[OPE-L:1842] Re: Marx and the Iron Law of Wages

Subject: [OPE-L:1842] Re: Marx and the Iron Law of Wages
From: Paul Zarembka (zarembka@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Date: Sun Dec 05 1999 - 16:32:23 EST

The query of Levy is another example of why Lapides' book is so useful as
Lapides quotes much of the same passage on pp. 242-3 and remarks how Marx
distanced himself from such distortions of his wage theory as Lassalle's.

Lapides points to the confusions that resulted from Lassalle's
interpretations as supposedly Marxist ones, notes that the "Critique of
the Gotha Program" was itself suppressed by Liebnecht (and thus the
passage below was suppressed), indicates that "Arnold Toynbee...influenced
generations of students with the statement: 'Karl Marx and Lassalle have
adopted Ricardo's law of wages...[that] wages, under our present social
institutions, can never be more than sufficient for the bare subsistence
of the laborer'". Lapides goes on to note that many ascribe to Marx a
position based on "increasing misery" without even reading what Marx wrote
(the same thing I have found regarding Rosa Luxemburg on accumulation of
capital); from a careful reading he finds no "iron law" nor "increasing
misery" theory in Marx himself. I know that Sinha reads Marx and thus I
asked him to defend his position that there is indeed an "increasing
misery" doctrine in Marx (Lapides addresses some cited passages from
Value, Price and Profit, and from Capital--pp. 244-7; we'll just have to
see whether Sinha bases his interpretation on these passages or on other

There is a deeper political issue going on here. Sinha wrote, defending
an "increasing misery" theory as Marx's, that "The point that needs to
be noted is that trade unions are given no role in determining the value
of labor-power as such [in Marx]". It seems to me that if we are to
accept such a position, little room is left for the process of
self-organization of the working class and one is left with either direct
revolutionary action (extreme leftism) or helplessness (de-politicized


Paul Zarembka, supporting RESEARCH IN POLITICAL ECONOMY, web site
******************** http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/PZarembka

On 12/05/99 at 11:17 AM, Gerald Levy <glevy@PRATT.EDU> said:
>A parenthetical question that comes to mind after reading Paul Z's
>[OPE-::1839]: Who was the original writer to identify Marx with the "Iron
>Law of Wages"? Was it Lassalle himself?

>It seems odd that Marx's understanding of wages has been so often
>(mis-)identified with the "iron law of wages" since Marx at various times
>and places, including in _Capital_, attacked and condemned that law.
>Indeed on this question, he was very clear and unambiguous. E.g. in the
>1875 "Critique of a Gotha Programme", he wrote:

> [Warning: long passage follows!, JL]

> [Responding to a section of the programme that called for, in
> part, "the abolition of the wage system *together with the iron
> law of wages*..., JL] "So, in future, the German workers' party
> has got to believe in Lassalle's 'iron law of wages'! That this
> may not be lost, the nonsense is perpetuated of speaking of the
> 'abolition of the wage system' (it should read: system of wage
> labour) '*together with* the iron law of wages.' If I abolish
> wage-labour, then naturally I abolish its laws also, whether
> they are of 'iron' or sponge. But Lassalle's attack on
> wage-labour turns almost solely on this so-called law. In order,
> therefore, to prove that Lassalle's sect has conquered, the
> system' must be abolished '*together with* the iron law of
> wages' and not without it.
> It is well known that nothing of the 'iron law of wages' is
> Lassalle's except the word 'iron' borrowed from Goethe's 'great,
> eternal iron laws.' The word *iron* is a label by which the true
> believers recognize one another. But if I take the law with
> Lassalle's stamp on it and, consequently, in his sense, then I
> must also take with it his substantiation for it. And what is
> that? As Lange already showed, shortly after Lassalle's death,
> it is the Malthusian theory of population (preached by Lange
> himself). But if this theory is correct, then again I *cannot*
> abolish the law even if I abolish wage labour a hundred times
> over, because the law then governs not only the system of wage
> labour but *every* social system. Basing themselves directly on
> this, the economists have been proving for fifty years and more
> that socialism cannot abolish poverty, *which has its basis in
> nature*, but can only make it *general*, distribute it
> simultaneously over the whole surface of society!

> But all this is not the main thing. *Quite apart* from the
> *false* Lassallean formulation of the law, the truly outrageous,
> retrogression consists in the following:

> Since Lassalle's death there has asserted itself in *our* party
> the scientific understanding that wages are not what they
> *appear* to be, namely, the *value*, or *price*, of *labour*,
> but only a masked form for the *value*, or *price*, of *labour
> power*. Thereby the whole bourgeois conception of wages
> as well as all the criticism hitherto directed against this
> conception, was thrown overboard once for all and it was made
> clear that the wage-worker has permission to work for his own
> subsistence, that is, *to live*, only in so far as he works for
> certain time gratis for the capitalist (and hence for the
> latter's co-consumers of surplus value); that the whole
> capitalist system of production turns on the increase of this
> gratis labour by extending the working day or by developing the
> productivity, that is, increasing the intensity of labour
> power, etc.; that, consequently, the system of wage labour is a
> system of slavery, and indeed of a slavery which becomes more
> severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labour
> develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment.
> after this understanding has gained more and more ground in our
> Party, one returns to Lassalle's dogmas although one must have
> known that Lassalle *did not know* what wages were, but
> in the wake of the bourgeois economists took the appearance
> for the essence of the matter.

> It is as if, among slaves who have at last got beyond the
> secret of slavery and broken out in rebellion, a slave still in
> thrall to obsolete notions were to inscribe on the programme of
> the rebellion: Slavery must be abolished because the feeding of
> slaves in the system of slavery cannot exceed a certain low
> maximum!" ("Critique of a Gotha Programme" in _Selected Works_,
> Volume 3, pp. 22-24, emphasis in original).

>So how is that Marx's theory came to be identified with the "iron law of

>I also wonder: to what extent does Lassalle's "iron law of wages" in fact
>rely on a Malthusian concept of population? Have any of us actually read
>Lassalle's writings to suggest an answer to this question?

>In solidarity, Jerry

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