[OPE-L:212] more about the book on wage labor

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Sat, 7 Oct 1995 17:47:50 -0700

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Sorry for taking so long to get back on some of the messages on the book
on wage labour and assorted matters. Unfortunately, the house where one of
my daughters lived burned down (no one hurt), which sent me back into town
for a few days. I'll try to answer points raised briefly.

In #180, John Ernst suggested that my arguments about the book on wage
labour point to the incompleteness of CAPITAL. I think there are 2 questions
here. One is the incompleteness of CAPITAL as a representation of
capitalism. Talking about the books on wage-labour, the state, etc
underlines this. The second question, however, is the one that John is
especially concerned with is the incompleteness of CAPITAL in itself (ie.,
the problems, gaps, etc in its representation of capital). I think there are
serious problems here as well and expect we will explore these at the
appropriate point.

In #185, Gil Skillman offered a different language for some of the points I
was making. I didn't have a problem with that. However, I did with the
following statement:

> 2) To the extent that the "value of labor power" is defined to
> include such things as depreciation of "human capital" or
> intergenerational reproduction of labor power, the market for labor
> power has the aspect of a "commons", with all of the obnoxious
> implications traditionally associated with that arrangement. E.g, an
> *individual* capitalist has reduced incentive to pay the "value of
> labor power" as defined above to the extent that the capitalist can
> replace a "worn-out" worker with a new one fresh off the market.
> Clearly the degree of this problem is determined by the size of the
> industrial reserve army. This makes the traditional notion of "value
> of labor power" problematic at best: a modern illustration of this
> is the willingness of US capitalism to underfund public education
> drastically.
The problem (of the "commons") that Gil describes is a problem inherent
in capitalism. It is the problem that Marx describes (VI,Ch 10,S5) of "every
capitalist and of every capitalist nation" with respect to the health of
workers (Vintage,381). However, it doesn't pertain to the "value of
labour-power" as Marx conceived it, which is based upon needs normally
satisfied (themselves determined by the course of class struggle). Gil and I
may be in agreement, though, in rejecting the conception that the value of
labour-power has something to do necessarily with replacing worn-out

> 3) In early or emergent capitalism, the "value of labor power" as
> traditionally understood is to some extent supported by the existence
> of a peasant, artisan, or other small-holding class. Once the
> process of capitalist development has wiped out this class, a
> two-fold mechanism takes its place: the underground economy and
> welfare (the dole). The latter have a much different, much more
> fundamentally political, logic of operation.
This seems like a subject that should be put on our list. In the context
of new phenomena like unfree immigrant labour (contract workers, etc), there
are quite a few things to explore.
Finally, I of course welcome Gil's support of my basic argument.
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