[OPE-L:1962] Re: Re: Reply to Ajit on Marx's Wage Theory [follow-up]

Ajit Sinha (ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in)
Mon, 20 Dec 1999 12:35:53 +0530

Paul Zarembka wrote:

> 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 cut it off simply because I have never disputed it. But I'm wondering why
didn't you go on to quote that occurs only a few paragraphs beyond this one that
says, "At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in
the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the
*ultimate* working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that
they are fighting with *effects*, but not with the causes of those effects; that
they are retarding the *downward movement*, but *not changing its direction*;
that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady." (VPP, p. 61,
emphasis added)

My point is simple, Marx has a complicated theory of wages that has many
elements including socio-historical factors under which the working class came
into being, as well as the bargaining strength between the two classes. The
point I'm making is that marx's view was that the bargaining strength of the
workers over wages declines over a secular time period because of the rising
trend in the rate of unemployment. It is somewhat puzzling that at the same time
he thinks that workers do win most of the struggles over the length of the
working day. My sense is that to understand this, one needs to understand Marx's
theory of state, as well as the point that the capitalist class is usually
divided (because of their own competitiveness) on the question of the length of
the working day.

> 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
> combatants".


This has been answered above.

> 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
> PZ:
> I was merely citing authors who do not defend an absolute immiseration
> thesis, as Ajit does. If some are interested I can work relevant
> quotations.
> AS:
> >it would be better if we keep to Lapides who you are arguing for
> PZ:
> Actually, I rather talk for myself at this stage.
> AS:
> >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
> PZ:
> "pathetic"? Is a pejorative needed to sustain an argument?
> AS:
> >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
> PZ:
> I don't understand: a theory of wages would provide background for the
> "wealth" of the working class, such as it is.


I would be interested in reading this theory of wages that relate to wealth
disparity between the two classes, and where do you find it developed in Marx.
In anycase, i would like to know if you think this is what is the main issue of
the debate?

> >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.
> PZ:
> 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.


I don't understand your mathematics. Could you work it out for me? You are not
disputing that the rate of profits is falling; nor are you disputing that the
real wage rate is rising. Now, the question is: by what mathematics the workers
condition would become worse than the capitalists?

> >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?
> PZ:
> 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).


The question is where is the reference for such development in Marx's writing?
We are not debating real history here. Though I'm sure historians can debate
some of your claims. But that's is not the issue with me.

> 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.


May be if you look hard enough in Ricardo as well as in Smith, you will find it
there too. Most of the Sraffians are arguing that the classical wage theory is
basically a bargaining wage theory between the two classes. Cheers, ajit sinha

> Paul

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