Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Marxism Made Easy - Part 3: Exploitation


"And this life activity [the worker] sells to another person in order to secure the necessary means of life....He works that he may keep alive. He does not count the labor itself as a part of his life; it is rather a sacrifice of his life. It is a commodity that he has auctioned off to another." - Karl Marx

"Labour is the source of all wealth, the political economists assert. And it really is the source — next to nature, which supplies it with the material that it converts into wealth. But it is even infinitely more than this. It is the prime basic condition for all human existence, and this to such an extent that, in a sense, we have to say that labour created man himself." - Frederic Engels

In the previous article, we covered the nature of class and defined some of the major classes that operate under Capitalism. Now, we are going to start looking at how the two major classes actually interact and use this to demonstrate why Capitalism is always an unjust system.

So, the next subject we need to tackle is Exploitation, and to understand that, we first need to understand Value. So, where does the value of the products we buy come from?

Early capitalist philosophers, like Smith and Ricardo, said that the value of a product comes from the labor put into it, which is true, to a point, but if we leave it at that we get some strange results: me standing around waving my arms in circles might be labor, but it doesn't produce any value. If I and another person were to both build a rowboat of equal quality, but I put more labor time into building the same boat, I have not produced any more value than the other guy.

This is where Karl Marx comes in. Marx pointed out in his, "Theory of Value," that in order for new value to be produced, the labor had to be useful; in that, it had to produce a usable object. A "Use Value" as Marx called it. He also pointed out that labor only produces value for the amount of time that is actually required to produce an object. He called this the "Socially Necessary Labor Time."   Marx also described a third type of value. It was called "Exchange Value," which is the value of the object in terms of other objects, such as how I might be able to trade someone three apples for one package of strawberries. What we call "Price" is basically just a specific kind of "Exchange Value."

Any economic system is based on how value is created and distributed amongst the members of society. Under Capitalism, the working class produces all new value, but it doesn't produce that value for itself. Instead, they make it for the owner of a private business. The working class produces that value in a very specific form, referred to as a "Commodity." Commodities are products that are made for the purpose of selling in a market. The commodity gets sold and the value comes back to the owner. Even though all of the value of the commodity was produced by the workers, only a small part of the value is ever received by the worker. This reduced value return usually comes in the form of a wage, and thus, that is all a wage is, the lowest amount of value that the owner can get away with paying to the worker for his labor. Most of the rest of the value, what Marx called the "Surplus Value," is kept by the owner, who calls it "Profit."

This is what Exploitation in Capitalism is. It is the theft of this "Surplus Value" of labor from the workers by the owners. Further, as you can see, it is part of the very fabric of what keeps modern day to day Capitalism flowing.

Capitalists typically defend this exploitation a number of ways. They do so, mainly, by stating that this situation is not actually exploitation, but rather, a "Free Trade Agreement," because the worker freely chooses to work for the owner. However, this is not a voluntary or free arrangement. For the arrangement to be voluntary and free, the parties involved would have to be equal in power. Clearly that is not the case.

We already know, from the previous articles, that the proletariat is a working class that has nothing to sell in the market but its own labor power to members of the owning class, which this is the result of a small group of people privately owning the means of production in society. It is this small group that has the power, and this power is almost always guaranteed and secured by the armed force of the state, which, in many cases, they also control.

Since the proletariat has nothing else to sell but its labor power, and because it must do so in order to survive, it is effectively enslaved to the owner class because of their dependence on their wages, which is what is meant by the term "Wage Slavery." This is not to be confused with chattel slavery, such as the type suffered by African Americans in the U.S. prior to the Civil War.

This system of forced exploitation must end if we truly believe in equality and justice. Even if we wanted to keep this system, it is extremely unstable and highly unsustainable, but that's the subject of the next article....

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