MARXIST-LENINIST RESEARCH BUREAU:
SERIES: No. 9;
AND THE THEORY OF THE ABSOLUTE IMPOVERISHMENT OF THE
WORKING CLASS UNDER CAPITALISM"
is defined as the:
" . . . process of . . . making poor",
while 'poor' is usually defined as:
('Oxford English Dictionary', Volume 9: Oxford: 1989;
" . . . having few, or no, material possessions .
. . ; so destitute as to be dependent upon gifts or allowances for subsistence".
'Absolute impoverishment' is defined
in the 'Great Soviet
('Oxford English Dictionary', Volume 12; Oxford; p.
" . . . a tendency of lowering in the living standard
of the proletariat".
impoverishment' is defined in the 'Great Soviet Encyclopedia' as:
('Great Soviet Encyclopedia', Volume 1; New York;
" . . . a tendency toward decreasing the working class's
share in the national income'.
There is no doubt that KARL
MARX accepted the theory of the relative impoverishment of the working
class under capitalism, for he says:
('Great Soviet Encyclopedia', Volume 1; New York;
"Real wages . . . never rise proportionally to the
productive power of labour".
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:
(Karl Marx: 'Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist
Production', Volume 1; Moscow; 1974; p. 566).;
"Marx's . . . . law that misery must increase together
with accumulation (of capital -- Ed.) does not hold. Means of production
have accumulated and the productivity of labour has increased since his
day to an an extent which even he would hardly have thought possible. But
child labour, working hours, the agony of toil and the precariousness of
the worker's existence have not increased; they are on the decline. . .
. Experience shows that Marx's prophecies were false".
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:
(Karl R. Popper: 'The Open Society and Its Enemies',
Volume 2: 'The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx and the Aftermath'; London;
1945; p. 174-75).
" . . . that the misery of the working class will
increase -- there is no evidence at all. Throughout the history of capitalism
. . . the working class, . . . have steadily gained higher standards of
living and a shorter working day. Low wages. long hours and child labour
have been characterirtics of capitalism not, as Marx predicted, in its
old age. but in its infancy".
As a leading philosopher of the revisionist
Communist Party of Great Britain, MAURICE CORNFORTH
(1908-80), expresses the views of Popper and Parkes:
(Henry B. Parkes: 'Marxism: A Post-Mortem'; London;
1940; p. 101-02).
"Whereas Marx said that things would get worse and
worse, they have, on the contrary, got better and better. Marxist theory,
prophesying 'absolute impoverishment', bears no relation to what has actually
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.
(Maurice Cornforth: 'The Open Philosophy and the Open
Society: A Reply to Dr. Karl Popper's Refutations of Marxism'; London;
1968; p. 205).
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
economists DAVID RICARDO (1772-1823)
and THOMAS MALTHUS (1766-
The subsistence theory of wages,
" . . . advanced by David Ricardo and other classical
economists, was based on the population theory of Malthus. It held that
the market price of labour would always tend toward the minimum required
for subsistence. If the supply of labour increased, wages would fall, eventually
causing a decrease in the labour supply. If the wage rose above the subsistence
level, population would increase until the larger labour force would again
force wages down".
In Ricardo's words:
('New Encyclopaedia Britannica', Volume 12: Chicago:
1994; p. 447).
"The natural price of labour is that price which is
necessary to enable the labourers, one with another, to subsist and to
perpetuate their race, without either increase or diminution".
The subsistence theory of wages:
(David Ricardo: 'On the Principles of Political Economy
and Taxation', in: Piero Sraffa (Ed.): 'The Works and Correspondence of
David Ricardo', Volume 1; Cambridge; 1981; p. 93).
"Ricardo's theory of wages was largely inspired by
Malthus. . . . An increase in wages causes . . . a decline in infant mortality
-- which results in an increase in the supply of hands, and so a fall in
wages. On the other hand, a fall in wages . . . increases the rate of infant
mortality -- and so decreases the supply of hands. . . . These two movements
of the pendulum tend to even out the level of wages, but at the lowest
level, just sufficient to keep a worker with an 'average' family alive".
