A Textbook issued by the Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R




The Price of Labour-power. Essential Nature of Wages

Under the capitalist mode of production, labour-power, like every other commodity, has value. The value of labour-power, expressed in money, is the price of labour-power.

The price of labour-power’ is unlike the price of other commodities. When a commodity producer sells cloth, say, in the market, the sum of money which he receives is simply the price of the commodity which he has sold. When a proletarian sells his labour-power to a capitalist and obtains a certain sum of money in the form of wages, that sum of money appears not as the price of the commodity labour-power but as the price of labour.

This comes about for the following reasons. First, the capitalist pays the worker his wages after the worker has expended his labour. Second, wages are fixed either in accordance with the amount of time worked (in hours, days, weeks) or in accordance with the quantity of product produced. Let us take our previous example. Let us suppose that the worker works 12 hours a day. During 6 hours he produces the value of 6 dollars, equal to the value of his labour-power. In the remaining 6 hours he produces the value of 6 dollars, which is appropriated by the capitalist as surplus-value. As the employer has hired the proletarian for a full working day, he pays him 6 dollars for the whole 12 hours of his labour. Thus a false impression is created, as though wages were the price of labour and 6 dollars were full payment for the whole of the I2-hour working day. In fact, the 6 dollars are/only the value of one day’s labour-power, whereas the proletarian’s labour has created value equal to 12 dollars. If wages at the given enterprise are worked out in relation to the product turned out, it looks as though the worker is paid for the labour expended in every unit of the commodity he has made, i.e., as above, that the whole of the labour expended by the worker has been fully paid for.

This deceptive appearance is not an accidental delusion. It arises from the very conditions of capitalist production, under which exploitation is concealed, slurred over and the relations between the employer and the wage-worker appear in distorted form as relations between equal commodity producers.

In reality the wages of the wage-worker are not the value or price of his labour. If we suppose that labour is itself a commodity and has value, then the magnitude of this value must be measured by some means. Evidently, the magnitude of “the value of labour", as of any other commodity, must be measured by the amount of labour contained in it. Such a supposition creates a vicious circle: labour is measured by labour.

Further, if a capitalist were to pay a worker “the value of his labour", i.e., were to pay for his labour to the full extent, there would then be no source for the capitalist’s wealth, i.e., no surplus-value, or, in other words, the capitalist mode of production could not exist.

Labour is the creator of the value of commodities, but labour is not itself a commodity and has no value. What in everyday life is called “the value of labour" is in reality the value of labour-power.

The capitalist buys on the market not labour but a special commoditylabour- power. The use of labour-power, i.e., the expenditure of the energy of the worker’s muscles, nerves and brain, is the process of labour. The value of labour-power is always less than the value newly created by the worker’s labour. Wages are the payment for only part of the working day, namely, for necessary labour-time. But in so far as wages take the form of payment for labour the impression is created that the whole of the working day is fully paid for. For this reason Marx calls wages in bourgeois society the transmuted form of the value or price of labour-power.

“Wages are not what they appear to be, namely the value, or price, of labour, but only a masked form for the value, or price, of labour-power." (Marx, “Critique of the Gotha Programme," Marx and Engels, Selected Works, 1950, English edition, vol. II, p. 27.)

Wages are the monetary expression of the value of labour power, its price, outwardly appearing as the price of labour.

Under slavery no buying and selling of labour-power takes place between slave-owner and slave. The slave is the property of the slave-owner. It therefore seems as though the whole of the slave’s labour is given for nothing, that even that part of his labour which replaces what has been spent on his upkeep is unpaid labour, labour for the slave-owner. In feudal society the necessary labour of the peasant on his own holding and his surplus labour on the landlord’s demesne are distinctly separated in time and space. Under the capitalist system even the unpaid labour of the wage-worker appears to be paid for.

Wages conceal all traces of the division of the working day into necessary and surplus labour-time, into paid and unpaid labour, and so cover up the relation of capitalist exploitation.

Basic Forms of Wages

The basic forms of wages are: (1) time wages and (2) piece wages (payment by the job).

Time wages are that form of wages under which the magnitude of a worker’s wages depends on the time which he works-in hours, days, weeks or months. In accordance with these units of time we distinguish payment by the hour, by the day, by the week, by the month.

With one and the same magnitude of time wages, the actual earnings of a worker can differ, depending on the length of the working day. The price of one working hour serves as the measure of payment to the worker for the labour expended by him in a unit of time. Although, as has been shown labour itself has no value, nor, consequently, any price, the conventional name “price of labour" is used to define the size of a worker’s earnings. The unit of measurement of the “price of labour" is provided by the payment for the labour of one working hour, or the price of one hour’s work. Thus if the average working day lasts 12 hours, and the average per-day value of labour-power is equivalent to 6 dollars, then the average price of a working hour (600 cents÷12) will be 50 cents.

Time wages enable the capitalist to intensify the exploitation of the worker by way of lengthening the working day-to lower the price of a working hour, while leaving the wages per day, week or month unchanged. Let us suppose that the daily rate of payment remains as before, 6 dollars, but the working day is increased from 12 to 13 hours. In such a case the price of 1 working hour (600 cents÷13) will be reduced from 50 to 46 cents. Under pressure of the workers’ demands the capitalist is sometimes obliged to raise the daily (and, accordingly, the weekly and monthly) rate of wages, but the price of 1 working hour may nevertheless remain unchanged or even decline. Thus, if the daily wage is raised from 6 dollars to 6 dollars 20 cents, while the working day is increased from 12 to 14 hours, the price of a working hour is thereby reduced (620 cents÷14) to 44 cents.

The growth in the intensity of labour means in practice also a fall in the price of a working hour, since the payment remains the same for a greater output of energy, equivalent to a lengthening of the working day. As a result of the fall in the price of a working hour the proletariat, in order to exist, is obliged to agree to a further lengthening of the working day. Both the lengthening of the working day and the unbounded intensification of labour lead to increased expenditure of labour-power and to its being undermined.

The lower the payment for each hour, the greater the amount of labour or the longer the working day that is needed for the worker to secure even a low wage. From another aspect, the lengthening of the working period brings in its turn a lowering of the payment for a working hour.

The capitalist makes use in his own interests of the circumstance that, with a lengthening of the working day or an increase in the intensity of labour, the payment for 1 hour labour is reduced. When conditions are favourable for the sale of commodities, he lengthens the working day, introduces overtime, i.e., work beyond the established duration of the working day. If market conditions are unfavourable and the capitalist is forced temporarily to reduce the extent of his production, he reduces the working day and introduces hourly rates of payment. Hourly rates, when the working day or working week are incomplete, sharply reduce earnings. If, In our example,. the working day be shortened from 12 to 6 hours while the rate of payment for labour remains, as before, 50 cents per hour, then the daily earnings for a worker amount in all to 3 dollars, i.e., they will be half the daily value of labour-power. Thus, the worker loses in earnings not only when the working day is lengthened beyond the usual duration but also when he is obliged to work short time.

“The capitalist can now wring from the labourer a certain quantity of surplus labour without allowing him the labour-time necessary for his own subsistence. He can annihilate all regularity of employment and, according to his own convenience, caprice and the interest of the moment make the most enormous overwork alternate with relative or absolute cessation of work." (Marx, Capital, Kerr edition, vol. 1, p. 597.)

With time wages the size of the worker’s earnings bear no direct relation to the degree of intensity of his labour: if the intensity of labour is increased, time wages are not raised and in fact the price of a working hour falls. So as to intensify exploitation the capitalist employs special overlookers who see that the workers obey capitalist labour discipline and intensify this discipline still further.

Time wages were widespread in the early stages of the development of capitalism, when the employer, meeting as yet little organised resistance from the workers, was in a position to increase surplus-value by lengthening the working day. Time wages have been retained, however, even in the highest phase of capitalism. In a number of cases they offer several advantages to the capitalist: through speeding up the movement of the machinery the capitalist obliges the workers to work still more intensively, without increasing their wages.

Piece wages (payment by results) is that form of wages under which the size of the worker’s earnings depends on the quantity of articles or separate parts which he produces, or the number of operations he completes, in a given unit of time. Under time wages payment for labour expended varies with its length, under piece wages it vanes with the amount of articles produced or operations completed, each of which is paid for at a definite rate.

In fixing the rate, the capitalist takes into account, first, the time wages of the worker per day and, second, the amount of articles or parts which the worker produces in the course of a day; usually he fixes the production quota at the highest level attained by a worker. If the average daily wage in the given ranch of production under time wages amounts to 6 dollars, and the quantity of articles of a particular kind produced by a worker is 60, then the piece-rate for an article or part will be 10 cents. In fixing the piece-rate the capitalist strive that the hourly (daily, weekly) earnings of a worker should not be higher than under time wages. Thus, piece wages are fundamentally a modified form of time wages.

Piece wages, even more than time wages, give rise to the deceptive appearance that the worker is selling the capitalist not labour-power but labour, and is receiving full payment for his labour in accordance with the amount he produces.

Capitalist piece-wage systems lead to continually greater intensification of labour. In addition they help the entrepreneur in the matter of supervision of the workers. The degree of intensity of labour is here controlled by the quantity and quality of the product which the worker must make in order to obtain the means of subsistence which he needs. The worker is compelled to increase his output by working more intensively. But as soon as a more or less considerable section of the workers achieve the new, heightened level of intensity of labour, the capitalist lowers the piece-rates. If, in our example, the piece-rate is halved, say, the worker is obliged, in order to keep his earnings at their former level, to work twice as hard, i.e., either to work longer hours or to work at still greater intensity, so that in one day he can produce not 60 but 120 parts. “The worker tries to keep up the amount of his wages by working more, whether by working longer hours or by producing more in one hour.... The result is that the more he works, the less wages he receives." (Marx, “Wage Labour and Capital", Marx and Engels, Selected Works, 1950, English edition, vol. 1, p. 95) This is the most important peculiarity of piece wages under capitalism. Time and piece forms of wages are often in force at the same time in one and the same enterprise. Under capitalism both of these forms of wages are only different ways of intensifying the exploitation of the working class.

Capitalist piece-work provides the basis for the sweating systems of wages which are applied in capitalist countries.

Sweating Systems of Wages

The most important feature of capitalist piece-work is the unbounded intensification of work, which drains the worker’s entire strength. At the same time the wages paid do not compensate for this increased expenditure of labour-power. Beyond the limits of a certain length and intensity of work, no additional payment can avert direct destruction of labour-power.

As a result of the use in capitalist enterprises of exhausting methods of organising labour, towards the end of the working day an overstrain of the worker’s muscular and nervous strength usually makes itself felt, which leads to a falling-off in the productivity of labour. In his pursuit of increased surplusvalue the capitalist resorts to various sweating systems of wages, so as to achieve a high intensity of labour throughout the entire length of the working day. Under capitalism it is such aims as these that are served by the so-called “scientific organisation of labour". Widespread forms of such organisation of labour, with use of wage-systems which are extremely exhausting in their effect on the worker, are Taylorism and Fordism, underlying both of which is the principle of raising the intensity of labour to the maximum.

The essence of Taylorism (the system is named after its deviser, the American engineer F. Taylor) is as follows. The strongest and most dexterous workers in the enterprise are picked out. They are obliged to work at their maximum intensity. Their execution of each separate operation is timed in seconds and fractions of a second. On the basis of the data obtained by this time-study a production regime and time norms are laid down for the whole mass of the workers. When he overfulfils the norm (the “job"), the worker receives a small addition to his daily wage-a bonus; if the norm is not fulfilled the worker is paid at a lower rate. Capitalist organisation of labour in accordance with Taylor’s system sucks out all the worker’s strength; and transforms him into an automaton mechanically performing the same movements over and over again

V. I. Lenin gives an actual example (the work of loading pig-iron on to a truck), where with the introduction of Taylor’s system into the execution of one operation alone a capitalist was able to reduce the number of workers from 500 to 140, i.e., to divide it by 3.6; by monstrously intensifying the work, the daily norm of a worker engaged in loading was raised from 16 to 59 tons, i.e., multiplied by 3.7. While a worker now carried out in one day work which previously he had taken three to four days to carry out, his daily wages normally increased (and then only for a time) by only 63 per cent in all. In other words, with the introduction of this system of payment the daily earnings of a worker were divided, in fact, if one compares them with the labour expended, by 2.3. “As a result," wrote Lenin, In those same 9-10 hours of work three times as much labour is extorted from the worker, all his strength is ruthlessly exhausted, every drop of the wage-slave’s nervous and muscular energy is sucked out of him at treble speed. Does he die sooner than he would have done? There are many others at the gate! ... “ (Lenin, “A ‘Scientific’ System of Squeezing Out Sweat", Works, Russian edition, vol. XVIII, p, 556.)

Lenin called such ways of organising the worker’s labour and wages a “scientific" system of squeezing out sweat.

The system of organising labour and wages introduced by the American “automobile king" H. Ford and other capitalists (the, system of Fordism) has the same aim, that of extracting the largest possible amount of surplus-value by maximising the intensity of labour. This it achieves by continually greater speeding-up of the conveyor belts and introduction of sweating systems of wage-payment. The simplicity of the work operations performed by a worker at one of Ford’s conveyor belts makes it possible to use the labour of unskilled workers on a wide scale and to fix a low rate of wages for them. The tremendous intensification of labour is not accompanied by any increase in wages or reduction of working hours. The result is that the worker quickly becomes worn out and transformed into a sick man; he is dismissed from the works ,as unfit and falls into the ranks of the unemployed.

Intensified exploitation of the workers is attained also by other systems of organising labour and wages which are variants of Taylorism and Fordism. Among these is the Gantt system (U.S.A.). Unlike Taylor’s piece-work system, the Gantt system is one of time-bonuses. The worker is assigned a certain “job" and a very low guaranteed payment is fixed for a unit of working time, regardless of fulfilment of the norm. If he fulfils the norm the worker is paid a small addition to his guaranteed minimum-a “bonus". The Halsey system (U.S.A.) is based on the principle of bonus payments for “time saved" supplementing an “average wage" per hour’s work. Under this system, for example, when the intensity of labour is doubled, for every hour of “saved" time a “bonus" is paid, amounting to about a third of the hourly rate. By this method, the more intensive the worker’s labour the greater the degree to which his wages fall in relation to the labour it he expends. The Rowan system (Britain) is based on the same principles.

A method of increasing surplus-value which is grounded in deception of the workers is socalled “profit-sharing". On the pretext of giving the workers an interest in raising the profitability of the enterprise, the capitalist lowers the workers’ wages and at their expense sets up a fund for “distribution of profits among the workers". Later on, towards the end of the year, the worker is paid, under the name of “profit", what is in fact part of the wages which had previously been kept back from him. In the end the worker who is “sharing the profits" receives in fact less than the usual wages. For the same purpose shares in an enterprise are distributed among the workers.

The capitalists’ tricks in all kinds of wage systems are aimed at extracting as much surplus-value as possible from the workers. The employers use such methods in order to befuddle the workers’ minds with an imaginary interest in intensifying labour, reducing expenditure on wages per unit of production and raising the profits of the concern. In this way the capitalist strives to weaken the proletariat’s resistance to the offensive of capital, to induce the workers to refuse to join trade unions or take part in strikes and to bring about a split in the labour movement.

Behind all the various forms of capitalist piece-work the essence remains the same: as the intensity and productivity of labour is raised the workers’ earnings in fact fall while the capitalist’s income increases.

Nominal and Real Wages

In the early stage of capitalism’s development payment of wages to the workers in kind was widespread: the worker received shelter, some meagre food and a little money.

Wages in kind survive to some extent even into the machine period of capitalism. They existed, for instance in the extractive and textile industries of pre-revolutionary Russia. Wages in kind are widespread in capitalist agriculture where the labour of poor peasants is used, in certain branches of industry in the capitalist countries, and in the colonial and dependent countries. The forms in which the worker is paid in kind vary. The capitalists place the workers in a position where they are forced to take food on credit from the factory shop, to lease a dwelling near the mine or on the plantation on oppressive terms fixed by their employer, etc. Under methods of wage-payment in kind the capitalist exploits the wageworker not only as a seller of labour-power but also as a consumer.

Money wages are characteristic of the capitalist mode of production in its developed form.

Nominal wages must be distinguished from real wages.

Nominal wages are wages expressed in money; the sum of money which the worker receives from the sale of his labour-power to the capitalist.

Nominal wages do not in themselves give any idea of the actual level of payment received by the worker. For example, nominal wages may remain unchanged, but if at the same time taxes and the prices of consumer goods rise, the worker’s actual wages fall. Nominal wages may even increase but if the cost of living rises to a greater extent in the same period of time, then in fact wages have fallen.

Real wages are wages expressed in terms of the worker’s means of subsistence; they show how many and what kinds of consumer goods and services a worker can buy with his money wages. To determine a worker’s real wage, one must start the size of his nominal wages, the level of prices of goods, the level of rents, the burden of taxes borne by the workers, the circumstances that some days he may receive no wages owing to short-time working, and the number of unemployed and semi-unemployed who are supported by the’ working class. One must also take into account the length the working day and the degree of intensity of labour.

In determining the average level of wages bourgeois statistics distort reality: they include in wages the incomes of the upper administrative groups of the industrial and financial bureaucracy (managers of enterprises, bank directors, etc.); include only the wages of skilled workers in the category of wages while excluding from it the numerous stratum of poorly-paid, unskilled workers and the agricultural proletariat; ignore the huge army of unemployed and semi-unemployed, the rise in the prices of mass consumer goods and in taxation; and resort to other methods of falsification so as to embellish the situation of the working class under capitalism.

Even falsified bourgeois statistics cannot, however, hide the fact that wages under capitalism, owing to their low level, the raising of the cost of living and the growth of unemployment fail to guarantee a living wage to the majority of the workers.

In 1938 some bourgeois economists in the U.S.A. worked out, using extremely modest standards, a living wage for a worker’s family consisting of four persons: 2,177 dollars a year. Yet in 1938 the average wage per head of an industrial worker in the U.S.A. amounted to 1,176 dollars, i.e., considerably less than half of his living wage; if the unemployed were brought into the calculation, the figure came to 740 dollars, i.e., only a third of this subsistence minimum. In 1937 a quite humble living wage for an average worker’s family in Britain was defined by some bourgeois economists at 55s. a week. Official figures showed that 80 per cent of the workers in the coal industry, 75 per cent of the workers in the extractive industries other than coal mining, and 57 per cent of municipal workers in Britain were being paid less than this subsistence minimum.

Decline of Real Wages under Capitalism

On the basis of his analysis of the capitalist mode of production, Marx established the following fundamental law relating to wages. “The general tendency of capitalist production is not to raise but to sink the average standard of wages." (Marx, “Wages, Price and Profit", Marx and Engels, Selected Works, 1950, English edition, vol. I, p. 405.)

Wages as the price of labour-power, like the price of any other commodity, are determined by the law of value. The prices of commodities vary in capitalist economy both above and below their value, under the influence of supply and demand. But unlike the prices of other commodities the price of labour-power, as a rule, tends to fall below its value.

This tendency of wages to fall below the value of labour-power is due above all to the existence of unemployment. The capitalist tries to buy labour-power as cheap as he can. When there is unemployment the supply of labour-power exceeds the demand for it. The commodity labour-power differs from others in that the proletarian cannot put off selling it. So as not to die of hunger, he is compelled to sell his labour-power on whatever terms the capitalist offers him. In periods of complete, or partial unemployment the worker is either entirely without wages or else their level falls sharply. When there is unemployment this intensifies competition among the workers. Taking advantage of this, the capitalist pays the worker wages which are less then the value of his labourpower. In this way the wretched situation of the unemployed; who form part of the working class, has an effect on the material position of the workers in employment, reducing the level of their wages.

Furthermore, the use of machinery provides the capitalist with extensive opportunities of substituting female and child labour for men’s. The value of labour-power is determined by the value of the means of subsistence which are needed by a worker and his family. When, therefore, the worker’s wife and children are drawn into production, the worker’s wages fall and the entire family now receives approximately the same amount as previously was received by the head of the family only. This by itself means that the working class as a whole is being exploited still more intensely. In capitalist countries women workers doing the same work as men are paid considerably less wages.

Capital extorts surplus-value by unrestrainedly exploiting child labour. The wages of children and youths are much lower than those of adult workers in all capitalist and colonial countries.

The average wage of a woman worker is lower than the average wage of a male worker by 41 per cent in the U.S.A. (1949),46 per cent in Great Britain (1951), and 42 per cent in Western Germany (1951). The difference is even more marked in colonial and dependent countries.

In the U.S.A. in 1949, according to conservative figures, more than 3,300,000 of the wageworkers were children and youths. The working day for children and youths is very long; thus, in starch works and in canning and meat factories, laundries and dry-cleaning workshops, children work 12-13 hours a day.

In Japan the practice of selling children for work in the factories is widespread. Child labour was employed extensively in Tsarist Russia. A considerable section of the workers in textile and several other kinds of enterprise in Russia was made up of children aged eight to ten.

The exploitation of child labour by capital assumes particularly cruel forms in colonial and dependent countries. In the textile and tobacco factories of Turkey children of seven to fourteen work a full working day, the same as adults.

The low wages of women workers and the exploitation of child labour brings in its train a tremendous growth of sickness and child mortality and has a baneful effect on the upbringing and education of the rising generation.

The decline in the workers’ real wages is caused also by the fact that, as capitalism develops, the position of a substantial section of the skilled workers deteriorates. As already mentioned, the expenses of a worker’s training enter into the value of his labour-power. A skilled worker creates more value, including surplus-value, in a given unit of time, than an unskilled worker. The capitalist is obliged to pay for skilled labour more than he pays for unskilled. But as capitalism develops, with the growth of industrial technique, while on the one hand there arises a demand for highly-skilled workers, able to control and operate complicated mechanisms, on the other hand many workoperations are simplified and the labour of a considerable section of the skilled workers becomes redundant. Considerable sections of the skilled workers lose their skill, are pushed out of employment and are forced to take up unskilled work which is paid a great deal less.

The rise in the cost of living and the fall in the level of real wages connected with this are caused also by the rise in prices of mass consumer goods. Thus, in France, on account of inflation, retail prices of foodstuffs stood in 1938 at a level more than seven times as high as in 1914.

A considerable part of the worker’s wages is absorbed by rent. In Germany between 1900 and 1930 the average rent grew by 69 per cent. According to the figures of the International Labour Office, in the 1930’s the workers spent on rent heating and lighting, in the U.S.A., 25 percent of their family budgets, in Britain 20 per cent and in Canada 27 per cent. In Tsarist Russia workers’ expenditure on housing came to as much as a third of their wages.

Taxes which fall on the working people make a big deduction from their wages. In the principal capitalist countries in the post-war period direct and indirect taxes absorb as much as a third of the wages of a working-class family.

One widespread method of reducing wages was the system of fines. In Tsarist Russia, until the promulgation of the law on fines (1886), which somewhat restricted the arbitrary behaviour of the factory owners, deductions from wages in the shape of fines amounted in certain cases to as much as half the monthly earnings of a worker. A worker was fined on every kind of pretext: for “unsatisfactory work", for “breach of regulations", for talking, for taking part in demonstrations, etc. Fines serve not only as a means of strengthening capitalist labour discipline but also as a source of additional income for the capitalist.

Another factor in the decline of the workers’ real wages is the exceptionally low wages received by the agricultural proletariat. The great army of surplus labour-power in the countryside exerts a constant downward pressure on the wage-level of the employed workers.

Thus, for example, during the period 1910-39 the average monthly wage of an agricultural worker in the U.S.A. varied between 28 to 47 per cent of the wage of an industrial worker. The situation of the agricultural workers in Tsarist Russia was an exceptionally hard one. For a working day of 16-17 hours the average daily wage drawn by a seasonal agricultural worker in Russia in 1901-10 amounted to 69 kopeks, and the miserable pay which he thus obtained during ploughing, sowing and harvest periods had to support him during the remaining months of the year when he was completely or partially unemployed.

So, with the development of the capitalist mode of production the real wages of the working class suffer a reduction.

In 1924 the real wages of the German workers were 75 per cent of what they had been in 1900, and in 1935 they were 66 per cent. In the U ,S.A. the average nominal wages of the workers (unemployed included) grew by 68 per cent between 1900 and 1938; in the same period, however, the cost of living rose to 2.3 times its height at the beginning of the century, so that the workers’ real wages fell by much as 74 per cent between these years. In France, Italy and Japan, not to speak of the colonial and dependent countries, the decline real wages in the nineteenth to twentieth centuries was considerably greater than in the U.S.A. In Tsarist Russia in 1913 the real wages of industrial workers had fallen by not less than 90 percent from the level in 1900.

The value of labour-power is not identical in all countries.

The conditions which determine the value of labour-power vary from one country to another. This, fact gives rise to national differences in wages. Marx wrote that, in making comparisons between wages in different countries, one must take into account all the factors which determine variations in the magnitude of the value of labour-power: the historical conditions under which the working class was formed and its established level of requirements, the cost of training a worker, the part played by the labour of women and children, the productivity of labour, the intensity of labour, the prices of consumer goods, etc.

An especially low level of wages is to be observed in colonial and dependent countries. In carrying out its policy of enslaving; and systematically plundering the colonial and dependent countries, capital takes advantage of the great surplus of working; hands available in those countries and pays for labourpower at very much less than its value. In this connection the worker’s nationality is taken into account. Thus, for instance, whites and Negroes doing the same work are paid at different rates. In South Africa the average wage of a Negro worker is only one-tenth that of a white worker. In the U.S.A. Negroes in the cities are paid two-fifths as much, and in agriculture hardly one-third as much as whites who do the same work.

The bourgeoisie creates, at the expense of the lowered wages of the basic mass of the workers and the plunder of the colonies, privileged conditions for a relatively small stratum of well-paid workers. The bourgeoisie uses the socalled aristocracy of labour formed from these well-paid strata, including a section of trade union officials and co-operative bureaucrats, some of the foremen, etc., for the purpose of splitting the labour movement, and poisoning the consciousness of the basic mass of proletarians with preachings about class peace and the unity of interests between exploiters and exploited.

The Struggle of the Working Class to Raise Wages

In each country a certain level of wages is established on the basis of the law of the value of labour-power, as a result of a fierce class struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

The extent to which wages can diverge from the value of labour-power has its limits.

The minimum limit of wages under capitalism is fixed by purely physical conditions: the worker must have that quantity of means of subsistence which he needs absolutely in order to live and reproduce his labour-power. “If the price of labour-power falls to this minimum it falls below its value since under such circumstances, it can be maintained and developed only in a crippled state. (Marx, Capital, Kerr edition, vol. 1, p. 192.) When wages fall below this limit there occurs tin accelerated process of direct physical destruction of labour-power and dying-off of the working population. This finds expression in a shortening of the average expectation of life, a fall in the birth rate and an increase in the mortality rate among the working population, both in the developed countries and also and especially, in the colonial countries.

The maximum limit of wages under capitalism is the value of labour-power. The degree to which the average level of wages approximates to this limit is determined by the relation of class forces as between proletariat and bourgeoisie.

The bourgeoisie endeavours, in its striving for greater profits, to reduce wages below the physical minimum limit. The working class fights against cuts in wages and for increased wages, for the establishment of a guaranteed minimum wage, for the introduction of social insurance, and for a shorter working day. In this struggle the working class is opposed by the capitalist class as a whole and by the bourgeois State.

The stubborn struggle waged by the working class to raise wages had its beginning along with the rise of industrial capitalism. It developed first in Britain, and later spread to the other capitalist countries and to the colonies.

As the proletariat takes shape as a class the workers come together in trade unions for the purpose of successfully conducting their economic struggle. The result of this is that the employer finds himself opposed no longer by individual proletarians but by an entire organisation. With the development of the class struggle, besides local and national trade unions there came into being international associations of trade Unions. The trade unions provide a school of class struggle for the broad masses of the workers.

On their part, the capitalists come together in employers’ associations. They bribe venal and reactionary trade union officials, organise strike-breaking, split the workers’ organisations, and use the police, troops, courts and prisons to suppress the labour movement.

One of the effective methods of struggle used by the workers under capitalism to secure increased wages, shorter working hours and improved conditions of work is the strike. As class contradictions become more acute and the working-class movement becomes better organised in the capitalist and colonial countries, many millions of workers are drawn into strike struggles. When workers struggling against capital show determination and stubbornness, economic strikes force the capitalists to accept the strikers’ terms.

It is only as a result of the unremitting struggle of the working class for its vital interests that the bourgeois States are compelled to promulgate laws on minimum wages, on reduction of working hours and on restriction of child labour.

The economic struggle of the proletariat is of great importance: as a rule, trade unions under steadfast class leadership put up a successful resistance to the employers. The struggle of the working class is a factor which to a certain extent restrict the fall in wages. But the economic struggle of the working class cannot abolish the system of capitalist enslavement of the working people and deliver the workers from exploitation and want.

While recognising the great importance of the economic struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie, Marxism-Leninism teaches that this struggle is directed merely against the consequences of capitalism and not against the root cause of the oppressed situation and poverty of the proletariat. This root cause is the capitalist mode of production itself.

Only through revolutionary political struggle can the working class abolish the system of wage slavery, the source of its economic and political oppression.


(1) In capitalist society wages are the monetary expression of the value of labour-power, its price, appearing to be the price of labour. Wages hide the relationship of capitalist exploitation, creating the false impression that all the worker’s labour is paid for, whereas in reality wages constitute only the price of his labour-power.

(2) The main forms of wages are time wages and piece wages. Under the time-wage system the size of the worker’s wage-packet depends on the time he spends at work. Under the piece-wage system the size of the worker’s wage-packet depends on the number of articles he produces. For the purpose of increasing surplus-value the capitalists employ a variety of sweating systems of wage-payment, which lead to a tremendous increase in the intensity of labour and to an accelerated wearing-out of labour-power.

(3) Nominal wages are the amount of money received by the worker for the labour-power which he sells to the capitalist. Real wages are wages expressed in terms of the worker’s means of subsistence; they show what quantity of means of subsistence and services the worker can buy for his money wages.

(4) As capitalism develops real wages fall. Unlike the prices of other commodities the price of labour-power, as a rule, fluctuates below its value. This is due above all to the existence of unemployment, to extensive use of female and child labour and to the paying of extremely low wages to the agricultural workers and also to the workers in the colonial and dependent countries: An important factor in the decline in real wages is the rise in the prices of consumer goods, high rents and the growth of taxation.

(5) The working class, united in trade unions, conducts a struggle to shorten working hours and raise wages. The economic struggle of the proletariat against capital cannot by itself free the proletariat from exploitation. Only with the liquidation of the capitalist mode of production through revolutionary political struggle can the conditions be eliminated under which the working class is economically and politically oppressed.