[OPE-L:4453] Re: determination of real wages

Ajit Sinh (ecas@cc.newcastle.edu.au)
Thu, 20 Mar 1997 01:38:38 -0800 (PST)

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At 02:55 AM 3/19/97 -0800, Mike Lebowitz wrote:

> Ajit,
> 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.

Not really. It is a crucial theoretical position for Marx.
>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)

In my view, this quotation does not prove your point. When put in the
context, it, in my opinion, refutes your argument. So let's first
contextualize it. Your quotation above appears in the general 'chapter'
entitled 'The production process of capital', subsection entitled 'Value of
labour capacity. Minimum salary or Average Wage of Labour'. Before we come
to the paragraph,a part of which is quoted by Mike, let us see what Marx
says in the previous paragraph to that:

"Naturally, the means of subsistence needed by the workers to live as a
worker differ from one country to another and from one level of civilization
to another. Natural needs themselves, e.g. the need for nurishment,
clothing, housing, heating, are greater or smaller according to climatic
differences. Similarly, since the extentof the so-called primary
requirements for life and the manner of their satisfaction depend to a large
degree on the level of civilization of the society, are themselves the
product of history, the necessary means of subsistence in one country or
epoch include things not included in another. The range of these necessary
means of subsistence is, however, given in a particular country and a
particular period." (MCEW, vo. 30, p. 44)

The reader should note that this quotation is written in the context of how
is the real wages determined. I have quoted this paragraph not only to
highlight the "given" aspect of it, but more importantly to imphasize that
it is given for an "epoch". And of course, we all know what epoch means-- it
definetely does not mean such a small period as a period for wage contract
or a business cycles etc. But let's move on. Marx continues:

"Even the level of the VALUE of labour rises or falls when one compares
different epochs of the bourgeois period in the same country. Finally, the
market price of labour capacity at one time rises above and at another falls
below the level of its VALUE. This applies to labour capacity as to all
other commodities, and it is a matter of indifference here, where we are
proceeding from the presupposition that commodities are exchanged as
equivalents or realise their value in circulation." (Ibid, p. 44)

Of course, the level of the value of labour-power could rise or fall for
many reasons, technical change being only one and the obvious one. The rest
is, of course, the point I made in the earlier post, that the price of
labour-power fluctuates around the gravitational point given for any epoch.
In CAPITAL this fluctuation is explained on the basis of swings in business
cycles. Any way, after this comes the few lines that Mike quotes. For
reader's convenience, let me requote it:

"The problem of these movements in the level of the workes' needs, as also
that of the rise and fall of the market price of labour 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 labour." (Ibid, pp. 44)

Now, as I explained above, the rise and fall of market price of labor-power
is explained in capital as well as 1865 Lecture on the basis of business
cycle fluctuations. Therefore, Mike's all hopes now must hang on the first
half sentence, "the problem of these movements in the level of workers'
needs...". However, as we move further we find all hopes dashing to the
ground. In the next few pages Marx gives hints about the ways in which the
"needs" could be pushed down: one is replacing lower-grade commodities for
higher grade commodities; second is, to make wife and children of the worker
to work, since the subsistence of the workers incorporates subsistence for
his wife and children; third is, by reducing the period of apprenticeship or
its cost. In CAPITAL, Marx spends a lot of time on 'peice wages' as a means
of reducing the real wages. Here, as well as in other places he links real
wages directly to intensity and length of the working day in a manner that
gives credence to the idea that his wages are 'subsistence wage'. But for
our purpose here, it sufices to say that nowere around the passage that Mike
has quoted, Marx gives even a hint that these 'needs' vary in accordance to
the class struggle or the strenght of the trade unions.
> 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).

I would like to see the reference to the number (2) item. As far as first is
concerned, I think most of it got in CAPITAL. Second, if you wanna get into
this speculative business, then let me ask you: Why the Resultate was not
included in CAPITAL? Why the 'Introduction' in Grundrisse, which was written
for A Contribution to a Critique not included in it? In your six book plan,
where would Theories of Surplus Value fit? In your six book plan, the first
three books are straight away one book on each 'neoclassical' type factor of
production. Is it so unreasonable to think that Marx had moved away from
thinking in terms of capital, land, and labor being separate factors of
production? The questions can just keep on multiplying.

It is getting late in my office and heat is opressive today (I can't imagine
how I survived Patna and Delhi heat for so many years), so I'll respond to
the remaining post either tomorrow or next week. Sorry for this. Cheers,
ajit sinha
> 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,
> mike
>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
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