[OPE-L:2586] Re: Classes and wage-labor

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Fri, 28 Jun 1996 14:57:53 -0700 (PDT)

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A brief reply to Andrew's [OPE-L:2584]:

> To answer these questions, I first have to note that I don't think of these
> questions in the same framework that Jerry seems to. He seems to be
> adopting some version of the stucturalist/Althusserian framework, in which
> there's an articulation of different "modes of production" within the same
> "social formation," with one of the modes (generally) being "dominant."
> What has emerged, historically, from this framework, is an endless prolifera-
> tion of "modes of production."

No, I wasn't adopting "some version of the structuralist/Althusserian
framework", although, I did use the word "articulation."

However, the concept that within particular societies there are frequently
elements of different and antagonistic modes of production is a concept
that goes way back before Althusser -- with Marx and Engels. It was also a
conceptual framework, perhaps used too frequently and in a a simplistic
manner, by the German Social Democrats, the Bolsheviks, and others.

> If I remember right, someone once did an
> analysis of a certain society that had four dozen or so "modes of production."
> Such are the problems that emerge when one tries to ignore historical
> process and thus to "define" things in a fixed way, independent of the
> process of their becoming. To avoid this trap, the key is to recognize
> *self*-contradiction.

Four dozen? Wow! That's a bit extreme. Yet, Marx himself identified
different modes of production as distinguishing "epochs marking progress
in the economic development of society" . (incidentally, Marx seems to
use the terms "mode of production" and "social formation" interchangeably
at times).

Of course, great debates among Marxists have developed over the issue of
defining and characterizing different modes of production (the most
notable examples being the debates over the "Asiatic mode of production").
A lot of debates on these subjects are still occurring among Marxist
anthropologists and political economists and economic historians concerned
with development, internationalization of capital, and imperialism.

> Accordingly, on the most general level, I'd say that both the family
> farmers and the slaves were proletarians and, and the same time, were not
> proletarians. This statement, however, is meaningless unless and until
> the *concrete* nature of the self-contradiction is explained.

Concretely ... family farmers *own and control* means of production. What
means of production do proletarians own and control? Isn't it in fact the
non-ownership of means of production that results in a class that is both
free to sell its labor power and be exploited by capitalists?

You seem to want to eliminate the characteristic of non-ownership and
control in defining class relations.

Of course, you could say that slaves did not own and control the means of
production, but they *themselves* became a commodity. With proletarians,
workers are "free" to sell their labor power as a commodity. Slaves
have no such freedom.

> simple way is to say: when it is treated as a commodity, considered as a
> commodity, *thought of* as separable from the person of the laborer. To
> a certain degree, this was already true of family farmers in the US in the
> mid-1800s. They, to some degree, thought of their labor-power as something
> to be "used" for external ends (actually, I don't know what they thought,
> but they treated their labor-power this way to some extent). One of the
> many ways we know this is that people would move from farm to factory or
> to the mechanic's workshop (or choose one as a trade) according to its
> advantages (largely pecuniary).

Small family farmers received income by selling commodities (to
capitalists, workers, other farmers, or others). The commodity
was not labor power, though (this would not change until you saw the
emergence of large-scale capitalist production in agriculture and the
emergence of an agricultural proletariat). They, like capitalists,
*produced* commodities which *they themselves sold* on the market.
(BTW, Marx wrote quite a bit on the US -- since has was after all a
reporter for a New York newspaper for a while. Did he ever refer to small
farmers as proletarians?).

> Let me also briefly respond to another point Jerry made in a related post.
> He maintains that kids whose parents hire them out to capitalists are
> proletarians *becuase* the wage relation is present. But this is not what
> we mean, generally, by the "wage." The wage is the payment to the OWNER
> of "labor" for the use of his/her "service." (Or one can use Marxist
> terminology.) The parents are actually being paid something akin to a
> "delivery charge." Of course, I'm restricting myself here to the "wage"
> as a phenomenal form.

The wage is paid to an individual. Who owns the money is another
question. What "entitles" parents to the money earned by their children is
the authoritarian structure of the family (and "custom" and "habits"
particular to different societies as codified in bourgeois law). In a
similar way, in many societies husbands were legally entitled to any
income earned by a spouse.

In OPE-L Solidarity,