[OPE-L:1844] Re: Re: Marx and the Iron Law of Wages

Subject: [OPE-L:1844] Re: Re: Marx and the Iron Law of Wages
From: Paul Zarembka (zarembka@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU)
Date: Mon Dec 06 1999 - 05:03:01 EST

Lapides quotes the same passage of Engels, noting that

"There is no doubt that in his earliest writings Marx assumed that wages
would, on average, remain at or near the level of physical subsistence.
He did not invent this idea, nor did Engels....As we have seen, the notion
that workers' wages generally corresponded to the minimum necessary to
support life (including a family) originated with the founders of
political economy; it does appear, however, that Marx and Engels, in their
initial critique of capitalist relations, tended to emphasize this

"These early formulations, which in Marx and Engels were merely the
reflection of orthodox political economy (directed against itself) as well
as undisputed empirical reality, were adopted by Lassalle and made into a
dogma of socialist economics. Marx himself shortly abandoned the notion,
rejecting it implicitly in his writings of the 1850s and explicitly in the
1860s. Lassalle's 'iron law of wages,' however, entered German socialism,
where it served as a fig leaf for the opportunism of his organization in
relation to workers' wage struggles and its opposition to trade
unions....(pp. 241-2).

>From an Althusserian perspective, Marx's changing views are part of a
process of an "epistemological break" from the precepts of classical
political economy: 'late' Marx "rejected the very structure of the object
of Political Economy" (second sentence, Chap. 8, READING CAPITAL). The
break centered Marx, and thus the deepest Marxism, on "class struggle"
(toward which other "Marxisms" declared war): e.g., "[Marx] had no other
object than the class struggle; his aim was to help the working class to
make revolution and thus finally, under communism, to suppress the class
struggle and classes" ("Is it Simple to be a Marxist in Philosophy",
ESSAYS IN SELF-CRITICISM, p.206) and also "without a proletarian position
in theory (in philosophy), there can be no 'development' of Marxist
theory, and no correct Union between the Labor Movement and Marxist
Theory" ("Elements of Self-Criticism", ibid., p. 161).

I quote others on these points as I have nothing to add. I believe I do
have something to add in my paper "Accumulation of Capital, Its
Definition: A Century after Lenin and Luxemburg". Fundamentally, I argue
that Marx did not sufficiently "break" on "accumulation of capital" from
his classical predecessors.


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

On 12/05/99 at 06:19 PM, Gerald Levy <glevy@PRATT.EDU> said:
>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
> 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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