Comments on Liesl Orr's "Socialism and Gender Equality: What lessons can be learned?" (African Communist No. 156, First Quarter, 2001).

Dominic Tweedie. 6/12/2004 (Quotes from Liesl Orr's article are in bold and italic)

"[T]he wife … differs from the ordinary courtesan [prostitute] only in that she does not hire out her body, like a wageworker, on piecework, but sells it into slavery once and for all." (Engels, 1972:79) He envisaged the liberation of women through the overthrow of capitalism.

In his view within a classless society the family would be replaced by non-exploitative freely-chosen sexual unions within which the status of male and female would be equal.

What Engels finally describes (in "The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State") is bourgeois marriage and bourgeois relations of production and property. The implication is not simply that socialism or classless society (communism) will administratively replace this form with "freely-chosen sexual unions". The process described in the whole work is much more organic.

The state is the instrument of the ruling class. Forms of sexual relation are based on relations of property and production and generalised by the ruling class through the instrument of state power.

Bourgeois marriage developed with the bourgeois class under feudalism, only graduating in its full form when the bourgeois class gains state power. The proletarian class should (by extrapolation from Engels' general thesis that marriage forms are primarily determined by the objective position of the class in relation to production) develop its own form of marriage, and this should be happening now within bourgeois society, although overlaid with the conventional bourgeois marriage form.

The proletarianisation of women (the socialisation of the whole of their production, and not just in the form of housework) should be a condition for the development of a proletarian marriage form. Under bourgeois conditions this development could go quite far.

Liesl Orr's approach is to ask: Why did the Soviet Union not solve the problem?, and other similar questions. I think the questions are, rather: What does proletarian marriage look like? Can it be observed in any part of the world? If not, then has marriage ceased to be defined by relations of production, as it previously was throughout history? And if that is the case, then why?

Both state and family are products of class relations. We should not necessarily expect one derivative product to dictate a change in the other. In fact the tendency of the Stalinist proletarian state to attempt such feats by administrative coercion is just what we criticise about Stalinism.

The following extract illustrates the determinism that sees women’s oppression as a simple derivative of class relations: "The supremacy of the man in marriage is the simple consequence of his economic supremacy, and with the abolition of the latter will disappear of itself." (Engels, 1972). This is deterministic because it views reproductive and gender relations as a "simple consequence" of productive and class relations

This is a reading of "The Origin of the Family" which substitutes the simplicity of its conclusion for the detail of its argument. It is hard to see the critical value of the word "determinist" in this context. Engels has already, in the book, gone into the historical specifics in a fairly exhaustive way. His conclusion is simple in the same sense as the "withering away of the state" is simple. It means that without its economic base, any social phenomenon must wither, which is surely true.

What is not implied is any time scale or fixity of relation in time between loss of base and withering of superstructure. In other words, without a subjective effort, the disappearance of male supremacy might take an inordinately long time. The latter would be fair comment, and a good case for applying Marx's 11th Thesis on Feuerbach ("the point is to change [history]").

A crucial element of the feminist critique of Marxism is of the narrow conception of production, which separates between production of things and of people. Although there are references to labour and production as encompassing all activities necessary for the reproduction of human life, this is not carried through Engels and Marx’s analysis.

Rather, the production of things (which depends on the organisation of labour) is emphasised and the production of people (which depends on the organisation of the family) is often altogether absent. Sometimes even more narrowly, the production of things is confined to the production of things with exchange value only. This means that large areas of human activity are often overlooked in Marxist political economy and the distinctive relationships that women and men have to the spheres of production and reproduction are not analysed (Kabeer, 1994:44).

The primary discovery of Marxist political economy is the source of capital. That is to say: the source of profit and therefore of accumulation. Marx inherited from Ricardo and others the labour theory of value. What was not yet explained was how increase was obtained.

Marx showed that simply inflating prices would only pay Paul by robbing Peter, and therefore this type of phenomenon (which some nowadays call "gouging") could not explain the manifest overall increase in national wealth in the bourgeois political economy. (See "Capital" Vol 1, Chapter 5).

His resolution of the mystery of the source of increase rests precisely on his appreciation of the production of people as commodities, the labour that went into this production of "labour power", and the fact that it had to be paid for. In this sense there is no difference between things as commodities and people (ready-to-work labour power) as commodities. (See "Capital" Vol 1, Chapter 6).

The difference between labour and all other commodities is only that labour can produce more than it costs. The workers must in general be paid for the labour that goes into producing them. If not, the workforce starts to die out, creating a shortage. But workers can produce a lot more than what they cost, which is not true of any other inputs. Workers, and only workers, "add value".

The value of all other prior input commodities ("frozen labour") is a dead weight on the final cost of any composite commodity. Live labour, on the other hand, generates value while it is being used up. (See "Capital" Vol 1, Chapters 7 - 9).

Marx's way of stating the difference between value of labour-power and the value of its product confuses the issue. Marx has to say that the worker works so many hours for himself and so many surplus hours for the boss, as if the bourgeois set-up is analogous to the feudal system. He has to say this in order to show where increase and accumulation are coming from.

The full process is shown in "Capital" to be four-fold. Labour-power is contracted for to be exchanged at its (labour) value, like any other commodity exchange (labour-power for money). Then labour power is used up as labour in the production of commodities, which are entirely expropriated by the capitalist. When these two pairs of action are netted off, it can be seen that more labour has been expended than has been paid for. Just how crucial it is to see these four moves in full, as well as the net position, is apparent in Engels' Preface to "Capital", Vol 2, the relevant part of which I have attached (because it is quite long) at the end of this document.

