See also entries below.
“[L]abor is the appropriation of nature for the satisfaction of human needs...” —Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy: Third Chapter, Capital in General, MECW 30:40.
“Labor, n. One of the processes by which A acquires property for B.”
—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
[This, indeed, is the primary function of labor within class society. —Ed.]
LABOR — COMMUNIST [Political Economy]
Labor performed for society (rather than directly for oneself or one’s family alone), and done without wages or force of any kind. In a communist society this would be the sole form of social labor. (And there will be no more socialist wage labor, let alone capitalist wage slavery!)
Why would people be willing to do such labor “for free”? For a variety of reasons, such as:
• For the benefit of other people; i.e., altruism.
• Because the labor itself is interesting and rewarding. This becomes ever truer as the most physically difficult or onerous or tedious labor becomes more completely automated; as the remaining work tends on average to become more interesting; and as the total amount of social labor actually necessary gradually diminishes.
• To participate with others in cooperative efforts, which human beings have evolved to find quite socially rewarding.
Even in capitalist society there are many individuals who devote themselves to such communist labor, as their time, energy and circumstances allow, though in this society it is more likely to be called “volunteer” labor. Examples include medical doctors who operate free clinics; volunteer fire departments in small towns; social and political organizations who help out needy people as best they can; and so forth. In a genuine socialist society, which is a transitional stage between capitalism and communism, such communist labor must (if there is a true transition underway) become more and more important, and gradually become a larger part of the average person’s social labor (in place of the diminishing wage labor required of all).
“A factory operative [worker!] has less personal interest in his work than a member of a Communist association, since he is not, like him, working for a partnership of which he is himself a member.” —John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, ed. by Ashley, Book II, Ch. I, 3, pp. 204-5. [Even some bourgeois writers like Mill see some significant advantages to communist labor! —Ed.]
LABOR — Simple vs. Complex
In Volume I of Capital Marx defines the value incorporated into a specific commodity in a capitalist system of production as a function of the socially necessary labor time involved in producing that commodity. However, he is well aware that despite this definition not all labor is equivalent, some is simple labor, which is in effect average human labor or labor of a quality which is roughly interchangeable between different tasks, while some other forms of labor are specialized, involve considerable training, and so forth. This latter form of labor is called complex labor, and Marx views a certain time period of this complex labor as being equivalent to a longer period of simple labor (the precise longer equivalent depending on the specific type of complex labor). It is actually the socially necessary labor time of this equivalent simple labor which determines the amount of value in the commodity produced.
“If we leave aside the determinate quality of productive activity,
and therefore the useful character of the labor, what remains is its quality of
being an expenditure of human labor-power. Tailoring and weaving, although they are
qualitatively different productive activities, are both a productive expenditure of
human brains, muscles, nerves, hands etc., and in this sense both human labor. They
are merely two different forms of the expenditure of human labor-power. Of course,
human labor-power must itself have attained a certain level of development before it
can be expended in this or that form. But the value of a commodity represents human
labor pure and simple, the expenditure of human labor in general.... It is the
expenditure of simple labor-power, i.e. of the labor-power possessed in his bodily
organism by every ordinary man, on the average, without being developed in any
special way. Simple average labor, it is true, varies in character in
different countries and at different cultural epochs, but in a particular society
it is a given. More complex labor counts only as intensified, or rather
multiplied simple labor, so that a smaller quantity of complex labor is
considered equal to a larger quantity of simple labor. Experience shows that this
reduction is constantly being made. A commodity may be the outcome of the most
complicated labor, but through its value it is posited as equal to the
product of simple labor. The various proportions in which different kinds of labor
are reduced to simple labor as their unit of measurement are established by a social
process that goes on behind the backs of the producers; these proportions therefore
appear to the producers to have been handed down by tradition. In the interests of
simplification, we shall henceforth view every form of labor-power directly as
simple labor-power; by this we shall simply be saving ourselves the trouble of
making the reduction.” —Marx, Capital, Vol. I, section 2, (Penguin ed., pp.
[Thus, because of this simplification in the presentation of Marx’s theory in Volume I of Capital, it should be noted that in the real world we cannot in general correctly determine the relative values of two different commodities by merely determining the different socially necessary labor times involved in their production. That would only be correct if the raw clock times were first translated into the equivalent times for the simple labor involved. —Ed.]
LABOR and CAPITAL
[Intro material to be added... ]
[Marx speaking as if to all classical political economists:] “Labor is the sole source of exchange-value and the only active creator of use-value. This is what you [correctly] say. On the other hand, you say that capital is everything, and the worker is nothing or a mere production cost of capital. You have refuted yourselves. Capital is nothing but defrauding of the worker. Labor is everything.” —Marx, TSV, 3:260.
“American business is about maximizing shareholder value. You basically don’t want workers. You hire less, and you try to find capital equipment to replace them.” —Allen Sinai, a bourgeois economist, in an interview in the New York Times in 2010; quoted in Robert W. McChesney & John Nichols, People Get Ready (2016), p. 303 note 67.
See also: ALIENATED LABOR
LABOR and LABOR POWER
[Intro to be added...]
“Labor itself, in its immediate being, in its living existence, cannot be directly conceived as a commodity, but only labour-power, of which labor itself is the temporary manifestation.” —Marx, TSV, 1:171.
LABOR and LABOR POWER — Confusion Between
Marx drew the distinction between labor and labor power, and the basic distinction here is not all that hard to understand: labor is what the worker does in the production process, but what the capitalist purchases (with wages) is the commodity labor power, or the ability and willingness to perform the required labor at the specified time and place.
