Wages (draft for lectures)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written December 1847

Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 6, p. 415;
Written: at the end of December 1847;
First published: in Russian in the journal Sotsialisticheskoye khozyaistvo, 1924 and in German in the journal Unter dem Banner des Marxismus, 1925.
Keywords : Wages, Draft, Lecture

Note from MECW :

In the latter half of December 1847 Marx delivered several lectures on political economy in the German Workers’ Society in Brussels and intended to prepare them for publication in pamphlet form. However, as he later pointed out in the preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859), he did not manage to publish his work Wage-Labour, written on the basis of these lectures, because of the February 1848 revolution and his subsequent expulsion from Belgium. Marx’s intention to publish these lectures in the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung did not materialise either, though on January 6, 1848 the newspaper carried the following note: “At one of the previous meetings of the German Workers’ Society Karl Marx made a report on an important subject, ‘What Are Wages?’ in which the question was presented so clearly, pertinently and comprehensibly, the present situation so sharply criticised and practical arguments cited that we intend soon to make it known to our readers.”

Marx’s lectures appeared in their final form only in April 1849 in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung as the series of articles Wage-Labour and Capital. This series was not finished and did not embrace the whole content of Marx’s lectures.

Published below is a draft outline of the concluding lectures which Marx had no time to prepare for the press. The manuscript, whose cover bears the words: “Brussels, December 1847”, completes Wage-Labour and Capital.

The quotations cited in the original in German are either a free translation or paraphrase of writings by various economists and are taken by Marx, as a rule, from his notebooks of 1845-47.

In their works of the 1840s and 1850s, prior to Marx having worked out the theory of surplus value, Marx and Engels used the terms “value of labour”, “price of labour”, “sale of labour” which, as Engels noted in 1891 in the introduction to Marx’s pamphlet Wage Labour and Capital, “from the point of view of the later works were inadequate and even wrong”. After he had proved that the worker sells to the capitalist not his labour but his labour power Marx used more precise terms. In later works Marx and Engels used the terms “value of labour power”, “price of labour power”, “sale of labour power”

A[edit source]

Explained already:

1. Wages = price of the commodity.

Hence, generally speaking, wages are determined in the same way as prices.

Human activity = commodity.

Manifestation of life, life activity, appears as mere means; existence divorced from this activity as purpose.

2. As commodity wages depend on competition, demand and supply.

3. The supply itself depends on the cost of production, i.e., on the labour time required for the production of a commodity.

4. Inverse proportion of profits and wages. Opposition of the two classes whose economic existence are profits and wages .[1]

5. Fight for increase or reduction of wages. Workers’ associations.

6. Average or normal price of labour; the minimum is valid only

for the class of workers, not for the individual. Combinations of workers to maintain wages.

7. Influence on wages of the removal of taxes, protective tariffs, reduction of armies, etc. The minimum is given on average as = the price of the necessary means of subsistence.

B Additions[edit source]

I. Atkinson [W. Atkinson, Principles of Political Economy][edit source]

1. Hand-loom weavers (working 15 hours per day). (Half a million of them.) [2]

“Their distress ... an inevitable condition of a species of labour easily learned, and constantly intruded on and superseded by cheaper means of production. A very short cessation of demand, where the competition for work is so great.... produces a crisis. ... improvements, which, by superseding manual labour more and more, infallibly bring with them in the transition much of temporary suffering. Example of the hand-loom cotton weavers of the Dacca district of India; either starved or were thrown back into agricultural labour by the competition of English machinery.” (Excerpt from the speech of Dr. Bowring in the House of Commons, July 1835.)

(This example on the passing from one trade to another to be used in respect of the debate on free trade.[3])

2. Something to be said on population theory.

3. Influence of changed and expanded division of labour on the fixing of wages.

II. Carlyle [Th. Carlyle, Chartism][edit source]

1. Not only the quantity of wages is to be considered. They vary in quality, depending on the play of circumstances.

2. The advantage of wages: that from now on necessity, interest, haggling, alone link the worker to the employer. No longer anything patriarchal, as in the Middle Ages.

Poor laws, extirpation of vermin, chargeable labourers.[4]

3. The greater part of labour is not skilled labour.

4. The entire theory of Malthus and the economists amounts to saying that it lies with the workers to reduce the demand by not making any children.

III. M'CULLOCH [J. R. M'Culloch, Principles of Political Economy][edit source]

“The wages earned by the labourer are only the common and ordinary rate of profit to the proprietors of the machine called man, thereto [dazu] a sum to replace the wear and tear of the machines, or, which is the same thing, to supply the place of the old and decayed labourers with new ones” [p. 319].

IV. John Wade [J. Wade, History of the Middle and Working Classes][edit source]

1. “If the object sought be to render an operative a machine, whereby the greatest quantity of work in a given occupation may he extracted from him, no way so effective as division of labour” [p. 125].

