What do we mean by exploitation?
explains Karl Marx's understanding of exploitation under capitalism.
September 28, 2011
THE TERM "exploitation" often conjures up images of workers laboring in sweatshops for 12 hours or more per day, for pennies an hour, driven by a merciless overseer. This is contrasted to the ideal of a "fair wage day's wage for a fair day's work"--the supposedly "normal" situation under capitalism in which workers receive a decent wage, enough for a "middle class" standard of living, health insurance and security in their retirement.
Sweatshops are horrific examples of exploitation that persist to this day. But Karl Marx had a broader and more scientific definition of exploitation: the forced appropriation of the unpaid labor of workers. Under this definition, all working class people are exploited.
Marx argued that the ultimate source of profit, the driving force behind capitalist production, is the unpaid labor of workers. So for Marx, exploitation forms the foundation of the capitalist system.
All the billions in bonuses for the Wall Street bankers, every dividend paid to the shareholders of industrial corporations, every dollar collected by capitalist landlords--all of this is the result of the uncompensated labor of working class people. And because exploitation is at the root of capitalism, it follows that the only way to do away with exploitation is to achieve an entirely different society--socialism, a society in which there is no tiny minority at the top that rules.
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EXPLOITATION IS not unique to capitalism. It has been a feature of all class societies, which are divided into two main classes, an exploited class that produces the wealth and an exploiter class that expropriates it.
Under slavery, exploitation is naked and obvious to exploiter and exploited alike. The slave is forced by sword and lash to work for the master, who provides just enough to keep the slave alive--all the rest of the fruits of their labor are forcefully appropriated by the slaveowner.
Similarly, under feudalism as it arose in its classical form in Europe, the serfs work on a plot of land that belongs to the lord. They work for part of the time for themselves, producing their means of subsistence, and the rest of the time, the product belongs to the lord. The terms of exploitation are clear to serf and lord alike--the serf labors for the lord, and receives nothing from the lord in return.
Capitalism is different among the chief forms of class societies Marx examined in that the exploitative nature of labor is hidden by the wage system. Except in cases of outright fraud, workers are hired, labor for a given amount of time and receive a wage in return. It appears on the surface that an equal exchange has taken place--but this isn't the case.
Why not? The capitalist, in addition to purchasing various inputs into the productive process--machinery, raw materials, etc.--also buys what Marx called "labor-power," increments of workers' time during which the capitalist controls the workers' creative and physical energies.
Read the rest of the article at: http://socialistworker.org/2011/09/28/what-we-mean-by-exploitation