[OPE-L:1493] Lapides and Marx's wage theory

michael a. lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Mon, 18 Oct 1999 12:59:23 -0700

        Last month, Ajit provided us with a review of Kenneth Lapides' book on
Marx's wage theory, which set off a bit of an exchange between Paul Z and
Ajit, culminating in Lapides' response to Ajit's review, which Paul
forwarded to the list.
        Given Paul's and Ajit's agreement (despite other differences) that Lapides
had settled once and for all the question of a missing book on wage-labour,
my own earlier arguments on this (developed in Beyond Capital) and a
subsequent clash with Lapides on the subject, you can understand that the
discussion captured my attention. I've now had a chance to look at the book
and, while I haven't read the whole work carefully, I do have some definite
reactions. Firstly, it was an excellent idea for a book. There is a very
useful account of wage theories before Marx and, since Lapides is a good
assembler of quotations, he brings out well Marx's focus on relative wages
in his early writings. The problems, however, seem to begin from the point
when he addresses the Grundrisse and the 1861-3 Mss. (Ch. 8). Determined to
attack the idea of the book on wage-labour and any suggestion that Marx's
wage theory was not complete, he runs into serious problems (perhaps
because of weaknesses re economics and dialectics). Since what I find most
disturbing, however, is the appearance of scholarly dishonesty (not a
suggestion I make lightly), I'll focus mainly on the evidence Lapides
presents (and buries) relevant to the question at hand.
        First, though, let me point out that Lapides notes in his Ch. 11 ("Is
there a 'Missing Book' on Wage Labor?") that there are those (R. Wilbrandt,
M. Rubel and the writer among them) who have claimed there is a missing
book and that Marx's wage theory is incomplete. Since he sees this
proposition as (among other things) a version of the "misconception that
Marx ignored or was contemptuous of the workers' wage struggle" (233),
Lapides indicates (211) that "to complete this study of his [Marx's] wage
theory we must examine the evidence marshalled on behalf of these opposing
arguments…." Unfortunately, however, Lapides does _not_ examine and respond
to that "evidence" at all. Rather, he simply dismisses people who have
taken that contrary position and then returns to telling his own story of
the evolution of Marx's plan for Capital. Thus, although commenting that I
embraced the thesis of the missing book "though with no more success than
Rubel in uncovering any evidence for this or providing a credible argument"
(216), Lapides makes no effort to counter the evidence marshalled nor does
he respond. This silence is particularly striking because my Spring 1993
Science & Society article, "The 'Book on Wage Labor' and Marxist
Scholarship," is an explicit critique of Lapides' work on this very subject
in his earlier S&S article (Summer 1992) and a restatement of the case for
a missing book. Not content with ignoring that evidence and argument,
however, he also includes no reference to this article in his text or
bibliography. In this respect, he is simply repeating his earlier
behaviour--- he did not respond to that earlier critique in S&S despite
being invited to by the editor.
        While some of that earlier argument is particularly relevant at this time,
I think it appropriate to return to this after having traced Lapides' own
discussion on this matter in his book.

1. The Grundrisse
        When considering the Grundrisse, Lapides acknowledges that there are
several points where Marx deferred taking up the question of wages,
"disclosing instead an intention (that went unfulfilled) to discuss them in
a separate section or chapter" (145). Yet, Lapides stresses that these
references "have been misconstrued by some writers as evidence that later
he planned to produce a separate work dealing with wage labor…" (145). One
such reference that Lapides offers is the extended quote from Marx which
indicates that the standard of necessity would be treated as given and that
consideration of changes in that standard 'belongs altogether to the
chapter treating of wages-labour' (146). He also cites Marx's April 1858
letter to Engels at the time indicating that 'wages are invariably assumed
to be at their minimum' (145)--- although he here drops the portion of that
letter (using an elipse) where Marx reinforces his Grundrisse point:
'movements in wages themselves and the rise and fall of the minimum will be
considered under wage labor.' (Later, on p. 219, he does quote this point.)
It may be significant to point out that Marx's reference to "the chapter
treating of wage-labour" occurs in the context of his "chapter" on capital
(which comprises over 600 pages in the Penguin/Vintage edition).

2. The Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy
        Lapides acknowledges that in the 1859 "Preface" (and in letters to
friends), Marx described his plan for dividing his work into 6 sections or
books (one of which was the work on wage-labour). "After 1859, however, he
no longer mentioned dividing his analysis in this way…" (212). He returns
to this point after citing Marx in 1859 on his six-part plan and states,"In
the years to come there is _not a single further reference_ to this
six-part outline or to any book on wage labor that Marx was planning" (220.
Emphasis in the original.)

