Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Laboring over Anti-Oedipus again.

“Let us return to the dualism of money, to the two boards, the two inscriptions, the one going into account of the wage earner, the other into the balance sheet of the enterprise. Measuring the two orders of magnitude in terms of the same analytical unit is a pure fiction, a cosmic swindle, as if one were to measure intergalactic or intra-atomic distances in meter and centimeters. There is no common measure between the value of the enterprises and that of the labor capacity of wage earners.” (230)

I'm going back through my notes on Anti-Oedipus in preparation for a paper I need to write pretty soon, and came across this gem. People often have a hard time understanding the importance of Marxism after the rather catastrophic and brutally inhumane failures of Stalin and Mao (whom some consider to be "proof" of communism's impossibility), and in the face of the seeming and likely impossibility of a global economic revolution that would benefit the poor. Indeed, the failure of Mao and Stalin can be to some extent understood in light of the instability of revolution, and the ease with which the powerful can disenfranchise the weak.

But quotations like the above remind us of Marx's continued importance, and of the importance of reading Marx and Marxists critically. Why do we call the gains of the capitalist by the same name as the wages earned by the laborer? We can understand the why when we examine the consequences. The wages of labor insert the laborer into a system of exchange, and the dollar value of labor is the conceptual means of exchanging. Labor, and laborers, become a good to be purchased, and the surplus value of labor is appropriated by the capitalist. To call capital gains and wages by the same names puts surplus labor value under erasure, and permits or even impels wage laborers to invest desire in the class that oppresses them, to wish and work for their own oppression. Further, it creates the appearance that higher incomes correspond to more or better labor, as if the capitalist labored in the same sense that the factory worker does.

And since an increased wage for a laborer would likely lead to an increase in spending (since there is so often not enough to make ends meet as it is), and since laborers also conceptualize capitalists as both wage earners and wage payers, it is not to much work to understand from this why so many Americans are demanding that high-income tax cuts be left in place.