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(mining engineering)
The extraction from the earth and utilization of ore, gas, oil, and minerals found by exploration.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

exploitation (and appropriation)

(MARXISM) the acquisition (appropriation) of the ‘surplus product’ by the individuals or class which owns and controls the MEANS OF PRODUCTION. More strictly, in terms of the LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE, exploitation involves the expropriation of SURPLUS VALUE.

Serious reservations are often expressed about the theoretical and empirical cogency of the labour theory of value (see also VALUE). However, conceptions of exploitation in capitalist, or other types, of society which do not depend on acceptance of the labour theory of value can still carry much force in accounts of CAPITALISM AND CAPITALIST MODE OF PRODUCTION. Thus, Hodgson (1982) has argued that we might, without such dependence, identify ‘bargaining exploitation’, resulting from the unequal bargaining strengths in the negotiation of a contract, as well as class exploitation, resulting from unequal distribution of the means of production (see also Roemer, 1982). Similarly, Wright (1985) has argued that if we pose the question, ‘if one of the classes would disappear, would there be more consumption and/or less toil for the other class?’, and the answer is ‘yes’, then there is exploitation, whether or not one accepts the labour theory of value. This leaves open the question, however, of whether these are satisfactory conceptions of exploitation. It is characteristic of all of these accounts that they arise from formal, a priori analysis, rather than from empirical analysis of the functions performed by classes, or any very adequate analysis of the practical implications or feasibility of the new social arrangements that would be required to eliminate exploitation.

The relations between exploitation and oppression and levels of political consciousness is a further topic of some importance. See CLASS, CONTRADICTORY CLASS LOCATIONS, JUSTICE.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



in socioeconomic formations characterized by class antagonisms, the appropriation of another’s labor by the owners of the means of production.

As a social phenomenon, exploitation presupposes a system of measures for coercing people to work. The dominant classes use such a system to appropriate, without offer of compensation, the products of surplus labor of the actual producers; on occasion, part of the necessary labor is appropriated as well. The material prerequisites for exploitation appear when the development of productive forces reaches a level that permits the creation of both the necessary product and the surplus product. The socioeconomic conditions in which one person can exploit another originated in the period of the disintegration of the primitive communal system, when the institution of private ownership emerged and society became divided into antagonistic classes.

The modes of exploitation vary according to the particular antagonistic socioeconomic formation and are determined by the way in which labor power is coupled with the means of production. Extraeconomic constraint typified the slaveholding and feudal socioeconomic formations, whereas capitalism developed a system that relied on the economic compulsion to work (seeEXTRAECONOMIC CONSTRAINT and ECONOMIC COMPULSION TO WORK). The degree of exploitation is measured by the ratio of the surplus product to the necessary product; stated another way, it is the ratio of surplus labor to necessary labor.

Historically, the first and crudest form of exploitation was slavery. In slaveholding society, the slaveholder owned both the means of production and labor power. The entire product was appropriated without remuneration by the slaveholding class, which supplied the slaves with means of subsistance scarcely sufficient for them to exist in a state of semistarvation.

Under feudalism, exploitation was based on the feudal lords’ ownership of the land and partial ownership of labor power. The surplus product created by the labor of peasant serfs was appropriated without remuneration by the feudal lords and assumed the form of feudal land rent. Feudal exploitation passed through two main stages: the corvée economy and the quitrent economy (seeCORVÉE and QUITRENT). In the corvée economy, the peasant worked part of the time on the feudal lord’s land and part on the parcel of land allotted to him. Necessary and surplus labor were separate from one another in time and in space. Under the quitrent system, all labor was expended on the peasant’s farm. In the corvee economy, surplus labor assumed the form of labor rent; in the quitrent economy, rent was paid in produce or in cash.

Under capitalism, the means of production, which are owned by the capitalist class, are coupled to labor power by means of the purchase and sale of the latter. The worker is legally free, but he lacks the means of production. Under such a system, labor power becomes a commodity that is remunerated by the capitalist on the basis of value. The mechanism of capitalist exploitation is based on the difference in magnitude between the value of the labor power commodity and the value created by labor power. The exploitation of hired workers by capital is expressed in the appropriation of the surplus product, which assumes the form of surplus value. The degree of exploitation is measured by the ratio of surplus value to variable capital spent on the remuneration of the labor power commodity. Exploitative relations in capitalist society are masked by the concept of wages, which serve as the transformed value (price) of the labor power commodity.

Production goals and the laws of competition promote the systematic growth of capitalist exploitation. Today, the capitalist monopolies, by concentrating vast material and labor resources in their hands, are able to extract monopoly profit. The joining of the economic power of the monopolies with the power of the bourgeois state into a single mechanism, as well as the formation and development of finance capital, make the working people of capitalist countries an object of exploitation at all stages of the reproduction of social capital. Under contemporary capitalism, exploitation is accompanied by a continual rise in prices and the cost of living, increased unemployment, and a heightening of social inequality. Workers engaged in physical labor and workers engaged in intellectual labor, both in the sphere of material production and in the nonproduction sphere, are drawn into the orbit of capitalist exploitation.

The history of all exploitative societies has been marked by the struggle of the exploited against the exploiters—that is, by class struggle.

The establishment of social ownership of the means of production eliminates the exploiting classes and the exploitation of man by his fellow man (seeSOCIALISM).


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1, chs. 4, 5, 17, 23, and 24. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23.
Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 3, chs. 20,36, and 47. Ibid., vol. 25.
Engels, F. Anti-Dühring, secs. 2–3. Ibid.,vo\. 20.
Engels, F. Proiskhozhdenie sem’i, chastnoi sobstvennosli i gosudarstva. Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. Razvitie kapitalizma v. Rossii. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol.3.
Lenin, V. I. Imperializm, kak vysshaia stadiia kapitalizma. Ibid., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. “Ekonomika i politika v epokhu diktatury proletariata.” Ibid., vol. 39.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


See also Opportunism.
Barnum, P. T.
(1810–1891) circus impressario famous for his saying, “Never give a sucker an even break.” [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 825–826]
northern exploiters whose chicanery exacerbated Reconstruction problems. [Am. Hist.: Jameson, 84]
Casby, Christopher
rack-renting proprietor of slum property. [Br. Lit.: Little Dorrit]
wicked puppetmaster enslaves Pinocchio aboard troupe’s caravan. [Am. Cinema: Pinocchio in Disney Films, 32–37]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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