[OPE-L:2402] Re: Re: Re: Re: the employment contract and capitalism

From: riccardo bellofiore (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Date: Wed Feb 23 2000 - 13:34:02 EST

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At 17:32 +0100 23-02-2000, Ernesto Screpanti wrote:
>Riccardo wrote in [2392)
>At 17.58 22/02/00 +0100, you wrote:
>>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.
>I agree.
>>>>> 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.
>Yes, but it is deeper than that. Capitalist exploitation can occur even in
>"public companies" owned by pension funds owned by the workers! I insist:
>the real problem is - who really controls the labour process -. If it is
>not the workers, then these can be exploited. If those who control it aim
>at capital accumulation, then it is capitalist exploitation.

Ernesto, we agree on this. The difference, if there is any, is that I would
like to add: (i) that exploitation is enforced in the labour process, and
is not 'already there' in the employment contract; and this is to me the
core of the Marxian distinction between the use value and the exchange
value of labour power as a special commodity; (ii) that capitalist
exploitation is not possible without market as the aim of the production
process; (iii) that dynamic competition is essential to capitalism. Hence,
it is doubtful if Soviet exploitation was capitalist exploitation. In my
view, it was worse that that from certain points of view.
>>>>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
>Right. But the question is: are the capitalists the formal owners?

No: but as you know I don't think that workers as formal owners of stocks
are the true owners of capitalist firms.
>>>>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
>Very good, let's enlarge the discussion group.
>> Riccardo Bellofiore
>>Office: Department of Economics
>> Piazza Rosate, 2
>> I-24129 Bergamo, Italy
>>Home: Via Massena, 51
>> I-10128 Torino, Italy
>>e-mail bellofio@cisi.unito.it, bellofio@unibg.it
>>tel: +39 035 277545 (direct)
>> +39 035 277501 (dept. secr.)
>> +39 011 5819619 (home)
>>fax: +39 035 249975
>Ernesto Screpanti
>Dipartimento di Economia Politica
>Piazza S. Francesco 1
>53100 Siena
>tel: 0577 232784
>fax: 0577 232661

        Riccardo Bellofiore
Office: Department of Economics
        Piazza Rosate, 2
        I-24129 Bergamo, Italy
Home: Via Massena, 51
        I-10128 Torino, Italy
e-mail bellofio@cisi.unito.it, bellofio@unibg.it
tel: +39 035 277545 (direct)
        +39 035 277501 (dept. secr.)
        +39 011 5819619 (home)
fax: +39 035 249975

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