LTV, Working class (fwd)

Justin Schwartz jschwart at FREENET.COLUMBUS.OH.US
Wed Oct 26 09:21:53 MDT 1994


I thought this might interest people on the Marxism list.


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 25 Oct 1994 21:57:11 -0400
From: Justin Schwartz <jschwart at FREENET.COLUMBUS.OH.US>
Subject: Working class

On Tue, 25 Oct 1994, Daniel A. Foss wrote:

>    The working class was - it's no longer with us - not exclusively defin=
ed
> by the wage-labor relation. It was firstly and foremostly defined by the
> productive consumption of its labour-power by the capitalists in commodit=
y
> production (in the definition of "commodity" formulated by Marx, Capital,
> Vol I, Ch. 1). The social relation whereby the capitalist consumes the
> labourers' labour-power productively, in anticipation of realizing surplu=
s
> value, essentially unpaid labour performed by the labourer for the capita=
list,
> is the wage-labour relation.

Well, I don't know how far we want to go into Marx exegesis here. In any
event, whatever we might want to say about what Marx might have thought,
it's reasonable to say that we can treat the working class as that group
of people who (a) must sell their labor power to live, having no other
productive assets, and so are defined, structurally, as those who own or
control all their own labor power and no other productive assets, and (b)
may be organized as a class into unions, political parties, and other
associations to articulate and defend their class interests as they see
them.

I think this is in fact what Marx says, e.g., in Wage Labor and
Capital and some other places, but that is not the point. The issue is
whether there is such a group, so understood, and whether it is a
politically interesting and important group with self-emancipatory
potential. The answer to the first question is, with respect to (a),
certainly, and with respect to (b), it depends on the circumstances. as to
whether the group has revolutionary potential, well it's had in the past
and I'd need a lot more argument than I've seen to make me write it off
for the future.

Whether one thinks that being a wage laborer depends on the labor one uses
being used "productively" in a technical sense, producing surplus value,
depends on how much you want to build into the idea of wage labor. I
prefer a minimal reading, allowing us to ask whether some wage labor or
other is productive in that sense or indeed whether that sense makes
sense. If one has doubts, as I do, about the labor theory of value, then
your richer reading would make the coherence of the idea of wage labor
depend on the utility of a controversial theory of value. If the LTV is
false or not useful, then the working class, in your sense, never existed.
Which would still leave us wondering about those folks who have to work
for a living.

> fd
>    The labourer - I spell it with the "u" in deference to Holy Scripture =
-

In die heilige Schrift it is written Der Arbeiter; "labourer" is the Brit
version in the Moore-Aveling translation, which, as I have noted in a
previous post, is not reliable and anyway enjoys no canonical status. You
should not presume, anyway, that just because I'm a Marx scholar that I am
a theologian or a fundamentalist.

> produces surplus-value appropriated by the capitalist [=3D exploitation].=
 The
> office worker is not defined as performing productive labour in commodity
> production by Marx; and in my All New Upgraded Updated State Of The Art
 Cutting
> Edge Theory, the office worker produces pseudocommodities, not commoditie=
s;
 and
> engages in collectivized consumption of, say, paper clips and the mainfra=
me
> computer. The office worker is, in Marx, paid out of *redistributed surpl=
us*,
> where in Scripture, the capitalist was paid out of the suplus produced by=
 the
> labourer.

Marx's theory of productive and unproductive labor is rather a mess. (See,
I told you I wasn't a fundamentalist.) But in any event, we may think that
office workers are indeed exploited in the sense that capitalists make
profits from using their labor power. (If they didn't, they wouldn't hire
them.) We may not be able to say of a particular office worker that she
produced n units of value, n-1 of which was surplus and appropriated as
profit. But in fact Marx cannot even say this about a particular factory
worker, since the measure of value for Marx is <socially necessary>
abstract labor time, i.e., an aggregate quantity and not an individual
quantity tied, as in Ricardo, to the actual labor performed by particular
individuals. Marx makes this point quite sharply against the classical
versions of the LTV and then seems to forget it in trying to make a
distinction between productive and unproductive labor. If office labor is
necessary for and contributes to profit, we can treat its contribution to
the social total labor as value, and whatever the capitalist appropriates
of that as surplus value, thus exploited, even though this quantity is not
well-defined in the individual case. If of course, we want to talk in
value terms.

We might not. We might want to say that the exploitation of office or
other labor consists in that it is forced labor which produces a profit
for others, and simply by-pass talk of value. Sraffa shows just one way in
which this sort of approach can be made rigorous; more recently we have
the contested exchange model of Bowles and Gintis. There are others.

Do office workers produce commodities? Well, you might ask generally about
service workers. Obviously the thought is that the services they produce
are commodities, e.g., haircuts, health care, education, computer programs.
What about secretary-clericals, accountants, bookkeepers? You could go two
ways on this. One one hand you might say that these services are not
commodities but simply what Marx calls "direct" or "unmediated" or
"associated" labor. On the other hand you might note that these services
are indeed often sold as commodities, and that if a capitalist choses to
hire in-house staff to produce them directly rather than hiring external
workers whose services are sold as commodities to profit, e.g., an
accountancy firm or a temp agency, then doing it that way has to
calculated as cheaper (or no more expensive than) doing it the other, and
so assigned a price or even a value. I'm not sure anything rests on which
way one goes on this.