Still, small confusions about all this are very common, even among knowledgeable Marxists themselves. There are indeed subtleties here, and it is all too easy to refer to the one when you should strictly speaking be referring to the other. For example, what is the answer to this question: “Is it labor or labor power which generates surplus value?” We might need to think about that for a moment! Well, in this case it is actually the labor which generates the surplus value in the system of capitalist production, and not the labor power. But it is also true that variable capital (the value of labor power) is used to calculate surplus value. So we might scratch our heads at times! The best answer to this question is therefore probably along these lines: Surplus value is generated by the use of the purchased commodity labor power in the production process, but the use of labor power is what we call labor. Therefore it is actually the labor performed (and not labor power directly) which leads to the generation of new value. However, Marx and Engels also said that the commodity labor power is different from all other commodities in that it can be used to generate new value, surplus value. The key here is to notice the phrase “it can be used”, and to remember that labor power put to actual use is in fact what we call labor. Would it be a terrible outrage to say to someone that it is labor power that generates surplus value? No, although it would not be precisely correct. But in most contexts it could be reasonably construed as shorthand for the more precise answer.
While it is of course desirable to use the terms ‘labor’ and ‘labor power’ correctly, we need not be too pedantic about this. To prove my case, I’d like to give two examples from Marx and Engels themselves where it might be considered that they (or else their translators) “made a mistake” in this regard.
First example, from Engels’s 1891 introduction to his reissue of Marx’s 1849 lectures known as “Wage-Labor and Capital”:
“Labor-power is, in our present-day capitalist society, a commodity like every other commodity, but yet a very peculiar commodity. It has, namely, the peculiarity of being a value-creating force, the source of value, and, moreover, when properly treated, the source of more value than it possesses itself.” [International Publishers edition, 1933, p. 12.]
We don’t want to be too hard on Engels here, since, after all, the whole point of his
revised new edition of this excellent pamphlet was to make clear the distinction between labor
and labor power—which in general Engels (and Marx) do extremely well! Still, to be a little
pedantic for the moment, it is not really true that labor power is “the source of value”
as Engels says. This is obvious if we think of an example of non-capitalist commodity production,
where for example a single artisan or craftsman, working alone in his own shop, produced
commodities for sale. Since there was no purchased labor power commodity even involved in this
situation, the value produced in the commodities created for sale had to have come from
the craftsman’s labor, and not anyone’s labor power. And even under capitalist production,
the value (and exchange value) in the commodities produced comes from the worker’s labor, and not
(directly anyway) from the purchased labor power. But how about Engels’s claim here that the
commodity labor power is a value-creating force? Even if not directly so, we could at least
grant that this is true indirectly. In other words, it is the immediate use of this labor
power in the production process that creates value. But again, it would have been more precise for
Engels to have explicitly stated this: Instead of “it” (labor power) being a value-creating force,
it is the “use of it” which is the value-creating force. Of course it is quite pedantic to point
this out, but it is also true that being precise about the difference between labor and labor
power is pretty important, and sometimes requires very careful wording.
Second example, from another of Marx’s great pamphlets, Wages, Price and Profit (1865) [republished on its 100th anniversary by the Foreign Language Press, Peking], which is also known by its alternate name, Value, Price and Profit. In a number of places, including this pamphlet [p. 72] Marx argues that while the commodity labor power has a value, labor is not a commodity, and does not have a value. He is certainly correct about this. “The value of the labouring power is formed by two elements—the one merely physical, the other historical or social.” (The physical component, refers to the minimum wages required to keep the worker alive and working and also to allow for a new generation of workers to be raised to replace him or her when they die.) But then in the next paragraph Marx continues on the same theme, continuing in reality to talk about the value of labor power, but he fails to call it that: “Besides this mere physical element, the value of labour is in every country determined by a traditional standard of life. It is not mere physical life, but it is the satisfaction of certain wants springing from the social conditions in which people are placed and reared up.” Was it a mere slip of the pen that Marx refers to “labor” and not “labor power” here? Perhaps. Or perhaps he was just speaking loosely and figured that everyone would know what he was talking about.
Again, in a fit of pedantry, we could complain about Marx’s reference to “labor” here when he obviously meant “labor power”. But it is a fact that even people who really know what they are talking about, sometimes speak loosely in this manner. For that reason it pays to be very careful when we talk or write about labor and labor power in contexts where the difference really matters. —S.H.
This is the very best-paid and privileged stratum of the proletariat, which has arisen mostly within imperialist countries in the last century and a half. These are most often skilled workers, whose special training gives them greater bargaining power with the capitalists with regard to wages and benefits, especially where they are organized into strong craft unions. In the richest imperialist countries, such as the U.S., some workers in the labor aristocracy may even acquire some significant investments, such as rental property, stocks and bonds, though the dominant part of their income is still from wages. (Only a very few people from this stratum will actually break out of the working class entirely, even during boom periods.)
However, it is still only possible for this labor aristocracy to be as large as it is, and to receive as high wages and benefits as it does along with acquiring some savings and investments in some cases, because of the exploitation of large parts of the world by the imperialist ruling class. That international exploitation leads to constant imperialist wars, and it is necessary for the ruling class to pacify at least a major section of its workers at home with some small part of the wealth it rips off from foreign countries (and from the “Third World” in particular).
The labor aristocracy, in turn, tends to strongly support the bourgeoisie politically, and has in general an extremely low level of proletarian class consciousness. In effect, this section of the working class has made an accommodation with the capitalist-imperialists.
But in periods of serious economic crisis, such as the U.S. and most of world capitalism are now in once again, the bourgeoisie is finding it necessary to take back more and more of the higher wages and benefits it once could easily afford to grant to a part of the working class. This is having the effect of reducing the size of the labor aristocracy in the U.S. and most countries (though it is still growing rapidly in one country—China). As the world capitalist crisis develops further, much of the embourgeoised labor aristocracy will be once again driven down and reproletarianized.
“... the English proletariat is actually becoming more and more bourgeois, so that the ultimate aim of this most bourgeois of all nations would appear to be the possession, alongside the bourgeoisie, of a bourgeois aristocracy and a bourgeois proletariat. In the case of a nation which exploits the entire world this is, of course, justified to some extent.” —Engels, Letter to Marx, Oct. 7, 1858, MECW 40:343, online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1858/letters/58_10_07.htm.
“This aristocracy of labor, which at that time earned tolerably good wages, boxed itself up in narrow self-interest craft unions, and isolated itself from the mass of the proletariat, while in politics it supported the liberal bourgeoisie.” —Lenin, “Harry Quelch”, Sept. 12, 1913, LCW 19:370, online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1913/sep/12.htm. [Lenin is speaking of Britain, specifically.]
