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The Fictions Of Free Labour: Contract, Coercion, And So-Called Unfree Labour

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Chapter Summary

The conception of contracts as the outcome of a free choice generalises to all sorts of contracts, including contracts of employment. Liberal legalism, or the pure or general theory of contract that developed in the nineteenth century, grounded the almost limitless subordination of the wage-labourer in the anodyne fictions of consent. Marx himself defined free labour primarily in terms of the dispossession of labour, and then, of course, its ability to make valid contracts. Vulgar Marxists have worked with a rigid dichotomy between free and unfree labour, suggesting that lack of coercion is a defining feature of wage-labour. Sartres references to free labour in the Critique work in terms of an implicit contrast between the real freedom of the worker, identified as the workers human reality, and the abstract or mystified freedom of the wage-contract.

Keywords: liberal legalism; Marxist theory; wage-contract; wage-labour



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