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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