“But it would be dogmatic and wrong to believe that the labor aristocracy
always sides with the bourgeoisie. Historical events have demonstrated that it is not only
economic conditions which determine the political behavior of workers. Workers are able
to suffer adverse conditions for a very long time, in fact they even get used to them.
Dissatisfaction is caused primarily by a worsening of conditions, especially by a
rapid worsening. The same also applies to the labor aristocracy. It holds the side of the
bourgeoisie so long as its economic privileges are stable, but, if its position sharply
deteriorates, it may become an active participant in the revolutionary struggle. This
happened in Hungary in 1918-19 before the establishment of the dictatorship of the
proletariat when a sharp inflation plunged down the living standard of the workers.
Skilled workers who were receiving the highest rates reacted far more vehemently to the
worsening of their position than did badly paid workers. They joined the Communist Party
and often played a leading role in the fight to overthrow the bourgeoisie. Similar
developments were observed in the workers’ revolutionary movement in Germany.” —Eugen
Varga, Politico-Economic Problems of Capitalism (1968), p. 127.
[While what Varga says here may be true in exceptional circumstances, there is also the possibility in modern society that an outraged labor aristocracy, which suddenly comes under economic attack because of a severe capitalist crisis, may also turn in its ideological confusion to support a fascist movement (along with a major section of the petty-bourgeoisie). Moreover, even the possibility of a section of the labor aristocracy under attack joining the revolutionary movement depends on there being a serious and active revolutionary movement in the first place, which can only be built up from nothing by focusing primarily on the lower strata of the working class. —S.H.]
[According to the U.S. government:] Those people at least 16 years old who are either working, or else who are unemployed but actively looking for work (according to the strict standards of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Also included in the work force are those who are working only part time, whether or not they actually desire full-time work.
LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATE
[According to the U.S. government:] The percentage of the total non-insitutionalized working-age population of a country or region that is in the officially defined labor force (see above); that is, the percentage which is either working or else is unemployed but actively looking for work (as admitted by the government).
The chart at the right shows that a rapidly declining part of the population is even being counted as being in the labor force at all, which explains how the government is able to falsely claim that the unemployment rate is gently falling even as an ever smaller portion of the population has jobs (let alone full-time good jobs). Since that chart was published the labor force participation rate has continued to fall. As of April 2014 it has dropped to 62.8%, the lowest since March 1978.
See also below and: EMPLOYMENT/POPULATION RATIO, UNEMPLOYMENT—Young People [Tyler Cowen quote]
LABOR FORCE PARTICIPATION RATE — MEN VS. WOMEN
In this graph, accompanying an article by President Obama in the Economist [Oct. 8, 2016, p. 24], we see the changing U.S. labor force participation rate over a longer period (1948-2016) and separated out by sex. Several facts should be noted: First, in the post-World War II period more and more women got jobs. Until the early 1970s this had the effect of increasing the average family income and promoted the growth of the so-called “middle class”. After that point the further growth in the percentage of women working became less and less of merely an option open to them and more and more of a financial necessity in order to help stabilize family incomes as the real wages (after inflation) of all American workers (men and women both) began to gradually decline.
Secondly, the labor force participation rate for men has been in a gradual but more or less steady decline over this entire period, and is even declining a little faster in recent years. Thirdly, the participation rate for women nearly matched that of men by around the year 2000. And since then that rate has also begun a gradual steady decline.
Because of the current qualitative leaps in machine intelligence (see artificial intelligence) and other forms of automation, there is every reason to believe that over the next couple decades the labor force participation rate for all American workers, men and women both, will face a much greater and more rapid decline.
“Women’s labor force participation rose to 57.4 percent in 2019 from about
43 percent in 1970.” —New York Times, May 8, 2022, National Edition, p. 3.
[Note that this figure for women in 2019 is substantially lower than that shown for women in the Economist chart, probably because the age range for women being counted is wider in this case. Note also that because of the Covid-19 Pandemic, which began in early 2020, and though we do not yet have the precise figures here, the percentage of women in the work force has declined sharply, more sharply than for men since women have lost a lot of child-care help and have had to stay home to care for children. —Ed.]
“LABOR MARKET FLEXIBILITY”
This is the euphemistic term used by contemporary bourgeois economists (especially those promoting neoliberal so-called “reforms”) to refer to a collection of attacks on workers and labor unions which include:
• Allowing companies to use part-time workers, instead of full-time employees.
• Allowing companies to avoid paying many (or even all!) benefits to workers by making them part-time or by calling them “contract employees”.
• Allowing companies to hire and layoff workers with fewer (or no!) restrictions, including less notice (if any) to workers being laid off.
• Lowering, or eliminating minimum wage requirements, either for certain types of work (such as part-timers or contract workers) or even more generally.
• Weakening (or even eliminating) what little pro-labor legislation exists, including even sometimes safety rules.
• Making it easier for companies to destroy labor unions, or at least to eviscerate them.
In short, “labor market flexibility” means anything that allows capitalist corporations or companies to intensify their exploitation of the working class with a freer hand. Capitalists have always pushed for this “flexibility” as part of their class struggle against the working class; but their necessity to more strongly push for it at the present time comes about because of the extremely serious economic crisis which continues to develop and overall worsen.
LABOR MARKET POLARIZATION
A recently-coined term being used by economists to refer to the fact that there are now a small number of quite good, secure and well-paying jobs becoming available; that most new jobs which open up these days are crappy (poorly paid, few benefits if any, and insecure); and that there are fewer and fewer jobs in between these two extremes.
“By labor-power or capacity for labor is to be understood the aggregate of those mental and physical capabilities existing in a human being, which he exercises whenever he produces a use-value of any description.” —Marx, Capital, vol. I, ch. 6: (International, p. 167; Penguin, p. 270.) “A commodity which its possessor, the wage-worker, sells to capital.” —Marx, “Wage Labor and Capital”, (MECW 9:202, as edited in Engels’s 1891 edition.)
