Re: [OPE-L] Theoretical issues concerning variable capital

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Tue Oct 10 2006 - 21:36:45 EDT

I am sorry that I am getting lost in this flurry of messages.

A quick clarification please.

1. are you agreeing with Marx that the vulnerability arising out of
the condition in which the very means of one's  life are
owned/possessed by another or (to use Marx's very interesting
expression) personified in another makes formally free wage workers
more like slaves than serfs especially since like slaves formally
free wage workers have themselves produced those alienated means of

That is, are you asking why wage workers' savings tend not to
eliminate this existential vulnerability as they obviously do not for
the mass of workers (indeed--and quite paradoxically--slaves in some
systems have often been able to save more than formally free wage
workers in the sense that many have been able to buy manumission and
exit from their dependent and dishonored status)?

2. are you saying that Marx thought that the real wage would tend not
to rise for workers as a whole?

3. are you asking why it is despite rising productivity workers don't
enjoy continuously rising real wages and substantial savings and/or
continuously decreasing hours at the same annual pay?

For a useful empirical survey I have often recommended here Pietro
Basso's study


>--- Jerry Levy <Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM> wrote:
>>  Hi Ajit:
>>  You asked a lot of questions so I will respond
>>  briefly to each.
>Jerry, I find that you manage to write a lot without
>saying aything. You need to develop confidence to say
>something, otherwise there is no point in writing. Let
>me explain what I mean as I go through your 'answers'
>to my questions.
>To my question:
>>  >  For example? What is the 17/18th of the story?
>You write:
>>  Since we're talking about Marx, I think the 19th
>>  Century is
>>  more relevant.   I was thinking about the sections
>>  in the
>>  _Grundrisse_ on  the creation and expansion of needs
>>  and
>>  what he wrote in the "Resultate" on the role of
>>  trade unions.
>Don't think. Stake your position. The question is of
>interpreting Marx. We all know the reference. The
>question is of your interpretation. So that one can
>see how well it stands up against my 'simple story'.
>If you check the archives of pen-l around 91-92 you
>will find a long debate between Mike L and me on this
>issue. So my positions are already out there (and I
>think in a few publications here and there as well),
>so check it out and stake your position that
>contradicts mine.
>I asked:
>>  > Why would you take cycles into consideration when
>>  you
>>  > are dealing with long term trajectory?
>To which you reply:
>>  Marx wrote about long-run trajectory, it's true.  He
>>  also
>>  wrote about more short- and medium-term
>>  developments.
>>  The question is how/if cycles modify the operation
>>  of what
>>  is claimed to happen over the long-term historical
>>  process of
>>  accumulation.
>But giving back my question is not an answer to my
>question, is it? My question implies that for long
>term wage trajectory one need not take account of
>short run cycles. So you need to come up with some
>answer that shows that one has to. But instead of
>that, what you do? you say: "The question is how/if
>cycles modify the operation of what is claimed to
>happen over the long-term historical process of
>To my question:
>>  > I don't understand what is the point of all these
>>  > comments. Do you agree with my interpretation of
>>  Marx or you disagree?
>You answer:
>>  My point is that there is a "simple story" that
>>  emerges from one
>>  part of _Capital_.  There is a more complex story
>>  that emerges
>>  when one puts that story within the context of  both
>>  capital as
>>  a whole and "Economics", which encompasses the study
>>  of
>>  class activity, the state, foreign trade, and the
>>  world market.
>So what is that other story Jerry? That's what I have
>been asking you. Just to say that another story
>emerges is not good enough.
>To my question:
>>  > The question is whether he
>>  > expected the real wages to move up or down on a
>>  long term trajectory.
>You answer:
>>  OK.  But, that question has to be put in context:
>>  e.g.
>>  did he expect wages on the world market or in just
>>  the more advanced capitalist nations to go up or
>>  down?
>>  In his later years, he tried to make it clear that
>>  references
>>  to 'historical inevitability' in _Capital_ were
>>  restricted to
>>  the nations of Western Europe
>Okay, so give me your asnwer within your context to my
>simple question now. For me, such theoretical
>questions are dealt with within a context of a
>theoretical capitalist world.
>To my question:
>>  > Jerry, I really don't understand most of what you
>>  > write. What is your point?
>You answer:
>>  Explained above.
>Now you must know that it was no explaination.
>To my question:
>>  > Are you saying that Marx
>>  > had a theory of wages that "grasped" it in all
>>  these
>>  > "contexts"? Or you are suggest
>ing that we have to
>>  do
>>  > that? Or you are suggesting that you have an
>>  > understanding of Marx's theory of wages that
>>  "grasps"
>>  > it in all these contexts?
>You answer:
>>  I don't think that Marx ever really completely
>>  flushed out his
>>  perspectives on wages in writing.  Basically, I
>>  would say
>>  that _we_ need a theory of wages which puts that
>>  subject
>>  in the context of a larger theory and considers the
>>  ways
>>  in which subjects which arise at more concrete
>>  levels of
>>  abstraction (e.g. the state, trade, the world
>>  market)
>>  modify wage determination.
>>  In solidarity, Jerry
>My question was not about what kind of wage theory we
>need. The question was whether my rendition of Marx's
>'simple story' was faithful to Marx or not. Now you
>say, "I don't think that Marx ever really completely
>flushed out his perspectives on wages in writing." So
>if he did not flush out his perspective in writing
>then where did he flush it out? Are you saying that
>Marx did not have a coherent theory of wages or wage
>trends? And if so, then what was your point of
>I hope it was helpful. Cheers, ajit sinha
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