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how do anarchists define "exploitation"?

+2 votes
asked May 1, 2015 by dot (57,730 points)
i don't use the word, so i won't try to define it.

not using it seems significant to me, but i feel uncertain about how to explain why.

baa: i don't use the word either. but that doesn't mean i don't have a working sense of what it means when someone uses it (this is, of course, why i'm considering the word here and now). sometimes it's quite useful to consider definitions of words used only by other people.

dot, "the working sense of what it means when someone uses it" varies in my experience. i usually ask a person to clarify what they mean when they use a word that i don't.

so, i do know the dictionary definitions of exploitation, and in many cases i know how a particular individual uses it when i talk with them, but i don't have one of my own that i use in communicating my thoughts. in other words, i don't "define exploitation", but if it comes up from another person in conversation, i ask them to define their meaning of it.

i agree about the usefulness of considering another person's definition of a word absent from my vocabulary. i also like to consider why i don't use a particular word or phrase.

edited: to reduce redundancy

I really like bornagain and cloud's answers.

3 Answers

+1 vote

on-going thoughts:

to me, exploitation implies an economic relationship and interactions over time and it's a term for large scale interactions, rather than individual-to-individual ones. someone i was talking to commented that it's a word for white men in top hats... which leads me to the thought that it describes a clear and simple power relationship, pre-foucauldian, which certainly exists (obviously), but is hardly the most common scenario in rape (which is why it bothered me in the original example, i guess). 

it is not simply a word for mis-use of power, especially not a one-time abuse.

it has also been jargon, used to mystify power relations rather than clarify them. 

answered May 2, 2015 by dot (57,730 points)

"it has also been jargon, used to mystify power relations rather than clarify them."

i agree. i think this has something to do with why i don't use it.

dot, i get what you mean when you distinquish between individual interactions and (for lack of a better term) institutional interactions.

however, i'm not sure i see why the word could not apply to one individual "taking advantage" of another, especially in some on-going way. nor do i see it limited to economic relations.

i guess i'd like to know what is your actual definition of the term. you said it describes a clear and simple power relationship, but you didn't say what that relationship is, or why it would only be economic in nature and would not apply to individual relations.

just kinda curious...
i'm probably not going to answer the question exactly that you're asking, but i would only use exploitation for individuals if the individual who was being the jerk was doing so in a way that echoed/mirrored institutionalized power dynamics... but not even then. nope. tried that on for size and didn't fit.

for me the word just doesn't mean what one person does to another. no value judgement here (at least not yet), just a definitional line. exploitation is a big institutional word for me. it's about systems. like how (for me) racism is a systemic thing, not a matter of (for example) an asian person hating white people.

obviously YMMV

edited to take race out of the irritating binary of black/white.

ymmv? guess i need a new acronym cheat sheet.

"like how (for me) racism is a systemic thing, not a matter of (for example) a black person hating white people. "

i don't think i understand. clearly there is systemic racism in the u.s., and clearly it has typically been aimed at non-whites. but when a black person (an individual) hates "white people" (a falsely homogenized mass), are you saying that is not racism? and if so, would you say the same of a white person (an individual) hating "black people" (a falsely homogenized mass)?

ymmv=your mileage may vary

no. to me, racism-the-word has the emotional intensity that it does because of things that have been done by white people, or people-in-power, who have mostly been white people, against non-white people. the power differential is systemic, historical, and one-way.

bigotry or prejudice or racial hatred or something is what i would call examples of what you bring up.

tl/dr: not all falsely homogenized masses are the same.
interesting, thanks for the explanation.

so let me see if i am understanding correctly: your are distinguishing between "racial hatred" and "racism", in such a way that a black person (in the u.s. anyways) could not exhibit "racism", but they could exhibit "racial hatred". how, then, would you use the word "racist"? does racist refer to someone exhibiting "racism" or "racial hatred" or both or neither?
racist goes with racism.

and people of color can be racist, just not against whites. it is actually not that different from what wilderson talks about (as far as i understand it), except for the privileging blackness over all other categories of Other.
"people of color can be racist, just not against whites"

wow. I could not disagree more. i'll leave it at that.

yes, that's been clear.

many people use racism to mean anything race-based. and in theory i think that's understandable, but (to my thinking) it makes it harder to have conversations about the most significant ways that a system impacts us.

why do you think that it should be called the same thing when two people do the same thing but the context is really really really different?

but perhaps at this point this is for a different thread.
you never answered on that thread. perhaps it's time?

the fact that terms like "institutional racism", "systemic racism", etc, have added a specific and clarifying qualifier to the general term "racism" is significant to me, and makes much sense.

i can find no definition of the unqualified word "racism", outside of academia, that implies anything about it referring only to institutional or systemic policies/behaviors rooted in bigotry/hatred based on race. left/liberal academics seem to have redefined the term as such, in order to fit it into the overarching ideology of victimization and identity politics that seems to be their bread and butter. 

but honestly, it just isn't very important to me. i now understand how you (dot) use the word, and that is all that really matters; clarity in communication, not right or wrong. (not saying you are playing the right/wrong game, btw).

i'll have to peek at that other thread...

+1 vote

Proudhon's What is Property? contains a very specific theory of exploitation, which has at least been influential among anarchists. People working together generally produce more than they would working individually, he says, but under conditions of capitalist exploitation they are compensated as if they had been working alone, while the capitalists pocket the share of the proceeds (and often the lion's share) attributable to the cooperation. Exploitation is then individual appropriation of social property or product, and we find analogous forms in political and economic spheres.

answered May 8, 2015 by humanispherian (570 points)
+1 vote
I've primarily encountered it being used as jargon. Personally I'm not against jargon necessarily, but that concept is one of my least favorite aspects of Marx: his critique of exploitation.

In that context exploitation is basically a description of how not all of the monetary benefits of a worker's labor-power are ever returned to her via wages. The reason being that the price of her labor-power is determined by the cost of her survival, whereas the price of the goods she produces is determined by other factors. Obviously there's a ton of problems with that line of critique, number one being that if you were to adopt it in isolation from the rest of Marx's critique, which unfortunately is what is often done, then it seems like you would assume that it's worthwhile for the worker to be engaged in that production in the first place and that the only objection you need to raise is one having to do with fairness.

Since I don't want people to think I mean anything like that, I avoid using the term even in a colloquial way. (another reason not to use this term, for me, is that in its colloquial sense "exploitation" has a very moral ring, and people who use it are generally doing an even worse type of analysis than the one attributed to Marx...)

(However, I want to add that the critique of exploitation, properly understood, is really just one part of his critique of alienation. That critique ultimately is not predicated on fairness or morality at all. I find it much more worthwhile and much more complicated to dismiss).
answered Jul 19, 2015 by asker (9,900 points)
edited Oct 31, 2016 by asker