Labor power is therefore the worker’s ability to work, which is what is sold to the capitalist for the wages received. Labor power is not the same as labor itself, however! As everyone is aware, once the capitalists sell the products that the workers produce, and even after paying the workers their wages (which means the market value of their labor power), they still have a large surplus left over from which they take their profits. The fact that the actual labor of the workers generates this additional surplus value beyond the workers’ wages (i.e., beyond the value of their labor power) means that the real implicit value of their actual labor must greatly exceed the value of what they sell to the capitalists, their labor power. And therefore labor power and labor must be carefully distinguished if we are to understand the source of the capitalists’ profits.
The distinction between labor power and labor is often confusing for those new to Marxist political economy. In addition to Chapter 6 of Volume I of Marx’s Capital, another good place to go to clear up this confusion is to carefully read Engels’s 1891 edition of Marx’s pamphlet, “Wage Labor and Capital” and especially Engels’s introduction where he goes into the difference between labor power and labor quite thoroughly. This edition is available in an inexpensive paperback from International Publishers, and available online at http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/wage-labour/index.htm. Engels’s introduction is also available separately in MECW 27:194-201.
“The change in value of money that is to be converted into capital cannot take place in money itself, for in buying, it merely realizes the price of the commodity, and on the other hand, as long as it remains money, it does not change the magnitude of its value; and in selling, too, it merely converts the commodity from its natural form into its money-form. The change must, therefore, take place in the commodity of M—C—M; but not in its exchange-value, since equivalents are exchanged; it can only arise from its use-value as such, that is, from its consumption. For the purpose a commodity is required whose use-value possesses the property of being the source of exchange-value—and this does exist—labor-power.” —Engels, “Synopsis of Volume One of Capital by Karl Marx” (1868), MECW 20:280.
Rent paid to a landord in the form of labor (such as agricultural labor on the landlord’s fields). Also known as corvée labor. This is one of several types of exploitation which commonly exists in feudal or semi-feudal society.
LABOR THEORY OF VALUE (LTV)
The fundamental theory in political economy, put forth by Marx, that the economic value of any commodity in a capitalist system of production is determined by the average socially necessary labor time that it takes to produce that commodity. Thus if the average labor time necessary to produce a certain type of overcoat is 25 times as great as the average labor time it takes to produce a loaf of bread, the coat will have a value 25 times as great as that of the loaf. Marx, however, understands full well that the actual prices of that type of coat and that sort of loaf of bread might vary somewhat from this ratio for a variety of reasons. But the analytical foundation, and most basic explanation for the difference in the prices of the two commodities will still lie in the different quantities of labor time necessary to make each.
Classical political economy also agreed with this theory (in Ricardo, for example), at least in rough outlines. But modern bourgeois economists reject it because they are loath to admit that the working class, working on the products of nature, produces all value. They try instead to explain value in terms of marginal supply and demand, and so forth. But this leaves the usual fairly uniform differences in value between the coat and the loaf of bread as quite mysterious. Alternately, they attempt to explain the differences in value in terms of differing prices of production, but this begs the question since they cannot supply any independent explanation for why prices of production themselves differ!
All Marxists, or at least all those who we care to consider as genuine Marxists in the sphere of political economy, agree with the basic labor theory of value as briefly outline above. However, there are some secondary aspects of the precise theory of value as put forward by Marx, about which even Marxists can disagree. Marx, for example, said that only human labor, and only human labor employed in the current production process, can create new (surplus) value. Thus Marx does not seem to allow for the production of surplus value by non-humans under any circumstances whatsoever. (See: ANDROID THOUGHT EXPERIMENT ) Moreover, Marx claimed that if a worker makes a machine and then uses that machine to produce some commodity, only the labor time spent using the machine contributes to the surplus value generated in the final commodity. An alternate view (which I for one hold) is that the machine also allows the worker using it to continually reuse the labor which went into making the machine, and therefore that both the new labor and the re-used older labor will contribute to surplus value being generated in the final commodity. For more on this, see the entry below. —S.H.
LABOR THEORY OF VALUE — Revised Form
This is a modified version of the labor theory of value (LTV) from that put forward by Marx. It agrees with the fundamental proposition that the value of a commodity produced in a capitalist system of production is solely due to the average socially necessary labor time required to produce that commodity. But it disagrees with Marx in that it views machinery as a way of reusing the time spent in past labor (making the machine), and hence as also contributing to surplus value along with the current labor time expended. Here is the argument for making this modification:
“1) There is nothing mysterious nor magical about human labor
that can make it alone capable of generating surplus value in a system of
capitalist production. (Marx never adequately explained just why only human
beings supposedly have this capability, and thus left it all very mysterious.
He did say that human labor differs from animal efforts in that it is
conscious and purposeful, but
he did not explain why that makes any difference in this regard.) There must
be a good answer to the question, ‘Why is human labor able to produce surplus
value?’ It is incumbent on Marxist political economy to state precisely what the
answer to this question is.
“2) Furthermore, it is not human creativity or intelligence that explains why human labor can generate surplus value. (Some labor that generates surplus value requires very little intelligence and shows virtually no creativity, such as certain types of extremely repetitive assembly line work. And, on the other hand, some machinery already demonstrates considerable intelligence and sometimes even some creativity—though artificial creativity is much rarer so far, and is mostly confined to software, such as certain expert systems.)
“3) Moreover, there is no single specific human capability which, when exercised, alone is able to generate surplus value. (On the contrary, there is an indefinitely large number of actual things human workers can do which can generate surplus value, and new ones are constantly being developed as production processes change.)
“4) Moreover, even now a great many of these specific things which humans can do, and which generate surplus value, can also be done by machines. (And in historical terms, machines are being rapidly improved in the abilities to replace human beings in more and more types of work.)
“5) All the sorts of things that human beings can do which create surplus value come in degrees, from very crude and primitive efforts to the highly skilled and sophisticated. This is why we first see machines replacing the cruder forms of human labor, and then—as the machines are improved—ever more sophisticated forms of human labor of the same type.
“6) The thing that really explains why human beings are able to generate surplus value is simply that human beings can be ‘used over and over’ in the capitalist production process. (I.e., they are not used up in the production of any commodity, as raw materials are.)
