[OPE-L:1973] Re: Marx and some Marxists on "increasing misery"?

Ajit Sinha (ajitsinha@lbsnaa.ernet.in)
Wed, 22 Dec 1999 11:52:17 +0530

Paul Zarembka wrote:

> Ajit has provided two cites from Marx to support an interpretation of
> a "theory of increasing misery", one theoretical, from VPP and one
> empirical, from Chapter 25 of "Capital". I have tried to address both in
> a rather long posting [OPE-L:1881] and don't have much to add. He has
> responded in part on the former while not on the latter. I think the
> lines of demarcation between us are clearly enough drawn.


Paul, I don't have time to go through Chapter 25 at the moment. But I remember
quoting myself as "Most interestingly, Marx puts a lot of stress on the
deteriorating condition of housing for all strata of workers. Since housing
constitutes a fair share of the real wage basket, the case for a declining
tendency of real wage in this period is very strong." You did not think that
it was worth even commenting on. Why is that? Do you think housing is not a
part of real wages? If you went through that chapter, what did you find there?
Why didn't you report anything about your finding on the real wage trend. And
why would Marx spend so much of space and time if he was not trying to prove
any point?

> I have undertaken a search for the word "misery" on the Marx-Engels
> Internet Archive. The results for those interested are at


That's why I think you are going about the whole thing in a wrong way. The
problem here is not the word 'misery', but rather a wholistic sense of Marx's
theory of wages and its secular trend.

> PZ:
> http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/PZarembka/misery.htm
> Not all of Marx's important writings are included through this search, and
> many of the citations are for Engels and others, rather than Marx himself.
> In any case, it comes clear enough to me that the word "misery" is not
> well-defined for theoretical purposes.
> I disagree with Ajit that Samuelson should be taken seriously as a
> Marxist scholar. If I have to spend focus time reading neoclassical
> economists on Marx, I would rather choose Baumol (who doesn't support a
> "theory of increasing misery") and Morishima (who does). I have turned,
> instead, to leading turn-of-the-century Marxists to see how they read Marx
> at a time when wages in the First World were much lower (if anyone knows
> of good sources on long-term Third-World wages please pass them along),
> i.e., when the environment was more conducive to interpreting Marx as an
> "absolute increasing misery" theorist.
> Major figures of Marxist theory at that time included Bernstein,
> Bukharin, Kautsky, Lenin, Luxemburg, and Plekhavnov. I would take any one
> of these more seriously than Samuelson on Marx, even when I disagree with
> them. Henryk Grossman, himself a supporter of a theory of increasing
> misery in Marx, surveyed four of them on wage theory for his 1929 book
> *The Law of Accumulation and Breakdown of the Capitalist System* (cites
> from "History of Political Economy", Vol. 26, no. 2, 1994):
> KAUTSKY--Grossmann's reading of Kautsky's position in "Bernstein und das
> sozialdemokratische Programm", 1899:
> "Kautsky...stresses the *elevating tendencies* as the characteristic
> feature of Marx's doctrine....and only the workers' relative portion of
> the produce of society decreases. In that sense only can one speak of the
> increase of 'social immiseration'." (p. 249)
> BERNSTEIN--Grossmann quoting Bernstein, "Theorie und Geschickte des
> Sozialismus", 1901:
> "'The *distribution* of society's wealth is always a question of power and
> organization....The wage question is a sociological question, which pure
> economics shall never explain'." (p. 249).
> LUXEMBURG--Grossmann's reading of "Social Reform or Revolution", 1908, and
> her posthumous "Einfuehrung in die Nationaloekonomie", 1925:
> "We see that according to Luxemburg the level of wages depends only the
> power and organization of the two opposing classes, whereby the tendency
> toward impovishment is exclusively a thing of the past, whereas wages at
> *present* and in the *future* exhibit an upward tendency due to the
> arousal of new needs through labor unions...." (p. 252)
> BUKHARIN--Grossmann's reading of Bukharin in *Neue Zeit*, 1914 and his
> presentation to the 4th Congress of the Communist International, 1922:
> "Kautsky and Luxemburg relegate to the past the tendency toward
> impovishment, where only the upward tendency is retained for the
> future...[Bukharin] adheres to the theory of impoverishment, with this
> difference: as opposed to Kautsky and Rosa Luxemburg, he removes it not in
> time but in space". (p. 252)
> As to Lenin and Plekhavnov, I report the following:
> PLEKHAVNOV: "[I]n the direct and clear meaning of his [Marx's] finalized
> theory, a fall in the price of labor power, and a relative worsening in
> the worker's condition may be accompanied by a rise in his pay" ("A
> Critique of Our Critics", 1901, as quoted by Lapides, p. 254).
> LENIN: Lenin's 1914 "Granat Encyclopaedia" article "Karl Marx" (his last
> survey of Marxist theory) does not include a theory of increasing misery.
> I have not found a place where Lenin could be interpreted as having argued
> that Marx had a theory of increasing absolute misery (of course, there are
> conjunctural references to wages being pushed down, but this is not what
> is being argued here).
> These authors have very different legacies but only one in six
> (Bukharin) seem to have found a theory of increasing misery in Marx. Of
> course, there is no question of "majority" vote here. But I for one do
> not accept Ajit's statement that "most of the serious historians of
> thought would agree" that Marx had a "theory of increasing misery",
> particularly if the category is delimited to "progressive historians of
> thought, knowledgeable about Marx".
> Paul Z. (with replies to Ajit below)


Paul, this whole attempt is to deflect the issue, by suggesting that the
so-called Marxists are on my side of the fence. I don't give a damn. None of
your quotations even tries to refute my arguments or the evidence.

