[OPE-L:213] RE: the book on wage labor

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Sat, 7 Oct 1995 17:53:32 -0700

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In message Mon, 2 Oct 1995 10:57:11 -0700,
Paul Zarembka <ECOPAULZ@ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu> writes:

> On Sun, 1 Oct 1995, Michael A. Lebowitz wrote:
> For the moment take as given that your analysis of Capital is correct.
> What would a book of wages (exchange value of labor power) discuss. What
> would be the difference from discussing the histories of
> different labor movements (or lack thereof). Presumably you want to
> develop "theory", but please give me some idea of what that theory might
> be.
I've tried in my book to explore some of the questions that I think a
book on wage-labour would/should include (drawing upon what is latent in
CAPITAL and upon Marx's other writings). One inference, certainly, is that
the value of labour power is dtermined by class struggle and that Marx's
assumption in CAPITAL ("to avoid confounding everything") that the standard
of necessity is given, once removed, opens up a number of critical
questions. Aside from what I have to say below, the theoretical issues can
be seen in the book and in the 2 articles available at csf via gopher.

>> .... I could go on-- most of this is in [M.L.'s] 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?!
> Production of relative surplus value is struggle on the part of capital
> to devalue the exchange value of labor power. That struggle does not go
> away because workers are also struggling over the level of necessaries.
I think I was too terse in my above statement. Yes, production of
relative surplus value is capital's struggle to reduce the necessary portion
of a given work-day and that struggle does not go away because workers are
pushing in the opposite direction (not discussed in CAPITAL). However, the
standard story is that productivity increases in the production of
necessaries lowers the value of labour-power because the necessaries
themselves are lowered in value. But, what exactly is the mediating argument
by which this occurs? As I argue in Ch. 5, it depends critically on the
assumption that needs are fixed and given (and I cite Marx's argument from
the Grundrisse on this). If they are allowed to vary, on the other hand, (as
Marx intended for the book on WL), then the effect of a lower value of
necessaries is an increase in the real wage of workers--- ie., productivity
increases and real wages move together! So, I ask, then, if real wages and
productivity are increasing at the same rate, where is the reduction in the
necessary portion of the workday and thus the increase in relative surplus
value? There is none! I argue that there is a basis for relative surplus
value that the assumption of given needs has obscured completely, however:
the necessary condition that money wages rise less rapidly than productivity
increases is a product of not productivity increases as such but, rather, of
the displacement of workers by machinery, the effect of same on the degree
of separation of workers,etc---ie., class struggle comes to the fore rather
than an implicit concept of being able to produce an inert human input more

> >> ... 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.
> Huh, capitalism continues to exist because of "the failure of workers (...
> revolutionaries) to comprehend the nature of capital"?! Sounds pretty
> idealistic to me. If only our theory were better, we'd have socialism?

If this is idealism (and thus contrary to Marx), then why did Marx write
CAPITAL? Why did he sacrifice family and health to the completion of Vol. I?
I happen to reject deterministic and economistic arguments such as those
encapsulated by Gerry Cohen in his 'defence" of one-sided Marxism to the
effect that capitalism "persists because and as long as it is optimal for
further development of productive power..." (See Ch. 7 for my argument on
this.) Of course, it's not just our theory that needs to be better. Our
practice needs to be informed by better theory, too.

> What about guns? Aren't you expecting too much from the book on wages.
> [Maybe you'll respond that I am quoting you too literally; I hope so.]
I should make it clear. I don't want a book on wages. Rather, I want us
to be sensitive to all the implications of its absence, and that is what I
was trying to do in my book. As for the guns part, well I do cite Gramsci on
the importance of "politico-military" forces in the context of my critique
of Cohen's statement. 8-)

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