Re: [OPE-L] domestic labor

From: B.R.Bapuji (brbapuji@YAHOO.COM)
Date: Fri Jan 18 2008 - 01:58:56 EST


Suppose there are (and indeed, there are) capitalist firms which hire wage-workers and then sell a cooking service to be performed in customers' households. The employer in this situation is the firm; the customer pays monies directly to the firm rather than the wage-worker. Obviously, the firm is going to charge a price which is in excess of its costs of production so that it can receive a profit.

* Are the wage-workers (the cooks) employed by these capitalist firms productive of surplus value?

* Does it matter (in terms of whether this labour is productive or unproductive of s) whether the firm's consumer is an individual capitalist household or a working-class household?

In solidarity, Jerry

> If domestic servants are wage-workers
> employed by a capitalist firm why is the activity unproductive?

  Comrade Jerry,
  Let me answer your question by reproducing a section from 'An Introduction to Marx's 'Capital' (vol.1, ch.5). However, the direct answer to your question is put in Bold type in the middle of the section given below. Of course you need to replace the terms 'piano capitalist' by 'capitalist firm' and 'piano worker' by 'cook'.
  [Note: please bear with our south Indian variety of English which is distinct from the American variety of English.]

  A clarification regarding
  'productive-unproductive' labors

  Here a clarification is necessary with reference to the 'definitions' of productive and unproductive labors. All the observations that we made in this chapter are of Marx only. They are as follows: Just as one portion of the value of productive labor is paid and another is not paid, in the case of the value of unproductive labor also one portion is paid and the other is not paid. If productive labor gives 'surplus value', the unproductive labor gives 'surplus labor'. However, initially we find it difficult to understand what Marx said about these things. Marx's observations are unclear at some places and they may even lead to an erroneous interpretation at some other places. At some places his observations erroneously indicate that 'unproductive laborers' do not perform surplus labor and are not subjected to exploitation'. But if we examine all the observations of Marx on this issue in 'Capital' itself at various places, we can understand the essence of the matter without
 any mistake.
  Marx wrote on 'productive and unproductive labor' in volume 4 of 'Capital' entitled 'THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE'(hereafter TSV) and also as a separate chapter. Either this separate chapter or 'Capital-4' did not appear in print until recently. The separate chapter appeared for the first time in German and Russian in 1933 in one of the volumes entitled 'MARX AND ENGELS ARCHIVES'. The Penguin publishers brought out that chapter for the first time in English as a 'supplement' to volume 1 of 'Capital'. The chapter does not appear in other editions of 'Capital-1'.
  The volume on 'Theories of Surplus Value' came out for the first time in German between 1905 and 1910 after Engels passed away. It was printed later in English.
  We will commit a grave error in understanding the question 'what constitutes a working class?', unless we know properly about 'productive and unproductive labors. If we see only first three volumes of 'Capital' without looking into that separate chapter and the relevant portions of volume 4, we will not find the necessary information.
  Here, we will see some questions from Marx to dispel various doubts and avoid unnecessary debates concerning the issue.
  From these quotations of Marx, we will see the following points: That 'wage' is merely the value of labor power, not 'value of labor'. Even the wages of 'unproductive labors' are also in accordance with the laws of value of labor power. Unproductive labor consists of two portions: one that is paid and the other that is not paid. The expenditure in the income secured from the capital is saved due to the less payment of wages to the unproductive labor.
  But, if we find any mistakes in these quotations, we have to understand them with logic and arrive at a correct meaning.
  Further, when we get a doubt about a particular place, we have to try to carefully understand the whole context, which the author has described. If we still find an error despite careful understanding, it is a different matter.
  (1)               ...the price of these different activities from the prostitute to the king-becomes subject to the laws that govern the price of wage-labor." (Capital, vol.1, p.1042, Penguin edition.)
  Unless we understand the total context in which these observations are made, we will fall in the danger of misunderstanding them.
  The job of a 'prostitute' does not come under the category of 'labor'. When it does not become 'labor', the question as to whether prostitute is productive laborer or unproductive laborer does not arise.
  Same is the case with the 'king'. The job of the king also does not come under 'labor'.
  But, both the prostitute and the king get 'income' for the jobs (whatever they may be) that they do. That income appears to a 'wage'.
  The capitalist who employs the prostitute in that job earns money by using the prostitute. Hence, the prostitute appears as productive laborer. When we understand this erroneously, solutions for the problem of prostitution will also appear as erroneous. It appears thus: "the prostitute can take her labor for herself. It is also a kind of labor like all labors. But, she should get the entire 'value of labor'. This alone is the solution for that problem".
  Same is the case with the king as well. If we assume that 'whatever the king does is also a labor and the income he gets is subject to the law of wages', then it appears as if the king is also subjected to exploitation. It appears as if the king is also doing a lot of labor and losing surplus value by taking wage. But it is not true.
  'Wage means value of labor power' is a general principle.
  A general principle does not apply literally to each specific context.
  The law of wages applies as it is to 'ordinary workers' only. It does not at all apply to kings and ministers. They do not perform any labor. Even if they do some unproductive labor, what they get in lieu of that would be many times more than what they do. Therefore, law of 'wages' does not apply to this kind of context.
  If we don't understand these things correctly, the example of a prostitute and the king leads to erroneous interpretations.
  Both, productive laborer and unproductive laborer receive wage. If we simply consider the criterion of 'receiving wage', all wage earners appear to be laborers and moreover as productive laborers.
  "Now the fact that with the growth of capitalist production all services become transformed into wage-labor, and those who perform them into 'wage-laborers', means that they tend increasingly to be confused with the productive worker, just because they share this characteristic with him...A soldier is a wage-laborer, mercenary, but this does not make a productive worker of him." (Capital, vol.1, p.1042, Penguin edition.)