2. A reduction of wages drives the workers either to reduce their spending or to increase their productivity, in factories operated by machines, for instance (and in general), by working longer hours; or, with handicraftsmen, hand-loom weavers, etc., by working harder in the same hour. But since their wages have been reduced precisely because the demand has slackened, they thereby increase the supply at the unfavourable moment. The consequence is that their wages drop still lower, and then the bourgeois come along and say “If the people would only work”.

3. Altogether, the general law is that there cannot be two market prices, and that the lower market price prevails (given equal quality).

Take 1,000 workers of equal skill; 50 are without work; the price is then determined not by the 950 who are employed but by the 50 who are unemployed.

But this law of the market price weighs more heavily on the commodity labour than on other commodities, because the worker cannot lay up his commodity in store but must sell his life activity or, deprived of the means of subsistence, must die.

The saleable commodity labour differs from other commodities in particular by its evanescent nature, by the impossibility of accumulating it, and by the fact that the supply cannot be increased or reduced with the same facility as with other products.

4. The humanity of the capitalists consists in buying as much labour as possible at the cheapest price. Agricultural labourers earn more in summer than in winter, although in winter they need more food, fuel and warmer clothing.

5. The abolition of Sunday, for example, would be a sheer loss to the workers. The masters seek to reduce wages by leaving them nominally the same but making the workers work a quarter of an hour more, for example, shortening meal times, etc.

6. Wages affected by fashions, the changing seasons, and commercial fluctuations.[5]

7. If the worker, supplanted by the machine, goes into another industry, that is as a rule a worse one. He never gets back into his former position.

The machine and the division of labour replace dear by cheap labour.

One has suggested to the workers:

1) savings banks;

2) to learn all possible trades (so that when there is a surplus of workers in one industry the same occurs at once in all industries).

8. In times of stagnation:

a) cessation of work;

b) reduction of wages;

c) the same wage, but employment for fewer days in the week .[6]

9. Concerning the combinations of trade a it is to be remarked:

1. The expenses of the workers (the costs). Invention of machines in consequence of the combinations. Other division of labour. Depression of wages. Deplacement f factories to other localities.

2. If they were all to succeed in keeping wages so high that profits were significantly reduced below the average profits of other countries, or so that capital would grow more slowly, the industry of a country would be ruined, and the workers together with the masters even more so.

Although a reduction in taxes does not benefit the workers, a rise in taxation, on the other hand, harms them. The good thing in the rise in taxation in countries with a developed bourgeoisie is that the estate of small farmers and proprietors (craftsmen, etc.) is thereby ruined and thrown into the working class.

Influence of the Irish in England, the Germans in Alsace, on wages.

V. Babbage [Ch. Babbage, Traité sur l'économie des machines et des manufactures][edit source]

Truck System.[7]

VI. Andrew Ure [A. Ure, Philosophie des manufactures, ou Économie industrielle][edit source]

General principle of modern industry: to replace adults by children, skilled workers by unskilled, men by women.

Equalisation of wages: Main feature of modern industry [see pp. 34, 35].

VII. Rossi [P. Rossi, Cours d'économie politique][edit source]

Mr. Rossi thinks:

The manufacturer only advances to the worker his share in the product because the latter cannot wait for its sale. This is a speculation which has no direct bearing on the production process. If the worker can maintain himself until the product is sold he will, as an associé, claim his share in it afterwards.

Hence, wages are not a constituent element of the product as are capital and the land. They are a mere accident, a form of our social condition. Wages do not belong to capital.

Wages are not a factor indispensable to production. In a different organisation of labour they may disappear [see pp. 369, 370].

VIII. Cherbuliez [A. Cherbuliez, Riche ou pauvre][edit source]

1. “... The increase of the productive capital does not necessarily entail an increase of the approvisionnement for the workers. Raw materials and machinery can be increased while approvisionnement is reduced.

“The price of labour depends on a) the absolute quantity of the productive capital; b) on the proportions of the various elements of capital, two social facts on which the will of the workers cannot exert any influence.

2. “It is not so much the absolute consumption of the worker as his relative consumption which makes his position either happy or unhappy. Beyond the necessary consumption ... the value of what we enjoy is essentially relative” [pp. 103-04, 105, 109].

When one speaks of the fall or rise of wages one must never lose sight of the whole world market or of the position of the workers in the various countries.

Egalitarian and other attempts to fix wages justly.

The minimum wage itself changes and constantly falls. Example of spirits.

IX. Bray [J. F. Bray, Labour’s Wrong and Labour’s Remedy][edit source]

Savings Banks[edit source]

Triple machine in the hands of despotism and capital.

1. The money flows back into the national bank, which makes profits by lending it back to the capitalists.

2. The golden chain by which the government holds a large part of the working class.

3. By this means a new weapon is given into the hands of the capitalists as such [pp. 152, 153].

Once wages have fallen, they never rise to their previous height; absolute and relative wages.

