Skip to main content

Karl Marx was right: Workers are systematically exploited under capitalism

Even among Marx-friendly economists, the labor theory of value has fallen out of favor. But its technical validity is less important than the core message: workers are exploited because the value they create is undemocratically taken by capitalists.

by Ben Burgis  

Part 2 - Marx’s Analysis of Labor and Capital

Marx spends the first five chapters of Capital analyzing several economic concepts, starting with commodities, money, and value. He then considers them in relation to capital, using his famous three-letter diagrams.

For instance, even a subsistence farmer might sell some of the goods he and his family don’t need to buy products they can’t make — a chain of transactions that Marx renders as C-M-C (commodities-money-commodities). The capitalist does the opposite: M-C-M (money-commodities-money). While a miser simply keeps his money, perhaps filling a swimming pool with gold coins like Scrooge McDuck, the capitalist turns his cash into commodities and turns those commodities into more money (representing an underlying increase in value) — whether by selling them (in the case of the merchant capitalist) or using them to manufacture new goods and selling those (in the case of the industrial capitalist).

Crucially, the capitalist drive to accumulate money isn’t primarily about individual capitalists being bad, greedy people but rather the relentless pressures of the system itself. A capitalist who doesn’t ruthlessly pursue profits will be outcompeted by those who do — as Marx says, the capitalist is a kind of “rational miser” (while the miser is a “capitalist gone mad”).

But, Marx asks, how does the store of value held by the capitalists increase?

To be sure, some people are better at business than others and can buy cheap and sell dear, but how does the supply of value in society as a whole increase over time? Where does the new value come from? Marx’s answer is that a worker’s capacity to work — her “labor power” — is a “c” that has the capacity to turn “m” into more “m.”

At this point in the discussion, any good defender of capitalism will counter that the capitalist provides the physical means of production — the factories, equipment, and so on. Isn’t the capitalist the source of that value? But Marx points out both that the physical means of production are a source of value insofar as they are used by workers and that these are themselves the result of the activity of previous workers — in Marx’s phrase, “dead labor” used by “living labor” to produce more value.

And yet, despite being the source of value, labor is dominated. In a striking passage at the end of chapter six, Marx portrays a stylized exchange between the “owner of money” and the “owner of this peculiar commodity, labor-power,” who meet in a marketplace to exchange their property. They meet as equals to make this exchange, but then:
 
                          When we leave this sphere of . . . the exchange of commodities, which provides the “free trader vulgaris” with his views, his concepts, and the standard by which he judges the society of capital and wage-labor, a certain change takes place, or so it appears, in the physiognomy of our dramatis personae. He who was previously a money-owner strides out in front as a capitalist; the possessor of labor-power follows as his worker. The one smirks self-importantly and is intent on business; the other is timid and holds back — like someone who has brought his own hide to market and now has nothing to expect but — a tanning.

As the book continues, turning at last to the key concept of class struggle, Marx writes at length about what the “tanning” looks like and how it works. He describes “half-starved widows” giving up their children to toil in the match-making industry — working all day every day and facing very early death because of the industrial process. He writes about groups of desperate workers and their families petitioning local governments to reduce their worktime to eighteen hours a day.

But Marx’s key analytic point is that mainstream economists who ignore the class antagonism at the heart of capitalism are obscuring a central element. Under feudalism, the direct producers (peasants) are clearly forced into giving up some of their “surplus labor” (the time they spend working but not to meet their own needs) to the ruling class. The coerced transfer is out in the open. Under capitalism, the immediate producers (workers) are legally free to make contracts with anyone or — if they’re willing to simply go hungry — no one. The coercion is disguised.

Yet the underlying reality, Marx insists, is a crude relationship of domination and extraction.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Proof Twitter censored anyone CIA & FBI told them to!

The Jimmy Dore Show   When Viktor Shokin, a former Prosecutor General of Ukraine and notable target of onetime Vice President Joe Biden, wrote a book about his experiences in office, there were powerful individuals within the U.S. Government who didn’t want people reading this book, or even becoming aware it existed. And that’s why government agents insisted Twitter censor accounts promoting Shokin’s book, along with countless others in the tsunami of demands for censorship from government agencies that were flooding into the social media company prior to the 2020 election. Guest host Aaron Maté and journalist Matt Taibbi discuss the very dangerous precedent established by this unseemly private-public censorial partnership.

