Summary: Karl Marx’s Wage Labour and Capital

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Karl Marx was a German philosopher, political economist, and revolutionary socialist popular in the late nineteenth century for developing Marxism, a socialist movement that was a response to the criticisms he had with Capitalism. Marx held a widespread appeal when it came to his moral approach to social-economic problems and his insights into the relationships between different institutions. Marx’s ideologies are heavily influenced by growing up in Britain during the Industrial Revolution Due to increased agricultural productivity, fewer people needed to work in agriculture to feed the population causing them to pursue jobs in other avenues. Capitalism during the Industrial Revolution is commonly associated with long hours, low wages, dangerous working conditions, child labor, and high unemployment. This led Marx to publish different works in hopes of pointing out his criticisms. one of these works being a pamphlet called “Wage Labour and Capital,” which was written and published in 1847 in response to the exploitation wage workers experienced, and the class struggle capitalism produced.

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According to Marx, two main classes contributed to Industrial Capitalism, the capitalists and the workers. The capitalists owned most of the factors of production, which were lands, factories, and the capital to invest. The workers on the other hand only had their labour. Marx believed that the difference in who controlled the means of production lead to exploitation in capitalism, in the form of wage labour. If a worker lacked the means to produce his own goods, there is only one thing of value that he holds, his labour. Workers would sell their labour to a capitalist for a fixed wage that they both agreed on. Marx explains how labour is a commodity that can be bought and sold just like any other commodity. He states, “The two shillings with which he bought 20 pounds of sugar is the price of the 20 pounds of sugar. The two shillings with which he bought 12 hours’ use of labour-power, is the price of 12 hours’ labour.” (CIT) The wage the capitalists give to the worker could have been spent on any other commodity such as machinery to do the work, so the worker’s labor is viewed as a commodity measured by money and a clock, rather than a scale.

The relationship between the capitalist and the worker theoretically should be equal. As mentioned earlier, to survive, a worker requires basic necessities such as food, housing, and clothing. The capitalist offers to pay the worker a certain amount of money in exchange for their work. The worker is getting paid for their work and the capitalist is getting the product he needs; however, Marx would argue that the worker is only being paid enough to live on and that they were being paid less than the worth of what they were producing. It’s the difference between the value of a worker’s wage and the value of what’s produced that leads to a surplus in capitalism. People were producing more than they needed to survive, but instead of that surplus being equally distributed between the two classes, society was set up so that the capitalist simply did not need to labour at all, while the workers had to work even harder. For example, it could take a worker only a few hours a day to produce enough goods which would cover their daily living expenses but may be scheduled to work more hours. The extra hours they work allow a surplus of products the capitalist can profit off of. The only way the capitalist makes any type of profit is if the worker they hire produce more product in the hour than they are being paid for, leading towards workers being exploited. This created a class struggle between the capitalist, who wanted labour at the lowest price possible and the workers who wanted to be paid as much as possible for their work.

Marx also argued that the capitalist is not expected to care about the health or well-being of the working class. Marx states that this type of social struggle could be compared to times of slavery and feudalism. He states, “The slave did not sell his labour-power to the slave-owner; any more than the ox sells his labour to the farmer. The slave, together with his labour-power, was sold to his owner once for all.” (Marx,90) Workers weren’t considered property like a slave were nor were they jailed or prosecuted for not working like in the feudal times. However, Marx questioned how free of a choice workers had when it came to selling their labour. Workers are “free” when it comes to choosing whether or not they want to work, but capitalism makes it impossible to survive without doing working. The workers cannot avoid working for the capitalist class. Marx states,

“The worker leaves the capitalist, to whom he has sold himself, as often as he chooses, and the capitalist discharges him as often as he sees fit, as soon as he no longer gets any use, or not the required use, out of him. But the worker, whose only source of income is the sale of his labour-power, cannot leave the whole class of buyers.” Labour interfered with our true human nature and in capitalism, our labour is no longer our own but is used as a way to meet ends meet. Marx believed that working together allowed people to surpass our natural constraints, but the way labour was organized lead to massive inequalities. The lack of connection to the act of production would lead to alienation from the self or true human nature. This was a consequence of living in a society of stratified social classes.

Historically, communism and Marx’s ideas have made a major impact on today’s society. Marx believed that aggressive competition and innovation would lead to poverty and crisis within society. This can be seen when analyzing the 21st century, where people live in an era of protests and movements over employment and stopping the 1% of billionaires. For example, companies like Uber and Lyft have had a huge negative impact on the taxi industry, leading taxi drivers into a state of disarray. Also, when it comes to the class inequalities Marx discussed, these types can be seen in tycoon companies like Amazon. Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, is the richest man in America yet hasn’t worked in any of his warehouses. Amazon employees often complain about the rigorous working conditions they face while working and the lack of pay they receive for it, but despite the employees putting in hard work, they will never make the same amount of money that Bezos does. 





  1. Gurley, Lauren Kaori. “Amazon Workers Are Protesting for Better Conditions Ahead of a Grueling Season.” Vice, 25 Nov. 2019
  2. Perry, Jonathan S. Sources for Europe in the Modern World.. [Chegg].

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