Re: [OPE-L] Productive labour & services

jurriaan bendien (
Tue, 20 Jan 1998 13:05:02 +0100

A useful and extensive text by Marx on productive and unproductive labour
is in the "Results of the Immediate Process of Production" (in the Penguin
edition of Volume 1, p. 1038f). Here Marx is examining the impact of the
specifically capitalist mode of production on the social and technical
division of labour, and how this division of labour is modified in line
with the objective of producing surplus-value. Just which activities lend
themselves to not just a formal, but a real, subordination by capital is
implicitly at least partly an open question, because it is historically
contingent on technological innovations and specific social arangements.
But Marx does foresee, for example, the full integration of scientific
activity in the quest for surplus-value.

In one passage, Marx writes very explicitly "for labour to be designated as
productive, qualities are required which are utterly disconnected with the
specific content of the labour, with its particular utility or the
use-value in which the labour is objectified. Hence labour with the same
content can be either productive or unproductive" (p. 1044). However from
this quote it does not logically follow that Marx means that the specific
content of the labour itself is always irrelevant. It merely means that
the specific content of the concrete labour (the specific use-value
produced) must be related to the objective of capitalist production for

In a subsequent passage, Marx says:

"On the whole, types of work that are consumed as services and not in
products separable from the worker and hence not capable of existing as
commodities independently of him, but which are yet capable of being
directly exploited in capitalist terms, are of microscopic significance
when compared with the mass of capitalist production. They may therefore be
entirely neglected, and can be dealt with under the category of wage-labour
that is not at the same time productive labour" (p. 1044-45)
Of course we would say today that this type of work is not of "microscopic
significance" anymore, and it does need to be analysed.

And Marx explicitly defines a concept of a "service":

"In general, we may say that service is merely an expression for the
particular use-value of labour where the latter is useful not as an
article, but as an activity. Do ut facias, facio ut facias, facio ut des,
do ut des [I give so that you may do, I do so that you may do, I do so that
you may give, I give so that you may give] - all these are interchangeable
formulae for the same situation, whereas in capitalist production the do ut
facias expresses a highly specific relationship between material wealth and
living labour". (P. 1047).

In the case of "non-material" production, Marx distinguishes between the
production of commodities separable from the producer (books, works of art)
and production where the product is not separable from the act of producing
(e.g. teaching). He says in these cases the capitalist mode of production
is possible only on a limited scale, a formal subordination to capital can
take place but not a real one. The reason is in fact the specific content
of the labour involved.