[OPE-L:7572] RE: RE: Formalism and "exploitation"

From: mongiovg (mongiovg@stjohns.edu)
Date: Fri Aug 30 2002 - 20:11:12 EDT

OK, I see what you're getting at.  A few brief points in reply. They're all 
pretty minor, because I think we don't really disagree that much.

>Then they weren't relations of *exchange*, at least in the sense that Marx
>understands this term when he poses the problem of surplus value (and thus
>capitalist exploitation) in Part 2 of K. I.  As he argues at the end of Ch.
>6, market exchange is the "exclusive realm of Freedom, Equality, Property
>and Bentham.  Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity...are
>determined only by their own free will.  They contract as free persons, who
>are equal before the law."

Here I would say that Marx's is being a little tongue-in-cheek. There is an 
element of irony (or better, sarcasm) in his tone.  He certainly understood 
capitalist market relations to be coercive, and his conception of freedom (as 
displayed in his Economic & Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) would have judged 
freedom of contract when one of the contracting parties almost always has a 
bargaining advantage over the other --because one can control whether the 
other gets to eat--to be an extremely circumscribed type of freedom. Not much 
to argue about here, since accepting this reading doesn't rule out that Marx 
viewed the coercion associated with capitalist class relations as different in 
some fundamental way from the other sorts of coercion you mention. On to that 

>Correspondingly (and I think legitimately),
>Marx understands the conditions "that ultimately produced the constellation
>of institutions we call capitalism"--which he discusses under the rubric of
>"primitive accumulation"--*not* to be based on relations of exchange, but
>rather of naked *extra-economic* coercion, as was involved in the enclosure
>movement in Great Britain.

>Which brings me to the significance of "formally equal relations of
>exchange."  Other historical forms of coercion, be they on the basis of
>class, gender, race, or whatever, are/were grounded *explicitly* in the
>direct threat of personal violence (state-sanctioned or otherwise)--e.g.
>the role of lynching in U.S. race relations, the role of rape in
>conditioning gender relations, the role of the state in supporting the
>institution of slavery.
>Against these scenarios of direct coercion, the particular form labelled
>"capitalist exploitation" appears to proceed on a radically different
>basis.  You're a serf and you refuse to provide surplus labor to the feudal
>lord?  You get killed and your family is driven out of their home.  You're
>a slave in the antebellum US South and you run away from the
>plantation?  You're hunted down by dogs, with the aid of the state, and
>tortured and/or killed as an example to the others.

I mention in passing that I've taken my lumps for talking about gender as 
though it were somehow separate from class as opposed to being intertwined 
with it. More to the point, I don't think these forms of coercion are 
analytically very different from coercion via market pressure; except in the 
obvious sense that they emerge from different causes.  The bottom line is, if 
you don't cooperate you're gonna be fucked up--whether that involves being 
raped (because you don't accept the groom in an arranged marriage) or being 
forced into prostitution (because market conditions won't allow you to earn a 
living wage otherwise); being whipped for insubordination or incarcerated for 
vagrancy; being exiled from your fields for failing to abide by the traditions 
of the manor, or being evicted from your home because you can't meet the rent. 
I'm not sure in what sense there is a difference between the former and latter 
elements of each of these pairs. Is it perhaps the element of physical 
coercion? I don't know: having to sell one's body because of economic 
conditions has a traumatizing physical dimension; and when the county marshal 
evicts you and your kids, he usually shows up with two or three goons who 
forcibly move you and your furniture onto the sidewalk. Is it the fact that 
there is a more personal connection between victim and victimizer in 
precapitalist forms of coercion? OK, I'll grant you that one of the really 
interesting things about capitalism is that it is extremely subtle and 
sophisticated ("kinder & gentler"?) in the way it messes people up.

>Not so with wage workers:  they enter into employment relations with any
>given capitalist voluntarily, on a formally equal basis as fellow
>exchangers of commodities.  They can thus refuse to work for any given
>capitalist, and that capitalist has no legal right to threaten personal
>violence in retaliation; indeed, workers thus threatened can, at least in
>principle (and Marx insists on the presumption that this principle obtains
>in his analysis) call on the state to *defend* them against these
>threats.  And yet class  relations characterized by (*some* form of)
>coercion, domination, and subordination persist.  Viewed in this light, the
>key question that a theory of capitalist exploitation (or the set of
>phenomena covered by this term) must answer is:  how so?  How do formally
>equal relations of exchange, characterized precisely by the *absence* of
>direct threats of personal violence, translate nonetheless into this very
>unequal social outcome?

Notwithstanding what I said in my previous paragraph, I agree with you that 
these are legitimate and interesting questions.  But what I find most 
interesting about them are the dimensions that can be exposed via history, 
political science, sociology, anthropology. I do not rule out that there are 
interesting dimensions of these questions that can be explored via the 
application of formal modeling techniques.  The only literature I know that 
gets at them is some stuff that was spun off of the Pasinetti theorem--a bunch 
of papers mainly from the 1980s that explored whether a two-class society 
(workers and capitalists) could persist if workers saved, if workers and 
capitalists have different saving propensities, etc, etc. Very able work, but 
I must confess I never could see how these too-abstract models connected to 
concrete political economy problems.  Gil, did you have a particular body of 
literature in mind when you posed the question?

Ciao for now,


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