[OPE-L] Freds argument and Gillman

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Sun Jan 20 2008 - 10:36:17 EST


Thanks for the comment. If you like, just read through discussons in the OPE-L archives. You will see that many contributors assume that total profits must equal total surplus values (and that total prices must equal total values) and that Marx's argument must fail, if this is not the case. Indeed sometimes the claim is made that these identities must hold because of an ""ontological"" principle according to which in aggregate prices and values cannot diverge in principle. Additionally it is assumed by many Marxists that all (current) profits must be due to (current) surplus labour. A "fundamental Marxian theorem" is sometimes proposed in this regard.

I am aware of Gillman's book which I read years ago. The first substantial critique of it was a Phd thesis by Shane Mage which I read in New Zealand (there was a Spartacist-type person in New Zealand who had a copy of it). 

If the division of labour was stable, and did not show qualitative changes with respect to labour content, occupations, outputs and employment status, then the theorem about some activities being transhistorically productive or unproductive in function might hold. 

But given the continual modification of the division of labour to make it conform better to the requirements of commerce, continual technological change, changes in the mode of cooperation and their combination (meaning that some categories of labour disappear while completely new categories are created), it is difficult to sustain the argument about labour being transhistorically "productive in function". You can maintain that theorem only at a level of abstraction which abstracts from the specificities of the division of labour. 

At best you can say, that some kinds of activities intrinsically do not lend themselves easily to being commodified, whereas others contingently (because of techniques and property rights) do not lend themselves to being commodified. I think though that basically Marx reasoned along the lines that in any human society, there are certain functional requirements which must be met by human labour, the only thing that changes is that capitalist society has specific ways of meeting those requirements. Some of those activities make net additions to material wealth, others only facilitate it or are a necessary cost. 

In general, the Marxist literature made very little attempt to link the PUPL discussion to a real analysis of the changing division of labour, yet this is precisely what the distinction is all about. Part of the reason why Marx was cautious in his definitions was because he was very aware how capitalism constantly modifies the division of labour, and therefore there was a sense in which the longterm evolution of the PUPL distinction would be difficult to predict accurately in highly specific terms. More generally, the PUPL distinction is in perpetual dispute among management theorists simply because it is never completely certain which categories of labour serve to maximize the profitmaking process best, and because of incessant competition between different interests (including the informal subversion of the formal order). 

Take for example electricity. In the 19th century most societies still functioned mainly without it. Today the supply of electricity has become absolutely indispensable for the very functioning of daily life. It is a completely necessary function requiring continual labour, yet this did not exist for 99% of the whole of human history. Even so, just on what organisational principles and with what property rights the supply of electricity is supplied, is an open question. In the history of electricity supply, we can witness a broad scala of organisational arrangements.

The concept of ""functional necessities"" in the division of labour has to be differentiated, because some things are physically necessary or technically necessary, others are socially necessary and yet others are commercially necessary. By implication, "ideologies" of the division of labour and necessary modes of cooperation mix these up - a given division of labour is justified, by presenting it as naturally inevitable, so that it is inconceivable how it could be any different, and that we are powerless to change it, or at least it renders how we could change it a mystery. 

At a deeper level, I think the problematic of the division of labour really demands a comprehensive theory of the modes of cooperation. Most socialist theory concentrates only on problems such as planning techniques, the relationships between planning and markets, etc. This is an economic theory of socialism. But in a "social theory of socialism", you realise that no consciously organised planning process can function without cooperation from all those who have to enact the plan. Therefore the analytical challenge is not really so much one of adequate planning techniques, but of how you can organise human cooperation in ways that make it feasible to implement collective planning that is more efficient and effective than any other form of allocation.

In my view, the failure of planned economies had very little to do with planning techniques per se, but with the modes of cooperation (or if you like, organisational culture). Cooperation can be voluntary or coerced, but what is important is whether people have an interest in cooperation and whether they can see the benefits of it. In this respect, the experience of the USSR, China, Cuba etc. provide very mixed results. In some cases, the modes of cooperation adopted were fantastically effective, and caused enormous progress for citizens in terms of their quality and length of life, but in other cases, the chosen modes of cooperation were an absolute and longlasting disaster. The same can of course be said for capitalism. But that is just to say a lot depends on the organisational culture for arranging modes of cooperation and how economic of human interests impact on it.

To my way of thinking, cooperation is the very essence of the socialist idea, i.e. the idea that through human cooperation a better life for all results. But it is paradoxically the most under-theorised aspect in the  literature of the Left. Oddly, the Left clings to notions from previous generations about this, without any systematic, critical ad intelligent reappraisal. This becomes conservative to the point of being reactionary, insofar as it trails far behind the latest techniques and thinking and makes a virtue of organisational forms which have been out of date for a long time.


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