The misuse of 'exploitation'

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Fri Nov 11 18:43:47 MST 1994

On Fri, 11 Nov 1994, Pete Bratsis wrote:

> Justin seems intent to talk about exploitation in the 'technichal sense'
> and insist that slaves, serfs,

Marx is crystal clear that slaves and serfs are exploited. He's also right.

> and women as domestic labour are exploited.
> It seems to me that Lulu's post was very clear on the Marxist meaning of
> exploitation, but aparently was not understood by everyone.

Oh, understood. Just disagreed with. Lulu gave a version--not the only
possible one--of Marx's account of how workers are exploited under
capitalism. But there are other kinds of exploitation, even in Marx.

OK, some references: from Wage Labor and Capital, Tucker anthology, p. 205:

"The slave, together with his labor power, is sold once and for all to his
owner. He is a commodity....but the labor power is not his commodity. The
serf sells only a part of his labor power.. The serf belongs to the land and turns over to the owner
the fruits thereof.  The free laborer, on the other hand...."

Marx is not saying that the free laborer is exploited and the others are
not. He is saying that slave, serf, and worker are all exploited in
different ways.

>From Capital, vol. 1, Tucker 325

The "compulsory labor [of the serf] is just as properly measured by time
as commodity producing labor, but every serf knows that what he expends in the
service of his lord is a definite quantity of his own personal labor power."

This is exploitation.

Marx's consistent analogies between wage labor and slavery turn on the
point that the slave is obviously exploited and the problem is how to
show that despite appearances the worker is too in a way very much like
the slave.

> as used by Marx is a technical term refering to how surplus product is
> extracted under capitalism.  While under feudalism etc. etc. there was
> surplus product appropiated by a dominant class the relations their in
> where very much different than under capitalism and do not constitute
> exploitation in any sence of the Marxist use of the term.

Well, you can use the term that way. But Marx doesn't. And Marxist's don't
have to. Forced surplus (not just value) transfer is a useful notion to
explaining and condemning class society.

  Lulu correctly
> pointed out that even under capitalism, only productive labour is exploited.
> If one wants to adopt a definition of exploitation that is different, say -
> Roemers theory of exploitation (where the productive/unproductive labour
> distinction is no longer relevant) or some other definition of exploitation,
> then, say so or, at least, go read some of the 'tedious' stuff - like
> Marx himself - so these mistakes can be avoided.

You will refrain from assuming that people who disagree with you have not
done their homework.

  Furthermore, I am puzzled by
> the equation of domination to exploitation.

Not my equation. I was using domination in a loose and popular sense to
encompass any relation of subordination, much as Hegel uses Herrschaft
when he talks of master and slave. Marxian domination is rather different
and is only part of capitalistic exploitation under certain conditions,
viz. those of the real subordination of labor to capital. (Although slaves
were also often dominated.)

  While exploitation is domination,
> not all domination is exploitation.


 Why insist that the domination of women
> is an example of exploitation and not use some other, less loaded and more
> applicable, term?

The question is whether it is applicable. I have argued that it is, even
though women qua women (or serfs and slaves) are not capitalistically

  After all, Marxism can only go so far and using concepts
> developed for a very much different purpose may not work so well when applied
> to gender relations/gendered domination.

Quite right. So it is interesting that the concepts do apply.

 If we look to Weber, Mauss,
> Bourdieu, etc. don't we find ways of examining domination that may be more
> appropiated to the issues at hand?

Why not look to Marx as well?


> Peter Bratsis
> Grad. Center, CUNY


More information about the Marxism mailing list