Full Marx Library series

Part 1 of the Full Marx Library series in the Morning Star newspaper

“EXPLOITATION” can mean taking unfair advantage of someone, emotionally or physically. But in economics, Marxists also use the term exploitation in a very specific, technical sense, relating to the way in which goods and services are produced and traded and who benefits.

Capitalism is based on the supposed supremacy of the market, of free transactions, where buyer and seller are at liberty to decide what they want to buy and sell, to whom and for how much. This fiction of a free market is carried through into employment. The worker is “free” to choose who to work for and for what wage while the employer is free also to select the worker and what to pay.

Socialists have always challenged this fairy tale of a “fair exchange” between buyer and seller — including the process whereby working people get paid for doing a job. They point out that power ultimately lies with the owner of capital — the “means of production.” Working people have no alternative but to sell their capacity to work because they have no other means of subsistence. The savings of the average household in Britain today would last no more than 16 weeks.

Read more: What is exploitation?

Part 2 of the Full Marx Library series in the Morning Star newspaper

NO, to both questions. Private property predates capitalism and will survive long after it has been abolished.

But it is important to distinguish personal possessions — your clothes, bicycle, your home (if you “own” it) from capital.

Capital is a particular form of private property — including factories, mines, transport and energy utilities, shops, offices, and, increasingly, financial capital — that enables its owners to make profit from the work of others, and to accumulate yet more capital, and power.

Property that is “private” gives the owner the right to exclude others from its use. It existed well before capitalism, certainly way back to the “invention” of agriculture (although anthropologists tell us that some supposedly “primitive” peoples today believe that objects are “possessed” only while they are being used — otherwise they are held in common).

Socialists believe that capital — not personal possessions — should be socially owned.

Read more: Is Private Property Peculiar To Capitalism And Do Socialists Want To Abolish It?

Part 3 of the Full Marx Library series in the Morning Star newspaper

ECONOMIC class is a role that people occupy, not a tag that attaches to individuals. But if you want a label, the simple answer is yes, if you work for a living (you receive a wage) and you don’t own or control capital.

If your employer gets more “value” from the work you do than you receive in wages, you’re working-class.

Read more: Am I Working Class?

Part 4 of the Full Marx Library series in the Morning Star newspaper

YES, you should, especially if you’re an employee and certainly if there’s a trade union branch at your workplace and you should do so for a variety of reasons, from personal to political.

Membership will give you protection if things go wrong and provide other material benefits. It will enable you to work with others to make your workplace safer and better. And it is the means by which you can, collectively, protect your wages and secure an improvement in your standard of living.

As Marx himself argued a century and a half ago, in Wages, Price and Profit, the wages struggle is very important. Without it wages would automatically sink to the minimum level required to sustain the individual worker and guarantee the reproduction of labour power. Without it, all workers would be much worse off.

Read more: Should I Join A Trade Union?

Part 5 of the Marx Library series in the Morning Star newspaper

SOME form of parliamentary system is the norm in advanced capitalist nations. While some countries, like the US and France, have powerful presidents, a common feature is that elected assemblies are the principal seat of constitutional power.  

It is conventional to present this system as the best that humanity can devise and one which all countries should eventually adopt.  
Marxists on the other hand take a historical view of what Marx called “bourgeois democracy.” This emerged from earlier class struggles; and it is one of the sites of the current class struggle.  

Read more: What do Marxists say about parliamentary elections?

 

Part 6 of the Full Marx Library series in the Morning Star newspaper

LET’S start with “materialism” first. We’ll follow up with the “dialectical” bit in the next instalment.

Colloquially, the terms materialism and materialistic are often used in a pejorative way to mean “concerned or preoccupied with material things” at the expense of values and ideas. But in philosophy the term materialism is used rather differently.

Read more: Why Is Marxist Philosophy Interested In Materialism?