Relation of Wage-Labor to Capital: Wage-Labor and Capital, Pt. 2

This is the second of three posts on Marx’s “Wage-Labor and Capital,” chapters 5-6. This post covers the nature of and relation of capital to wage-labor. You can find the rest of the series here.

The Nature and Growth of Capital

Marx defines capital as the extracted raw material, manufacture of labor instruments, and production of means of subsistence to create new raw materials, new labor instruments, new means of subsistence. An example of capital could be this: a rubber farm harvests rubber and sells it to a tire factory. The rubber farm would be an extraction of raw material, and the tire factory would be manufacturing new raw materials to sell to automobile companies.

Marx also calls capital “accumulated labor.” Production requires specific and reciprocal social relations. E.g., if there is no crude oil, there are no jobs to make cars, or refining plants to make gasoline, or truckers to transport it—and all the communities that form around these sectors become less tied, less communal. Marx contends that social relations vary and alter according to the means of production. Each epoch of the means of production becomes discrete: ancient, feudal, capitalist.

Capitalism is a bourgeois social relation. It operates under the assumption of exploiting a class that can only work, but without possession of property. Elsewhere, Marx equates property with capital. E.g., the worker doesn’t control the property that manufactures iPhones, the property from which they extract rare minerals, the seed patent property of Monsanto, the utility property that heats and cools their homes, water treatment property, or the property of bus and train systems. In the end, capital is living labor serving accumulated labor: preserving and multiplying it; it does not serve the living, except the bourgeois.


Relation of Wage-labor to Capital

In the relation between wage-labor and capital, the former gains subsistence, though this subsistence is consumed immediately for life. The latter receives even more value added to accumulated labor. Marx uses the example of the day laborer getting paid $1 a day, even though he produced $2 of product. This extra $1 of value he produced goes to the capitalist, $1 of value he didn’t work for. Multiply this by 5 workers, 20 workers, 100 workers, 1000 workers. This is that much money the capitalist gains for all the work produced by the laborer(s), again that he didn’t work for.

An increase in capital requires an increase in workers, because it requires that much more labor to increase it. As it grows, living labor more and more serves accumulated labor, both of the accumulated labor of their own making and that which past workers have produced. The capital remains long after workers are dead. Consider the Rockefeller family. The Rockefeller progeny still lives off of the formerly exploited labor of 19th-century workers, while continuing to add more to that accumulation through exploitation of 20th- and 21st-century laborers. Workers perish without work; capital perishes without exploitation.

Labor and Commodities: Wage-Labor and Capital, Pt. 1

This post is the first in a 3-part series on Marx’s “Wage-Labor and Capital.” Part 1 covers chapters 2-4, part 2 chs. 5-6, and part 3 chs. 7-9 (the first chapter is an unnecessary introduction). The main idea of the work is that capitalists obtain all their advantages by exploiting the labor of workers. You can find the rest of the series here.

What Are Wages?

Workers typically define wages as what a capitalist pays a worker for hours of work or a completed project. Marx contends, however, that the worker actually sells his labor-power—a commodity—to the capitalist.

Prices are the exchange rate of a commodity in money terms. Wages aren’t a share in the product produced, but are commodities themselves, given to workers in order to live. Work is not the worker’s life; his life begins when his work ends.

How Do Commodities Get Their Price?

Prices obtain their exchange rate from the competition between buyer and seller. Competition between sellers drives price down; competition between buyers drives price up. In this case, the capitalists are the buyers and the workers are the sellers. Since workers far outnumber the capitalists, the capitalist, in addition to owning the means of production, has an enormous advantage in buying whatever worker he desires.

The cost of production factors in to the seller’s profit. When price goes below the cost of production, capital withdraws its investment. What is the cost of production? It includes labor time, raw materials, and machine maintenance.

How Are Wages Determined?

The laws of commodities apply to wages. Labor costs the capitalist the amount of money required to train the worker, keep him alive, and literally reproduce the worker through sexual reproduction. Shorter training periods save the capitalist money, because then he has to pay less for non-production. According to Marx, however, this “minimum wage,” refers not to the individual worker, but to the class of workers.