“7) But if the last principle is true, then anything else that is used in the production process, without being used up in each output commodity (i.e., tools and machinery), should also contribute to surplus value.
“8) However, machines and tools themselves were created by past human labor, and in fact all commodities that presently exist are in the final analysis the result of the application of direct or indirect human labor in various forms to the natural products of the world around us.
“9) It is in general impossible to quantitatively compare goods (or commodities) by comparing their use values, since use values are so diverse, tend to be unrelated to each other, and depend on the diverse and ever changing needs and subjective desires of different individuals. (Whether a loaf of bread or a warm coat is of greater use value to a person depends on the situation.)
“10) But there is an underlying basis, and only one such feasible basis, for quantifying the differences in exchange values for different commodities: the socially necessary labor times incorporated into them. (So far this means just human labor, though if androids are ever constructed, or if sentient aliens were to show up on earth and also become workers, it would then include their labor.) Moreover, the labor considered here must include not only the direct labor, but also the properly apportioned indirect, or past labor contributed both in the form of raw materials and tools & machinery. (The actual exchange values we see, however, may be adjusted from this total socially necessary labor time for various reasons, but the underlying labor time still forms the primary basis for these exchange values.)
“11) Thus the labor theory of value (LTV) remains essential in political economy. (Systems, like Sraffa’s, that derive output prices directly from input quantities and prices (including labor-power prices) may be technically possible, but are irrelevant here. Political economy needs to explain a lot more than one price in terms of others. For example it needs to explain how exploitation occurs and the deep reasons for capitalist economic crises. (Furthermore, all prices themselves implicitly relate to socially necessary labor times; the fact that a car costs $20,000 is meaningless except within the framework where workers are paid definite amounts for an hour of their labor time.) Sraffaian economics obscures such things. We need to stay true to a profoundly political economics, a political economy that clearly exposes the genuine human relationships at the bottom of things.)
“12) But Marx’s specific version of the LTV needs to be modified in one major way: It is not only current labor which produces surplus value in a system of capitalist production, but also the continuing use of past labor (embodied in tools and machines). Modifying the LTV in this way allows us to resolve otherwise insurmountable logical and conceptual problems in traditional Marxist political economy. This revised LTV is far more coherent and defensible, but retains the essential aspects of the traditional Marxist explanations for exploitation, the source of capitalist profits, the underlying source of capitalist overproduction crises as arising from the exploitation of labor in the capitalist production process itself, and so forth.” —Scott Harrison, adapted from “Letter to Frank S. about the labor theory of value” (Dec. 8, 2003), online at: https://www.massline.org/PolitEcon/ScottH/Let_LTV.htm
LABOR THEORY OF VALUE — Ricardian and Pre-Marxist Form
“In speaking however of labour, as being the foundation of all value, and the relative quantity of labour as determining the relative value of commodities, I must not be supposed to be inattentive to the different qualities of labour, and the difficulty of comparing an hour’s, or a day’s labour, in one employment, with the same duration of labour in another. The estimation in which different qualities of labour are held, comes soon to be adjusted in the market with sufficient precision for all practical purposes, and depends much on the comparative skill of the labourer, and intensity of the labour performed. The scale, when once formed, is liable to little variation. If a day’s labour of a working jeweller be more valuable than a day’s labour of a common labourer, it has long ago been adjusted, and placed in its proper position in the scale of value.” —David Ricardo, On the Principles of Political Economy and Taxation, (London: 1817), Chapter 1: Value.
“The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”
—Henry David Thoreau (from after Dec. 6, 1845).
[Also quoted in other variations, including: “And the cost of a thing it will be remembered as the amount of life it requires to be exchanged for it.” and “The value of a thing is the amount of life you must exchange for it.” We do not know the definitive version or the precise original source. —Ed.]
“According to the Ricardian law of value, two capitals which employ the same amount of living labor at the same rate of pay, assuming all other circumstances to be also the same, produce in the same period of time products of the same value, and similarly the same amount of surplus-value or profit. If they employ unequal amounts of living labor, then they cannot produce the same surplus-value, or profit as the Ricardians say. However, the contrary is the case. In point of fact, equal capitals produce, on average, equal profits in the same time, irrespective of how much or how little living labor they employ. This contradiction to the law of value was already known to Ricardo, but neither he nor his followers were able to resolve it. Even Rodbertus could not ignore the contradiction, but instead of resolving it, he makes it one of the starting points for his utopia (Zur Erkenntnis ..., p. 131). Marx had already resolved this contradiction in his manuscript ‘Zur Kritik’ [Theories of Surplus Value, Part II, Chapter VIII, sections 3a and 6, and Chapter 6]; in the plan of Capital, the solution is to be included in Volume 3 [parts One and Two].” —Engels, Preface to Capital, Vol. II, (Pelican/Penguin, 1992), p. 101.
[To be added...]
See also below, and: TRADE UNIONISM, RED INTERNATIONAL OF LABOR UNIONS
LABOR UNIONS: U. S. — Long-term Decline Of
For many decades the size and strength of U.S. labor unions has been in a long-term decline. Union membership, as a percentage of the labor force, has declined tremendously. As of 2012 the percentage of American workers in unions fell to 11.3%, the lowest since 1916 when it was 11.2%. In private industry the figures were even worse: the percentage of unionized workers was only 6.6%.
The chart at the right shows the decline of the percentage of U.S. workers who are members of labor unions over the period from 1944 to 2014. [From: Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols, People Get Ready: The Fight Against a Jobless economy and a Citizenless Democracy (2016), p. 62.]
American trade unionism since the 1930s, at least, has been virtually entirely a reformist movement, attempting to improve the lot of workers economically but within the capitalist system. In no way was it a revolutionary movement working toward the overthrow of capitalism. It made some economic advances for a while, but as it became more and more bourgeois it also became less and less militant. Its members failed to comprehend that the gains in wages and benefits won through unions, like all reformist gains under capitalism, are never secure and permanent. Eventually the ruling class succeeds in striping away those gains and driving the workers down again, especially when the developing economic crisis of its own capitalist system requires it to do so. And, eventually, even the unions themselves are broken and destroyed.
