Exploitation and all that...

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Sun Nov 13 09:20:26 MST 1994


Let's set the tone stuff aside. If I have been arrogant and condescending
I apologize.

You and Peter in the following post both note that in my account of
exploitation as forced surplus transfer, we do not have a general,
society-wide measure of the rate of exploitation (quantity of surplus
transfer) absent a notion of socially necessary labor time, which can only
apply in a generalized commodity economy. This is correct: in feudal and
slave society, and, I would argue, in domestic labor in a commodity
economy, the idea of socially necessary labor time does not hold outside
local situations. (There may be a SNLT for a household, manor, region,
etc., but not for the whole economy outside commodity production.) I don't
see why this is a problem for the idea that producers are exploited in the
terms I suggest. The examples derived from commodity economies both of you
press, Peter especially, are not obviously relevant in these contexts.

If my reading is "heterodox," I don't see that as a criticism, but I also
doubt whether it is heterodox. Mandel and I both got the idea that labor
time is (a) measure of exploitation in all social circumstances from Marx,
whom I quoted on this a few posts back. I don't see "orthodoxy" as a
virtue, although scholarship is valuable to know what Marx said.

My account of exploitation has a qualitative dimension: not only is the
quantity of surplus transfer an issue, but also the degree and way in
which that transfer is forced. Mere surplus transfer without force is not
exploitation on my reading. I think that is why Marx takes such pains to
emphasize that proletarians are dispossessed. How and how much force is
involved is not susceptible to precise quantification, although rough
measures are possible. There is less force in the choice "work or go on
welfare" than in the one "work or starve"! But this too must be taken into
account in talking about exploitation, although for some economic purposes
we can assume as a background condition a uniform kind and amount of force
and consider on the surplus transfer itself.

I will mention, since there seems to be some confusion on the matter--not
from you, Lulu--that I do not think that women's exploitation, as I
understand it, exhausts women's oppression. Women are oppressed in lots of
ways: they are denied de facto social and political equality, subject to
sexual harassment and worse, indoctrinated with deferential psychological
attitudes, etc. But they also perform surplus labor for men and so are
exploited. I assert here no causal relations among these aspect of women's
oppression, a topic about which I do not have a theory.



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