Vitaly Vygodsky, D.Sc.(Econ.), Valeria Kunina, D.Sc.(Hist.)

Marx on the Proletariat's Economic Struggle in Capitalist Countries

Written: 1988?
First Published: 1988
Source: The International Working-Class Movement, Series, 1, pp31-52, Nauka Publishers, Moscow, 1988
Translated: Unknown
Transcription/Markup: Steve Palmer
Copyleft: Internet Archive (marxists.org) 2009. Creative Commons Non-Commercial license.


Marx and Engels always considered the class struggle in itsthree interrelated forms: theoretical, political and practical economic[1]. Depending on the situation taking place and concrete historical conditions they turned their attention to one or another form. Thus in the early 1840s they centred attention on the economic struggle of the proletariat. Even then they had already singled out strikes as an expression of genuine proletarian class movement.

In 1842 Engels, in assessing a mass strike of British workers, noted in his article "The Internal Crises" that it testified to the mighty revolutionary potential of the working class which had already become aware of its strength[2]. In "The Condition of the Working Class in England" Engels explained the regularity of strikes, indicating that they were generated by the desire of the workers "to escape from this brutalising condition"[3]. He stressed that strikes to some extent protected workers from degeneration because they achieved an increase, albeit temporary, in wages and reduced working hours. Summing up his considerations, he came to the conclusion that strikes are indispensable as a school of struggle in which workers display the utmost courage[4].

At the beginning, certain vital economic aspects of the labour-capital relationship had not yet been treated, which prevented a comprehensive assessment of the significance of the economic struggle. In the 1840s Marx and Engels, in their view of this question, still remained close to Adam Smith who maintained that raising wages under capitalism was senseless because it affected commodity prices like simple interest[5]. Although this tenet was accepted even then with certain reservations, nonetheless in "Wage Labour and Capital" Marx still wrote "The same general laws that regulate the price of commodities in general, of course, also regulate wages, the price of labour.... The cost of production of simple labour, therefore, amounts to the cost of existence and reproduction of the worker.... Wages so determined are called the wage minimum"[6].

As Engels was to remark later, he also shared the idea of the wage minimum at that time, which is confirmed by his "Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy" and "Condition of the Working Class in England".

The thesis of the economically substantiated wage minimum, naturally produced a reserved attitude to the potential of economic struggle.

A gradual departure from the wage minimum concept was predicated on Marx's new cycle of economic studies.

In 1851 in a short manuscript entitled "Reflection", he pointed out certain favourable opportunities, opening up as the result of wages paid in the form of money, indicating that with what it saves, after buying the vital necessities, the working class could buy books instead of meat and bread and pay for lectures; and meetings. The working class has greater possibilities of appropriating such general forces of society as its intellectual forces[7]. As can be seen here, Marx has, in fact, already added the cost of satisfying a worker's intellectual needs to labour costs, i.e. he obviously rejects its definition as the physical subsistence minimum.

However, it was only by completely switching over from the labour-commodity concept to the study of labour as a commodity that made it possible to develop the theory of surplus-value and to consider the relationship between labour and capital not as a material relationship between "accumulated" and "direct", labour as was the case with bourgeois economists, but as a specifically social, class relationship, incomprehensible outside the context of the class struggle between the workers and the capitalists.

The main tenets of the surplus-value theory were formulated by Marx, while working on his 1857-1858 manuscript, the initial version of Capital. This theory defined surplus-value as the difference between the value created by living labour in the production process and the price of labour paid to the worker in the form of wages. Describing in this connection the sphere of worker's subsistence means, Marx notes, firstly, that a relative, only quantitative and not qualitative restriction of the sphere of workers' consumption, which becomes qualitative only through quantity, imparts to them as consumers an entirely different, more important significance of production agents[8].

Later Marx enlarged on this idea in Volume II of Capital demonstrating that consumption of the working class acts as an element of the process of reproduction; secondly, elaborating on his considerations outlined in "Reflections", he speaks of the physical, social and other needs of the worker which are satisfied by his wages[9]. He identifies as a substantial aspect of civilisation that side of relations between labour and capital upon which rests "the historical regularity of capital" and which is related to the worker's growing needs together with the part that he takes in consumption of a higher order, as well as in spiritual consumption: promotion of his own interests, newspaper subscription, lecture attendance, child education, developing appreciation, etc.[10] Here, as can be seen, Marx continues his critical revision of the wage minimum concept. Debating with bourgeois economists, who urged the workers to save their money, Marx wrote that this was demanding that the workers keep to the minimum in enjoying the good things of life[11].

The surplus-value theory explained the objective tendency of the capital mode of production towards overall intensification of working class exploitation, primarily by developing the productive forces. Using his concept of alienated labour, Marx demonstrated that in itself the exchange between labour and capital objectively is of no benefit to the worker.