C[edit source]

I. How Does the Growth of the Productive Forces Affect Wages? [8][edit source]

Cf. VI, 3[edit source]

Machinery: Division of labour.

Labour is simplified. Its cost of production is reduced. It becomes cheaper. The competition among the workers increases.

Passing from one industry to another. On this see Dr. Bowring himself in relation to the hand-loom cotton weavers in the region of Dacca in India, in Parliament 1835.

The new work into which the worker is flung, is worse than the former, more subordinate. Adult labour replaced by children’s, men’s by women’s, more skilled by less skilled.

Either working hours increased or wages reduced.

Competition among workers not only in that one sells himself more cheaply than another, but also in that one does the work of two.

In general, the growth of the productive forces has the following consequences:

a) The position of the worker relative to that of the capitalist worsens, and the value of the things enjoyed is relative. The enjoyments themselves are indeed nothing but social enjoyments, relations, connections.

h) The worker becomes an increasingly one-sided productive force which produces as much as possible in as little time as possible. Skilled labour increasingly transformed into simple labour.

c) Wages become more and more dependent on the world market and the position of the worker increasingly subject to chance.

d) In productive capital the share of machinery and raw materials grows much faster than that of approvisionnement. The increase of productive capital is therefore not accompanied by a similar increase of the demand for labour.

Wages depend:

a ) on the mass of productive capital as a whole; on the proportion of its constituents. The worker has no influence on either. (Were it not for the fluctuations of wages, the worker would take no interest at all in the development of civilisation; he would remain stationary.)

In the competition of the workers with the machine it is to be noted that hand-workers (e.g., hand-loom cotton weavers) suffer even more than machine workers directly employed in the factory.

Every development of new productive forces is at the same time a weapon against the workers. All improvements in the means of communication, for example, facilitate the competition of workers in different localities and turn local competition into national, etc.

The cheapening of all commodities, which however does not occur in the case of the most immediate means of subsistence, has as a result that the worker wears a collection of rags and his misery displays the colours of civilisation.

II. Competition Between Workers and Employers[edit source]

[a] To determine relative wages it should be noted that one taler for one worker and One taler for One employer do not have the same value. The worker must buy everything worse and clearer. His taler commands neither so many nor such good commodities as that of the employer. The worker must be a spendthrift and buy and sell against all economic principles. We must remark in general that we have in mind here only one aspect, wages themselves. But the exploitation of the worker begins anew as soon as he exchanges the price for his labour back into other commodities. — Épicier, pawnbroker, landlord, tout le monde l'exploite encore une fois [everybody exploits him over again]

[b] The employer, by commanding the means of employment, commands the means of subsistence of the worker, i.e., the latter’s life depends on him; just as the worker himself degrades his life activity to a mere means of existence.

[c] The commodity labour has great disadvantages against other commodities. For the capitalist, competition with the workers is a mere question of profit, for the workers it is a question of their existence.

Labour is of a more evanescent nature than other commodities. It cannot be accumulated. The supply cannot be increased or reduced with the same facility as with other commodities.

[d] Factory regime. Housing legislation. Truck system, where the employer cheats the worker by raising the price of goods while leaving the nominal wage the same.

III. Competition among the Workers Themselves[edit source]

a) By a general economic law there cannot be two market prices. The wages of 1,000 workers of the same skill are determined not by the 950 in employment but by the 50 unemployed. Influence of the Irish on the position of the English workers and of the Germans on the position of the Alsatian workers.

b) The workers compete with each other not merely by one offering himself more cheaply than another, but by one doing the work of two.

Advantages of the unmarried over the married worker, etc. Competition between workers from villages and towns.

IV. Fluctuations of Wages[edit source]

They are occasioned by:

1) Changes in fashions.

2) The changing seasons.

3) Fluctuations in trade.

In case of a crisis

[a] the workers will limit their spending, or, to increase their productivity, they will either work longer hours or produce more in the same hour. But since their wages have been reduced because the demand for their product has slackened, they increase the unfavourable proportion of the supply to the demand, and then the bourgeois says: if the people would only work. Their wages drop still lower through their overexertion.

[b] In times of crisis:

Complete unemployment. Reduction in wages. No change in wages and reduction of the working days.[6]

[c] In all crises the following circular movement relates to the workers:

The employer cannot employ the workers because he cannot sell his product. He cannot sell his product because he has no buyers. He has no buyers because the workers have nothing to offer in exchange but their labour, and precisely for that reason they cannot exchange their labour.

[d] When it is a question of a rise in wages, it is to be noted that one must always have in mind the world market and the fact that the rise in wages is ineffectual since workers in other countries are put out of work.

