[OPE-L] [JURRIAAN] Re: commodities/services

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sat, 17 Jan 1998 22:04:07 -0500 (EST)

Date: Sun, 18 Jan 1998 03:29:09 +0100
From: jurriaan bendien <Jbendien@globalxs.nl>
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] commodities/services

Well it is clear that there are some concerns (if not "worries") after all
about what is a commodity and what is not. I am aware of the various
debates about what is productive labour and what is not. In probably 80-90%
of cases we can agree on where the frontier should be drawn, as Alan would
point out, so it's not really so quantitatively significant.
I think what emerges out of the debates about productive labour is
that 1. Marx himself wasn't really fully consistent in his definitions, 2.
concept of services is distinct, 3. the transformation of a service into a
commodity production may be a very practical or technical problem and go
through various phases and changes in the division of labour.
I think, as Mandel suggests in his discussion, that Marx's "first cut"
definition of capitalistically productive labour is simply all labour which
is exchanged against capital and not against revenues. This is labour
which is productive from the standpoint of the individual capitalist; it
enables the capitalist to appropriate surplus-value (profit). From this
point of view, not just clowns or teachers but also bank employees are,
logically speaking, productive, if employed by capital. The only thing at
issue here is the capital-relation.
However, his "second cut" definition looks at what labour is productive
for capital as a whole, i.e. what labour adds to the total mass of
surplus-value (which may not be the same as additions to "wealth",
understood as the total mass of use-values). This is where we get into the
composite definition, and into demarcation problems in dealing with a
specific social formation.
In this sense Marx discusses, in Capital Volume 2, the case of e.g. the
buying and selling agent, whose surplus labour does not create any new
value, arguing: "...society does not appropriate by this means any
additional product or value. But the costs of circulation that he
represents are reduced...". (Penguin ed., p. 210).
The question to ask then is, from the standpoint of capital as whole, do
schools, hospitals, hairdressing, cleaning services etc. as necessary
elements of social reproduction also add to the total mass of surplus-value
(to the social surplus-product) ? Does the capitalist society (as distinct
from an individual capitalist) appropriate through these activities
themselves any additional product or additional commodity value ? There
are various ways to answer this question, but I've tended to think that the
answer is no, that these are necessary maintenance activities which do not
themselves expand (add to) the total mass of surplus-value, from the social
point of view. I could be wrong about that but I see no general principle
would fully adjudicate the issue or eliminate all controversy.