[OPE-L:8375] Re: Re: unproductive labour

From: Paul Cockshott (paul@cockshott.com)
Date: Wed Jan 22 2003 - 17:08:08 EST

Paul Bullock wrote:

> This exchange  perhaps needs to reflect on the fact that the distinction
> between productive and unproductive labour is made in order to deepen our
> understanding of the accumulation process, to provide an objective analysis,
> and so provide us with the basis for uniting all workers against capital
> ( the productive worker and his unproductive bank working sister). That
> capital bribes a section of its key workers (both productive and
> unproductive) , and the imperialist states have even more to bribe more of
> HQ workers with,  is an issue of political reality. It requires an
> understanding of the nature and changes in the labour aristocracy.  That is
> the locus of  political discussion, which cannot possibly fall back on some
> bizarre notion that 'unproductive' workers are somehow not really 'workers'
> or  automatically actively pro-capitalist!!
> Paul Bullock

One has to be cautious not to mistake ones wishes for reality. It would
be nice if all employees had, underneath it all, a common interest, but
I dont think we can assume this.

I think that there are real contradictions between the working class
interest in general and certain groups of employees. In particular:

1. Employees whose income is above the value they create are
    recipients of surplus value, as such they are subsidised by others
    and have a built in interest in preserving this position.

2. Employees who are paid out of surplus value, rent, or profits
    are dependent on the contiunity of these income streams and
    as such have interests opposed to productive workers.

This is brought our by the question Gerry asked earlier When citing
me saying
> You should not wish for the impossible. You have to be able
> to formulate a program that will unite a sufficiently broad
> coalition to be effective, but if you try to accommodate the
> interests of the financial sector employees you end up with
> Tony Blair's version of socialism.
He asked
"As for the first part of your sentence above: what -- in broad
outline -- would such a program be from your perspective?"

Well I think that the broad outlines of a socialist program are
contained in the late 19th and early 20th century social democratic
programs. I will give 3 items from these that I take to be
central, but first I will try to give some justification for them.

I take the key principle of political strategy to be the need to
offer the greatest potential gain to the greatest number of people.
If one is to advocate a radical change in property relations it
has to be one that the majority can see clear and immediate
benefits from.

One can show with very general statistical arguments that in societies
in which the median income is substantially below the mean income,
then the more radically egalitarian ones policy, the more people
will benefit. Similarly with property redistribution. You have to appeal
to the immediate self interest of people.

I thus see two old policies that came out of the social democratic debates
as central

1. The adoption of a system of uniform hourly payment for the entire working
    population. This is essentially what Marx advocates in Critique of the
    Gotha program, but there it is specified in terms of labour tokens following

    Owen. Since the introduction of these would take at a minimum 2 to 3 years
    one would have to have an intermediate period of uniform payment in
    money terms. The advantage of this is that the new pay rate can be
    put forward in socialist propaganda in a clear and simple way. It will be
    understood by people and the overwhelming majority of the working population

    would benefit.

    I have done the calculations a couple of times for the UK and once for the
    USA, and whilst the figures date rapidly, they consistently show that only
    the top quartile of male non-manual workers would lose out. Every other
    category of employees would gain.

2. One should promise an immediate cancelation of all debts as soon as
    a socialist government comes to power.

    Since the majority of the population today are aggregate net debtors on
    credit cards, home loans etc, the mass of the population will benefit.

    The key sector to loose out would be pensioners in reciept of funded
    pension schemes. One would have to couple the cancelation of debts with
    a substantial upgrade of the state pension in countries like the UK. It
    be less necessary in countries like Germany.

3. As a political offer I think one should promise the replacement of
    government by direct legislation by the people. This was advocated by the
    rank  and file of the SPD and opposed by Kautsky and Engels, but on this
    I think the rank and file were right.

It is worth noting that the cancelation of debt would of course do to the
financial services industry what Thatcher did to the mining industry. At this
point the conflict of interest between those employed in financial services and
other employees would become apparent.

It should be noted that one advantage of the Sraffian definition of productive
labour, is that state employees whose work goes into the reproduction of the
working classs are part of the Basic Sector and hence productive - both under
socialism and under capitalism. It shows that there is a continuity of interest
between for example nurses in public hospitals and industrial workers.

As to Gerry's other question

> And the other state employees might still be won over to socialism.
> Thus,  soldiers and sailors tend to be nationalistic and conservative.
> Yet, every successful revolution has involved winning over a segment
> of  that social layer or at least getting them to step aside at a critical
> moment and not open fire on other workers.  Remember the "Aurora"
> and the role that the sailors at the Kronstadt Naval Station played in
> October?
He should remember that these were conscript soldiers not professional
soldiers. The services of conscript troops are not equivalent to wage
labour, being more akin to the performance of feudal duties.

In general professional troops do not side with revolutions. In a predominantly
conscript army, the professional NCOs and junior officers may go along with
a revolutionary movement - as in Portugal in 75, but the impulse has to come
from discontent among the conscripts.

> ----- Original Message -----
> From: <clyder@gn.apc.org>
> To: <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
> Sent: Monday, January 20, 2003 9:57 PM
> Subject: [OPE-L:8366] Re: Re: Education and Value
> > Quoting gerald_a_levy <gerald_a_levy@msn.com>:
> >
> > > Re Paul C's [8359]:
> > >
> > > Let me begin on a point of agreement: I agree with 3. in [8359].
> > >
> > > Putting aside that source of agreement for now,  I want to take issue
> > > with a couple of points you made:
> > >
> > > > 1. For a group to have a potentially progressive role, they have to
> > > >     see their activity as persisting and being better rewarded in the
> > > >     future society. (snip)
> > >
> > > Groups of workers can't even be _potentially_ progressive unless
> > > they view themselves as being better off in a future (socialist)
> society???
> >
> > This seems to me to be an obvious and uncontroversial point. If we
> > take a materialist view, we can hardly expect social groups to act
> > against their own percieved interest.
> > >
> > > Let us recall here that we're talking about the productive/unproductive
> > > labor distinction and that the ratio of productive to unproductive
> > > workers has been steadily declining over the long term (as the empirical
> > > work by Anwar, Fred and others demonstrates).  For you to then say
> > > that large segments of workers who are unproductive of surplus value
> > > can't even be _potentially_ progressive is tantamount to saying that
> > > large amounts of workers -- perhaps even including a majority -- will
> > > not be supportive of  socialism. Oops ... there goes the revolution.
> >
> > Well I had not noticed any revolutions taking place in the countries with
> > large proportions of the workforce in financial services!
> >
> > You have to account for the massive conservatism if not outright
> reactionary
> > nature of the political process in the anglo saxon countries. My
> hypothesis
> > is that the long term influence of the financial/rentier interest and
> > its associated servant classes accounts for this.
> >
> >
> > >
> > > > 4. Reciept of surplus value as an income source puts banking workers
> > > >    objectively opposed to the working class and this is reflected in
> > > >   politics - see how they vote.
> > >
> > > State employees receive wages that are paid out of revenues, i.e. they
> > > are in receipt of surplus value as an income source,  and hence
> > > are unproductive of surplus value.  Does this then also mean that they
> > > are "objectively opposed to the working class"???
> >
> > One must be quite clear that there are real conflicts of interest between
> > state employees and industrial workers. These can be politically
> exploited.
> >
> > On the other hand some sections of state employees, constitute a servant
> > class of the proletariat in that their services are consumed in large
> > part by the working class - most obvious examples of this are people like
> > cleansing workers, teachers, nurses in public hospitals etc. As such
> > these groups tend to identify with the working class, and tend to be
> > favourably disposed to socialism since socialism would retain them
> > as a category, and offer them better living standards.
> >
> >
> > > There is a very real
> > > political danger of  identifying the criteria  for determining whether
> > > groups are productive of surplus value with the criteria for determining
> > > which groups are members of the working class.  Indeed, if we simply
> > > identify productive labor with the working class, i.e. treat the two
> > > expressions as synonymous,  then we give up on the possibility of real
> > > working class unity and solidarity and with it the possibility of
> > > socialism.
> >
> > I agree, that simply identifying if a group are productive or unproductive
> > is not in itself enough. One needs to also see whose flunkies they are.
> >
> >
> >
> > >
> > > We also have to remember that what is analyzed in _Capital_ is
> > > which workers are "productive" or "unproductive" from the
> > > *standpoint of capital*.
> >
> > It is, I think, slightly more subtle. In Capital the key feature,
> > is whether the workers are productive for capital as a whole
> > not whether they are productive for individual capitals.
> > Thus workers who appear to be productive to a firm of investment
> > bankers, and who get fat annual bonuses as a result, can
> > be unproductive from the standpoint of capital as a whole.
> >
> >
> > > In _recognizing_ this distinction, we can not
> > > take it over wholesale since the *working-class perspective* on who
> > > is "productive" is not the same as the capitalist perspective. From
> > > a working-class perspective,  workers need to comprehend how they
> > > are *united*  regardless of their diversity even while coming to terms
> > > with that diversity.  This *unity-in-diversity* by the working class
> > > presupposes that alliances will be developed among all workers
> > > including those who political economy defines as being unproductive.
> >
> > You should not wish for the impossible. You have to be able
> > to formulate a program that will unite a sufficiently broad
> > coalition to be effective, but if you try to accomodate the
> > interests of the financial sector employees you end up with
> > Tony Blair's version of socialism.
> >
> >
> > >
> > > (NB: this does not, though, necessarily mean that managers are
> > > productive of surplus-value.  In addition to your point 3. in [8359],
> > > we should note that although they receive wages, they are not
> necessarily
> > > wage *workers*.   Even capitalists themselves, after all, can pay
> > > themselves wages: this accounting maneuver does not miraculously
> > > transform them into wage-workers.)
> > >
> > > Solidarity, Jerry
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> > >
> >

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