Marx’s formulation of the worker working for himself for so many hours, and then giving free surplus labour to the boss, is based on the commensurability of labour time and its universal validity as the source of exchange value in commodities. So this formulation does work as a calculating device. But elsewhere, and for example in Part VII of “Value, Price and Profit”, Marx writes:

“To say that the value of a ten hours working day is equal to ten hours' labour, or the quantity of labour contained in it, would be a tautological and, moreover, a nonsensical expression. Of course, having once found out the true but hidden sense of the expression "value of labour," we shall be able to interpret this irrational, and seemingly impossible application of value, in the same way that, having once made sure of the real movement of the celestial bodies, we shall be able to explain their apparent or merely phenomenal movements.

“What the working man sells is not directly his labour, but his labouring power, the temporary disposal of which he makes over to the capitalist.”

The sections concludes:

“,,,it will be seen that the value of labouring power is determined by the value of the necessaries required to produce, develop, maintain, and perpetuate the labouring power.”

In Part VIII of “Value Price and Profit” Marx writes:

“In buying the labouring power of the workman, and paying its value, the capitalist, like every other purchaser, has acquired the right to consume or use the commodity bought. You consume or use the labouring power of a man by making him work, as you consume or use a machine by making it run. By buying the daily or weekly value of the labouring power of the workman, the capitalist has, therefore, acquired the right to use or make that labouring power during the whole day or week. The working day or the working week has, of course, certain limits, but those we shall afterwards look more closely at.

“For the present I want to turn your attention to one decisive point. The value of the labouring power is determined by the quantity of labour necessary to maintain or reproduce it, but the use of that labouring power is only limited by the active energies and physical strength of the labourer.”

And at the beginning of Part IX of “Value Price and Profit”:

“We must now return to the expression, "value, or price of labour." We have seen that, in fact, it is only the value of the labouring power, measured by the values of commodities necessary for its maintenance. But since the workman receives his wages after his labour is performed, and knows, moreover, that what he actually gives to the capitalist is his labour, the value or price of his labouring power necessarily appears to him as the price or value of his labour itself.”

The point continues to be obscured in modern Marxist texts. For example, in a recent manual on Political Economy drafted by ILRIG, the following sentence appears: "The important point is that the workers do not receive the full value of their labour". This removes the crucial distinction between labour power, the labour value of which is generally paid for in full, and the product of labour (a greater value) which is wholly expropriated by the capitalist and not paid for at all.

The fact is that a person can generate enough value to live and humanly reproduce with relatively little effort and then has time and energy to produce a lot more, which the boss grabs, or as we would say, expropriates (makes into property).

Part 10 of “Value, Price and Profit” is headed “Profit is Made by Selling a Commodity at its Value”. It concludes:

“I repeat, therefore, that normal and average profits are made by selling commodities not above, but at their real values.”

Labour power is also sold in this “normal” case, at its real value. Only in the case of extraction of “super-profits” or in other words “primitive accumulation”, is labour power sold and bought for less than its real value. Marx deals with various kinds of primitive accumulation in the last eight short chapters of Capital (Chapters 26 – 33).

In this basic explanation of surplus value the recognition of the labour value of labour power itself is a fundamental prerequisite. This labour is applied by the family as a whole, including the women.

So to say that, in Marx: "the production of things… is emphasised and the production of people… is often altogether absent" is plain wrong, in my opinion. On the contrary, it is Marx's understanding of the production of commodified people that is the key to the whole subsequent scheme which Lenin called "Marx's Economic Doctrine".

Liesl Orr seems to miss this altogether, but Marx keeps coming back to it, for example on the last page of "Value, Price and Profit". Rather, it is bourgeois economics that tends to eliminate the production of people from its calculations, by projecting the narrow formulation, "cost of living".

From the last page of “Value, Price and Profit”:

“These few hints will suffice to show that the very development of modern industry must progressively turn the scale in favour of the capitalist against the working man, and that consequently the general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour more or less to its minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation. I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.

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

Here Marx shows in unmistakable terms, the relationship between the “minimum limit” (the value of labour power) and wages. He concedes to his opponent (Citizen Weston) that wage struggles are only palliative, and proceeds to argue for a “larger movement”, with a “revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wages system!". He is describing the limits of trade unionism. Thus he is here, in 1865, anticipating Lenin in 1902 in “What is to be done”, Chapter 4, section C:

“C. Organisation of Workers and Organisation of Revolutionaries

“It is only natural to expect that for a Social-Democrat whose conception of the political struggle coincides with the conception of the "economic struggle against the employers and the government", the "organisation of revolutionaries" will more or less coincide with the "organisation of workers". This, in fact, is what actually happens; so that when we speak of organisation, we literally speak in different tongues. I vividly recall, for example, a conversation I once had with a fairly consistent Economist, with whom I had not been previously acquainted. We were discussing the pamphlet, Who Will Bring About the Political Revolution? and were soon of a mind that its principal defect was its ignoring of the question of organisation. We had begun to assume full agreement between us; but, as the conversation proceeded, it became evident that we were talking of different things. My interlocutor accused the author of ignoring strike funds, mutual benefit societies, etc., whereas I had in mind an organisation of revolutionaries as an essential factor in "bringing about" the political revolution. As soon as the disagreement became clear, there was hardly, as I remember, a single question of principle upon which I was in agreement with the Economist!

