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Economic Organization, Distribution And The Equality Issue: The Marx-Engels Perspective

My first concern is the treatment of distribution by Marx and Engels within the general framework of ‘Historical Materialism’. To set the stage I deal briefly with their rejection of egalitarian schemes based on ‘justice’ or ‘morality’ (Section II.1),and then proceed to their objections on grounds of the impossibility of divorcing distribution from conditions of production and the related exchange system. I demonstrate first that growing inequality is accorded a strategic and essential role in the evolution of a capitalist-exchange economy (II.2). (In any event, Marx and Engels seem to have downplayed the quantitative significance for labour even of major transfers.) That the pattern of distribution could not be altered unilaterally without damaging consequences for production, is then shown to govern their hostility to schemes of Communist organization entailing wages paid according to‘equal right’ and ‘the undiminished proceeds of labour’ (II.3). In brief, Marx’s Communism in its first phase (sometimes referred to as the Socialist phase), when there remains a residual influence exerted by the preceding institution 1 , would recognize the essential inequality of labour on grounds of efficiency and growth; the celebrated dictum ‘from each according to his abilities to each according to his needs’ applied only in a utopian phase. Engels’ rendition of these themes is approached in terms of his critique of Duhring (III).

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Paper provided by Carleton University, Department of Economics in its series Carleton Economic Papers with number 02-05.

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Length: 55 pages
Date of creation: 06 Feb 2002
Publication status: Published: Carleton Economic Papers
Handle: RePEc:car:carecp:02-05
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  1. A. P. Lerner, 1934. "Economic Theory and Socialist Economy," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 2(1), pages 51-61.
  2. Howard, M C & King, J E, 2001. "Where Marx Was Right: Towards a More Secure Foundation for Heterodox Economies," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 25(6), pages 785-807, November.
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