Preparation for a Communist Revolution: Communist Manifesto, part 5

Global Solidarity

The last sections of the Communist Manifesto pamphlet involve Marx’s analysis and critique of his present-day socialisms. In part 3, he lists the shortcomings of 5 distinct socialisms: feudal socialism, petty-bourgeois socialism, German “true” socialism, conservative/bourgeois socialism, and critical-utopian socialism. Then in part 4, Marx lists who he agrees with (with caveats) among the various workers parties. The sections involve the preparation work for revolution.

While these sections are wonderful historical fodder, on their surface they aren’t that valuable for praxis. Engels admitted the antiquity of these sections a mere 30 years later. Most of these groups no longer exist. We simply live in a different political situation. Socialist experiments have occurred where Marx least expected: outside Europe. What is valuable from this section is the notion of critique. Critique is preparation for revolution that involves three elements: taking stock of one’s situation (assessment), identifying allies (identification), and moving forward toward mass mobilization (mobilization).

Critique Element 1: Assessment

Part 3 comprises the stock-taking element I call assessment. I know this is dangerous ground, but let’s try to illustrate Marx’s socialisms with 21st century American examples. Of the five groups he lists, Republicans wouldn’t factor in at all as socialist. They would be the bourgeois enemy, plain and simple. Democrats would probably fit most nicely in conservative/bourgeois socialism. This group attempted to sidestep the fissures of capitalism with social welfare, rather than deal with capitalism as the root cause of modern oppression. They would go after reforms rather than radical transformation (revolution). And this makes sense. They benefited from the way things are. If you ever hear people call Democrats socialist or communist, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Democrats, as Lance Selfa put it, are capitalist lite.

Socialist groups do exist in the United States and abroad. Though I know of some like Podemos (Spain), Die Linke (Germany), Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL, United States), and Minjung Party (South Korea), I don’t know enough about them to categorize them or identify them as allies.

Assessment is preparation. The Black Panthers wanted their leaders to read at least 2 hours daily to keep abreast of current affairs. This is a tall order, but necessary, since the rules in place are set by the bourgeoisie and taken for granted by a majority of the populace.

Critique Element 2: Identification

Part 4 involves two elements, but the first involves identifying allies. Here Marx lists various parties of Europe (and only Europe; he wasn’t exactly a forward thinker when it came to naming non-European groups “barbarian,” unless one takes this to refer merely to their modes of production), but only really names one. In France he states that the communists ally with the Social-Democrats. The other “parties” (if you can call them that) he lists by their actions: Radicals (Switzerland), agrarian revolutionaries (Poland), or anyone fighting against monarchy and the bourgeoisie (Germany). The fact is they really don’t list that many parties at all, perhaps because the workers movement was so young then. Again, this part of preparation takes a lot of reading, conversation, and time.

Critique Element 3: Mobilization

Marx then finishes on the practical question. What are we to do? He hedges all his bets on Germany as the ripest place for revolution (sadly, Germany hasn’t had a great track record with socialism). Communists must push political and social conditions to benefit the working class. They must push the property question (that is, that private property must be abolished). Finally, they must push for union between the democratic parties of all countries.

Preparation in the Present Moment

How does this fit the American present?

  1. The awakened worker must exacerbate the distinction between bourgeoisie and proletariat. This comes through conversations, reading various socialist literature, and meeting with like-minded people to strategize.
  2. In each country, communists must ally themselves with the most radically democratic forces locally and nationally. They must push a clear, concise agenda that accentuates the dueling interests of the bourgeoisie and proletariat. One way of doing this is pushing abolition of private property more consistently. In the United States, this would be the PSL, Worker’s World Party (PSL and WWP used to be one group), and to a lesser extent, the Democratic Socialists of America (which isn’t a party, but an educational organization).
  3. The journey toward international communist solidarity is hard when workers from various countries literally can’t understand each other. Marx and friends knew enough different languages to forge solidarity in at least the European nations. If one wanted to think more globally, and if one has the time, I think it would be best to learn one of the official languages of the UN: Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin I assume), English, French, Russian, or Spanish. Doing so allows one to read literature and converse with workers outside one’s life situation. Since I’m in the United States, the most practical language in this endeavor would be Spanish. If I lived in India, Arabic or Chinese might be a worthwhile second language.