The minimum wage concept was only gradually discarded in the terminology used by Marx. The term "wage minimum" still appears in his "Abstracts", a synopsis of his 1857-1858 manuscript[12]. It is interesting to note how he defends his usage of it: "Let us assume for the time being necessary labour as such, i.e. let us assume that the worker always gets only the necessary wage minimum.... Besides it is practically sure that, for instance, however the standard of necessary labour may differ at various epochs and in various countries, (...) at any given epoch the standard is to be considered and acted upon as a fixed one by capital"[13].

The terms "average wage minimum" and "average wages" appear for the first time on the pages of "The Notebook of Quotations" which was completed shortly after work on the aforementioned manuscript ceased. The latter term is also listed in the index to "The Notebook of Quotations" and in the draft outline of the chapter on capital, which served as the starting point in Marx's work on the 1861-1863 manuscript, the second draft version of Capital. Marx points out in the forenamed outline: "Average wages.... When we consider this problem we should proceed from the minimum"[14]. Naturally, the term in question was used in the 1861-1863 manuscript too, it appeared in the title of one of the parts "Wage Minimum or Average Wages"[15].

A decisive step in economic substantiation of the working class struggle in capitalist society was made expressly in this manuscript as a result of Marx's analysis of the dual nature of commodity cost undertaken here for the first time.

The difference between the social and individual cost of commodities established in the 1861-1863 manuscript encourages, as Marx demonstrated, intensification of working class exploitation, both through the growth of relative surplus-value as a result of the growth of individual labour productivity at a given enterprise[16] and through appropriation by the capitalist of the individual and social cost of labour as a commodity.

Indeed, a worker of the capitalist at whose enterprise an increase in individual labour productivity took place has the right (be it understood, we mean in this case the right predicated on economic laws) to appropriate at least a certain part of the difference between the social coat of commodities produced by him and their decreasing individual cost. This right is predicated on the increased individual cost of labour of the given worker. His work creates per time unit greater value than average social labour and consequently in comparison with the latter it appears as labour of a higher order, as simple labour raised to a degree. In other words, the cost of the given worker's manpower has increased but the capitalist pays for it according to the average social cost and appropriates the total difference between those two values.

In the 1861-1863 manuscript Marx also pointed put certain concrete conditions, increasing the individual cost of labour which, in our opinion, are directly related to the case under consideration. Writing about the said cost, Marx indicates that it can increase only to the extent to which the development of the capitalist mode of production requires [a higher level of] education of the workers whose more complex work necessitates higher individual development of this labour so that the mass., of the cost (labour) required for its creation is increased[17].

In evaluating the cost of labour Marx demonstrated that the amount of so-called primary basic requirements and ways of meeting them depend to a large extent on the state of a society's culture.... They are a product of history[18]. Consequently, determining the amount of wages as well as the cost of labour has absolutely nothing to do with the ultimate limit of physical necessity[19] although the capitalists really strive to reduce the cost and price of labour to the minimum. Hence the economic need for unremitting struggle of the working class for higher wages and shorter hours.

In the 1861-1863 manuscript Marx also proved the economic possibility of struggling for higher wages and shorter hours. As mentioned earlier, he exposed the essence of the bourgeois concept of the "wage minimum" which considered labour cost as a certain invariable value which did not depend on the stage of historic development. The very definition of this cost as a fixed value, even in the camouflaged form of a wage minimum, was essential for determining surplus-value as a surplus of value created by the worker over and above the cost of his labour. A fixed wage minimum was also necessary to demonstrate that raising it did not lead to an increase in the cost of commodities but only decreased the rate of profit received by the capitalists.

Establishing this fact was Ricardo's major scientific achievement but only Marx substantiated it theoretically. By developing the theory of average profit and production price he demonstrated that the exceptions, which Ricardo cited from the relationship he himself established, are misleading because they concern production prices only, taking no account of the cost of commodities. Marx also demonstrated[20] that raising wages by changing the rate of surplus-value only causes compensative deviations in production prices and commodity cost; these deviations represent the regular functioning of the capitalist price-forming mechanism.

Therefore it was theoretically proven that there was no substantiation to the prejudice, widespread in bourgeois science, that an increase in wages led to higher commodity prices. This dogma originated in Adam Smith's theory which considered wages as one of the contributing elements to commodity cost. Following Smith and Ricardo, "this blunder," Marx noted, "has survived as an important dogma in all subsequent political economy"[21]. This erroneous concept produced the erroneous conclusion that labour's struggle for higher wages was hopeless because the capitalist would compensate his losses, resulting from the wage increase, by raising prices on his goods.

Marx considered all the aspects of this problem from the point of view of the working class struggle in his 1865 report "Wage, Price and Profit". In it he summarised his analysis, contained in the 1861-1863 manuscript, of labour as a commodity. He gave a clear-cut definition of the two elements constituting the cost of this commodity: "the purely physical" element, equalling the subsistence minimum for the reproduction and preservation of the work force and representing its lowest limit; and "the historic and social" element determined by the cultural level, traditional standards of living, conditions of the working class in a given country at a given historical period as well as by its social gains and other social factors. A capitalist, constantly striving for maximum profits, also tries to lower the cost of labour (wages as its price) to the physical minimum.

