[OPE-L] More about exploitation

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Mon Jun 25 2007 - 13:39:13 EDT

Hi Michael, 

Well... there's exploitation possible from the appropriation of surplus labour, surplus product, or surplus value, or generic profit. But surplus value or profit can be appropriated directly from production, or in economic exchange (circulation). In addition, other kinds of exploitation are possible in the circulation of commodities, money and capital, and in human relations generally. Exploitation is a big subject, and as I said being rather innocent I don't even pretend to know all the different possible modalities of exploitation. 

The production of a surplus product need not imply exploitation necessarily. An independent producer can produce a surplus product, without necessarily exploiting anybody.

Marx argues the general social precondition for capitalist private profits in bourgeois society is the existence and performance of surplus-labour (Mehrarbeit), the product of which can be appropriated in virtue of ownership title to capital assets. But that is not to say that profits cannot also arise in numerous other ways (I don't even pretend to know all of the different ways).

The big problem with Marxism is, typically, that it tries to apply abstract categories directly to empirical reality, without studying the empirical data. The grandiose theoretical claims are many, the research pitiful in comparison. In reality, there is no neat-and-tidy accounting sum according to which total surplus value equals total profits, since surplus values are generated without translating into profits, and profits are realised without any relation to new surplus values produced. Anybody who understands anything about national accounts or economics knows this. And therefore the "transformation problem" has always seemed a trifle scholastic to me. 

Bourgeois economics extols the benefits of trade. Obviously, people don't trade unless they gain something from it (unless they are forced to trade, on unfavourable terms), but the gains might be very unequally and unfairly distributed, and therefore you can be exploited in trade. Labour-power can also sell above or below its value. All Marx then says is, whether the worker's wage be high or low, he's still exploited anyhow. Fine and good, but short of the red revolution, the worker aims to get a wage that at least reflects the value of his labour-power.

To take a personal example: after a bout of depression, I took on a job that 150 or so other workers wanted, and I accepted pay scale 6. I wanted to work, rather than be on the dole, that's how I was brought up. But in terms of the work I really end up doing, I should be at least in pay scale 7, because that's the norm for that sort of work. Marx can say: whether you are in pay scale 6 or 7, it's wage slavery anyway, which is a valid point of view, but it is not a lot of use to me, insofar as I, as a worker, think I ought at least to be paid for the work I do. And there is an issue to resolve there. I think my union would agree with me on that point, we'll see (the fine points of the law are something else again).

As regards workers exploiting workers, consider this "hypothetical case": an immigrant worker without a residence permit and a work permit, takes on work under a false name (a friend of his), and his wage gets deposited in his friend's account. For this "service" his friend (also a worker) keeps 40-60% of the earnings for himself, and pays out 40-60% of the earnings to the immigrant. The immigrant has no leg to stand on, since he's illegal as it is. His employer accepts his work, and says he's doing a good job, his "friend" takes part of the money, but basically he stays where he is, because he hasn't got much in the way of other options, and doesn't earn enough to get himself out of this trap. The bourgeois press of course loves this kind of story, because it shows workers exploiting workers. Real point is that you could be working like this for years, and nobody gives a damn except about the money, and you cannot even earn your work permit in this way. 

I have read plenty philosophical discourses about exploitation, but the reality of it is something else again, and you have to keep your wits about you, because you can get screwed in a jiffy.


PS- I wrote a few wiki reference articles on the topic here:


You are of course welcome to improve them.

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