[OPE-L:2392] Re: Re: the employment contract and capitalism

From: riccardo bellofiore (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Date: Tue Feb 22 2000 - 11:58:46 EST

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At 11:43 +0100 22-02-2000, Gerald Levy wrote:
>---------- Forwarded message ----------
>Date: Tue, 22 Feb 2000 09:37:07 +0100
>From: Ernesto Screpanti <screpanti@unisi.it>
>Jerry wrote in [2386]
>>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.
>I agree with this. I do not see the confusion. The employment contract is
>typical of capitalism, not of slavery or serfdom.

I agree. The point is that the employment contract opens the way to the
transformation of the labour process in such a way that the compulsion to
labour and surplus labour is 'objective', i.e. built-in into the technology
and the organization of labour. This is the truly *capitalist* mode of
production. The stress on the employment contract is right as long as it
does not compress the specificity of capitalism at the only point of the
labour market. The differentia specifica of capitalism is that 'labour' as
a potential is sold on the market and that 'labour' as activity is
extracted through the real subordination of labour, i.e. the objective
compulsion to labour and surplus labour.
>>> 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?

I agree with Ernesto, but not for the same reasons. It is a fact that
labour is 'other-directed', alienated etc. whatever the ownership system. I
guess that the reason is that so called socialist society have not built a
technology and/or a competition system and/or an organization of labour
system radically different from capitalism.

>>Are you suggesting then that the owners of a capitalist firm are not
>>necessarily the exploiters?

Of course, yes and no, if we simply define exploitation without reference
to the market (not Marx's definition). What exploits is capital. I guess we
may have capital(ism) without capitalists, i.e. exploitation without
capitalists. If capitalist do not exists, they are not the cause of
exploitation. I strongly doubt we may have capitalists without
capital(ism). Hence, if there are capitalists, we have capitalism, and
exploitation, and the capitalists are 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?
>No. One who receive the benefits of exploitation is one who receives the
>benefits of exploitations (e.g. rentiers, orphans and widows etc.). An
>exploiter is one who controls the labopr procesa and therefore is capable
>to make the workers produce more than they earn. The institutions through
>which exploitation can be implemented are many. In capitalism the most
>important and the typical one is the employment contract.

Except for the last phrase, which is only partially true, here I agree with
>>> 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
>Consider a team of workers in which team production prevails. You need a
>"supervisor" who controls and coordinates the team. The surplus value
>produced by the team with the supervisor is higher than that produced by
>the team without the supervisor. Therefore the supervisor contributes to
>the production of surplus value. Or do you beleive that coordinating
>activity is not work? How can a factory of 1000 workers function without
>coordination activity? If the supervisor receives a wage which is lower
>than the surplus value he contributed to produce he is an exploited worker.

>I am enjoying very much this discussion. I would like other people to

Here I am. I hope this interventions are out of the focus of your discussions.


        Riccardo Bellofiore
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