The same situation is true as regards the length of the work-day. "Its ultimate limit is given by the physical force of the labouring man"[22]. It is the physical limit of the work-day that the capitalist tries to realise. Its social limit is determined in the same way as the social level of the cost of labour. The real level of wages and the real duration of the work-day are established in the course of the constant struggle between the working class and the class of capitalists. Marx summed it up stating: "The matter resolves- itself into a question of the respective powers of the combatants"[23].

Consequently this struggle is necessary. But it is also possible as a consequence of the objective difference, existing between the physical and social elements of labour cost. The aforementioned elements can be interpreted as qualitative aspects of the dual nature of labour cost, whereas the differences between its individual and social costs considered above represent its quantitative aspects.

Let us return to the 1861-1863 manuscript. Of great importance for substantiating the urgency of the working class struggle for better economic conditions and bargaining terms in selling its labour to the class of capitalists was the theory, elaborated here for the first time, on the formal and real subordination of labour to capital which is in correspondence with absolute and relative surplus value. Though formal subordination of labour to capital, "its placement under the control of capital"[24] occurs historically prior to real subordination, implying the establishment of a specifically capitalist mode of production, its development on its own basis, it is preserved fully at the stage of developed capitalism too, the same as its product - absolute surplus-value. Consequently, the antagonism stems from the, very existence of surplus labour under capitalism.

Citing a great number of examples Marx exposed the intrinsic capitalist tendency towards the limitless increase of surplus labour and drew a horrifying picture of capitalist exploitation. Exhaustive work leads to reduced normal functioning of the labour force, to destroying its cost and, consequently, to disrupting normal conditions for its sale.

Marx particularly mentions artificial reduction of the cost of labour by worsening the quality and quantity of the worker's means of livelihood. Withal, he remarks that he did not go into this and similar cases, involving reduction in the cost of labour (for example, through employment of minors or reduction in training costs). "Thus we," writes Marx, "provide capital with an opportunity of fair play, considering as non-existent its greatest abominations"[25]. The underlying principled approach which Marx used throughout-his economic studies is that the explanation of capitalist exploitation stems from the very essence of production relations in bourgeois society.

Thus, as Marx demonstrated, capitalist society is directly interested in excessive exploitation of the working class and only its organised resistance can prevent capital from realising its exorbitant demands. It is impossible to curb these demands by scattered worker efforts, it requires the resistance of the entire working class. Marx wrote that, if they as a class do not act on the state and through the state on the capital, the workers by themselves cannot wring out from the predatory claws of capital the free time necessary to their physical existence[26].

In this connection Marx analyses the struggle of the working class which led to the adoption of laws, fixing the limit of the work-day not only in England but also on the European continent: in France, Prussia and Austria.

Though factory laws were often shelved, Marx nonetheless drew attention to the extremely favourable influence which - as demonstrated by statistical data - the said process (reduction of working hours) exerted on improvement of physical, moral and intellectual conditions of the working class in England[27]. In 1864 he gave special stress to this factor in his draft of the Inaugural Address of the Working Men's International Association.

Working class-resistance imposes certain limitations on the growth of absolute surplus-value through prolonging the work-day. The class of capitalists tries to overcome these limitations by developing productive forces, increasing labour productivity thereby giving the capitalist an opportunity to turn a part of previously necessary labour into surplus labour, i.e. increase relative surplus-value. Furthermore the worker's basic means of livelihood may even be expanded, though their total cost decreases. Marx notes that a likely improvement in living conditions of the worker does not change anything in the nature and law of relative surplus-value, it does not change anything because as a result of increasing labour productivity capital appropriates an ever greater part of the work-day. The above demonstrates the sheer absurdity of attempts to refute this law by selected statistical data, allegedly proving that the worker's material situation in a given place has improved from higher labour productivity[28].

The basic features of working class' conditions in bourgeois society, formulated in this important statement, have nothing in common with the mediocre schema of the steady automatic process of worsening labour conditions under capitalism, which his critics from time to time ascribe to Marx. The real meaning of the Marxian concept is in the fact that under capitalism the worker always works only for his living; the difference is only between more or less spending for a livelihood"[29] while the spending is limited by the amount of necessary labour.

In the 1861-1863 manuscript Marx thoroughly analysed for the first time the three consecutive stages for raising labour productivity under the capitalist mode of production: cooperation, division of labour and machinery

which at the same time represent stages in the development of real subordination of labour to capital and intensified capitalist exploitation.