(Ernest Mandel: 'The Formation of the Economic Thought
of Karl Marx: 1843 to "Capital"' (hereafter listed as 'Ernest Mandel (1971');
London; 1971; p. 140).
" . . . stated simply that the price of labour depended
on the subsistence of the labourer. Wages equalled the amount of commodities
necessary to feed and clothe a worker and his family, which represented
the cost to society of 'enabling the labourers to subsist and perpetuate
their race' (Ricardo)".
In his lectures of 1880-81, the English
historian ARNOLD TOYNBEE (1889-1975) states
that Marx and Engels:
(Maurice Dobb: 'Wages'; London; 1938; p. 95).
" . . . adopted Ricardo's law of wages. . . . They
have argued that, . . . by this law, wages, under our present social institutions,
can never be more than sufficient for the bare subsistence of the labourer".
The Ricardian/Malthusian 'law' of wages:
(Arnold Toynbee: 'Lectures on the Industrial Revolution
in England'; London; 1884; p. 130).
" . . . did undoubtedly influence them (Marx and Engels
- Ed.) in formulating their first, faulty theory of wages, which implies,
like the Ricardo/Malthus theory, a tendency for wages to decline towards
the physiological minimum living wage and stay there".
For example: 'Outlines of a Critique
of Political Economy', written by Engels in October/November 1843, states:
(Ernest Mandel (1971): op. cit.; p. 142).
"Only the very barest necessities, the mere means
of subsistence, fall to the lot of labour".
'Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts
of 1844', written by Marx between April and August 1844, states:
(Friedrich Engels: 'Outline of a Critique of Political
Economy', in: Karl Marx: 'Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844';
London; 1970; p. 223).
"The lowest and the only necessary wage-rate is that
providing for the subsistence of the worker for the duration of his work
and as much more as is necessary for him to support a family and for the
race of labourers not to die out. The ordinary wage rate . . . is the lowest
compatible with . . . a cattle-like existence".
Here it must be noted that in a note,
written in 1885, to the German edition of 'The Poverty of Philosophy',
(Karl Marx: 'Wages of Labour', in: 'Economic and Philosophic
Manuscripts of 1844'; London; 1970; p. 65).
"The thesis that the 'natural', i.e., normal, price
of labour power concides with the wage minimum, i.e., with the equivalent
in value of the means of subsistence absolutely indispensable for the life
and reproduction of the worker, was first put forward by me in 'Outlines
of a Critique of Political Economy' (1844) and in 'The Condition of the
Working Class in England'. . . . As seen here, Marx at that time accepted
the thesis. Lassalle took it over from both of us. . . . The above thesis
is nevertheless incorrect".
'The Poverty of Philosophy', written
by Marx in the winter of 1846-47, states:
(Friedrich Engels: Note to the German Edition of 'The
Poverty of Philosophy'; London; 1936; p. 45).
"Labour, being itself a commodity, is measured as
such by the labour time needed to produce the labour-commodity. And what
is needed to produce this labour-commodity? Just enough labour time to
produce the objects indispensable to the constant maintenance of labour,
that is, to keep the worker alive and in a condition to propagate his kind.
The natural price of labour is no other than the wage minimum."
'Principles of Communism', the first
draft of what was to be 'The Communist Manifesto', written by Engels
in October 1847, states:
(Karl Marx: 'The Poverty of Philosophy': London; 1936;
"In a regime of . . . free competition, . . . the
price of labour is . . . equal to the cost of production of labour. But
the costs of production of labour consist of precisely the quantity of
means of subsistence necesary to enable the worker to continue working
and to prevent the working class from dying out. The worker will therefore
get no more for his labour than is necessary for this purpose; the price
of labour or the wage will, in other words, be the lowest, the minimum,
required for the maintenance of life. . . . This economic law of wages
operates the more strictly the greater the degree to which big industry
has taken possession of all branches of production".
