Capitalism and injustice

It is difficult to do without the concept of exploitation to describe the many forms of injustice generated by capitalism. Marx therefore still remains very contemporary.

If the title of Emmanuel Renault's book suggests a program of action to put an end to exploitation, in reality its objective is to reflect on the concept, to redefine its contours in order to give it an alternative meaning to that which it has carried in the tradition in which it is part : the author immediately sees it in a normative dimension by asking himself whetherit allows better than others to account for and criticize certain experiences of injustice and domination (p. 5). He thus gives his work a triple objective: to rehabilitate the political usefulness of the concept of exploitation, to rethink it in the light of recent theorizing and to present its link with the logic of injustice and domination. He defends an intersectional approach (p. 287), and for this he thinks it necessary to call into question the monopoly of the theoretical use of the concept of exploitation (to which) (l)Marxism has long claimed (and to specify) that the critique of capitalism can be based on principles other than those of a theory of exploitation (Same).

The book is presented in three parts. The first concerns the debates which surrounded the question of exploitation, with an emphasis on its interest and on the criticisms which were addressed to it. The second concerns the history and uses of the concept, both on its origins and its appropriation by Marx, and on the way in which feminist approaches advantageously enrich it. The third presents the normative issues that the author attributes to the concept, in terms of domination and injustice. Emphasis is placed on the lived experience of those who suffer exploitation, thus allowing a back and forth between empirical and theoretical considerations.

Saving the theory of exploitation

One of the singularities of this concept is, when its object is men and not resources, that it cannot be positive or even neutral; it is morally inconceivable to deny being an exploiter or to rejoice at being exploited and, just as not mentioning exploitation is a form of legitimization of exploitative situations, making use of the concept of exploitation always means setting the horizon of (her) abolition (p. 20). Also the work is part of an intersectional perspective, which consists of criticize exploitation in the plurality, overlapping and cumulativeness of its forms (p. 303) to the extent o the exploitative character of capitalism has always been classist, sexist and racist (p. 305). This amounts to broadening the object of exploitation beyond work, in particular by complementing the social critique of capitalism, that of Marx, with feminist, anti-racist and ecological critiques. Not only does patriarchal exploitation ensure the reproduction of labor power, but also capitalist exploitation is overdetermined by social relations of sex and race. He thus understands that exploitation is not based on a single determinant, but on three criteria: inversely proportional well-being between exploiters and exploited, the exclusion of the exploited from access to certain productive resources and the appropriation by the exploiters of the work effort of the exploited. It is a question of transforming, even enriching, the notion of exploitation, in order to extend the concept of work by taking into account its contemporary mutations, notably with the consumer work and the digital work (p. 63).

The author thus focuses on the historical origins of the concept, which he attributes to the workers' movement as it was embodied in the first socialist works, in particular those of the Saint-Simonians and the no-Babouvists. This naturally leads him to focus on what he considers to be the classic exploitation problem (p. 84), which he lends to Marx, in whom he explores, over two chapters, the genesis and development of the concept of exploitation, first in German ideology (1845), and especially in the Communist Party Manifesto (1848), in which he places it in the dynamics of the workers' movement with a view to establishing a historical diagnosis which structures a theory of history – historical materialism which conceives historical phases as a succession of forms of exploitation.

It is in a chapter devoted to capitalist exploitation that he studies its specific forms, notably the fact that exploitation is not visible, and that for Marx a theory is necessary to reveal it (the theory of labor value): exploitation thus corresponds to the extraction of surplus labor and therefore of surplus value, the production of which is the objective of the capitalist class with a view to accumulating it in the form of capital. It is in the chapter which concerns feminist approaches that E. Renault plans to integrate domestic relations into the theory of exploitation, that is to say, supplement the exploitation linked to relations of production with that which is part of relations of reproduction.

In the last part of the book, the author places exploitation in a normative logic (based on experience, both in terms of injustice and domination). Exploitation is thus seen as a concept of domination, in addition to a structural approach, which is based on an analysis of the foundations of capitalism, namely private ownership of the means of production: Dispossession of the means of production () only defines structural inequality and it is difficult to see why structural inequalities should be designated as domination (pp. 214-215). Domination can take several forms: oppression resulting in an obstacle to self-development, enslavement as dependence on others, subordination as absence of autonomy and inferiorization as devaluation of skills. Exploitation is also understood as an injustice, under three dimensions: distributive (absence of equity in terms of productive resources and wealth), contributory (violation of the right of workers to the product of their work) and compensatory (insufficient compensation for efforts).

without saving Marx

Although the figure of Marx, whose author is one of the finest connoisseurs, is omnipresent in the book, he nevertheless distances himself, particularly when he presents it as a difficulty that (vs)hez Marx the criterion of capitalist exploitation (either) provided by the labor theory of value (p. 42-43), for four reasons:

1) it makes it difficult to account for price formation (), 2) it makes it even more difficult to analyze wage differences (() between simple work and complex work ()), 3) we do not see how to measure the quantity of work creating value (() intellectual work time is difficult to measure), 4) () it is impossible to deduce monetary quantities (prices) from non-monetary quantities (quantities of work) (p. 43).

Each of these elements seems problematic to us. The first and fourth refer to problem of transformation of values ​​in prices, which was above all a theoretical offensive by the neoclassical current aimed at discrediting Marx's theory, and we share the point of view, in particular of Andrew Kliman and Ted McGlone, for whom this is precisely not a problem, particularly in the sense where it transforms theoretical and political issues into a strictly technical question, to the extent that mathematical tools are used to resolve questions of a social order.

The second and third are also technical, and it seems to us that it is on this ground, and not in the reflective and philosophical fields, that the author seeks to discredit the theory. We believe that the difficulties of measuring the difference between the value produced by simple work and that produced by complex work; the second is a power of the first and between manual work and intellectual work are not reasons to discount the relevance of these differences. It remains that he draws the conclusion that(i)It seems legitimate to renounce based on (Marx's theory of value) analysis of capitalist exploitation (p. 166).

Not renouncing a theory of exploitation while renouncing the theory of labor value implies designing alternative criteria: the author opts for injustice and domination, largely inspired by the authors of analytical Marxism (especially Roemer but also Cohen and Wright). This is how, by substituting normative foundations for structural foundations for the theory of exploitation, the author reaches a conclusion close to that of John Roemer according to whom it is not obvious to find differences between analytical Marxists and non-Marxist philosophers such as Dworkin, Rawls and Sen. Also, one of the implications that the author draws from the abandonment of the labor theory of value is in particular that labor is not the only factor of production, and () the owners of other factors of production (especially capital) have the right to demand remuneration (p. 270), and just as capital is entitled to a part of the wealth created in the same way as work, employees do not all belong to the same social class, since it is because they are subject to relations of exploitation that the lowest paid employees work for the highest paid employees and the owners of capital. (p. 213).

Perhaps this is how we can understand broad alliances of which this concept is promising (p. 12), and one of the conclusions of the work is that the transformation it proposes of the theory of exploitation weakens the class border between exploiters and exploited: capital, because it contributes to production, is potentially exploited, and part employees are potentially exploitative. By blurring class boundaries, this position weakens Marx's contribution that capitalism is based on the exploitation of workers by capitalists.

The fact remains that reading Emmanuel Renault's work is particularly stimulating for all those who are interested in issues linked to the question of power relations and inequalities with a view to outlining emancipatory perspectives.