V. Minimum Wage[edit source]

1. The daily wage the worker takes home is the profit which his machine, his body, yields to its owner. Included in it is the sum necessary to replace the wear and tear of the machine, or, what is the same thing, to replace old, worn-out workers by new ones.

2. It is inherent in the minimum wage that the abolition of Sunday, for example, would be a sheer loss to the worker. He would have to earn his wages in harder conditions. This is the purpose of the brave philanthropists who zealously argue against the observance of Sabbath.

3. Although the minimum wage is determined on average by the price of the most indispensable provisions, it is nevertheless to be remarked:

Firstly: that the minimum is different in different countries, the potato in Ireland, for example.[9]

Secondly: not only that. The minimum itself has a historical movement and sinks always further towards the absolutely lowest level. Example of brandy. Distilled first from draff, then from grain, finally from spirits.

Towards bringing about the really. lowest level of the minimum contribute not only

1) the general development of the working machines, the division of labour, the increase in competition among the workers themselves and its liberation from local fetters, but also

2) the growth of taxation and the greater costliness of the state budget, for, although, as we have seen, the abolition of a tax does not benefit the worker, he is harmed by the introduction of any new tax so long as the minimum has not yet fallen to its lowest possible expression, and this is the case with all perturbations and difficulties of civil relations. The growth of taxation, incidentally, brings about the ruin of the small farmers, bourgeois and craftsmen.

Example — after the war of liberation. [10] The progress of industry, which brings with it cheaper products and substitutes.

3. This minimum tends to become the same in different countries.

4. When wages have once fallen and later rise again, they never rise, however, to their previous level.

In the course of development, there is a double fall in wages:

Firstly: relative, in proportion to the development of general wealth.

Secondly: absolute, since the quantity of commodities which the worker receives in exchange becomes less and less.

5. With the development of large-scale industry time becomes increasingly the measure of the value of commodities, hence also the measure of wages. Simultaneously the production of the commodity labour becomes cheaper and cheaper and costs less and less working time as civilisation progresses.

The peasant still has free time and can earn something on the side. But big industry (not manufacture) does away with this patriarchal situation. Every moment of the worker’s life, of his very existence, thus becomes more and more a matter of haggling.

(Here add the following sections:

1. Suggestions for the improvement of the workers’ position. Malthus; Rossi etc.; Proudhon; Weitling.

2. Workers’ associations.

3. Positive significance of wage labour.)

VI. Suggestions for Remedies[edit source]

1. One of the most popular suggestions is the system of savings banks.

We will say nothing at all of the impossibility for most of the workers to save.

The purpose, at least the strictly economic meaning of savings banks, is supposed to be: that by their own foresight and wisdom the workers can equalise the good working times with the bad, i.e., distribute their wages in the cycle through which the industrial movement runs in such a way that they actually never spend more than the minimum wage, that which is indispensable to sustain life.

But we have seen that the fluctuations of wages not only revolutionise the worker, but that without the temporary rise of wages above the minimum he would remain excluded from all advances of production, from public wealth, from civilisation, hence from all possibility of emancipation.

He must therefore turn himself into a bourgeois calculating machine, make thrift into a system, and give misery a stationary, conservative character.

In addition, the savings bank system is a triple machine of despotism:

[a] The savings bank is the golden chain by which the government holds a large part of the working class. By it they not only acquire an interest in the preservation of the existing conditions. Not only does it lead to a split between that portion of the working class which takes part in the savings banks and the portion which does not. The workers themselves thus give into the hands of their enemies the weapons to preserve the existing organisation of society which subjugates them.

[b] The money flows back into the national bank, this lends it again to the capitalists and both share in the profits and thus, with the money borrowed from the people at a miserable rate of interest — which only by this centralisation becomes a mighty industrial lever — increase their capital, their direct ruling power over the people.

2. Another suggestion, very popular with the bourgeoisie, is education, especially comprehensive industrial education.

[a] We shall not draw attention to the trite contradiction which lies in the fact that modern industry replaces compound labour more and more with simple labour which requires no education; we shall not draw attention to the fact that it throws more and more children from the age of seven upwards behind the machine and turns them into a source of income not only for the bourgeois class but for their own proletarian parents; the factory system frustrates the school laws, example Prussia; nor shall we draw attention to the fact that the education of the mind, if the worker had such an education, has no direct effect at all on his wages, that education is altogether dependent on the conditions of life, and that by moral education the bourgeois understands indoctrination with bourgeois principles, and that, finally, the bourgeois class neither has the means, nor if it had them would it use them, to offer the people a real education.

We confine ourselves to stressing a purely economic viewpoint.

[b] The true purpose which education has with the philanthropic economists is this: every worker should be trained in as many industries as possible, so that if by the introduction of new machines or by a change in the division of labour he is thrown out of one industry, he can as easily as possible find employment in another.

