[OPE-L] Marx on the 'maximum rate of profit'

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Wed Nov 01 2006 - 13:48:07 EST


As far as I understand it, that was an excellent post (I still have to
refresh my Sraffa knowledge).

But (i) the notion that supervisory labour is necessarily "unproductive" is
a formalistic Marxism, which has nothing to do with Marx. Marx is quite
explicit in saying that managerial labour has BOTH productive-coordinating
AND unproductive social control functions. Thus, he says:

"The work of supervision and management necessarily arises everywhere when
the direct production process takes the form of a socially combined process,
and does not appear simply as the isolated labour of separate producers. It
has, however, a dual nature. On the one hand, in all labour where many
individuals cooperate, the interconnection and unity of the process is
necessarily represented in a governing will, and in functions that concern
not the detailed work but rather the workplace and its activity as a whole,
as with the conductor of an orchestra. This is productive labour that has to
be performed in any combined mode of production. On the other hand - and
quite apart from the commercial department - this work of supervision
necessarily arises in all modes of production that are based on opposition
between the worker as direct producer and the proprietor of the means of
production. The greater this opposition, the greater the role that this work
of supervision plays. It reaches its high point in the slave system."
Source: Karl Marx, Das Kapital Vol. 3 (1894), Dietz ed. p. 397. Pelican
edition, p. 507 (translation corrected)

That is precisely the "ambiguity" of managerial labour, and why there are
endless debates about what managerial/supervisory tasks are really
necessary. Moreover when he discusses the concept of the Gesamtarbeiter
(collective workforce) Marx includes all kinds of employees in the process
of adding to capital value. Thus, he says:

"Since with the development of the real subsumption of labour under capital
or the specifically capitalist mode of production it is not the individual
worker but rather a socially combined labour capacity that is more and more
the real executor of the labour process as a whole, and since the different
labour capacities which cooperate together to form the productive machine as
a whole contribute in very different ways to the direct process by which the
commodity, or, more appropriate here, the product, is formed, one working
more with his hands, another more with his brain, one as a manager,
engineer, or technician, etc., another as an overlooker, the third directly
as a manual worker, or even a mere assistant, more and more of the functions
of labour capacity are included under the direct concept of productive
labour, and their repositories under the concept of productive workers,
workers directly exploited by capital and altogether subordinated to its
valorisation and production process."

Admittedly Marx remains a bit ambivalent or vague about productive labour,
but that is mainly because:

(1) he did not delve into the empirical definition of gross national
product, apart from his critique of Quesnay and Smith,
(2) he knew the occupational division of labour changed over time,
(3) it could not always be known in advance whether labour employed would be
productive in the sense of increasing capital value for the employer.

As regards (2), Marx wrote:

"If we have a function which, although in and for itself unproductive, is
nevertheless a necessary moment of [economic] reproduction, then when this
is transformed, through a division of labour, from the secondary activity of
many into the exclusive activity of a few, into their special business, this
does not change the character of the function itself" (Capital Vol. 2,
Penguin ed., p. 209).

Notice here though he is talking about a "function" which exists regardless
of whether one person performs it or many perform it as a parttime activity.

Marx's basic thesis I think is only that capitalist development would, in
time, transform more and more labour into capitalistically productive
labour, i.e. labour which generated profit by adding new value to the
output of commodity products.

(ii) When you say:

"Who told us that price-value divergence is real due to the existence
of uniform profits on capital invested? It was Smith, Ricardo and
Marx. Did they provide any empirical evidence for this assertion? No."

This has to be correct, insofar as Marx did not have adequate data to test
his idea. However, I think many passages could be found to prove that Marx
never had any idea that price-value divergence had to be exclusively due to
"uniform profits on capital invested". Prices and values could diverge for
many reasons, but it was the "regulating price" that was at issue.  His use
of the concept of  "uniform profits on capital invested" is only a
theoretical notion, aiming to investigate the competition for surplus-value,
in the purest case. I think he felt this concept was validated by an
empirical "tendency" towards a general "normal" rate of profit, e.g. 10% or
so average profit on capital invested, this being a social norm below which
the bourgeoisie would be unlikely to invest large sums of capital in


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