LABOR UNIONS: U. S. — Partial Revival Of
As U.S. socio-economic problems get seriously worse, and despite the very long-term decline of the American labor movment discussed in the above entry, there are beginning to be some limited signs that the U.S. labor movement may be reviving to some extent. In part this is no doubt because even college graduates are now no longer assured of finding any half-way decent jobs, and many are finding themselves stuck in lower levels of the working class.
“Support for labor unions among college graduates has increased from 55 percent in the late 1990s to around 70 percent in the last few years, and is even higher among younger college graduates, according to data provided by Gallup.” —New York Times, “College Graduates, in Working Class, Fuel Union Gains”, April 29, 2022.
LABOR’S SHARE OF PRODUCTION (In the U.S.)
Since labor, applied to the resources of nature, is responsible for the production of all wealth, by rights “labor’s share” of what is produced should be 100%. But not only does the very tiny capitalist class take a very large percentage of what is produced in the U.S. every year, over time they have been taking an ever-greater percentage of it. Considering all the goods and services produced in the country (i.e., Gross Domestic Product), in 1974 the millions of employees of all kinds added together received just 59% of the total. By 2009, that had fallen to just 55%. In other words, the working class, which makes up over 90% of the population, barely receives half of what it produces. And actually the situation is much worse even than that, since these figures are grossly exaggerated. For example, many capitalists, including even the CEO’s of giant corporations, are themselves counted as “employees”! It is likely that the real situation is that the working class, even in this extremely wealthy country, receives considerably less than half of what it produces each year. Moreover, these figures are for gross income. After the government extracts all its many taxes (much of which goes for imperialist wars and other things which benefit the rich rather than the poor), the fraction of the wealth produced by the workers that they actually are allowed to keep is even further reduced! And low as this percentage now is, over time it is getting ever smaller. [The statistics here come from the “Economics Scene” column, by David R. Francis, The Christian Science Monitor, Feb. 21, 2010, p. 23.]
The chart at the above right (from the St. Louis branch of the Federal Reserve) shows an index value comparing the share of national income received by labor from year to year (with 2005 being arbitrarily set to 100). As is evident, labor’s share of income is sinking like a rock, and is now at historic lows.
LABRIOLA, Antonio (1843-1904)
The primary founding thinker in academic Marxism in Italy. In his youth he was a liberal, then a radical. However, he did not become a Marxist until the mid to late 1880s, long after he had already become a professor of moral philosophy (ethics) at the University of Rome in 1874. He was likely the first “professorial Marxist” anywhere.
Labriola came to Marxism through Hegel, and it is probably fair to say that he never completely abandoned Hegel’s metaphysical conceptions. Labriola’s best-known work is Essays on the Materialist Conception of History (1895-6), which with another work is online at: http://www.marxists.org/archive/labriola/index.htm
LAFARGUE, Paul (1842-1911)
Prominent figure in the French and international working-class movement, and son-in-law of Karl Marx (married to Marx’s daughter Laura). He was a member of the General Council of the [First] International, Corresponding Secretary for Spain (1866-69), helped to organize sections of the International in France, Spain and Portugal, and was a delegate to the Hague Congress in 1872. Lafargue was a founder of the Workers’ Party in France, and a disciple and associate of Marx and Engels.
LAFFER CURVE (Capitalist Economics)
A curve possibly first drawn by the bourgeois economist Arthur Laffer (though he did not originate the idea), supposedly on a napkin in a Washington, D.C. bar in 1974, which claims to be a theoretical explanation of why supply-side economics makes sense, or even a “proof” that it is correct. The argument behind the curve is that if there is no tax on corporate profits, or only a very small percentage tax, then increasing the tax rate a little will of course raise the total revenue that the government receives. However, if the tax rate is very high, say 90%, then increasing it to say 99% will actually lower the government’s revenue, because businesses will shut down operations and there will be little corporate income to tax at all. Thus Laffer argued that there must be some middle-ground tax rate where further increases in the rate will lead to smaller tax revenue rather than to greater revenue.
In the idealized Laffer Curve (the first diagram at the right) the shape of the curve is assumed to be a bell curve, or something like it. There is no actual justification for thinking this; but if it were this shape then raising the tax rate at all at any point to the right of the peak (such as Point B) would have the joint effect of lowering actual production (GDP) and also lowering government tax income.
However, while the effects of raising taxes near the left end of the chart or the very-most right end are obvious, what justification is there for saying what the effects are anywhere else? How do we know that the actual shape of the Laffer Curve is not something like the example at the top right? Actually, it is an empirical question just what the shape of the Laffer Curve is between the two ends, and the shape might even vary in different countries and at different times. But a recent empirical examination of the data in Europe suggests that the curve actually looks like the third example, with a peak revenue for the government at about the 70% tax rate. [From a study by M. Trabandt and H. Uhlig in the Journal of Monetary Economics, Vol. 58, #4 (May 2011).]
Thus if there is any truth to supply-side economics at all, and their argument that corporate tax rates should be lowered, it is only where there are extremely high tax rates on corporate profits; and such extremely high tax rates do not exist anywhere today.
See also: REAGANOMICS, SUPPLY-SIDE ECONOMICS
LAGRANGE, Joseph-Louis [Born: Giuseppe Lagrangia] (1736-1813)
A great Italian-French mathematician and astronomer who was born and raised in Turin, Italy, and spent most of his professional life in France and Berlin. His great book, Mécanique analytique (1767), is his most famous contribution to science.
“Italy, where it all began, became a mathematical backwater [because of Jesuit ideological suppression of the new mathematical ideas leading to the calculus], a land in which there was no future for those seeking to pursue a mathematical career. In the 1760s, when the young mathematical prodigy Giuseppe Luigi Lagrangia of Turin sought to make a name for himself among the ‘great geometers’ of the day, he was obliged to leave his homeland and travel first to Berlin and then to Paris. He succeeded, but his Italian roots were soon forgotten. To future generations he was and remains a Frenchman: Joseph-Louis Lagrange, one of the greatest mathematicians in human history.” —Amir Alexander, Infinitesimal (2014), p. 178.