Assuming this to be possible:

The consequence would be that if there were a surplus of hands in one industry, this surplus would at once spread to all other industries, and even more than before the reduction of wages in one business would lead directly to a general reduction in wages.

Even as it is, since modern industry simplifies work everywhere and makes it easy to learn, the rise of wages in one industry at once causes an influx of workers into this industry and the reduction of wages will more or less directly assume a general character.

We cannot here, of course, consider all the many minor palliatives which are suggested from the bourgeois side.

3. We must, however, turn to a third suggestion, which has had, and continues to have, very significant practical consequences — the Malthusian theory.

This entire theory, in so far as we have to consider it here, amounts to the following:

[a] The level of wages depends on the proportion of the hands which offer themselves to the hands which are required.

Wages can rise in two ways.

Either when the capital which sets the labour in motion increases so rapidly that the demand for workers increases more rapidly, in quicker progression, than their supply.

Or, secondly, when the population is growing so slowly that competition among the workers remains weak although productive capital does not grow rapidly.

On one side of this proportion, namely the growth of productive capital, you workers can exert no influence.

But you can on the other side.

You can reduce the supply of workers, i.e., the competition among them, by making as few children as possible.

To reveal the utter stupidity, baseness and hypocrisy of this doctrine, the following is sufficient:

[b] (This is to be included in I: How does the growth of the productive forces affect wages?)

Wages rise when the demand for labour grows. This demand grows when the capital grows which sets the labour in motion, i.e., when the productive capital grows.

Here there are two main points to be made:

Firstly: A main condition for the rise of wages is the growth of the productive capital, and its most rapid possible growth. The main condition for the worker to be in a passable position is, therefore, to depress his position in relation to the bourgeois class more and more, to increase as much as possible the power of his opponent, capital. That is, he can only be in a passable position provided he creates and reinforces the power which is hostile to him, his own opposite. On this condition of creating this hostile power, the means of employment flow to him from that power and turn him anew into part of the productive capital and into the lever which increases the latter and hurls it into an accelerated movement of growth.

Incidentally, when one has grasped this relationship of capital and labour, all Fourierist and other attempts at mediation appear in their true absurdity.

Secondly: Having thus explained this crazy relationship, we must add a second, even more important element.

Namely, what does it mean: Growth of productive capital, and in what conditions does it take place?

Growth of capital = accumulation and concentration of capital. In the same measure in which capital is accumulated and concentrated, it leads:

to work on a larger scale and hence to a new division of labour which simplifies the work still more;

then to the introduction of machinery on a larger scale and to the introduction of new machinery.

That means, therefore, that in the measure in which productive capital grows, there grows

the competition among the workers because the division of labour is simplified and every branch of labour is open to everybody.

Competition also grows among them because in the same measure they have to compete with the machines and are thrown out of work by them. By constantly increasing the scale of operations and because the rate of interest tends to fall more and more through the competition among the capitals offered, the concentration and accumulation of productive capital brings about the following:

Small industrial enterprises are ruined and cannot stand up to competition with the big ones. Entire sections of the bourgeois class are thrown down into the working class. The competition among the workers is therefore increased by the ruin of the small industrialists which is fatally linked with the growth of productive capital.

And at the same time as the rate of interest falls, small capitalists formerly not participating in industry directly are forced to become industrial, i.e., to supply big industry with further victims. From this side, too, the working class is enlarged and competition among the workers increased.

While the growth of the productive forces leads to work on a larger scale, momentary overproduction becomes more and more necessary, the world market more and more extensive, and competition more universal. The crises, therefore, become more and more violent. So the workers are given a sudden encouragement to marry and multiply, they are agglomerated and concentrated in large masses, and their wages fluctuate more and more. Every new crisis, therefore, creates directly much bigger competition among the workers.

Speaking generally, the growth of the productive forces, with their more rapid means of communication, accelerated circulation and feverish turnover of capital consists in the fact that in the same time more can be produced, and hence, under the law of competition, more must be produced. That is, production takes place in more and more difficult conditions, and so that competition can be put up with in these conditions, production must take place on an ever growing scale and capital must be concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. And so that this producing on a larger scale may be fruitful, the division of labour and machinery must be constantly and disproportionately extended.

This producing in more and more difficult conditions also extends to the worker as part of capital. He must produce more, in more and more difficult conditions, i.e., for less and less wages and more work, at constantly decreasing production costs. So the minimum itself is constantly being reduced to greater exertions with minimum enjoyment.

The disproportion rises geometrically, not arithmetically.

The growth of the productive forces therefore leads to increased power of big capital, to the machine called the worker becoming more and more simple, to an increase in direct competition among the workers through greater division of labour and use of machinery, through a positive premium being placed on the production of people, through the competition of the ruined sections of the bourgeois class, etc.

