Once againraising the question of the elimination of wage labor and theliberation of workers
The original meaning of socialism wasto achieve the liberation of the working class through theelimination of wage labor. This would allow for a completeequalization of social status for all of humanity, and for allpeople to fairly enjoy the material and spiritual fruits ofsocial progress. From the time of the emergence of socialistthought, all branches of socialism have recognized thealienation, social inequality and moral filth which result fromwage labor. However, today it is almost as if people haveforgotten these beliefs, forgotten this ideal and no longerbring up the liberation of workers!
In reality, from an economicstandpoint wage labor means the realization of the autocracy ofcapital in the system of production.
Within the enterprise, wage laborallows the boss to monopolize all power over the labor processand distribution (in the West, they have majority or partialmonopolization over these powers). On the other hand, workers donot have any power to control or intervene in the processes ofproduction and distribution (in the West they may have some orjust a little bit of power).
If we look at the situation in manyprivate (and foreign) enterprises in China, we can immediatelyunderstand the argument that “from an economic standpoint wagelabor mean the realization of the autocracy of capital in thesystem of production.” Within these enterprises, we can see thatworkers absolutely cannot equally share control over thefollowing things, all of which impinge directly upon theirinterests:
The rights to determine thedistribution of value produced by an enterprise (which could becalled the “fruits of labor”) are completely controlled by theowners of the enterprise. Workers’ wages and other benefits(including insurance) are completely determined by the boss, andworkers do not have any negotiation rights. However, the valueproduced by an enterprise results from the common functions oflabor and capital. However, this “common functioning” is not tosay that capital can produce value, but rather that capital hasa function in allowing labor to produce value. Capital does notproduce value, but it is just that it contains value. Only amethod whereby labor and capital both determine the distributionof value conforms to ideas of fairness and justice.
Rightsto Democratic Participation in the Labor Process
Not only the distribution of value,but also the process by which enterprise rules are determined isdirectly related to the interests of workers. In privateenterprises in China, factory management has almost a completemonopoly on the rights to determine factory rules. They candetermine at will the length of workers’ shifts, arbitrarilyimpose monetary fines, restrict workers from using the bathroomand fire any workers that they do not like. This unfair powerwhich is held by enterprise management is seen as completelynormal by those who are accustomed to capitalism and liberalism,because they believe that management must take responsibilityfor the company’s property and risks associated with capitalinvestment. However, these people can hardly imagine that thisviolates concepts of morality and fairness. Workers choose toenter the enterprise because of living requirements: if theydidn’t toil in the factory than their whole family would gohungry. Enterprise managers take advantage of people’s difficultsituation and demand that workers obey their ultimate authority,thereby abandoning the free value that all people have. Thismust be condemned and opposed by human civilization. Hence, aslong as capital requires labor, workers must not fail tostruggle with capital for their respect, rights and interests.
Liberals frequently believe that thedetermination and implementation of enterprise strategy andoperation, as well as capital accumulation and losses aremanagement’s business, and that these things should be decidedby management and the market. However, the determination andimplementation of enterprise strategy and operation, and evenquestions of capital accumulation, impinge directly on theinterests of workers. Because these matters are related to thesurvival and development of the enterprise, they naturally arerelated to the stability of workers’ employment and welfare.Thus, workers cannot roll the dice by handing control over theirexistence and happiness to capital.
Allowing capital to decide everythinggives them the power to control the factory, the productionprocess and to monopolize the rights to distribution. Laborbecomes the slave of capital, and labor-capital relations infact become one of master and servant, enslaver and enslaved,and this is the true essence of wage labor! This systemconcentrates the unequal, unfair and amoral filth of humankind!
