Re: [OPE-L] More about exploitation

From: Michael Schauerte (mikeschauerte@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Wed Jun 20 2007 - 20:46:33 EDT

I haven't followed the entire debate that has been going on about the
concept of exploitation very closely, but I would just like to say that if
we include every case where an individual or group of individuals profit at
the expense of others as "exploitation" we lose sight of the essential
theoretical question at issue: How are we to account for the genesis of
profit? Where does profit come from?

This is a question that economists long before Marx pondered, but most of
the answers arrived at did not get to the heart of the issue. And one
problem is that profit was simply explained as "profit upon alienation," the
old "buying low, and selling high." Marx pointed out what should be the
obvious fact that this view may very well account for the profit of certain
individuals, but it cannot account for the creation of profit, because one
person's gain is another person's loss.

The theory of exploitation succeeds in solving this riddle of how profit
emerges under capitalism, by locating the surplus in value created in
production over and above the value of the labor embodied in the means of
production, raw materials, and the wages of the workers (which is of course
payment for the "labor-power" commodity that they sell, and whose value is
determined by the value of the commodities, etc. consumed to reproduce that
capacity to labor). If, again, we lose sight of this theoretical task, and
just list up every case were a person is swindled by a smooth operator, we
will never unravel the mystery surrounding the phenomenon of profit.

My two cents...

Michael Schauerte

On 6/21/07, Jurriaan Bendien <> wrote:
>  Well, one of the lasting dillemma's which the competition caused by
> market-trade brings with it, is the conflicts between free trade and
> protectionism, which affect all social classes. All I'm really suggesting
> is, that these conflicts therefore affect also the relations among workers
> themselves, posing the choice of whether to cooperate or to compete, and how
> to go about that.
> If you have Latvian workers who will work for 1/4 of the salary of Swedish
> workers, for example, as I mentioned in a previous post, then you get a
> conflict between different groups of workers which makes solidarity among
> them very difficult. The result of the competition may be, that some workers
> are effectively exploited by others. And this may go together with
> ideologies of ascriptive discrimination and nationalism etc.
> Ever since Marx - who in fact didn't have much personal experience of
> workingclass life himself - wrote about the exploitation of surplus labour,
> Marxists have focused on this, but in reality the possible modalities of
> exploitation are much more variegated among all social classes, which is
> something that Marx & Engels acknowledge here and there, when they refer to
> various "swindles".
> Market-trade permits all sorts of exchanges, and therefore permits the
> burdens of work to be shifted around in all sorts of ways. Typically the
> presupposition remains the exploitation of surplus labour, but this need not
> necessarily to be so in principle, insofar as groups of workers are
> exploited because they are simply arbitrarily differentiated between.
> All this obviously belongs to the "missing book on wage labour" to which
> Prof. Lebowitz refers. When Marx referred to the exploitation of surplus
> labour, he referred to a basic *economic relationship* which existed *no
> matter what forms it took*. But the actual forms that it takes - and many
> different sorts of labour-contracts are contingently possible - are
> obviously of critical importance to workers' lives and to their future. By
> contrast, abstract reference to surplus labour may not be very useful in
> this context.
> How these issues are to be resolved is not always easy - for example, the
> Dutch SP campaigns against piece wages and casualisation for postal delivery
> workers, but it also is opposed to the importation of cheap labour from
> Poland and other East European countries. This could be interpreted as a
> "protectionist stance".
> Jurriaan

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