[OPE-L:1553] capitalism and wage labor

Tony Smith (tonys@iastate.edu)
Tue, 26 Mar 1996 08:31:50 -0800

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A few comments on Marx's claim that wage labor in capitalism is necessary:
1. In his discussion of method in the GRUNDRISSE Marx
is quite explicit that he begins with the totality that is capitalism as
experienced in everyday life. He then abstracts to the simplest and
most abstract determinations of this totality, and then proceeds to
reconstruct capitalism in thought by moving to ever more complex and
concrete determinations. So as others have said he does not have to
deduce capitalism; it is there from the starting point.
2. This does not mean the derivation of the necessity of wage
labor in capitalism follows by definition. An argument must be
3. In the sort of theory Marx constructed there are *two* sorts
of arguments justifying transitions from one level to another:
"progressive" arguments that justify the transition on the grounds that
it is necessary given what has gone before, and "regressive"
justifications that justify the transition on the grounds that the move
is necessary to account for aspects of the concrete totality that have
yet to be comprehended. It would be nice if we had both sorts of
arguments for every transition, but the theoretical reconstruction in
thought of the concrete totality in question doesn't stand or fall on
4. So far the discussion of the derivation of wage labor on the
list has solely concerned what I have termed the "progressive" argument,
that is the argument that the introduction of wage labor is justified
because it is required by what has gone before in CAPITAL.
5. Whatever problems there may be in the "progressive"
justification for the introduction of wage labor, by themselves they do
not undermine this move if compelling "regressive" considerations can be
brought into play.
6. And so here is the question: are there any aspects of
capitalism introduced later in the theory that can only be comprehended
adequately if wage labor is introduced at this point? I am not sure of
how this question can best be answered. I suspect the strongest case
for an affirmative answer might have to do with the dynamic of technical
change. This is obviously an essential dimension of capitalism that has
to be accounted for. Marx presents a compelling argument that the
capital/wage labor relation does allow us to understand why the dynamic
of technical change is built-into capitalism. He also suggests in other
places that other social relations within which capital is accumulated
do not have this same dynamic. For instance, if any advance in
productiviyt introduced by independent producers would simply be
appropriated by landlords or usurers, then those independent producers
would not tend to ceaselessly introduce technological innovations. If
this line of reasoning is correct, the introduction of wage labor can be
justified, even if it does not follow logically from the M-C-M' circuit
that immediately proceeds it in Volume I.
Tony Smith (tonys@iastate.edu)