[OPE-L:1603] Re: Re: Talking to the workers about wages and socialism

Ian Hunt (Ian.Hunt@flinders.edu.au)
Thu, 28 Oct 1999 11:17:13 +0930

Highly skilled workers have more than their labour power to seel. They sell
a relatively scarce skill. They may earn a rent from that skill. i would
distinguish the proletariat, those with nothing to sell but their labour
from skilled workers, who sell their labour power enhanced by ttaing, and
from skilled professionals, who sell the skill but not their labour power
(their employer cannot set them to work on any old job, though contracts of
employment these days are increasingly 'proletarianising' porfessional
employees). Having made all these distinctions, I would group all workers
and skilled workers in the working class, but count skilled professionals
as a half-way house betwen employment and self-employment, more or less as
Erik OlinWright suggested some years ago (subsequently recanted). However,
separation of classes does not, in my view, imply absolute separation of
class interests. There is the potential for an alliance between
professional employees and workers, that is growing as professional
employment becomes more 'proletarianized'. If you wanted to, you could talk
about a working class embracing all employees, and talk about divisions
within it. I prefer my way of thinking about it, because it highlighs some
divisions as more important than others in defining how interests relate to
the capitalist property system.

>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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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
>> 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

Associate Professor Ian Hunt,
Head, Dept of Philosophy,
Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy,
Philosophy Dept, School of Humanities,
Flinders University of SA,
Humanities Building,
Bedford Park, SA, 5042,
Ph: (08) 8201 2054 Fax: (08) 8201 2556

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