Re: [OPE-L] Jacques Gouverneur's new text on Marxist economics

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Fri Feb 04 2005 - 12:58:22 EST

In appendix 6 on the productive and unproductive labour
distinction--Gouverneur also provides an exemplary explanation and
defence of the Marxian theory of the  nature and source of profit--he
challenges the traditional interpretation (which seems to be held by
several OPE-L'ers). I think I agree with this challenge, and made a
similar argument to Ahmet Tonak on I do not dispute the
distinction should be made but defend another criterion for its

Here is my reply to Ahmet slightly changed:

Minimizing finance and realization lags raises the annual production
of surplus value--as Foley shows in his analysis of the circuits of
capital. In this sense, financial and commercial capitalists may not
deduce more surplus value than they contribute to the production of.
Therefore, it can be misleading to call workers in finance and
circulation unproductive labour.

You and Savran respond to the point this way:

>It is true that certain aspects of circulation (by allowing, for
>instance, a more rapid turnover of capital) can contribute to an
>overall increase in production. This increase in production finds
>its specifically capitalist expression in the additional mass of
>surplus-value produced by the workers employed in production thanks
>to this more rapid turnover. This additional amount of surplus-value
>is thus the product of the labour of these production workers. Were
>it to be equally attributed, even indirectly, to the productivity of
>the workers of the sphere of circulation, we would be face to face
>with a blatant case of double counting because the one and the same
>increase in surplus-value would then have been attributed to two
>distinct sets of workers. What has in fact happened is the
>following: circulation workers, through their specific activities,
>have simply made an additional amount of capital available for
>valorization by releasing this amount from the unproductive tasks of
>circulation (which is itself testimony that circulation tasks are
>unproductive). Their specific contribution is, therefore, that of
>having added to the overall amount of money functioning as capital.
>This being the case, to regard the activities of circulation workers
>as productive would simply amount to attributing the magical power
>of productivity to objectified labour and to the fetishized category
>of capital. In other words, a more rapid turnover of capital implies
>the existence of more capital in a given period of time available
>for exploiting workers in the production process: The surplus-value
>additionally created is exclusively the product of the labour of
>these production workers in the same manner as the surplus-value
>created in the absence of this more rapid turnover of capital.

But I don't see how this matters to the point I made. Commercial
capitalists are not deducing more surplus value than they are making
possible the production of. Commercial capital is thus not
necessarily a burden on the growth of capital. You may not want to
call commercial workers productive to avoid double counting, but how
is there double counting if we could all commercial, finance and
industrial workers as productive of surplus value.  Moreover,  it
seems misleading to call them unproductive which connotes a kind of
parasitism.The whole history of anti Marxian (viz national) socialism
has been based on images of parasitic merchants and bankers, i.e.
demonized Jews.

You do not say that only productive industrial workers are the true
working class.  All wage earners--productive and unproductive as you
have defined them--endure the condition of their subsistence
confronting them as an alien object as personified in a capitalist.
Moreover, all these wage workers--whether in the industrial,
circulation or banking sectors and whether they produce durable
vendible commodities or not--perform necessary operations in the
commencement, completion and renewal of the circuit of capital, and
in this sense all these workers are productive of capital. They stand
in distinction to those workers whose payments are expended out of
revenue. Only these workers are truly unproductive from the
perspective of capital, and are in fact not part of proletariat

This is not to say that distinctions within the circuit of capital
are unimportant to make. Of course the relative weights of
production, circulation and finance may matter to mass of surplus
value appropriated. But before we make distinctions within the
circuit of capital, we must distinguish between the circuit of
capital and the expenditure of revenue--of course Shaikh's solution
to the transformation problem hinges on this very distinction. But
this distinction also provides another way by which to divide
productive from unproductive labour.

What has been forgotten is that Marx presented the distinction
between productive and unproductive labour in two different ways.
Here is what he means by the forgotten narrow distinction:

"Jones quite correctly reduces Smith's productive and non productive
labour to its essence--capitalist and non-capitalist labour--by
correctly applying the distinction made by Smith between labourers
paid by capital and those paid out of revenue...The distinction made
between the labourers who live on capital and those who live on
revenue is concerned with the form of labour. It expresses the whole
difference between capitalist and non-capitalist modes of production.
On the other, the terms productive and unproductive labourers in the
narrow sense [are concerned with] labour which enters into the
production of commodities (production here embraces all operations
which the commodity has to undergo from the first producer to the
consumer) no matter what kind of labour is applied, whether it is
manual or not ([including] scientific labour), and the labour which
does not enter into, and whose aim and purpose is not, the production
of commodities. This difference must be kept in mind and the fact
that all other sorts of activity influence material production and
vice versa in no way affects the necessity for making this
distinction."   Marx  TSV III 1971, p. 432

