Re: [OPE-L] basics vs. non-basics and unproductive labour

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Mon Oct 03 2005 - 03:58:37 EDT


In my opinion, we need to distinguish between two different things; a)
labour can be productive or unproductive of surplus value; b) labour can
produce things or services that are necessary in all kinds of societies
or "contingents" (i.e., necessary only in class societies or
specifically in capitalist societies). So that we have 4 possibilities.
I illustrate them via some (not exhaustive) examples:



"Necessary" labour

"Contingent" labour

Productive labour


A)    Productive+necessary labour


   Iron, cars..., transport and distribution services; legal,
financial... services; teachers and physicians and other workers in
private firms; employees in public (like in private) firms


B)     Productive+contingent labour


Rolls Royce and other luxuries, 

Marketing services

Gold or credit money

Tanks, missiles, weapons...

Waged prostitutes

Private and public policy


Unproductive labour

C)    Unproductive+necessary labour


Teachers, physicians... and many other workers in Public Administration

Domestic labour

Autonomous workers


D)    Unproductive+contingent labour

Pure circulation

Autonomous prostitutes





I see problems with both the vertical and horizontal divisions that you


First consider the vertical dividing line between necessary and



You classify financial and legal services as 'non-contingernt' and
therefore necessary

in all kinds of societies according to your definition. I would contest
that. Legal services

exist primarily to contest claims of property right. In a communist
country these private

property right claims would not exist and thus there would be no need
for lawyers to

enforce or contest such claims.


Financial services also exist to manage claims to private property
right, and as such

are specific to a regime of private ownership. Again they would not
exist in a communist

economy where there would be no share ownership and thus no share
brokers etc.


Now consider the horizontal dividing line between productive and

labour. Why do you classify financial and legal services as productive?


I would content that even in a capitalist society, financial and legal

are unproductive of surplus value. 

Consider the banks, they have two sources of income: bank charges made

for carrying out transactions, and interest revenue. For the UK which

a very large financial sector, the accounts show that bank charges only

a small part of the operating expenses of the banks.

The fact that the banks make an overall net profit is due to their

income, the fact that they charge interest on loans, but either offer

or very little interest on current account balances. This along with

ability to create money enables them to grab a portion of the surplus

value created in the productive sector.


According to Marx, interest is a deduction from the total surplus value

created in the productive sector- which is divided into interest and 

profit of enterprise. But this division is a subdivision of surplus

Charging interest does not create surplus value.


Since the workers in the banking sector are paid out of  a share of

value, they  can not create surplus value themselves. Their wages do

not constitute variable capital. Instead they are analogous to feudal

retainers paid out of the revenues of the propertied classes.


We have had previous discussions on this list on unproductive

labour, in 1998 , 2001, and 2003 at least, but this is the first time

that I have seen the position you are advocating being put forward.



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