Class Struggle

I’ve been intrigued by the chapter in Capital Volume 1 on the “Working Day”, and David Harvey’s commentary on it.

In this chapter, Marx outlines the struggle in his own time to regulate the working day. David Harvey points to this as being the point where the concept of class struggle is introduced.

The first thought prompted by Harvey’s commentary is that this is a struggle which continues today. Workers continue to find the amount of time they commit to their employer to be a source of conflict although this manifests itself differently now – with a focus on such elements as retirement age and zero hours contracts for example.

Marx makes it clear that the shortening of the working day has not come about as the result of equal exchange. Rather employers are forced to moderate their demands through the militancy of their employees. It’s seems obvious to me that this industrial tension gradually shifted working conditions over the period ending shortly after the second world war. The end result was an economy where the profits of capitalism were shared more evenly across society. This is a theme seemingly taken up by Thomas Piketty in his recent book “Capital” (although I’ve yet to read it).

It is this shift that the neo-liberal reaction of the last 30 years has sought to unpick. Unsurprisingly the outcome is that the results of growth are shared much less widely. In the context of this chapter it strikes me that Marx would affirm that this is not an accident, nor inevitable. It is a result of the class struggle between employers and their employees (capital and labour if you will). And over the last 30 years capital has been winning.

The second grows from a short comment made by Marx in the text which implies that this class struggle can regulate how capitalism operates. It might almost be a ‘creative’ tension. This shows the way to an explanation of post-war social democracy within the bounds of Marx’s thought. Class struggle delivers a more equitable division of surplus value, but this is not sustained in the long run. The neo-liberal counter-revolution tilts the struggle back towards capital – and as a result inequality inexorably rises.


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