[OPE-L:225] RE: the book on wage labor

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Mon, 9 Oct 1995 09:58:12 -0700

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Here, again, I'll try not to repeat myself and hope I will not thereby
frustrate Paul. I think many of these issues at this point may be best
explored in the context of looking at CAPITAL.

In message Sun, 8 Oct 1995 14:12:55 -0700,
Paul Zarembka <ECOPAULZ@ubvms.cc.buffalo.edu> writes:

> On Sat, 7 Oct 1995, Michael A. Lebowitz wrote:
>> ... 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.
> If the value of labor power is determined by class struggle, what
> *theoretical issues* are raised--issues beyond descriptions and analysis
> of the historical record? Please list some of them, even if you feel you
> have covered them in one book and two articles. Thanks.
I've thought that I have been raising theoretical issues. Let me add one
which is implicit in the book and which I've never gotten around to writing
up and sending off. That is the suggestion that there is a missing variable
ic CAPITAL--- the degree of separation among workers (conversely, the degree
of unity), and that both the workday (positively) and the real wage
(inversely) are related to this. If one has this theoretical insight, it
offers a way of interrogating explicitly that historical record. Of course,
folks like Jim Devine (of the famous Devine and Reich piece) will recognise
this as old hat (or old Marglin), but I don't think the issue has been
pursued directly in relation to CAPITAL.

>>From Capital's point of view, the return of labor power to the market
> place requires x yards of clothing, y calories of food, z btu's of heat,
> some amusements to keep the bastards distracted, etc.

Yes, and Marx said over and over again that he would remove this
aosumption later. Eg., in the Appendix to the Vintage/Penguin Vol I
(1068-9): "The level of the necessaries of life whose total value
constitutes the value of labour-power can itself rise or fall. The analysis
of these variations, however, belongs not here but in the theory of wages."
Is it these statements by Marx that you are contesting?

> Capital always
> drives in this direction and increased productivity does not lead
> to give-aways.

h Yes, and workers always drive in the opposite direction (but not in

> So, I reject a statement such as the above: "the effect
> of a lower value of necessaries is an increase in the real wage of
> workers--- ie., productivity s move together!..." It MAY facilitate some
> concessions, particularly if you a world power and want to buy off the
> cannon fodder at home in order to extend the exploitation process abroad.
Workers are not paid in use-values. They are paid in money-wages. The
reduction in the values of necessaries increases the real value of those
wages, no? If not, I hope you'll explain why (either now or, perhaps more
appropriately, when we start going through CAPITAL).

> I cannot prove it right now, but I propose that productivity in the
> period of the past twenty years (the lifetimes of many of our students)
> has been rising AND real wages are going DOWN (so that the rate of surplus
> value is really moving upward). Some of the empirical work of Anwar
> Shaikh or Ed Wolff, e.g., bears this out.
I don't have any doubt that this is true (and not just on a US level).
My argument is that this is not occurring because productivity is rising as
s ch but, rather, because the increased technical composition of capital
affects both productivity and the reserve army.

>> > 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?
> Marx wrote Capital, because without revolutionary theory there will be no
> working class revolution. But the reverse is not correct: viz., that the
> absence of revolution is the (sole or mainly or whatever) fault of theory.
> I tend to think that there is a danger among academics of over-emphasizing
> the importance of theory (yet it is vitally important).
Never said it is the sole or whatever fault, but I did cite Engels on the
three forms of struggle and the importance of "placing the theoretical
struggle on a par with the first two" (political and economic). Anyway, I'm
in the "one step of real movement" camp, myself, although these are not
separate spheres.
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