[OPE-L:2957] Re: Value of labour power and real wage

Gil Skillman (gskillman@wesleyan.edu)
Wed, 4 Sep 1996 08:17:01 -0700 (PDT)

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Hans writes:

>Here is my answer to your responses to my postings [OPE-L:2862] etc. You
>will find that I am unrepentant.

That's all right, repentance is both rare and overrated.

In response to my greeting,

>>Hi, Hans. I'm glad you've joined us.

Hans replies:

>Hi Gil. Yes I thought you needed some Marxists here.

I am of course used to the suggestion that I'm not a Marxist, and by
traditional measures I guess I'm not one. But I'm interested in Hans's
apparent suggestion that there were no Marxists (even by traditional
standards) on the list before he joined. Do you mean to imply this, Hans?

>>>(1) The capitalist class cannot afford to cream off all the benefits
>>>of rising technology for themselves because capitalism depends
>>>on the system appearing fair in some way to the workers, and this
>>>would be considered patently unfair. (Remember, the workers think
>>>they are paid for their labor, not their labor power).
>>This statement appears to take as given a premise I find doubly problematic.
>>First, it's far from obvious that "capitalism depends on the system
>>appearing fair in some way to the workers," although the latter may be
>>sufficient to preclude proletarian revolution. To name just three
>>counter-hypotheses with support from public opinion surveys, workers may
>>find income distribution unfair but oppose redistributive mechanisms like
>>highly progressive taxes in the absurd hope that they will "hit the jackpot"
>>some day; or believe "you can't fight city hall"; or believe the problem is
>>illegal immigration, imports, or the current administration rather than
>>capitalism per se.
>The system makes a lot of people very unhappy. They cannot properly
>care for their children. There is a lot of rage. If you think that
>the belief the workers will "hit the jackpot" keeps them from
>rebelling, a belief which you yourself call "absurd", you must
>consider the workers quite stupid.

I agree with the first three sentences. The last sentence uses an old
debating ploy to achieve a cheap rhetorical effect and thus to avoid
addressing the question at issue. Nothing I said can be taken to suggest a
belief that workers as a class are stupid. [Below, Hans himself will
indirectly suggest a point similar to the one he is now attacking.] What
Hans does ignore is the central point, which is that unhappiness, inability
to care properly for one's children, and rage unfortunately do not of
themselves imply class consensus on the need to overthrow capitalism. [If
they did our work would be much easier.] Nor, as far as I can tell, does
what evidence that exists indicate such a consensus. If there is evidence
to the contrary I would like to hear it.

>>Second, even granting the necessity of workers perceiving capitalism as
>>"fair", I don't see that the perception of fairness turns on whether
>>"workers think they are paid for their labor, not their labor power), and to
>>suggest otherwise is to reify Marxian theoretical concepts without
>>justification. For example, even if there were a powerful Public
>>Broadcasting System, narrated by Walter Cronkite, watched by all workers,
>>which clearly showed based on Marx's reasoning in Vol. I that workers were
>>paid for their labor power rather than their labor, I doubt highly that
>>workers would then rise up in a body to overthrow capitalism.
>In order to overthrow capitalism, workers would need to build an
>organization. But it is my firm belief that if workers clearly
>understood the thing with labor power, they would not sit around
>playing poker or "check pool", they would instead sit in their
>basements and plot about how to overthrow the system.

That's fine. If it's a question of "firm belief" rather than evidence,
there is no reason to argue further.

>>For example, since the so-called Fundamental Marxian Theorem is *entirely
>>consistent* with a Smithian conception of profit as a return to risk or the
>>neoclassical conception of interest as a return to impatient time
>>preferences, workers hearing the program envisioned above could be pacified
>>by these justifications for capitalist appropriation of surplus value.
>If the workers understood clearly that they are producing much more than
>what they get paid in their pay checks, and if the economists
>explained them exactly how the flow of surplus value from production
>makes everybody rich but them, that risk and impatience business
>would be laughed out of the door.

Possibly. Hopefully. Certainly?

>>>A related situation was pointed out I think first by Burawoy: The
>>>capitalist production process has not embraced Taylorism as Marx had
>>>predicted because Taylorism makes it too obvious to the workers
>>>that they sell their labor power and not their labor.
>>Again, this seems to take as gospel an explanation I see as at least
>>problematic, and in this particular case at least one step removed from what
>>actually happened. There is a much more direct explanation for why
>>Taylorism failed: it didn't work, and agency theory provides a direct
>>explanation why: if workers have superior information about how production
>>actually works, they can easily circumvent attempts to force them to reveal
>>this information (especially once they learn from the infamous Schmidt's
>>negative example). And workers *did* circumvent Taylorist interventions:
>>they did slowdowns, they broke machines, they created costly political and
>>industrial unrest, etc. (P.S.: so far as I can tell no workers testifying
>>before Congress said anything like, "I found to my horror that we were
>>actually paid for our labor power, not our labor")
>Why did they get so mad at Taylorism, and not at all other forms
>of exploitation? Do you really believe this madness was only set
>in scene in order to prevent the time study people to find out how
>quickly they could do their jobs?