'Address on the Question of Free Trade',
delivered by Marx
(Friedrich Engels: 'Principles of Communism'; London;
1971; p. 6-7).
in January 1848, states:
"The minimum of wages is the natural price of labour.
And what is the minimum of wages? Just so much as is required for the production
of the articles indispensable for the maintenance of the worker, for putting
him in a position to sustain himself, however badly, and of propagating
his race, however slightly".
'Wage Labour and Capital', written
by Marx in December 1847,
(Karl Marx: 'Address on the Question of Free Trade',
in: 'The Poverty of Philosophy'; London; 1936; p. 205).
"The price of labour will be determined by . . . the
labour time necesary to produce this commodity -- labour power. What then
is the cost of production of labour power? It is the cost required for
maintaining the worker as a worker and of developing him into a worker.
. . . The price of his labour will, therefore, be determined by the price
of the necessary means of subsistence. The cost of production of simple
labour power, therefore, amounts to the cost of the existence and reproduction
of the worker. The price of this cost of existence and reproduction constitutes
wages. Wages so determined are called the wage minimum. . . . The wages
of the whole working class level themselves out within their variations
to this minimum".
'The Communist Manifesto', written
jointly by Marx and Engels between December 1847 and January 1848,
(Karl Marx: 'Wage Labour and Capital'; in: 'Selected
Works', Volume 1; London; 1943; p. 262,263).
"The average price of wage labour is the minimum wage,
i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence which is absolutely requisite
to keep the labourer in bare existence as a labourer. What, therefore,
the wage labourer appropriates by means of his labour merely suffices to
prolong and reproduce a bare existence".
MARX'S AMENDED THEORY OF WAGES
(Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels: 'Manifesto of the
Communist Party', in: Karl Marx: 'Selected Works', Volume 1; London; 1943;
SINCE MARX AND ENGELS HELD AND PUT FOWARD AT LEAST
UNTIL THE LATE 1850s THE RICARDIAN THEORY OF WAGES, WHICH MAINTAINED THAT
WAGES WERE LIMITED TO THE LEVEL OF SUBSISTENCE, THEY COULD NOT HAVE, IN
THIS PERIOD, UPHELD A THEORY OF THE INCREASNG IMPOVERISHMENT OF THE WORKING
CLASS UNDER CAPITALISM. THIS ALSO FOLLOWS, SINCE THEY AT THIS TIME HELD
THE VIEW THAT WAGES WERE ALREADY AT THE PHYSIOLOGICAL MINIMUM ABLE TO SUSTAIN
AND REPRODUCE LIFE, SO THAT:
" . . . an 'absolute deterioration' from a level that
represented a physiological minimum could not be imagined".
Karl Kuhne, 'Economics and Marxism', Volume 1; London;
1979; p. 231).
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
Social Democrat FERDINAND LASSALLE
(1840-1913) had -- not illogically -- developed the Ricardian theory
of wages into the form of 'the iron law of wages':
"The iron economic law that determines wages under
present-day conditions . . . is this: that the average wage always remains
reduced to the necessary basis for existence and propagation".
Lassalle 's 'iron law of wages':
(Ferdinand Lassalle: 'Offnes Antwortschreiben an das
Central-Comité zur Berufung eines Allgemeinen Deutschen Arbeitercongresses
zu Leipzig' (An Open Answer to the Central Committee of the General Congress
of German Workers at Leipzig); Zurich; 1863; p. 13).
" . . . led a large section of the German Labour movement
on a policy which had the impossibilty of improving working class standards
of life under capitalism as its principal tenet".
In a letter written some years later
to the leading German
(John Strachey: 'Contemporary Capitalism'; London;
1956; p. 105).