Marx traced in detail the effect of machine production on the situation of the working class, he identified the tendency of replacing qualified labour with simple labour, towards longer working hours, in particular, by "speeding up labour", intensifying it, creating nervous and physical strain. Marx notes that the fight for shorter hours, which culminated in a legally established 10-hour work-day brought about a wave of improvements aimed at intensifying labour. The revolution in industrial production, indicated Marx, was the result compelled by the legally permitted limit of exploitation[30]. Consequently, profits of British factory owners did not diminish. However, increasing labour intensity has its objective limitations, dictating further reduction of the work-day.

Replacement of living labour, a relative reduction of the number of workers, accompanied by absolute growth and formation of a redundant labour force are the objective results of capitalist use of machines. There is also a converse tendency towards steadily drawing in new workers and increasing exploitation. Therefore, emphasised Marx, permanent fluctuations in the worker's existence are typical of capitalism[31].

Marx formulates the three-fold influence of the process of capitalist accumulation on the condition of the working class. Firstly, "the perpetuation of the means of production as property alien. to him, as capital, perpetuates his condition as wage worker. Secondly, "accumulation of capital worsens his condition, relatively,[32] by augmenting the relative wealth of the capitalist and his co-partners" and "reduces that part of the gross product which is raised to pay wages"; as a result "quantity and number of the classes which live on worker's surplus labour are increased". Thirdly, "since the conditions of labour confront the individual worker in an ever more gigantic form and increasingly as social forces, the chance of his taking possession of them himself as is the case in small-scale industry, disappears"[33].

Marx here condensed his conclusions from analysing working class conditions under capitalism, having especially underlined the qualitative aspect of the problem related to the sum total of working class conditions in capitalist society.

In the 1863-1865 manuscript, the third draft version of Capital, Marx continued to study how formal and real subordination of labour to capital influenced the conditions of workers. He demonstrated that along with the intensification of exploitation there is a social growth of the working class. Even under the conditions of formal subordination "capitalist relationship seems to be ... a step up to a still higher social stage"[34]. Marx substantiated this important tenet in the following way. First of all, as regards individual workers wage fluctuations with respect to the cost of labour are in principle possible and indeed take place. It creates, as Marx indicated, "a vast arena (within narrow limits) for worker's individuality, encourages development of the labour force and provides him with a certain opportunity to advance into higher spheres of labour by virtue of special energy talent, etc."[35]. Marx notes in this connection that the economic task of trade unions consists expressly in preventing the price of labour (wages) from falling below the level of its cost.

Special attention should be given to the tenet, according to which when we deal with the cost of labour it implies not the physical minimum of subsistence means, but that this cost comprises "the conscientious and well-known basis (demands) of trade unions whose importance for the English working class can hardly be exaggerated". Marx quotes J.T. Dunning, a British trade-unionist, who wrote the following in defence of the workers: "The workers unite in order to be, to some extent, on a par with the capitalist when concluding a bargain concerning the sale of their labour. It is the rationale (the logical ground) of the trade unions"[36]. Marx further elaborated these tenets in 1865 in "Wage, Price and Profit".

Capitalist relations, as Marx demonstrated, are predicated on the total indifference of the worker to the nature of his work: "The worker is basically predisposed and ready for any change in his labour and activity..., if it promises higher wages." Those circumstances make free labour more intensive, steadier, more lively and creative than slave labour, to say nothing of the fact that they make it capable of undertaking altogether different historic action[37].

Capital's appropriation of science as the overall spiritual product of social development which Marx described in detail is a significant factor in the enslavement of the worker, in exhausting his labour while transferring to real subordination of labour. Applying science and the natural forces in large-scale social production is a major instrument in exploiting labour, and this considerably influences the fact that labour conditions act as social forces which dominate the individual worker and are alien to him[38].

The above Marxian tenets represent a further concretisation of the thesis about the transformation of science into a direct production force with the development of the capitalist mode of production, which was advanced and substantiated in 1857-1863. Marx then took up antagonistic contradictions connected with this process. Since capitalist production is also expanded reproduction of the relationship between labour and capital, therefore to the same extent as the social productive labour force develops together with the capitalist mode of production, there is an increase in accumulated wealth opposing the worker, as wealth dominating him, as capital, the world of wealth expands, opposing the worker as a world alien to him and dominating him. In contrast to this, there is the same increase in dire poverty and dependence. Withal, there is an increase in the mass of these living means of capital production, the working proletariat[39].

Here we see a further approximation to the classic formulation of the universal law of capitalist accumulation given in Volume I of Capital. The above formulation while preserving the qualitative aspects of the problem which were formulated for the first time, as was mentioned, in Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts and especially in the 1861-1863 manuscript rests also on important quantitative relationship which was already clarified by Marx at this stage of his research.

We mentioned earlier that, prior to the publication of Volume I of Capital, Marx read his report "Wage, Price and Profit" in June 1865 two meetings of the 1st International, in which he first publicly outlined the basis of his theory of surplus-value with respect to the working class struggle.

