Marx's Evolving Theory of Exploitation Term Paper

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[. . .] (Marx, 2003) The answer, of course, is that there exists something of control mechanism inherent in capitalist expansion. Capitalism is based on overproduction, and requires for sustenance ever widening markets. Into each market in which it expands, it also exports capitalism. (Keep in mind that Marx was writing in the age of colonization.) New markets provide a flux of new laborers, which fuel the dropping wages of all laborers globally. However, as workers become increasingly impoverished and as markets become increasingly saturated, capitalism begins experiencing decrease in profits. This is one of the important thesis points in the Communist Manifesto. (Marx, 2003)

Despite this gloomy outlook in "Alienated Labor" and the Communist Manifesto, in Marx's later Capital, which explores the issue of exploitation rates in far more precise detail, there is a note of optimism. In this work, Marx actually suggests that it is not absolutely inherent in the nature of capitalist exploitation that the workers will not receive living wages. Rather, he suggests that perhaps if capitalism is to be self-sustaining it will have to create a working class which is somewhat sustainable -- at least at a subsistence level-- because the production of workers (as a commodity) does require that they survive in such shape as to be able to do their labor! Here he writes, " at any given epoch of a given society...[there are] necessaries of life habitually required by the average worker" (Marx 1961: 519) which the worker will in fact be granted on as part of the basic wage. This might include pay sufficient for basic food, clothing, shelter and moderate furnishings, and if necessary transportation. In more wealthy countries, such necessities might be considered to include certain luxuries such as small entertainment budget, healthcare, and so forth. Being granted such basic elements assures that the working class will both be able to perform their duties, be able to reproduce future working class members, and will be less inclined to revolt (or die) from sheer want. However, moving beyond this moderate life would require salaries which are not cost effective. If the worker is a commodity, even if he/she is a valued commodity, they will not be "purchased" (as it were) for more than the most basic cost necessary for "producing" (as it were) workers.

To some degree the compatibility between Marx's earlier assertions and his later claims is evident if one exams the modern global situation. In developed countries, where the standard of living has progressed, workers are being sustained as a class from the profits of capitalists, and granted their basic needs in most (though certainly not all) cases, though at least in America the minimum wage required by law is still below the living wage in many sectors of the country. These working class individuals are both workers and consumers, and their need to consume is such that it is able to sustain and fuel capitalism's need to produce. At the same time, much of the profit accrued by major capitalists is not being gained in America where workers are sufficiently paid to purchase many products, but is rather being produced overseas where wages are significantly lower. Many of the profits made in America are often what might be called second-tier -- not stemming from production of commodities but from providing services to individuals who in many cases are being partly supported (in one way or another) with the profits reaped overseas. In other countries, meanwhile, many individuals are surviving on wages equivalent to less than what one dollar could buy in America. This shows that both theories had some merit to them, and create viable models for worker exploitation.

Even in America, where the working wage is one capable of sustaining a (relatively) comfortable life, exploitation is still a significant and addressable issue. Marx would certainly not continue to be of such interest to Western thinkers (Howard, 1990) if it were not relevant to the situation of workers in the Western world. It must be kept in mind that even if the worker's wage is sufficient to sustain life, capitalism cannot thrive unless capitalists are making a profit -- that is to say, unless there is a sufficiently high exploitation rate. Regardless of how high worker wage is, so long as workers are spending a majority of their time creating wealth of which a majority will go to investors, speculators, and capitalists rather than to those who actively create the wealth-producing commodities, then exploitation of the sort Marx condemns continues to exist.


Howard, M. & King, J. A History of Marxian Economics: Volume II, 1929-1990. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Kliman, A. "A Contribution to the Ongoing Inquiry into the Existence of Marx's Marxism"

Submitted for discussion to the International Working Group in Value Theory. Miniconference at the Eastern Economic Association Conference. Washington, D.C.,

Lee, C. "Marx's Labour Theory of Value Revisited." Cambridge Journal of Economics 17, 1993.

Marx, K. Capital. Vol. 1. Ed. Frederick Engels. Trans. Samuel Moore and Edward Aveling. Moscow: Foreign Languages… [END OF PREVIEW]

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