Social Democrat AUGUST BEBEL
(1840-1913), Engels now describes the Ricardian wage theory on which
it was based as 'quite antiquated':
"The Lassallean 'iron law of wages' . . . is based
on a quite antiquated economic view, namely, that the worker only receives
on the average the minimum of the labour wage".
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:
(Friedrich Engels: Letter to August Bebel (March 1875),
in: Karl Marx & Friedrich Engels: Correspondence: 1846-1895: A Selection
with Commentary and Notes'; London; 1936; p. 235).
"The value of labouring power is determined by the
value of the necessaries required to produce, develop, maintain and perpetuate
the labouring power".
But the theory was now modified by
the inclusion of some 'peculiar features' which distinguish labour power
from all other commodities:
(Karl Marx: 'Value. Price and Profit', in: 'Selected
Works', Volume 1; London; 1943; p. 315).
"There are some peculiar features which distinguish
the value of the labouring power . . . from the values of 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:
(Karl Marx: ibid., Volume 1; p. 332).
"The value of the labouring power is formed by two
elements -- the one merely physical, the other historical or social. Its
ultimate limit is determined by the physical element, that is to say, to
maintain and reproduce itself, to perpetuate its physical existence, the
working class must receive the necessaries absolutely indispensable for
living and multiplying. The value of those indispensable necessaries forms,
therefore, the ultimate limit of the value of labour".
As a result of the historical or social
element in the value of labour power, this
(Karl Marx: ibid., Volume 1; p. 332).
" . . . is in every country determined by a traditional
standard of life. It is not mere physical life, but it is the satisfaction
of certain wants springing from the social conditions in which people are
placed and reared up. . . . The historical or social element entering into
the value of labour may be expanded or contracted, or altogether extinguished,
so that nothing remains but the physical limit".
In the first volume of Marx's 'Capital',
published in September 1867, Marx repeated
the basis of his amended law of wages:
(Karl Marx: ibid., Volume 1; p. 332-33).
"The value of labour-power is determined, as in the
case of every other commodity, by the labour-time necessary for the production,
and consequently also the reproduction, of this special article. . . .
In other words, the value of labour-power is the value of the means of
subsistence necessary for the maintenance of the labourer."
However, Marx adds, a worker's
('Karl Marx: 'Capital: A Critical Analysis of Capitalist
Production', Volume 1; Moscow; 1974; p. 167).
" . . . natural wants, such as food, clothing, fuel
and housing vary according to the climatic and other physical conditions
of his country. On the other hand, the number and extent of his so-called
necessary wants, as also the modes of satisfying them, are themselves the
product of historical development, and depend therefore to a great extent
on the degree of civilisation of a country, more particularly on the conditions
under which, and consequently on the habits and degree of comfort in which,
the class of free labourers has been formed. In contradistinction therefore
to the case of other commodities, there enters into the determination of
the value of labour-power a historical and moral element".
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:
(Karl Marx: ibid., Volume 1; p. 168).
"A rise in the price of labour as a consequence of
accumulation of capital only means, in fact, that the length and weight
of the golden chain the wage-worker has already forged for himself allow
of a relaxation in the tension of it".
(Karl Marx: ibid., Volume 1; p. 579-80).
" . . . the worker's participation in the higher even
cultural satisfactions, . . . newspaper subscriptions, attending lectures,
educating his children, developing his taste, etc.".
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
(Karl Marx: 'Grundrisse' (Foundations); Harmondsworth;
1973; p. 287).
" . . . fobbing the worker off with 'pious wishes'
. . . but only his own, because they stand towards him as workers; but
by no means the remaining world of workers, for these stand towards him
as consumers. In spite of all 'pious' speeches he therefore searches for
means to spur them on to consumption, to give his wares new charms, to
inspire them with new needs by constant chatter, etc."
In periods of relatively full employment,
(Karl Marx: ibid.; p. 287).
" . . . the workers . . . themselves act as consumers
on a significant scale".
As Maurice Cornforth correctly points
(Karl Marx: 'Theories of Surplus Value', Part 3; Moscow;
1975; p. 223).