Well, perhaps more broadly workers were struggling to maintain some degree
of autonomy in their work. But again: I don't see that workers opposing
Taylorism were specifically moved by the question of whether they were paid
for their labor or their labor power. I was hoping for some reference to
evidence rather than these rhetorical questions.

>>This is why Taylorism was supplanted by so-called scientific management and
>>other technologically and bureaucratically oriented forms of labor extraction.
>>>But this need to maintain rising real wages with rising technology
>>>clashes with the immiseration tendency, which I am not willing
>>>to throw overboard.
>>Neither am I, as a hypothesis about a sufficiently developed stage of
>>(globalized) capitalism. But it seems clear that either the immiseration
>>hypothesis or that of the tendentially falling rate of profit must go.
>I don't follow you on this one, but I am sure it will come up
>again in the OPE discussions.


>>Gil in [OPE-L:2881]
>>Hans writes:
>>>Excuse my exuberance, I am so happy to be on this list. I will try to
>>>be more serious and also more specific. If the capitalists introduce
>>>new machinery, so that the workers see that they are producing more,
>>>and at the same time real wages are not rising, then this will be
>>>taken as such an affront by the workers that they will simply not go
>>>for it.
>>Hans, I share the exuberance over your presence on the list, but not your
>>conclusions. You state this claim as if it were a theorem, but I don't see
>>it. Capitalists in the US have been introducing new machinery right along,
>>and real wages have been falling since the late 1970s. If workers have
>>taken this as an "affront", it has been on strictly individual terms and not
>>as a self-conscious class, and they have most certainly "gone for it" for
>>almost 20 years. In 1994 they helped elect a Congress (as we have now seen)
>>sure to make the situation even worse.
>This only shows how long it takes for workers to change their views
>about capitalism. Right now the working class is as restless as ever.
>It is a communist's dream. Marx's theories haven't been as obviously
>true in a long time. And the academics are sitting around deconstructing
>or neoclassifying or overdeterminationing Marx's theories, instead of
>helping the workers to organize.

In what way do workers need the help of academics in order to organize?

Below, you tell us that in the face of capitalism's insults workers will
rise up against it "*as one man*", without the need for unions or
organization. Does the wording of the present mini-polemic against
academics suggest you've changed this view?

>>> Just as they would not go for slavery.
>>I don't see the claimed equivalence.
>If someone were to reintroduce slavery today in the United States,
>they would have the same problem with everybody which the original
>slave holders had only with the American Indians: people would rather
>die than live in slavery.

The implication being that workers would rather die than live under capitalism?

>>> No unions are
>>>necessary, no organization is necessary, they will oppose this *as
>>>one man*.
>>But they haven't.
>As I wrote in my answer to Jerry's post, there may be other influences
>at work which may prevent them from doing it. But the tendency is
>clearly there.

I hope that's true, but there's a great distance between your earlier claim
and this notion of "tendency".

>>> All the time the capitalists told them: we cannot pay you
>>>more because there is not more to go around. Now they see that there
>>>is more to go around, and they will demand at least a part of it.
>>But they haven't.
>Capitalism has lost a lot of the goodwill and admiration of the
>population here in the US.

This means that capitalism once had at least "a lot" of goodwill and
admiration to lose among the population here in the U.S. When I made a
related point earlier Hans suggested this meant I thought workers were
"quite stupid". Since Hans claims that at least until recently workers
haven't figured out that they're being paid for their labor power rather
than their labor, may I infer that he believes workers to be quite stupid?

>>In puzzlement, Gil
>Keep on puzzling. That is what you are being paid for. Hans.

No more or less than you, Hans. Last I looked we were doing the same gig.

This is certainly a fun way to argue: engage someone's points concerning
the logical and evidential basis for their positions, and then because you
seemingly do not share your discussant's "firm beliefs" about how the world
works, be subjected to suggestions that you think workers are stupid, that
you solve puzzles for a living, and that you spend the day "deconstructing,
overdetermining and neoclassifying" rather than helping workers to organize.
Better yet, you're subjected to this just after being informed that workers
won't need any help organizing.

Fun, but so far as I can see, pointless.

In solidarity, Gil