[OPE-L] Marx and the maximum rate of profit

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Thu Nov 02 2006 - 14:10:20 EST

I usually end up agreeing with Ian Hunt. My apologies for being hyper-bolic,
but I do mean what I say, specifically "the notion that supervisory labour
is NECESSARILY "unproductive" is a formalistic Marxism, which has nothing to
do with Marx." Perhaps I should have capitalised "necessarily".

Why do I say that?

(1) Because there still is a strong Marxist prejudice, especially in the
American Left, that all supervisory and managerial labour is necessarily
unproductive. Indeed, Fred Moseley codes ALL supervisory and managerial
workers as unproductive with respect to new value added, which affects his
s/v AND s/c+V estimates. Yet there is almost no textual basis for that in
what Marx himself said! I have always been aware of the TSV train of
thought, but I am also aware that subsequently Marx wrote more about it, and
developed a more refined sense of capitalistically productive labour. We
should not simply look at the texts, we should also think of the substantive
idea that inspires those texts. Otherwise we drift off into anarchism and
"anything goes". Anarchists don't like authority, but they have very little
idea about why authority exists, at all.

(2) Orthodox Marxism tries to define productive labour in capitalism once
and for all, and devises a fixed classification scheme. My own approach is
directly opposite to that, i.e. dialectically, I think we should use our own
brains and pick up the story from where Marx left off,  i.e. I think we
should look at the evolution of the real social and technical division of
labour through time, in its specifics, which is what people like Harry
Braverman did for better or worse. Even from a detailed occupational
classification in labour force statistics, it is not immediately evident
what exactly the precise function is of different jobs, with respect to
augmenting capital value by adding value to a commodity output.

(3) Socialist workers' self-management by the associated direct producers
can never exist, if we adopt an unrealistic, prejudiced approach to
management tasks. You can easily verify that, as Michael Lebowitz among
others has done, by looking at the real experience of workers'
self-management in Yugoslavia and so on. It is important to appreciate the
DUAL and often CONTRADICTORY function of management jobs to which Marx
refers, which, humanly, remains irrespective of what the social system may
be, short of full communism. In quite a few Yugoslav enterprises under
socialism, you had a situation where the director said: "okay, so you want
me to lead this enterprise - but then either you accept my leadership or you
don't, and if you don't, then I am off, and if you don't pay me adequately
for my responsibility I am off", and the workers bloody well knew that, so
they didn't simply criticise him for his status, but for what he actually
did. They realised they did need a "conductor" for the "orchestra" and that
just playing their own tune wouldn't get the job done.

(4) Much controversy surrounds the excessively high salaries of managers,
directors, executives etc. which contrasts with the paltry wages of ordinary
workers. But as against this, it should also be noted that many modern
enterprises are very large, and that these type of functions also mean
carrying a very large RESPONSIBILITY for a very large amount of resources
and employees' lives, and can mean workweeks of 60 hours or more. We can say
that a good portion of these jobs are unnecessary gravy-train jobs, and that
with such large incomes, the people involved don't lose much in material
terms, when they become unemployed; but we can also say that, in fact, most
workers as yet do NOT want to shoulder such a large responsibility
themselves. To make the argument that "we don't need those bosses" we also
need to show that we CAN do it ourselves, as a team together, and if we
cannot, and until we can, we are still stuck with a boss.
Of course, in a socialist economy you do not really have "bosses" as such,
you mainly have "leaders" who lead on the basis of proven and transparent
That would be a real "meritocracy", not the ideology of a meritocracy which
provides a cover for inherited status and wealth. You become a leader in
your area of expertise because you have proved that you have a competency,
and that you can really lead people in the direction of progress, rather
than up the garden path or something. A real socialist does not criticise a
manager for being a manager, that is a prejudice, he criticises a manager
for misleadership which makes the condition of the people worse, shortterm
or longterm, rather than better. And so there is a continuing dialogue
between leaders and the masses, rather than a monologue of the powerful.

(5) Marx's argument about productive labour has nothing to do with whether a
particular kind of work is socially or economically useful - what he is
talking about is the subordination of employment in production to the
requirements of capital accumulation. Many jobs are very socially useful,
but in fact they do not add value to the production capital of the bourgeois
classes. Marx's argument about productive labour has nothing to do with the
usefulness or worthiness of particular human work, he is only saying that
commercial rationality focuses on the question "can we make money from
employing that labour in production or not?", which refers to the ability to
extract surplus labour from that employment as profit. If commerce proves
you can, it's productive, if you cannot, is unproductive. The ability to
reap the fruits of somebody else's labour rather than your own is obviously
in part simply a question of power, and not just of clever trading, and thus
the Marxian notion of productive labour refers to a power relationship.
Mutatis mutandis, there exists no fully "objective" concept of productive
labour, since what is "productive" for one class, is not for another, and
whether labour will be productive depends in part on the outcome of a
negotiation, the outcome of which cannot be predicted in advance. At most we
can say there is a commercial logic which transcends individuals, that
stamps labour as "productive" in the capitalist sense.

(6) I am myself not a Marxist, at best a socialist as I said. I basically
think Marxism is an error, my appreciation of Marx notwithstanding, though
socialist thought isn't. Once you have a reasonable mastery of Marx's
thought, you feel you've grasped the basic idea, there is a lot more to do
and experience. Marxists typically believed that Marxism is about
propagating Marxist ideas. But I tend to think the real challenge is what
you do with the insights you've gained, and how you can make a personal
input into doing something new that is satisfying. I confess I have been
prone to a lot of doubts there - but I'm sure taking action will sooner or
later overcome my doubts. You have to have your doubts about everything, as
Marx - being a critical thinker - remarked, but it is wrong to be paralysed
by doubt, the "benefit of the doubt" is a constructive doubt, paralysis
through doubt is destructive doubt. In these days of deregulated "market
uncertainty", of course the most grotesque and absurd doubts also find
common currency, but really it is amazing how much you can be sure of,
whatever the propaganda.


Our love has fallen around us like we said it never could
We saw it happen to all the others but to us it never would
Well how could something so bad, darling, come from something that was so

- Bruce Springsteen, "Loose Ends"

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