3. After The Contribution
        Lapides (221) calls attention to an 1860 outline ("overlooked in all
previous studies of the evolution of his economic analysis") showing Marx
intended to include topics such as "labour capacity" and "average wages".
He comments that "the existence of this outline is persuasive evidence that
Marx had abandoned the six-part plan and any thoughts of a separate,
logically distinct treatment of wage labor" (222). Examination of this
outline (CW, Vol. 29, pp.511-17), however, makes it quite clear that the
outline was explicitly meant for the continuation of the Contribution
(which we know was not inconsistent with the 6-book plan). Further, under
the heading "average wages", Marx noted: "In our examination it is
necessary _to assume the minimum_" (CW, 29, p.512). This point, which
Lapides ignores, is a good indication that Marx had not (yet, at least)
changed his view that the occasion for considering changes in the minimum
or the standard of necessity would be in a work other than the one he was

4. The Economic Manuscript of 1861-63
        Lapides (152-3) discusses Marx's comments on the value of labour power
(from Collected Works, Vol. 30, pp. 42-46). However, he somehow seems to
miss on those same pages Marx's further remarks on changes in workers'
needs and how they were not properly part of the analysis of capital:

"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 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….All questions
relating to it as not a given but a variable magnitude belong to the
investigation of wage labour in particular and do not touch its general
relationship to capital" (pp. 44-5).

        Lapides' suppression of this passage is particularly surprising. For one,
Marx continues to stress in this manuscript that his exploration of capital
assumes an unchanged standard of necessity and thus, in looking at the
effects of machinery, e.g., focuses only on "the cheapening of the means of
subsistence entering into the workers' consumption". Accordingly, "insofar
as machinery brings about a direct reduction of wages for the workers
employed by it, by e.g. using the demand of those rendered unemployed to
force down the wages of those in employment, it is not part of our task to
deal with this CASE. It belongs to the theory of wages" (CW, Vol. 34, p.
23). Another reason for surprise over Lapides' failure to consider the
passage in question will be noted later. Lapides' only other comment about
this manuscript on the matter of a missing discussion is to note (222) that
Marx "does occasionally refer to a 'chapter on wages' (never a 'book on
wage labour')"; he footnotes (235) this comment as follows: "Since Capital,
volume 1, has several chapters on wages, these references do not suggest
any intention to produce a separate work on the subject."
5. Results of the Direct Process of Production/ Capital
        Considering, first, this portion of a mss. written apparently some time
between June 1863 and December 1866, Lapides stresses Marx's comments upon
the importance of trade unions. The extended quotation he offers (179) in
this regard includes Marx's statement that "the level of the necessaries of
life, the total value of which constitutes the value of labour capacity,
may itself rise or fall. But the analysis of these variations belongs not
to this discussion but to the theory of wages." Although the consistency
with earlier statements that consideration of changes in the standard of
necessity requires a separate work is clear, Lapides does not comment.
However, he does cite (224-5) letters from this period where Marx talks
about his need to have "the whole thing" in front of him as "proof" that he
had abandoned his earlier plan.
        Marx's subsequent reference in Capital I, Ch. 20 to "the special study of
wage labour", which is identified as separate from "this work," however,
does not worry Lapides; on the contrary, having noted this passage, he
proceeds (196-7) to dismiss the "spurious claim of a 'missing book on wage

My earlier critique
        Although I certainly do not expect to convince anyone about the case for
"the missing book" in these few lines, I think that to situate Lapides'
scholarly integrity properly, it is useful to see what in my earlier
critique he did not respond to either in S&S or in this book. After
commenting on what I identified as "theoretical lapses" in Lapides'
article, in a section headed "A Pertinent Question" I stated the following:
"There is a simple question that must be answered by all those who view the
analysis in Capital as complete. _Where did Marx remove the assumption that
the standard of necessity for workers is constant?_" (68).
        Having traced almost all of the evidence above--- including the passage
from the 1861-63 Mss cited above which Lapides conveniently forgot (!), I
then raised a number of questions about the implications of no longer
assuming a fixed standard of necessity. One (which members of the list may
wish to think about) was that "productivity increases in the production of
necessaries in themselves will not lead to a reduction in necessary labor
and the value of labor-power. Instead, the effect of the falling value of
necessaries will be to increase what workers can purchase with their
money-wages and, thus, the level of the necessaries of life which become
second nature to them" (70) The question I posed, then, was another
challenge to Lapides: "there is an obvious question for those who view the
analysis in Capital as complete: what does it mean for Marx's discussion of
relative surplus value if productivity increases produce corresponding
increases in the standard of necessity?"(70).
        I think that Lapides' failure to respond and, indeed, his attempt to bury
the fact that these questions were even directed to him says quite a bit
about his integrity as a scholar. It is unfortunate because the potential
of the book is squandered by his performance on this question. I have not
investigated his differences with Ajit on the immiseration question but
would be hard-pressed to trust Lapides on any point as a result of what
I've seen. In this respect, it is difficult not to be sad about this when
there is so much serious work to be done.
        As the points made above should indicate, I am not particularly interested
in whether or nor subsequent digging in the files will or will not uncover
a letter from Marx saying he has dropped (intends to pursue) the "special
study of wage labour". Rather, the question is whether there are
"theoretical lacuna" in Marx's work consistent with the failure to do what
Marx repeatedly stated would be done in the "investigation of wage labour
in particular"--- ie., remove the assumption that the standard of necessity
is given and fixed. Unlike members of this list, on this question, Lapides
has nothing to offer.

        in solidarity,

Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: Phone (604) 291-4669
        Fax (604) 291-5944
Home: Phone (604) 872-0494
        Fax (604) 872-0485
Lasqueti Island: (250) 333-8810

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