Exploitation and all that...

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Sat Nov 12 18:04:04 MST 1994

On Sat, 12 Nov 1994, Lulu of the Lotus-Eaters wrote:

> 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).

My reading of exploitation, both in Marx and analytically, is that it is a
matter of forced surplus transfer (as I have said, and indeed argued
before). So there is a quantitative element: we have to be able to
distinguish between what's necessary for reproduction of the producers and
what is surplus. But there is a qualitative (indeed, a normative) element:
that the s-transfer from producers to nonproducers is forced. That is why
Marx rightly insists in Wage Labor and Capital and Capital itself that
workers _must_ sell their labor power or starve.

  In order for this quantitative
> relation to make sense, these inputs and outputs have to be
> expressed in common quantitative terms: to wit, money.

No: you can do it, as indeed Mandel suggests, simply in terms of time
(Marxist Economic Theory, vol. 1, pp. 60-63), as argued in fact by Marx
himself in a quote from Capital given in my previous post. If I work three
days for myself and three days for the lord, and if I am forced to do the
latter, I am being exploited.

  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.

Well, you can't compare commodity inputs to noncommodity outputs. But
that's a different issue.

  I did not previously mention
> it, but if inputs can't be measured in money terms then the
> quantitative comparison also fails.

No. We can measure lots of quantities: how many calories are produced over
thoswe consumed in production, or how much corn, or indeed, how much time
is spent in reproduction versus total production.

But perhaps you are thinking of Marx's idea that different forms of
"concrete labor" embodying variable skill are incommensurable and must be
reduced to "abstract labor" of an unskilled sort to provide a single
common measure enabling the possibility of universal exchange. This is a
terrible argument for lots of reasons, but even granting its validity to
explain exchange ratios for commodities it is quite irrelevant when we are
talking about pre-capitalist exploitation, which does not involve
exchange. The lords and masters simply coerce as much surplus as they can
get from the serfs or slaves.

  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.

Actually many slaveowners did not do the books and debates about whether
slavery was profitable in a capitalist sense are dicey. But I agree that
slaves did on the whole produce a surplus, which is a
measurable-in-principle quantity of something. But whether measurable in
money terms, well, that's also a tricky issue. I don't see that money
terms are necessary even if a translation into them is possible.

> 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)

Lulu, are you trying to make me angry? Have I insulted you beyond calling
your post tedious, for which I apologized? This is neither comradely nor
scholarly. In fact it is rude. Bear in mind, for your own self-interest,
that while you can behave like this on the net, it will get you destroyed
in professional life. Of course with interests like ours we don't need to
be rude to be professionally destroyed, as I can testify. But we needn't
give them extra excuses.

No, Lulu. I do not think that exploitation as a technical term describes
working conditions or wages. I think it describes the fact and conditions
of surplus transfer, whether that surplus is product, value, or labor. Now
in fact the conditions of labor (in particular whether labor involves
Marxist domination, i.e. intensive supervision) may be partly constituve
of the forced character of labor under some circumstances. But simply
being dominated labor does not make it exploited if there is no surplus

 -- 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.

But I'd only use that word in contrast to capitalistic exploitation,
taking both as general instances of exploitation simpliciter, i.e., forced
surplus transfer.

> My question is, what IS the social dynamic of this
> gender-exploitation?  And why is it analogous to exploitation?

I am interested in the first question too. The answer to the second
question is obvious. In my terminology, a surplus (here labor) is forcibly
extracted from women, just as a surplus (value) is forcibly extracted from
workers in capitalist exploitation.

> 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).

Labor time is the relevant I/O quantity. What's opaque about that?

  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...

By doing hisshare of the domestic labor, maybe?

  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.

Lulu, do you talk like this to your colleagues? If you will be so kind as
to read what I have written here and elsewhere in previous posts on this
net, you will find that I have done 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.

I guess not, if unproductive labor is by definition nonsurplus-producing.
But then my notion of a surplus is rather broader than that involved in
surplus value, so many workers or producers who don't produce surplus
value do produce surplus on my account, whether s-product or s-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.

Shall we try again to raise the level of civility on the net? I apologize
for lapses on my part.

--Justin Schwartz


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