[OPE-L:4437] Re: determination of real wages

Michael_A._Lebowit (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Wed, 19 Mar 1997 02:55:04 -0800 (PST)

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In message Wed, 19 Mar 1997 00:02:43 -0800 (PST),
Ajit Sinha <ecas@cc.newcastle.edu.au> writes:

> The variable on which the class-struggle makes a positive impact
> is the length of the working day.

The reason you stress class struggle in relation to the working day but
*not* the determination of the wage is because Marx did that in CAPITAL.
However, as you must know, Marx treated the standard of necessity as
given for a given country and time simply as an *assumption* in CAPITAL. He
made this assumption, as he noted, to avoid "confounding everything" and he
indicated that he would remove it in Wage-Labour. In addition to the
citations in my book on this point, there is Marx's statement in the
Economic Manuscript of 1861-63 (which was not available at the time of
writing but which confirmed my argument):

"The problem of these movements in the level of the workers' needs, as
also that of the rise and fall of the market-price of labor capacity above
or below this level, do not belong here, where the general capital-relation
is to be developed, but in the doctrine of the wages of labor.... All
questions relating to it as not a given but a variable magnitude belong to
the investigation of wage labor in particular and do not touch its general
relationship to capital."(MECW, Vol. 30, pp.44-5)

Further, all those arguments which say that Marx subsequently changed
his plan and incorporated the desired material in CAPITAL have to explain
both (1) why the above discussion that Marx kept talking about did not seem
to get into CAPITAL and (2) why Marx referred in CAPITAL to "the special
study of wage labour", which was separate "to this work" (Vol. I, Ch.20,
Vintage: 683).

Once we recognise that assumption in CAPITAL, we have to be quite
careful about how we interpret the argument in that first part of Marx's
Economics. With reference to your argument on this occasion, we certainly
have to be aware, eg, that in Value, Price and Profit, Marx talks about how
*both* wages and the workday are the product of the capitalist pushing one
way and the worker pressing in the opposite direction. Similarly, to cite
just one more example, we should recognise Marx's argument in TSV III that
workers struggle against having their wages driven down; "on the contrary,
they achieve a certain quantitative participation in the general growth of
wealth." Finally, come back to the Irish and English workers (you didn't
think I'd let you get away without responding to this, did you?): if, as you
say, the standard of necessity is determined by the particular conditions
at the time in which the specific proletariat was formed (ie., by original
sin), then why did Marx make the statements he did about the division
between Irish and English workers and about how the competition was driving
the wages of the latter down. How could it---given your understanding of
his position? In short, despite the grain of salt you proposed as an
accompaniment earlier, I think it is quite clear that for Marx wages
were determined by class struggle.

You go on to say with respect to our differences:

> The difference arises when you go another step to claim that this
> simply couldn't be the whole story, and so there must be a missing book
> on wage labour which would compliment the book on capital.

On this question, I think the evidence from Marx is quite clear. What may
be in question is what I infer/deduce as its necessary contents and the
implications I draw from this.

> The basic
> problem I have with your thesis is that you take 'capital' to be a
> synonym for 'capitalist', as you claim that CAPITAL is written from the
> point of view of capital. But as i understand it, capital is a relation,
> and is not a synonym for capitalist with a will and desire etc. So it
> simply cannot have a "point of view".

This is a misinterpretation of my argument. I argue that CAPITAL is
one-sided in that it explores the capital-relation only from the side of
capital, that it looks upon the worker not as subject, and its focus is on
class struggle from the side of capital but not from the side of the
worker. As the result of not examining workers needs and their struggles to
realise them, you end up with what I called "one-sided Marxism" (in the
chapter by that title): "It cannot be considered surprising that inexorably
rising organic compositions of capital and a falling rate of profit displace
consideration of workers' struggles when the latter are not developed as an
essential element within capitalism as a whole. [Hmmm, sounds a bit like
OPE-L!] In place of the centrality of class struggle productive forces march
until they march no more."(BEYOND CAPITAL,p. 84) This is an argument that
CAPITAL is an incomplete epistemological project rather than that it is
written from (and takes) the point of view of the capitalist.

> Marx's work is more akin to
> structuralist/post-structuralist theorising. Capital is a complex
> articulation of relations. It does not have a point of view as any
> individual subject does. The story in capital is as complete or
> incomplete as a story can be; it does not, however, need the point of
> view of the other protagonist for its completion. This is the most
> fundamental difference between us.

Yes, that is a, perhaps the, fundamental difference. Yours is a story of a
process without subjects (actually a structure without process or subjects)
and mine is one which focusses upon class struggle, upon workers as subjects
in struggle against the structures that capital attempts to impose, upon the
way in which they transform themselves in that very process of attempting to
alter circumstances. I do not, in short, believe (as you do) that CAPITAL
presents Marx's view of capitalism as a whole, that he completes the
It would be interesting to explore such questions further. I'll be away
from most of my source material for the next 2 weeks but am taking my laptop
and hope to be able to participate fully (without, however, all the quotes).

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) 872-0494; Home fax (with warning): (604) 872-0485
Lasqueti Island (250) 333-8810