[OPE-L:2977] Re: Value of labour power and real wage

Hans Ehrba (ehrbar@marx.econ.utah.edu)
Fri, 6 Sep 1996 08:58:40 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

This is an answer to Jerry's [OPE-L:2955] and Riccardo's [OPE-L:2962].
Let me begin, ad nauseam, once more with my paragraph from [OPE-L:2862]:

> 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. Just as they would not go for slavery. No unions are
> necessary, no organization is necessary, they will oppose this *as
> one man*.

The basic point of Jerry's response in [OPE-L:2955] is:

> The basic point I was trying to make is that there is no
> reason to suppose that "atomized individual workers" will "automatically
> demand higher wages following increases in productivity."
> Workers' demands will certainly be _affected_ by the presence of
> unemployment, but the specific nature of those demands and responses will
> depend more critically on: a) whether there is trade union organization;
> b) the nature of the trade union "leadership" (and, therefore, the
> relation between the ranks and the "leadership"); c) the history of
> workers' struggles in a particular region or country. Consequently, one
> can not predict workers' responses independently of a class analysis which
> examines the specific history and nature of workers' struggles in
> particular regions, industries, and countries.

Here is my answer:

(a) Nobody on this list probably disagrees that all economic laws are
tendencial and can be overridden by other laws. I consider the
workers' sense of justice as an economic force, which contends with
other forces, and which may therefore not lead to the expected
outcomes. Perhaps one can even say that a sense of justice is by its
own nature more "recessive" than other forces; a person will accept
certain injustices if there is an emergency (but at the same time they
will be on the lookout whether it is a real emergency or a fake
emergency, which explains the many examples of delayed reactions). In
the light of this, I would make the following amendment to my
original statement:

> they will oppose this *as one person*, unless other circumstances
> are considered relevant enough to accept such injustice.

(b) Marx argued that one needs to know the class composition of
society in order to theorize demand and supply. Demand and supply are
so-to-say the ultimate surface phenomenon. I see you, Jerry, arguing
in the same way about the attitudes and actions of individuals. And
this seems to be in conformity with Marx, who starts with the
commodity and derives from it the consciousness of individuals. My
response to this is: just as society cannot be reduced to individuals,
so is it also true that individuals cannot be reduced to society.
Individual attitudes, the ways people see themselves and relate to
each other, are handed down from generation to generation and seem, if
anything, more stable, less prone to quick change, than social
structures. Mao said that it will take seven generations to turn
people into communists.

Marx's so-called derivations of human consciousness from the structure
of commodity production is what Bhaskar would call a second order
argument. Marx develops here a condition of the possibility of
capitalism. He argues: people must be gullible enough to be led to
believe so and so from such and such evidence for capitalism to work.
The only actual proof that people are such and such, however, which
Marx brings, is the existence of capitalism. This indirect argument
does not relieve us from the duty to figure out how people get
themselves to believe this crap etc. I was trying to introduce an
irreducible individual dimension into the debate.

I see Riccardo's response as a friendly amendment, trying to make
more precise what people's sense of justice latches on to:
do they think they are entitled to higher wages if they see
that productivity is higher and there is more to go around,
or do they only then think they are entitled to higher wages
if they themselves have to work harder? This is certainly
something to think about.

Hans Ehrbar.