Exploitation and all that...

Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters quilty at philos.umass.edu
Sat Nov 12 11:08:39 MST 1994


The last couple posts from Justin Schwartz I'd like to make a few
comments on.  I'll combine them here for such commentary.

Justin Schwartz writes (indented sections):
 * It [Lulu's post] was a bit long, but that's no big deal. It
 * exemplified a certain arrogance, however, of which I am not free myself

Actually, I thought my first post on exploitation was both short and
humble by standards of this list :-).

Much of Schwartz' comments I agree about...  for example pointing
out that "rightfulness" doesn't have much to do with understanding
exploitation and/or oppression.  But I think he still gets it wrong
about exploitation.  Not wrong so much in understanding Marx as
sacred text (though I guess on the scholarship there really is a
concept of 'exploitation' in Marx that really isn't congenial to
various *metaphorical* extensions), but wrong in the sense that it
elides an important theoretical point in Marx.

There's a bit of our exchange where Schwartz seems to miss a basic
agreement between he and I.  For example, in each writing:

  Lulu of Lotus-Eaters
  LLE> In attempting to find where the old man says slaves are
  LLE> "exploited", he adduced quotes not saying anything about
  LLE> exploitation as such.  That said, I think I *do* remember some
  LLE> passages in _Theories of Surplus Value_ where Marx makes this sort
  LLE> of claim.  But Bratsis is certainly right that it's not entirely
  LLE> consistent in Marx.

 * Lulu, we can quibble about Marx scholarship--as a Marx scholar I'm happy
 * to do this--but I actually do not think the real issue here is what Marx
 * said or meant. The question is whether the notion of exploitation is an
 * applicable one outside commodity contexts. It's an issue about what _we_
 * should mean. We may agree that workers are exploited by...

I would have thought my tone pretty clearly indicated I was
interested in what was really central to the functioning of the
concept, rather than every little inconsistency and transition in
Marx himself.

Anyway, ignoring all this digression, let's go to exploitation
itself.  I've tried to explain several times my reading of
'exploitation' in Marx as a quantitative relationship between the
inputs of labor-power and the outputs of labor (a pretty orthodox
and flat-footed reading, I thought).  In order for this quantitative
relation to make sense, these inputs and outputs have to be
expressed in common quantitative terms: to wit, money.  The point
I've emphasized is that insofar as labor outputs are not
commodities, they simply do not enter into quantitative measure, and
hence no basis for comparison exists.  I did not previously mention
it, but if inputs can't be measured in money terms then the
quantitative comparison also fails.  The "free labor" of capitalism
is the point where it becomes apparent that such a quantitative
comparison is possible, since both the living-expenses of workers
and their wages are mediated by the money form (and this same money
form is a measure of the commodities that many workers produce).
But as with Marx's comment about the physiology of humans helping us
understand the physiology of apes (with his silly old-fashion
"chain-of-being" notion so common in his day), the immediate reality
of capitalism might help us understand the hidden nature of previous
economic forms.  I think, however, that such historical insight only
extends backwards as far as money relations are still prevalent (we
understand the physiology of apes, but not of protozoa :-)).  An
antebellum slave-owner still does the books on how much he pays for
his slaves' food and clothes (and for the slaves themselves), hence
the quantitative inputs to labor-power are measurable.

As I've written, exploitation is only a tendential pattern even for
capitalism insofar as not all labor is ever *productive*.  Of
course, the general *conditions* of labor under capitalism are
determined by exploitation, both for workers who are exploited and
for those who are not (which as I've mentioned may be two sets of
workers doing the same activities for the same wage in neighboring
factories).  And again, housework might be determined by conditions
of hyper-exploitation of women in wage work, even if housework is
not itself exploitative.  Exploitation is not a description of working
conditions or wages, as many -- Schwartz seemingly included (despite
his so-and-so many years of studying and teaching Marx) -- seem to
think.  Rather it is a description of the fact that inputs and
outputs may sometimes (and tendentially) be expressed in
quantitative terms.

In a couple remarks Schwartz suggests an "analogy" between
exploitation and other work situations:

 * "Simply making analogies." Well, what a worthless thing to do.
 * ...we might call it,
 * gender-exploited by men in a way which is strikingly analogous, close
 * enough to deserve being called exploitation, an instance of the same sort
 * of thing.

 * The further question is whether other groups are
 * placed in situations sufficiently relevantly analogous to charcterize
 * these, usefully, as exploitation, bearing in mind the sort of work that
 * the term does in Marx's theory of capitalism.

I'm rather more sympathetic as soon as this women-by-men thing is
called 'gender-exploitation'.  That's a different word than
'exploitation' -- and I'm not one to begrudge an etymological debt.
My question is, what IS the social dynamic of this
gender-exploitation?  And why is it analogous to exploitation?  I
don't much LIKE either, but that's not a particularly compelling
analogy.  On the face of it, gender-exploitation seems NOT to be a
comparison of input and output quantities, so the nature of the
analogy is quite opaque to me (so far).  If anything, a *metonymic*
or *causal* connection seems better than a metaphor.
Gender-exploitation is *associated* or *caused* by
(hyper-)exploitation perhaps, while being heterogeneous as to its
actual form.  Or perhaps the causality runs in both directions,
rather than being *productivist* ("economistic" isn't the relevant
flaw here IMO) about the "BASE".

A possible argument for the gender-exploitation/exploitation analogy
might have to do with the increasing transition into productive
labor of service-work.  A maid hired by a home-owner is NOT
productive, but a maid hired by a temp-agency IS.  Since recent
capitalism has seen such an expansion in productive service-work,
perhaps a direct equivalence can now be drawn between waged,
productive service-work, and non-waged housework.  Many liberal
feminists make such an argument in the various calculations of the
unpaid "value" of housework (curiously, the underpayment of wives by
male "breadwinners" is almost always calculated as more than the
total wage of these husbands...  which makes one wonder how the
husband could rectify this situation within the family, as the
liberals propose he do...  one almost starts to suspect that the
"underpayment" is going on somewhere different than where the
liberals are willing to suggest).

 * Here it seems clear to me that serfs and slaves are so placed, although
 * they are not capitalistically exploited: their masters and lords want
 * surplus product from them, not surplus value. It's not hard to state a
 * general definbition of exploitation which covers all three cases.

Perhaps if it's not hard to state this "general definition" Schwartz will
be so kind as to do so.  I have acknowledged that serf/slaves may be
exploited in a perfectly proper sense.  The relevant distinction is
the cash-equivalence of the *product*, which sometimes (not always)
exists under capitalism, and sometimes under other systems.  So I
guess the relevant "general definition" will have to show the
(broad definitional) equivalence of productive and unproductive
labor.  It's not at all clear to me how to define this -- although
I'm not necessarily denying it can be done.  But notice that showing
that productive and non-productive labor historically *condition*
(or "cause" for the mechanists) each other is not at all the same
matter.

Yours, Lulu...

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