Real communists want wages to go to zero — as quickly as possible
I received this comment to a post I did on Kathi Weeks a couple of years ago: The commenter seems to think I fumbled my critique of her ideas.
“I feel you have done a disservice to the part of Week’s argument where she suggests that the demand for the reduction in work hours be accompanied by a demand for a concomitant increase in the hourly wage.”
I criticized Weeks for suggesting that a reduction of hours of labor should be accompanied by a demand to keep money wages unchanged — as in 30 hours for 40 hours pay of something along that line. However, in the opinion of the commenter, the example I used seemed to imply I actually assumed no change in wages after the reduction in hours of labor as Weeks suggested. I criticized Weeks for suggesting that wages should not change, but then assumed wages should not change as well:
“[By] inserting the assumption that the capitalist can purchase labor power in this scenario at minimum for the equivalent of two hours of labor, you have effectively stated that under a condition of a halving of the hours of labor for the individual worker, the capitalist would be forced to pay each worker the same daily real wage as they were paid prior to the reduction, which of course implies a doubling of the real hourly wage.”
The commenter is mostly correct. The worker is not paid for her labor. She is paid for her commodity, labor power, the value of which is not affected by a change in hours of labor. If before the reduction in hours of labor the value of labor power is two hours of labor, after the reduction of hours of labor the value of labor power is still two hours. So long as hours of labor do not fall below two hours per day, a reduction of hours of labor will have no impact on wages.
Still the commenter doesn’t understand why I criticize the demand for wages to remain unchanged:
“After all, is that not what we really want? A reduction in work hours with no loss in real wages?”
Well, actually not.
Any real communist wants wages to go to zero. When wages go to zero capitalism collapses and we get communism. I know this sounds bizarre, but we want what the capitalists want: the end of all paid (wage) labor. The capitalist wants the end of all paid labor because they think this will fatten their profits fantastically. We want the end of all paid labor because it means we get to communism.
I mean, how do we get to communism if wages remain unchanged? Wages should go to zero.
A lot of communists are terrified that wages should ever drop, but still insistent that communism is a system founded on the principle of to each according to their need. But this principle means, first, no one is paid for labor and, second, no one pays for the means to life. There are no wages, no prices, no money.
It has been said that when asked what labor wanted, Gompers replied, “More.”
“We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more. And we shall never cease to demand more until we have received the results of our labor.”
In fact, as bizarre as it sounds, communists want less not more, which is why we won’t ever win an election — at least as long as we are honest. Less is a very hard proposition to sell to the working class.
The working class lives by their labor, by wages, and thus want more wages in return for their labor. However, since 1971, as wages have risen, the working class has had less and less to live on. The wages are worthless paper. The paper is worthless and inflation eats its purchasing power away faster then workers can earn it. Yet each worker thinks she can outrun inflation by working more and harder and longer.
As difficult as it seems right now, communists will be forced to suck it up and bring the working class the bad news: wages don’t give them the means to live; instead, wages are designed to limit their consumption. No one will want to hear this. They will call you crazy. They will point to prices in the supermarket as evidence they really really need the money. They will stubbornly cling to the money illusion until one day it clicks.
When that happens, capitalism is finished.
In the mean time, we should do nothing to flatter the illusion that wages do anything but deepen the poverty of the working class. To encourage the illusion that the working class needs higher wages is to betray them to their enemies.