Quantifying Value (3): Juriaan's first query

Alan Freeman (a.freeman@greenwich.ac.uk)
Fri, 16 Jan 1998 14:15:30 +0000

Sorry for so many posts at once. I've had to catch up with the discussion
all at one go.

Juriaan writes

> I have never been able to find any passage in Marx which states that
> unproductive wage costs are paid out of the surplus-value produced by
> productive labour, in the same production period. I would welcome any
> reference. To me it seems incoherent to suggest that any wage labour is
> paid out of surplus-value. .

I always worked from this:

"This also establishes absolutely what *unproductive labour* is. It is
labour which is not exchanged with capital, but *directly* with revenue,
that is, with wages or profit (including of course the various categories
of those who share as co-partners in the capitalist's profit, such as
interest and rent)"

This is From Theories of Surplus Value Part I, p157 (the discussion on Adam
Smith). Seems pretty categorical to me. It is preceded by the following

"Productive labour is here defined from the standpoint of capitalist
production, and Adam Smith here got to the very heart of the matter, hit
the nail on the head. This is one of his greatest scientific merits (as
Malthus rightly observed, this criticcal difference between productive and
unproductive labour remains the basis of all bourgeois political economy"

I think that the Theories of Surplus Value material on productive and
unproductive labour is much easier to follow because in it, Marx is
developing his critique of existing thinkers. Therefore he clearly
specifies what he thinks is to be avoided, as well as what is to be done.
Also I think the whole thing is just much more rounded.

It is also I think clear from TSV that Marx seems to have conceived of the
issue under two distinct headings.

In the early part of Part I he is concerned to sublate Smith's category of
producing 'vendible objects' as the basis of productive labour, and insist
that service labour is also productive. That is, he is concerned to say it
is not the *category* or *type of activity* of the labour that matters, but
whether it is employed by capital, whether it is hired for the purpose of
creating value for a capitalist, which the capitalist will realise by
selling on the results of her or his labours to a third person. As I put
it, the labourer is producing *commodities* (whether services or vendible
objects). [Incidentally, what is the physical magnitude of a song?]. At
this point there is no question that the labourer is engaged in the
production of a new use-value: the question is, in what social relation is
this produced?

In an entirely separate section dealing with finance, circulation, etc, in
the 'Addenda' at the end of TSV I (slightly out of place) Marx is concerned
with a distinct question IMO: here he is concerned that financial and
commercial workers create no new use-value, but merely circulate what
exists. Insofar as commercial workers modify the use-value, eg by
transporting goods to another place, he considers them productive. Here it
appears there is a conflict, since the *category* of labour does appear to
matter. But a different side of the commodity -- the unity of use and
exchange value -- is at dispute. Here the labourer is not productive
because she or he produces no use value (and therefore, clearly, can't
produce a commodity).

It all seems quite consistent to me and I sometimes wonder why it causes so
much difficulty. Productive labour is labour that makes value for the
capitalists. Value takes the form of commodities. So, if you don't make
commodities, you ain't productive. What's to worry?