I thought it would be a nice idea to try and explain this phrase, and by extension explain from where profit is extracted, since both seem like easy concepts which can be understood more easily if simple examples are provided. I do not have a degree on Marxism so I may miss something, but I hope I’m doing my best to help you understand them in a more interesting way.


This phrase, which you will probably heard being spouted by the left faction within the liberals, either on the internet or in the form it has taken as the national bourgeoisie in your country, or also by anarchists and other forms of idealists, makes sense only if analyzed through the lenses of Marxism.

So, then, why do we say ethical production, and by antonomasia, consumption, is impossible within a capitalist society? Are these cruelty free products that you are buying worthless? Well, it all comes down to profit.

To understand how capital accumulation happens, and how wage theft is carried out, we need to understand from where profit is extracted. I will try to provide an easy example, taken out of all the abstraction and complexities of our society so that it will be easier for comprehension.

Let’s say you have a carpenter, they are the owner of their hammer and their saw, with these tools they are charged by some small company in their village to build tables, simple, block shaped tables. They need to buy 1$ worth of nails for every table they produce, and they charge 9$ per hour for the production of such table. The final price they will sell this table, to this merchant person who is owner of this small company, is that of 10$. He will then resell the aforementioned table at a value of 15$ at his company. This 5$ that seem to have appeared out of nowhere is what we Marxist call “Surplus Value”.

Remember this example is astonishingly simplistic, but this is the core reality of what factory workers go through when producing goods, only there are at least a thousand other factors and different levels of exploitation in the process of creating the final product.

This is reason behind ethical consumption is impossible, because the core principles upon which production is based in a capitalist society are those of exploitation, there’s no conceivable labour where wage theft does not occur. It’s not that trying to be vegan, or not hurting animals in the process, or using renewable sources for their materials is pointless. But rather these are all forms that the capitalist superstructure synthesizes into so that it can amass a bigger profit, a grosser capital. These practices should be praised, and are needed, but under a different system, practices such as these will never bring a meaningful change, only Marxist thought and the political and scientific implementation of it in the material world can do so.

This is a great point, there’s also the argument that you “vote with your dollar, buy ethical brands” which is a laughably bad example. If I want to buy a EthicalBrand Cream Soda and Bezos wants to buy a EvilBrand Cream Soda, EvilBrand will profit because their customer has more “votes” than I do. In some especially dastardly cases, EvilBrand will buy out EthicalBrand to make you think that you are a good person for buying the Ethical commodity which all leads to the same owners. And I admittedly don’t have proof of this, but if your ethical company is bought off, the ethics(probably, again not a guarantee, more of a guess) probably don’t stick around longer than the old CEO does

This is a good topic to discuss.

I’ll add observation. I’ll try to keep the example simple, but I do want to add a few more details (I’ll still leave out some of the subtleties).

The $5 that the merchant makes when they sell the table for $15 is value created by the carpenter.

So although it seems as though the carpenter added only $9 of value (this is what they got paid for their labour) they in fact added $14 of value to the $1 materials. The table embodies the full $15.

(Even worse, the workers who made the nails, felled, cut, and treated the timber would have been paid significantly less than $9/hour, but their work is equally crucial to the production of simple tables. If the same capitalist owns the nail and timber factories (probably situated in other countries) there’s another detail to consider: some of the surplus value created by the global south workers may be given to the global north carpenter to keep the carpenter happy, quiet, and opposed to increasing the wages of workers in the global south.)

This is what we mean when we say workers in capitalism do not receive the full value of their labour. This is because workers do not sell their labour, but their ‘labour power’.

The surplus value is (very roughly) the difference between the cost of the raw materials, tools, and labour, and the final sale price. (The reality is more nuanced.)

This exploitation was more obvious in the corvée system and in slavery. The serf knew that when they worked on the lord’s land, the lord got the benefit of that labour. The slave knew that everything they produced belonged to the master. The same thing happens to the wage labourer, but they do not know it.

The wage labourer is tricked into thinking that they receive a wage equivalent to the value they create. But if that were true, there would be nothing left for the capitalist because there would be no surplus, no profit.

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Well, Marx argued in his critique of the Gotha Programme that nobody will EVER receive the full and ‘undiminished’ wage of their labor because he says every procedure of production requires a sort of insurance or backup, including humans. Let’s use a factory example. The products (books) have all been made on the printing press(or however they make books now Im dumb) and we sold them we got some money now. Before I pay my workers, Marx says that you need to feed the procedures of production for lack of a better term. You first put away money on each printing press, covering the daily and hourly wear n tear of machinery. Then you buy the stock and make sure that the light are on and the factory equipment is all running. Now that we know we can continue production at all, now we can pay the workers, and according to Marx, if it’s a socialist society, the worker will get MORE of the wage and get a fairer wage, but never will the worker receive the full ‘undiminished” wage because that would interfere with production and thusly interfere with the proletarian’s existence. Also depending upon the stage of socialism, the pay and societal focus is different. Earliest stages will contain most vestiges of Wage-Labor, then it evolves into a system of production, if you produce a lot, you get more afforded to you, then the higher stages of socialism and reaching out to communism comes the final system of “From each according to their ability To each according to their need”

After they “feed the procedures of production” they’d also have to take a part of the value created by the worker to fund those institutions which enable the reproduction of labor (education, healthcare, infrastructure etc.).

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Well, when we talk about the exploitation of the workers, that’s what we mean, which is synonymous with wage theft, of course this is not the only way it happens, we also have poor working conditions, prolonged working hours, and so on, and so forth, but I can’t think of another “bad thing” about surplus value, it’s just how capitalists make their capital grow.

Regarding taxes, which is something libertarians tend to hate a lot because that’s how they think the government is “stealing from them” and who basically want zero control over how resources are managed, it’s not that they are necessarily bad. Taxes can be used, in a socialist economy transitioning to communism, as a tool to help fix a varied range of issues regarding income inequality and so on, but using taxes alone you can achieve significant change, just taxing the rich isn’t going to solve capitalism, or create some kind of “ethical capitalism”.

Now when it comes to using taxes as a tool to rob working people and help corporations to accumulate more wealth, I would refer to Ross Scot’s video about Deus Ex, specifically this part which talks about the very beginning of the game where you detain a terrorist, it will do way better than I do and in a fun way, you can watch from where I time stamped up until minute 28:08, although watching until the end is recommended, too.

Taxation is a tough one bc Tax isn’t bullshit but sometimes the way it’s administered absolutely is. In my region, a larger city put forth a tax on “sugary drinks” which eventually came to include bottled water. So homeless people had to pay an extra like 30-50 cents every time they wanted something that SHOULD be free.

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