middle strata, 2/6, Marx and Engels

Jack Hill mlbooks at mcs.com
Sun Oct 29 21:08:44 MST 1995

Middle strata, part 2 of 6, Marx and Engels
(by Pete T.)
                  The views of Marx and Engels.

     Marx and Engels actually had very little to say on the
subject and quite understandably since this strata was very
little developed in their day. The process Marx and Engels were
observing and dealing with was the transition from small scale
patriarchal production of goods to  large scale industrial
production of goods. They saw that the greatest social product of
this economic revolution was the industrial proletariat which
they saw must inevitably seize power, abolish capitalist private
property and build socialism. They saw the development of
industry leading to the demise of the old middle classes, the
peasantry, the handicraftsmen, the small urban shop keepers the
small producers , the classical petit bourgeoisie and the growth
of an overwhelming proletarian majority which at some point must
realize that it was the majority and could easily dispense with
the capitalist parasites. But in fact they saw that the crises of
capitalism would most likely lead to an even earlier overthrow of
captialism, forcing the proletariat to act earlier with the
greater or lesser support of sections of the ruined old middle
classes to overthrow the the rule of the industrial bourgeoisie.
     The Communist Manifesto and Engels' Condition of the Working
class in England most clearly outline the above scenario.
     "But assuming that England retained the monopoly of
manufactures, that its factories perpetually multiply, what must
be the result? The commercial crises would continue, and grow
more violent, more terrible, with the extension of industry and
the multiplication of the proletariat, the proletariat would
increase in geometrical proportion, in consequence of the
progressive ruin of the lower middle class and the giant strides
with which capitalism is concentrating itself in the hands of the
few; and the proletariat would soon embrace the whole nation,
with the execption of a few millionaires. But in this
development, there comes a stage at which the proletariat
perceives how easily the existing power may be overthrown and
then follows the revolution"
     "Neither of these supposed conditions may, however, be
expected to arise. The commercial crises, the mightiest levers
for all independent development of the proletariat, will probably
shorten the process, acting in concert with foreign competition
and the deepening ruin of the lower-middle-class." F. Engels
Condition of the Working Class in England p.331-332 Progress
Publishers, Moscow, 1973.
     Marx and Engels clearly expected the process of
industrialization going on before them to culminate in socialist
revolution. They did not expect capitalism to last beyond the
point where industrialization of the production of goods was the
main thing going on and the growth of the weight of the
industrial proletariat in society had reached its peak. As
prophets in the narrow sense they failed. Of course they never
claimed to be prophets, but rather social scientists and
revolutionaries. And the tendencies they observed in society have
been confirmed---the replacement of petty production with large
scale production, the conversion of the majority of society to
wage workers, the rise of the proletarian movement which reached
its peak with the Russian Revolution and proletarian movements
between the two World Wars and into the late 40's.
     In Marx and Engels epoch the main issue of middle forces was
the small producers the peasants, handicraftsmen, the classical
petit bourgeoisie. And they paid considerable attention to the
forces pushing this old middle force in various directions and
the tactics that should be used toward it. They spoke much less
about the small strata of professional/managerial/clerical
employees who were then emerging.
     Yet it cannot be said that Marx and Engels where oblivious
to the emergence of this strata. As early as the Communist
Manifesto they say:
     "...a new class of petty bourgeoisie has been formed,
fluctuating between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie and ever
renewing itself as a supplementary part of bourgeois society. The
individual members of this class, however, are constantly being
hurled down into the proletariat by the action of competition,
and, as modern industry develops, they even see the moment
approaching when they will completely disappear as an independent
section of modern society, to be replaced, in manufactures,
agriculture, and commerce, by overlookers, bailiffs, and
shopmen." In this quote the new petty bourgeoisie that Marx and
Engels are talking about is actually what we would refer to as
the old petit bourgeoisie-- the small producers and shopkeepers.
They will be replaced by supervisory employees of the bourgeoisie
(bailiff here does not refer to the court officer who handles the
prisoners and ejects people from the courtroom, but to British
farm manager and overseer.) Thus Marx and Engels see in the
future the replacement of the old petit bourgoisie with trusted
employees of the bourgeoisie.

