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Invisible Exploitation by Eva Swidler in MR

Sandra Lindberg

Last month's Monthly Review offered Swidler's "Invisible Exploitation." A few excerpts below:

In short, the capitalist exploitation of labor outside and beyond the wage form has been well documented for many years. Yet many Marxists continue to focus on the wage as the singular embodiment of capitalist exploitation. An expanded Marxist understanding of capitalist exploitation is long overdue. This is not merely an academic question, but a problem with profound implications for anticapitalist movements and organizations around the world...

This preoccupation with waged labor [in some Marxist circles], and the associated perception that modern economics could not explain the supposedly vestigial and non-economic oppression of women or sharecroppers, may partly explain why many communities began to see a politics of identity, rather than economic solidarity, as their best path to public visibility and progress. Access to the wage foregrounds some workers while obscuring the laboring reality of others, fracturing the potential for unity across the multiple working classes. The wage has been used to divide us.

Every day shows us the advancing and expanding grip of capitalism, as it invades and commodifies ever more areas of personal life and experience. Yet at the same time, the number of conventionally waged workers is shrinking, with the rise of temporary contracts, piece work, informal jobs, and other precarious forms of employment. An insistence on wage work as the hallmark of labor under capitalism cannot make sense of this scenario; it must be clear now that the sphere of capitalism has far surpassed the sphere of waged work.
Swidler's article sharpens the focus within economic analysis in a way that could foster large coalitions of people working effectively to overthrow capitalism.