“What was the source of our disagreement? It was the fact that on questions both of organisation and of politics the Economists are forever lapsing from Social-Democracy into trade-unionism. The political struggle of Social-Democracy is far more extensive and complex than the economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government. Similarly (indeed for that reason), the organisation of the revolutionary Social-Democratic Party must inevitably be of a kind different from the organisation of the workers designed for this struggle. The workers' organisation must in the first place be a trade union organisation; secondly, it must be as broad as possible; and thirdly, it must be as public as conditions will allow (here, and further on, of course, I refer only to absolutist Russia). On the other hand, the organisation of the revolutionaries must consist first and foremost of people who make revolutionary activity their profession (for which reason I speak of the organisation of revolutionaries, meaning revolutionary Social-Democrats). In view of this common characteristic of the members of such an organisation, all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals, not to speak of distinctions of trade and profession, in both categories, must be effaced. Such an organisation must perforce not be very extensive and must be as secret as possible.”

Here we see the theory of surplus value underpinning general revolutionary theory. It is not for nothing that the theory of surplus value is held to be the key to everything; and sitting at the base of this theory itself is the question of the unsocialised and unpaid contribution of women in the creation of labour power.

The Marxist theory of surplus value is therefore also the key to understanding the resolution of the gender question. Women will have to be socialised in production generally, before the labour of raising the new generation of workers will be fully paid for. This labour is currently given free more often than not, and expropriated by the bourgeoisie in a variation on the theme of “primitive accumulation”.

Where to from here?

Bourgeois class relations pose the possibility of full socialisation of production. By this is meant, in bourgeois conditions, the entry of all able-bodied non-bourgeois humans directly into commodity production. (Socialism requires socialisation of production, plus socialisation of ownership).

In practice, bourgeois society has never been able to achieve this. It is also unwilling to do so in specific instances. For example, the labour recruited in the past for mining operations in South Africa was cropped from people living in pre-bourgeois conditions at home and was not paid for at its equivalent production cost in the bourgeois political economy. This was the source of so-called "super-profits" in those days.

The unpaid work of home-bound women in the production of ready-to-work labour power may be regarded in the same light. Production that is not socialised within the bourgeois system is disregarded. So women are providing free "super-profits" to capital.

The first remedy is to bring women into socialised production generally. This has the same effect as abolishing the Bantustans. It does not relieve the women from exploitation altogether. But it does reduce the basis for the extraction of "super-profits" from women's labour in the home. It is notable that when women have at times entered the workforce on more equal terms with men, as in Britain during the Second World War, the bourgeois state acted as soon as possible to reverse the situation, when the war was over.

From “Capital”, Chapter 15, Section 2:

“Before the labour of women and of children under 10 years of age was forbidden in mines, capitalists considered the employment of naked women and girls, often in company with men, so far sanctioned by their moral code, and especially by their ledgers, that it was only after the passing of the Act that they had recourse to machinery. The Yankees have invented a stone-breaking machine. The English do not make use of it, because the "wretch" who does this work gets paid for such a small portion of his labour, that machinery would increase the cost of production to the capitalist. In England women are still occasionally used instead of horses for hauling canal boats, because the labour required to produce horses and machines is an accurately known quantity, while that required to maintain the women of the surplus-population is below all calculation. Hence nowhere do we find a more shameful squandering of human labour-power for the most despicable purposes than in England, the land of machinery.”

The short chapters (26 to 33) in Marx's "Capital" on primitive accumulation have relevance here. They deal, among other things, with child labour, extension of hours, and colonialism. They show that while the working of the capitalist system does produce profit on the basis of simple surplus value alone, yet at the same time there is nothing in the system that prevents the shameless, primitive, gouging that generates "super-profits". Therefore there is room for subjective action against primitive means of accumulation, such as that of the home-bound and unsocialised labour of women, without necessarily posing a revolutionary challenge to capitalism as such. Women's emancipation need not wait for the proletarian revolution.

The second remedy is the "outing" of the proletarian marriage-form. In my opinion the concept of cash payment for housework hardly begins to accomplish this necessary goal, although it may help. Maternity leave and child allowances are steps in this direction, especially when they are attached as conditions of employment.

What is the proletarian marriage-form? The answer should be a logical sequence to Engels' work. It is not an abstract question. It should arise from the concrete position of the proletariat.

From “Capital”, Chapter 15, Section 9:

“However terrible and disgusting the dissolution, under the capitalist system, of the old family ties may appear, nevertheless, modern industry, by assigning as it does an important part in the process of production, outside the domestic sphere, to women, to young persons, and to children of both sexes, creates a new economic foundation for a higher form of the family and of the relations between the sexes. It is, of course, just as absurd to hold the Teutonic-Christian form of the family to be absolute and final as it would be to apply that character to the ancient Roman, the ancient Greek, or the Eastern forms which, moreover, taken together form a series in historical development. Moreover, it is obvious that the fact of the collective working group being composed of individuals of both sexes and all ages, must necessarily, under suitable conditions, become a source of humane development; although in its spontaneously developed, brutal, capitalistic form, where the labourer exists for the process of production, and not the process of production for the labourer, that fact is a pestiferous source of corruption and slavery.”

Perhaps a good way to start is to imagine the proletarians stripped of all bourgeois impositions. These proletarians rent and reject home-ownership. All the services they consume are socially produced. They are mobile and communicate freely, through technology. They are consciously political – they form a "polis" in the Athenian sense. They work in different ways at different times. They are not bound to strict categories of employment. They are disciplined. They prefer to work or to study, and despise all kinds of loafing. Their children are schooled collectively from a young age.

