Thursday, 26 May 2011

AWL Up To Their Misrepresentation Again - Part 1

The Stalinist epigones of the AWL are up to their old tricks of misrepresenting Marxist texts and principles again. In a debate with Anarchists from SolFed, Anarchism And The Commune, Martin Thomas writes,

“By patient argument within the International, Marx won a majority for three key ideas:

One: that strikes and trade unions must not only be supported, but were central to the working class organising and educating itself for emancipation.
In a long debate in the General Council with an old Owenite socialist, John Weston, Marx refuted the alleged "iron law of wages" believed by many socialists at the time, according to which capitalism inevitably reduced wages to a subsistence minimum and all battles for higher wages must be fruitless.

Two: that the working class must aim for the expropriation of the capitalists and public ownership of the means of production. (The Proudhonists traditionally looked instead to the growth of a network of workers' cooperatives linked by "fair exchange" and crowding out capitalist production rather than expropriating the capitalists. Bakunin sided with Marx on this).

Three: that the working class must engage in political action (battles for reforms made by law, and electoral action) as well as economic struggle.”

All of these claims are distortions, and some are so distorted as effectively to be lies. Let's take them in turn.

“One: that strikes and trade unions must not only be supported, but were central to the working class organising and educating itself for emancipation. In a long debate in the General Council with an old Owenite socialist, John Weston, Marx refuted the alleged "iron law of wages" believed by many socialists at the time, according to which capitalism inevitably reduced wages to a subsistence minimum and all battles for higher wages must be fruitless.”

Marx certainly did argue against Lassalle's “Iron Law of Wages”, which proposed the idea that “Capitalism causes poverty” - this is also what the AWL claim in their “What We Stand For” section of their paper.
Lassalle argued that wages would always be driven down to an absolute minimum causing immiseration. The Stalinists, and some Trotskyists remain tied to this kind of idea today, unable to accept that Capitalism remains capable of raising workers real living standards, or else arguing as the AWL do here that such increases are only possible as a result of “class struggle”, by which they mean Economistic Trade Union struggle.

In the Critique Of The Gotha Programme, Marx says of this idea,

“Since Lassalle's death, there has asserted itself in our party the scientific understanding that wages are not what they appear to be -- namely, the value, or price, of labor—but only a masked form for the value, or price, of labor power.
Thereby, the whole bourgeois conception of wages hitherto, as well as all the criticism hitherto directed against this conception, was thrown overboard once and for all. It was made clear that the wage worker has permission to work for his own subsistence—that is, to live, only insofar as he works for a certain time gratis for the capitalist (and hence also for the latter's co-consumers of surplus value); that the whole capitalist system of production turns on the increase of this gratis labor by extending the working day, or by developing the productivity—that is, increasing the intensity or labor power, etc.; that, consequently, the system of wage labor is a system of slavery, and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labor develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment. And after this understanding has gained more and more ground in our party, some return to Lassalle's dogma although they must have known that Lassalle did not know what wages were, but, following in the wake of the bourgeois economists, took the appearance for the essence of the matter.

It is as if, among slaves who have at last got behind the secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the program of the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low maximum!”

But, the difference between Marx and the Lassalleans here is not about whether workers can simply increase wages through Economistic struggle. Marx's point is that wages are regulated by a different law – the law of Supply and Demand. Marx's argument is that wages are a price, the market price for Labour Power, and as such they are ultimately determined by the Exchange Value of Labour Power as a commodity. Like any other commodity that Value is determined by the labour time required for the production of that Labour Power. But, like every other commodity this changes over time. Increases in productivity mean that every commodity decreases in Exchange Value, because each requires less labour-time to produce it. But, also all commodities themselves change in their composition and quality.
A modern motor car is not the same commodity as a Model T Ford. Although, the modern motor car might have a much lower Exchange Value than the Model T, because of the massive increase in productivity, the modern motor car is also much superior in quality to the Model T. Had it been possible to produce a modern car back then, it would have required much more Labour-time than the Model T. In part, the fact that productivity rises itself drives the fact of improvements in the commodity, because competition means that each producer of cars has to improve quality, introduce new features in order to sell it.
As Marx sets out in the Grundrisse, Capitalism is forced to raise the living standards of workers by increasing the range of products they are offered, and which they consume, because the more workers form the majority of consumers, it is only by doing so that Capital can realise Surplus Value.

But, despite the impression Martin gives, when he says that Marx argued against the idea that “all battles for higher wages must be fruitless”, that Marx thought that workers could simply increase their living standards by Economistic, Trade Union struggle or its extension in terms of a parliamentary struggle for reforms, the exact opposite is the truth!

In his argument against the Lassalleans, Marx writes in the Critique of the Gotha Programme,

“Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.”