"The very great advances in technology which accompany
the accumulation of capital have the result that all kinds of amenities
become available on a mass scale, and consequently the consumption of these
becomes a part of the material requirements and expectations of the worker.
In other words, with an advanced technology the worker comes to require
for his maintenance various goods and services his forefathers did without".
Indeed, reputable economists agree
(Maurice Cornforth: op. cit.; p. 206-07).
" . . . Marx actually took for granted an increase
in real wages in the course of capitalist development".
(Karl Kuhne: op. cit., Volume 1; p. 227).
" . . . Marx never denies that real wages may rise
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:
(Mark Blaug: 'Economic Theory in Retrospect': Homewood
(USA); 1962; p.243).
"The law of wages . . . is not one which draws a hard
and fast line. It is not inexorable within certain limits. There is at
every time (great depression excepted) for every trade a certain latitude
within which the rate of wages may be modified by the results of the struggle
betweeen the two contending parties".
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:
(Friedrich Engels: 'The Wages System', in: Karl Marx
& Friedrich Engels: 'Collected Works', Volume 24; London; 1989; p.
AS REGARDS THE THEORY OF THE ABSOLUTE IMPOVERISHMENT
OF THE WORKING CLASS THUS:
NEITHER IN ITS ORIGINAL NOR ITS AMENDED FORM, DID
MARX'S WAGES THEORY CONFORM WITH THE THEORY OF THE ABSOLUTE IMPOVERISHMENT
OF THE WORKING CLASS UNDER CAPITALISM.
"The word 'Verelendung (progressive deterioration,
growing poverty)never occurs in Marx's works, nor does it occur in the
classic history of doctrines published by Gide and Rist. (i.e., Charles
Gide & Charles Rist: 'A History of Economic Doctrines, from the Time
of the Physiocrats to the Present Day'; London; 1915; -- Ed.) . . . The
so-called 'theory of growing poverty' has been a red herring in the interpretation
of Marx's work. A large number of analysts . . . have (often bona fide)
taken this theory for granted. This suggests that they have read Marx rather
carelessly. . . . Marx himself never spoke of 'Verelendung' -- progressive
deterioration, or growing poverty. . . . Marx never held a theory of growing
Indeed, as we have seen, Marx accepted
that the development of
(Karl Kuhne: op. cit.; p. 197, 226, 227, 231).
"The theory of absolute impoverishment is not to be
found in the works of Marx. . . . The idea that the real wages of the workers
tend to decline more and more is totally alien to Marx's writings".
(Ernest Mandel: 'Marxist Economic Theory' (hereafter
listed as 'Ernest Mandel (1968)'), Volume 1; London; 1968; p. 150, 151).
"Marx never denies that real wages may rise under capitalism.
. . . The notion that he propounds a theory of the growing poverty of the
working class is just folklore Marxism".
(Mark Blaug: op. cit.; p. 243).
capitalism would be accompanied by an increase in
"The relevant pasages show quite clearly that Marx
actually took for granted an increase in real wages in the course of capitalist
(Karl Kuhne: op. cit.; p. 227).
and recognised ,
" . . . that the situation of the working class has
improved as a result of wage increases resulting from trade-union action
or 'factory laws'".
(André Piettre: 'Marx et Marxisme' (Marx and Marxism);
Paris; 1957; p. 62).
Marx's references to 'pauperism' are taken as references
to 'impoverishment'. However, a 'pauper'
" . . . a person destitute of . . . means of livelihood;
one . . . who is dependent on the charity of others; . . . a beggar".
while 'pauperism' is defined as:
('Oxford English Dictionary', Volume 11; Oxford; 1989;
" . . . the existence of a pauper class; . . . paupers
Marx himself defined 'pauperism' as:
('Oxford English Dictionary', Volume 11; Oxford; 1889;
" . . . that part of the working-class which has forfeited
its condition of existence (the sale of labour-power) and vegetates upon
i.e.; as the unemployed and those unable
to work by reason of age or
(Karl Marx: 'Capital', Volume 1; Moscow; 1974; p.