> ***********************************************************************
> Paul Zarembka, supporting RESEARCH IN POLITICAL ECONOMY, web site
> ******************** http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/PZarembka
> P.S. Some replies to Ajit:
> 1) In one posting yesterday, Ajit said that I [PZ] "haven't even begun to
> critique [his] position" which, in the next posting, is that "marx's view
> was that the bargaining strength of the workers over wages declines over a
> secular time period because of the rising trend in the rate of
> unemployment." I don't accept a rising trend in the rate of unemployment,
> first, because Marx refers to "reserve army" (which is not the same as
> unemployment) and, second, because capital accumulates (however, this is a
> whole new area of discussion, as I argue in "Accumulation of Capital, its
> Definition: A Century after Lenin and Luxemburg").


I have no interest in quibling over terminology. Do you dispute that Marx
expected the reserve army of labor to rise? If you do, then what are your
evidence? As far as your Accumulation paper is concerned, it does not take
into account that Marx assumed a positive rate of growth in population. You
will find enough evidence for this in my paper, 'Hollander's "Marx and
Malthusianism": A Critique', *History of Economic Review* no. 28, summer 1998,
as well as Hollander's 1984 AER paper. You need to look into *Theories of
Surplus Value* as well for some evidence

> 2) Ajit asks about wealth distribution in Marx; I haven't looked into it.
> He also indicates that he doesn't understand the mathematics concerning
> how the rate of profit could go down along with rising real wages. I
> think I was clear enough in my answer. In words, if productivity
> increases in the production of goods consumed by workers faster than
> growth in real wages [s/v rises], and if that rising productivity is
> associated with a sufficient increase in the organic composition of
> capital [c/v rises], the rate of profit [(s/v) / (c/v + 1)] can decline.
> [I am answering Ajit's initial statement, "So don't they owe us an
> explanation to how does the workers relative condition deteriorate vis-a
> vis the capitalists when the real wages of the workers are supposedly
> rising and the rate of profit is supposedly falling?"]


Of course I understand the mathematics of how the rate of profit could go down
along with the rise in real wages (I hope you don't consider me to be an
idiot!). The point that i don't understant is how does the relative position
of the capitalist improve vis a vis the worker when the income share of the
capitalist is showing a negative trend and the income share of the worker is
showing a positive trend. This is a serious problem for you to come up with a
mathematical solution of, which you (or for that matter anyone arguing for
'relative mesiry' thesis) have not done yet.

> 3) In mentioning U.S., French, Brazilian, Mexican, and Spanish labor
> history, I was indicating the kinds of organizing issues for understanding
> wage levels Marx WOULD have looked at were he alive in the late 1930s from
> my understanding of his 1865-1883 theoretical understandings of the
> determination of wages.


This is not an issue. We are only dealing with Marx's writings and its
interpretations here.

> 4) I wrote: "I think Samuelson wants to DISCOURAGE careful study of Marx
> as he thinks that 'answers' to questions in economics are best handled by
> classical/neoclassical theory." Ajit replied that Samuelson "is serious
> enough a scholar to not put his name to stupid statements simply to
> 'discourage' serious reading of Marx." In other words, Samuelson would
> not put his name to "stupidities", and/or would not do so "simply to
> discourage" serious reading of Marx?


Samuelson could say something stupid, but will not do it knowingly simply
because he wants to "discourage" a serious reading of Marx. I would assume a
scholar of his stature would take his name seriously.

> Regarding "stupidities", the most intelligent are usually the most aware
> of the potentialities for "stupidities"; Samuelson himself admitted one
> with regard to reswitching. Regarding an attempt to discourage, basically
> I stand by my statement except for the qualification that I don't know
> Samuelson's state of mind when he wrote what he wrote. However, the
> EFFECT for students reading his textbook is to DISCOURAGE careful study of
> Marx. In fact, such types of statements as his that "the basic Marxian
> conclusion" is that there is a "tendency for real wages rates to fall to a
> *minimum subsistence level*" were thrown at many of us in our youth and
> can be pretty successful in discouraging (I personally had to come to Marx
> on my own, not through encouragement of economics textbooks).


Then you must say the same for Grossman and Bukharin, and all who have read
absolute misery thesis in Marx.

> 5) Ajit comments as a conclusion: "May be if you look hard enough in
> Ricardo as well as in Smith, you will find [class struggle] there too.
> Most of the Sraffians are arguing that the classical wage theory is
> basically a bargaining wage theory between the two classes."
> This last comment leaves me speechless.


I don't understand this. Are you saying that you haven't read enough of
Sraffian literature and need time to research this? Cheers, ajit sinha

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