[OPE-L:2377] Re: Carpe diem!

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Wed Feb 16 2000 - 07:40:40 EST

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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 16 Feb 2000 10:26:43 +0100
From: Ernesto Screpanti <screpanti@unisi.it>

>In [OPE-L:2343] Ernesto wrote the first of what promises to be many
>exciting contributions to our list:
>> I would like to discuss the following:
>> "The employment contract as the fundamental institution of capitalism". I
>> am working on this subject since some years. The basic idea is that the
>> basic institutional condition for capitalist exploitation in production is
>> not the private property of the means of production but a contract whereby
>> the workers take an obbligation to obbey the capitalist in the labour
>> I consider this thesis a deepening and a correction of Marx's theory of
>> capitalism.
>> If somebody likes this proposal, I could send a chapter of my book (in
>> porogress) in which I focus on the employment contract.
>Well, I like the proposal. By all means, send us the chapter (but please
>send it not as an attachment but in text-readable, unencoded form).
>On the substance of what you say above, it seems to me that private
>ownership (and non-ownership) of the means of production and the contract
>agreed to by workers in the market for labour-power (the "labor market")
>are *necessarily* inter-related under capitalism. E.g. the compulsion to
>work for capital in exchange for a wage is necessarily linked to one
>aspect of "free labor" -- freedom from ownership of the means of
>production and therefore the "freedom" to be employed by capital and be
>exploited. This is reinforced by another "freedom" that makes itself
>known to workers both within the market for labour-power and the labour
>process -- the "freedom" to join the industrial reserve army and all that
>entails. This aspect of the "contract", i.e. that it can be voided at the
>discretion of capital, is essential to maintaining discipline in the
>labour process and compelling workers to work to a certain "standard" [of
>productivity] within the labour process.
>Where do we disagree?

My view is that the employment contract is not a contract for the sale of a
commodity (labour power or labour services) but a relational contract that
establishes a power relation. It produces the conditions for exploitation
in the production processes independently of the way property rights are
distributed. The employer can be a private capitalist or a public company
or a state company or whatever else. There will be capitalist exploitation
anyway, provided the power relation is used to make workers produce a
surplus value usable for sustaining capital accumulation. This implies,
among the other things, that also a system based on state ownership of the
means of production can be a capitalist system (like the Soviet Union!).
The basic reason why the ownership of the means of production does not in
itself suffice to produce the conditions for capitalist exploitation is
that the right to residual control it grants is not a right to control the
workers but just to control the machines. These do not produce anything if
they are not handled by workers. But then you need an institution to compel
the workers to do what the capitalist likes. This institution is the
employment contract.

If you want to see the first chapter of my book just click on


I hope this work. Otherwise let me know how to do to send the chapter.


Ernesto Screpanti
Dipartimento di Economia Politica
Piazza S. Francesco 1
53100 Siena
tel: 0577 232784
fax: 0577 232661

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