[OPE-L:1955] Re: Reply to Ajit on Marx's Wage Theory [follow-up]

Paul Zarembka (zarembka@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Sun, 19 Dec 1999 13:12:17

On 12/19/99 at 07:22 PM, Ajit Sinha <ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in> said,
replying to Paul Zarembka:

>>Anyway, you seem to
>> misconstrue many of the people opposing either "increasing misery" or
>> "iron law of wages"--such as Baumol, Dobb, Kuhne, Lapdies, Mandel,
>> Rosdolsky. Most are NOT arguing that Marx PREDICTED RISING real wages,
>> but rather that the level of wages, up or down, is a result of the
>> strengths of the social class in contention, not reducible to simple
>> economics. In any case, the text you yourself prefer for this discussion
>> reads:

Ajit cuts off at this juncture the citation from Marx VPP I provided:

"Profits [or wages] is only settled by the continuous struggle between
capital and labor, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to
their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical
maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite
direction. The matter resolves itself into a question of the respective
powers of the combatants." (Marx, VPP, Progress, 1947, pp. 51-52).

I mention this as I detect in Ajit's overall approach to this question a
one-sideness analysis of the question--focusing only on the objective of
the capitalist and ignoring the reaction of workers. Marx is clear enough
here--and on the issue of the length of the working day--that "the matter
resolves itself into a question of the respective powers of the

Continuing, Ajit's reply consists of the following:

>... I'm not
>misinterpreting anyone. If you look at Lapides's book (and for that
>matter Rosdolsky etc. I don't know where you got the idea that I'm
>opposing Baumol, Dobb, etc. I think you are confusing issues here, and so

I was merely citing authors who do not defend an absolute immiseration
thesis, as Ajit does. If some are interested I can work relevant

>it would be better if we keep to Lapides who you are arguing for

Actually, I rather talk for myself at this stage.

>primarily) you will find it litter with the idea that marx was predicting
>something called a 'relative immiseration thesis' as opposed to 'absolute
>immiseration thesis'. Now, what does this relative immiseration thesis
>could mean? It means that workers absolute condition would improve (in
>terms of real wages) but relative to the capitalist class the distance
>between the two classes would have risen. Now, in terms of a secular
>theory of wages, this so-called 'relative immiseration thesis' is at best
>a pathetic opposition to the 'absolute immiseration thesis'. The relative

"pathetic"? Is a pejorative needed to sustain an argument?

>immiseration can only be thought of in terms of differences in wealth of
>the two classes, and so it is not concerned with a theory of wages. If

I don't understand: a theory of wages would provide background for the
"wealth" of the working class, such as it is.

>one tries to interpret it in terms of inverse relationship between wages
>and the rate of profits, then i would like to remind Lapides and others
>that Marx thought that the secular trend of the rate of profit was to
>fall. So don't they owe us an explanation to how does the workers
>relative condition deteriorate vis-a vis the capitalists when the real
>wages of the workers are supposedly rising and the rate of profit is
>supposedly falling? But I have never come across any explanation for it.

The rate of surplus value is s/v, while the rate of profit is s/(c+v) or,
in the form I prefer, (s/v) / (c/v +1). Therefore, if c/v is rising the
rate of profit may fall EVEN IF real wages are rising. For better or
worse, Marx assumes s/v is constant in his discussion of the falling
tendency of the rate of profit, and s/v could only be constant if real
wages are rising sufficiently (given the productive of relative surplus
value that Marx argues is behind c/v rising).

If wages are rising less than sufficiently, then we have at least the
mathematics of the "explanation" asked for.

>Why? As far as your charge of misinterpretation on my part is concerned,
>why don't you just give me an answer to a simple question I'm asking
>repeatedly. How does the relative strength of the working class improve
>(or does not deteriorate) in the face of rising rate of unemployment?

The answer to this simple question is simple in words, but very difficult
in the streeets and in the factories--BY ORGANIZING, as in "workers of the
world, unite", as in the Great Depression of the 1930s (I have mentioned
the U.S., while France would be another case to look at carefully, as well
as at least Brazil, Mexico, and Spain).

Bottom line for Marx: you cannot avoid the class struggle in discussing
the level of wages, whether "trending" or otherwise! I don't see this in
Ricardo and thus I see a break between Ricardo and Marx.


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