First of all, Marx clarifies certain general aspects related to working class exploitation. Although wages function as the price of labour[40] on the surface of phenomena, they are actually merely the price of manpower which is less than the price of labour, the price of the product it creates. Marx demonstrates the importance of identifying the category of surplus-value in pure form. Of course, it is not the total surplus-value which the employing capitalist pockets as industrial profit. He shares it with banking and commercial capital, and with the land owner. But this issue is a secondary one for the worker. "It is the employing capitalist who immediately extracts from the labourer," Marx emphasises, "this surplus value, whatever part of it he may ultimately be able to keep for himself. Upon this relation, therefore, between the employing capitalist and the wage labourer the whole wages system and the whole present system of production hinge"[41].

Marx takes a considerable step in analysing the relation between wages and profit; he demonstrates that there is, in reality, an inverse proportion between wages and surplus-value, while the rate of profit may decrease - according to its objective tendency to decrease - even when the rate of surplus-value goes up; "the rate of profit:" Marx indicates, "thus falls, ... not because the worker is less exploited, but because he is more exploited"[42].

Further on Marx deals with more specific problems.

In analysing the cost of labour he demonstrates that it is different in various branches of industry. Marx comes to the immediate practical conclusion: "The cry for an equality of wages rests, therefore, upon a mistake, is an insane wish never to be fulfilled.... What you think just or equitable is out of the question. The question is: What is necessary and unavoidable with a given system of production?"[43].

In the report under review Marx thoroughly analyses, "in all seriousness" the most important instances of the workers' fight for higher wages or against cuts in wages. He notes that if in case of an increase in the cost of labour caused, for example, by a rise in the cost of living or monetary devaluation the worker must fight for a corresponding increase in the wages, then in case of a decrease in the above costs, due to a general growth of labour productivity, he must resist a decrease in wages because in the latter case the worker "would only try to get some share in the increased productive powers of his own labour,[44] and to maintain his former relative position in the social scale"[45].

Marx deals with the question of the work-day length and 'formulates the dual tendency of capital: towards longer working hours and higher labour intensity; hence he arrives at the conclusion that "in their attempts at reducing the working day to its former rational dimensions, or, where they cannot enforce a legal fixation of a normal working day, at checking overwork by a rise of wages ... working men fulfil only a duty to themselves and their race. They only set limits to the tyrannical usurpations of capital"[46]. By struggling for "a rise of wages corresponding to the rising intensity of labour, the working man only resists the depreciation of his labour and deterioration of his race"[47].

Thus the struggle of the working class for higher wages and shorter working hours is directly dictated by economic necessity; it flows directly from the general tendency of capital to reduce the cost of labour to its physical limit or still lower.


His economic studies of the late 1850s and mid-1860s prepared Marx for delving into the problems of the strike movement during the years of the 1st International (1864-1872).

The precept which defined the most urgent task of the International Marx formulated in the General Rules of the Association: "The success of the working men's movement in each country cannot be secured but by the power of union and combination"[48]. Proceeding from this task, Marx elaborated the tactics of the workers' movement, predicated on the implementation of this programme thesis. He started by substantiating the need for achieving unity of action in the strike struggle. He believed that such tactics would be best of all understood by the workers, regardless of their theoretical development, it would be easily assimilated by them because it was consonant with their vital interests.[49]

Marx sought to use the spontaneous upsurge in the workers' economic struggle of the 1860s in order to put into effect these tactics, as he well understood that it might become a prelude to the development of the class struggle, and its transition into an independent political movement of the working class. The very first steps in unifying the strike actions of the workers demonstrated his remarkable ability to identify the most burning task of the working class which matured in the course of its struggle.

On Marx's initiative on April 25, 1865 a new revolutionary tradition emerged in the international workers' movement which has continued into our day. At the meeting of the General Council Marx read the appeal of Berlin printing workers, requesting help for striking printers in Leipzig because there were plans to bring in workers from England to disrupt the strike.[50]

The General Council's warning against the hire of strike-breakers was published in a number of British newspapers. From that day the General Council began its steady daily efforts to organise international aid to the striking workers of England, France, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, and Switzerland. The General Council's action, to which Marx devoted special attention, bore fruit by the mid-1860s.

Under Marx's guidance the General Council fostered awareness and organisation in the strike movement, consolidating the feeling of class solidarity and proletarian internationalism. The correctness of the tactics Marx suggested was confirmed by the tremendous moral impact: each strike backed by the International brought an influx of workers into the International Workingmen's Association, trade unions increased their membership and new ones appeared. Marx noted in the General Council Report to the Basel Congress (1869) that even unsuccessful strikes were to a large extent compensated by the fact that hundreds of new participants were attracted to the "revolutionary army of labour" and thousands of proletarians were awakened from their slumber.

Marx and Engels constantly called on the workers to make use of the strike struggle. On more than one occasion Marx indicated that strikes taught the worker to see that his enemy was not an individual industrialist but the entire ruling class whose interests were represented by the bourgeois state. As far back as 1854 he wrote in connection with the Preston strike: "the working classes will now understand that the individual capitalist who opposes them is backed by the whole machinery of the state and that in order to hit the former they must deal with the latter"[51].

