Karl Marx and George Shaw Essay

September 29, 2020 by Essay Writer


Karl Marx’s article was essential in explaining how the working class and the elite relate to one another through the capitalist machinery, while the play ‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ confirms Marx’s assertions by portraying the effects of an exploitative system of labor. The paper will start with the basics of Marx’s theory in the book and relate them to its manifestations in Shaw’s play. Thereafter, the report will identify commonalities between these two writer’s schools of thought and make a conclusion.


Karl Marx argues that the failures of capitalism will eventually lead to its destruction because it is self contradictory. Marx affirms that wages are what a laborer receives for his work; it is thus a commodity like the equipment that the employer uses to get work done or the lease agreement that he pays in order to open shop.

Therefore, labor may be regarded as an investment in production. A worker has the option of selling his labor (commodity) to any investor he chooses at any time. However, he has no right to refrain from selling it at all as he will have no earnings and no means to sustain himself; as the author eloquently puts it “he works in order to live” (Marx 204). A laborer’s life is all about selling his labor for sustenance. In other words, capitalism has minimized his choices and forced him to contend with this scheme of things.

The same concepts prevail in George Bernard Shaw’s play – Mrs. Warren’s profession. In this Victorian society, men have no option but to sell their labor. However, women experience even worse predicaments than their male counterparts. They can only sell their labor if they are as highly educated as Vivie.

Most of them do not even have the option of exchanging labor for wages. They must reduce themselves to prostitutes or unhappy wives. Capitalism is inherently exploitative in the play because it gives male workers minimal choices and women even worse alternatives.

Karl Marx explains that capitalism is exploitative because employers steal the actual value of worker’s input for benefits. When a laborer works for the capitalist, his pay is equivalent to his value as a commodity. The wage is what is necessary to create the laborer as the employer must train and prepare him for the job (Marx 207). However, Marx notes that laborers produce more value than they consume, and this makes the employer-employee relationship unequal.

In order to get profit, capitalists take advantage of the surplus value that a worker produces. For instance, if a worker need to give 6 hours of his time in order to match his sustenance, then any extra hours will be a surplus that exceeds the value of what it took to produce the worker. The stolen excess of a laborer’s worth is an employer’s gain (Marx 208). Therefore, no equal exchange takes place between workers and employers; cheap labor is the means with which the ruling class attains its status.

These sentiments echo throughout George Bernard Shaw’s play. Vivie learns about Mrs. Warren’s profession from her mother. When Mrs. Warren defends her profession, she says “How could you keep your self respect in such starvation and slavery? And what’s a woman’s worth? What’s life worth? Without self respect! Where would we be now if we minded the clergyman’s foolishness? Scrubbing floors for one and six pence a day and nothing to look forward to but the workhouse infirmary” (Shaw 219).

Mrs. Warren was conscious of the unequal exchange that takes place in most conventional professions for women. The worth that women, in particular, provided their employers were in no way related to the meager earnings the got. These exploitative conditions were similar to the ones that slaves experienced.

It should be noted that although George Shaw’s play appears to support prostitution, the industry is still just as exploitative as other conventional ones. This proves Karl Marx’s point that no matter how promising a certain industry may seem workers have no choice but to remain buyers of the capitalist class. The aristocrat Croft explains that he regarded the industry of prostitution as a highly profitable one. He asserted that if he turned away from this opportunity, then he would be behaving like an insensible man.

Other people were seizing opportunities to make money in various industries so this should come as no surprise. The callousness inherent in the business world was evident in the profession of prostitution, as well. Mrs. Warren objects to the exploitative nature of the business world; consequently, she chooses to become a prostitute (Shaw 260).

However, she contradicts these objections by perpetuating the same level of exploitation against innocent girls. Mrs. Warren rose to the rank of madam by first starting as a conventional prostitute and then climbing the ranks. By running brothels in different parts of Europe, she is doing the same thing that caused her to become a prostitute in the first place. Just like capitalists who cannot survive with exploiting workers, Mrs. Warren could not become a madam without exploiting other women.

