Labor Aristocracy

DMS dmschanoes at
Thu Jan 30 22:13:58 MST 2003

TOL cited:

This is the second time a DSP comrade has raised this issue (Peter Boyle
did it some time back.) Since you comrades clearly feel it's important, it
would be good to see it argued CONCRETELY, with EVIDENCE. Specifically:

*what is the mechanism by which surplus value from super-exploiting the 3d
world working class, or women in the west, or American blacks, ends up in
the bank accounts of the labour aristocracy?

*how do the bosses prevent the "flow-on" tendency noted above from
spreading this outside the aristocracy?

*who is part of this aristocracy, and who is not? It should be possible to
give some rough outlines for the Australian or American work force.

*Are relatively privileged workers in (say) Indonesia part of an Indonesian
aristocracy? If so, what do we make of the fact that they are probably
worse off than many Australian non-aristocrats?

*what is the evidence for a correlation between political consciousness (eg
quiescence and non-quiescence) and your place inside or outside the

These are exactly the concrete questions which shatter the abstraction of a
"labor aristocracy."

It is one thing to argue that there are different rates and intensities of
exploitation of sectors of the workers and that the  disparity benefits
capital.  It is quite another thing to show that the disparity is designed
or utilized to "privilege," and   mollify sectors of the class or the class
as a whole.

We are all familiar with a bourgeois or a corporation buying "labor peace"
by paying off this or that union bureaucrat.  Real money with a real purpose
changes hands.  But that's graft, and not a system of reproduction.  No such
transaction exists in regard to the payment of wages or in the different
rates of payment.

There is little point in talking about the labor aristocracy separate and
apart from the historical conditions that precipitated this awkward, at
best, inaccurate in reality concept. If memory serves me, it was the shock
of WWI and the failure of the social democrats in Europe to oppose the war,
and mobilize the workers across borders to oppose the war that precipitated
this concept.  Lenin attempted to locate this failure in a material
transformation of the condition of the working class, creating a "layer," a
shell around the class that functioned as a self-containing structure.

 The "theory" of the labor aristocracy is continuously recycled as an
attempt to explain the lack of revolutionary success among the workers of
the advanced capitalist countries.

Lenin's description, however, is just that-- an apparently accurate
description of certain moment in the organization of capital and wage labor,
and at the same time, an inadequate analysis of the conditions themselves
which swiftly undid the privilege and passivity of the "privileged" European
workers.  After WWI, the same privileged European workers led the general
strike in the UK, the multiple insurrections in Germany, the Spanish
Revolution,  the radical upsurge in France, the Hungarian Revolution

The argument about privilege could be organized to descibe the difference
between those making higher wages and those not, regardless of skin color,
country of origin, etc.  But that does not explain the historical origin of
the differences.  Nor does it explain the radical, and threatening to
capital, actions by certain privileged workers. To cite just a few in the
US:  The Lordstown Strike, The League of Revolutionary Black Workers
(privileged compared to rest of the world, certainly), the Postal Workers

Now of course we could, and should argue that these events manifested
themselves precisely when the composition of the working class had undergone
and was still undergoing significant change, with black and young white
workers increasing.  Still, the question of labor aristocracy and privilege
revolves around wages and compensation.  And the wages were still high. So
we should jettison the notion of labor aristocrats and look to those
historical conditions that both changed the compositon of the working class,
the rate and intensity of exploitation, and the precipitated the actions of

I might add a few questions of my own:  Are US workers still privileged and
an aristocracy when real wages decline signifcantly over a long period of
time, say 1973-1993?

Are US workers still aristocrats when the percentage of unionized workers
falls signifcantly over a period of time, say from 22% to 15%, 1973-1993?

Are US workers still aristocrats when they're real wages are lower than the
avg. wage rates in several other industrialized countries?  Are those
workers in those countries receiving a wage subsidy at the expense of the US

It's after midnight in NYC, posting 1.

PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.

More information about the Marxism mailing list