph a few pages down.


>   The quote that you are
>evidently referring to is from Section 5 of XIII ("Main Causes of
>Attempts at Raising Wages or Resisting their Fall") of _Value,
>Price and Profit_
>Marx wrote that "In all the cases I have considered,  and they
>form ninety-nine out of a hundred,  you have seen that a struggle
>for a rise in wages follows only in  the track of *previous* changes ...."

  Why not quote the entire paragraph, which reads:

>In all the cases I have considered, and they form ninety-nine out of
>a hundred, you have seen that a struggle for a rise of wages follows
>only in the track of previous changes, and is the necessary
>offspring of previous changes in the amount of production, the
>productive powers of labour, the value of labour, the value of
>money, the extent or the intensity of labour extracted, the
>fluctuations of market prices, dependent upon the fluctuations of
>demand and supply, and consistent with the different phases of the
>industrial cycle; in one word, as reactions of labour against the
>previous action of capital. By treating the struggle for a rise of
>wages independently of all these circumstances, by looking only upon
>the change of wages, and overlooking all other changes from which
>they emanate, you proceed from a false premiss in order to arrive at
>false conclusions.

Marx conceives wage struggle here as  "reactions of labour against
the previous action of capital."

And  a few pages down, Marx writes

>These few hints will suffice to show that the very development of
>modern industry must progressively turn the scale in favour of the
>capitalist against the working man, and that consequently the
>general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise, but to
>sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour
>more or less to its minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things
>in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to
>renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and
>abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances
>for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded
>to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation. I think I have
>shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents
>inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100
>their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the
>given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their
>price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having
>to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their
>everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify
>themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.

Again Marx has workers responding "against the encroachments of
capital", not vice versa.

You continue:

>I would make several points here:
>1) Marx is explicitly referring to struggles over wages rather
>than struggles over the length of the working day (although
>a decrease in the length of the working day can be conceived,
>*in part*, as a rise in wages).

>2) In noting that these struggles can be viewed in context as
>"reactions of labour against the previous action of capital",
>Marx is simply saying that you have to comprehend a struggle
>over wages in context -- historically. Thus, he warns against
>treating a struggle over wages "independently of all these
>circumstances" (which he itemizes in this paragraph).

Yet in which of the above circumstances would you say that labor is
not defending itself against a deterioration in its position or
against the previous action of capital.

For Marx the most offensive the working class can get is in fighting
for real wage gains not in response to intensification or lengthening
of the work day or severe fluctuations in the business cycle or
inflation but rather in order to ward off the rise in the rate of
exploitation as the unit value of wages goods falls as a result of
productivity gains. At this point, workers will only succeed in
resisting a deterioration in their relative position or at best
attenuate a rise in their rate of exploitation if their need for
social and cultural improvement motivates them to fight for wage
gains and/or reduced working hours.

But even here Marx conceives of the workers struggle as defensive--a
defense against a deterioration in their relative position.

>3) I would highlight the paragraph that begins "In their attempts
>at reducing the working day ...." in  Section 3 above.  There he
>emphasizes that in their attempts to "set limits to the tyrannical
>usurpations of capital", workers fulfill "a duty to themselves and
>their race"  and:
>"Time is the room of human development. A man who has no free
>time to dispose of, whose whole lifetime, apart from the mere physical
>interruptions by sleep, meals, and so forth, is absorbed by his labor for
>the capitalist, is less than a beast of burden.  He is a mere machine for
>producing Foreign Wealth, broken in body and brutalized in
>Marx then concludes that "the whole history of modern industry shows
>that capital, if not checked,  will recklessly and ruthlessly work to this
>utmost  state of degradation."

And against this reckless and ruthless attempt to degrade the worker,
Marx encourages the worker to react, to resist. But it is to the
previous action of capital and the encroachments of capital that Marx
has the worker responding.

My point here is that Marx may have been wrong to conceive of worker
struggles in overly defensive terms.

Perhaps he could be read  falsely casting the worker struggles as
defensive, as responses to the previous actions and encroachments of
capital in order to embolden oppressed who would otherwise be fearful
of actually offending the powers that be. Perhaps Marx worked around
rather than assaulted the inhibitions of the oppressed who could at
best see themselves defending but never offending their social

Perhaps Marx is a conservative, and theorists like John Holloway and
Michael Lebowitz are developing a more uninhibited radicalism.

Yours, Rakesh

>This illustrates the point that I tried to make previously:  class
>struggle can not be conceived only in terms of what capital
>wants but includes the aspirations of workers  as well.

>Workers struggles
>to be more than a "beast of burden"  and to have time so that there is
>"room for human development" have to be comprehended.

>In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Thu Jun 12 2003 - 00:00:00 EDT