The bourgeois worries that the family must be re-created in each generation. It is the only source of new labour-power that he can imagine (other than Bantustan-style production of extra-cheap labour-power). The bourgeoisie takes all kinds of measures to ensure that this re-creation happens – ideological, fiscal, and legislative measures, social workers, advice, instruction, and therapy. What if this is not done? What is the "default" condition of family relations in a proletariat that is not interfered with? This is surely not only a matter of choice, but also a matter of necessity.

If "the point is to change it", what kinds of things are to be changed? Is the removal of bourgeois impositions enough, or are there positive measures which need to be laid on so as to hasten the development of the new type of family relations? Are these measures only enabling, or also didactic?

Does this vision of proletarian marriage relations get disqualified as "gender blind"? Or is it actually "concrete" in the Marxist sense of dialectically synthetic and including both genders, but distinctly?

In my opinion, this is the way to develop an understanding. It has the possibility of generating a concrete vision that would surpass the liberal politics of victimhood.

Transformation and transition are words that occur in classic revolutionary literature, but always in the context of a vision of the destination (which in this literature is usually the dictatorship of the proletariat).

Transformation or transition without a destination is movement without an intended result. Saying that what is wanted is a relatively "better life" does not help much, unless the values that make up a better life are defined.


Karl Marx, Capital Volume II

Preface by F. Engels to the First Edition (part)


I consider this an opportune place to refute a certain charge which has been raised against Marx, first in only whispers, sporadically, but more recently, after his death, proclaimed an established fact by German Socialists of the Chair and of the State and by their hangers-on. It is claimed that Marx plagiarised the work of Rodbertus. I have already stated elsewhere [1] what was most urgent in this regard, but not until now have I been able to adduce conclusive proof.

As far as I know this charge was made for the first time in R. Meyer's Emancipationskampf des vierten Standes, p. 43: "It can be proved that Marx has gathered the greater part of his critique from these publications " — meaning the works of Rodbertus dating back to the last half of the thirties. I may well assume, until further evidence is produced, that the "whole proof" of this assertion consists in Rodbertus having assured Herr Meyer that this was so.

In 1879 Rodbertus himself appears on the scene and writes the following to J. Zeller (Zeitschrift fur die gesamte Staatswissenschaft, Tubingen, 1879, p. 219), with reference to his work Zur Erkenntniss unsrer staatswirtschaftlichen Zustande, 1842:

"You will find that this" (the line of thought developed in it) "has been very nicely used... by Marx, without, however, giving me credit for it." The posthumous publisher of Rodbertus's works, Th. Kozak, repeats his insinuation without further ceremony. (Das Kapital von Rodbertus. Berlin, 1884, Introduction, p. XV.)

Finally in the Briefe und Sozialpolitische Aufsatze von Dr. Rodbertus-Jagetzow, published by R. Meyer in 1881, Rodbertus says point-blank: "To-day I find I have been robbed by Schaffle and Marx without having my name mentioned. " (Letter No. 60, p..134.) And in another place, Rodbertus's claim assumes a more definite form: "In my third social letter I have shown virtually in the same way as Marx, only more briefly and clearly, what the source of the surplus-value of the capitalist is. " (Letter No. 48, p. 111.)

Marx had never heard anything about any of these charges of plagiarism. In his copy of the Emancipationskampf only that part had been cut open which related to the International. The remaining pages were not opened until I cut them myself after his death. He never looked at the Tubingen Zeitschrift. The Briefe, etc., to R. Meyer likewise remained unknown to him, and I did not learn of the passage referring to the "robbery" until Dr. Meyer himself was good enough to call my attention to it in 1884. However, Marx was familiar with letter No. 48. Dr. Meyer had been so kind as to present the original to the youngest daughter of Marx. When some of the mysterious whispering about the secret source of his criticism having to be sought in Rodbertus reached the ear of Marx, he showed me that letter with the remark that here he had at last authentic information as to what Rodbertus himself claimed; if that was all Rodbertus asserted he, Marx, had no objection, and he could well afford to let Rodbertus enjoy the pleasure of considering his own version the briefer and clearer one. In fact, Marx considered the matter settled by this letter of Rodbertus.

He could so all the more since I know for certain that he was not in the least acquainted with the literary activity of Rodbertus until about 1859, when his own critique of Political Economy had been completed, not only in its fundamental outlines, but also in its more important details. Marx began his economic studies in Paris, in 1843, starting with the great Englishmen and Frenchmen. Of German economists he knew only Rau and List, and he did not want any more of them. Neither Marx nor I heard a word of Rodbertus's existence until we had to criticise, in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, 1848, the speeches he made as Berlin Deputy and his actions as Minister. We were both so ignorant that we had to ask the Rhenish deputies who this Rodbertus was that had become a Minister so suddenly. But these deputies too could not tell us anything about the economic writings of Rodbertus. That on the other hand Marx had known very well already at that time, without the help of Rodbertus, not only whence but also how "the surplus-value of the capitalist " came into existence is proved by his Poverty of Philosophy, 1847, and by his lectures on wage-labour and capital, delivered in Brussels the same year and published in Nos. 264-69 of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung, in 1849. It was only in 1859, through Lassalle, that Marx learned of the existence of a certain economist named Rodbertus and thereupon Marx looked up the "third social letter" in the British Museum.

These were the actual circumstances. And now let us see what there is to the content, of which Marx is charged with "robbing" Rodbertus. Says Rodbertus: "In my third social letter I have shown in the same way as Marx, only more briefly and clearly, what the source of the surplus-value of the capitalist is. " This, then, is the crux of the matter: The theory of surplus-value. And indeed, it would he difficult to say what else there is in Marx that Rodbertus might claim as his property. Thus Rodbertus declares here he is the real originator of the theory of surplus-value and that Mars robbed him of it.