"The lowest sediment of the relative surplus-population
finally dwells in the sphere of pauperism. Exclusive of vagabonds, criminals,
prostitutes, in a word, the 'dangerous' classes', this layer consists of
three categories. First, those able to work. One need only glance superficially
at the statistics of English pauperism to find that the quantity of paupers
increases with every crisis, and diminishes with every revival of trade.
Second, orphans and pauper children. These are candidates for the industrial
reserve army. . . . Third, the demoralised and ragged, and those unable
to work. . . people who have passed the normal age of the labourer; the
victims of industry, whose number increases with the increase of dangerous
machinery, of mines, chemical works, &c. the mutilated, the sickly,
the widows, &c. . . . The greater the social wealth, . . . the greater
is the industrial reserve army. . . . The more extensive, finally, the
lazarus-layers of the working-class and the industrial reserve army, the
greater is official pauperism. This is the absolute general law of capitalist
Thus, when Marx speaks of an increase
of pauperism with the
(Karl Marx: ibid., Volume 1; p.602-03).
development of capitalism, he does not mean that the
working class as a whole suffers absolute impoverishment:
"The word 'pauperism' must never be equated with 'growing
poverty', and it is even more erroneous to apply the latter term to the
working class in its entirety. . . . This is one of the gravest misinterpretations
of Marx. . . . The word pauperisation', which means that a class of underprivileged
appears, has been confounded with the idea of a deterioration of the living
standards of the working class as whole".
In other words:
(Karl Kuhne: op. cit., Volume 1; p. 229).
"Pauperisation' relates to the 'reserve army', not
to the working class as a whole, and it is an ascertainable fact that,
where the market economy has remained 'free', it has invariably produced
an immense bottom layer of paupers".
(George Lichtheim: 'Marxism in Modern France'; New
York; 1970; p. 146).
" . . . what one finds in Marx is an idea of the absolute
impoverishment not of the workers, the wage-earners, but of that section
of the proletariat which the capitalist system throws out of the production
addition, genuine misunderstanding sometimes arises from
unemployed, old people, disabled persons, cripples,
the sick, etc. . . . This analysis retains its full value, even under the
'welfare capitalism' of today".
(Ernest Mandel (1968): op. cit., Volume 1; London;
1968; p. 52).
Marx's assertion that the development of capitalism
is accompanied by the spiritual impoverishment or alienation of working
The 'Great Soviet Encyclopedia'
defines 'alienation' as:
" . . . an objective social process, inherent in antagonistic
class society and characterised by the transformation of human work and
its results into an independent force that dominates and is hostile to
In the 'Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts
of 1844, Marx writes that, with the development
('Great Soviet Encyclopedia', Volume 19; New York;
1978; p. 2).
" . . . the worker becomes all the poorer, the more
wealth he produces. . . . With the increasing value
of the world of things proceeds
in direct proportion the devaluation of the world of
men. . . . The object which labour produces
-- labour's product -- confronts it as something
alien, as a power independent of the producer".
According to Marx, instead of being
a source of creative pleasure, as it may well
be with the peasant and the artisan, work bcomes
(Karl Marx: 'Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts
of 1844'; London; 1970; p. 107, 108).
"In handicrafts and manufacture (i.e., work by hand
- Ed.), the workman makes use of a tool; in the factory, the
machine makes use of him. There the movements of the
instrument of labour proceed from him, here it is the
movements of the machine that he must follow. In manufacture
the workmen are parts of a living mechanism. In the factory
we have a lifeless mechanism independent of the workman,
who becomes its mere
living appendage. . . . At the same time that factory
work exhausts the nervous
system to the uttermost, it does away with the many-sided
play of the muscles, and confiscates every atom of
freedom, both in bodily and intellectual activity. The
lightening of the labour, even, becomes a sort of torture,
since the machine does not free the labourer from work,
but deprives the work of all interest".
