[OPE-L:1600] Re: Talking to the workers about wages and socialism

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Wed, 27 Oct 1999 15:06:38 -0400 (EDT)

Re Jurriaan's [OPE-L:1599]:

> Second, the working class in the so-called "advanced capitalist countries"
> includes the overwhelming majority of the population, since they all depend
> on a wage or a salary or a social wage. For that reason, the category or
> concept itself is of very limited use to me in terms of political or
> cultural or economic analysis.

A counter-argument is that the process of the concentration and
centralization of capital expresses itself, in part, as increased
proletarianization. And it is of enormous, momentous political,
cultural, and economic significance that the size of the working class
as a percentage of the total population increases over time.

> Thirdly, consider for example the case of airline
> pilots, who do very responsible jobs and earn very high salaries. Would you
> call them part of the working class ? In general, I would, but if my
> general conceptual definition were strictly applied then I would run into
> problems with it in many cases, since the older pilots will be sufficiently
> well-off that they can choose not to work or go into business for
> themselves.

The formal ability to become part of another class is not the same thing
as identifying whether a particular group *is* a part of the working class
or another class. Thus, an average factory worker might have the financial
capacity to become a small (petty-bourgeois) business-person, e.g. a hot
dog salesperson. Even though they have this capacity, this does not change
what they _are now_.
> Finally, I consider the working class to be constituted as such
> in the proper sense, only if the great majority actually understand their
> class position in society as such, and act from a class point of view,
> which is not a matter of conceptual or statistical definitions but a
> political, cultural, social, and organisational matter, ultimately a
> subjective matter, the working class "as an independent subjective force in
> history".

If the first part of the above sentence were correct, then the working
class would have only been constituted as such in the proper sense at rare
(pre-revolutionary and revolutionary) moments in history. Yet, a class for
itself is not the same thing as a class in itself. A danger of defining
working class as a class for itself, is that one would thereby exclude in
most parts of the world the overwhelming majority of those who sell their
labour-power to capitalists or the capitalist state from the definition.
This might tend to work in the direction of eliteism and vanguardism.

> I wanted to say this because there is still considerable leftwing
> rhetoric about "the working class",

No doubt, but there is even more left-wing rhetoric about "the people".
E.g. the slogan from the 1960's "Power to the People". Yet, unless we are
to demonize capitalists to such an extent that we no longer consider them
to be people, then such a slogan infers that capitalists -- as people --
(even if they represent a small percentage of "the people") -- should have
power. I don't like that idea.
> On another matter: as regards comparative wages, I would say that American
> workers often pay less taxes than Dutch workers, so they might end up with
> more disposable income. So then what I said previously might not be fully
> correct. To repeat, precisely because of the law of wages Marx specifies in
> terms of the reproduction cost of labour-power and its variability, the
> relationships involved in wages are complex and must be analysed in their
> historical detail.

The subject of taxes is an important topic related to the state-form.

[Digression: a very undeveloped area in Marxist theory is the subject
of *public finance*. At one point in the 1980's, Willi Semmler was working
in this area and there has been a bit written -- in various languages --
on this subject, but it is extremely undeveloped in a theoretical
sense. This is all the more important both because courses in public
finance are taught in many colleges and there is no textbook on this
subject from a Marxist perspective and it is also taught in introductory
classes. Without a Marxist theory of public finance, we are reduced to
only presenting mainstream (bourgeois) theory in a critical way].
When one considers differences in taxation for workers internationally,
then one has to consider many states and foreign trade and the world
market and crises. I would agree with you that these variations can be

In solidarity, Jerry

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