And what has the third social letter to say in regard to the origin of surplus-value? Simply this: That "rent, " his term which lumps together ground-rent and profit, does not arise from an "addition of value" to the value of a commodity, but "from a deduction of value from wages; in other words, because wages represent only a part of the value of a product," and if labour is sufficiently productive wages need not be "equal to the natural exchange-value of the product of labour in order to leave enough of this value for the replacing of capital (!) and for rent. We are not informed however what sort of a "natural exchange-value" of a product it is that leaves nothing for the "replacing of capital," consequently, for the replacement of raw material and the wear and tear of tools.

It is our good fortune to be able to state what impression was produced on Marx by this stupendous discovery of Rodbertus. In the manuscript Zur Kritik, notebook X, pp. 445 et seqq. we find a "Digression. Herr Rodbertus. A New Ground-Rent Theory. " This is the only point of view from which Marx there looks upon the third social letter. The Rodbertian theory of surplus-value in general is dismissed with the ironical remark. "Mr. Rodbertus first analyses the slate of affairs in a country where property in land and property in capital are not separated and then arrives at the important conclusion that rent (by which he means the entire surplus-value) is only equal to the unpaid labour or to the quantity of products in which this labour is expressed."

Capitalistic man has been producing surplus-value for several hundred years and has gradually arrived at the point of pondering over its origin. The view first propounded grew directly out of commercial practice: surplus-value arises out of an addition to the value of the product. This idea was current among the mercantilists. But James Steuart already realised that in that case the one would necessarily lose what the other would gain. Nevertheless, this view persisted for a long time afterwards, especially among the Socialists. But it was thrust out of classical science by Adam Smith.

He says in the Wealth of Nations, Vol. I, Ch. VI: "As soon as stock has accumulated in the hands of particular persons, some of them will naturally employ it in setting to work industrious people, whom they will supply with materials and subsistence, in order to make a profit by the sale of their work, or by what their labour adds to the value of the materials.... The value which the workmen add to the materials, therefore, resolves itself in this case into two parts, of which the one pays their wages, the other the profits of their employer upon the whole stock of materials and wages which he advanced. And a little further on he says: "As soon as the land of ally country has all become private property, the landlords, like all other men, love to reap where they never sowed, and demand a rent even for its natural produce...." The labourer "must give up to the landlord a portion of what his labour either collects or produces. This portion, or, what comes to the same thing, the price of this portion, constitutes the rent of land."

Marx comments on this passage in the above-named manuscript Zur Kritik, etc., p. 253:

"Thus Adam Smith conceives surplus-value — that is, surplus-labour, the excess of labour performed and realised in the commodity over and above the paid labour, the labour which has received its equivalent in the wages — as the general category, of which profit in the strict sense and rent of land are merely branches."

Adam Smith says furthermore (Vol. I, Ch. VIII): "As soon as land becomes private property, the landlord demands a share of almost all the produce which the labourer can either raise or collect from it. His rent makes the first deduction from the produce of the labour which is employed upon land. It seldom happens that the person who tills the ground has the wherewithal to maintain himself till he reaps the harvest. His maintenance is generally advanced to him from the stock of a master, the farmer who employs him, and who would have no interest to employ him, unless he was to share in the produce of his labour, or unless his stock was to be replaced to him with a profit. This profit makes a second deduction from the produce of the labour which is employed upon land. The produce of almost all other labour is liable to the like deduction of profit. In all arts and manufactures the greater part of the workmen stand in need of a master to advance them the materials of their work, and their wages and maintenance till it be completed. He shares in the produce of their labour, or in the value which it adds to the materials upon which it is bestowed; and in this share consists his profit."

Marx's comment (Manuscript, p. 256): "Here therefore Adam Smith in plain terms describes rent and profit on capital as mere deductions from the workman's product or the value of his product, which is equal to the quantity of labour added by him to the material. This deduction however, as Adam Smith has himself previously explained, can only consist of that part of the labour which the workman adds to the materials, over and above the quantity of labour which only pays his wages, or which only provides an equivalent for his wages; that is, the surplus-labour, the unpaid part of his labour."

Thus even Adam Smith knew "the source of the surplus-value of the capitalist," and furthermore also of that of the landlord. Marx acknowledged this as early as 1861, while Rodbertus and the swarming mass of his admirers, who grew like mushrooms under the warm summer showers of state socialism, seem to have forgotten all about that.

"Nevertheless, " Marx continues, "he [Adam Smith] does not distinguish surplus-value as such as a category on its own, distinct from the specific forms it assumes in profit and rent. This is the source of much error and inadequacy in his inquiry, and of even more in the work of Ricardo."

This statement fits Rodbertus to a T. His "rent" is simply the sum of ground-rent and profit. He builds up an entirely erroneous theory of ground-rent, and he accepts profit without any examination of it, just as he finds it among his predecessors.

Marx's surplus-value, on the contrary, represents the general form of the sum of values appropriated without any equivalent by the owners of the means of production, and this form splits into the distinct, converted forms of profit and ground-rent in accordance with very peculiar laws which Marx was the first to discover. These laws will be expounded in Book III. We shall see there that many intermediate links are required to arrive from an understanding of surplus-value in general at an understanding of its transformation into profit and ground-rent; in other words at an understanding of the laws of the distribution of surplus-value within the capitalist class.

