MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of Terms



Exchange is the practice of releasing property on condition of receiving an equivalent in return.

Exchange of labour (i.e., commodity production) is the “cell” of bourgeois society (i.e., capitalism). Exchange of labour is not identical with cooperation or division of labour, but is simply one, historically developed system of social cooperation and division of labour.

Within the family, for example, the various members of the family meet each others’ needs without the expectation of something of equal value in return. In feudal society, the different classes carry out work that is their duty according to feudal right, and do not expect nor receive anything “in exchange”. In a future socialist society, people will work within a developed division of labour without counting out their hours of labour to ensure that they get the equivalent in return: in the words of Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Program: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

Exchange began at the margins of tribal society in the form of occasional barter, and gradually grew until it engulfed the whole of social life and gave birth to capital.



Exchange-value is the quantitative aspect of value, as opposed to “use-value” which is the qualitative aspect of value, and constitutes the substratum of the price of a commodity.

“Value” is often used as a synonym for exchange-value, though strictly speaking, “value” indicates the concept which incorporates both quantity and quality.

Exchange-value differs from “price” in two ways: firstly, price is the actualisation of exchange-value, differing from one exchange to the next in response to a myriad of factors affecting the activity of exchange; secondly, price is the specific value-form, measuring the value of the commodity against money.


Excluded Middle, Law of

The Law of the Excluded Middle is that “if a given proposition is not true then its denial must be true”. See also The Law of (Non-)Contradiction which says that “if a given proposition is true then its denial cannot be true”. Whereas formal logic places an absolute ban on Contradiction, Intuitionism is a branch of Logic which holds that the Law of Excluded Middle is not valid.

For dialectics, this law has only relative truth; due to the inherently mobile and interconnected nature of all concepts, it is frequently the case that neither a proposition nor its denial may be accepted as absolutely true.

Further Reading: Hegel in Science of Logic.



In philosophy, “Existence” does not refer to something being “tangible” or material, as opposed to “ideal” or intangible – Ideas, espirit d’temps, etc., exist just as much as sticks and stones. Nowadays, “Existence” more commonly owes its meaning to writers influenced by Phenomenology, a meaning in turn having is origin in disputes among Hegel’s critics in the 1840s about whether Essence should be rated higher than Existence or vice versa.

In Hegel’s system, Existence denotes the perception of the thing as part of the whole world of things and processes which relate and interact with the thing, it means “being in the world”, so to speak. It is the negative of Reflection, and the synthesis of Existence and Reflection-in-itself is the Thing which proves to be Appearance.



Existentialism is a diverse current of philosophers, who share a distinction between the categories of Being (Sein) and Existence (Existenz), holding that Being cannot be grasped through rational thought and perception, but only through personal existence.

Existentialism has its roots in the 19th century reaction against the “impersonal” Rationalism of the Enlightenment, Hegelianism and Positivism, especially Nietzsche and Kierkegaard. It also includes the Phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. Its founders are Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre.

See The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir, 1947, and Existentialism is a Humanism, Jean-Paul Sartre, 1946.



Experience is knowledge of one's interaction with the world.

In the history of philosophy, the standpoint that takes Experience as primary is Empiricism, emphasising Experience as the source of knowledge as against both received authority or learning and particularly in contrast to Reason (the standpoint of Rationalism).

While experience includes both contemplation and the activity of the subject (as in experiment), Empiricism more and more emphasised the passive aspect of Experience, and with the positivism of the late 19th century, Experience was reduced to Observation, or Sensation.

It was Kant who pointed out that sensuous contact with the objective world did not of itself constitute experience, since without forms through which the sensuous contact with the world can be rationally understood, there can be no experience. (For example, a person totally untrained in geology learns nothing geological from a geological expedition.) The problem which Kant was unable to solve was the source of these categories which made possible the rational cognition of Experience. While recognising that it was the objective world beyond sensation which was the source of sensation, he restricted knowledge to the “possible objects of experience” and with the later positivists, rejected the possibility of knowledge of that “thing-in-itself” beyond experience.

Further Reading: Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, and Hegel's likening of the Absolute Idea with an old man.


Experimental Method

The method of experiment (which begins in its proper sense with Galileo rolling balls down a slope and timing them with an hour-glass) is the investigation of specific features of a phenomenon by actively influencing them, through creating special conditions in keeping with the investigator's purposes.

Experiment differs from Observation; in experiment, the observation is active - the subject deliberately influences the object. Thus, the investigator isolates and manipulates the object in reality - but with the specific purpose of testing a theory. The deepening of the experimental method is the successive withdrawal of this isolation of the object from reality together with the enhancement of the direct influence of the subject, but this movement is possible only on the basis of a theory which is adequate to reality.