Perhaps one might wish to speak of such services as
quasi-commodities in the former case, but since they have a price and a
value, contribute to the social total labor, and to what the capitalist
appropriates as surplus, calling them "quasi" is not to the point unless
one wants to point out, for some reason, their being produced directly
within the firm. Which you might, say, if you were asking why a capitalist
did it one way rather than the other, i.e.. Coase-type questions about
transaction costs and firm-market boundaries. These issues are
interesting, but not obviously relevant to either exploitation theory or
whether the working class exists.

It occurs to me as I write this that one way to put the difference between
our definitions of the working class is that you think the working class
is by definition exploited and I think that whether the working class is
exploited is in an important sense contingent. At least it is not part of
my definition of wage labor that it is exploited labor. I think that in
capitalism it is, but this requires argument. (I have written a paper on
this matter, which will probably not surprise you, forthcoming in Nous,
probably next June.)

>    If you pinned me down on this, I'd say, today, not necessarily tomorro=
w,
> something like this:
>    The office workers, when you look at it at a very high level of genera=
l-
> ization, produce figments of the shared mental life of society, ie, cultu=
re,
> and are paid, unhandsomely, out of the proceeds of the capitalists' selli=
ng
> our shared mental life back to us.
>
Actually most office work is menial and not mental, unless you count data
entry, wordprocessing, filing, etc. as mental. But in that sense, i.e.,
requiring cognition and perception, so is screwing bolts onto an engine
on the line.

>    Change happens. It did happen. Figuring it out is very difficult. One
 cannot
> talk the same old talk. The old time revolution, it AINT good enough for =
me!

Yes, yes, of course. But we need to locate the changes correctly.

> The economy has revolutionized itself. It no longer is based on exploitat=
ion
> of the labourers selling labour-power in the labour-market.

This I disagree with. Capitalists still make their profits by paying
workers less than the amount for which they sell the stuff or services work=
ers
make or provide. And profit, in particular the share going to the
capitalist, still makes the wheels go round. Insofar as profit depends on
the workers getting less than what they create goes for, we have
exploitation, and the economy depends on it. And of course the workers,
service and other, do sell their labor power as a commodity, whether or
not what the capitalists do with it is to make commodities.

 It's based on
> selling us back our minds at a price. If They don't find our minds worth
 buying
> in the first place for resale back to us at pricier prices, we never had =
any
> minds in the first place, by definition.

I think that maybe you are actually attacking a different point in Marx's
theory than you think you are attacking. You direct your fire at the
productive/unproductive distinction, which is vulnerable but not in my view
essential. But the remarks about minds suggest that what you object to in
Marx's theory is the notion of abstract labor, the idea that for the
purposes of the analysis of capitalism all labor can be treated as unskille=
d,
i.e., mindless. You seem to think that even if that was true in Marx's day
it is not so in ours. (In fact Marx's arguments for this crucial
assumption are terrible.) Rather, you think that we cannot overlook that
labor is differentially skilled and cannot be treated as multiplied
abstract or unskilled labor, as if the labor involved in producing a
computer program were n times the value of that involved in screwing a
bolt on an engine. This point is deep and probably right and would create
a lot of difficulty for value theory. One more reason to avoid value
theory, i think, except as a heuristic.

>
>    You, Justin Schwartz, make a pseudocommodity in your office called col=
lege
> credit-hours. A student collects enough of these Thingies in a stamp albu=
m,
> maybe this takes years or decades, up to the PhD level, and the student
 becomes
> endowed, honorarily, with a Mind, pending granting of tenure. If however =
the
> student is dystenurated, the licence to operate a Mind is no longer socia=
lly
> validated, and the formerly-Smart ex-professor becomes Nouveau Stupid; th=
e
> possession of a mind is no longer socially validated.
>
You may have noticed my address is a freenet and not an "edu." My license
to operate a mind has alas been withdrawn. It's a hazard of
driving a Marx--red cars attract the attention of the thought police. I
fear that I may be forced to become something worse than stupid. I may be
forced to become a lawyer.

>    In due course, with the passage of time, the ex-smart person becomes a=
s
> Stupid as society conventionally defines or construes him her it.
>
>    Stuff like that, which Marx could'v'e never imagined. He made the mist=
ake
> of dying, so never found out about it.
>
Well, as someone who was denied an academic position because of his own
politics and who had to make a living as a journalist and encyclopaedia
entry writer, as well as sponging off Engels, the thought may have occurred
to him. He does in fact address the issue of skilled labor--but, as I say,
inadequately.

Perhaps we should put this exchange on the Marx list, where the orthodox
can attack us and someone might have something illuminating to say about
these hard issues.

--Justin Schwartz




=FF=FF    Working class                                                    =
      RMe




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