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 4 - OK, but Are Workers Really Exploited?

Pro-capitalist economists like to talk about “land, labor, and capital” as independent factors that all contribute to production and say that therefore the disconnect between the part of a firm’s revenues that goes into workers’ wages and the part that isn’t under their control is unobjectionable — after all, workers only supply one of the three factors. But if capital means the share of society’s resources (above and beyond what’s present in unaltered nature) used in production, that’s just the fruit of previous labor. It hardly rebuts the charge that workers don’t control the products of their labor.

Of course, capitalists sometimes do managerial labor themselves, but that doesn’t mean that “manager” and “capitalist” aren’t distinct roles. In a small enough business, the owner might even sweep the place up herself at closing time. But that doesn’t make the role of a capitalist the same as the role of janitor.

Fine, a defender of capitalism could argue, but aren’t capitalists still making an important contribution by hiring the managers that oversee the production process?

While some managerial labor wouldn’t be necessary if workers controlled the means of production and their incentives were different, some would be. But any managers who are performing useful tasks could be hired by a workers’ committee as easily as by a capitalist. As Cohen puts it elsewhere, what’s socially necessary is “what is delegated” — not the capitalist who happens to be empowered by existing social structures to do the delegating.

When it comes to land, the equivocation is even more obvious. Does ownership of land contribute somehow to production? Only in the sense that the owner permits it to take place. (If that counts, in an absolute monarchy where the king has to grant individual approval to every productive act in his kingdom, he, too, is usefully contributing!)

The land itself makes a valuable contribution, but how does that refute the Marxist charge that it’s exploitative for workers not to control the output of their labor? As radical scholar David Schweickart argues in his book After Capitalism, unless the idea is that some of the crops produced by the combination of land and agricultural labor are going to burned as a “sacrifice to the God of Land,” the land’s contribution seems rather irrelevant to questions of distribution.

In the same vein, G. A. Cohen argues that it doesn’t matter for the charge of exploitation whether autoworkers are directly producing value or simply producing cars which have value (and transporting the cars, and selling them). If anything, not routing Marxist analyses of exploitation through nineteenth-century assumptions about equilibrium prices simplifies the issue and sharpens Marx’s original analogy between feudalism and capitalism. As with feudal peasants, workers are deprived of control over the product — and hence whatever price it fetches if the person who does control it sells it.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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

Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges & Vijay Prashad expose NATO

acTVism Munich    

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.

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!  

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.  

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.

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

Human workforce under severe threat as hyper-automation spreads rapidly

globinfo freexchange     Remember when US workers in fast-food industry were fighting for higher minimum wages? In September, there has been some news circulation about such a prospect concerning the state of California. Yet, while workers struggle hard to achieve even a small raise, the fast-food industry is at least three steps ahead using robots and hyper-automation as what appears to be an unbeatable competitor against human workforce!   Indeed, the first almost fully automated McDonald's opened recently in Texas:   At one McDonald’s location in Texas, robots are now serving up Big Macs. Amid a growing desire for fast food giants to automate their processes, the first mostly robot-run McDonald’s restaurant is currently being tested in Fort Worth, Texas. At this location, there are no human cashiers in sight. Even the restaurant itself is smaller and has no seating, designed to serve the grab-and-go crowd, rather than sit-down diners.   Upon entry, digital tills take customer o

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. 

Russia dropping US dollar for Chinese yuan - and fast

Multipolarista   In response to Western sanctions, Russia's central bank is dropping the US dollar and plans to buy Chinese yuan on the foreign exchange market. The yuan's share of trading on Russia's currency market increased from 1% to 40-45% in less than a year, while dollar trade halved from 80% to 40%. Moscow has quickly become the world's fourth-biggest offshore trading center for renminbi.