The regular commentator who goes by the internet handle TheDudeDiogenes writes: “I have been wrestling with the concept of exploitation/surplus labor for a while now; my issue is, if the Labor Theory of Value is false (as you hold, and I think so do I, though perhaps based on misunderstanding), then what, precisely, does exploitation consist in? How can surplus labor be extracted from the laborer if the LTV is false?”
When I replied by referring to a paper in which I answer the question mathematically, he said, “I am neither good at nor fond of maths (though I value highly those who do understand them), and my intellectual interests are often more "big picture", but if you could write a post for a humanities semi-expert but mathematical novice, I would surely appreciate it!”
This request was seconded by two other readers, which in my rather parochial world constitutes a tsunami of demand, so I shall make an attempt. There are two ways in which I can respond.
The first way, which is most natural to me, is to render my mathematical treatment of this question in plain English, leaving the formal proofs for the cognoscenti. This way has the great virtue of preserving one of Marx’s deepest insights, the mystified character of capitalist relations of production, which in my judgment is one of the greatest intellectual achievements of modern social theory.
The second way is to justify the use of the concept of exploitation to characterize capitalism without referring either to Marx or to the Labor theory of Value. This way has the virtue of circumventing the sectarian squabbles that have absorbed so much of the energy and time of those who proclaim themselves Marxists – no labor/labor power distinction, no tendency of the rate of profit to fall, no negative labor values with positive prices [pace Ian Steedman], and all rest. [I say this, of course, as one who wrote an entire book offering my take on these urgent issues.][I have broken up the paragraphing for online readability.]
After some reflection [not aided by a morning walk – rain today], I have decided to adopt the second course first. If, when I have finished, anyone has the stomach for more Marx shtick, I will attempt the first. With that said, let me begin.
The Philosopher's Stone
Marx Without Marx, or He Who Must Not Be Named
Robert Paul Wolff | Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Amherst