[OPE-L:1665] RE: capitalism and wage labor

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Tue, 2 Apr 1996 00:56:55 -0800

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In message Tue, 26 Mar 1996 08:31:50 -0800,
Tony Smith <tonys@iastate.edu> writes:

> 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
> that.
> 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.

I'm having a bit of difficulty grasping Tony's argument here. Is it that
the "progressive" and "regressive" arguments are alternatives or
substitutes--- and that at any point where the former is inadequate, it is
possible to substitute the latter? While I think the articulation of the two
considerations is important, I read something quite different into their
relation. Eg., I would argue that if compelling regressive considerations
for the introduction of the purchase of labour-power are present (which I
believe is true), then this makes it *all the more essential* that the
introduction of the purchase of labour-power must be demonstrated to flow
from the categories which precede it. This follows from my own understanding
of how Marx proceeded to grasp capitalism as a totality--- by deducing the
categories from each other, taking special care not to introduce categories
exogenously or to omit essential links, the intermediate terms. If, indeed,
every step of the argument flows from the preceding steps, then what follows
would seem to be quite path-dependent, with slight variations in the early
argument producing more significant differences at later stages. In such a
case, how would the "regressive" form of argument serve as a substitute?
With respect to the matter in question, both Gil and I have argued that
the "progressive" argument in Capital for the purchase of wage-labour is
inadequate. We may disagree, however, on what is accordingly to be done.
Whereas Gil (1561) is inclined to "jettison the invalid argument entirely"
and perhaps to substitute a "regressive" alternative (his
"historical-strategic" reading--- although I'm not certain this is a
"regressive" account), I on the other hand emphasize the need for a
*better* progressive derivation (which I did in 1522) precisely because I
think that Marx's method and the power of his conclusions require a
rejection of eclectic considerations and accommodations (even his).
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
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e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca