Saturday, December 31, 2016

Robert Paul Wolff — The Connection Between Expropriation and Exploitations, Part Two

… “Clearly,” I said to myself, “workers in a capitalist economy are getting the short end of the stick, but Marx’s explanation, invoking the distinction between labor and labor-power and all the rest, is wrong. So what is the explanation? What is more, how can we capture in our explanation the central feature of capitalism to which Marx devotes so much time in the opening chapters of Capital, namely its mystification of what is going on?”
So I went back to Marx’s text and looked again. And there it was, as plain as day. The workers in a capitalist economy get only a portion of what they produce by their skill and labor, because by a long historical process of expropriation, they have been denied ownership of their own means of production – of their tools, of their machinery, even of their skills – until all they have left is their labor, which if they wish to live they are compelled to sell in the marketplace as though it were a commodity whose natural price is the cost of its reproduction. Why don’t farmers get to eat all the food they grow, after setting aside what is needed for seed? Because they do not own the land and the farm tools. Why don’t factory workers get to wear the clothing they make or to sell it to buy the food they need? Because they do not own the wool or the cotton or the thread or the machinery with which they turn these materials into clothing.
How, I asked, can we capture this situation in a set of formal equations that explains exactly how the workers are getting screwed and simultaneously explains why in a capitalist economy it seems as though the workers are getting a fair return for their labor? Here is what I came up with:
The Philosopher's Stone
The Connection Between Expropriation and Exploitations, Part Two
Robert Paul Wolff | Professor Emeritus, University of Massachusetts Amherst

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