Thus, experiment is "embryonic practice" - active learning from experience. Comprehension of an experiment presupposes a correct understanding of the subject-object relation.

The main contribution of Marxist theorists to the understanding of the experimental method, is that the subject is always active, and it is a fallacy to believe that the active intervention of the subject is limited to creating conditions for the object of the experiment and can be abstracted. See Methods for Investigating concepts by Leonid Sakharov 1928.



Exploitation is making use of some vulnerability in another person in order to use them to attain one’s own ends at their expense. In particular, wage labour is a form of exploitation in which the working class is exploited by capital.

Marx defined the “rate of exploitation”, also referred to as the rate of surplus value, as the proportion of unpaid, surplus labour a worker performs for their employer to the necessary labour workers perform, producing the value equivalent of the wage they are paid.

In his enquiry into the source of surplus value in Capital, Marx showed how the accumulation of wealth rested on the lengthening of the working day beyond what a worker needs to work to produce their own needs. In doing so, he also demonstrated that this constituted a form of exploitation, that is to say, that the profit a capitalist makes for themself by means of wage labour is acquired unjustly.

This ethical component of Capital has been a point of controversy over the years because Marx himself denied that his work had an ethical foundation and instead promoted Capital as a work of science. See for example his letter to Engels of 4th November 1864 where Marx says that words he was forced to insert in a document about ‘duty’ and ‘right’, and ‘Truth, Morality and Justice’ would “do no harm” and Critique of the Gotha Program where Marx mercilessly criticises notions of “fair distribution” and “equal right": “Do not the bourgeois assert that the present-day distribution is “fair”? And is it not, in fact, the only “fair” distribution on the basis of the present-day mode of production? Are economic relations regulated by legal conceptions, or do not, on the contrary, legal relations arise out of economic ones?”

In Capital, Marx repeatedly demonstrates that the exploitation of wage labour arises precisely on the basis of the exchange of equivalents, on the payment of wages at their value. In other words, the exploitation of labour is just and fair within bourgeois society, a society based on exchange of commodities. Nevertheless, Capital is replete with value-laden, emotive words which make it clear that Capital is just as much a denunciation of capitalism as unjust and inhuman as it is a work of dispassionate science. (See George Brenkert’s Marx’s Ethic of Freedom) For Marx, exploitation is inseparable from “fairness”.

The question then is this. If notions of Justice (for example) arise only on the basis of definite historical forms of production relations, and the exploitation of wage labour is just and fair within capitalism, from what standpoint does Marx condemn the exploitation of wage labour? Clearly only from the standpoint of socialism. From the standpoint of the working class, that is, from the standpoint of socialism, the whole of bourgeois society, with its exchange of commodities, free trade and equal rights before the law, is unjust and deserves to be overthrown. But it cannot be so criticised from the standpoint of “fair distribution”, “equal enjoyment of the proceeds of labour” and so on in the manner of the Lassallean program, but only from the historically higher standpoint of the abolition of exchange of commodities, money and wage-labour altogether.

That Marx regards the inhuman, degrading and exploitative conditions of bourgeois society as arising from the exchange of commodities, and not just from wage labour and capital, is made clear in Marx's early Comment on James Mill.

See also Marxism and Ethics.


External and Externalisation

External” is a concept of bourgeois economy referring to activity and natural conditions which lie “outside” the economy, but which nevertheless are part of the conditions by means of which the economy exists.

For example, unpaid housework or trees growing in the wild before logging are “external” to the economy, and neither figure in either the national accounts or in the accounts of any companies or individuals.

Externalisation” is a term used to describe the way in which enterprises may “externalise” their costs by, for example, dumping waste products on the community surrounding a factory. Governments can control this behaviour by using licensing or taxation mechanisms to impose a cost and thereby bring the “external” into the economy, or by banning the practice through legislation. In either case, these kind of measures are generally “band aids” which open new avenues for capitalist exploitation.

Marxists support all political and regulatory measures to counter the destructive effects of externalisation but also recognise that the value system prevailing in capitalist society which places zero value on the environment and on voluntary work runs counter to the values and basic needs of the majority of humanity, but has its roots in the fundamental relations of production. New values cannot be introduced by economic regulation, but only a fundamental transformation of the production relations.


External Reflection

External reflection is the perception of a thing as it relates to other things outside of it (its superficial appearance), rather than perception of thing in its internal contradictions, its essential nature, the conception of an object unconscious of its relation to the subject.

Further Reading: Science of Logic on External reflection.