Immiseration

Tom Condit tomcondit at igc.apc.org
Sat Jul 22 00:01:25 MDT 1995


This is really Ralph's department, but I'm posting it to see if I
can jog his memory or files.

In the mid-1960s (before the end of the boom), Marty Glaberman
wrote a pamphlet for the Facing Reality group called "Be His
Wages High or Low".  The title was from a passage by Marx reading
(if I recall correctly) "be his wages high or low, the lot of the
worker grows ever worse."  Marty was specifically taking issue
with the notion that "immiseration" necessarily meant being
driven down to the point of starvation, and maintained that even
the highest-paid workers were exploited and oppressed.

I would add (if he didn't) that when Marx talks about wages being
held at "subsistence level" he is specifically talking about a
socially-determined subsistence level which varies historically.
Aside from whether the class struggle helps determine what that
level is, an obvious example is the ownership of automobiles.
Someone (I think possibly Boris Kagarlitsky) once told me that
when he told workers in Russia there was poverty in the U.S. too,
and that many people had been reduced to living in their cars,
the response was: "They have cars?"

I can remember when I thought that way, and many Greens still do
of course.  If you're young, healthy and childless, a bicycle is
a far more efficient means of transportation as well as being
more ecologically sound.  But if you are, say, a single parent
who is raising children and holding down a job, you almost _have_
to own a car in most U.S. cities.  It's simply impossible to go
from childcare to work to childcare to the market to home without
one, given the lack of public transportation.  Those who don't
own cars are on the bare edge of subsistence.

I'm rambling.  How about it, Ralph, do you have the cite?

Tom Condit


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