Raya Dunavevskaya 1979
Marx considered his analysis of wages to be one of three fundamentally new elements he introduced into political economy, (See Marx-Engels Correspondence, p. 232.) A valuable lesson can be gotten from contrasting the manner in which he deals with this .phenomenal form of the value of labor power in Part VI, that is, after we have analysed the process of production, and his treatment of the same subject in. Part II, that is, before we entered the inner abode of production.
In Part II, in the chapter on the “Contradiction in the General Formula for Capital,” he merely poses the conditions which enable the capitalist to withdraw more money from circulation than he threw into it. We know, vaguely, that it is the specific use-value of labor-power, but we do not know exactly how that is accomplished. We cannot know that since we are then in the market where equality reigns. The worker was not “cheated”; his labor power was paid for at value.
We then follow the worker into the factory and see that he works more hours than is necessary to reproduce his commodity, labor power. Why does he do that? Why doesn’t he assert his rights as the equal with the other seller of the commodity, money, or wages? In Part VI Marx tells us why; “That which comes face to face with the possessor of money on the market is in fact not labor, but the labourer. What the latter sells is his labour-power. As soon as his labour , actually begins, it has already ceased to belong to him; it can therefore no longer be sold by him. Labour is the substance and the immanent measure of value, but has itself no value.” (p. 588)
Since labor power in action is labor itself, but since it becomes labor only in the factory where it no longer belongs to the laborer, Marx concludes that the appearance of the value of labor power (wages) in actuality “makes the actual relation invisible and indeed shows the direct opposite of the relation and forms the basis of all juridical notions of both labourer and capitalist, of all the mystifications of the capitalist mode of production, of all its illusions as to liberty, of all the apologetic shift of the vulgar economists.” (pp. 591-2)
In fact, continues Marx, the result of the labor process – that it reproduces the wage laborer and sends him again to market to find a buyer – befuddles the basic class relationship: “The wage-form thus extinguishes every trace of the division of the working day into necessary labour and surplus labour. All labour appears as paid labour... All the slave’s labour appears as unpaid labour, in wage-labour, on the contrary, even surplus labour, or unpaid labour, appears as paid. There the property relation conceals the labour of the slave for himself; here the money-relation conceals the unrequited labour of the wage-labourer.” (p. 59l)
It is only after he has made this distinction clear that Marx goes into a description of time wages, piece wages, and national differences in wages. It is at this point, too, that we see that the law of value is a law of the world market: “But the law of value in its international application is yet more modified by this, that on the world market, the more productive national labour reckons also as the more intense, so long as the more productive nation, is not compelled by competition to lower the selling price of its commodities to the level of their value.” (p. 612) The full relationship of value to price, in all its phenomenal complexities, will not, however, be analyzed by Marx until Volume III.
Immediately after the questions to this lesson, the students should review parts I and II.
1. Does labor possess value or is it only a source of value?
2. How is the commodity, labor power, distinguished from all other commodities? Compare the treatment of buying and selling of labor power in Part II, with that in Part VI.
3. How does the money relation hide the unpaid labor of the laborer?
4. What do wages represent?
5. How does the money relation affect the juridical notion of the laborer of the capitalist on the question of freedom and equality?
6. What is more specific to capitalism, time or piece wages?
7. What is the relation of the value of labor power to its price? How does competition on the world market influence the price of commodities?
8. What determines the national differences in wages? How does labor productivity influence the price of labor power?
9. What relationship has the standard of living, the strength of trade union organization, on the value of labor power?