And he states clearly what he means by that, showing just how much he believed that workers could not simply win higher wages and better conditions.

“A general prohibition of child labor is incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish. Its realization -- if it were possible -- would be reactionary, since, with a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other safety measures for the protection of children, an early combination of productive labor with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society.”

It was only the rapid development of the productive forces in Britain and other advanced economies - essentially changing the economic structure of society - that enabled these societies to gradually remove child labour, and instead to send those children into its education factories, to be prepared to become the kind of workers that a more developed Capitalism required.
But, it is also why in less developed economies, child labour remains, and why Marx would have viewed the attempts of Liberals, and some who call themselves Marxists to abolish it with disdain.

Ultimately, this is conditioned not by the organisation or militancy of industrial action, but by the ownership of the means of production, and relations of production established by it.

“Any distribution whatever of the means of consumption is only a consequence of the distribution of the conditions of production themselves. The latter distribution, however, is a feature of the mode of production itself. The capitalist mode of production, for example, rests on the fact that the material conditions of production are in the hands of nonworkers in the form of property in capital and land, while the masses are only owners of the personal condition of production, of labor power.
If the elements of production are so distributed, then the present-day distribution of the means of consumption results automatically. If the material conditions of production are the co-operative property of the workers themselves, then there likewise results a distribution of the means of consumption different from the present one. Vulgar socialism (and from it in turn a section of the democrats) has taken over from the bourgeois economists the consideration and treatment of distribution as independent of the mode of production and hence the presentation of socialism as turning principally on distribution. After the real relation has long been made clear, why retrogress again?”

And, in Value, Price And Profit, where Marx sets out those arguments against Weston that Martin Thomas refers to, Marx sets this out even more clearly as these statements demonstrate.

“I might answer by a generalization, and say that, as with all other commodities, so with labour, its market price will, in the long run, adapt itself to its value; that, therefore, despite all the ups and downs, and do what he may, the working man will, on an average, only receive the value of his labour, which resolves into the value of his labouring power, which is determined by the value of the necessaries required for its maintenance and reproduction, which value of necessaries finally is regulated by the quantity of labour wanted to produce them....

“As to the limits of the value of labour, its actual settlement always depends upon supply and demand, I mean the demand for labour on the part of capital, and the supply of labour by the working men. In colonial countries the law of supply and demand favours the working man. Hence the relatively high standard of wages in the United States...

“Take, for example, the rise in England of agricultural wages from 1849 to 1859. What was its consequence? The farmers could not, as our friend Weston would have advised them, raise the value of wheat, nor even its market prices. They had, on the contrary, to submit to their fall. But during these eleven years they introduced machinery of all sorts, adopted more scientific methods, converted part of arable land into pasture, increased the size of farms, and with this the scale of production, and by these and other processes diminishing the demand for labour by increasing its productive power, made the agricultural population again relatively redundant.
This is the general method in which a reaction, quicker or slower, of capital against a rise of wages takes place in old, settled countries. Ricardo has justly remarked that machinery is in constant competition with labour, and can often be only introduced when the price of labour has reached a certain height, but the appliance of machinery is but one of the many methods for increasing the productive powers of labour. The very same development which makes common labour relatively redundant simplifies, on the other hand, skilled labour, and thus depreciates it...

“I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities.”

Engels was even more explicit in this regard, he wrote in The Condition Of The Working Class In England,

“The history of these Unions is a long series of defeats of the working-men, interrupted by a few isolated victories.
All these efforts naturally cannot alter the economic law according to which wages are determined by the relation between supply and demand in the labour market. Hence the Unions remain powerless against all great forces which influence this relation. In a commercial crisis the Union itself must reduce wages or dissolve wholly; and in a time of considerable increase in the demand for labour, it cannot fix the rate of wages higher than would be reached spontaneously by the competition of the capitalists among themselves.”

And so we find Marx concluding in his debate with Weston,

“At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society.
Instead of the conservative motto: “A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!” they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword: “Abolition of the wages system!"

But, of course, the AWL wish to distort Marx's views on this, and to turn him into an adherent of Economism, and Trade Union struggle, because it is precisely to that form of reformism they have tied themselves.
Having effectively given up on the idea of a revolutionary transformation of society – because their view of revolution is not that of Marx, but the view of some repeat of 1917 – they have nothing left but to become reformists advocating nothing more than a version of “A Fair Day's Wage”, and of its Social Wage equivalent, covering it with revolutionary rhetoric about Workers Governments and Soviets some time in the misty future, and with no means of connecting the two together. Like other forms of Stalinism, they have essentially settled upon a state of peaceful co-existence with bourgeois democracy.

Forward To Part 2

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