Thursday, May 5, 2016

How Eleanor Marx understood her Father’s Wage Determination Theory

From Eleanor Marx Aveling’s essay “The Woman Question” (1886):
“They forget that by capitalist employers this very sex-helplessness of woman is only taken into account with the view of lowering the general rate of wages. Again, there is no more a natural calling of woman than there is a natural law of capitalistic production, or a natural limit to the amount of the labourer’s product that goes to him for means of subsistence. That in the first case, woman’s calling is supposed to be only the tending of children, the maintenance of household conditions, and a general obedience to her lord; that, in the second, the production of surplus value is a necessary preliminary to the production of capital; that, in the third, the amount the labourer receives for his means of subsistence is so much as will keep him only just above starvation point: these are not natural laws in the same sense as are the laws of motion. They are only certain temporary conventions of society, like the convention that French is the language of diplomacy.”
Aveling, Edward and Eleanor Marx Aveling. 1886. “The Woman Question,” Westminister Review
That is very concise.

In Chapter 28 of Capital, Marx gives his view of wages in capitalism:
“The constant generation of a relative surplus population keeps the law of the supply and demand of labour, and therefore wages, within narrow limits which correspond to capital’s valorization requirements.” (Marx 1990: 899).
The narrow limits, as Marx explains in Chapter 25 and elsewhere, are around the subsistence wage, the value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour power.

In Chapter 25, Marx also argues that the “general movements of wages are exclusively regulated by the expansion and contraction of the industrial reserve army” (Marx 1906: 699).

In Chapter 19, Marx endorsed the Classical view that wages fluctuate above and below an equilibrium value: the “necessary price” or “natural price” of labour, which for Marx is the value of the maintenance and reproduction of labour-power, a subsistence wage. This is, more or less, how Friedrich Engels understood Marx’s theory in Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (1894; first published in 1878), where Engels argued (admittedly, with a bit of exaggeration) that industrial capitalism, driven by means of automation and use of machines, “restricts the consumption of the masses at home to a famine minimum and thereby undermines its own internal market” (Engels [1894]: 308).

But this central aspect of Marx’s theory is wrong, as can be seen here.

Aveling, Edward and Eleanor Marx Aveling. 1886. “The Woman Question: From a Socialist Point of View,” Westminister Review 125 (January): 207–222.

Engels, Friedrich. [1894]. Herr Eugen Dühring’s Revolution in Science (trans. Emile Burns from 1894 edn.). International Publishers, New York.

Marx, Karl. 1906. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (vol. 1; rev. trans. by Ernest Untermann from 4th German edn.). The Modern Library, New York.

Marx, Karl. 1990. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy. Volume One (trans. Ben Fowkes). Penguin Books, London.

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