Marx on Smith (jim o'connor)

Roger Odisio rodisio at
Tue Aug 3 11:47:12 PDT 1999

Jim O'Connor wrote:

> Roger, the wage bargain is not "about wages only." There's the other side,
> namely, what exactly is sold.

Jim, when I said that, I was trying to make the point that it is only wages, and, yes, the other terms and conditions of employment you and Rakesh discuss, that are on the table in the labor market bargain. But not profits (or other forms of realized surplus value). Capital's exclusive claim to profits is the non-tautological proof you are looking for of exploitation of labor by capital.

So I wasn't ignoring the other labor t&c that provide many ways to enhance and extend capital's control and exploitation, as you discuss. You had said there was no proof/explanation of the *existence* of sv. That was the point I was trying to answer. Indeed my answer is so well known, I am left wondering still if I have misunderstood your asserrtion.

> We know that it's laborpower not labor
> services, but what's the proof? The worker's experience, I think.
> 1) I the worker am told that I'll get a fixed sum of money at the end of
> the week or month. This deal is made before I produce anything. My
> experience quickly confirms that the boss's rule in the workplace is
> therefore to maximize increases in production per unit of labortime.
> Everything I produce over and above my wage is potentially surplus. This is
> where the discussion usually stops, at the quantitative level.
> But surplus value in the quantitative sense of workers producing more than
> is required to reproduce their laborpower (that is, variable capital
> defined quantitatively) presupposes a concept of LP in the qualitative
> sense, that is, variability of LP not in terms of more or less but
> "different." Flexibility is of course the universal word today.
> 2) In or during the wage bargain, the boss states something about what the
> worker is expected to do. The peculiar nature of this bargain is that the
> boss rarely if ever says exactly these tasks and no others will you do. The
> reason is that the boss must be free to vary the utilization of LP in terms
> of specific tasks. So "work" isn't and can't be specified as a "job" in the
> traditional sense of the word, but as an activity that may require all
> kinds of "jobs" in the course of the work day or year. This is because the
> lobor process is never fixed, always undergoes changes. E.g., when GM and
> Japan retooled GM's Fremont Cal auto works some years ago, the existing 16
> job categories, overnight, became three.
> If the worker is hired not to do a particular job but many and varied jobs,
> potentially, then some of these jobs are likely to be unexpected. The
> worker is thus surprised to learn that this or that is expected of him.
> When asked to think about this surprise, she can be made to realize that
> it's because actual specific duties weren't specified or fully specified at
> the hiring office.
> The general rule: LP can't be varied quantitatively unless it can be varied
> qualitatively. This qualitative variation Marx somewhere speaks of as a
> "matter of life or death" of capital...during the crisis. Called
> restructuring today, or one aspect of it.

But this qualitative variation in duties surely doesn't account for all of the difference between labor and labor power, i. e., the existence of sv. It's not the sole source of sv. It's a weapon used by capital to squeeze out *more* sv than is apparent in the labor agreement itself. And, as you say, in crisis qualitative variation can be particularly important, a "matter of life and death" for capital. But even if all worker duties were precisely specified beforehand, and for some reason no qualtitative variation was possible, sv would be produced--labor would produce more than its social subsistence.

> You can see that a variety of observations, deductions, experiences, and
> memories are required to nail down a proof of the production of SV. No, not
> the production of SV, but the potentiality in the captial/labor relation
> for such production.

Yes, this is the point I just made above. What you describe is not the proof of the production of sv, i.e., the existence of sv--for, I argue, we already have that--but instead the possibiliites for, the extent of, the creation of sv in a production round.

To which I add this. The bargain for wages and other t&c as exchange is separate from the determination of labor power value (reproduction cost of productive labor). It is the difference between v (in quantitaive terms) and the value of output (once the replenishment of constant capital is accounted for) that determines the full extent of sv in a production round. But this number is not known. Thus labor agreements, sometimes and for some kinds of labor, can capture some of sv for labor. And at other times, and for other labor, wages do not cover their social subsistence. The latter is true, I think, for a growing number of workers at the moment.

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