Re: [OPE-L]Re:Disagreement or dismissal?[was:commodities/services]

jurriaan bendien (
Sun, 8 Feb 1998 17:04:31 +0100

Andrew Kliman writes:

> what would actually be needed to prove the claim that
> "definitions" were not "fully consistent"? In general, I think prior
> scholarship (to which you allude) counts to some degree as evidence, but
> the potted history of "Marxian economics" and Marxology, I'm inclined to
> discount it heavily. In any case, if one wishes to *prove* that the
> definitions aren't fully consistent, isn't it necessary to prove that
> exists no possible interpretation according to which they are compatible?
> the absence of such proof, isn't it better simply to say that you have
> making the various "definitions" fit together in a way that is suitable
> accounting purposes? You do say that, I realize. But can you *leave* it
> that?
To show that Marx's notions of productive labour are not all formally
consistent with each other can be accomplished by taking the relevant
quotes, putting them side by side and thinking through their logical
implications. In places Marx claims that labour is productive simply if it
produces surplus-value for the capitalist, i.e. if it takes place within
the capital-relation. But this viewpoint is prima facie not consistent
with his other claim that no additional value is generated by purely
circulation activities, if circulation labour takes place within the
capital-relation. Nor is it consistent with his comments suggesting a
"service" is not really a commodity production, even if services take place
within the
capital relation.
I believe that there does exist an interpretation according to which all
of these difficulties are overcome, namely a consistent interpretation of
what a commodity is, of commodity production, and of services. I think
that Marx had some difficulty with the boundaries of productive labour
there is a difficulty in the real world - i.e. because of varying degrees
of subsumption of labour by capital (and degrees of commodification or
I agree it is "better simply to say that you have trouble making the
various definitions fit together in a way that is suitable for accounting
purposes?" but I cannot "leave it like that" because an accounting
definition still requires a theoretical rationale. Part of the critique of
official accounts is that the theoretical rationale underlying the concepts
is bad, so we want to find a better one.
In finding a theoretical
rationale, I am not bothered though by the ability to measure the
definition "completely accurately", I am only trying to specify the quality
being quantified, however inadequate this quantification may be.
Personally I am not interested in disputes about norms of conduct, only in
clarifying and solving problems. And I think we have gotten a lot clearer
about the issue of productive labour and how to account for it, thanks to
the various contributions, including those of Alan, Fred, and Murray.
I think we need to refer both to Marx and to
experiential evidence, there needs to be a dialectic between theoretical
tradition and experiential evidence. If we get too much into quotology, or
too much into empiricisms, then the discussion will I am sure be redirected
through criticism - there's enough able minds on the list surely.


Jurriaan Bendien.