[OPE-L:1843] Re: Marx and the Iron Law of Wages

Subject: [OPE-L:1843] Re: Marx and the Iron Law of Wages
From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Sun Dec 05 1999 - 18:19:41 EST

Engels claimed that *he*, rather than Lassalle, was the originator of the
doctrine that wages will be "equivalent in value of the means of
subsistence absolutely indispensable for the life and procreation of the

I.e. he claims that Lassalle *stole* (i.e. "took it over" without
acknowledgment) from "both of us" (i.e. M&E).

Obviously, there was a lot of bad blood that eventually developed between
M&E on one side and L on the other!

The passage comes in the form of a 1885 footnote by Engels to the German
edition of _The Poverty of Philosophy_.

After Marx wrote:

         "To sum up: 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
          continued maintenance of labour, that is, to keep the worker
          alive and in a condition to propagate his race. The natural
          price of labour is no other than the wage minimum*" (_The
          Poverty of Philosophy_, International Publishers ed., p. 51)

Engels added his 1885 footnote:

         "*The thesis that the 'natural,' i.e., normal, price of labour
          power coincides with the wage minimum, i.e. with the equivalent
          in value of the means of subsistence absolutely indispensable
          for the life and procreation of the worker, was first put
          forward by me in *Sketches for a Critique of Political Economy*
          (*Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher* [*Franco-German Annuals*],
          Paris, 1844) and in *The Condition of the Working-Class in
          England in 1844*. As seen here, Marx at the time accepted
          the thesis. Lassalle took it over from both of us. Although,
          however, in reality wages have a constant tendency to approach
          the minimum, the above thesis is nevertheless incorrect. The
          fact that labour is regularly and on the average paid below its
          value cannot alter its value. In *Capital*, Marx has put the
          above thesis right (Section on the Buying and Selling of
          Labour Power) and also (Chapter 25: *The General Law of
          Capitalist Accumulation*) analysed the circumstances which
          permit capitalist production to depress the price of labour
          power more and more below its value" (Ibid, pp. 51-52)

It should be noted, of course, that _The Poverty of Philosophy_ was
published in 1847 (quite obviously, the original edition didn't include
the 1885 note by Engels).

In solidarity, Jerry

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