LAISSEZ-FAIRE [Pronounced: lassay fair]
[From the French, meaning “to let people do as they please”.] The bourgeois doctrine which opposes any governmental interference in the economy beyond that necessary to maintain peace and sacred capitalist property rights. This was well-nigh universally accepted by bourgeois economists in the 19th century, especially after John Stuart Mill popularized it in his Principles of Political Economy in 1848. However, during the imperialist era, and especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s, much of the bourgeoisie and many of its apologists came to appreciate that much government intervention in the economy on behalf of the capitalists was highly desirable, and even necessary for the continuation of capitalism. In particular Keynesian economists argued that the capitalist economy had to be carefully “managed”, and even the more traditional economists of the “neo-classical synthesis” school all recognized that the government at least needed to manage interest rates, the money supply, and so forth. After the stabilization of capitalism for a long period after World War II, laissez-faire (in a somewhat less pure form) came back into fashion again, often under the new name (for much the same old ideas), neoliberalism. It is really only with the financial crash of 2008 and the longer-term deepening crisis leading toward the development of a new depression that some bourgeois economists are once again starting to question their doctrine of near total faith in the virtues of laissez-faire and the “free market”.
See also: NEOLIBERALISM VERSUS LAISSEZ-FAIRE
Freshwater lakes and streams in the U.S. and around the world are more and more being harmed by the capitalist profit system and its horrendous side effects. One of many ways this is occurring is through pollution, especially by agribusiness runoff of fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides, and the like. Another way lakes and streams are being seriously harmed is through the diversion of more and more fresh water to irrigation and urban usage, even where this is pretty non-sensical in the first place (such as where it involves diversion of water for growing cotton in desert areas of California and the Southwest, or the flagrant waste of water on golf courses and private swimming pools for the rich). And of course, lakes are also being harmed as a side-effect of capitalist induced climate change. (See quote below.)
“Earth’s deepening climate crisis is causing oxygen levels in freshwater lakes around the world to decline rapidly in a trend that threatens freshwater biodiversity and drinking water quality. As climate change warms the waters, they cannot hold as much oxygen. The recent intense summer heat has reduced how much surface water mixes with and delivers oxygen to the deep. Researches say the oxygen decline has been rapidly increasing.” —Steve Newman, “Lake Suffocation”, in “Earthweek: a diary of the planet”, for the week ending Friday, June 4, 2021; San Francisco Chronicle, June 6, 2021.
A number term commonly used in India and the other countries in south Asia, which means one hundred thousand (100,000). Thus a phrase such as “23 lakhs of people” means 2,300,000 people.
Lal Salaam is a greeting used by communist revolutionaries in India and other South Asia countries which in Hindi and related languages means “Red Salute!”.
1. The owner of property (housing, farmland, etc.) which other people rent or are hired to work on.
2. [In China before collectivization in the 1950s:] A rural tyrant who owned substantial amounts of land (for the times) who himself did not labor, but whose income instead depended primarily on hiring or otherwise exploiting peasants through rent and usury.
3. Rural exploiters similar to these Chinese landlords in other times and places.
See also: CHINA—Class Analysis Before 1949, EVICTIONS
“The profits were staggering. In 1966, a Chicago landlord told a court that on a single property he had made $42,500 in rent but paid only $2,400 in maintenance. When accused of making excessive profits, the landlord simply replied, ‘That’s why I bought the building.’” —Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (2016), p. 252.
See also below, and: PERFORMATIVE USE OF LANGUAGE
LANGUAGES — Expressiveness Of
Native speakers of a language often believe that their own language is more “expressive” than any other. However, in reality, it is possible to express any thought whatsoever in any language, though in one particular language it may require more words to do so than in another. But the more concise language in the one case will inevitably be the more verbose in other cases. Similarly, especially in translating highly specialized or technical material from one language into another, it may be necessary (or at least very useful) to coin some new words—just as it previously was in the first language.
“Linguistic nationalism” is something that all the people of the world need to oppose, though, ideally, there should also be an international language that everyone in the world could understand and speak.
“Maurice Druon of the French Academy once proposed that French should be
made the principal legal language of the European Union. He argued that its logic and
precision rendered it the judicial language par excellence. Others chortled. How
very French of him!
“The French are hardly alone in believing that their language is especially poetic, emotional, logical, precise, accessible or rich. But it turns out that the things people prize in their own languages can often be the same things foreign learners hate. Take the formal-informal distinction in words for ‘you’. German and French have du and tu for friends and family, and Sie and vous for unknown adults and formal speech. Natives of those languages miss that distinction when speaking English. Those whose languages (like English) don’t make it in the first place often resent having this choice forced on them in French or German.
“A dictum among linguists is that languages differ not in what they can express, but in what they must. Given the time and willingness to explain or coin basic terms, any language could be used to talk about anything. But they vary wildly in what they insist speakers say, with the tu-vous distinction just the tip of an iceberg. Washo, a native language of Nevada, has four past and three future tenses, depending on how distant an event is in time. Tariana, from Brazil, has ‘evidentiality’: speakers choose one of five verb-endings to show how they know what they aver to be true. Jarawara, also from Brazil, distinguishes ‘we (including you)’ and ‘we (without you)’....
“In short, languages are governed by trade-offs. One that avoids making certain information mandatory may be easier to speak, but leaves the listener to fill in the gaps.”
—The “Johnson” column on language, in The Economist, Sept. 21, 2019, p. 89.
“The 18th-century ‘lantern laws’ in New York and parts of New England mandated that enslaved Black, mixed-race and Indigenous people as young as age 14 carry lanterns at night so they could be watched.” —New York Times, National Edition, July 22, 2022, p. 3.
LAO ZI [also Romanized as Lao Tzu and Lao-Tse]
(6th century BCE)
Chinese philosopher and sage, the original source of Taoism. Lao Zi (which literally means “the old master”) inspired the semi-religious Taoist book Tao-te-Ching (“The Way of Power”) which was compiled some 300 years after his death, and which teaches self-sufficiency, simplicity and detachment. From the Marxist standpoint, Lao Zi is of interest mostly because of the primitive, but intriguing, dialectics that he put forward, and also his faith in the people. For example, consider this fine statement attributed to him, which sounds very much like the Maoist mass line:
“Go to the people.
