Labor and other Aristocracies

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Mon Feb 10 08:10:30 MST 2003

>>the discussion has never been
about the benefit of imperialism to the ruling class.
I thought the discussion, particularly in its most
riveting exchanges was about the benefits of
imperialism to the working class.<<

The point is the working class does not benefit from imperialism (profit
from, partake in exploitation).

The imperialists benefit from imperialism, i.e., the ruling class. What
accounts for the conservatism of the "aristocracy of labor" is the position
of relative privilege compared to other parts of the working class not a
material benefit.

First, saying that X,Y or Z workers are paid out of surplus value rather
than value they themselves produce is a mistake. ALL workers are paid out of
"surplus value" (variable capital). They don't get paid this week out of the
income the capitalist gets from selling the goods produced this week, but
rather from the capital the capitalists reaped from past operations.

Nor is the argument that the more highly skilled, privileged workers get
paid "more than they are worth" per hour in terms of the value one hour of
their labor power contributes to an hour's worth of the end products they

First, because the value of labor power is itself set by the law of value
which will work automatically to cure any such anomaly; second because all
sorts of workers do not engage in value-producing labor at all (because they
do not produce commodities) yet no particular conservatism attaches to this
condition, it is more a function of the *amount* of the wages, etc., than
whether or not the labor is value producing; third, because when you start
to think about the actual amount of value produced in the economy, the real
after-tax income of the value-producing workers is a small fraction of the
total value produced by the economy divided by the number of value producing

A back-of-the-envelope calculation, meant to be no more than a sort of
qualitative illustration for pedagogical purposes, a very very rough first
approximation, to see just where we are in the ballpar, shows this must be
the case.

We'll use the gross national income of the United States, as a proxy for
total value produced in the economy.  About 55% of the national income goes
to wages and salaries.

If perhaps 1/3 to 2/5 of those workers are engaged in value-producing labor,
then the share of national income that goes to value producing workers as
wages is about a fifth (roughly 17%, for 1/3 to 22%, for 2/5). For
simplicity's sake, I am assuming the average wage of value producing and
non-value producing workers is the same, but as the figures will show even
assuming a substantial wage differential won't change things qualitatively.

You'd have a situation where the wages of workers for an average work week
(thirty-some hours) would have to be five times the average wage to get to
the point where you could speculate that these production workers may be
getting paid  more than their labor would contribute to the value of the
commodities they produce (or that they could produce, if they were to be
engaged in commodity porduction).

I think the average wage is something like $27K; however, let's assume a
lower figure of $20K, to take taxes into account. You'd need to get up to a
figure of, say, $100,000+ after taxes, absolute minimum $130,000 before
taxes, before you actually got into the terrain where you'd find a worker
getting paid more per hour than the average hour of labor imparts in value
to the economy. Assuming the average workweek to be 40 hours (the real
figure is lower), you'd get a weekly wage of $2,500, or an hourly rate of
$62.50. Apart from managerial/professional layers, I know very few people
who actually make that kind of money.

I think clearly, this shows that there are veyr few in the labor aristocracy
who make anywhere near the kind of money you'd need to make to catapult you
into the category  of workers who actually get paid more than their labor
power does contribute to the value of the commodities they produce (or could
contribute, if they were engaged in commodity production). And from these
figures, you can see that even if you assume the value-producing workers are
3/5ths of the workforce, you'd still have  a take home from straight time of
$60,000, at least $80,000 nominal yearly wage, as the "floor" wage labor of
the  people who are labor aristocrats BECAUSE they "partake of imperialist
exploitation," as this line of argument has it.

If the American labor aristocracy were that narrow, we'd have socialism in
the United States today, or at the very very very least, a militant,
combative mass workers party.

This shows that the argument that the aristocracy of labor is conservative
because it partakes of the exploitation of the third world, or of women and
people of color, etc., is just unsound. The labor aristocracy, properly
speaking, and labor aristocracy-type attitudes, are much, much more
widespread in the U.S. working class than that.

Furthermore it is unsound at a deeper level of analysis of political
economy. Thus far, we have been viewing the relationship between capitalists
and their capital and workers and their wages, i.e., viewing the
relationship between the members of these to classes to little green pieces
of paper.

But actually, the *essence* of the thing isn't the relationships of two
different groups of people to little green pieces of paper: it is in reality
a relationship between the two groups, the two classes, mediated by the
little green pieces of paper. It is a social relation, so much so that the
character of the little green pieces of paper *changes* when it passes from
one hand to another. In the hand of the capitalist, the papers are
*capital*, which has the capacity to organize the economy, command our
labor, etc.; in our hands it becomes means to subsist so that we can
continue to sell our labor power, i.e., slavery on the installment plan.

Even if it were to be shown that the labor power of some workers, for
whatever reasons, can command a greater price (wage) on the market than they
could possibly contribute in terms of the value their labor adds to what
they produce, the case where that wage actually becomes transformed into its
opposite, and becomes capital, so that the worker could retire as a coupon
clipper, is totally exceptional, and should be seen as more akin to winning
a multi-million-dollar lottery than representing anything real about the
economy or the social relations between workers and capitalists.

This might be the case of perhaps a few dot-commers and other high-tech
workers in the past couple of decades; but I believe even in the
overwhelming majority of those cases, these people who may have started out
their careers as workers, properly speaking, became management and then
executives before getting their ticket into the capitalist class, so to

Workers, on the one side, and the capitalists and their agents, on the
other, are separated by a class line that is extremely clear in the
workplace, no matter how much fugding and fiddling you do with the
bookkeeping to try to show that (some) workers partake of imperialist
exploitation or are economically complicit in the superexploitation of women
and people of color. Very often that class line is also a color or
nationality line.

Nationality (immigrant versus native born, but not only, for example, Cubans
clearly constitute a privileged layer among South Florida hispanics); "race"
(as the concept is used and abused in the United States); gender; in some
cases and certainly historically religious affiliation; all sorts of things
go into creating the various forms of "privilege" that go into developing
"labor aristocracy" attitudes, but they do not flow from some supposed
"benefit" that workers derive from imperialism or racism or chauvinism or

To give just one more example. In many parts of the United States, driving
around without being stopped by the cops arbitrarily or preferentially is a
privilege especially of anglos. How *common* being stopped is for the
unprivileged is shown by the case of the alleged DC-area snipers, who, it
was reported, were stopped by police to check their registration and so on
10 times over a few weeks before they were arrested. What "benefit" did
white people derive from that? That they themselves weren't arbitrarily
detained for absolutely no cause is hardly can hardly be considered a
benefit, but rather, simply, the normal course of affairs that *ought* to
prevail for everyone.

A relatively privileged position in socio-economic terms, NOT any material
benefit, is the real material basis for the labor aristocracy. It may be
very hard to break down those attitudes, it may not happen without a major
social crisis. But if it were otherwise, what you would expect even in a
crisis is for the co-beneficiaries of imperialism, etc., to rally around the
imperialist in defence of their own material interests. If that were a case
a workers revolution would not be possible, even in theory.

That is the conclusion, BTW, that some theorist came to in the 1960's and
later, that the imperialist countries could only have a succesful revolution
once imperialism itself as a system was smashed by the action of the
colonial and semicolonial world. I don't believe that is correct, applying
that theory to practical politics leads to all sorts of problems.


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