  Discussing such issues, Marx very briefly gives the example of a prostitute and a king.
  He gives these examples in the sense that 'under capitalism every job and every income appears to be subjected to the principles that determine the price of wage-labor. He also says that 'the implications of this last point (in the example of a prostitute and a king) should be explored in a special treatise on wage-labor and wages, rather than here'. (However, Marx had never written a chapter, which examined that point.)
  If we don't understand this point, we will form an opinion that Marx had erred in the example of prostitute and the king.
  Now let us see the remaining quotations relating to 'the value of unproductive labor'.
  (2) "This does not prevent, as Adam Smith remarks, the value of the services  of these unproductive laborers being determined and determinable in the same (or an analogous) way as that of the productive laborers:.." (TSV-1, p.159)
  (3) "The labor-power of the productive laborer is a commodity for the laborer himself. So is that of the unproductive laborer. But the productive laborer produces commodities for the buyer of his labor-power. The unproductive laborer produces for him a mere use-value, not a commodity;..." (TSV-1, p.160)
  Every thing that is necessary to understand productive and unproductive labors is present in this quotation very clearly, isn't it?
  (4) The following quotation tells about the 'commercial worker' who works for the 'commercial capitalists'. This worker is an unproductive laborer. In the chapter 'Costs of Circulation' in part 2 of this volume, we will see in detail as to why the labor of workers engaged in sales and purchases is an unproductive labor. Here, it is important to understand aspects of unproductive labor in Marx's words.