This is my final post in my series on the Communist Manifesto. Next I will review Engels’ Principles of Communism, a catechism of sorts and precursor to the Communist Manifesto.

Revolution in 10 Measures: Communist Manifesto, part 4


(For the rest of the series, click here)

It is fascinating reading the Communist Manifesto during a time of nationalist fervor globally. It contrasts strikingly with Marx’s 10 measures of revolution. For although he desires workers to more actively compose themselves as the center of their respective nations, he likewise calls on them to unite with all workers of the world. This is because he sees greater similarity between international workers than between workers and capitalists of a shared nation-state.

So what are Marx’s 10 measures?

10 Measures of Revolution

Paraphrased from Marx, here are his 10 measures of a revolution.

  1. Abolition of land property; rent money goes to public purpose
  2. Heavy income tax
  3. Abolition of inheritance rights
  4. Confiscation of the property of “emigrants” and “rebels”
  5. Central bank with exclusive state monopoly of credit
  6. Centralization of transport and communication under the state
  7. Multiplication of state-run factories; cultivation of wastelands; soil improvement
  8. All must work; establishment of industrial armies
  9. Combination of manufacturing/agriculture industries; population redistribution so city/country more equitably populated
  10. Free education for children; abolition of child factory labor

Why does “abolition” show up so often?

These measures of revolution aren’t ends in themselves. Eventually Marx wishes to see the nation-state fade evaporate alongside class. These are simply the precursors to that end.

Keep in mind that the revolution Marx sought after led to the working class becoming the owners of technology. Neither inventors, nor CEOs. Not board members or shareholders. Not managers. He wanted those that worked the machines to have control over their own lives. Therefore, Marx saw the 10 measures overcoming the capitalist obstacle to worker ownership.

Why the abolition of landed property? Landlords took high rents from workers.

Why the abolition of inheritance rights? Inheritance was one way capital passed from one generation to the next. It was a double slap to workers, because even if a capitalist had amassed great profits off the workers’ backs, a son by luck of birth did even less to earn it; he simply fell out of the right mother and continued to breathe for a few decades.

Why the confiscation of the property of emigrants/rebels? Recall that capitalists were not beholden to one country (and still aren’t). The East India Company had land and capital holdings in London, India, Hong Kong, Indonesia, and Japan. Note, however, that the head of the East India Company was never Indian, Indonesian, Chinese, or Japanese. To establish this particular measure, Marx would have wanted workers from these locales to seize components of the East India Company in their territories. “Rebels” would refer to loyalists to the capitalist order.

The role of the state

If abolition of some roles features strongly, centralization might factor even more.

Note that income tax, centralized banks, centralized transport and communication, and state-run factories all require an initially strong state. You would need a strong state after a revolution, anyway, to fight off counterrevolution. Recall, however, that these are measures of revolution and not its fullest extent.

The full revolution lies in the dissolution of the state as the loss of class character alters former class relations. As Marx understands it, the state is the instrument of one class oppressing another. With this understanding, when the workers seize the means of production, they would all exist on equal footing in relation to property. This is a different class relation (regarding property). Marx sees changes in the means of production altering social relations. This alteration is so severe in the proletarian revolution that the state would eventually dissipate: you cannot oppress an equal. So his logic goes.

How much of the current state relies on exploiting classes (foreign and domestic) to maintain its power? How often are white collar criminals incarcerated with lower class criminals, even though white collar criminals negatively affect far more communities and their environs? What country would board so many American military bases if they had the power to say “No”? Would we honestly harbor any foreign military base on American soil, even our closest allies? This is class exploitation at its finest. And the majority of Americans don’t give it a second thought because of incredibly effective militaristic propaganda.

