Re: [OPE-L] Productive labour & services

Michael Williams (Michael@MWILLIAM.U-NET.COM)
Tue, 20 Jan 1998 14:21:52 +0000

Jurriaan usefully points us at some of Marx's explicit passages on
the productive/unproductive labour distinction. As I am not in a
position at the moment to systematically revisit Marx on the
distinction, I will confine my comments to the actual passages
Jurriaan cites, and to his interpretation of them. He writes:

> 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 arrangements.
> But Marx does foresee, for example, the full integration of scientific
> activity in the quest for surplus-value.

The question of the extent of real subordination, that may well be
related to the nature of the use-value (although not in a way that
can be mapped simply on the physical product/services distinction),
seems a thin reed upon which to base this apparently fundamental
distinction. It is a matter of degree, related also to such
contingent matters as the managerial mechanisms in play, the degree
of competition in output and labour markets, etc, etc. In terms of the
matter at hand, none of these factors will show up in NI accounts ...
> 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.

In strict formal logic, we cannot make this as a deductive inference.
Nevertheless, it is strongly suggested by this passage. It states
quite clearly that characteristics quite unconnected with the
use-value of the product are *required* to characterize productive
labour. Thus use-value characteristics are at most necessary, but not
sufficient. But then the last sentence rules out any necessity of
use-value difference either. So use-value difference is neither
sufficient nor necessary.

>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 surplus-value.

There is in the passage Jurriaan has cited, *nothing* to support this
assertion. On reflexion what does 'related to ... etc.' mean in this

Jurriaan goes on:
> 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" any more, and it does need to be analysed.

This statement certainly asserts that services tend ('on the whole')
not to be commodities, and suggests that not all wage-labour need be
productive. But it doesn't give any inkling why this should be the
case, except in the statement 'and hence not capable of existing as
commodities independently of him [the wage-labourer]'. But why does
this characteristic of services stop them being commodities? Note
that most participants in this discussion appear to have have conceded
that services may be commodities. (They are, of course, at liberty to
reconsider their positions.)

And then:
> 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).

This again seems to be quite definite that *no* services
can be capitalist commodities. This is what I cannot get my head
round. Note however, Alan, that here Marx is characterising services
*as use-values*. This does not sit easily with your notion that that
labour which is unproduictive is so becuase it does *not* produce a
Let's try another tack. Marx's comments elsewhere often indicate
that it is the organic whole of all the wage-labour socially
necessary for the production of a commodity that produces value in
the labour process producing the relevant commodity. So, *I* infer,
the in-house service wage-labour of the security guard or maintenance
worker, as part of the organic labourer, is potentially productive.
But if these services are contracted out, and produced as vendible
services, as Marx does not permit these to be commodities, this
worker ceases to be productive. This seems to me to be directly
contrary to the intuition that employment by your 'own' capitalist
facilitates both the impact of market forces, and the real
subordination to ensure that workers actually work longer than
required to reproduce the value of their wage.

Jurriaan again,
> In the case of "non-material" production, Marx distin