From the very first days of existence of the International Marx was confronted by the need to bring home to the foremost workers the theoretical rationale of the strike struggle. This was because of the underestimation of this form of struggle or even direct rejection of it within the General Council itself and in the labour movement in a number of countries. It concerned representatives of various trends involved in the Association, in particular the Proudhonists, Lassallians and Bakuninists. By rejecting labour's organised economic struggle they tried to prove that it was useless or even basically harmful.

While debating in his report "Wage, Price and Profit"[52] with the Owenist Weston, a Council member, Marx revealed the historical regularity of the proletariat's organised economic struggle against the capitalist yoke and demonstrated its place in the general liberation movement of the working class. His arguments refuted the considerations of Proudhonists and Lassallians and proved the historical regularity of the strike movement which came from the hired labour system itself.

Marx showed that rejection of the strike struggle by Proudhonists and Lassallians was the same as refusal by the workers to oppose the capitalists. The fight for higher wages, he said, is the answer to capital's steadily mounting attack against the working class.

The general tendency of capitalist production itself leads to lower wages. Daily clashes with capital signify that the workers are fighting for their own existence. Strikes are an effective form of pressure on the given capitalist and his ruling class backers. If the working class gives up its struggle against the inroads of capital and ceases its attempts to use every available chance for even a temporary improvement of its condition, it will degenerate into a mass of destitute people.

At the same time Marx drew attention to the exaggeration of the end results of the strike struggle which existed among British trade-unionists. It is necessary to remember, he said, that in this struggle the working class is "fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects"[53].

At the first Congress of the International held at Geneva in 1866 "Instruction"[54] written by Marx was read, which outlined the platform for the economic struggle of the proletariat. It included, Marx wrote to Engels, only those points "which allow of immediate and concerted action by the workers, and give direct nourishment and impetus to the requirements of the class struggle and the organisation of the workers into a class"[55].

In section 2 of "Instruction" entitled "International Combination of Efforts, by the Agency of the Association in the Struggle between Labour and Capital" attention was drawn to the particular function of the International "to counteract the intrigues of capitalists always ready, in case of strikes and lockouts, to misuse the foreign workman as a tool against the native workman..."[56]. This task was substantiated by the following argument: "It is one of the great purposes of the Association to make the workmen of different countries not only feel but act as brethren and comrades in the army of emancipation"[57].

The "Instruction" was read at the Congress as the General Council Report and intensive debate followed. Marx's supporters defended its tenets, particularly on strikes. The Geneva Congress Resolution included all the provisions of the Marxian "Instruction". The Congress outlined the prospects for advancing the workers' movement, the urgency of combining the economic and political struggle and the immense importance of such a labour weapon as strikes. Life demonstrated how right Marx was when he noted that all the main points of the programme reflected the genuine interests of the workers.

Marxian ideas also triumphed during the discussions on strikes at the Lausanne (1867) and Brussels (1868) Congresses. Both refuted Proudhonist allegations to the effect that strikes are a useless, barbarian instrument which allegedly ran counter to the interests of the workers. The resolution of the Brussels Congress recorded the Marxian point of view: strikes are an indispensable means of struggle against the capitalist yoke.[58] By the end of the 1860s the working class as a whole realised the importance of organised economic struggle.

On the basis of preceding studies, Marx substantiated in detail in Volume I of Capital (1867) the workers' struggle for a reasonable working-day. Backed by his distinction between constant and variable[59] capital, he demonstrated the complete inconsistency of the bourgeois economic dogma according to which profit represented the result of the last hour (or hours) of the worker's labour, the so-called Senior's last hour. Marx notes that shorter hours do indeed lower the rate of surplus-value but that is a long way from destroying profit.[60]

Marx demonstrated, further, that in principle it is impossible to fix precisely the length of the work-day. Its minimum limit is clear: it is determined by the necessary working time. But its maximum limit - in accordance with the dual nature of labour cost considered above - is predicated on two factors: the physical limit of labour as well as by moral limits - the worker requires time for his intellectual and social needs, the amount of which is determined by the general state of culture. It is this duality in determining the ultimate limit of the work-day that makes it impossible to determine precisely its value: it fluctuates between its physical maximum and social optimum (in the same measure as it is possible to speak of optimal limits of the work-day within the framework of the capitalist mode of production) just like market prices fluctuate around cost. The laws of commodity exchange sanction either of the two values: the right of the worker as seller of labour to demand a price equivalent to the cost of his commodity (social optimum) and the right of the capitalist as buyer to use the purchased commodity to the utmost (physical maximum). Marx theoretically substantiated the urgency of constant class struggle for shorter hours. It was based on a vast body of factual material.

A part of the section concerning the limits of the work-day in Volume I of Capital is written in the form

of a polemic dialogue between the worker and the capitalist, here Marx stressed that "during the great strike of the London builders, 1860-1861, for the reduction of the work-day to 9 hours, their Committee published a manifesto that contained, to some extent, the plea of our worker"[61]. Later, already after the publication of volume I the New York and London sections of the 1st International printed the dialogue in leaflet form.

In analysing the general formula of capital circulation (C-M-C) Marx came to the conclusion that "the circulation of capital has therefore no limits"[62]. In the sphere of exploitation it manifests itself in the insatiable craving for surplus-labour, the capitalist drive to prolong hours without end. This objective tendency of capitalist production prematurely wears out and destroys the labour force and tears up by the roots "the living force of the nation"[63]. Marx demonstrated that, using the vast documentary material of the Blue Books, officially published by the British Parliament.

Only after the laws regulating the length of the work-day, which "were the result of a long struggle of classes"[64], took firm roots in major branches of industry "their wonderful development ... hand-in-hand with the physical and moral regeneration of the factory workers struck the most purblind"[65].

Marx draws the general conclusion that the workers' movement "had grown instinctively out of the conditions of production themselves"[66]. Its result - the legal shortening of hours - marks an important stage on the road towards revolutionary transformation of bourgeois society. Marx focused attention on the tendency to transform factory legislation into a general law of all social production because by accelerating the concentration of capital and replacing transient forms by unmasked domination of capital "it also generalises the direct opposition to this sway"[67].

Limiting by law the length of the work-day is also, as Marx demonstrated, a real way to combat partial employment. It destroys the relation between paid and unpaid labour, its regularity and leads to alternating periods of exhausting labour and total unemployment. In this connection Marx analyses the demands of London builders during the great strike of 1860 which were aimed at opposing the tendency of capital to pay less for work by employing more people or, conversely, by prolonging the work-day.

In conclusion Marx formulates and thoroughly substantiates "the absolute general law of capitalist accumulation", reflecting the tendency to worsen working class conditions and, withal, a rise in the class struggle and awareness of the workers as capital accumulates[68]. Though Marx calls this law "absolute", he immediately lists numerous circumstances, capable of modifying its coming into effect, especially working class resistance. We have witnessed that this law is the result of the generalisation of lengthy studies which date as far back as the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Both in this final formulation and in all the previous ones, Marx underscores the qualitative aspect of deteriorating. working class conditions, having no bearing on the wage level.

Marx's general conclusion is a logical consequence of the sum total of his economic studies: capitalist exploitation increases, "but with this too grows the revolt of the working class, a class always increasing in numbers, and disciplined, united, organised by the very mechanism of the process of capitalist production itself"[69]. The struggle for higher wages and shorter hours is an integral component of this objective process and, in this sense, plays the full-fledged role of a political and economic factor, an economic force which develops in the bowels of the capitalist mode of production and precipitates the inevitable expropriation of expropriators.


[1] F. Engels, The Peasant War in Germany, Moscow, 1965, p. 23

[2] K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1975, p. 370.

[3] K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, 4, Moscow, 1975, p. 501.

[4] Ibid., p. 512

[5] K. Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Moscow, 1967, p. 29

[6] K. Marx and F. Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 9, Moscow, 1977, p. 209

[7] K. Marx, F. Engels, Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), Section I, Vol. 10, 1977, p. 509

[8] K. Marx, Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Okonomie Rohentwurf. 1857-1858, Berlin, 1974, p. 194

[9] Ibid., p. 195

[10] Ibid., pp. 197-198.

[11] Ibid., p. 197

[12] Ibid., p. 965

[13] Ibid., p. 702

[14] Ibid., p. 970

[15] K. Marx, F. Engels, Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), Section II, Vol. 3, Ch. 1, Berlin, 1975, p. 37

[16] K. Marx considers the case when increased labour productivity has not yet become general for the given branch of production, as a result, the capitalist sells the product as if the manufacture of this product necessitated more working time than was actually the case.

If the necessary working time was equal to 10 hours, and surplus time was equal to 2 hours, then after the increase of individual labour productivity by a quarter the necessary working time would be 10 x 3/4 = 7 1/2 hours, whereas the surplus time would be 2 x 3/4 -= 1 1/2 hours, and the work-day could have been reduced from 12 to 9 hours, provided the rate of exploitation remained unchanged at 20 per cent. However, the capitalist acts otherwise. Marx notes that the capitalist continues to make the workers toil 12 hours, paying for 7 1/2 hours of the necessary working time, and therefore pocketing 4 1/2 hours K. Marx, F. Engels, Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), Sec. II, Vol. 3, Ch. 1, p.216. The rate of exploitation in this case triples from 20 to 60 per cent. Marx stresses the general nature of this consideration, independent of whether subsistence means consumed by the worker are produced at the given enterprise or not.