Terry Eagleton once noted that Marx overesteemed capital in his own time, for it was not as efficient then as Marx claimed it to be. Today, the United States constitutes the most economically and militarily successful capitalist nation in history. Its labor laws favor bosses over workers. The propaganda machine of its military is as effective as the institution is large. To enjoy, really enjoy, the freedoms proclaimed in this nation, one must possess the means to defend them. Else you are at the mercy of those with resources.

Marx notes the necessity of the workers seizing this power in order to liberate the people. It’s understandable why this worries a lot of people. Revolutions aren’t always successful. Even when they are, lots of stuff changes. People die, supply lines have to be secured, the newly formed state has to defend itself within and without. Imagine the loss of civil rights and basic freedoms during wartime. All of those “inalienable” and “god-given” rights come into question; it’s almost as if that rhetoric is meaningless without defense measures in place.

The call on all to work

If Republicans today ever read Marx (some have heard a quote or two from him, but to most he’s a bogeyman of “leftism”), they might jizz their pants when they see him call on all to work. However, this would be a moment where historicizing the Manifesto would be appropriate. Recall that in Engels’ preface to the Communist Manifesto he remarked that parts of the 10 measures of revolution matched conditions of 1848, not 1888. Part of the power of Marxist analysis lies in its focus on the present instead of the past. For the purpose at hand, work, when it is to secure the survival needs of the populace, is a good thing.

The vast majority of American jobs do not meet this standard. Do we really need life coaches, marketers, car salesmen, 50 brands of watches, new cars every 4 months, 2 major but different smart phone brands that offer nearly identical hardware, or 500 brands of denim jeans? Amber B. gives an even more scathing analysis. There she remarks that the majority of work in the U.S. is only possible by exploiting the resources and manufacturing of the global south.

Humans need food, shelter, water, air, sex, companionship, and a means of self-actualizing. When work exists beyond these needs, merely to occupy 8 hours a day so capitalists don’t feel like they’re paying their workers for nothing (even if a worker might have work that constitutes less than half that time), something is amiss.

As we move toward a post-scarcity world and greater automation, the need for work decreases. The rational thing to do, a la Marx, is for people to work way less hours since they would own the means of production.

Let’s say the world needs 1,000,000 new cars for the next year. After the car makers built that many cars, they could do something else with their time. They wouldn’t just punch a clock. This revolutionary measure would severely alter how society works. Not only would the measures of revolution alter the means of production, but it would alter social relations, too.

Then, as Marx writes elsewhere, humans are freer to reach their full potential. With survival needs met easily by technology, the thought goes that people would be freer to do something creative with their lives. There would be none of this “I don’t have enough time” regarding creative pursuits. People could rest and recreate as need be. This could particularly take place in regions that are already highly industrialized.

Concluding remarks

I think it would be interesting to think up communist aims today. Verso edited a 1956 philosophical porno between Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in “Towards a New Manifesto.” It largely consists of them using big words to pleasure titillate each other. A more useful exercise in updating aims for contemporary workers is the People’s Congress of Resistance’s “Society for the Many: A Vision for Revolution.” Note its similarities with Marx and Engels:

  1. Health, food, shelter, and education for all
  2. Collectivizing of banks, communication, transportation, and energy
  3. Abolition of militarism, colonialism, and imperialism
  4. Abolition of mass incarceration and aggressive policing
  5. Reparations for African-Americans and self-determination for indigenous peoples
  6. Abolition of patriarchal oppression regarding sex, gender, and sexual orientation
  7. Environmental justice

Note its move beyond Marx and Engels’ propositions. They did not have the history of environmental catastrophes to factor in. Now we see the effects human industry can have on the environment: acid rain, undrinkable water, and on a vaster scale, global warming. A huge step in measure seven would be to pump vast amounts of money into nuclear fusion research, a step toward cleaner, nearly unlimited energy.


The next entry will cover part 3 of the Manifesto, on the various communist literatures of its day.