  "We shall assume that he (commercial worker) is a mere wage-laborer, even one of the better paid, for all the difference it makes. Whatever his pay, as a wage-laborer he works part of his time for nothing. He may receive daily the value of the product of eight working-hours, yet functions ten. But the two hours of surplus-labor he performs do not produce value any more than his eight hours of necessary labor..." (Capital, vol.2, p.135)
  (5) The following quotation is concerned with the 'commercial capitalist'. The expenditure, which the commercial capitalist incurs, connected with sale will be a deduction from his income. Whatever be the amount that the fellow does not pay to his laborers, that amount constitutes the portion, which saves his expenses. The effect of the factor that opposes the growth of his capital diminishes due to that portion, which he saves by not paying the amount that he is expected to pay to the workers. This quotation tells this point.
  "...the non-payment of these two hours reduces the costs of circulation of his capital, which constitute a deduction from his income. For the capitalist this is a positive gain, because the negative limit for the self-expansion of his capital-value is thereby reduced". (Capital, vol.2, p.135)
  Thus, Marx has very clearly stated that unproductive laborers too lose some portion of their 'value of labor' and perform 'surplus labor'.
  However, the issue of 'unproductive labor' becomes confusing because certain contradictory comments also appear in Marx's writings. Here, we will see some observations that lead to erroneous meanings as well.
  (1)"...the workman employed by a piano maker is productive laborer. His labor not only replaces the wages that he consumes, but in the product, the piano, the commodity which the piano maker sells, there is a surplus value over and above the value of the wages. But assume on the contrary that I buy all the material required for a piano (or for all it matters the laborer himself may possess them), and that instead of buying the piano in a shop I have it made for me in my home. The workman who makes the piano is now an unproductive laborer, because his labor is exchanged directly against my revenue". (TSV-1, p.160)
  What is the mistake here? Marx is calling a worker as 'unproductive laborer' when he goes to a household and makes a piano for that family. But this is an error. This worker should be counted as 'independent producer' (Independent laborer).
  Let us suppose that the value of piano is '60c+20v+20s=100'. If a piano-maker works under a capitalist, he keeps losing '20sv' to the capitalist whenever he makes a piano. But when that laborer goes to a household and makes piano for them. The householders themselves get '60c' necessary for making piano. The laborer adds his '20v+20s' to '60c'. Piano is ready. The householders who got that piano made gives 40 to the maker. That is, the value of piano will be 100. If the maker gets 40, it means that he got the entire 'value of labor'. Hence, this person will not be an unproductive laborer. He will be an independent producer.
  If this person, while working as a productive labor in piano-making enterprise, goes to others' houses on his own and makes pianos, he will stand as 'independent producer' in that relation.

  In case, a piano capitalist sends one of his workers to a household and asks him to make a piano for that family, then that worker is a productive laborer. That family pays the total charges of 40 to the piano capitalist. From those charges the productive laborer gets less charges (20) only. If the same laborer were an Independent laborer, he himself would get the entire charges. If a worker has to be counted as an 'unproductive' laborer, he has to be a wage-laborer under a master either in a house or a production-place. The person who is not in such a situation, he is not an unproductive laborer. It is a mistake to consider a laborer as an unproductive laborer by seeing the fact that the householder pays from his 'income' the worker who made piano.