Ricardo goes considerably further than Adam Smith. He bases his conception of surplus-value on a new theory of value contained in embryo in Adam Smith, but generally forgotten when it comes to applying it. This theory of value became the starting-point of all subsequent economic science. From the determination of the value of commodities by the quantity of labour embodied in them he derives the distribution, between the labourers and capitalists, of the quantity of value added by labour to the raw materials, and the division of this value into wages and profit (i.e., here surplus-value). He shows that the value of the commodities remains the same no matter what may be the proportion of these two parts, a law which he holds has but few exceptions. He even establishes a few fundamental laws, although couched in too general terms, on the mutual relations of wages and surplus-value (taken in the form of profit) (Marx, Das Kapital, Buch I, Kap. XV, A), and shows that ground-rent is a surplus over and above profit, which under certain circumstances does not accrue.

In none of these points did Rodbertus go beyond Ricardo. He either remained wholly unfamiliar with the internal contradictions of the Ricardian theory which caused the downfall of that school, or they only misled him into raising utopian demands (his Zur Erkenntnis, etc., p. 130) instead of inducing him to find economic solutions.

But the Ricardian theory of value and surplus-value did not have to wait for Rodbertus's Zur Erkenntnis in order to be utilised for socialist purposes. On page 609 of the first volume (Das Kapital, 2nd ed.) we find the following quotation, "The possessors of surplus-produce or capital," taken from a pamphlet entitled The Source and Remedy of the National Difficulties. A Letter to Lord John Russell, London, 1821. In this pamphlet of 40 pages, the importance of which should have been noted if only on account of the one expression "surplus-produce or capital," and which Marx saved from falling into oblivion, we read the following statements:

"...whatever may be due to the capitalist" (from the standpoint of the capitalist) "he can only receive the surplus-labour of the labourer; for the labourer must live " (p. 23).

But how the labourer lives and hence how much the surplus-labour appropriated by the capitalist can amount to are very relative things. "... if capital does not decrease in value as it increases in amount, the capitalists will exact from the labourers the produce of every hour's labour beyond what it is possible for the labourer to subsist on the capitalist may ... eventually say to the labourer,'You shan't eat bread ... because it is possible to subsist on beet root and potatoes.' And to this point have we come!" (Pp. 2.3-24.) "Why, if the labourer can be brought to feed on potatoes instead of bread, it is indisputably true that more can be exacted from his labour; that is to say, if when he fed on bread, he was obliged to retain for the maintenance of himself and family the labour of Monday and Tuesday, he will, on potatoes, require only the half of Monday·; and the remaining half of Monday and the whole of Tuesday are available either for the service of the state or the capitalist." (P. 26.) "It is admitted that the interest paid to the capitalists, whether in the nature of rents, interests on money, or profits of trade, is paid out of the labour of others." (P. 23.) Here we have exactly the same idea of "rent" as Rodbertus has, except that "interest " is used instead of "rent. "

Marx makes the following comment (manuscript Zur Kritik, p. 852):

"This little known pamphlet — published at a time when the "incredible cobbler" MacCulloch began to be talked about — represents an essential advance over Ricardo. It directly designates surplus-value, or 'profit' in the language of Ricardo (often also surplus-produce), or interest, as the author of this pamphlet calls it, as surplus-labour, the labour which the labourer performs gratuitously, which he performs in excess of that quantity of labour by which the value of his labour-power is replaced, i.e., an equivalent of his wages is produced. It was no more important to reduce value to labour than to reduce surplus-value, represented by a surplus-produce, to surplus-labour. This has already been stated by Adam Smith and forms a main factor in Ricardo's analysis. But they did not say so nor fix it anywhere in absolute form."

We read furthermore, on page 859 of the manuscript:

"Moreover, the author is a prisoner of the economic categories as they have come down to him. Just as the confounding of surplus-value and profit misleads Ricardo into unpleasant contradictions, so this author fares no better by baptising surplus-value with the name of 'interest of capital.' True, he advances beyond Ricardo by having been the first to reduce all surplus-value to surplus-labour. Furthermore, while calling surplus-value 'interest of capital,' he emphasises at the same time that by this term he means the general form of surplus-labour as distinguished from its special forms: rent, interest on money, and profit of enterprise. And yet he picks the name of one of these special forms, interest, for the general form. And this sufficed to cause his relapse into economic slang."

This last passage fits Rodbertus like a glove. He, too, is a prisoner of the economic categories as they have come down to him. He, too, applies to surplus-value the name of one of its converted sub-forms, rent, and makes it quite indefinite at that. The result of these two mistakes is that he relapses into economic slang, that he does not follow up his advance over Ricardo critically, and that instead he is misled into using his unfinished theory, even before it got rid of its egg-shell, as the basis for a utopia with which, as always, he comes too late. The pamphlet appeared in 1821 and anticipated completely Rodbertus's "rent" of 1842.

Our pamphlet is but the farthest outpost of an entire literature which in the twenties turned the Ricardian theory of value and surplus-value against capitalist production in the interest of the proletariat, fought the bourgeoisie with its own weapons. The entire communism of Owen, so far as it engages in polemics on economic questions, is based on Ricardo. Apart from him, there are still numerous other writers, some of whom Marx quoted as early as 1847 against Proudhon (Misere de la Philosophie, p. 49), such as Edmonds, Thompson, Hodgskin, etc., etc., "and four more pages of etceteras." I select the following at random from among this multitude of writings: An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth, Most Conducive to Human Happiness, by William Thompson; a new edition, London, 1850. This work, written in 1822, first appeared in 1824. Here likewise the wealth appropriated by the non-producing classes is described everywhere as a deduction from the product of the labourer and rather strong words are used. The author says:

"The constant effort of what has been called society, has been to deceive and induce, to terrify and compel, the productive labourer to work for the smallest possible portion of the produce of his own labour" (P. 28).