“Communism Leads to Abolition of Private Property” Plus 5 More Objections to Communism: Communist Manifesto, part 3

Steve Jobs and FoxConn Worker- in objections to communism post

Capitalists have had a problem with communism since its inception. In the second part of The Communist Manifesto (third part in my series; other parts here), the authors described how communists related to the proletariat. Communists connected similarities between the European workers’ parties that went beyond national identity (e.g., workers have the same relation to capitalists in England as they do in Poland). Marx and Engels responded to six (technically seven) objections that the bourgeois brought against the communists, and to that we turn. As before, I will try to update some of their language to the present. E.g., I’ll render “bourgeoisie” as “owners,” or “capitalists,” or the “proletariat” as “working class” or “workers.”

The 6 Objections Owners Had with Communism

  1. Communists deny the worker the fruit of his labor
  2. Communists destroy individuality
  3. Those dern communists do away with property
  4. Commies dismantle the family and disrupt family education
  5. Communists desire to share women in common
  6. Communists dissolve nationalities/countries

The main structure of these objections lies in stating a bourgeois objection, explaining how the bourgeoisie critiques communists according to naturalized  categories, and then asserting that what the bourgeois consider as neutral categories (e.g., “the” family, “the” individual, “freedom,” etc.) are actually nuanced by class.

Objections #1: Communists Deny the Worker the Fruit of His Labor

Capitalists, according to Marx and Engels, claimed that communists sought to deny the worker what he had made through his labor: the fruit or product. Workers had this relation to their labor before capitalism. E.g., under feudalism, peasants had to render tribute from their crops, but lords did not own all crops and then sell it back to peasants. This property relation comes under capitalism.

Under the “wage-labor” system of capitalism, a worker receives compensation not in what he produces, but with a wage far below the value he produces. It cost Apple $236 to produce the iPhone 6s Plus, though it sold for $749. In 24 hour cycles, 200K workers were building 540K iPhones daily. At that rate, each worker was producing 2.7 iPhone 6s Pluses per day, which would net Apple $1385.10 ((749-236)*2.7).

You and I both know that most top managers weren’t even making a quarter of $1300 per day. Let’s say the worker is well compensated at $25 an hour. Working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, the same worker who produced 2.7 iPhones per day could not afford to buy the phone outright without almost 4 days’ pay. Admittedly, most people buy on installment plans, helping communications capitalists, but the point stands.

The communists, according to Marx and Engels, wanted to do away with “private property” and move it to worker ownership. In this way of things, the workers (not the shareholders) would own the means of production AND what they produced, drastically altering the relation between persons and capital. By abolishing private property, the authors do not mean taking your iPhone, dog, and fleshlight. One, these would be products you produced yourself. Two, since production occurs for need instead of profit, a new relation develops between humans and commodities.

Objections #2: Communists Destroy Individuality

In the authors’ argument, this objection follows closely from the first. Capital is both the means of production and the product itself. For example, the machines used to assemble iPhones, along with iPhones themselves, are capital that belong to the capitalist class.

What the authors get at is that capitalists mistake their class’s view of individuality with individuality itself (cf. my post on naturalization).

Even if it was a capitalist who originated the idea for the iPhone, the capitalist cannot possibly realize this dream without a mass of labor. However, he attains a social status for the idea/product while the workers remain in the background.

When you think of the Apple brand, who do you picture? Do you think of the thousands of workers involved in producing, transporting, stocking, and selling Apple products? Or do you think of Steve Jobs? This is the individuality communists seek to destroy—a self that is not possible without a largely exploited mass. The communists wish to re-inscribe their individuality.

Objections #3: Those Dern Communists Do Away with Property

Somewhat related to objection 1, owners claimed that communists wanted to abolish private property. Marx and Engels pled guilty. Capitalists equated property with productive property/the means of production. They “rented” this to workers in the form of a wage.

.Capitalists propagated the claim that if property ceased, then work would cease, and universal laziness would follow in this train. Our authors wryly put it,

“You are horrified at our intending to do away with private property. But in your existing society, private property is already done away with for nine-tenths of the population; its existence for the few is solely due to its non-existence in the hands of those nine-tenths” (25).