  When a person gets some work done by an independent producer or buys the articles made by that producer, he has to meet that expenditure from his 'income'. Therefore, it is not possible to determine a seller as an unproductive laborer simply by seeing the payment made from the income only.
  (2) The quotation, which we are now going to give, is highly confusing. The points made in the first quotation are a little different in this quotation. We have to understand this a little carefully.
  "When I have a coat made for me at home by a jobbing tailor, for me to wear, that no more makes me my own entrepreneur (in the sense of an economic category) than it makes the entrepreneur tailor an entrepreneur when he himself wears and consumes a coat made by his workmen. In one case the purchaser of tailoring labor and the jobbing tailor confront each other as mere buyers and sellers. One pays money and the other supplies the commodity into whose use-value my money is transformed. In this transaction there is no difference at all from my buying the coat in a shop. Buyer and seller confront each other simply as such. In the other case, on the contrary, they confront each other as capital and wage labor. As for the domestic servant, he has the same determinate form as the jobbing tailor No.II, whom I buy for the sake of the use-value of his labor. Both are simply buyers and sellers. But the way in which the use-value is enjoyed in this case in addition bears a
 patriarchal form of relation, a relation of master and servant, which modifies the relation in its content, though not in its economic form, and makes it distasteful". (TSV-1, p.296)
  The difference between what Marx said in this quotation and the first quotation is this: Here Marx is referring to the laborer who stitched the coat at home as Independent laborer, instead of as an unproductive laborer. He is saying that the householder will not be the master of the independent producer but a master will be at a domestic servant. But he is equating them (the independent laborer and domestic servant) in economic meaning. He is treating both of them as sellers and buyers in relation to the householders who used their labor. All this is correct only in the case of 'independent laborer'. It is a mistaken observation in the case of domestic servant. To say that 'the labor that a domestic servant gives and the wage that the master gives are of equal values and their relationship is that of a seller and buyer' merely amounts to saying that there won't be surplus labor in the case of domestic servant. This is contrary to what Marx had correctly said elsewhere.
  (3)"The latter (unproductive laborers) help the former (those who receive profits and rents) to consume the revenue and give them in return an equivalent in services-..." (TSV-1, p.218)
  Giving equivalent implies that value given and value taken are equal. When we say that 'unproductive laborers give an equivalent; it means that value of labor that these laborers give to the masters and the value of wages that they receive are equal; that is, surplus labor will not be there in the case of unproductive laborers. Thus, this is also a mistake.
  (4) "Its consumption is to be formulated not as M-C-M, but C-M-C (the last being the labor or service itself). The money functions here only as a means of circulation, not as capital." (Capital, vol.1, p.1041, Penguin edition)
  The formula of 'C-M-C' indicates exchanges of commodities of equal values. If we express the exchange that takes place between an unproductive labor and his master through this formula, it gives the meaning that the exchange is an exchange of equal values only. Though unproductive labor gives only use-value to the master, it gives 'more use value' than the money which the master gave. Therefore, it is not appropriate to refer to this relation simply as 'C-M-C'. If we refer to it so, it implies that unproductive labor do not give 'surplus labour'. Therefore, instead of referring it as a relation of 'C-M-C', we have to think about the other way of referring to it and make another formulation. (See the table of 'formulation labor relations' given earlier).
  While he ought to say things like this, Marx was somewhat ambiguous initially in elaborating 'unproductive labour'. But while discussing 'Costs of Circulation' in volume 2 of 'Capital', Marx made definite and fully correct observations on unproductive labor. It means that Marx would have definitely revised his observations had he looked back once again at the initially written parts on unproductive labors. But it did not happen so. That is why, we find at one place the observation that unproductive laborers give surplus labor and at another place the observation that unproductive laborers do not give surplus labor. This kind of situation, at the outset, confuses us a lot. It will not be possible to understand this point correctly unless we make sure that one of these two observations is a 'mistake'. If we take the law that 'wages are nothing but the value of labor power' as the basis of our understanding, then we will consider the observation that 'unproductive labors'
 too give surplus labor as the correct observation. We abandon other observations that are contrary to it as 'mistakes'.
  Why do domestic servants, despite doing Labor Day and night, live in dire poverty unless they are subjected to exploitation even in the economic sense, besides being in an unpleasant relationship of a 'master and servants'? --This is a question one has to get to even with a very ordinary commonsense. It is not very difficult for those who know abouut economic exploitation to arrive at a conclusion that all the laborers who live in poverty are being subjected to exploitation.
