Jurriaan Bendien (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sun, 24 Oct 1999 13:39:00 +0100
> how about a theory of wages which incorporates all of the
>determinations for that subject?
Because that is a virtually impossible task. As Marx remarks in his address
to the General Council of the First International (1865), "By comparing the
standard wages or values of labour in different countries, and by comparing
them in different historical epochs of the same country, you will find that
the value of labour itself is not a fixed but a variable magnitude, even
supposing the values of all other commodities to remain constant". I have
posted already an index of labour costs in diferent countries in the world
giving a rough and ready indication of the disparity of wage levels in the
world for one year. Do you think that a single theory can explain all of
that data ? I don't rule out the possibility, but I would say it is
practically speaking virtually impossible, especially in view of the law of
wages that Marx specifies. We could specify a number of generalities such
as lower limits and upper limits, generalities about productivity,
generalities about workers' needs, generalities about supply and demand of
labour power in relation to the reserve army of labour, generalities about
demographic situation, generalities about state regulation, generalities
about the "social wage" and taxation etc. etc. But we would not get very
far with explaining the real level of disparities of wage levels in the
world. To explain it, we would need all of Marx's theory and much more.
What we can do is develop a "general theory of competitive wage
determination". As Howard Botwinick says, "First, Marx would have had to
show how the dynamics of capitalist competition and the continual
generation of differential profit rates beteen and within industries must
necessarily have consequences for the dynamics of competitive wage
determination between and within those same industries... Second, ...to
show how the real conditions of labour mobility are profoundly shaped by
the conditions of capital mobility and must be analysed within the context
of real capitalist competition. Finally, Marx would have had to complete
his analysis by showing how the general laws of accumulation within the
aggregate labour market must eventually be connected back up with the moe
concrete determinations of capitalist competition and competitive wage
determination" (Persistent Inequalities, p. 121-122). Actually, I think
Marx could not complete this task anyway, just like his theory of economic
cycles, simply because he did not have the necessary data to do it. Marx
based his economic theorising on a lot of data and a critical sifting of
research findings by others, he did not speculatively develop a theory like
After all, if a worker was to ask you "What determines the
>wage?", how would you be able to non-simplistically answer that question?
I have never been asked that question by a worker (I am a worker myself,
incidentally, earning a wage). But if that worker asked me that question, I
would be motivated to ask him/her first "why do you ask that question, what
is your motivation ?". My first impulse would be to think it was a trick
question, that somebody was trying to pull my leg or another part of my
body. Because actually I think workers, especially if they have a lot of
work experience, know a lot more about what determines wages than a lot of
learned academics I could mention. I could give a non-simplistic answer to
it, but it would refer not just to Marx but to writers like Botwinick, and
a lot of specifics about the Dutch labour market which I have yet to study.
>And where did Marx answer that basic theoretical political-economic
I think he gives a basic answer in Capital, but I concede happily that it
is not sufficient or complete.
>examination of capital is only a moment in the analysis of capitalism as a
>mode of production.
What I meant was that Marx examines the origins of capital in the
circulation process, and then shows how it subsumes the entire production
process of a society.
Indeed -- as has been remarked on this list by others -- it
>is almost as if "horses" could take the place of workers.
Horses cannot take the place of workers (other than in exceptional
circumstances) for reasons that Marx specifies when he discusses what
distinguishes human labour. But anyway Marx warns that he considers workers
and capitalists only in their capacity as economic agents, not as living
Yet, workers --
>unlike horses -- have a subjectivity which allows them to act upon the
>world and change it.
I agree, but horses have a subjectivity too, although admittedly I haven't
heard of horses consciously changing the world. You always have the option
of joining an organisation such as the Fourth International, or if you
don't like that one, another one which coheres better with your views.
Thus, the very fact that workers wear character masks
>in _Capital_ requires an analysis where those masks are stripped-off and
>they are capable of thus becoming a class-for-themselves.
I agree, although after seeing the movie "Eyes Wide Shut" I think this
notion of "character masks" is more a middle class concept than a working
Economics isn't everything you know, certainly not for a Leninist who
believes "the truth is concrete". I just read an interesting eloquent
critique of economics, by Rajani Kannepalli Kanth, called Against economics
- Rethinking Political Economy ( Brookfield, Vermont: Asgate, 1997). I
don't agree with many things in it and with many of its conclusions, but I
recommend it to you as as a captivating modern critique of eurocentric
economism in its neo-classical, Ricardian and Marxian guises. Ernest
Mandel, who had really wanted to become an economist in his youth, said
candidly once in the late 1980s at a cadre school that he felt he should
have spent less time working on problems of economic analysis in his life,
and more on problems of the party, on problems of subjectivity. Maybe there
is a lesson in that for other people, in the light of his total life-work.
The problem though is that Marxists who abandon his work Capital as a valid
exercise, or abandon economic analysis as such usually opt out of Marx's
whole project as well.
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