And guess what: the poor still worked in order to survive. They did not toil for their own needs, which might take roughly 4 hours a day to meet if they lived in a forest commune. No, they worked arbitrarily long hours to create enormous surpluses of products, the profits of which all went back to the capitalists.

Communists wanted, not to leech peoples’ property, but to prevent the already-occurring exploitation of the workers by the capitalists.

Objections 4: Commies Dismantle Family and Disrupt Family Education

This objection is a bit obtuse if you don’t know what’s going on in the background. The authors frame this as yet another case of the bourgeoisie mistaking its own concept of the family for the family itself.

Marx and Engels describe this bourgeois family as based “on capital, on private gain” in contrast with the “practical absence of the family among the proletariat.” I’m not sure what goes on here. Later they remark that they wish to end parental exploitation of their children. It remains unclear, however, if the authors mean bourgeois children, proletarian children, or children in general.

On r/Communism101, u/Ornlu_Wolfjarl claims that the communist aim to end the capitalist family was to remove inheritance rights, and therefore, the propagation of class. This makes sense, for at the end of this section, the authors call on banning all inheritance. U/laserbot claims something similar, in that commies were not about ending marriage or parent/child relations per se, but ending the reduction of women to baby factories and children to heirs.

It seems, too, that workers’ children were subject to child labor at this time. The authors state, “all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder, and their children transformed into simple articles of commerce and instruments of labor” (27).

The communists wanted every child to have education, not just the owners.

Objections 5: Communists Desire to Share Women in Common

Marx and Engels charge the capitalists here with projecting again. The assumption seems to have been, according to our authors’ assertion, that women were property of their husbands. It makes sense, then, why capitalists would conclude that sharing property would include sharing women.

The authors desire women to self-actualize, to be more than reproductive vehicles, to be more than dependent upon men. Thus, in a communist world,  proletarian women would not have to resort to prostitution, for class exploitation would have ceased.

What communists did wish to share was to share freedom with women. As Clara Zetkin would later state, “When a proletarian then exclaims: ‘My wife!’ he will add mentally, ‘Comrade of my ideals, companion of my battles, mother of my children for future battles.'”

Objections 6: Communists Dissolve Nationalities/Countries

Marx and Engels counter that the workers have no country to leave behind or betray. Since they have no private property and no stake in the state, the authors push for a “nationalism” that is internationalist. In their words, Marx and Engels declare, “Since the proletariat must first of all acquire political supremacy, must rise to be the leading class of the nation, must constitute itself the nation, it is, so far, itself national, though not in the bourgeois sense of the word” (28).

When the workers gain a foothold within their own states, it seems to follow that they would help workers in other states gain power there, too.

Next, however, they state something spurious, at least as history went on: “National differences and antagonisms between peoples are vanishing gradually day to day, owing to the development of the bourgeoisie…” This comment is definitely of its time. They were writing mainly about and to other Europeans, who shared semi-common cultures.

A Postlude of sorts

Though Marx would relegate religion to an echo of productive means, religion, as a cultural marker between groups, has served just as strong an identifier as nationality does now.

picture-of-Hatch's-the-democratization-of-american-christianityAdmittedly, religion changes as the means of production change. Though not his aim, Nathan O. Hatch chronicles this change (in Christianity at least) in his The Democratization of American Christianity. He shows how religious practice shifted when monarchy shifted to democracy, a definite example of Marx’s theory that changes in the means of production drive history (here, on would say that the shift from feudalism to capitalism changed both politics and religion).

Perhaps, however, this criticism of Marx is premature. While they may have underestimated the power of nationalism (and ideas generally) in our time, Marx and Engels were prescient on group struggles. The ease with which politicians can scapegoat immigrants or unions or anything else for American problems demonstrates one thing. Workers largely have not realized that they are in common cause with workers of other countries. The owners of corporations, the ones who sent American jobs elsewhere, are not the friends of workers, American or not. Unions happened here to guard against the crap non-American workers now endure.

The next entry will be on Marx and Engels’ “10 Point Program.”