     During Marx and Engels lifetime the joint stock company
emerged and the owners of capital began to hire managers to
administer their enterprises. This was still a far cry from the
massive managerial and professional organizations of today, but
Marx and Engels took note of this development. Primarily they
noted how this signified that the capitalists were losing any
useful social function.

     "Now the economical function of the capitalist middle class
has been, indeed, to create the modern system of steam
manufactures and steam communications, and to crush every
economical and political obstacle which delayed or hindered the
development of that system. No doubt as long as the capitalist
middle class performed this function it was, under the
circumstances, a necessary class. But is it still so? Does it
continue to fulfill its essential function as manager and
expander of the social production for the benefit of society at
large? Let us see."
     "To begin with the means of communication, we find the
telegraphs in the hands of the Government. The railways  and a
large part of the seagoing steamships are owned , not by
individual capitalists who manage their own business, but by
joint stock companies whose business is managed for them by  paid
employees, by servants whose position is to all intents and
purposes that of superior, better paid work people. As to the
directors and shareholders, they both know that the less the
former interfere with the management and the latter with the
supervision, the better for the concern. A lax and mostly
perfunctory supervision is, indeed, the only function left to the
owners of the business....The social function of the capitalist
has been transferred to servants paid by wages; but he continues
to pocket in his dividends, the pay for those functions though he
has ceased to perform them." (F. Engels "Social Classes--
Necessary and Superfluous" 8/1-2/81 as quoted in On Historical
Materialism-- Marx, Engels, Lenin Soviet edition.)

     Thus Engels notes the emergence of a strata of managerial
employees -- "superior, better paid workpeople", "servants paid
by wages" who perform the "social function of the capitalist".

     In volume III of Capital Marx makes a number of points.
   a."The labor of supervision and management, arising as it does
out of an antithesis, out of the supremacy  of capital over
labour, and being therefore common to all modes od production
based on class contradictions like the capitalist mode, is
directly and inseperably connected, also under the capitalist
system, with productive functions which all combined social
labour assigns to individuals as their special tasks. The wages
of an epitropos, or regisseur, as he was called in feudal France,
are entirely divorced from profit and assume the form of wages
for skilled labour whenever the business is operated on a
sufficiently large scale to warrant paying for such a manager."
(Capital Volume III p 386, Progress Publishers 1966)

     Here Marx notes that labor of management combines
exploitation with necessary productive functions. Here Marx also
seems to be saying that managerial work is simply a form of
skilled labor at least economically speaking. However as we shall
see Marx also points to another social dimension.

     b."The industrial capitalist is a worker compared to the
money capitalist, but a worker in the sense of capitalist, ie, an
exploiter of the labor of others. The wage which he claims and
pockets for this labor is exactly equal to the appropritated
quantity of another's labor, and depends directly upon the rate
of exploitation of this labor, in so far as he undertakes the
effort required for exploitation; it does not, however, depend on
the degree of exertion that such exploitation demands, and which
he can shift to a manager for moderate pay."
(Capital Volume III p 387, Progress Publishers 1966)
     Here Marx in the course of refuting the argument that
profits equal wages of supervision, brings out the aspect of
management that is the exertion of effort necessary to realize a
certain rate of exploitation thus bringing out the second side of
the work of management whether done by the capitalist or by
skilled labor hired by him.