January 21, 2010: The day corporate dictatorship destroyed the last remnants of US Democracy

globinfo freexchange     As we described many times in this blog, corporate power grew rapidly since the early 70s with the rise of neoliberalism and its subsequent establishment as the dominant culture, especially in the West.  In the motherland of neoliberalism, the United States, corporations essentially legalized corruption in politics during the 70s in order to capture the entire political system and put it under their complete control. As David Harvey describes in his book A Brief History of Neoliberalism :                          The supposedly ‘progressive’ campaign finance laws of 1971 in effect legalized the financial corruption of politics. A crucial set of Supreme Court decisions began in 1976 when it was first established that the right of a corporation to make unlimited money contributions to political parties and political action committees was protected under the First Amendment guaranteeing the rights of individuals (in this instance corporations) to freedom of speec

Can we save Julian Assange? Intellectuals & journalists speak out!

acTVism Munich   To close out the year, we summarize our work on the Julian Assange case by compiling excerpts of statements we recorded from Edward Snowden, Noam Chomsky, Stella Assange, Jeremy Corbyn, Glenn Greenwald, Paul Jay, Jill Stein, Nils Melzer, Chris Hedges, Tariq Ali, John Pilger, Jennifer Robinson, Srecko Horvat, and Angela Richter. We hope to continue our coverage of this case next year!  

Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges & Vijay Prashad expose NATO

acTVism Munich    

Jeremy Corbyn on freeing Julian Assange, the working class, Brazil, Peru & ending Ukraine War

Democracy Now!   In Washington, D.C., human rights and free speech advocates gather today for the Belmarsh Tribunal, focused on the imprisonment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Assange has been languishing for close to four years in the harsh Belmarsh prison in London while appealing extradition to the United States on espionage charges. If convicted, Assange could face up to 175 years in jail for publishing documents that exposed war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Five major news organizations that once partnered with WikiLeaks recently called on the Biden administration to drop charges against Assange.    British MP and former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is in Washington, D.C., to participate in the Belmarsh Tribunal, speaks about Assange and freedom of the press. We also speaks about the state of leftism around the globe, from labor rights in the U.K. and Europe to the war in Ukraine, to political unrest in Brazil and Peru. 

Economists Radhika Desai & Michael Hudson explain multipolarity, decline of US hegemony

Geopolitical Economy Report   Introducing Geopolitical Economy Hour: This is the first episode of a show being hosted every two weeks by economists Radhika Desai and Michael Hudson. They present the program and discuss the rise of the multipolar world and decline of US hegemony.

Free Julian Assange: Noam Chomsky, Dan Ellsberg & Jeremy Corbyn lead call at Belmarsh Tribunal

Democracy Now!   Former British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, famed linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky and others gave testimony Friday at the Belmarsh Tribunal in Washington, D.C., calling on President Biden to drop charges against Julian Assange.    The WikiLeaks founder has been languishing for close to four years in the harsh Belmarsh prison in London while appealing extradition to the United States. If convicted in the United States, Julian Assange could face up to 175 years in jail for violating the U.S. Espionage Act for publishing documents that exposed U.S. war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Friday's event was held at the National Press Club and co-chaired by Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman.   

Julian Assange and the rapid decline of liberal Democracy

by system failure We are now in 2023, and after 1362 days, Julian Assange is still in prison. If you seek something to measure the decline of liberal Democracy in our days, the Julian Assange case will help you a lot. And it's most amazing that in the era of information overflow (with plenty of means available to transfer it almost instantly in every corner of the planet), there are still many people who are unaware of the Assange case.   The origins of this deterioration go back in 1968 when the Left made a disastrous compromise with the powers of the establishment. Since the early 70s and after Nixon's shock , the cultural domination of neoliberalism paved the way for the restriction of certain types of liberties in Western societies.  The 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001 became the perfect opportunity for the establishment to abolish instantly a significant portion of the civil liberties that came out of the 1968 compromise. The liberal Democracy in the West suffered a heavy

New JFK/CIA revelations & our alarmingly secretive security state

Glenn Greenwald   Allen Dulles was probably the second or third most powerful person in Washington - maybe the most powerful in 1950s - when he ran the CIA until JFK fired him in 1961 because he blamed Dulles for the failed fiasco in the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba. And Dulles had every reason in the world to want to kill Kennedy, as did a lot of people in the CIA.  

China pushes de-dollarization with gold reserves, Argentina yuan currency swap deal

Advancing global de-dollarization, China’s central bank is boosting its gold reserves while signing currency swap deals in yuan with countries like Argentina, encouraging the use of renminbi instead of US dollars.   by Ben Norton  Part 4 - China uses currency swap lines to help debt-burdened countries, while advancing de-dollarization China began conducted currency swaps with Argentina back in 2009, under left-wing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Deals have been repeatedly renewed since then. But the South American nation is not the only country that has worked out a system like this with the East Asian giant. In December, the Wall Street Journal reported that Beijing’s central bank is using an “ unusual channel ”: “ currency-swap lines to support governments that borrowed heavily from Chinese banks ”. The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) has given hundreds of billions of dollars worth of yuan to dozens of countries in exchange for their domestic currencies, the newspaper repor