Existing literature reveals that inthe West, as a result of more than 100 years of the workersmovement, the working classes in various countries have won afew rights. Especially in the Scandinavian countries of Sweden,Norway, Denmark and Finland, workers can now enjoy some of therights which used to exclusively belong to capital. They havewon the rights to engage in collective bargaining, toparticipate in enterprise management and to own stock in thecompany. The attainment of these rights has quietly changed thesystem of wage labor, causing it to gradually change from “wagelabor” to “labor-capital cooperative production.” In otherEuropean countries, although they have not had as much progressas Scandinavian countries, the system of collective bargainingwith unions as the representative of labor has been widelyimplemented. Workers thus have the ability to exert varyingdegrees of control over enterprise operations and management.
However, we can see that the tradeunions in some Western countries have already forgotten themighty belief and ideal of the elimination of wage labor and theliberation of workers. They are frequently satisfied with thevictory of increasing wages. However, increasing wages andbenefits cannot change the fundamental master-servantrelationship which exists between workers and capital, and doesnot change the fate of being enslaved by capital. Simpleincreases in wages will eventually be swallowed up by increasesin the cost of living. Because capital always hopes to protectprofit, increases in workers’ wages eventually will be reducedby increases in the cost of goods. Increases in workers’ wagesand benefits must come through control over the distribution ofenterprise profits. Social relations of production in the futureshould allow capitalists to not earn too much and workers to notearn too little. Problems between labor and capital should beresolved by equal bargaining, and the knife used to divide thecake of enterprise profits should be equally held by labor andcapital. Fair distribution is that which labor and capital caneach agree to. This type of distribution can truly realizeworkers laboring for their own benefits, as opposed to laboringfor the boss’ profit. This type of production is no longer wagelabor, but is equal cooperative production between labor andcapital.
The road to realizing the fair andjust liberation of workers in China is long. Working classconsciousness as well as citizen’s rights consciousness andsolidarity all need to be developed and advanced. However, theexperience of workers’ struggles in advanced countries is usefulfor advancing the development of the Chinese working class. Inthe process of the Chinese working class’ struggle, theelimination of wage labor and the liberation of workers from theoppression of capital should be the clear goal of the Chineseworking class.
Wage labor does not exist only inprivate enterprises, as state owned enterprises may have alsodecayed into authoritarian organizations. In these enterprises,workers still lack bargaining rights, and lack the rights toparticipate in the democratic management and policy making ofthe enterprise. The production relations in this sort ofenterprise still count as wage labor. Hence, whether or not wagelabor exists is not related to the enterprise’s form ofownership. The elimination of wage labor is not equivalent tothe elimination of private capital (society will still requirecapital for a significant amount of time), but rather is thenatural conclusion of sharing the rights to control theenterprise with management. Thus, the process of the eliminationof wage labor results in workers becoming citizens within theenterprise. Attaining citizenship rights in the enterprise comesfrom a process in which peaceful, democratic means arecontinuously used in free elections and legislation. Thisprocess is a natural extension of political democracy towardseconomic democracy, but economic democracy is even morefundamental than political democracy because the purpose ofpolitics is economics.
Current Chinese law already supportsthe signing of collective contracts. The government haspromulgated “Collective Contract Regulations,” and it isstipulated in the “Labor Contract Law” and the “Labor Law” thatenterprise regulations should be discussed in the Staff andWorkers Congress. Although these systems and regulations cannotbe completely viewed as a system of collective bargaining, butthey can be seen as a starting point for a mature collectivebargaining system. From this starting point, us Chinese workersshould unite with workers from around the world, and move in thedirection of the elimination of wage labor to eventuallyliberate workers from enslavement by capital! Without the globalunity of workers, there can be no such liberation, becausecapital always likes to go to the countries where the workers’struggle is the weakest. This allows them to extract more profitand to apply pressure to workers in the countries where thestrength of struggle is greater. From this perspective, in orderfor the workers of every country in the world to eventuallyattain complete fairness, justice and liberation, all ofhumankind must develop and progress fairly.
Workers of the world unite!
 Translatorsnote: “Liberal” in this essay refers not to the Americanusage of the word, but to classical liberalism.