We can formulate the matter still more simply:

Productive capital consists of three constituent parts:

1) the raw material which is worked up;

2) the machines and materials such as coal, etc., which are necessary to drive the machines; buildings, etc.;

3) the part of capital intended for the maintenance of the workers.

Given the growth of productive capital, in what proportion do these three constituents stand to each other?

The growth of productive capital is linked with its concentration, and with that the fact that it can only be profitable if it is exploited on an ever larger scale.

A large part of capital will therefore be transformed directly into instruments of labour and will operate as such, and the more the productive forces grow, the larger will be this part of capital which is directly transformed into machinery.

The growth of machinery and of the division of labour has the consequence that in a shorter time far more can be produced. Hence the store of raw materials must grow in the same proportion. In the course of the growth of the productive capital the part of capital transformed into raw materials necessarily increases.

There is still the third part of capital, that which is intended for the maintenance of the workers, i.e., transformed into wages.

In what proportion does the growth of this part of productive capital stand to the two others?

The greater division of labour causes a worker to produce as much as three, four, or five did formerly. Machinery has as a consequence the same proportion on a much larger scale.

It further stands to reason that the growth of the parts of productive capital transformed into machinery and raw materials is not accompanied by a similar growth of the part of productive capital intended for wages. In that case the purpose of the use of machinery and the increased division of labour would, of course, be thwarted. It stands to reason that the part of productive capital intended for wages does not grow in the same measure as the part intended for machinery and raw materials. Moreover, in the same measure in which productive capital grows, i.e., the power of capital as such, in the same measure there increases the disproportion between the capital invested in raw materials and machinery and that spent on wages. That means, therefore, that the part of productive capital intended for wages becomes smaller and smaller in relation to that which acts as machinery and raw material.

After the capitalist has put a larger capital into machinery, he is compelled to spend a larger capital on the purchase of raw materials and the fuels required to drive the machines. But if formerly he employed 100 workers, now he will need perhaps only 50. Otherwise he would have perhaps to double the other parts of his capital again, i.e., make the disproportion still greater. He will therefore dismiss 50, or else the 100 must work for the same price as formerly the 50 did. There are, therefore, redundant workers on the market.

With improved division of labour only the capital for raw material will have to be increased. The place of three workers will perhaps be taken by one.

But take the most favourable case. Let the capitalist expand his enterprise so that he can not only retain the previous number of his workers — and, of course, he does not care a fig about waiting until he can do so — but even increase it; in this case production must have been enormously expanded for it to be possible to retain the same number of workers or even increase it, and the proportion of workers to the productive forces has relatively become infinitely more a disproportion. Overproduction is thereby accelerated, and in the next crisis more workers than ever are unemployed.

It is, therefore, a general law which necessarily arises from the nature of the relation between capital and labour that in the course of the growth of the productive forces the part of productive capital which is transformed into machinery and raw material, i. e., capital as such, increases in disproportion to the part which is intended for wages; i. c., in other words, the workers must share among themselves an ever smaller part of the productive capital in relation to its total mass. Their competition, therefore, becomes more and more violent. In other words: the more productive capital grows, the more, in proportion, the means of employment and the means of subsistence for the workers are reduced, and the more rapidly, in other words, the working population grows in proportion to its means of employment. And this increases in the same measure in which the productive capital as a whole grows.

To compensate the above disproportion it must be enlarged in geometrical proportion, and in order afterwards, in a time of crisis, to readjust it, it is enlarged still more.

This law, which arises simply from the relation of the worker to capital, and which turns even the condition most favourable for him, the rapid growth of productive capital, into an unfavourable one, the bourgeois have changed from a social law into a law of nature by saying that by a law of nature the population grows more rapidly than the means of employment or the means of subsistence.

They fail to understand that the growth of this contradiction is inherent in the growth of productive capital.

We shall return to this later.

Productive force, in particular the social force of the workers themselves, not paid for, is even directed against them.

[c] First absurdity:

We have seen that when productive capital grows — the most favourable case presupposed by the economists — when, therefore, the demand for labour increases relatively, it is in the nature of modern industry and in the nature of capital that the means for the employment of workers do not grow in the same proportion, that the same circumstances which make productive capital grow, make the disproportion between the supply of labour and the demand for it grow still more rapidly, in a word, that the growth of the productive

forces makes grow at the same time the disproportion between the number of workers and the means for their employment. This depends neither on the increase of means of subsistence nor on the increase of the population regarded by itself. It follows necessarily from the nature of large-scale industry and the relationship of labour and capital.

If the growth of productive capital progresses only slowly, however, if it remains stationary or even decreases, the number of workers is always too large in proportion to the demand for labour.

In both cases, the most favourable and the most unfavourable, it follows from the relationship of labour to capital, from the nature of capital itself, that the supply of labour will always be too great for the demand for labour.