Live with them.
Learn from them...
Start with what they know;
Build with what they have.
But with the best leaders,
When the work is done,
The task accomplished,
The people will say,
We have done this ourselves!”
LASSALLE, Ferdinand (1825-1864)
German journalist, lawyer, petty-bourgeois socialist and labor leader.
See also: “IRON LAW OF WAGES”
“Lassalle was a German petty-bourgeois socialist who played an active part in organizing (in 1863) the General Association of German Workers, a political organization that existed up to 1875. The programmatic demands of the Association were formulated by Lassalle in a number of articles and speeches. Lassalle regarded the state as a supra-class organization and, in conformity with that philosophically idealist view, believed that the Prussian state could be utilized to solve the social problem through the setting up of producers’ co-operatives with its aid. Marx said that Lassalle advocated a ‘Royal-Prussian state socialism’. Lassalle directed the workers towards peaceful, parliamentary forms of struggle, believing that the introduction of universal suffrage would make Prussia a ‘free people’s state’. To obtain universal suffrage he promised Bismarck the support of his Association against the liberal opposition and also in the implementation of Bismarck’s plan to reunite Germany ‘from above’ under the hegemony of Prussia. Lassalle repudiated the revolutionary class struggle, denied the importance of trade unions and of strike action, ignored the international tasks of the working class, and infected the German workers with nationalist ideas. His contemptuous attitude towards the peasantry, which he regarded as a reactionary force, did much damage to the German working-class movement. Marx and Engels fought his harmful utopian dogmatism and his reformist views. Their criticism helped free the German workers from the influence of Lassallean opportunism.” —Note 140 to LCW vol. 5, pp. 558-559.
“What was the historic service Lassalle rendered to the German working-class movement? It was that he diverted that movement from the path of progressionist [reformist] trade-unionism and co-operativism towards which it had been spontaneously moving...” —Lenin, What Is To Be Done? (Feb. 2002), LCW 5:385.
Money and commodities which can be turned into physical productive capital in the Marxist sense.
“Money and commodities as such are therefore latent capital, potential capital; this applies to all commodities insofar as they are convertible into money, and to money insofar as it is convertible into those commodities which constitute the elements of the capitalist process of production. Thus money—as the pure expression of the value of commodities and of the conditions of labour—is itself as capital antecedent to capitalist production.” —Marx, Theories of Surplus Value, vol. 3, (Moscow: Progress, 1971), p. 475.
LATHI [Pronounced: lah-tee, or lah-thee (to
rhyme with catty or Cathy)]
[From Hindi and related languages:] A stick or cane, typically 3 or 4 feet long, used in a type of martial arts in India (often with longer sticks), but more commonly today known because of its use by police forces to force submission by the masses. Lathis are typically made of wood or very strong cane and often have a sturdy metal cap on the end. Blows from them can cause serious injury and sometimes even death. Britain, when it controlled India as a colony, first introduced lathis as a police weapon. They also developed what is known as the lathi charge (or sometimes as one word, lathicharge), where rows of police charge the protesting masses in military fashion and viciously beat them.
“In modern times, lathi is the primary weapon of the Indian riot police along with helmets, shields, tear gas and other methods. Policemen are trained in highly co-ordinated drill movements which can leave many of the rioters crippled. This drill has been quite controversial among human rights activists so in many places the police do not follow the drill but hit in such a way to disperse the crowds. Security guards and police officers often carry a lathi along with or in place of firearms. They prefer lathi for their ease of use and comparative safety and only resort to firearms in situations when lathi cannot be used efficiently.” —Wikipedia article on lathis.
LATINOS — Religious Affiliations Of
“Nearly a quarter of Latinos [in the U.S.] are now former Catholics. In 2013, 55 percent of Hispanics identified themselves as Catholic, down from 67 percent in 2010. A growing number of Latinos identified as evangelical Protestants—16 percent—while 18 percent said they had no religious affiliation.” —Pew Research Center, as reported in The Week magazine, May 23, 2014, p. 14.
LAW — International
See: INTERNATIONAL LAW
LAW OF VALUE
“We see then that that which determines the magnitude of the value of any article is the amount of labor socially necessary, or the labor-time socially necessary for its production.” —Marx, Capital, vol. I, sect. 1: (International, 1967, p. 39; Penguin, p. 129).
See also: LABOR THEORY OF VALUE
LAWS — Scientific
See: SCIENTIFIC LAWS
LAZARUS, Sylvain (1943- )
A radical bourgeois French sociologist, anthropologist and political theorist, and longtime political and philosophical associate of the “post-Maoist” Continental philosopher Alain Badiou. In his youth he was strongly influenced by the May 1968 uprisings in France and by the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China. In late 1969 he (along with Badiou and others) founded the Union des communists de France marxiste-léniniste (UCFML) which was a nominally “Maoist” organization. (I.e., the intellectuals in this small sectarian group were enthusiastic about Mao and the GPCR, insofar as they actually knew much about them.)
In 1981, using the nom de plume Paul Sandevince, Lazarus published a piece entitled “Notes de travail sur le post-léninisme” [“Working Notes on Post-Leninism”] in which he openly talked about his deep dissatisfaction with many essential principles of Marxism-Leninism, and called for a new type of “post-Leninist” political party. In 1985, after the collapse of the UCFML, Lazarus, Badiou and some of the others formed a new group they called L’Organisation Politique, which did not consider itself to be a revolutionary political party nor to be working toward the creation of one. Its only mass practice was around a few reformist issues (especially promoting the rights of immigrants in France). The OP itself fizzled out, and apparently completely disappeared by 2007 at the latest.
By the year 2001 Lazarus and Badiou were openly rejecting the need for any proletarian class perspective whatsoever in politics, as well as the need for any revolutionary party of any sort. (See the BADIOU entry for quotes about this.) No doubt Lazarus and his friends once had some youthful revolutionary spirit, but that has long since disappeared. Indeed, it seems quite unlikely that they were ever really genuine Maoist revolutionaries in the first place.
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