In Defence Of Marx's Account Of The Nature Of Capitalist Exploitation

3207 words - 13 pages

In Defence of Marx's Account of the Nature of Capitalist Exploitation

ABSTRACT: According to Marx, "at any given epoch of a given society, [there is] a quantity of necessaries [recognized as] the necessaries of life habitually required by the average worker." The variations in the type and amount of goods recognized as necessary for life between different epochs and different societies is due to the different 'physical conditions' and to the different 'degrees of civilization' and 'comfort' prevalent. In advanced capitalist societies, the necessities of life include a heated dwelling, food, clothing, and access to some means of transportation, be it public or private. However, the average laborer in advanced capitalist societies has access not only to the necessaries of life but to a variety of luxury items as well. For example, the average worker has access to fine food and drink, an automobile, a television, and a stereo system. In my paper, I explain Marx's theory of the nature of capitalist exploitation. I then indicate how the phenomenon described above may be interpreted as evidence against Marx's theory, and then sketch an interpretation of this phenomenon that reconciles it with Marx's theory. My interpretation will suggest that the average worker's access to luxury items can be explained by the necessity in capitalism of reproducing the working class.

According to Marx, "at any given epoch of a given society", there is "a quantity of necessaries" recognized as "the necessaries of life habitually required by the average worker" (Capital 1: 519). The variation in the type and amount of goods recognized as the necessaries of life between different epochs and different societies is due to the different "physical conditions" and to the different "degrees of civilization" and "comfort" prevalent (171).

In advanced capitalist societies, the necessaries of life include, for example, a heated dwelling, food, clothing, and access to some means of transportation, be it public or private. But the average laborer in advanced capitalist society has access not only to the necessaries of life but to a variety of luxury items as well. For example, the average worker has access to at least some subset of the following luxury items: "fine" food and drink; an automobile; a television set; a hi-fi set.

In this paper, I will (I) explain Marx's theory of the nature of capitalist exploitation; and (II) indicate how the phenomenon described in the previous paragraph may be interpreted as evidence against Marx's theory, and sketch an interpretation of this phenomenon according to which it is consistent with Marx's theory. My interpretation will suggest that the average worker's access to luxury items can be explained by the necessity in capitalism of reproducing the working class.

(I) In some of his early works, Marx suggests that the poverty of the workers goes hand in hand with capitalist production. For example, in "Alienated Labor" he...

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