Re: [OPE-L] More about exploitation

From: Michael Schauerte (mikeschauerte@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Sat Jun 23 2007 - 22:37:31 EDT

If there is a distinction, as you seem to recognize, between exploitation in
the sense of the creation of surplus-value and what you refer to as
"additional exploitation," wouldn't it be worthwhile to use two separate
terms to avoid confusion? Consider how much confusion arose in the thought
of Smith and Ricardo for using a single term, "labor" to refer to both the
living labor in production which adds value to the product and the
labor-power commodity that workers exchange in return for their wages. By
making this distinction, Marx cut through a tremendous amount of confusion,
and this distinction is the very basis for the understanding of the
generation of surplus-value (i.e. exploitation in its essential sense).

I say that you "seem to recognize" the distinction, because then you say,
"once a surplus product has been produced (whether thorugh exploitation or
not)." I don't understand why you move from speaking of surplus-value in the
beginning of the sentence, to "surplus product," when there is a crucial
difference between these two terms, which is related to the fundamental
distinction between "value" and "use-value." The Physiocrats failed to make
this distinction, and could only recognize surplus-value in a tangible form
as agricultural products, mistakenly categorizing manufacturing
as unproductive (or "sterile") labor. But at any rate, in every society that
exists above the level of bare subsistence, there will be a suprlus product,
but this does not necessarily signify that exploitation is occuring, where a
minority lives off of the labor of others. And I suppose that is what you
are recognizing when you say parenthetically "whether through exploitation
or not." But while this is true for "surplus product," it is not the case
for the surplus in value that emerges in the production process, which stems
from that difference between the value of the labor-power exchanged and the
labor added in the production process by the worker exchanging that
labor-power for a wage. Here it is not possible to say "whether through
exploitation or not" because this is precisely exploitation itself (in the
"essential sense," if you like).

(I should also add that I don't follow the logic in limiting the "additional
exploitation" that occurs in the process of the ciruclation, distribution,
and consumption of the "surplus product." Isn't the entire product
circulating, distributed and consumed, not just the surplus product
--however that term is defined.)

At any rate, I would simply repeat that the key question is to discover
where profit arises from. If you do in fact agree that this can ultimately
be traced to the surplus-value generated in production (as already
explained), then we share the same understanding of exploitation in its
essential sense. And I would then suggest the need to clearly note this
essential fact by using some specific term to identify it. If you have
another explanation of the *ultimate source* of profit (and not simply a
description of how the surplus-value created is later distributed or coerced
from one pocket to another), then could you express it succinctly? If your
argument is merely to list up all of the cases where a person profits at
another's expense, and point out that workers have also been known to do
this, I would respectfully say that this fails to answer the question that
political economy was puzzled by for centuries, and which the Physiocrats
took a first step towards answering in their theory of the "produit net."

I think that it is only once we have answered the question of the ultimate
origin of "profit" (=society's surplus in value at the end of a given period
of production) that we can then go on and consider how surplus-value is
distributed. But that discussion is quite complex, as it is related to the
concept of productive labor, the formation of an average rate of profit,
etc. One reason for the complexity of the question of exploitation (and
profit) today is the specialization of the economy and vast expansion of
companies involved in the circulation process of commodities. To cut through
the confusion, I think we can learn a lot from ch. 17 in vol. 3 of Capital
where Marx discusses commerical profit. There he points out that in
considering commercial capital (and how it obtains a portion of the
surplus-value created by productive labor), "the problem must at the outset
be put in the form in which the phenomena peculiar to commercial capital do
not yet appear independetly but are still in direct connection with
industrial capital, of which commerical capital is a branch." That is to
say, things become clear if we think in terms of a single company handling
production and circulation. In such a case, certain costs are necessary to
"realize" the surplus-value produced by means of successfully selling the
product, but obviously in this case those functions to sell the product are
not the source of the surplus-value. It is only when a company has
"outsourced" these functions of circulation to another economic player,
which makes a profit for this service, that things become very murky and
confusing, and it seems that profit can spring from any sort of labor.
Indeed this is true as far as the concept of profit is concerned, but there
is an essential distinction between the surplus-value that emerges in the
production of a product and the subsequent distribution of that
surplus-value as the profit earned by all of the economic actors involved in
the circulation of commodities.

Lumping together everything together under the term "exploitation" means
that we lose sight of the distinction between the concept of surplus-value
and profit, as well as the origin of surplus-value.


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