The “Increasing Misery” Debate revisited. An alternative approach

Mariana Hirsch


The article presents a critical analysis on the origin and development of Marxist debate regarding to the “Increasing Misery of the working class” Doctrine. It is argued that the debate arises from the critique Eduard Bernstein performed on the interpretation of capitalist breakdown, dominant among the German Social Democratic Party’s members in the late nineteenth century. According to this position, the collapse of capitalism was a consequence of the increasing impoverishment suffered by workers with the development of capital accumulation. Bernstein, on his behalf, argued that empirical evidence of rising wages decisively questioned that connection. Ever since, Marxists have sought to argue Bernstein's assertions, trying to demonstrate that even if wages rise, working class tends to be more and more miserable, remaining, therefore, the raison d'être of capitalist breakdown intact. The article claims that Marxists’ arguments have failed to respond the question originally performed by Bernstein. In doing so, they left unsolved the apparent contradiction between the improvement in living conditions of the active working class and the need of it to become the subject who puts end to the capitalist mode of production.
It is argued that the cause of the mentioned failure rests, first, on the absence of a clear conception regarding the trend and the determination of the level of wages received by the working class. Secondly, it rests on the lack of a consistent explanation about the supposed “necessary” connection between the increasing misery of the working class and capitalist breakdown. Based on some recent research, the article presents an alternative approach to both, trend and determination of the level of wages that shows to be consistent with the need to overcome the capitalist mode of production.

marxist debate misery wage capitalist breakdown  
This article is part of Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres (Wildcat series) - Book launch (A booklaunch on 'Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres (Wildcat series) - Book launch')