This term is important in Karl Marx’s theory of historical materialism and in his analysis of capitalism in particular. For Marx, exploitation in one sense is a technical term denoting the extraction of surplus value from one section of the population by another section, and typically this will take the form of a subordinate class producing surplus value that a dominant or ruling class appropriates with the use or threat of force. In slave and serf societies the exploitation is visible with direct force and threats of force used in compelling the subordinate classes to produce and relinquish to the dominant classes a surplus. In capitalist society the extraction of surplus value is more subtle with workers selling their labor power to the capitalists who then use this labor power to generate surplus value which they then own. According to Marx, the extraction of surplus value from the worker by the capitalist involves no robbery and is not unjust, because both worker and capitalist only receive what they are entitled to. The worker is entitled to the value of his labor power, and, as with any commodity, this is the amount of labor required to produce it. The labor required to produce labor power is the amount required to keep the worker alive and in a position to perform the work for which he is paid. In other words, the value of labor power is the amount of labor required to produce the food, housing, clothes, training and so on that the worker needs. In essence the worker is entitled to no more than a subsistence wage in the capitalist system of exchange, although historic conditions may see a higher wage paid.
   Despite Marx’s theory of historical materialism (according to which justice and morality are relative to specific historical modes of production), his claims to be scientific and various comments he makes suggesting exploitation is not used as a term of condemnation, the term and the theory point to a critique and denunciation of capitalism.
   See also Labor theory of value.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.


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