Marxism 101: Exploitation

In this tutorial, I will go over what is meant by exploitation in Marxist theory.

Exploitation is not, at least intrinsically, meant to infer that something abusive or cruel is occuring. Exploitation in this sense is referring to something morally neutral. A good example is to imagine the term ‘exploit’ used in sport. Say I am boxing and my opponent has his guard down, by striking him I am exploiting his low guard. Even though I am exploiting something, there is no moral claim connected with the fact that exploitation is occuring.

In the previous tutorial, the distinction was made between the Bourgeoise, the capitalist class, and the Proletariat, the working class. The Bourgeoise gain wealth and income through making profit out of their property and the Proletariat do so out of selling thier labour to the Bourgeoise.

For the Bourgeois to make a profit out of their property, they need to sell a good/service that requires some degree of labour. This labour will often require the business owner to hire workers to do the labour part of the goods or service. The business owner of the Coffee shop will own the coffee beans, cups, milk, sugar, and so on. However, the Barista who works at the coffee shop makes the coffee for the customers.

When the coffee is sold to the customer, it is sold at the proportional cost of the items that were used, plus the cost of the labour. The cost of the labour is normally a socially agreed average of how much time is required to do the labour. However, the cost of labour is highly variable because this is negotiated between the worker and the business owner. Regardless, for a business owner to recieve net revenue something must always occur: the additonal revenue must exceed the costs in order to create a profit. The bigger the gap between revenue and costs: the greater the profit.

Exploitation is when we consider the main source of the profit gained by the business: labour. It is the labour of making the coffee that is the cause of the coffee costing more than just the cost of its parts. However, if the worker recieved all of the labour costs, then there would be no additional revenue left over for the business. Hence, the worker must sell their labour at a cost lower than whatever revenue they are expected to create.

This exploitation can happen by expecting a certain amount of labour to be done but paying the worker less. For example, a Barista is expected to make 30 coffees an hour but is paid for the labour of making 20. Another way is to have the worker produce more labour than is usually expected in the same amount of time. For instance, the same Barista is paid for the labour of 30 coffees an hour but makes 40. And of course, both can occur where the Barista is makes 40 an hour but paid for 20.

This exploitation must always occur in contrast to the labour produced by the worker. It remains the case regardless to how much work is also done by the business owner. Say the coffee shop owner also helps make coffees on busy days. For profit to be realised by the owner, the worker must always be paid less than what is produced out of their labour. So, how much labour the business owner contributes themselves is irrelevant to the concept of exploitation.

In the next tutorial, I will discuss a form of Marxist theory known as ‘Conflict theory’, where the nature of exploitation plays a vital role.

I highly recommend the website marxists.org for those interested in Marxist literature.

Published by

Andrew Tulloch

I have a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Philosophy and Sociology, with a Political Science minor. I am currently completing my honours degree in Philosophy.

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