Video: Leaked Applebee’s Email Vindicates Karl Marx

There are a number of people on the left who put maybe a little too much stock in “reading theory” as an essential part of being a good leftist. I think they have a bit of a point. In all fields, theory helps us make sense of what we’re seeing, and gives us lenses through which to consider new information. That said, there’s a lot of stuff in “theory” that can be pretty well reasoned out by pretty much anyone. In this case, a leaked email points to what Marx described as the “reserve army of labor” – an under-class that is always in a state of economic desperation, so that there’s always someone willing to take starvation wages, because it’s all they can get. In this case, it’s management celebrating that poverty by talking about how the increase in gas prices will mean more people scrabbling for any job they can get, which means management can start paying people less. I’m willing to bet these people sleep fine at night, and that’s the kind of person our system empowers.

If you want a more in-depth look, I recommend this discussion clipped from the Left Reckoning podcast:



  1. says

    We have to remember that Marx’ theorizing mostly applied to early industrial-age production – he was trying to make a connection between the value of industrial work and the products of industrial work, so that he could argue that business owners were taking an unfairly large amount of the surplus value. That kind of stuff does not apply to things like software development, where a developer can (or can’t) make a multi-million-dollar product with just a laptop as their “means of production” or write a business plan that becomes a monster. I think Marx’ critique of capitalists’ behaviors matched very well the kind of social abuses committed by people like Carnegie, Frick, and Rockefeller but even in his time it was pretty obvious that he was doing a lot of hand-waving. His hooking his wagon to Hegel was a strategic error but it may have been necessary because Marx, himself, was not capable of making his own arguments clearly and effectively and had to lean on Hegel’s great structure of bafflegab. Unfortunately, it didn’t fool everyone, or even a majority. As Veblen points out, Marxian economics cannot explain very important economic trends like conspicuous consumption or the leisure class – because Hegel didn’t have a framework for Marx to tie that to.

    I think Marx was important but is hardly important, anymore, except as a historical example of how some cults are suborned by political interests. I get all sad and cry when I see otherwise thoughtful progressives lean on Marx’ rattly old framework, when there are perfectly clear arguments that can be made regarding labor relations without having to lean on Marx. You don’t have to argue about a “permanent underclass” you can simply point out that business owners will use a variety of tricks to keep the cost of labor down, and those tricks are: $(racism, importing immigrants, union-busting, etc) as they always have been. In that sense, Marx was sitting back in his ratty apartment writing about what was going on just across the street – it didn’t take any profound analysis to see that.

  2. says

    When it comes to the concept of a surplus army of labor, however, he was right, from everything I’ve been able to see.

    Poverty is essential for capitalism to function, when it comes to the mechanics of turning human labor into profit and power.

  3. says

    When it comes to the concept of a surplus army of labor, however, he was right, from everything I’ve been able to see.

    Poverty is essential for capitalism to function, when it comes to the mechanics of turning human labor into profit and power.

    Agreed. But here’s where Marx falls flat on his face, IMO:
    It’s the same with monarchy/aristocracy. Having a large peasant class is important to the function of feudalism, too. It’s important to the function of every damn civilization humans have ever created so far, so far as I can tell. So it seems a bit sketchy that Marx points at capitalism and says “yeah, capitalism caused that!” no, there’s something behind that cause, namely that all systems of political control depend on having an underclass that is created and maintained in order to manipulate labor.

    My answer is that we call that force “civilization.” I disagree with Rousseau that mankind experienced a state of nature (natural aristocracies would not allow that to happen) – it seems obvious to me that humans co-evolved with civilization and civilization is political control. Marx sees that as the workers’ problem because he was stuck in a milieu where that was obviously the case.

    I should/could do a posting on this but it takes me to a very dark place.

  4. says

    IMO the point is that capitalism was sold, to some, as an improvement for what became the working class, and comes with a promise that if we all stick with it long enough, and do it hard enough, poverty will be ended.

    The point is that that was always a lie. Capitalism relies on the maintenance of an under-class just as much as feudalism did.

    I haven’t read any Marx directly, so maybe I’m giving him too much credit, but I’ve never heard that he thought that capitalism invented poverty or the notion of an underclass. Describing how the system works as you see it is not the same as saying that the way it works NOW is the way it has always worked.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *