125 J. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis, London, 1967, p. 883.
126 Rosa Luxemburg, op. cit., pp. 18-19.
Here it only remains to turn to a consideration of the so-called theory of the 'absolute immiseration' or long-term impoverishment of the masses, which, since Bernstein, has been often attributed to Marx by a variety of commentators: notably, until a few years ago, by the most primitive exponents of 'dialectical materialism' in the Soviet Union.
Not only is such a theory absent in Marx, but it would have been impossible for him to have produced it, as is proved simply by one thing (among others): that Marx introduces an explicitly historical-moral component into the determination of the 'price of labour' (thus distinguishing himself from Ricardo). In determining the 'sum of means of subsistence' necessary for the maintenance of a worker 'in his normal state as a labouring individual', it is not enough, Marx argues, to consider only 'natural wants such as food, clothing, fuel and housing, 'which "vary according to the climatic and other physical conditions of his country".' It is also necessary to consider that the 'number and extent of so-called necessary wants, as also the modes of satisfying them, are themselves the product of historical development and depend therefore to a great extent on the degree of civilization of a country, more particularly on the conditions under which, and consequently on the habits and degree of comfort in which, the class of free labourers has been formed'. This historically relative character of the determination of the 'price of labour' is explicitly stated: 'In contradistinction . . . to the case of other commodities, there enters into the determination of the value of labour-power a historical and moral element.' If we reflect on this we can understand that for Marx, above all others, it is impossible in principle to speak of a long-term immiseration of the workers, a worsening in absolute terms of their living standards in the centuries of capitalist development.
It is true that in the Manifesto and many other writings, Marx refers to a pauperization of the working class, its growing dependence for its subsistence on the will of others, that is of the capitalists; he writes of the 'immiseration', 'degeneration' and 'enslavement' of the workers and refers to the growing precariousness and insecurity of their labour: 'To the extent that capital is accumulated, the situation of the worker whatever his retribution, high or low, can only worsen' (my italics). But this conviction, to which Marx remained faithful all his life, can only mean one thing: capitalist development, contrary to illusions of 'betterment' nourished by reformists, is not destined to transform everyone into capitalists and property owners; nor will it abolish, by gradual reforms,
127 Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p. 171.
the basic social inequality between capital and labour but quite to the contrary tends constantly to reproduce it, and to reproduce it in an aggravated form. This is a theory, in other words, of relative immiseration or an increase in the imbalance or inequality of the workers' conditions in relation to the conditions of the class that owns the means of production.
As Marx wrote in 1849:
A noticeable increase in wages presupposes a rapid growth of productive capital . . . [which] brings about an equally rapid growth of wealth, luxury, social wants, social enjoyments. Thus, although the enjoyments of the worker have risen, the social satisfaction that they give has fallen in comparison with the increased enjoyments of the capitalist, which are inaccessible to the worker in comparison with the state of development of society in general. Our desires and pleasures spring from society; we measure them, therefore, by society and not by the objects that serve for their satisfaction, because they are of a social nature, they are of a relative nature.
Hence not only does Marx's theory not exclude increases in real wages, but this increase, whatever Bernstein and Joan Robinson may think, proves absolutely nothing which contradicts Marx's thought. Indeed, the theory of increasing exploitation holds good even in the case where wages have risen. And not only because the increase of the workers' enjoyment does not exclude that the 'social satisfaction' he obtains from it diminishes proportionately, but because we measure our needs and enjoyments not only by 'the material means for their satisfaction', but according to a social scale or social 'relation'. 'Just as little as better clothing, food and treatment and a larger peculium, do away with the exploitation of a slave, so little do they set aside that of the wage-worker." This is, in fact, the decisive point in the entire Marxist theory of exploitation -- a point on which our own reading of the theory of value as a theory of alienation can help to throw light. It is the dependence which ties the workers to the will of the capitalist class, and not their absolute poverty, that represents 'the differentia specifca of capitalist production'. In other words, capitalist appropriation is not exclusively or primarily an appropriation of things, but rather an appropriation of subjectivity, of working energy itself, of the physical and intellectual powers of man.
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128 J. Gillman, The Falling Rate of Profit, London, 1957, pp. 145 ff.
129 Marx, Wage Labour and Capital, in Selected Works, op. cit., pp. 84-5.
130 Marx, Capital, Vol. I, p. 618.