Morality of exploitation

Eric Nilsson enilsson at
Tue Jun 6 02:29:44 MDT 1995

Re the morality of exploitation:

1) Whether Marx thought exploitation was morally wrong has been
    debated in the Marxian literature for a long time. No simple
    resolution is possible as Marx seems to have written different
    things at different times and for different audiences. To
    paraphrase Walt Whitman (as Marxist theory of art was
    recently discussed): Marx might have said, "Do I contradict
    myself? Very well then, I contradict myself: I am large, I
    contain multitudes." In short, there are many Marxes, not
    simply one Marx.

2) One need NOT believe that exploitation, per se, is morally wrong to
    believe that exploitation should be eliminated ON MORAL grounds.
   How so?
      a) the sort of work organization that capitalists desire to
         institute leads to types of work that stunt the worker
         at the expense of greater profit;
      b) capitalist production leads to superstructural components
          that are aimed to reproduce capitalism and do not promote
          the full development of the worker (or others in society);
      c) therefore, while exploitation might not be morally wrong,
          exploitation does lead to other things that are morally
          wrong. Exploitation should be eliminated because of its
          bad CONSEQUENCES not because it is bad in, and of, itself.

3) Indeed, I would argue that the only reason to desire to
change the social organization of production to socialism
or commumism is NOT necessarily because these
two other social relations of production are necessarily
more "just" than capitalism, but because these two
social relations of production might help led to types of work
of work and superstructural elements that are "better"
than those found under capitalism.

However, assuming that a simple change in the social
relations of production would automatically lead to
better organization of work/superstructural elements
is crude essentialism. Many other social, cultural, political,
and economic practices might led to as bad, or worse,
types of work/superstructural elements in socialism and
communism as in capitalism.

Eliminating capitalism is perhaps a necessary, but not
sufficient, condition for the improvement of society.

Eric Nilsson
Department of Economics
California State University
San Bernardino, CA 92407
enilsson at

     --- from list marxism at ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list