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Guest Post: On Wage Slavery, a Double Response

In response to my recent discussion with Bryce at Amtheomusings, regarding “wage-slavery,” a friend offered this “double response” to both myself and Bryce.

Original post (Bryce): Here
My First Response: Here
Bryce’s Response: Here
My Second Response: Here

Without further Adieu….

I certainly cannot (and do not want to) disagree with B. about
the ideologically charged expression ‘wage slavery’: not only it is
outrageously soaked in moral connotations (to the point that, as B.
points out, no one could namely be in its support) but it creates an
imaginative confusion of terms, if we consider that slavery, while
changed and mutated since the 16th century, is well alive in certain
areas of the world (and even in certain grey zones of our Western
society, cf. as an example
local/la-me-1216-shyima-hall-20111216) and that there is certainly
a difference between a salaried worker in an US factory or a child
forced to sew shoes in some remote town of South East Asia, with
no salary and possibly with menacing guards preventing him/her to
go elsewhere or live differently.

However, I do disagree with the concept that, all in all, there is
nothing, in the hypothetical range of possible society, between the
two extremes of

a) today’s system and

b) a reality in which physical providers of food and shelter should
work in an unrewarded fashion to provide sustenance for the lazy

The problem addressed by the proposers of the (admittedly
unfortunate) expression ‘wage slavery’ is, more often than not, the
reason because of which salaried workers are completely bound
to their jobs: with the constant shift of economic power from
productive forces to productive resources, i.e. from the worker to
the capitalist (inevitable in a capitalist system, as Marx has shown
and very few have tried to contrast) the labourer is forced into a
complete submission of her life to her job. Simply put, the problem
is that to enjoy a normal life (with shelter, food, hygiene and the
like) the worker herself needs to participate in the production of
goods whose market value far exceeds the value of the money
the worker and her colleagues are paid. It is of course Proudhon’s
theory of survaleur, which only the great improvements in people’s
wealth occurred in the 20th century had allowed us to forget. Recent
years, however, have witnessed a return to a model of subsistence
for most untrained workers, who sometimes are not able to
maintain themselves and their family even when working a fulltime

All this said, I disagree with J. when he equates (or seems to me
to do so) wage-slavery with wage-work in a wage-society. The first
paragraph of his first response (partially corrected in the following
one) implies that a wage-based economic system cannot coexist

with a fair system: the problem in ‘wage-slavery’ is not the wage,
but the slavery! If wage has to be a compensation, a fair one it
must be. I found the artisan model (that I’ve heard proposed over
and over again) an oversimplification: the artisan could be alienated
as well if she was forced to receive anything less than the value of
what she produces.

Again, the response of B. is in my opinion flawed by a
misrepresented concept of ‘agreement’: he states that (and I
quote) “the laborer agrees to be provided with a wage by using the
property of their employer at a work that is in place because others
have chosen to value the product”. But it is exactly this agreement
that is devalued by proposers of a non-wage-driven economy:
the labourer, being deprived of capital (which is limited and
comparatively constantly devaluating itself) and in possession only
of working-force (which is ever-growing and largely over-present)
cannot freely choose but is force to agree. And that’s exactly where
the equation to slavery comes into play.

The almost ‘utilitarian’ justification of capitalism provided (if it is
enacted it must be what makes us all richer) appears to be more
a rhetorical device than a real evidence of virtue; following such a
claim it could be objected that if capitalism was in place because it
represented the best economic system, overthrowing it would be
self-justified, since whatever came after that would be “better” by
providing more economic wealth than capitalism (that would have

At the end of this long (and hopefully friendly) rant, I confess
that I find puzzling the final remarks by J.: while it is a certainly
acceptable moral stance that production should not produce wealth
(even in its broadest sense) I am curious to understand what other
non-economic system you had in mind when addressing such
issues. Co-op and artisanal systems both involve wealth, wealth
production and wealth-distribution.

