The misuse of 'exploitation'

Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters quilty at philos.umass.edu
Sat Nov 12 08:06:21 MST 1994


Peter Bratsis responds to Justin Schwartz:
   I do not see how the quotes you give, however,
   support the case that Marx thinks that slaves and serfs where exploited.
   It does show that he thinks that there is surpluss production produced
   in feudal as well as capitalist societies, that labour as a commodity
   is unique in that you cannot seperated labour power form the person who
   'ownes' it etc.  But, in your quote the term exploitation is absent.

That was one of the things I found quite odd about Schwartz' quotes
also.  In attempting to find where the old man says slaves are
"exploited", he adduced quotes not saying anything about
exploitation as such.  That said, I think I *do* remember some
passages in _Theories of Surplus Value_ where Marx makes this sort
of claim.  But Bratsis is certainly right that it's not entirely
consistent in Marx.

Either way, however, my original point about (female) housework not
being exploitation in a Marxist sense is unaffected.  Insofar as
there is a possible sense in which serfs/slaves are exploited, it is
still only insofar as they are productive of commodities.  So, for
example, the American antebellum slave who picks cotton which her
owner resells may do a calculation of the number of labor-hours
required for her sustinence inputs, versus those incorporated in the
sale-price of the cotton.  Although not paid in cash, a similar
rate-of-exploitation is calculable as for the wage-laborer picking
crops "down north".  However, the "house slave" still doesn't enter
into the exploitation relation (which of course doesn't suggest
she's not *oppressed*).  Nothing is resold in the house slave's
work, but merely directly consumed by the purchaser of the
labor-power (purchased, in this case, on a lifetime basis).

The essential point in defining exploitation is NOT the form of pay
of the worker (i.e. wages vs. directly consumed items), but rather
the production of commodities in the labor-process.  (Women's)
housework is not categorically excluded from this category of
exploitation, insofar as things like clothing, food are sometimes
produced (non-waged) for resale, but neither is the "second shift"
phenomenon tantamount to exploitation.  In general, when housework
produces nothing resold, (Marxist) exploitation is just not a
relevant category.

Yours, Lulu...

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