Obviously wage workers carrying out financial and commercial
operations are not "non capitalist labour" and thus not unproductive
in what Marx calls here the narrow sense. Capital fights to eliminate
labour paid out of revenue to the extent that such activities
interfere with private making opportunity. For example closing down a
public hospital or school paid for out of tax revenue so that a
capitalist can take its business. Hence, the mania for privatization
which has been a hallmark of capitalist development for the last 25
years, and has been more important for the growth of the capitalist
system than minimizing the putative deductions from surplus value by
the commercial and banking capitalists in the bourgeois fraternity.

So I agree emphatically with this point brilliantly made by you and Savran:

>The most difficult case to deal with is the third category. On the
>one hand, social services are (usually) not sold as commodities on
>the market and therefore the national education system or the
>national health service of a capitalist country cannot be regarded
>as capitalist enterprises. Consequently, the workers they employ
>cannot be classified as productive labourers. On the other hand,
>teachers, doctors, nurses and other health workers do produce
>use-values (services) with a view to the satisfaction of human needs
>and are, in that sense, in a different position than those
>wage-labourers (such as prison wardens or tax-collectors) whose
>exclusive task is the reproduction of the existing social order.
>Thus, as opposed to the latter whose labour is unproductive by
>definition (because it is not an element of productive labour in
>general), the labour of the former (that is of healthworkers, etc.)
>is unproductive in a contingent sense, as a result of the nature of
>the social relationship within which their labour is organized. That
>is to say, the labour of a tax-collector cannot be considered to be
>productive under any type of social organization, while the labour
>of the health worker can, depending on the circumstances of its
>expenditure, be productive or unproductive. The former is the case
>when medical services are so organized as to be sold on the market
>and are thereby transformed into commodities that bring the owner of
>the hospital a profit. Under such circumstances, the hospital,
>clinic etc. become capitalist firms and the labour of the health
>workers becomes productive. The problem becomes identical with that
>of defining the nature of the labour of workers in the
>capitalistically organized service sector, the sole difference due
>to the different nature of the employer (state vs. private) being,
>as we have just seen, irrelevant to the question we are examining.
>The foregoing has certain implications concerning recent trends in
>capitalist societies. The widespread assault on the so-called
>welfare state has resulted in a shift from the unproductive labour
>of state employees producing public services free of charge for the
>recipient to the productive labour of the employees of private
>hospitals, schools etc. in the case of the privatisation of social
>services. As for the practice of social services being offered not
>free of charge but on the basis of fees, tuition etc., the more the
>fees in question come closer to market or 'shadow prices of the
>service in question, the closer the hospital, school, university
>etc., in question approximates to a capitalist enterprise and the
>more the employees of such establishments become productive
>labourers. The point after which this becomes the case is a question
>of empirical methodology for which different criteria can be offered
>but the choice between these criteria need not detain us in the
>context of this article.

Of course some of those workers paid out of expended revenue may also
carry out operations that speed up (and  may in fact be necessary
for) the rotation of capital (e.g. building and repairing a public
roads system out of tax money), but these activities are not
themselves aimed at profit and thus the workers do not come under the
terroristic discipline of profit as do workers in the banking and
commerce sectors. These workers (think here of teachers at public and
most private universities!) are themselves not capitalistically
productive in what Marx calls the narrow sense, i.e. the (apparent)
advancing of their wages (wages are actually not 'advanced' to the
proletariat) is not predicated on their contribution to the continued
profitability of the enterprise in which they are employed.  They are
not part of wage working class proper as are proletarians in the
banking and commerce sectors.

Some workers in the capitalist sector are not productive in this
narrow sense, e.g. high priced trophy assistants who are paid out of
revenue. They are luxury goods in the form of persons. Their
employment does not depend on their continuing contribution to the
profitability of the enterprise. It depends rather on the continued
profitability of the enterprise. More simply, house slaves are not
productive labourers in any sense.  They--as well as all those paid
out of expended revenue--should be considered hired dependents rather
than wage workers. But this does not mean that there are not
important distinctions to make among hired dependents; some may well
find common cause with wage slaves--especially those whose payments
are driven below the reproduction cost of labour power--but others
will not. But no working class party can be rooted in hired
dependents--e.g. state employees, employees in non profit
institutions--rather than wage workers.

Yours, Rakesh

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