Letter in The Guardian

A central belief of contemporary capitalism is that the labour of the worker is a commodity like any other in search of a buyer.

Hmm.

Err:

“Apologetic economists… say:… [the worker’s] labour-power, then, represents his capital in commodity-form, which yields him a continuous revenue. Labour-power is indeed his property (ever self-renewing, reproductive), not his capital. It is the only commodity which he can and must sell continually in order to live, and which acts as capital (variable) only in the hands of the buyer, the capitalist. The fact that a man is continually compelled to sell his labour-power, i.e., himself, to another man proves, according to those economists, that he is a capitalist, because he constantly has “commodities” (himself) for sale. In that sense a slave is also a capitalist, although he is sold by another once and for all as a commodity; for it is in the nature of this commodity, a labouring slave, that its buyer does not only make it work anew every day, but also provides it with the means of subsistence that enable it to work ever anew.” ―Karl Marx, Capital Vol. 2, Chapter 20 section 10[4]

I’m not sure it’s actually a central tenet of capitalism therefore.

But think how fucked we’re getting if Guardian letter writers aren’t even getting Marx right?

18 thoughts on “Letter in The Guardian”

  1. “In that sense a slave is also a capitalist, although he is sold by another once and for all as a commodity; ”

    1. I can’t believe anybody is quoting Marx as any sort of authority rather than a completely discredited philosopher.

    2. A slave is not a capitalist because the slave has had his capital (his labor) *stolen* from him. Its no longer his property but someone else’s – that’s what slavery means, someone else appropriating your labor rather than purchasing it.

    Its the same for indentured servants – they’ve sold a portion of their capital for a lump sum. In this case a limited time-frame option on that self-renewing capital.

    I wouldn’t have a problem with a ‘central tenant of capitalism’ being that we’re all capitalists because we all sell labor as a commodity.

    And for those who say you *have* to sell your labor to survive – no you don’t. Go find someplace out in the middle of nowhere and support yourself. You’ll find that ‘being forced’ to sell your labor in a large market with access to specialists gives you a better QOL than being ‘free of capitalism’ in the wild.

    But its your choice.

  2. And for those who say you *have* to sell your labor to survive – no you don’t. Go find someplace out in the middle of nowhere and support yourself.

    There are daytime documentaries on the Discovery Channel about folk who live “off grid” in Alaska, basically hiking into the wilderness, building a hut, and living off the land. They are as weird as they come, but extraordinarily hardy and resourceful. I wonder how long the assorted hippies, eco-loons, and other Guardianistas would last out there? About as long as Chris McCandless, I suspect.

  3. The advantage of trying it mid-Wales is that you’re never more than an hour’s drive from a free hospital when you inevitably injure yourself. In Alaska you’d just die.

    In the towns and cities where most of us live though, and given that few of us have the wide range of skills to survive in the wilderness, we do have to sell our labour to the highest bidder in order to survive. Hence the need for a business-friendly environment which increases the number of bidders and thus raises the price of your labour.

  4. Bloke no Longer in the DDR

    Marxist and Marx’s muddle-headedness on show here.

    Firstly a slave is an object, a commodity in its own right. It’s like a lawnmower, fill it with fuel and it’ll cut the grass. It cannot be a capitalist, because it has no control over and derives no benefit from its own labour. There were entrepreneurial slaves, but they were operating outside of the slavish norms. Marx knows this full well because he describes it in Caüial vol 1 ( or at least the Grundriss, it’s so long since I read him).
    Serfs are different, their labour belongs to the Overlord, but their bodies are essentially free. They can work for themselves on a subsistance basis, but all surplus belongs to the master.
    And there is the central tenet of Marx’s view of production: it is not the labour itself as a commodity from which the capitalist derives benefit but the surplus value that the worker creates. All wage-labour is essentially exploitative because the worker always creates value over and above his recompense. If he dosesn’t then he gets sacked.
    To be fair to Marx, this is a reasonable notion for drones in a factory making widgets, but he could not conceive of local authority Climate Change Consultants sitting all day staring slack-jawed out of the window or looking at pictures of cats on their PCs.

