Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Reading Capital Politically, Part 3

This blog entry contains the final set of quotes from Reading Capital Politically. These quotes are generally concerned with the money-form of value. Overall, a very quotable book, it would seem.
We can see now that just as the relative value form finds its meaning only in the equivalent form so it is that the working class recognizes itself as working class only through its relation to capital. Indeed, it is working class only within that relation. The relative form thus expresses the perspective of the working class. Destroy capital and there is no more working class as such. And, conversely, the refusal to function as working class (i.e., to work) acts to destroy capital. Put in the language above, the mass of workers have their joint condition as working class reflected to them through capital acting as a mirror which mediates this recognition.

Children work for capital to the extent that they produce their labor-power for future roles as workers (waged and unwaged), but they are not directly waged. They, like housewives, are supported by the resources (money) obtained by their waged father or mother. The relation with capital is mediated directly for the father by the money wage, but for the children and housewives there is also the father/husband. In these circumstances the fact that children and women in the family work for capital is hidden by their condition of wagelessness. They appear to stand only in some private relation to the male wage earner but not to capital.

This was one of the main aims of colonialism - the creation of a world-wide reserve army. And poverty continues to be the tool by which vast millions are kept alive but (it is hoped) easily available when it suits capital's purpose. These reserves are then drawn upon either for immigration into areas where their cheap labor can be used to hold down the wage demands of more powerful workers (e.g., Mexican and Caribbean labor drawn into the U.S.; workers from Mediterranean countries brought into northern Europe) or for employment in their own areas when runaway shops seek out their cheap labor locally. Of course, time and again things have not worked out so well and the struggles of the unwaged have made them unfit for capital's factories.

Another way the class struggle refuses the mediation of money is the refusal of price. This is the essence of direct appropriation and includes not only the price of labor-power but also the prices of other commodities. It involves self-reduction of utilities or housing prices, changing labels in a supermarket, using 15-cent slugs instead of 50-cent tokens in the subway, or total elimination of price through shoplifting, employee theft, or Black Christmases where commodities are seized. This refusal of price is a refusal of capital's rules of the game. The refusal to accept the role of money is the refusal to accept everything we have seen going into the determination of money - the whole set of value relations. This is the working-class perspective with a vengence.

Inflation means rising prices due, not to increases in labor input, but to monetary deflation. Prices are the money equivalents of the value of commodities which are expressed in the price form. To raise prices means to increase the amount of money (gold or paper) being exchanged for goods. If the amount of money the working class holds is fixed, then the amount it can buy decreases accordingly. In this way, the amount of value the working class receives for its labor-power is reduced, and the amount of surplus value that capital gets is increased.

[...] it is easy to raise prices simply by circulating more paper so that a given quantity of commodities, being represented by an increased quantity of paper, has higher prices (assuming velocity of money constant, etc.). This was just the idea of Keynes, then Lewis and others. The state could print more money, or expand money via the credit system, and thus raise prices, which would decrease the value of each unit of money and thus undercut working-class wages. This undercutting could be done whether working-class wages were constant or increasing.

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