"Why not give him the whole absolute produce of his labour?" (P. 32.)

"This amount of compensation, exacted by capitalists from the productive labourers, under the name of rent or profits, is claimed for the use of land or other articles.... For all the physical materials on which, or by means of which, his productive powers can be made available, being in the hands of others with Interests opposed to his, and their consent being a necessary preliminary to any exertion on his part, is he not, and must he not always remain, at the mercy of these capitalists for whatever portion of the fruits of his own labour they may think proper to leave at his disposal in compensation for his toils?" (P· 125.)

"... in proportion to the amount of products withheld, whether called profits, or taxes, or theft" (p. 126), etc.

I must admit that I do not.write these lines without a certain mortification. I will not make so much of the fact that the anti-capitalist literature of England of the twenties and thirties is so totally unknown in Germany, in spite of Marx's direct references to it even in his Poverty of Philosophy, and his repeated quotations from it, as for instance the pamphlet of 1821, Ravenstone, Hodgskin, etc., in Volume I of Capital. But it is proof of the grave deterioration of official Political Economy that not only the Literatus vulgaris, who clings desperately to the coattails of Rodbertus and "really has not learned anything," hut also the officially and ceremoniously installed professor, who "boasts of his erudition," has forgotten his classical Political Economy to such an extent that he seriously charges Marx with having purloined things from Rodbertus which may be found even in Adam Smith and Ricardo.

But what is there new in Marx's utterances on surplus-value? How is it that Marx's theory of surplus-value struck home like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, and that in all civilised countries, while the theories of all his socialist predecessors, Rodbertus included, vanished without having produced any effect?

The history of chemistry offers an illustration which explains this.

We know that late in the past century the phlogistic theory still prevailed. It assumed that combustion consisted essentially in this: that a certain hypothetical substance, an absolute combustible named phlogiston, separated from the burning body. This theory sufficed to explain most of the chemical phenomena then known, although it had to be considerably strained in some cases. But in 1774 Priestley produced a certain kind of air "which he found to be so pure, or so free from phlogiston, that common air seemed adulterated in comparison with it." He called it "dephlogisticated air." Shortly after him Scheele obtained the same kind of air in Sweden and demonstrated its existence in the atmosphere. He also found that this kind of air disappeared whenever some body was burned in it or in ordinary air and therefore he called it "fire-air." "From these facts he drew the conclusion that the combination arising from the union of phlogiston with one of the components of the atmosphere" (that is to say, from combustion) "was nothing but fire or heat which escaped through the glass." [2]

Priestley and Scheele had produced oxygen without knowing what they had laid their hands on. They "remained prisoners of the" phlogistic "categories as they came down to them." The element which was destined to upset all phlogistic views and to revolutionise chemistry remained barren in their hands. But Priestley had immediately communicated his discovery to Lavoisier in Paris, and Lavoisier, by means of this discovery, now analysed the entire phlogistic chemistry and came to the conclusion that this new kind of air was a new chemical element, and that combustion was not a case of the mysterious phlogiston departing from the burning body, but of this new element combining with that body. Thus he was the first to place all chemistry, which in its phlogistic form had stood on its head, squareIy on its feet. And although he did not produce oxygen simultaneously and independently of the other two, as he claimed later on, he nevertheless is the real discoverer of oxygen vis-a-vis the others who had only produced it without knowing what they had produced.

Marx stands in the same relation to his predecessors in the theory of surplus-value as Lavoisier stood to Priestley and Scheele. The existence of that part of the value of products which we now call surplus-value had been ascertained long before Marx. It had also been stated with more or less precision what it consisted of, namely, of the product of the labour for which its appropriator had not given any equivalent. But one did not get any further. Some — the classical bourgeois economists — investigated at most the proportion in which the product of labour was divided between the labourer and the owner of the means of production. Others — the Socialists — found that this division was unjust and looked for utopian means of abolishing this injustice. They all remained prisoners of the economic categories as they had come down to them.

Now Marx appeared upon the scene. And he took a view directly opposite to that of all his predecessors. What they had regarded as a solution, he considered but a problem. He saw that he had to deal neither with dephlogisticated air nor with fire-air, b:lt with oxygen — that here it was not simply a matter of stating an economic fact or of pointing out the conflict between this fact and eternal justice and true morality, but of explaining a fact which was destined to revolutionise all economics, and which offered to him who knew how to use it the key to an understanding of all capitalist production. With this fact as his starting-point he examined all the economic categories which he found at hand, just as Lavoisier proceeding from oxygen had examined the categories of phlogistic chemistry which he found at hand. In order to understand what surplus-value was, Marx had to find out what value was. He had to criticise above all the Ricardian theory of value. Hence he analysed labour's value-producing property and was the first to ascertain what labour it was that produced value, and why and how it did so. He found that value was nothing but congealed labour of this kind, and this is a point which Rodbertus never grasped to his dying day. Marx then investigated the relation of commodities to money and demonstrated how and why, thanks to the property of value immanent in commodities, commodities and commodity-exchange must engender the opposition of commodity and money. His theory of money, founded on this basis, is the first exhaustive one and has been tacitly accepted everywhere. He analysed the transformation of money into capital and demonstrated that this transformation is based on the purchase and sale of labour-power. By substituting labour-power, the value-producing property, for labour he solved with one stroke one of the difficulties which brought about the downfall of the Ricardian school, viz., the impossibility of harmonising the mutual exchange of capital and labour with the Ricardian law that value is determined by labour. By establishing the distinction of capital into constant and variable he was enabled to trace the real course of the process of the formation of surplus-value in its minutest details and thus to explain it, a feat which none of his predecessors had accomplished. Consequently he established a distinction Inside of capital itself with which neither Rodbertus nor the bourgeois economists knew in the least what to do, but which furnishes the key for the solution of the most complicated economic problems, as is strikingly proved again by Book II and will be proved still more by Book III. He analysed surplus-value further and found its two forms, absolute and relative surplus-value. And he showed that they had played a different, and each time a decisive role, in the historical development of Capitalist production. On the basis of this surplus-value he developed the first rational theory of wages we have, and for the first time drew up an outline of the history of Capitalist accumulation and an exposition of its historical tendency.