[d] Leaving aside the nonsense that the entire working class cannot possibly take the decision not to make any children, their condition, on the contrary, makes the sexual instinct their chief pleasure and develops it one-sidedly.

After the bourgeoisie has depressed the existence of the workers to a minimum, it wants in addition to limit their acts of reproduction to a minimum.

[e] That the bourgeoisie, incidentally, does not and cannot mean these phrases and counsels seriously, is clear from the following:

Firstly: By replacing adults with children, modern industry places a veritable premium on the making of children.

Secondly: Big industry constantly requires a reserve army of unemployed workers for times of overproduction. The main purpose of the bourgeois in relation to the worker is, of course, to have the commodity labour as cheaply as possible, which is only possible when the supply of this commodity is as large as possible in relation to the demand for it, i.e., when the overpopulation is the greatest.

Overpopulation is therefore in the interest of the bourgeoisie, and it gives the workers good advice which it knows to be impossible to carry out.

[f] Since capital only increases when it employs workers, the increase of capital involves an increase of the proletariat, and, as we have seen, according to the nature of the relation of capital and labour, the increase of the proletariat must proceed relatively even faster.

[g] The above theory, however, which is also expressed as a law of nature, that population grows faster than the means of subsistence, is the more welcome to the bourgeois as it silences his conscience, makes hard-heartedness into a moral duty and the consequences of society into the consequences of nature, and finally gives him the opportunity to watch the destruction of the proletariat by starvation as calmly as other natural event without bestirring himself, and, on the other hand, to regard the misery of the proletariat as its own fault and to punish it. To be sure, the proletarian can restrain his natural instinct by reason, and so, by moral supervision, halt the law of nature in its injurious course of development.

[h] The poor laws may be regarded as an application of this theory. Extirpation of vermin. Arsenic. Workhouses a Pauperism in general. The treadmill again within civilisation. Barbarism reappears, but created in the lap of civilisation itself and belonging to it; hence leprous barbarism, barbarism as leprosy of civilisation. Workhouses’ the Bastilles of the workers. Separation of man and wife.

4. We will now briefly speak of those who want to improve the condition of the workers by a different way of fixing wages.


5. Finally, among the remarks which philanthropic economists

have made on wages, yet another view must be mentioned.

[a] Among other economists Rossi, in particular, has expounded the following:

The manufacturer only advances to the worker his share in the product because the worker cannot wait for its sale. If the worker could maintain himself until the product was sold he would, as an associé, afterwards claim his share, as is the case between the actual and the industrial capitalist. That the worker’s share has the particular form of wages is an accident, the result of a speculation, of a specific act which takes place alongside the production process and does not form any necessary constituent element of it. Wages are merely an accidental form of our social conditions. They do not necessarily belong to capital. They are not an indispensable factor of production. They can disappear under another organisation of society.

[b] This whole trick amounts to the following: If the workers possessed enough accumulated labour, i.e., enough capital, not to have to live directly on the sale of their labour, the wage form would end. That is, if all workers were at the same time capitalists; which is to presuppose and preserve capital without the contrast of wage labour without which it cannot exist.

[c] Nevertheless, the following admission is to be observed: Wages are no accidental form of bourgeois production, but the whole of bourgeois production is a passing historical form of production. All its relationships, capital as well as wages, rent, etc., are transitory and can be abolished at a certain point of development.

VII. Workers’ Associations[edit source]

An element in the population theory was that it is supposed to lessen the competition among workers. The associations, by contrast, have the purpose of removing it and replacing it by union of workers.

The economists are right when they remark against the associations:

1. The costs which they cause the workers are mostly greater than the rise in the gains they want to get. In the long run they cannot withstand the laws of competition. These combinations bring about new machines, a new division of labour, removal from one place of production to another. In consequence of all this a reduction of wages.

2. If the combinations were to succeed in keeping the price of labour so high in one country that profits fell significantly in relation to the average profit in other countries, or so that capital was held up in its growth, stagnation and recession of industry would be the consequence, and the workers would be ruined together with their masters. For that, as we have seen, is the condition of the worker. His condition deteriorates by leaps and bounds when productive capital grows, and he is ruined from the start when it declines or remains stationary.

3. All these objections of the bourgeois economists are, as we have said, correct, but only correct from their point of view.[11] If in the associations it really were a matter only of what it appears to be, namely the fixing of wages, if the relationship between labour and capital were eternal, these combinations would be wrecked on the necessity of things. But they are the means of uniting the working class, of preparing for the overthrow of the entire old society with its class contradictions. And from this standpoint the workers are right to laugh at the clever bourgeois schoolmasters who reckon up to them what this civil war is costing them in fallen, injured, and financial sacrifices. He who wants to beat his adversary will not discuss with him the costs of the war. And how far the workers are from such mean-spiritedness is proved to the economists by the very fact that the best-paid workers form the most combinations and that the workers spend all they can scrape from their wages on forming political and industrial associations and meeting [the costs] of this movement. And if in their moments of philanthropy Messrs the bourgeois and their economists are so gracious as to allow in the minimum wage, that is, in the minimum life, a little tea, or rum, or sugar and meat, it must by contrast appear to them as shameful as incomprehensible that the workers reckon in this minimum a little of the costs of war against the bourgeoisie and that out of their revolutionary activity they even make the maximum of their enjoyment of life.

