[OPE-L:1644] Re: wages, cycles, and crises

Subject: [OPE-L:1644] Re: wages, cycles, and crises
From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Sun Nov 07 1999 - 14:58:43 EST

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 07 Nov 1999 21:44:04 +0100
From: Jurriaan Bendien <djjb99@worldonline.nl>

Hi Jerry


Yes. "Maxime Durand". He writes inter alia for Inprecor.

>[Digression: I don't recall anyone else referring to a "school" that
>includes both Anu and Fred.

Well yes Anu and Fred are not in the same school strictly speaking. I am
lumping them together probably wrongly. They both stress the centrality of
the TPRF in crisis theory, with somewhat different arguments, aiming to
stay quite close to Marx's hypotheses and approach.
>It is interesting to compare the above quote to the following from the
>_Grundrisse_ (that I reproduced in a recent post):

I am aware of the quote you mention, and I rather like it. "The world
market as its presupposition" relates to some other remarks I made
previously about imperialism and unequal exchange pre-existing the first
industrial revolution.
>Perhaps (being a student of Mandel) you will also found the following at
>the beginning of Volume 3, Ch. 6 ("The Effect of Changes in Price"), Part
>2 ("Revaluation and Devaluation of Capital: Release and Tying-Up of
>Capital) to be of interest:
Yes, this is an astonishing passage given that it was written around 150
years ago. I am not a real "student of Mandel", apart from the
bibliographic project, and even although there is a book in my head about
his work. I think a book would be worthwhile since the real innovative
stuff he did was not recognised much. I am leaving aside his errors which
the sectarians like to highlight, but even his errors are significant if
you want to learn something. He was a small giant, but he never got much
credit from academia, even though he inspired thousands upon thousands of
academics to do good research - indeed better research than he had time to
do. For me there isn't any one theorist that tells the "whole story". The
advancement of Marxian socialist thought, as Ernest repeatedly told me in
person and in writing, is a collective project, teamwork (which he believed
ought to be better organised). If anything I am a modest "student of life"
at present, I made some wrong decisions in life, and I have problems to
solve now which have nothing to do with my theoretical preoccupations of
the past. I don't want to live like Mandel did either, or aspire to live
like he did (or indeed like Marx). My life has its own dialectics.
Originally I contacted Ernest Mandel in Brussels in 1983 because I was
grappling with a friend with Marxism, and our teachers in New Zealand had
only limited knowledge (the great political economists New Zealand produced
were Ronald Meek and J. B. Condliffe, but Meek left after a flirtation with
the CPNZ, to live in Scotland). I graduated as an educationist in 1982, I
had this problem of "the educators who needed to be educated themselves",
and I thought logically I should go for the best teacher I can find. I
thought at the time, why not go to somebody working at the top of the
field, and Mandel seemed to be "it" at the time; he had both a theory and
an empirical analysis and a political practice. Although he was very busy
(as usual) Ernest agreed to meet three times, in Amsterdam, Paris and
Germany, and he gave me some pointers, which resulted in my friend's Phd in
New Zealand (with my extensive collaboration) and considerable political
activity as well (three political groups and one new trade union with
several thousand members). The teacher I need now is someone else, but it
takes a lot of thought to know who that is, because the best aren't so
accessible. And I like to learn from the best, because I made so many
errors in my life, and I did a lot of learning which I don't really need
for what I needed to achieve.

>One doesn't have to assert, though, that wages will be driven below the
>value of labour-power for any protracted length of time. Rather, one
>simply has to suggest that wages change cyclically over the course of the
>business cycle.

Let's say they "tend to" do that, other things being equal. But I could dig
up some data for some countries which gives a different picture.

 In other words, if we abstracted from the cycle, then we
>could say that wages on average would equal the value of labour-power
>(although the value of labour-power itself might change over a period of
>time - typically longer than a single cycle).

That sounds like a good theory but it is too simple for me, in view of what
I observed and studied about empirical wage movements on the one side, and
living standards on the other side. But it may be a good starting point for
analysis. I don't have a good answer at present. That's the thing about
Marxism; it raises more questions then it answers, and I haven't got round
to a general theory of wages. I am actually very wary about seeing the
value of labour power as a statistical average. The statistical material on
incomes and living standards is useful, essential but some things cannot be
adequately measured. The empiricist or positivist will say, "if I cannot
measure it from statistical observations then it doesn't exist" but
Marxists don't subscribe to that view. Some things exist but can only be
measured indirectly.

>Putting aside the use of the term "super-exploitation", one could
>certainly argue that the VLP is different in different nations - a point
>Marx was well aware of:

Yes, this is correct.

> "The actual value of his labour-power diverges from this physical
> minimum; it differs according to climate [?!, JL]

By "climate" Marx refers among other things to the fact that climate can
affect the productivity of labour achievable within a given time-period.

and the level
> of social development; it depends not only on physical needs
> but also on historically developed social needs, which become
> second nature. In each country, however, this governing average
> wage is a given quantity at a given time" (_Capital_, Volume 3,
> Penguin ed., p. 999)

Yes, and historic defeats of the working class can drive down the
moral-historical element of the wage (and indeed the physiological element)
for a whole period.

>And, of course, when we consider the international disparity in wages and
>the effect of this on different segments of workers and capitalists, then
>we would both have to agree that this is NOT a "marginal phenomenon".

Well, we have disparities in the value of labour power internationally, as
you note again, and then we also have wages falling below the value of
labour power within each country.

>> the case of fascist economy;
>This, I think, is different. In this case, more than wages are decreased.
>The VLP itself can be decreased in special cases if the "historically
>developed social needs" can be diminished.

That is a big claim, about which I would need to think a lot in order to
answer. Workers can make do with less if the ruling classes successfully
"teach" (or force) them to make do with less, the VLP can experience an
historic decline, but that does not mean that the "historically developed
social needs" no longer exist, they are just not satisfied, that is all, an
increase in alienation.

>> and (currently) in the slow but steady
>> formation of a "dual society" within the imperialist countries themselves
>> (splitting the working class).
>If there is discrimination (by gender, race, etc.), one might be able to
>suggest that the labor which is being discriminated against systematically
>receives wages below the value of LP whereas workers who are not
>discriminated against might be said to receive -- on average -- wages
>above the value of LP.

This may be the case, but it would take considerable empirical analysis to
prove that. (By a dual society I do not mean discrimination).

In solidarity,


This archive was generated by hypermail 2a24 : Sun Dec 12 1999 - 17:29:14 EST