[Marxism] meaning of labor time in Capital

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Sat Apr 18 20:42:40 MDT 2009

David Picon Alvarez writes: "Clearly all labour that is required for the
production and reproduction of labour power should be accounted for, which
includes the labour expended in home tasks and the raising of children.
However, I don't think it needs to be thought of as gendered or as labour by
a wife or partner, as I believe more equitable arrangements are in principle

And just as clearly, all good dogs should go to heaven. But the question is
not whether "all labour that is required for the production and reproduction
of labour power" SHOULD BE accounted and paid for, but whether it IS. On
THAT, I do not see how to avoid a double negation:

It is NOT TRUE, in fact, that this labor power is recognized as such and
paid for in the capitalist economy.

It is ALSO NOT TRUE that the contribution of this unpaid labor to the value
of labor power and therefore also to surplus value is taken into account in
Marxist economic theory. It is not. 

However, although not recognized "as such" this labor power in the U.S. and
I suspect other imperialist countries has been paid for, to a significant
degree on average, although arguably not anywhere near fully, and clearly in
many cases not to the person that provides it, but to the person whose own
labor power embodies it. 

In the earliest days of industrial capitalism in Britain, the tendency was
for this contribution to the labor power the capitalists bought not to be
recognized. The tendency in the early 1800's was therefore towards a
disintegration of the family/household among proletarians and a decline in
the physical health/stamina of the working class. There was a decline in the
"race" of workers and one of the main reasons was that pay (for adult males)
was insufficient to provide for a family.

The same parliamentary studies which Engels uses (in "The Condition of the
Working Class in England") to document these realities played a big role in
convincing the bourgeoisie that their course was unsustainable, and that a
certain floor beyond which the exploitation of the average worker --
especially male workers-- should not be allowed to go had to be established,
partly by legislation, partly by custom and other means. This floor in the
English case proved more than adequate for the rehabilitation of the family
and much else besides; so much so that even chimney sweeps became a
"gentlemen's office," at least in the minds of its practitioners. 

And over time, that has tended to become the policy of all bourgeois classes
in the imperialist countries.

A failure to include some substantial compensation for the upkeep of the
family in the wages of adult male workers would quickly lead to the
disintegration of the family/household in the working class (as was indeed
happening up until --roughly-- the 1840's). Marx and Engels believed THAT to
be the inherent tendency of capitalism, and in the Communist Manifesto argue
vigorously that this is the case. The post-1840 British experience did not
lead them to revise their view: they thought it was merely a parenthesis
made possible by Britain's extraordinarily privileged position, with the
most extensive colonial empire, a virtual monopoly in manufacturing, and
pretty much complete domination of the world market. As soon as these
advantages disappeared, as they were bound to, to tendency from the first
half of the 1800's would reassert itself.

What *actually* happened --although this didn't become completely clear
until after the founders of the Marxist movement had died-- is that the few
countries that became developed enough to compete with Britain also
developed a relatively privileged, and therefore increasingly conservatized
working class. 

These countries were the western European countries, their "colonies" (in
the Roman Empire sense, what we today would call colonial-settler societies)
and --uniquely among the "non-white" countries-- Japan. 

For the first half century or so of its existence, roughly the first half of
the XXth Century, this was all pretty ad-hoc, a hit or miss system, and it
is not clear how systematically it had been thought through and implemented.
Following WWII, this became, very clearly, a systematic, coordinated ruling
class policy for this small percentage of the world, coupled with policies
that kept the bulk of the world in misery. 

David adds: "However, I don't think it needs to be thought of as gendered or
as labour by a wife or partner, as I believe more equitable arrangements are
in principle possible."

Yes, just like those who got to contribute unpaid labor to the United States
in the antebellum south "could have" been white. Undoubtedly "more
equitable" arrangement were and are possible, especially "in principle." But
reality was, and remains, otherwise.


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