labour aristocracy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Feb 3 09:48:31 MST 2003

michael pearn wrote:
> In other words there is more capital invested in the
> imperialist countries and a greater rate of
> exploitation and profit follows from that fact.
> capital investment, underinvestment in fact, is the
> prevailing social reality in much of the former
> colonial world and a low rate of profit is the result.

This is the argument we used to hear all the time from James Heartfield
of Spiked-online, back when he had pretensions to Marxism. What does it
mean to say that an American auto worker making $35 per hour produces
more surplus value proportionately than a banana plantation worker in
Honduras? That he or she is more "exploited". In the technical sense,
that is true but it largely ignores the overall material conditions that
hinge on a workers consciousness. There other important factors that are
involved that do not flow from the point of production. For example,
what are the conditions of life that a Detroit auto worker lives in? I
hate to sound like a member of the Maoist International Movement, but it
is very unlikely that an AFL-CIO member making $50,000 per year will
reach socialist conclusions based simply on a formula wrested out of
context from V. 1 of Capital. Let's remind ourselves about the
conditions of the working class in the time of Marx and Engels:

"The south bank of the Irk is here very steep and between 15 and 30,
feet high. On this declivitous hillside there are planted three rows of
houses, of which the lowest rise directly out of the river, while the
front walls of the highest stand on the crest of the hill in Long
Millgate. Among them are mills on the river, in short, the method of
construction is as crowded and disorderly here as in the lower part of
Long Millgate. Right and left a multitude of covered passages lead from
the main street into numerous courts, and he who turns in thither gets
into a filth and disgusting grime, the equal of which is not to be
found--especially in the courts which lead down to the Irk, and which
contain unqualifiedly the most horrible dwellings which I have yet
beheld. In one of these courts there stands directly at the entrance, at
the end of the covered passage, a privy without a door so dirty that the
inhabitants can pass into and out of the court only by passing through
foul pools of stagnant urine and excrement. This is the first court on
the Irk above Ducie Bridge--in case anyone should care to look into it.
Below it on the river are several tanneries which fill the whole
neighborhood with the stench of animal putrefaction. Below Ducie Bridge
the only entrance to most of the houses is by means of narrow, dirty
stairs and over heaps of refuse and filth. The first court below Ducie
Bridge, known as Allen's Court, was in such a state at the time of the
cholera that the sanitary police ordered it evacuated, swept, and
disinfected with chloride of lime. Dr. Kay gives a terrible description
of the state of this court at that time. Since then, it seems to have
been torn away and rebuilt; at least looking down from Ducie Bridge, the
passer-by sees several ruined walls and heaps of debris with some newer
houses. The view from this bridge, mercifully concealed from mortals of
small stature by a parapet as high as a man, is characteristic for the
whole district. At the bottom flows, or rather stagnates, the Irk, a
narrow, coal-black, foul-smelling stream, full of debris and refuse,
which it deposits on the shallower right bank. In dry weather, a long
string of the most disgusting, blackish-green, slime pools are left
standing on this bank, from the depths of which bubbles of miasmatic gas
constantly arise 40 or 50 feet above the surface of the stream. But
besides this, the stream itself is checked by every few paces by high
weirs, behind which slime and refuse accumulate and rot in thick masses.
Above the bridge are tanneries, bonemills, and gasworks, from which all
drains and refuse find their way into the Irk, which receives further
the contents of all the neighboring sewers and privies. It may be easily
imagined, therefore, what sort of residue the stream deposits. Below the
bridge you look upon the piles of debris, the refuse, filth, and offal
from the courts on the steep left bank; here each house is packed close
behind its neighbor and a piece of each is visible, all black, smoky,
crumbling, ancient, with broken panes and window- frames. The background
is furnished by old barrack-factory buildings. On the lower right bank
stands a long row of houses and mills; the second house stand so low
that the lowest floor is uninhabitable, and therefore without windows or
doors. Here the background embraces the pauper burial-ground, the
station of the Liverpool and Leeds railway, and, in the rear of this,
the Workhouse, the 'Poor-Law Bastille' of Manchester, which, like a
citadel, looks threateningly down from behind its high walls and
parapets on the hilltop, upon the working-people's quarter below."

Engels, "The Condition of the Working Class in England"


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