     c."The wages of management both for the commercial and
industrial manager are completely isolated from the profits of
enterprise in the cooperative factories of the workers, as well
as in capitalist stock companies...In a cooperative factory the
antagonistic nature of the labor of supervision disappears,
because the manager is paid by the labourers instead of
representing capital counterposed to them. Stock companies in
general...have an increasing tendency to separate this work of
management as a function from the ownership of capital... the
functionary remains and the capitalist disappears as superfluous
from the production process.
     "It is manifest from the public accounts of the co-operative
factories in England that --after deducting the manager's wages,
which form a part of the invested variable capital much the same
as the wages of other laborers--the profit was higher than the
average profit..."
(ibid. p387-388)
     The point of interest here is that Marx says the wages of
the managers in the cooperative factory come from variable
capital rather than being deducted from surplus value. He seems
also to be suggesting that the same is true in the joint stock
company although this is not entirely clear with regards to the
whole of the payment of managers as he has drawn out the
distinction of cooperative factory being one where the antagonism
between the workers and the manager as a representative of
capital disappears.

     d."...This was further promoted by the apologetic aim of
representing profit not as a surplus-value derived from unpaid
labor, but as the capitalists wages for work performed by him.
This was met on the part of socialists by a demand to reduce
profit actually to what it pretended to be. And this demand was
all the more obnoxious to theoretical embellishment, the more
these wages of supervision, like any other wage, found their
definite level and definite market price, on the one  hand, with
the development of a numerous class of industrial and commercial
managers,(78) and the more they fell, like all wages for skilled
labor, with the general development which reduces the cost of
production of specially trained labor power.(79)"
(ibid p.388-389.)
     For our investigation the most important point here is the
reference to managers as a class. One might take it to mean that
Marx was refering to managers loosely as a category with the term
class, but foot note 78 indicates that he views them as a social
class with a special contradictory position between the
proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In Footnote 78 he quotes from
Hodgkins: "Masters are laborers as well as their journeyman. In
this character their interest is precisely the same as that of
their men. But they are also either capitalists, or agents of the
capitalists, and in this respect their interest is decidedly
opposed to the interests of the workmen. " ( p.27). ...(Hodgskin,
Labor Defended Against the Claims of Capital, etc., London,

     The second point of somewhat less interest is the assertion
that the general social development including especially the
spread of education in the working class tends to reduce the
wages of managers.
(In actual fact this narrowing of gap between the wages of the
mass of skilled workers including managers and the unskilled has
been long term development of capitalism. Since the late 70's
there has been some reversal of this. But the differential is
still far lower than 70 or 100 years ago. Generally you can guage
a country's level of capitalist development by looking at the
differential between skilled and unskilled laborers wages. And of
course here we are eliminating the upper managerial levels from
consideration who frequently share in the surplus value through
stock options and bonuses and extremely high wages and who merge
with the bourgeoisie.

     So we have the beginnings of an analysis of the vast
managerial strata by Marx and Engels but what did they say about
the specialists, the professionals etc who have no direct
managerial role? Here we find less detailed observations.
     In the Manifesto Marx and Engels say:
     "The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation
hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe. It has
converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the
man of science, into its paid wage laborers."
     Note here that Marx and Engels are referring here mostly to
the pre existing "free professions" but indicate a tendency to
     In Volume II of Capital Marx discusses the role of the
commercial clerk who is involved in wholesale buying and selling
of the product of the industrial of agricultural capitalist.
(While we are considering the issue of the professional strata, I
have included this observation because many of the people who are
considered professionals would share the same level of status as
clerks in Marx's time. And clerks in Marx's time were universally
considered part of the the middle strata)
     Marx says:
     "The commercial clerk produces no surplus value directly.
But the price of his labour-power, its exertion, expenditure, and
wear and tear, is as in the case of every other wage laborer by
no means limited by its value. His wage therefore is not
necessarily  proportionate to the masss of profit he helps the
capitalist to realize. ... He creates no direce surplus value,
but adds to the capitalists income by helping him reduce the cost
of realizing surplus value, in as much he partly performs unpaid
labor. The commercial worker in the strict sense of the term ,
belongs to the better paid class of wage-workers-to those who
labor is classed as skilled and stands above the average labor."
     Thus from the economic stand point Marx includes these
skilled clerks of his day in the working class. But he seems to
qualify this with the statement  "in the strict sense of the
term". Thus there are other factors to examine to look at the
outlook of this strata.