Marx believed that workers have the freedom to move from one employer to another but never from one class to another. There were structures that kept the working class in their place. The meager wages that they derived from their work was never sufficient to remove them from this cycle; it was only enough to feed them or meet their basic needs. Likewise, in the case of prostitutes in George Bernard Shaw’s play, they had wealth but no virtue; consequently, society never accepted them.

One can see this when the Reverend hosts an event in which he finds it appalling that Mrs. Warren is attending it. Society was limiting their choices and ensuring that women always result to an underpaid and overworked position by frowning upon other alternatives to wealth creation. Capitalists make certain that they always have a constant supply of workers by minimizing their options and keeping them in lack.

Karl Marx notes that the interests of the working class will always antagonize those of the elite. Eventually, this may lead to the demise of the capitalist system as it will implode (Marx 209). When workers appear to be getting more wages as a result of growth in their places of work, this is equivalent to getting more crumbs from the rich man’s table as he is enjoying the lion’s share of those rising profits.

Therefore, capitalism operates in a mutually exclusive way; one group will always benefit at the expense of another. Likewise in the play, Mrs. Warren chooses to become a prostitute because of her discontent with the exploitative nature of work.

Many others like her enter this secret profession because their needs antagonize those of their employers. In essence, an implosion occurred in this society because capitalism had failed to live up to its promise. Prostitution was the unnatural response to a system of work that undermines the same people it depends on for survival.

The author of the play – Mrs. Warren’s Profession – clearly indicates that he is a socialist and a firm supporter of Karl Marx’s principles in the book “Wage, labor and Capitalism”. One can determine this by the playwright’s choice of characters. Mr. Croft is a shrewd capitalist who does not even conceal the unethical nature of his business practices. In one situation, Croft even boasts about his business. He compares himself to his brother who is in charge of a factory that hires 600 girls.

Croft believes that prostitution is far superior because even though his brother gets 22% from the factory, none of the girls earn enough to live comfortably. The audience reacts to this self righteousness by disliking Croft. George Bernard Shaw wanted to show that capitalists are often morally repugnant. Vivie’s response to Croft’s assertions enforces these sentiments. She explains that his words are quite offensive and polluting. One can, therefore, realize that the playwright was speaking out against injustices inherent in a capitalist world.

In Karl Marx’s writing, he talks about the notion of the alienated worker. Since members of the working class have no choice but to keep selling their labor power to capitalists, most of them must contend with this role exclusively (Marx 206). They focus so much on creation of value for the employer that they even lose their humanity. Such people misplace their individualism and uniqueness thus becoming like machines.

The same thing is evident in the play – Mrs. Warren’s profession. The women in this play have lost their sense of humanity as society assesses their worth by how much they can clean or scrub (Shaw 66). Those who choose a daring path such as Mrs. Warren have also reduced their humanity to their secularity. Consequently, one can see that capitalism alienates workers and transforms them into machines.

Employers and many capitalists have created a lot of mystery concerning the way they do business as well as in the value of the things that they create. Karl Marx explains that commodities reflect the social relations and the labor that people put into them. The price of the item often obscures this fact (Marx 209). Capitalists have given money a mythical significance in order to neutralize their effects.

Even bourgeois economists minimize the exchange of commodities to financial patterns alone. These individuals do not look at what happens in terms of the social aspects of money. Members of the lower class may, therefore, not be aware of the exploitative nature of wage labor. The shift away from the social relations of labor thus protects the proletariat from potential inquisitions and protests from the working class.

Similarly, the same issue of deflecting the real value of commodities exists in the play – Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Croft chose not to focus on the exploitative nature of his work and instead extolled the profits earned from the trade (Shaw 150). He was justifying his actions by talking about the amount of money made from the trade. However, prostitution still uses vulnerable girls to make profits; this case was not an exception.


Capitalism promotes class conflicts as explained by Karl Marx, which can only lead to undesirable consequences. George Bernard Shaw’s Victorian society exploits workers and gives females extraordinarily few choices for sustenance. As a result, some of them have lashed out against this exploitation through immoral acts such as prostitution.

Works Cited

Marx, Karl. “Wage Labor and Capital.” Literary Theory: An Anthology. Ed. Julie Rivkin & Michael Ryan. MA: Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2004. 201-210. Print.

Shaw, Bernard George. Mrs. Warren’s profession, NY: Broadview, 1902. Print.

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