[OPE-L:176] RE: the book on wage labor

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Sun, 1 Oct 1995 00:26:16 -0700

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My apologies for taking so long to respond to Tony on this.

In message Tue, 26 Sep 1995 08:07:58 -0700,
Tony Smith <tonys@iastate.edu> writes:

>Unfortunately, I have not read as much of Michael's writings as I should

Unfortunately, I am in much the same position in relation to Tony's work;
and, given our overlapping interests, this is a serious problem which I think
extends beyond the two of us. In my case, it is often a question of being
absorbed in my own work and just managing to keep up with reading materials
for my courses, reading manuscripts for SPE and others sent to me for comment
(although several on this list can testify that I often fail in this regard)
with the result that I often don't keep up with new work unless it happens
to appear in journals to which I subscribe. In many respects, then, I (and
I suspect, others) end up functioning quite atomistically. One of the reasons
I have high hopes for this project/list is that it offers the possibility of
real collective work and interaction.

>But as of now I am in the group of people who think there are
>reasons for there not being a separate book on wage labor.

My problem in responding to this, of course, is that I've written a whole
book on this very subject and really feel that is the best answer I can give.
On the other hand, I'm hesitant to upload the book.8-) So, I'll try to give
short and specific answers to Tony and will suggest that people interested
in a fuller development try gophering to csf.colorado.edu for the two papers
referred to earlier ("The Book on Wage-Labor..." and "The Silences of
Capital") in the heterodox economics section or look for the book (Beyond
Capital), which can be ordered from Macmillan or St. Martins.

>The first is
>that CAPITAL does incorporate the active subjectivity of wage laborers.
>Sometimes this is done explicitly, most obviously in the discussion of
>"the fierce struggle over the limits of the working day." (K3 966
>Penguin) In other places, this is more implicit, but no less
>significant for that. Throughout CAPITAL Marx insists upon the
>historical and moral component of the value of labor power, and of
>capitalism's ability to bring upon a general expansion of social needs.
>Since those who own and control capital are not likely to share the
>fruits of expanded productivity out of the kindness of their hearts, it
>seems to me that this points to wage laborers' capacity to struggle
>successfully for a new definition of the value of labor power.

To grasp that there is something missing in CAPITAL, we need look no
further than at Value, Price and Profit, where Marx describes the "continuous
struggle between capital and labour, the capitalist constantly tending to
reduce wages to their physical minimum and to extend the working day to its
physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite
direction." The struggle over the workday is there, to be sure, (although
workers seem to be struggling for the "normal" workday rather than for the
minimum), but there is no discussion in CAPITAL about the struggle for higher
wages. Marx said over and over again that the reason was that this was a
subject for the book on wages. Further,Marx was explicit in several places as
to why he would assume the standard of necessity constant in CAPITAL (as he
did)--- the subject of that book was to understand the nature of capital.
Eg., in the Economic Mss of 1861-3 (in the Collected Works, Vol. 30,pp 44-5):
The problem of these movements in the level of the workers needs, as
also that of the rise and fall of the market price of labour capacity
above or below this level, do not belong here, where the general capital-
relation is to be developed, but in the doctrine of the wages of labour.
It will be seen in the further course of this investigation that whether
one assumes the level of workers' needs to be higher or lower is
completely irrelevant to the end result. The only thing of importance
is that it should be viewed as given, determinate. All questions
relating to it as not a given but a variable magnitude belong to the
investigation of wage labour in particular and do not touch its general
relation to capital.
I submit that Marx never changed his mind on this point. Incidentally, having
access to the 1861-3 mss and to the Results of the Immediate Process of
Production puts us in a privileged position in relation to Rosdolsky (who had
the Grundrisse, which Grossmann didn't have, but little else in the way of
these important unpublished manuscripts.) In any event, I talk about much of
this in Ch 2 (although the above quote became available in English only
In Ch 2, I also address the question of social needs and the value of
labour-power which Tony poses. The needs that enter into the value of labour-
power are the necessary needs, needs for use-values "habitually required".
There is a difference between those and "social needs". In Vol 3 (Vintage,
2 9-90), Marx talks about the gap between current needs being satisfied and
"the genuine social need.. the difference between the quantity of commodities
that is demanded and the quantity that would be demanded at other money
prices or with the buyers being in different financial and living
conditions." Ie., rather than equating social needs and VLP, the difference
is a measure of immiseration. Between increased social needs and increased
VLP is class struggle from below, which with respect to wages is not in
v Among the things that I suggest is lost by not acknowledging the limited
object of CAPITAL is the understanding that the standard of necessity, which
is introduced in CAPITAL as an unexplained premise is, in fact, a result--
the result of workers struggling for their own goals against capital, goals
which are not explored in CAPITAL (and if so, only very very implicitly).
Understanding that means you can go beyond some of Marx's own lapses--
like his statement (V,P,P) that the VLP includes provisions for the worker's
replacements because there must be sufficient necessaries "to bring up a
certain quota of children that are to replace him on the labour market and
to perpetuate the race of labourers" (rather than because and insofar as
workers have successfully struggled to be able to maintain children!), like
his argument in Vol I (vintage,687,377) that the increase in the workday
(and, presumably, speedup) leads to the premature exhaustion of labour-
power and thus an increase in VLP to make up for this accelerated
depreciation,etc. I could go on-- most of this is in Ch 5, but let me just
return to a point I made earlier: once you no longer treat necessary needs,
the standard of necessity as fixed and given, once you are prepared to
entertain variations in the level of the necessaries of life (which Marx
intended for the book on wage-labour, cf Vol I,1068-9), then you can no
longer make the argument that increases in productivity in the production
of those necessaries in themselves lead to a fall in VLP! So, where's the
case for relative surplus value?! I would say there are some rather important
questions here. To say the book on wage-labour is implicit in CAPITAL (the
position of Negri and Cleaver) is not sufficient--- money is implicit in
the commodity, capital is implicit in commodity and money, etc. When you
develop explicitly what may have been implicit in logical antecedents,
new sides of the latter are revealed, unleashed; ie., we see explicitly new
aspects of capital as well.