[17] Ibid., Ch. 6, Berlin, 1982, p. 2186

[18] Ibid., Ch. 1, p. 39

[19] Ibid., p. 46

[20] K. Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value, Moscow, 1978, p. 333

[21] Ibid., p. 334

[22] K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1969, p. 71

[23] Ibid., p. 73

[24] K. Marx, F. Engels, Gesamtausgabe, (MEGA), Sec. II, Vol. 3, Ch. 1, p. 83

[25] Ibid., p. 41

[26] Ibid., Ch. 6, p. 2091

[27] Ibid., p. 1910

[28] Ibid., Ch. 1, p. 226

[29] Ibid., p. 103

[30] Ibid., PP. 1907-1908

[31] Ibid., p. 2057

[32] We have noted that in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 Marx was already interested in the relative deterioration of working class conditions. Here he resolves this problem, relying on his discovery of the tendency indicating the growth of organic composition of capital during the process of capitalist production and consequent alienation and controversy between labour and capital. One of its manifestations is a steady relative overpopulation as a result of capitalist use of machines. Marx, in speaking of the mass of "semi-employed or completely unemployed ... for ever crawling around at the bottom" of bourgeois society, points out the relative diminishing of this fund "from which the workers draw their revenue ... in proportion to their total output". But in absolute terms, wage labour is increasing its proportions and there occurs "the perpetuation of wage-slavery through the application of machinery" K. Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value, Part 2, Moscow, 1968, pp. 260, 566, 573.

[33] K. Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value, Part 3, Moscow, 1978, pp. 352-353

[34] Arkhiv Marksa i Engelsa, Vol. II(VII), Moscow, 1933, p. 116. K. Marx, Erstes Buch. Der Produktionsprozess des Kapitals. Seehstes Kapital. Resultate des unmittelbaren Produktionsprozesses. (Unver Offentliches Manuskript zum I. Band des "Kapital")

[35] K. Marx, F. Engels, Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), Sec. II, Vol. 3, Ch. 1, pp. 112, 114

[36] Ibid., p. 236

[37] Ibid., pp. 114, 118

[38] Ibid., p. 156

[39] Ibid., p. 170

[40] It so happens because 1) the worker gets his wages after completing his work; 2) he really gives his labour to the capitalist as use-value of labour as a commodity. Therefore, though the capitalist pays only for a part of the worker's labour, even unpaid labour is shown as paid labour.

[41] K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1969, p. 62

[42] K. Marx, Theories of Surplus-Value, Part 2, Moscow, 1968, p. 439

[43] K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1969, pp. 56, 67

[44] We have earlier described a similar worker's right to a part of the difference between the social and individual cost of the product created by him, between the growing individual cost of his labour and its social cost which remained unchanged.

[45] Ibid., p. 66

[46] Ibid., p. 68

[47] Ibid., p. 69

[48] Ibid., p. 21

[49] See A.I. Bakh, "Struggle of Marx and Engels in the 1st International for the Unity of Action of International Proletariat", Novaya i noveishaya istoria, 1964, No. 5, pp. 19-20.

[50] Printers of Berlin asked for an appeal to the IWA and in particular the printers of London "to support the struggle of their Leipzig class brothers".

[51] K. Marx, F. Engels, Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), Sec. I, Vol. 13, Berlin, 1985, p. 172

[52] A brief characteristic of the theoretical content of this important work of Marxism was given above. Now it is necessary to dwell on how theoretical tenets, concerning organised struggle of the working class, were used by Marx to determine the practical tasks of the workers' movement.

[53] K. Marx and F. Engels, Selected Works, Vol. 2, Moscow, 1969, p. 75

[54] "Instruction for the Delegates of the Provisional General. Council. The Different Questions", ibid., pp. 77-85

[55] Ibid., p. 417

[56] Ibid., p. 78)

[57] Ibidem

[58] "Troisieme congres de l'Association Internationale des Travailleurs. Compte rendue officiel", Supplement au journal Le Peuple Beige, September 6-30, 1868, Brussels, p. 17.

[59] ['changing' in the original - SP]

[60] Marx pays attention to the fact that, having become convinced of the falseness of the dogma he professed, Senior "at a later period ... energetically supported the factory legislation" (K. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1969, p. 220. The point is that "actual experience" quite eloquently testified against the said dogma. Marx cites a factory report of May 31, 1855 which said: "Had the ... ingenious calculation made by Senior been correct, every cotton factory in the United Kingdom would have been working at a loss since the year 1850" (Ibid).

p. 219. It is also necessary to note that Marx subjected Senior's conception to criticism for the first time in his 1861-1863 manuscript (see: K. Marx, F. Engels, Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), Sec. II, Vol. 3, Ch. 1, pp. 157-158; 175-180; 305-306).

[61] K. Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, Moscow, 1969, p. 225

[62] Ibid., p. 150

[63] Ibid., p. 229, 253

[64] Ibid., p. 268

[65] Ibid., p. 279

[66] Ibid., p. 285

[67] Ibid., p. 472

[68] Ibid., pp. 602-604, 611

[69] Ibid., p. 715