[OPE-L:5248] Re: state and workers'ownership and (un)productive labor

From: paul bullock (paulbullock@ebms-ltd.in2home.co.uk)
Date: Fri Mar 23 2001 - 18:04:08 EST


I add comments in bold to aid exchange,


Paul B

-----Original Message-----
From: Gerald_A_Levy <Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com>
To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
Date: 18 March 2001 15:05
Subject: [OPE-L:5200] state and workers'ownership and (un)productive labor

>Re Paul B's [5193]:
>> Yes of course the capitalist class is very reluctant to allow the State to
>> be involved in production processes, the discipline of profit cannot be
>> clearly worked out in that relation, taxation is all too easily used  in
>> productive activities. Neverthless it must be indisputable that where,
>> especially in Europe after WW2, the State steps in to reconstruct and
>> control the finances of steel, iron, coal, railways etc  these industries
>> are producing commodities for general sale and 'surpluses' were demanded
>> the state of these industries... eventually the political pressures
>> the legal control of the process were changed and the relationship
>> transfered back to where it 'belonged'... > privatisation... to private
>> shareholders.
>> Surely you are not going to rely on  legal formality ? In the same way as
>> 'profit' can arise in non productive circulating activities, (where a
>> is made on the SV produced previously) then  surplus value can be pumped
>> in  'non private' production activities...as long as were are clear that
>> State acts as the collective capitalist, producing a commodity, in
>> branches of industry, reluctantly and (historically) temporarily.

You raise some interesting issues which I would
like to disentangle a bit.

Let's consider first what I understand to be the
main type of state production that you refer
to. Namely, instances in Europe (and elsewhere)
following World War II when there was the
nationalization of industry. To begin with, I
agree that the labor so employed should be
considered -- in the main -- to be production
labor. Yet, labor engaged in production is not
necessarily productive of surplus value.
'Production' here is too abstract a use to understand

How are we to understand these nationalizations?
I would assert that most of these industries were
taken over by the state only under the threat of
plant closings and bankrupcy. In that case, the
state took over these industries *not to be able
to produce surplus value* but to: a) protect
the value of  the company from being prematurely
lost; So we have companies with VALUE, How now do you want to define VALUE?
Can I ask, if VALUE, which for me is created in  a relation of exploitation for the puposes of extracting SV, how can we have a relation that freezes?  The constant capital must be worked up or it will lose its value, it can only be worked up AND retain its value if variable capital is used, if capital is turned over and if surplus value is the result. Now, the goods may well be sold so cheaply, so allowing higher profits to be realised in other industries
but this does not mean surplus labour time is not being worked and surplus value realised in the sale of the product which provides a source for the common mass of surplus value which determines the general rate of profit in the economy.

b) to ensure that there wasn't a "domino
effect" whereby many other capitalists, that
depended on the demand by the firm being
nationalized or the workers employed at that firm
for sale of their output, didn't also go out of
business. On the contrary, I am indicating above that the state controls provided cheap and reliable inputs to the private sector, and it was this that assisted private capital accumulation at the expense of these State controlled industries (In the UK they were not allowed/ expected to make a profit at all for some time)

Thus, at the same time the state let small
businesses go out of business they took action
when a major capitalist (and employer) threatened
bankrupcy. The object, then, of the state
acquisition was to protect the prospects for
continued capital accumulation on the national
level (in other words, to forestall a national
economic catastrophe); This is true, but a more appropriate point to make from the 70's onwards, eg the UK Goovernments 'National Enterp[rise Board' which underwrit many weak companies in the mid 70's without taking them over

c) as a concession to
individual capitalists who demanded protection
*and* as a concession to workers' and trade
union demands that the state act to protect
their jobs. ( a happy coincidence in the immediate post war, but untrue later when privatisation clearly/openly cares nothing for the workers employment, or local trade... eg UK SDhipbuilding in the late 60's onwards)
It is interesting to note that in the case of Germany
many of the nationalizations were mandated by
the Allied military forces.  In fact the US refused to accept the UK demand to nationalise the German Steel industry)Thus, perhaps we
should also see this restructuring process as
part of  what became the Marshall Plan and,
relatedly, an effort to diffuse workers' militancy
and the prospects for revolutionary change.

In the case of some other countries, like France,
the influence of  Social Democratic and (mass)
Communist parties on government policy
should not be entirely discounted. (Agreed... eg Renault, where the management had cooperated with Fascism) Indeed, the
fear by these parties and trade union federations
(such as the CGT) that plant closings would
cause mass unemployment was a motivating
force for demands for state take-overs. Perhaps,
additionally, such action was taken because of the
fear (both by the state *and* the SD and CP
and trade union "leadership") that if there was
continued inaction then the workers themselves
would take-over and occupy the factories
(and, in fact, in some instances this occurred)
and unleash a dynamic that could  get "out of

But, I think the main point to remember is that
there was no immediate anticipation by the state
or others that such plants could generate a
surplus. Indeed, it was anticipated that they
would generate a loss. BUT  accounting profits and losses are besides the point when the state can control or manipulate prices, which was the case until at least 1953. The issue is were these industries run to extract and separate their product from the workers, so providing a fund for the capiotalist class?
 And it was, as you
suggest, only after the state-owned enterprises
had demonstrated that they could receive a
profit (a share of the total surplus value) that
there were demands for privatization.( Yes, this was absolutely necessary to attract buyers, but  i did not say they were not creating value and surplus vale. eg British Gas, the Electricity Industry and many others made handsome profits whilst nationalised)