>The second reason is that the dominance of the capital form places fixed
>limits on labor's capacities to act as an independent subject, limits
>that do not dissolve simply because we look at things from the side of
>wage labor as opposed to the side of capital. Fierce struggles over the
>length of the working day can occur, but capital can respond to them by
>introducing machinery that increases the rate of relative surplus value.
>Struggles to force a raising of the value of labor power can be
>successful, but wage laborers must still purchase the goods and services
>they need in commodity markets, and doing so contributes to the
>reproduction of the capitalist system as a whole and their position as
>wage laborers in specific. I do not see how the choice of looking at
>things from the standpoint of capital as opposed to the standpoint of
>labor changes anything. Capital remains an alien social form that
>prevents social individuality from flourishing. If this is correct,
>then a separate book on wage labor would be redundant.

Redundant to what? To look at matters from the standpoint of capital is
to recognise that the worker is a means for capital in its goal of
valorization (K-WL-K). And, if we look at this relation from the perspctive
of the wage-labourer who as such must enter into that exchange,etc with
capital to satisfy her needs (WL-K-WL)? Isn't it possible that this would
help us to understand why capital is mystified, why the inexorable laws of
capital haven't led to its collapse? If one sees, as I do, the continued
existence of capitalism not as the result of its great technical feats but,
rather, as the failure of workers (which means the failure of
revolutionaries) to comprehend the nature of capital, then perhaps there
has been insufficient consideration from the side of workers.
I should stress, too, that once you open up the question of the side of
workers, a number of questions automatically come to the fore: the question
of use-values and wealth from the perspective of workers, productive labour
for workers, the household. These are questions, too, which are critical in
terms of going beyond capital.

> Third, it seems to me that insofar as wage laborers can act as subjects
>in a manner that does call into question the dominance of the capital
>form in a fundamental way (general strikes, the establishment of soviets
>exercising dual power), then we are talking about attempts to undertake
>a transition to a new mode of production. TheAs such, they fall outside
>the analysis of the capitalist mode of production.

I think it is important if we are to understand capitalism to
grasp the sources of power of capital and the sources of power of workers
and to be able to see in the struggles of workers (not simply the big ones)
the embodiment of a new society. Workers struggles, which flow from their
attempt to realise their goals within capitalism, need to be theorised--
which means that workers should be considered as subjects and not just as
objects of capital.

>Fourth, insofar as wage laborers can act as subjects in a manner that
>calls into question the dominance of the capital form in a less than
>fundamental way, this must be considered in relation to the state, and
>would have been taken up in the volume on the state, had Marx come to
>write it.

I agree, but we need the book on wage-labour as a premise in order to
explore the nature of demands that workers place upon the state. This is
what I've attempted in the essay, "Situating the Capitalist State" that I
mentioned earlier--- ie., what happens when we recognise that Marx's book
on the capitalist state was not to follow CAPITAL (so much for the capital-
logic folks!) but the book on wage-labour.
Oops, my apologies for going on so long.
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 255-0382
Lasqueti Island (current location): (604) 333-8810
e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca