THE MARXIST-LENINIST RESEARCH BUREAU:
NEW SERIES: No. 9;
"MARX AND THE THEORY OF THE ABSOLUTE IMPOVERISHMENT OF THE WORKING CLASS UNDER CAPITALISM"


INTRODUCTION

    'Impoverishment' is defined as the:

    while 'poor' is usually defined as:     'Absolute impoverishment' is defined in the 'Great Soviet
Encyclopedia' as:         while 'relative impoverishment' is defined in the 'Great Soviet Encyclopedia' as:     There is no doubt that KARL MARX accepted the theory of the relative impoverishment of the working class under capitalism, for he says:     Sometimes, however, the theory of the absolute impoverishment of the working class, i.e., the theory that the real wages of the working class consistently decline with the development of capitalism, is also attributed to Marx. For example, the Austrian-born philosopher KARL POPPER (1902-95) states:     Similarly, the English-born American historian HENRY PARKES (1904-72) states that for what he alleges to be a 'cardinal conclusion of Marxist economic theory', namely:     As a leading philosopher of the revisionist Communist Party of Great Britain, MAURICE CORNFORTH (1908-80), expresses the views of Popper and Parkes:     This paper is an attempt to investigate whether or not Marx did, in fact, adhere to the theory of the absolute impoverishment of the working class under capitalism.

        MARX'S FIRST THEORY OF WAGES

    The Marxist theory of wages was, of course, not magically revealed to Marx as he sat in the shade of a banyan tree in the grounds of the Briish Museum. It developed gradually, and was modified in the light of experience -- in accordance with the English proverb which Engels, in particular, was fond of quoting: 'The proof of the pudding is in the eating', that is, the test of the validity of a hypothesis is whether it works out in practice.
    Marx's first theory of wages was based on the 'subsistence
theory' put forward in the writings of the English 'classical'
economists DAVID RICARDO (1772-1823) and THOMAS MALTHUS (1766- 1834).

    The subsistence theory of wages,

    In Ricardo's words:     The subsistence theory of wages:     In his lectures of 1880-81, the English historian ARNOLD TOYNBEE (1889-1975) states that Marx and Engels:     The Ricardian/Malthusian 'law' of wages:     For example: 'Outlines of a Critique of Political Economy', written by Engels in October/November 1843, states:     'Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844', written by Marx between April and August 1844, states:     Here it must be noted that in a note, written in 1885, to the German edition of 'The Poverty of Philosophy', Engels said:     'The Poverty of Philosophy', written by Marx in the winter of 1846-47, states:     'Principles of Communism', the first draft of what was to be 'The Communist Manifesto', written by Engels in October 1847, states:     'Address on the Question of Free Trade', delivered by Marx
in January 1848, states:     'Wage Labour and Capital', written by Marx in December 1847,
states:     'The Communist Manifesto', written jointly by Marx and Engels between December 1847 and January 1848, states:         MARX'S AMENDED THEORY OF WAGES
 
    By the early 1960s, Marx and Engels had become convinced that their acceptance of the Ricardian theory of wages had been mistaken.
One factor in this change of position was that the German
Social Democrat FERDINAND LASSALLE (1840-1913) had -- not illogically -- developed the Ricardian theory of wages into the form of 'the iron law of wages':     Lassalle 's 'iron law of wages':     In a letter written some years later to the leading German
Social Democrat AUGUST BEBEL (1840-1913), Engels now describes the Ricardian wage theory on which it was based as 'quite antiquated':     In June 1865, Marx presented his amended theory of wages in an address to the General Council of the First International. The amended theory was still based on the subsistence theory:     But the theory was now modified by the inclusion of some 'peculiar features' which distinguish labour power from all other commodities:     According to Marx's amended theory, the 'peculiar features' which distinguish labour power from all other commodities relate to the presence of a 'historical or social element' in the former:     As a result of the historical or social element in the value of labour power, this value:     In the first volume of Marx's 'Capital', published in September 1867, Marx repeated the basis of his amended law of wages:     However, Marx adds, a worker's     But the historical development of these 'necessary wants' continues, so that along with them the value of labour power also increases. New inventions arise -- such as the refrigerator, the car, television -- and develop from luxuries for the rich into items which workers come to regard as necessaries. Marx himself speaks of a rise in the price of labour as a consequence of the accumulation of capital:     and of:     Marx indeed points out that one of the contradictions of capitalist society is that the capitalist has an interest in keeping low the income of his own employees in order to maximise his profits; but in contrast has an interest in not keeping low the income of the employees of other capitalists since these are (to him) merely consumers, part of his market. That is, he is interested in     In periods of relatively full employment, in fact,     As Maurice Cornforth correctly points out:     Indeed, reputable economists agree that     and that:     In addition, trade unionism -- the application of the principle of monopoly power to the sale of labour power -- enables organised workers to sell their labour power at a higher rate than they could under conditions of free competition between workers. As Engels wrote in May 1881:     Indeed, it is generally recognised by reputable writers who have studied Marx's writings that these never mention the absolute impoverishment of the working class:     Indeed, as we have seen, Marx accepted that the development of
capitalism would be accompanied by an increase in real wages:         'PAUPERISM'

    Sometimes Marx's references to 'pauperism' are taken as references to 'impoverishment'.  However, a 'pauper' is:

while 'pauperism' is defined as:     Marx himself defined 'pauperism' as:    i.e.; as the unemployed and those unable to work by reason of age or
incapacity:     Thus, when Marx speaks of an increase of pauperism with the
development of capitalism, he does not mean that the working class as a whole suffers absolute impoverishment:     In other words:     In addition, genuine misunderstanding sometimes arises from
Marx's assertion that the development of capitalism is accompanied by the spiritual impoverishment or alienation of working people.
    The 'Great Soviet Encyclopedia' defines 'alienation' as:     In the 'Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Marx writes that, with the development of capitalism:     According to Marx, instead of being a source of creative pleasure, as it may well be with the peasant and the artisan, work bcomes a tyranny:     Clearly, what Marx intends to convey here:     Marx makes it doubly clear that he is referring to spiritual impoverishment of the worker, and not to his material  impoverishment, when he says:     It is true that in his later work Marx used such terms as 'alienation' and 'estrangement' less frequently than in his earlier work, but this was not because he had repudiated the  concepts expressed in these terms (as we see from the excerpts from 'Capital' given above);     In a note to this passage, Schmidt adds:     Finally, misunderstanding sometimes arises from Marx's statement that the development of capitalism is accompanied by  the 'increasing misery' of the working class. For example, a  famous passage in 'Capital' reads:     But 'misery' is defined as:     Furthermore, in the most famous of the passages concerned Marx is
clearly referring to the 'misery' of the 'pauperised' strata of  the working class, not to that of the working class as a whole:     In other words, so far as the working class as a whole is  concerned, we are dealing again here not with material impoverishment, but with spiritual impoverishment, with  alienation.  In this respect, one must recall Engels' criticism of the  use of the word 'misery' in the 1891 Erfurt draft programme of  the German Social Democratic Party, in the clause reading:     On which Engels commented:

BIBLIOGRAPHY

BERNSTEIN, Eduard: 'The Pre-Conditions of Socialism'; Cambridge:
1993.
BLAUG, Mark: 'Economic Theory in Retrospect'; Homewood (USA);
1962.
BROWDER, Earl: 'Marx and America'; London; 1959.
BUKHARIN, Nikolai: 'Imperialism and World Economy'; London; 1972.
CORNFORTH, Maurice: 'The Open Philosophy and the Open Society: A
Reply to Dr. Karl Popper's Refutations of Marxism'; London; 1968.
DOBB, Maurice: 'Wages'; London; 1938.
ENGELS, Friedrich: 'Principles of Communism'; London; 1971.
KÜHNE, Karl: 'Economics and Marxism', Volume 1; London; 1979.
LASSALLE, Ferdinand: 'Offnes Antwortschreiben an das Central- Comité zur Berufung eines Allgemeinen Deutschen Arbeiter- congresses zu Leipzig'; Zurich; 1863.
LENIN, Vladimir I. 'Collected Works', Volume 18; Moscow; 1963.
LICHTHEIM, George: 'Marxism in Modern France'; New York; 1970.
MANDEL, Ernest: 'The Formation of the Economic Thought of Karl Marx: 1843 to "Capital"'; London; 1971.
--- : 'Marxist Economic Theory', Volume 1; London; 1968
--- : Introduction to: Karl Marx: 'Capital: A Critical  Analysis of Political Economy', Volume 1; Harmondsworth; 1976.
MARX, Karl: 'Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844', London; 1970.
--- : 'Grundrisse' (Foundations); Harmondsworth; 1973.
--- : 'The Poverty of Philosophy'; London; 1936.
--- : 'Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production', Volume 1; Moscow; 1974.
--- : 'Selected Works', Volume 1; London; 1943.
--- : 'Theories of Surplus Value', Part 3; Moscow; 1975.
MARX, Karl & ENGELS, Friedrich: 'Collected Works'; Moscow; 1977.
--- : 'Letters to Americans: 1848-1895:  A Selection'; New York; 1953.
--- : 'Correspondence: 1846-1895: A  Selection with Commentary and Notes'; London; 1936.
PARKES, Henry B.: 'Marxism: A Post-Mortem'; London; 1940.
PIETTRE, André: 'Marx et Marxisme' (Marx and Marxism); Paris; 1966.
POPPER, Karl R.: 'The Open Society and its Enemies', Volume 2; 'The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath';  London; 1945.
SCHMIDT, Alfred: 'The Concept of Nature in Marx'; London; 1971.
SRAFFA, Piero (Ed.): 'The Works and Correspondence of David  Ricardo', Volume 1; Cambridge; 1981.
STRACHEY, John: 'Contemporary Capitalism'; London; 1956.
TOYNBEE, Arnold: 'Lectures on the Industrial Revolution in England'; London; 1884.
VARGA, Jen": 'Politico-Economic Problems of Capitalism'; Moscow; 1968.
--- : "Political Economy: A Textbook issued by the Institute of Economics of the Academy of  Sciences of the USSR'; London; 1957,
--- : 'Programme of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, adopted by the 22nd Congress of the CPSU, October  1961'; Moscow; 1961.
'Encyclopedia Americana'.
'Great Soviet Encyclopedia'.
'New Encyclopaedia Britannica'.
'Oxford English Dictionary'.


GO TO ALLIANCE:  SUBJECT INDEX
GO TO ALLIANCE:  CATALOGUE
GO TO ALLIANCE:  "WHAT'S NEW PAGE";
GO TO ALLIANCE: HOME PAGE ALLIANCE