In other instances, the motivation and dynamics
of state ownership may be diferent. E.g. we
can agree that there are, in many countries, both
privately-owned and state-owned schools and
hospitals.  In some cases, the state-owned
schools and hospitals used to be privately-
owned. In some cases, state-owned schools
and hospitals have become privatized. The
same use-values are produced at both kinds
of schools and hospitals. The labor employed
at both kinds of schools and hospitals is, in the
main, engaged in production. But,  in the
state-owned schools and hospitals wage-labor is
exchanged against revenues rather than capital,
i.e. it is not capitalistically employed.  From my
perspective, then, it is not labor which is
productive of surplus value. This is an interesting issue that requires some thought about the role of the labour of repair and training of labour power itself. Where this labour has become part of the historical needs of the WC, as we see in the UK with the demand for the NHS and rsesitance to educational privatisation, then we have used the idea of productive labour of a special type. (See Howell 1975)

Of course, one could note that there is a price
in many cases attached to the services provided
by these state-owned hospitals and schools.
E.g. in the US most public colleges have tuitions
(although there were *huge* social struggles, as
in the case of SUNY and CUNY, over the
question of whether there would continue to be
free tuition -- and open admissions -- or whether
there would be unfree tuition -- and "standards"
conccerning admissions). Yet, even where students
have to pay a tuition at these schools it is
significantly less than the tuition at capitalist
institutions of higher learning.  I believe that this
is a reflection of the fact that although goods
are for sale here, there isn't surplus value
production. Rather, those institutions are not
self-sufficient and have to rely heavily on revenues
provided by the state. I see it rather as capital resisting a 'bastard type'of historical category, struggling at every turn to convert the use of labour into  a more fully capitalistic form.

Another kind of ownership possible under
capitalism, generally under exceptional
circumstances, is workers-ownership. Do the
workers at those enterprises produce
surplus-value? (Gil: are you listening?).

Although I might be accused of being "formal"
(Rakesh, I believe, once wrote in connection
with a thread on whether slave labor was
productive of surplus value, that I was "being
formalistic to the point of tears" -- or words to
that effect), I would say, "No".  Yes, the
worker-owners can produce goods which are
sold on the market and come to be treated as
if they were commodities. And, indeed, they
do produce commodities if you believe that
a commodity is any object which has both a
use-value and an exchange-value (i.e. a product
with a use-value that was produced in order
to be sold).  Yet, from my "formalistic"
perspective, unless labor is capitalistically-
employed then it can not produce surplus value.
But if the workers are forced, proudhon like, to work within all the market constraints, and produce profits to pay the banks interest, and the landlords rent, then whatever their intentions, or whatever they do with the balance of the profit, they are de fact capitalistically employed. Indeed such arrangements are usually crushed if they don't conform.

Gil might counter with some quotes from Volume
3. Fair enough. Yet, the question is what is the
most consistent way of conceiving of productive

Also, I will note that many of the instances of
workers' ownership only occurred after the
firm announced that they would close a plant.
The union or workers then bought the plant. In
some of these cases, the very first thing that
they did was to lay-off some of the other
worker-owners. They also found, relatedly,
that often the means of production were obsolete
and that they could not compete with capitalist
>firms who employed more advanced technologies.
In some cases (e.g. the former Hyatt Roller
Bearing plant in Clark, NJ) the workers then
discovered that they had bought a "pig in a
poke" (i.e. that they had been swindled
by their former employer into investing their life savings and pensions) and
ultimately had to
close the plants and declare bankrupcy. Quite!

>Paul continues:
>> You won't recall Marx refering to the State and production, but you will
>> recall Engels consideration of the developing relation between State and
>> the economy.... history is dynamic.. we have to understand how the social
>> form of capital takes on  historical guises, fights against its own
>> contradictions in every way. I don't think we can simply 'textualise'
>> contemporary reality. This is very important for political analysis
>Agreed ... although it is easier said than done.
>> ... is
>> the State a capitalist State?
>>  If it is it won't (without fetishising it)
>> want to create unproductive relations, to abandon its guardianship  of
>> private property of profit making.
>Unproductive relations by the state can benefit
>profit-making. E.g.  the military: workers who are
>employed by the military can help to bring
>about  a redistribution of global surplus value to
>the benefit of capitalists within that nation.
I said it won't want, not that it won't need to.

>It is *also* true that while the state is a capitalist
>state, state policies can not always be
>comprehended by the logic of capital
>accumulation. E.g. under bourgeois democracy
>it is possible for the working-class to win (limited)
>reforms that are opposed by capitalists. Marx was
>certainly aware of this and supported many of
>those reform movements. Of course, but what has this to do with the initial point?
>> I suspect a certain formalism in the approach that says the modern
>> imperialist state can be understood by refering to Marx's assessment of
>> predecessors  economic view of  quasi feudal or early modern States.
>Did I mention "quasi-feudal" or "early modern
>States"? No you didn't... I was refering to the need to apply Marx's method to the modern State, when we don't have directly pertinent quotes from Marx...

>In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Mon Apr 02 2001 - 09:57:30 EDT