Mule-headed Marxists and Hours of Labor

by Jehu

Donkey CarrotCertain mule-headed Marxists in the Socialist Equality Party have made an argument against reducing hours of labor that they know or should know is complete bullshit.

That argument is that any reduction of hours of labor must lead to a fall in the material subsistence of the working class. They know or should know that this argument violates every assumption in labor theory of value,  but they insist on spreading it among the working class. Why they insist on spreading this complete fabrication is beyond me, but I am now going to educate them. At the end of my refutation, these “Marxists” will either concede they are completely wrong, or turn tail and run.

Here is the average hourly wages for a US worker between 1939 and 2014:

United States Average Hourly Wage 1939-2014

As can be seen from the chart, average hourly wages increased 40-fold from $0.49 in 1939 to $19.50 in January of 2014. I want to know from the Socialist Equality Party whether they think this means the real material subsistence of the working class increased 40-fold. Does the mere increased in wages denominated in valueless inconvertible fiat dollars imply an actual improvement of the working class? Are more working class families living in poverty today than in, say, 1970?

The Socialist Equality Party knows or should know that the fiat currency wages of the working class has nothing whatsoever to do with their subsistence. Yet, on the Socialism Reddit, these “Marxists” have insisted there is some connection between currency wages and real wages. Now either you are such hopelessly incompetent students of Marx that you don’t know the difference between real and currency wages, or you are deliberately trying to mislead radical minded workers.

Although wages denominated in valueless fiat dollars have increased 40-fold since 1939,  by any objective measure this has not been true of working class subsistence. Working class homes are not forty times the size they were in 1939 nor do they own 40 times as many cars; they don’t eat 40 times as much food,  wear forty times as many clothes, or use 40 times as much heat to warm their homes. They have not saved forty times as much money as they did in 1939, taken 40 times as many vacations, or retired any earlier than in 1939.

So, where the fuck did all this extra cash go?

In fact, the real material subsistence of the working class has declined since 1939 despite a constant increase in the currency denominated wages. The Socialist Equality Party sect know this is true, but prefer to ignore it because otherwise they cannot frighten the working class with tales of how less wage slavery will impoverish them. But if wages have been rising for the last 75 years while the real subsistence of the working class has been falling for most of that time, could it be these wages don’t measures the real subsistence of the working class?

How is it possible that wages, which are said to be determined by the value of labor power, no longer measure the value of anything? Has a single member of this hopelessly amateurish sect ever taken the time to understand how wages can rise,  while the real commodities the wages actually buy falls? Of course not. Instead of actually making a materialist analysis of post-war fiat currency, this useless sect of vanguardists simply ignore it.

So let me briefly review why currency wages are meaningless for them: In labor theory, value must be expressed in the form of exchange value, i.e., in a definite quantity of another commodity. The commodity serving as the measure of the value of commodities is the money commodity, or universal equivalent. However, if the vanguardist simpletons of the Socialist Equality Party had taken the time to study post-war fiat, they might have noticed that, since 1971, this fiat has not had any commodity standard; which means the wages paid to the working class are not tied to any material expression of socially necessary labor time. The currency wages paid to the working class are simply colored pieces of paper with some dead president’s face on it.The reason why wages can rise, while the material conditions of the class declines is that the wages are worthless — an illusion, a meaningless distraction from real relations of society.

Once this worthless paper currency is measured against money, as Marx defined that category in Capital, we immediately notice something: Ever greater quantities of worthless paper are required to purchase the same quantity of a commodity money:


The value of labor power can only be expressed in gold or another commodity money. But since currency is only a token of commodity money, not money itself, currency wages can be anything. Since currency can be printed out in any quantity and handed out as wages, there is no limit on how high these wages can rise. It is only when the worker actually goes to the store to buy food for her family that she notices how worthless her wages are.

There are nominal wages — i.e., the paper wages paid out to the worker in some form of valueless fiat currency —  and then there are real wages — the actual commodities these wages can buy. No discussion of wages and hours of labor can make sense unless we draw a clear distinction between real and nominal wages.

The bourgeois simpleton, John Maynard Keynes, made just this sort of distinction when he proposed to forcibly increase the labor day during the Great Depression by slashing the real wages of the working class. According to Keynes, the working class would focus on nominal wages not real wages. So long as worthless nominal wages rose, the workers would not notice their real wages were falling.

Thus, where wages once had to be slashed outright by the capitalists to increase profits, Keynes figured a way to cut them using inflationary fiscal and monetary policy. The workers might notice that inflation was eating away at their wages,  but Keynes explained the working class could not very well go on strike every time prices rose. If wages could be continuously slashed by inflation, there would be little or no limit on how much hours of labor could be increased. Keynes did not make a secret of his idea and you can even find the book, “General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money”, on

All the members of the Socialist Equality Party have to do is read the book and they would know why there has been a constant increase in hours of labor. If these would-be vanguardist leaders of the working class had actually read the fucking book,  they would know longer hours of labor have always been accompanied by falling wages, not the reverse. And for good reason: impoverished workers living paycheck to paycheck and suffocating under ever growing debt have no problem with ever longer hours of labor.

When measured in a valid commodity money, as labor theory requires, wages are lower now than they were in 1970:


It does not matter that nominal wages are now 40 times higher than they were in 1939, in term of what these wages can buy they have fallen and this gives rise to a perverse reaction: Like a mule being led by a carrot on a stick, the worker thinks she can escape poverty by working more hours:

The more inflation eats away at the purchasing power of her wages, the more hours she works to offset the fall in her real wages. But this has a further perverse result: the more hours of labor she works and the more intensively she works, the more she pushes her fellow workers out of productive employment, increaseing competition for her own job and driving down her own real wages. As Marx explains in Wage Labor and Capital, by working longer and more intensively the worker becomes her own competition and drive herself deeper into poverty.

All of this should be obvious to the Socialist Equality Party, but it clearly is not. Like most vanguardist sects, it has little or no mastery of even the simplest principles of labor theory, yet it laughingly imagines itself a leader of the working class. Your ignorance of basic labor theory is shocking and unconscionable. Any communist with even a passing familiarity with labor theory knows there can be no advantage to the worker to work more hours of wage slavery.

Dissolve your sect and stop being an obstacle to the proletarian cause.