Clearly, what Marx intends to convey
(Karl Marx: 'Capital', Volume 1; Moscow; 1974; p.
"Within the capitalist system all methods for raising
the social productiveness of labour are brought about
at the cost of the individual labourer;
all means for the development of production
transform themselves into means of domination
over, . . the producers; they mutilate the labourer
into a fragment of a man, degrade him to the level of
an appendage of a machine, destroy every remnant of charm
in his work and turn it into a hated toil; they estrange
from him the intellectual potentialities of the labour
process in the same proportion as science is incorporated
in it as an independent power; they distort
the conditions under which he works,
subject him during the labour- process to a
despotism the more hateful for its meanness".
(Karl Marx: 'Capital',Volume 1; Moscow; 1974; p. 604).
" . . . is the inner psychological impoverishment
of the man who is dominated by machinery,
instead of being its master, and thus
becomes 'an appendage to the machine'".
Marx makes it doubly clear that he
is referring to spiritual impoverishment of
the worker, and not to his material impoverishment,
when he says:
(Karl Kuhne: op. cit., Volume 1; op. cit.; p. 228).
"In proportion as capital accumulates, the lot of
the labourer, be his
payment high or low, (Our Emphasis - Ed.) must grow worse".
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);
(Karl Marx: 'Capital', Volume 1; Moscow; 1974; p.
"Marx gave up using such terms as 'estrangement',
'alienation', 'return of man to himself', as soon as he
noticed that they had turned into ideological prattle
in the mouths of petty-bourgeois authors,
instead of a lever for the empirical
study of the world and its transformation. . "
In a note to this passage, Schmidt
(Alfred Schmidt: 'The Concept of Nature in Marx';
London; 1971; p. 129).
"The concept of 'alienation' is still found frequently
in 'Capital' and in 'Theories of Surplus Value', and indeed
Marx's general abandonment of such terms does not mean
that he did not continue to follow theoretically
the material conditions designated by
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:
(Note to: Alfred Schmidt: ibid.; p. 228).
"Accumulation of wealth at one pole is, therefore,
accumulation of misery, . . . at the opposite pole".
But 'misery' is defined as:
(Karl Marx: 'Capital', Volume 1; Moscow; 1974; p.
" . . . great sorrow or distress of mind; . . . extreme
Furthermore, in the most famous of
the passages concerned Marx is
(Oxford English Dictionary', Volume 9; Oxford; 1989;
clearly referring to the 'misery' of the 'pauperised'
strata of the working class, not to that
of the working class as a whole:
"Two famous passages in 'Capital', Volume 1, have
been consistently misinterpreted. In
both these passages Marx does speak about 'increasing
misery' . . . and about 'accumulation of misery'.
But the context clearly indicates that
what he was referring to is the . . . misery of the 'surplus
population', of the 'Lazarus-layer of the working class',
that is, of the unemployed or semi-employed poor. . .
. The point to be made is simply that
this chapter . . . is not concerned with movements
of real wages at all. . . . This is clearly
indicated in the very passage in question by Marx's
statement that as capital accumulates the situation of
workers becomes worse irrespective of whether their wages
are high or low".
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:
(Ernest Mandel: Introduction to: Karl Marx: 'Capital:
A Critical Analysis
of Political Economy', Volume 1; Harmondsworth; 1976;
"The number and the misery of the proletariat increases
On which Engels commented:
(Draft Programme of German Social-Democratic Party,
in: Friedrich Engels: 'A Critique of the Draft
Social-Democratic Programme of 1891', in: Karl
Marx & Friedrich Engels: 'Collected Works',
Volume 27; Moscow; 1990; p. 223).
"This is incorrect when put in such a categorical
way. . . . However, what certainly does increase
is the insecurity of existence. I should
(Friedrich Engels: ibid.; p. 223).
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