  5. So Much For Subtlety

    A lot of people seem to have missed the basic point of an economy. If we want a lot of things from other people, we have to ask can we do lots of things for people? What can we do for other people?

    Not everyone is our mother who will cook and clean for us for free. Not everyone is as stupid as the government who will give you a loan to drink yourself blotto in the JCR every day.

    If we want things that other people make, we have to think how we are going to get them. We could just send some lads around. Or we could acquire some skills. Do some sort of job other people value and will pay for.

    There isn’t really a fourth option. And anyone who wants to opt for the first should grow up.

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke no Longer in the DDR – “There were entrepreneurial slaves, but they were operating outside of the slavish norms.”

    Define your slavish norm. The Spanish and Portuguese passed laws that forced a slave owner to sell any slave to himself at a price fixed by the state. Usually what the slave owner paid for him.

    I would expect all slaves were entrepreneurial in the same way that concentration camp dwellers made little things out of spare metal or wood. It is human nature. Of course if the legal system does not recognise it that is another matter. It is certainly often said Caribbean Blacks do better than Southern Blacks because they had provision fields on which they could grow – and sell – food.

  7. “Caribbean Blacks do better than Southern Blacks”

    Might be so today, definitely wasn’t back then. Caribbean blacks basically died. Southern lasted long enough at least to increase their population.

  8. Bloke no Longer in the DDR

    SMFS

    Yeah, I’m talking about “slave millionaires” or slaves owning other slaves. Essentially everything that a slave “earns” or “owns” or creates belongs to his master, but there were cases of slaves owning property and having incomes in their own right . Skimming off a couple of sistercii/shillings from the market stall doesn’t really count.

  9. So Much For Subtlety

    Bloke no Longer in the DDR – “There are also fewer ferocious bears in Wales.”

    I am shocked, just shocked, that the Welsh are so homophobic.

    Tim Worstall – “Might be so today, definitely wasn’t back then. Caribbean blacks basically died. Southern lasted long enough at least to increase their population.”

    Hey, I said it was often said. Not that it was true.

    Having their own provision grounds don’t seem to have done much for Soviet peoples.

    Bloke no Longer in the DDR – “Yeah, I’m talking about “slave millionaires” or slaves owning other slaves. Essentially everything that a slave “earns” or “owns” or creates belongs to his master, but there were cases of slaves owning property and having incomes in their own right . Skimming off a couple of sistercii/shillings from the market stall doesn’t really count.”

    In Asia there are many such cases. But if you have a slave who has a skill, it is hard to stand over him and make him work. Even in the Old South, the usual deal was to let him wander off on his own as long as he paid a quit rent – a fixed amount of money every year. Very common among urban Blacks and other skilled workers. What do you do with a slave Blacksmith? Hire a White foreman to watch him?

  10. The better quote is this one:

    “Labor is a commodity, like any other, and its price is therefore determined by exactly the same laws that apply to other commodities.”
    – Friedrich Engels, The Principles of Communism, 1847.

  11. So labour is a commodity, like any other. So what’s the Socialist alternative? Collective farms and factories to which the worker must belonging he wishes to eat and live?

    And the animals looked from pig to man and from man to pig. Or “meet the new boss; same as the old boss”.

  12. “They don’t bother going as far as Alaska, for some reason they all congregate in mid- or West Wales.”

    From my experience of West Wales its not so much living off-grid, rather living off the (English) taxpayer.

  13. Dearieme, there is no translation of Marx in any language that makes him seem readable. I wonder how bad his German was. From anecdotes, I think he is even unreadable in German.

  14. These people living off-grid? Where do they get their refined metals from, or do they till the soil with their bare hands and cut down trees to build their huts with their teeth?

  15. Bloke no Longer in the DDR

    jgh

    There’s nothing stopping them popping into Home Depot ( or whatever the American BandQ equivalent is ) on their way to going off grid.

    Afterwards, they just go and visit the neighbours who have been eaten by bears and pinch their axes.

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