  But if we understand it in such a way that there won't be surplus labor, exploitation and other aspects in the case of 'unproductive labour', then we have to arrive at a wrong conclusion that 'working class means productive laborers only'.
  The productive and unproductive distinction is concerned with the master who employs those labors, but not with the laborers who give those labors. When you are 'wage-laborers', both of you are 'exploited people' whether you are productive laborers or unproductive laborers. If there were no exploitation, the productive laborers and unproductive laborers will not have poverty. Both kinds of laborers will not have to live in slavery under a master. Therefore, all the productive and unproductive laborers face all kinds of problems--economic, social and so on--that result from exploitation. That is, only if we correctly understand unproductive laborers, wwill we be able to understand that both productive-unproductive laborers together constitute working class and working class is not simply productive laborers only.
  However among unproductive laborers, there will be all such sections as policemen, soldiers, jail personnel, court-employees etc. Do all these people come under working class? Yes, they do. Excluding those at the level of managers and directors, all the ordinary employees among these sections come under the working class. But, it appears as if it is a grave mistake to treat them as 'workers' owing to the work they do and the weapons they use. But the activities of the policemen and soldiers do not depend on their own likes and dislikes. Their duty is to do whatever their master asks them to say. The state itself is their master. Just as all the unproductive laborers do, without a word, whatever work their masters assign, so also do the policemen and the soldiers. Whatever aspects that may appear objectionable to us in considering those people (policemen, soldiers etc.,) as 'workers', there are many such objectionable aspects in the case of 'productive workers' as well.
  Do all productive workers produce only grain and clothes? What about those productive laborers who produce knives, guns, bombs, war planes, war ships, torture instruments, intoxicating drugs, the canes and caps that the policemen and soldiers use? What about the engineers who devise machines with techniques that suit the capitalists? What about the scientists? What about the teachers who write textbooks that are in tune with the capitalist ideology? What about the journalists who ignore the news of dangers that fall on the working people and the news of massacre of the working people but depict elaborately and with big headlines the pet names of the dogs and the horses of the capitalists? If we look from this angle, even the 'productive workers' have to work according to the orders of their masters. They cannot have their likes and dislikes. Even if we take the case of production of necessaries of life like grain and clothes, all of them are made in many adulterated forms
 and exclusively with a sale-orientation. Workers have to do all those things according to the wishes of the employers.
  When those who produce guns are laborers, why can't those who use those guns also become laborers?
  The basic qualification to become a 'laborer' is 'doing labour'. It may be any kind of labor. It may stand in any kind of relation. Whether it is productive labor or unproductive labor, it does not cease to be a labor.
  Just as productive laborers, who produce grain are subjected to exploitation, so also the unproductive laborers who do the labor of policing and military are subjected to exploitation. Those features alone make policemen and soldiers part of 'working class'.
  All those who do labor are laborers!
  All the laborers taken together constitute 'working class'!
  Emancipation of working class means end to exploitation of productive and unproductive laborers.
  But some sections among the unproductive laborers and productive laborers as well work solely in the anti-working class activities. Among the unproductive laborers, such sections as policemen, soldiers, court employees and jail personnel play the role of suppressing the working class struggles.
  Similarly, among the productive laborers, such sections as engineers, scientists, supervisors and technicians play the roles of controllers, who extract 'more and more labour' from the laborers. These sections of laborers appear to be anti-working class in the view of the rest of the laborers.
  Ordinary workers should necessarily know the 'difference' between the ordinary workers and other workers who do jobs that harm ordinary workers. They have to behave with them as they do with opponents. However they should also realize the fact that there is a 'real opposing class' behind those workers who appear to be opponents. If there is no such realization, it does not mean that the workers have realized this fact, which they ought to have realized.
  As the productive and unproductive laborers together serve the 'exploiting class', those two kinds of laborers together constitute 'working class'. This is a general principle concerning the working class. We have to examine separately the specific conditions of each specific section depending upon the role that it plays. Within the productive laborers, the conditions of higher mental laborers and manual laborers will be very different. Similarly there would be many kinds of differences even among the sections of productive and unproductive laborers. We have to understand all those differences depending upon the different contexts.
