Sociological Theory 6 (2):131-152 (1988)
Prominent neo-Marxists have recently acknowledged longstanding criticisms of Marx's labor theory of value as at best a cumbersome and redundant price model but continue to variously defend the doctrine as an interpretation of historically observed class conflict between exploiters and exploited. This essay counters that value theory also fails badly as a "labor theory of exploitation." The fundamental flaw is the canonical premise that labor alone is productive, with normative implications closer to the entrepreneurial work ethic than to socialist standards of distributive justice. The essay then identifies an alternative theory of exploitation implied by Marx's earlier writings on alienation but obscured by his later association of exploitation with surplus value. What capital appropriates is not "surplus value" produced by labor, but the capacity to produce it, creating asymmetric interdependence within the division of labor. Exploitation arises in the mediation of this interdependence through the exchange of commodities
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