Wage Labor and Capital

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Wage Labor and Capital

 

(in German, Lohnarbeit und Kapital), a work by Karl Marx that offers a profound analysis of the relations of production in bourgeois society.

Wage Labor and Capital was first published as a series of lead editorials in the newspaper Neue Rheinische Zeitung on Apr. 5–8 and 11, 1849, but publication was interrupted by the suppression of the newspaper, causing the text to remain incomplete. It was first published as a separate pamphlet, but without the author’s participation, in 1880.

The original articles were based on a series of lectures given by Marx in December 1847 to the German Workers’ Society in Brussels. First translated into Russian by the Emancipation of Labor group and published in Geneva in 1883, the work may be found in the sixth volume of the second Russian edition of Marx and Engels’ complete works; Marx’ manuscript “Wages,” which served as the preliminary draft for his lectures, is also to be found there.

Wage Labor and Capital was the first published work by Marx to make a scientific inquiry into the capitalist mode of production, concentrating primarily on the basic relationship of production in bourgeois society—that between wage labor and capital. Marx criticized bourgeois political economy for regarding capital not as a social relationship but merely as the sum of those things that function as the means of production and thus as a perpetual economic category. Capital is “the production relationship of bourgeois society” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 6, p. 442) and represents a historical category intrinsic to the capitalist socioeconomic formation.

In Wage Labor and Capital, Marx analyzes wages and the laws that determine wage levels, examines the process of capital accumulation, demonstrates that the interests of wage labor and capital are diametrically opposed, and shows how the rapid growth of capital creates the preconditions for the revolutionary transformation of society. Still using the terminology of bourgeois political economy, Marx examines the main feature of labor power as a commodity, that is, its capacity to create value greater than its own cost. Thus Marx was approaching a resolution of the problem of surplus value, a problem actually worked out theoretically by Marx during the 1850’s and 1860’s.

In 1891 a new edition of Wage Labor and Capital appeared, edited and with an introduction by Engels. This edition was intended to aid agitation among the workers. Engels made a number of additions and changes in the text of the edition in order to make Marx’ 1849 discussion of economic problems consistent with his later, more mature views. In his introduction Engels wrote: “My alterations all turn on one point. According to the original, the worker sells his labor to the capitalist for a wage; according to the present text, what he sells is his labor power” (ibid., vol. 22, p. 205). The ideas presented in Wage Labor and Capital were developed further in later works by Marx and Engels, especially in Marx’ Kapital.

V. S. VYGODSKII