Suffering Exploitation: Violence and Natural Right in Marx's 'Capital'

30 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 22 Aug 2011

Date Written: 2011


This essay argues that Marx’s understanding of exploitation is profoundly rooted in a distinctly pre-modern understanding of natural right. Marx attempts, in Capital, to graft the existing socialist discourse about exploitation onto a much older view of wrong, according to which acts contrary to nature constitute the wrong of violence. In this way, Marx’s account of exploitation, widely considered to be the canonical statement, is actually an extreme outlier in relation to all other theories. Marx’s theory of exploitation is not rights-based, in the extreme sense that, on his account, what is exploited by capital is not a bearer of rights at all. Hence, capitalist exploitation is not a violation of rights. Rather, it is a violation of what has no rights – labour-power, labour, and the labouring class.

Keywords: Marx, exploitation, labor, capitalism, rights

JEL Classification: B14, D63, L22

Suggested Citation

Roberts, William Clare, Suffering Exploitation: Violence and Natural Right in Marx's 'Capital' (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

William Clare Roberts (Contact Author)

McGill University ( email )

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