Check out this great post by NP on this very question, one of a great many of hers on Marx. Way more there than I can do justice to or respond to any time soon. For now, a few things I want to pull out.

First, NP makes a comment that is quite useful for trying to get a handle on Capital as a reader. She writes “it becomes (like so much else in Capital) retrospectively clear that the subsequent movement of the text makes available a different systemic perspective.” This is a key point in reading Capital v1, I don’t think it could be emphasized too much. Prior sections of v1 make more and different sections in the light of later sections. This means that short excerpts – like, say, 10 pages or so on commodity fetishism – read on their own are misleading for readers. Put another way, the only way to really read v1 is to re-read it.

Second, NP offers one possible explanation for the role of waged labor in Capital, that the category is useful for understanding “a distinctive form of domination.” Waged labor as analytical emphasis helps cast light onto important power relations. That makes sense. This means among other things that waged labor is not just important because it’s an prevalent form of exploitation endured or source of wealth. That makes sense.

Third, I’m not sure what NP and/or Marx is saying about what NP calls the potentials that Marx wants to draw attention to, potentials which are ambivalent. One such potential is the analytical point I just mentioned, to which I can only nod. What I’m not clear on, though, is what the claim is about the potentials among those who play the role of waged laborers. (I get it more than I’m saying here, but it would take me more time than I’ve got right now to reconstruct what I take NP’s point to be, I’ll come back to this.)

Fourth, along the same lines, NP writes about Marx on the working day, particularly the laws to limit the working day in England. These laws played an important role in capitalist development, they “encouraged the process of the consolidation and expansion of capital on an ever-increasing scale.” (An aside – there’s an important point here, that capitalists react to working class demands by attempting to capitalize them, to make working class struggles into an engine for development. Among some folk in the autonomist marxist/operaismo/post-operaismo milieu this point is mistakenly made into the assertion that all crisis is the result of working class initiative.)

NP continues, insisting that these changes are not reducible to their function for capitalism, they are not simply more of the same and nothing more. “[T]here is an emancipatory potential unleashed by the struggle for the normal working day.” This point is tremendously important. I think the temporal perspective matters a lot here. Put maybe less clumsily, it matters where in we’re looking from when we asset this point and a larger point implied in it (that larger point being that reforms of capitalist social relations are not always reducible to their being ‘within’ capitalism). It seems to me that this point is unarguably true if we take it very literally: the changes in the working day changed the ground on which the class struggle was waged from then on, and changed it for the better. That’s what I take the emancipatory potentials to mean. I think it’s worth noting, however, that there’s no particular reason to think that the course taken by history – legal reforms of the working day – was the only way that emancipatory potentials could be made or realized. There was more than one possible road (more than one good road, so to speak) from the conjuncture that the changes in the working day came out of. I’m not saying that NP says otherwise, but I wanted to point this out because I think Marx wasn’t always great at noting this (his late work on Russia is one place where I think he was pretty good on this), particularly on the issue of waged ‘free’ labor in relation to other labors – emancipation of slaves into waged ‘free’ labor was certainly an advance but not necessarily the only advance possible.

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