  Take any section, there will be on the one hand higher official who live largely on the exploitative income with higher wages and privileges and on the other hand, low grade employees who live in conditions that are contrary to those of higher officials.
  These differences will be there in 'police' and 'military'. That is why, when revolts against exploitative systems take place, ordinary policemen and soldiers also join such revolts. The 'revolutionary laborers' who mobilize all the laborers to revolt do not go to the capitalists and organize them. But they go to police and soldiers and work among them for a rebellion. It is because those sections of laborers are also living amidst the problems created by the exploiting class. That is, in a wider sense, working class is the combination of all the productive and unproductive laborers.
  But, the 'centre' of the working class is productive laborers only.
  Among them, 'laborers that perform manual labour' are the most important because they are subjected to exploitation to a greater extent and lose large surplus value.
  In Marx's words:
  "The limits of this book compel us to concern ourselves chiefly with the worst paid part of the industrial proletariat, and with agricultural laborers, who together form the majority of the working class." (Capital, vol.1, p.611)
  Workers should have enough clarity regarding the question 'who constitute working class?' All the men and women together with their family members, who live on wages by doing some labor or the other constitute 'working class'. If we combine both the spheres: industry and agriculture, the population consisting of sections of manual laborers constitute the majority in the whole class. These people alone lose more surplus value and are subjected to exploitation to a large extent.
  The important question is whether feudal rent system exists mainly or wage system exists mainly in a given region of a given country. If wage system alone exists mainly, this fact alone is not enough to conclude that there are no feudal relations in the society. We have to take into account, along with the 'wage system', other working conditions and relations with the master concerning the work.
  Let us see a couple of interesting quotations from Marx with reference to productive and unproductive labors.
  "The great mass of so-called 'higher grade' workers--such as state officials, military people, artists, doctors, priests, judges, lawyers, etc.--some of whom are not only not prroductive but in essence destructive, but who know how to appropriate to themselves a very great part of the 'material' wealth partly through the sale of their 'immaterial' commodities and partly by forcibly imposing the later on other people--found it not at all pleasant to be relegated economically at the same class as clowns and menial servants and to appear merely as people partaking in the consumption, parasites on the actual producers (or rather agents of production)." (TSV-1, p.175)
  In this mob, excepting artists and doctors, all the laborers of other fellows are unnatural. Marx is telling that these 2 kinds of fellows swallow more than the 'value of labour'. All the fellows who come under this mob feel very unpleasant if others treat them as 'unproductive laborers'. They hold such views as that their jobs are also necessary for the society and their labors are also productive labors that produce natural wealth. Though all these labors are needed for exploitative societies, they are unproductive labors only.
  "A large part of the 'unproductive laborers', holders of State sinecures, etc., are simply respectable paupers." (TSV-1, p.218)
  Just as the paupers, the poorest of the poor, in the society live at the mercy and compassion of others and at the mercy of organs like State-run orphanages, all the 'higher government-officials in the unproductive sections live on the state income without doing any labor. Hence they are also 'paupers'; but 'respectable paupers'.
  Bourgeoisie once criticized the earlier societies with reference to the totally unnecessary existence of the unproductive mob of the state officials in the State machinery. In the later period, when State power came into its hands from the feudal class, the bourgeoisie realized that the existence of unproductive state officials is necessary for its state machinery as well.
  In Marx's words:
  "Political economy in its classical period, like the bourgeoisie itself in its parvenu period, adopted a severely critical attitude to the machinery of the State, etc. At a later stage it realized andžas was shown too in practicežlearnt from experience that the necessity for the inherited social combination of all these classes, which in part were totally unproductive, arose from its own organization." (TSV-1, p.175, Moscow 1975)
  "Bourgeois society reproduces in its own form everything against which it had fought in feudal or absolutist form." (TSV-1, p.175)

  This is to say that the capitalist society is not fundamentally different from the societies of earlier time. As the capitalist society too is an exploitative society like the earlier societies, it retains as ever all the evils of the past societies.

B.R.Bapuji, Professor,
Centre for Applied Linguistics & Translation Studies,
University of Hyderabad, Central University post office,
HYDERABAD-500 046. (Phone:91-40-23133655,23133650 or 23010161).
Residence address:
76, Lake-side Colony, [End of Road opp:Madapur Police Station],Near Durgam Cheruvu, Jubilee Hills post, Hyderabad-500033.
(Phone: 91-40-23117302)

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