Re: Commodities and Services: productive/unproductive labour

jurriaan bendien (
Mon, 19 Jan 1998 09:34:42 +0100

Michael writes:
> someone will have to explain to me how labour that is
> productive (of sv) for an individual capital systematically fails to
> add to the total mass of surplus-value
Marx insists that e.g. labour involved only in trading commodities
(circulation labour) is not productive labour. That is to say, this labour
does NOT create new value or surplus-value, it therefore adds NOTHING to
the total mass of surplus-value. If the capitalist engaging this labour
nevertheless does realise surplus-value, this value is appropriated
(transferred) from other sectors. Hence, Shaikh & Tonak distinguish
between the rate of surplus-value (applying only to productive labour) and
the rate of exploitation of surplus-labour (applying to all wage labour).

Michael writes:
> Are not the 'maintenance' workers in a factory, *servicing* the plant
> and machinery typically productive?

It depends what you are talking about. I'm suggesting that most cleaning
services are a necessary cost of production, a faux frais of production,
which does not add new value to any product. Of course you can attach
multiple meanings to the word "service" so that any labour becomes a
"service" but that isn't very illuminating I think.

Michael writes:

the clear
> criterion of demarcation can only be production relations. The rest
> is empirical contingency of no more import than the fact that some
> labour employed by capital may turn out to not contribute to the
> creation of sv, because the (potential) commodity they produce fails
> (is in excess supply).

This may be true or false depending on how you construe "production
relations". For example, Marx insists, as I said before, on the fact that
no new value is created as a result of exchange processes themselves. The
labour involved in circulating (trading) commodities, capital and money is
not productive labour, it does not add value or surplus-value to the total
product, even although it occurs within capitalist production relations and
even although the extraction of surplus-labour is involved.