[OPE-L:2386] Re: the employment contract and capitalism

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Sun Feb 20 2000 - 07:16:39 EST

[ show plain text ]

Ernesto wrote in [2383]:

> Workers can be formally the owners of the (or some)
> means of production, for instance through pension funds or the public
> ownership of the "workers' state", yet they can be exploited if they
> have no control of the labour process.

I think this confuses the lack of control by the producers of the labor
process in general (which occurs in all class societies) with the
specific social form that it takes under capitalism. Under capitalism,
the relationship between capital and labor in the labor process is
conditioned by the value-form imperative. I.e. the imperative to produce
and sell commodities and thereby actualize the surplus value that existed
only as an abstract possibility at the time of the employment contract.

> The institutional conditions of exploitation can be
> independent from the distribution of property rights. The owners can
> be shareholders without control. The exploiters can be managers or
> bureaucrats without ownership.

Ownership vs. exploitation?

Are you suggesting then that the owners of a capitalist firm are not
necessarily the exploiters? Yet, if one receives the benefits of
exploitation and owns (a non-nominal share of) the capitalist firm, isn't
one the exploiter just as surely as a slaveowner was the exploiter
of her/his slaves?

> I am not so convinced of that distintion. If productive labour is that
> which produces surplus value, a foreman who controls, punishes and
> coordinates workers thus obtaining from a team a value which is higher
> than what would produced in the absence of the foreman himslef, then
> the latter is productive.

No, "foremen" and supervisors -- while employed in the labour process --
do not produce surplus value. Rather, their function is to *represent the
interests of capital in the labour process* by extracting work from
workers. They are an intermediate layer (part of the so-called "middle
class") between capital and labour in the employment of capitalists. Their
function is very similar to the *overseer* under slavery. Unlike the
overseer, corporate managers don't use a whip since that form of control
is not needed under capitalism with "free labour". Rather, the threat of
being fired, and thereby the threat of joining the industrial reserve
army, takes the place of the whip and other more violent forms of

This, moreover, is a distinction that (more class-conscious) workers know
well. They know that their "supervisor" is not one of "us" but one of
"them" -- i.e. they represent the interests of a class that is alien to
workers in the labour process.

> If so, also a policeman in a state capitalist system is productive .

The police are paid out of *revenues* received by the state primarily in
the form of taxation. As such, the funds allocated for the payment of the
police and other state employees represent a *re-distribution* of
surplus-value. And the *distribution* of already existing surplus-value
should not be confused with the *production* of new surplus-value.

A more difficult question is whether the police are part of the

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Apr 21 2000 - 09:47:46 EDT