In fide et amicabiliter

Giacomo ‘Geki’ Leoni

“Wage Slavery” #2

A continuation of my discussion with Amtheomusings, regarding the notion of “wage-slavery” and its theoretical legitimacy or illegitimacy.
Original post (Bryce): Here
My First Response: Here
Bryce’s Response: Here

Thank you for keeping this up Bryce, in regard to your earlier question,  I would be hesitant to call myself a Marxist, due primarily to its overly broad connection to Stallin (whom I don’t support), Lenin & Trotsky (whom I am painfully unfamiliar), and Critical Theory (which is too broad to generalize).  Let me simply reply that I would call myself a socialist (of some stripe) and that I am currently infatuated with Marx (particularly as interpreted by Michel Henry).

I believe that I must first clarify my earlier comment which you quoted: “the model of a non-wage based economics is […] the artisan, the craftsman, for whom a ‘wage’ is irrelevant.” To this you respond,

“But that’s exactly what I find ridiculous: that people shouldn’t act in order to produce something that they, or someone else, values. Unless it were valued, it shouldn’t be produced.”

If I might take this quote in reverse order, I must say that I completely agree with your second assertion: viz. it is only the value that should be produced.  What I must question in your response is the notion of value by which you are critiquing this position.  Specifically, what form of value does the “critic” (here, as elswhere, understood as the critic of “wage-slavery”) believe that productivity should be guided.  The answer, I believe, must be real, human value.  That is to say, it is not that production is not completed in respect to value, but merely that it is not completed in respect to abstract monetary value.  The craftsmen (to return to my previous example) produces his product for direct consumption, in order that it might fulfill the actual human need.  This is fully distinct from the motivation fo the industrialized worker who merely produces for a wage.  This is essentially identical to Marx’s distinction between “use-value” and “exchange-value,” if that helps.

In regards to your discussion of Co-op/worker-control models of production, I believe that you predictedmy response quite accurately when you wrote in your addendum:

“*Obviously, one cannot object that this is a wrong end, since isn’t the point of overturning the “wage-based economic/productive system” also supposed to be that it will make us all wealthier? Then there’s nothing wrong with working to make us all wealthier, if a co-op model of production were to do that.”

To this I must simply respond that, yes, I do believe that the “proper end” of production should not be wealth.  For, it is precisely inaccurate to argue that the restructuring of wage-based-labor will “make us wealthier,” if by wealth you mean “exchange value” (i.e. abstract wealth).  As for use-value (i.e. real value), I can only speculate.  As for quality of life (for the workers in particular) I think this is clear.

For now, I will leave “conservative anarcho-capitalism” [Randianism! 😉 ] aside.

J. Leavitt Pearl


Motivated by a post over at Amtheomusings, I wrote the following analysis of “wage-slavery,” and thought I would share it here.  Please visit the original posting here.

If I might offer an alternative perspective, it seems that your critical analysis of this hotly disputed term, “wage slavery,” fails to encompass the specificity of this complex notion. That is to say, it is specifically the *wage-based* economic/productive system, understood as normative, that critics of “wage-labor” intend to overturn. Specifically, at one point you seem to mark the definition of “wage-slavery” as “working for a living amounts to slavery.” In this form, I would tend to agree with you, but I believe that the emphasis must be moved from where I read it in your essay. For, on a separate occasion, you mark the definition of wage-slavery as “they shouldn’t have to work in order to live,” here I must challenge, for it must be recognized that the first and second forms are distinct, precisely as regards wage.

It is not the “work” that is challenged by these critics, but the “for a living.” Advocates of a non-wage based system are not lazy, as naive commentators might lead one to believe, but more specifically are concerned with the “alienation” (to borrow a term from Marx [also, this should not be confused with Hegel’s distinct usage of the term]) of individuals from their work. That is to say, the separation of worker and product. Why, asks the critic, must work be mediated through a irreal system before it might be of value, not economic value, but real, human, everyday value.

In this sense, the model of a non-wage based economics is not the welfare state, the many living off the few, but instead, perhaps, the artisan, the craftsman, for whom a “wage” is irrelevant. The “freeing” of factory workers would not take the form of a burning of the factory, ending production, but on the contrary, a coop model in which the individual factory workers would be shareholders in the company, in which the success or failure of the company would directly (not mediately) relate to the workers.