And Rodbertus? After he has read all that, he — like the tendentious economist he always is — regards it as "an assault on society, " finds that he himself has said much more briefly and clearly what surplus-value evolves from, and finally declares that all this does indeed apply to "the present form of capital, " that is to say to capital as it exists historically, but not to the "conception of capital," namely the utopian idea which Herr Rodbertus has of capital. Just like old Priestly, who swore by phlogiston to the end of his days and refused to have anything to do with oxygen. The only thing is that Priestly had actually produced oxygen first, while Rodbertus had merely rediscovered a commonplace in his surplus-value, or rather his "rent," and that Marx, unlike Lavoisier, disdained to claim that he was the first to discover the fact of the existence of surplus-value.

The other economic feats performed by Rodbertus are on about the same plane. His elaboration of surplus-value into a utopia has already been unintentionally criticised by Marx in his Poverty of Philosophy. What else may be said about it I have said in my preface to the German edition of that work. Rodbertus's explanation of commercial crises as outgrowths of the underconsumption of the working-class may already be found in Sismondi's Nouveaux Principes de I'Economie Politique, book IV, ch. IV. [3]

However, Sismondi always had the world-market in mind, while Rodbertus's horizon does not extend beyond the Prussian border. His speculations as to whether wages are derived from capital or income belong to the domain of scholasticism and are definitely settled in Part III of this second book of Capital. His theory of rent has remained his exclusive property and may rest in peace until the manuscript of Marx criticising it is published. Finally his suggestions for the emancipation of the old Prussian landed property from the oppression of Capital are also entirely utopian; for they evade the only practical question raised in this connection, viz.: How can the old Prussian landed junker have a yearly income of, say, 20,000 marks and a yearly expenditure of, say, 30,000 marks, without running into debt?

The Ricardian school suffered shipwreck about the year 1830 on the rock of surplus-value. And what this school could not solve remained still more insoluble for its successor, Vulgar Economy. The two points which caused its failure were these:

1. Labour is the measure of value. However, living labour in its exchange with capital has a lower value than materialised labour for which it is exchanged. Wages, the value of a definite quantity of living labour, are always less than the value of the product begotten by this same quantity of living labour or in which this quantity is embodied. The question is indeed insoluble, if put in this form. It has been correctly formulated by Marx and thereby been answered. It is not labour which has a value. As an activity which creates values it can no more have any special value than gravity can have any special weight, heat any special temperature, electricity any special strength of current. It is not labour which is bought and sold as a commodity, but labour-power. As soon as labour-power becomes a commodity, its value is determined by the labour embodied in this commodity as a social product. This value is equal to the labour socially necessary for the production and reproduction of this commodity. Hence the purchase and sale of labour-power on the basis of its value thus defined does not at all contradict the economic law of value.

2. According to the Ricardian law of value, two capitals employing equal quantities of equally paid living labour all other conditions being equal, produce commodities of equal value and likewise surplus-value, or profit, of equal quantity in equal periods of time. But if they employ unequal quantities of living labour, they cannot produce equal surplus-values, or, as the Ricardians say, equal profits. Now in reality the opposite takes place. In actual fact, equal capitals, regardless of how much or how little living labour is employed by them, produce equal average profits in equal times. Here there is therefore a contradiction of the law of value which had been noticed by Ricardo himself, but which his school also was unable to reconcile. Rodbertus likewise could not but note this contradiction. But instead of resolving it, he made it one of the starting-points of his utopia. (Zur Erkenntnis, p. 131.) Marx had resolved this contradiction already in the manuscript of his Zur Kritik. According to the plan of Capital, this solution will be provided in Book III. Months will pass before that will be published. Hence those economists who claim to have discovered in Rodbertus the secret source and a superior predecessor of Marx have now an opportunity to demonstrate what the economics of a Rodbertus can accomplish. If they can show in which way an equal average rate of profit can and must come about, not only without a violation of the law of value, but on the very basis of it, I am willing to discuss the matter further with them. In the meantime they had better make haste. The brilliant investigations of the present Book II and their entirely new results in fields hitherto almost untrod are merely introductory to the contents of Book III, which develops the final conclusions of Marx's analysis of the process of social reproduction on a capitalist basis. When this Book III appears, little mention will be made of the economist called Rodbertus.

The second and third books of Capital were to be dedicated as Marx had stated repeatedly, to his wife.

Frederick Engels

London, on Marx's birthday, May 5, 1885


Notes


1. In the Preface to Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy, translated by E. Bernstein and K. Kautsky, Stuttgart, 1885.

2. Roscoe and Schorlemmer, Ausführiches Lehrbuch der Chemie, Braunschweig, 1877, I, pp. 13, 18.

3. 'Thus the home market becomes ever more constricted by the concentration of riches in the hands of a small number of proprietors, and industry is forced more and more to seek its outlets in foreign markets, where still greater revolutions await it' (i.e. the crisis of 1817, which Sismondi goes on to describe). 1819 edition, I, p. 336.