[OPE-L:1971] Re: Marx and some Marxists on "increasing misery"?

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 21 Dec 1999 19:45:05 -0500 (EST)

An addendum to Paul Z's [OPE-L:1970]:

Trotsky's perspective on the "theory of increasing misery" is explained in
_The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx_ (London, Cassell and Company, Limited,
1940, pp. 15-16.) He seems to come down squarely on the side of an
"increasing misery" interpretation of Marx. This is not really developed
theoretically, but his reading of the historical situation is that: "The
illusion of the uninterrupted 'progress' of all classes has vanished
without a trace. The *relative* decline of the masses' standard of living
has been superceded by an *absolute* decline". He goes on to say, after
noting the situation in the "far less privileged countries", that "The
history of the capitalist world since the last war has irrefutably borne
out the so-called 'theory of increasing misery'".

The particular critic of Marx that Trotsky seemed to be replying to here
was Werner Sombart.

It might be interesting to ask whether this perspective on increasing
misery was assumed in "The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the
Fourth International" (i.e. the "transitional programme" of the FI).

As for neo-classical perspectives, has anyone yet mentioned Thomas Sowell,
whose article "Marx's 'Increasing Misery' Doctrine" was published in the
_AER_ (December, 1960, pp. 111-120)? Sowell wrote: "This fall [a fall in
wages, JL] might conceivably go so far as to deprive the workers of any
increase in their standard of living, but whether it would go that far
depended upon the relative bargaining power of capital and labor, the
latter 'resisting' the fall in wages through trade unions, etc. If the
fall could be arrested at ant point above the previously existing
subsistence level, then the 'lower' wages would represent an increased
quantity of goods, although the value of these goods would be less - that
is, the workers would be spending less of their working day producing their
own livelihood and more of it producing surplus value for the capitalists".
But, Sowell thought that Marx *did* hold to an increasing misery theory
but one in which the "noneconomic dimension" of misery plays a greater

(The Sowell article is also reproduced in Ingrid H. Rima ed. _Readings in
the History of Economic Thought_, NY, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.,
1970, pp. 108-116.)

In solidarity, Jerry

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