VIII. Positive Aspect of Wage Labour[edit source]

Before we conclude, let us draw attention to the positive aspect of wage labour.

[a] If one says “positive aspect of wage labour” one says “positive aspect of capital”, of large-scale industry, of free competition, of the world market, and I do not need to explain to you in detail how without these production relations neither the means of production — the material means for the emancipation of the proletariat and the foundation of a new society — would have been created, nor would the proletariat itself have taken to the unification and development through which it is really capable of revolutionising the old society and itself. Equalisation of wages.

[b] Let us take wages themselves in the essence of their evil, that my activity becomes a commodity, that I become utterly and absolutely for sale.

Firstly: thereby everything patriarchal falls away, since haggling, purchase and sale remain the only connection, and the money relationship the sole relationship between employer and workers.

Secondly: the halo of sanctity is entirely gone from all relationships of the old society, since they have dissolved into pure money relationships.

Likewise, all so-called higher kinds of labour, intellectual, artistic, etc., have been turned into articles of commerce and have thereby lost their old sanctity. What a great advance it was that the entire regiment of clerics, doctors, lawyers, etc., hence religion, law, etc., ceased to be judged by anything but their commercial value a

(Thirdly: since labour has become a commodity and as such subject to free competition, one seeks to produce it as cheaply as possible, i.e., at the lowest possible production cost. All physical labour has thereby become infinitely easy and simple for the future organisation of society. — To be put in general form.)

Thirdly: as the workers realised through the general saleability that everything was separable, dissoluble from itself, they first became free of their subjection to a given relationship. The advantage both over payment in kind and over the way of life prescribed purely by the (feudal) estate is that the worker can do what he likes with his money.

  1. The first four points refer to those of Marx’s lectures which were published in the articles entitled Wage-Labour and Capital
  2. The data on the working hours and the number of weavers were taken by Marx from Th. Carlyle’s Chartism, London, 1840, p. 31, where we read: “Half-a-million handloom weavers, working fifteen hours a day, in perpetual inability to procure thereby enough of the coarsest food
  3. An excerpt from Bowring’s speech in the House of Commons was used by Marx in his “Speech on the Question of Free Trade"
  4. Marx had in mind Carlyle’s words about the English Poor Laws: “If paupers are made miserable, paupers will needs decline in multitude. It is a secret known to all rat-catchers: stop up the granary-crevices, afflict with continual mewing, alarm, and going off of traps, your ‘chargeable labourers’ disappear, and cease from the establishment. A still briefer method is that of arsenic; perhaps even a milder...” (Th. Carlyle, Chartism, p. 17). The words “chargeable labourers” are in English in the manuscript
  5. Marx meant the following passage in J. Wade’s History of the Middle and Working Classes, p. 252: “The quantity of employment is not uniform in any branch of industry. It may be affected by changes of seasons, the alterations of fashion, or the vicissitudes of commerce
  6. 6.0 6.1 The reference is to piece-rate wages (see J. Wade, up. cit., p. 267)
  7. Concerning the truck system (Marx used the English term in the manuscript) Babbage wrote: “Wherever the workmen are paid in goods, or are compelled to purchase at the master’s shop, much injustice is done to them, and great misery results from it The temptation to the master, in times of depression, to reduce in effect the wages which he pays (by increasing the price of articles at his shop), without altering the nominal rate of payment, is frequently too great to be withstood” (Ch. Babbage, On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactures, second edition, 1832, p. 304). At the time Marx apparently used the French translation of Babbage’s book (Paris, 1833)
  8. Marx gave part of this paragraph in a more extended form in his Wage-Labour and Capital, Article V
  9. In his notes from Th. Carlyle’s Chartism, Marx quotes the following passage: “Ireland has near seven millions of working people, the third unit of whom, it appears by Statistic Science, has not for thirty weeks each year as many third-rate potatoes as will suffice them” (p. 25)
  10. The reference is to the war waged by the German people against Napoleon’s rule in 1813-14
  11. Later, when Marx had worked out the theory of surplus value and made a more thorough study of the nature of wages, and the laws determining their rate and level, he came to the conclusion that, contrary to bourgeois economists’ opinion, the trade union struggle for higher wages and a shorter working day was of great economic importance and could obtain for the workers inure favourable terms for the sale of their labour power to the capitalists. Marx set forth his new point of view in Wages, Price and Profit (1865) and in Volume I of Capital (1867)