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how are you oppressed by the capitalist system of production?

December 9, 2009

Today I was asked by a young house painter, Can you tell me how I’m being oppressed by the capitalists who run the company? That’s a difficult question to answer, but I told him the short answer is, (1) the capitalist — or employer if you prefer — profits far more from your labour than you do (exploitation), and (2) the product of your labour doesn’t legally belong to you (alienation).

Labour creates wealth (surplus value). But in a capitalist system, labour itself becomes a commodity, an object that’s bought and sold on the market. Moreover, the product of your labour becomes a commodity that’s divorced from the labour expended on its production, thereby obscuring the social relationship between producer and consumer (commodity fetishism).

Furthermore, the employer has the ability to increase their profit exponentially by reinvesting the surplus value extracted from your labour into their company while you, the labourer, are forced to spend your meager wages on the necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, etc.

So from one perspective, an individual might look at it like, “Wow, some guy will pay me a few bucks an hour to paint houses; now I’ll have some money for rent, bills and food.” But from another, wider perspective, there’s an entire class of people who’ve been created by the capitalist mode of production who must sell their labour in order to survive while others thrive by exploiting that labour.

This doesn’t mean, however, that the employer is necessarily the “bad guy,” or even consciously in charge of this exploitation, since, as a friend of mine points out, “… the logic of the system seems to force the hand of the bourgeoisie as much as that of the proletariat.”

That’s why some people want to see a radical economic transformation in which the exploitation, alienation and commodity fetishism of the present system are gradually eliminated via a more socialized mode of production. The question is whether such a system exists, and if so, how it can be successfully implemented.


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One Comment
  1. Hi Jason. I found your blog via

    i stopped to read it because i immediatley recognized your avatar. I have that tattooed on the back of my neck.

    What does it mean to you?

    about your post –
    and i read your post about how buddha was transformed over time to become a supernatural being. it seems this has been debated for quite some time and how both Theraveda / Mahanyana / Vajrayana practitioners all see this issue differently.
    was buddha a buddha at the time of birth?
    was his life on earth his first life? or one of many?

    its quite interesting how all deities are viewed differently over time – through the eyes of different cultures and understandings on their own native religion.

    What does Buddhism mean to you in relation to your avatar?


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