     Certain sections of the professional strata such as
engineers, computer programmers in the software industry,
registered nurses, etc  play a role in production,  produce value
and surplus value while their managerial functions of helping
exploit other workers are often very small. (With nurses and
engineers this varies according to their use by the employer from
nil to to quite large. Thus a large section of professional
workers would fall under the category of skilled members of the
working class, technically speaking. As producers who are
exploited and whose higher wages are a result of their higher
skill and the higher value of their compound labor. Yet while
Marx and Engels clearly see proletarianization as trend for the
future and the underlying economics already taking place for this
strata, they are still "technically speaking". There is more to
the relationship of this strata to the workers and the
capitalists that Marx and Engels did not examine in the detail
that they examined the role of the worker and the capitalist.

     In addition to these brief passages giving some partial
glimpses of an economic analysis of the professional strata there
are some comments giving an overall assesment of the strata at
particular times.
     "...The patronizing and errant lecturing of our so called
intellectuals seems to me to be a far greater impediment. We are
still in need of technicians, agronomists, engineers, chemists,
architects, etc. it is true, but if worst comes to worst we can
always buy them just as well as the capitalists buy them, and if
a severe example is made of few of the traitors among them -- for
traitors there are sure to be--they will find it to their own
advantage to deal fairly with us. But apart from thees
specialists, among whom I also include school teachers, we can
get along perfectly well without the other "intellectuals". The
present influx of literati and students into the party, for
example, may be quite damaging if these gentlemen are not
properly kept in check."
Engels, letter to Otto von Boenigk, August 21, 1890.

     "In order to take possession and set in motion the means of
production, we need people with technical training, and masses of
them. These we have not got, and up till now we have even been
rather glad that we have been largely spared  the "educated"
people. Now things are different. Now we are strong enough to
stand any quantity of educated  Quarks and to digest them, and I
foresee that in the next eight or ten years we shall recruit
enough young technicians, doctors, lawyers, and schoolmasters to
enable us to have the factories and big estates administered on
behalf of the nation by Party comrades. Then, therefore our entry
into power will be quite natural and will be settled up quite
quickly--relatively. If on the otherhand, a war brings us to
power prematurely, the technicians will be our chief enemies;
they will deceive and betray us wherever they can and we shall
have to use terror against them but we shall get cheated just the
same. It is what always happened, on a small scale, to the French
revolutionaries; even in ordinary administration they had to
leave the subordinate posts, where the real work is done, in the
posession of old reactionaries who obstructed and paralyzed
F. Engels, letter to Bebel, October 24, 1891

     From these quotes from Marx and Engels we can develop a
general impression of their view that they saw a long term
epochal tendency in capitalism to turn the professionals and
educated people into proletarians, but that it by no means had
yet happened. The educated specialists were still part of a
bourgeois or petit bourgeois intelligentsia. A section of this
strata they felt would be won over to the side of the proletariat
and Engels in his letter of 1891 even expresses wild optimism at
the immediate prospects for such a thing happening. Nevertheless
it is clear that in the concrete, the present Engels regards even
the working intelligentsia with caution as something seperate
from the proletariat. With regards to the managers Marx and
Engels show in the production process a basis for their
contradictory social position. But no where is such analysis
developed to any extent for the non managerial professional
     This may partially be due to the fact that even by Engels
latest writings on the subject the conversion of the mass of
professionals into employees was still little developed. Doctors
and lawyers were still independent professionals,  A large
portion of engineers were junior partners of the capitalists or
capitalists themselves. The mass engineering schools that
produced the engineer employees were just coming into being in
Germany and US.

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