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.