Date: Sat, 30 Aug 97 11:02:39 CDT
From: (Brian Hauk)
Subject: How Are Wages, Profits, Prices Related Under Capitalism?
Organization: InfoMatch Internet—Vancouver BC
Article: 17115

How Are Wages, Profits, Prices Related Under Capitalism?

By Karl Marx, extracts from Value, Price and Profit, published in The Militant, Vol.61/no.30, 8 September 1997

Below we reprint excerpts from the last chapter of Value, Price, and Profit by Karl Marx. The chapter is titled The struggle between capital and labor and its results. This was first delivered by Marx at the meetings of the General Council of the First International, the first international organization of the working class, in June 1865. With this report, Marx answered James Weston, a member of the International, who argued that higher wages cannot improve the condition of the workers and that trade union activity must be considered detrimental to working peoples' interests. The report was later published as a pamphlet.

The workers' struggle for higher wages and its relation to the employers' profits and prices of commodities became one of the main issues debated by all contending classes during the recent U.S. strike by the Teamsters against UPS. The excerpts below, and the entire report by Marx, shed light into these questions. The excerpts are taken from pages 144-149 of Vol. 20 of the Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels—two of the main founders of the modern workers' movement. The report by Marx can also be found in pp. 31-76 of Vol. 2 of the Selected Works of Marx and Engels.

Having shown that the periodical resistance on the part of the working men against a reduction of wages, and their periodical attempts at getting a rise of wages, are inseparable from the wages system, and dictated by the very fact of labour being assimilated to commodities, and therefore subject to the laws regulating the general movement of prices; having, furthermore, shown that a general rise of wages would result in a fall in the general rate of profit, but not affect the average prices of commodities, or their values, the question now ultimately arises, how far, in this incessant struggle between capital and labour, the latter is likely to prove successful....

There are some peculiar features which distinguish the value of the labouring power, or the value of labour, from the values of all other commodities. The value of the labouring power is formed by two elements-the one merely physical, the other historical or social. Its ultimate limit is determined by the physical element, that is to say, to maintain and reproduce itself, to perpetuate its physical existence, the working class must receive the necessaries absolutely indispensable for living and multiplying. The value of those indispensable necessaries forms, therefore, the ultimate limit of the value of labour. On the other hand, the length of the working day is also limited by ultimate, although very elastic boundaries. Its ultimate limit is given by the physical force of the labouring man. If the daily exhaustion of his vital forces exceeds a certain degree, it cannot be exerted anew, day by day....

Besides this mere physical element, the value of labour is in every country determined by a traditional standard of life. It is not mere physical life, but it is the satisfaction of certain wants springing from the social conditions in which people are placed and reared up. The English standard of life may be reduced to the Irish standard; the standard of life of a German peasant to that of a Livonian peasant....

But as to profits, there exists no law which determines their minimum. We cannot say what is the ultimate limit of their decrease. And why cannot we fix that limit? Because, although we can fix the minimum of wages, we cannot fix their maximum. We can only say that, the limits of the working day being given, the maximum of profit corresponds to the physical minimum of wages; and that wages being given, the maximum of profit corresponds to such a prolongation of the working day as is compatible with the physical forces of the labourer. The maximum of profit is, therefore, limited by the physical minimum of wages and the physical maximum of the working day. It is evident that between the two limits of this maximum rate of profit an immense scale of variations is possible. The fixation of its actual degree is only settled by the continuous struggle between capital and labour, the capitalist constantly tending to reduce wages to their physical minimum, and to extend the working day to its physical maximum, while the working man constantly presses in the opposite direction....

The very development of modern industry must progressively turn the scale in favour of the capitalist against the working man, and that consequently the general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour more or less to its minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation.... By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.

At the same time, and quite apart from the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never-ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto, A fair day's wage for a fair day's work! they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, Abolition of the wages system!