Exploitation and / or domination ?
Do inequality, poverty and misery exist because a few privileged people make decisions for us all ? Or have these happy few got a near monopoly over decisions because they already are rich and therefore powerful ? The question is sterile.
Mountains of books and articles have been and are still written to refute the alleged Marxist claim that "the economy" explains almost everything. Who ever made such a claim ?
"According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining factor is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted." (Engels, letter to J. Bloch, September 21, 1890)
It all depends on what is meant by ultimately and production : in any case, it's only under the rule of capitalism that production ceased to be imbedded in social life and developed into a relatively autonomous sphere. The "economy" surely does not explain power. Profit-making strictly speaking does not account for (local or world) wars. Politics does not copy-and-paste the economy. In bourgeois democracy, wealth does not entail automatic access to government, and in real life top businessmen rarely become heads of State. A similar socio-economic "infrastructure" can coexist with very different and opposed political forms. Capitalist Germany was successively run by a monarchist caste, by bourgeois, by the leaders of a nationalist-racist one-party State, then after 1945 by bourgeois in the West and by bureaucrats in the East, then again by bourgeois when the country was reunified. History provides us with many examples of non-coincidence between economic might and political authority, and of a modern State occasionally ruling against the bourgeois, forcing the general interest of the system upon reluctant industrialists or businessmen. Faced with a large strike in the Ruhr, Bismark himself compelled the bosses to grant a wage rise. Although usually in Europe money facilitates power, in Africa and in the East, power is often the quick way to fortune, with family or clans misappropriating public funds or siphoning off foreign trade. Also, it's not uncommon for political rulers to dispossess some industrial magnates, as we've seen in Russia over the last decade.
Yet, in the vast majority of cases, political leaders and masters of the land, of trade and of manufacturing go hand in hand or come down to the same thing. Having a command over men usually means putting them to work. These two forms of control can clash with one another, but not for long: one consolidates the other. Power does not create itself. Political rule and possession of the means of production rarely coincide, but in modern society there's neither exploitation without domination, nor domination without exploitation: the same groups have direct or indirect control over wealth and power.
The exploiter needs to be able to put pressure on the person he exploits: he only exploits what he has supremacy over. Domination is a precondition and a necessary form of exploitation. Let's not try and decide which one logically or chronologically comes first. Exploitation is never just "economic" (I have someone work for me, in my place and for my benefit), but also "political" (instead of someone making decisions about his life, I take the decisions myself, for instance I decide when to hire and fire him). Society is not divided, as Castoriadis thought in the 1960s, between order-givers and order-takers. Or rather, this division exists, but these "orders" have to do with what structures today's world: the capital-wage labour relation (which does not mean it determines everything). There is no need to oppose exploitationtodomination. Human societies in general, and capitalism in particular, can only be understood by the link between exploitation and domination. Firms are not just profit makers: they are also power structures, but they remain in business as long as they create and accumulate value, otherwise they go bankrupt.