[OPE-L:4666] Re: real wages and the rate of surplus value

Ajit Sinh (ecas@cc.newcastle.edu.au)
Tue, 8 Apr 1997 00:43:30 -0700 (PDT)

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At 06:38 AM 4/7/97 -0700, Jerry Levy wrote:

>Ajit wrote in [OPE-L:4655]:
>> However, the passage you have quoted from 'Resultate' confirms exactly my
>> point rather than Mike's or yours. Nowhere Marx indicates that trade union
>> struggles would succeed in raising the real wages over a secular time
>> period. [...]
>My point concerned the logical structure of _Capital_ and the theoretical
>status of workers' struggles and self-activity.

And what are they?
>I have a very simple question for you: [irrespective of what Marx did or
>did not write so that we don't get into a long exchange of Marx quotes]:
>can trade union struggles succeed in raising real wages over time?

If productivity is rising, then answer is yes.
>If you answer "yes", then I have a couple of follow-up questions:
>(1) where was this subject developed more concretely in _Capital_?

Nowhere. For simple reason. In Marx's scheme of things, wages were not
supposed to rise but fall. You should keep in mind that Marx also believed
in falling rate of profit over time. So accumulation, on the one hand, was
supposed to "set labour free" at an increasing rate, and on the other hand,
reduce the rate of profit meaning the rate of growth of the system. Thus in
Marx's scheme the nature of capitalist development was such that there would
be a downward pressure on wages. Trade unions could fight and resist this
downward trend but they could not turn the historical tendency around. But
this does not mean that Marx's theory is hopeless in the face of rising real
wages. Because, both his conclusions were based on faulty notion of increase
in organic composition of capital and its relation with the rate of surplus
value. Thus the results are not the logical necessity of the basic
theoretical structure. As I argued with Mike Lebowitz, both these historical
tendencies are not particularly Marx's. Most of the classical economists
held these tendencies to be the historical tendency of capitalist
accumulation. This was considered an empirical fact. Marx was simply trying
to come up with a theoretical explanation for this from his own perspective.
>(2) From a _logical_ perspective, does this subject require greater
>concretization? I.e. a) *if* we take real wages as "given" at a particular
>moment of time, aren't we required logically to explain how and where
>real wages are NOT given; and b) where logically, in terms of an order of
>presentation, would such a subject be developed?

This is a question of relative autonomy. Althusserians, in my opinion, are
better placed to deal with such questions. We will have to develop a theory
of wages that takes into account a long-term historical perspective. For
Marx's own theoretical perspective, it was important to have real wages or
rather the wage basket given from outside the market for commodities. If the
value/prices of production of labour-power was determined according to the
'law of value', then he could not hold the proposition that the 'reserve
army of labour' is a persistent and structural aspect of capitalism.
>> [...] By the way,
>> where did Marx say that he was going to write 'a history of trade union
>> movement in England'?
>Nowhere, that I know of. The issue I posed before did not concern
>developing a conjunctural account of the role of trade unions within a
>given social formation. Rather, it concerned the place within a systematic
>dialectical investigation of the capitalist mode of production where the
>subject of trade unions and the self-activity of workers is incorporated
>and developed within that theory.
>> Where is women's movement discussed by Marx?
>Not in _Capital_.
>> Let us not confuse issues. Are
>> we talking about Marx's writings or we talking about contemporary western
>> culture? I thought we were discussing Marx's writings, particularly from
>> 1861 onwords.
>I agree that clarification is required in order to avoid confusion. *Part*
>of what we have been discussing is the meaning of real wages in Marx's
>writings. Another part, at least the part I am most interested in
>discussing, concerns the determination of real wages within a systematic
>investigation of the bourgeois mode of production. To be sure, to be able
>to discuss *my* question, we also have to discuss *your* question. Yet,
>although they are inter-related questions (explanation and critique of
>Marx + further development of categories of concretion related to
>conceptualizing capitalism), they are also somewhat different questions.

I think I answered these issues above.
>> The questions we are dealing with relates to 'normal'
>> situations within capitalist economies and not abnormal or revolutionary
>> situations.
>I think that a *dynamic* theory has to explain both the "normal" and the
>"abnormal". I.e. rather than simply assert that the "normal" is a given,
>theory must explain *deviations* from the "normal" and the _process_
>whereby the normal is reproduced and _altered_.

I think it is quite unsafe to try and develop a theory of historical
changes. Historical changes to a great extent depend on chance factors--a
throw of dice. I would rather shy away from developing a theory about
'abnormality' that may develop in the future.

>Re the rate of exploitation:
>> All your arguments seem to be a simple statement that capitalism cannot
>> function without money. Now, who in the world has denied that point. I,
>> for
>> sure, have never did that. You need to come up with arguments against the
>> theoretical problems I have raised regarding the measurement of 'values' or
>> 'labor contents' by arbitrary money-commodity. You haven't done that.
>I *thought* I responded to your question. My basic point is that c, v, and
>s must all be expressed as *money* magnitudes because of the nature of the

But they can also be expressed as labor magnitudes, independent of money.
Now, when you measure them in money a descripancy between the two measures
arises. The question is why should the money-measure be preferred over the
>> As far
>> as your questions regarding whether goods are sold or not is concerned.
>> Keep
>> in mind that Marx distinguishes between 'market prices' and prices of
>> production. Prices of productions are the gravitational points around which
>> the 'market prices' are supposed to fluctuate. The fluctualtions would bring
>> about the allocation of labor such that realization problem would vanish at
>> the prices of production. This is the "law" part of the 'law of value'.
>I don't agree. I see no textual or logical basis for asserting, *except by
>assumption*, that commodity values will necessarily become realized. As
>for PoP and market prices, I think we should ask *if* and/or *how*
>PoP become _tendencially_ realized. For us to answer that question, a
>dynamic analysis is required rather than a comparative statics analysis.

The point is that prices of production are so defined that, given the
parameters of the system, the competitive forces of the system would ensure
realization of values at that prices. That's all we need for the limited
proposition we are making.

Cheers, ajit sinha