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

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@CLASSIC.MSN.COM)
Mon, 9 Feb 98 10:14:01 UT

A reply to the PIAF:

From: on behalf of jurriaan bendien
Sent: Sunday, February 08, 1998 11:04 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L]Re:Disagreement or dismissal?[was:commodities/services]

Jurriaan writes: "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

I don't think this is enough. Doing this runs the risk of distorting the
meaning by taking the quotes out of context. As you've noted, Marx's method
of presentation is dialectical, so context matters a lot. Also, the same word
in two different quotes can stand for two different things.

Jurriaan: "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


"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

Agreed. But "prima facie" means "at first sight," before further examination.
This immediately raises the question of whether further examination of
context and word usage will allow the two notions to be reconciled. For
instance, is there a difference between surplus-value and profit, so that
circulation labor can result in the capitalist getting profit, without new
value thereby being created? On the other hand, the first paraphrase seems to
suggest that it is necessary and sufficient for surplus-value that labor takes
place within the "capital-relation," while the second acknowledges that
circulation labor takes place within the "capital-relation." But does the
term "capital-relation" stand for the same thing in these two statements?

And the matter of context re-enters, because, if I'm not mistaken, the first
occurs within Marx's analysis of the immediate process of production, i.e.,
abstracting from circulation, while the second of course does not. So isn't
it possible and even plausible that, instead of Marx being inconsistent, it is
the category itself that undergoes dialectical modification? Note that Marx
refers to something rather similar in Vol. I, Ch. 16; he notes that the
category of productive labor is modified by capitalist production. He states
this only after an analysis (Chs. 7-15) of capitalist production.

Jurriaan: "Nor is it [the first one] consistent with his comments suggesting
a "service" is not really a commodity production, even if services take place
within the capital relation."

I don't think Marx uses the term "commodity" in a univocal manner. If one
wishes, one can call that "inconsistency," but I think the question then
becomes whether the "inconsistency" is semantic only, or conceptual. (You
claim above, not that his *terminology* isn't consistent, but that his
*notions* of productive labor aren't.) I think Marx was aware that his usage
varied, since he sometimes qualifies the term commodity with "as such" when
referring to a physical thing rather than a service. And again, context
matters, since, once he gets to Vol. II, i.e., once (but not before) he begins
to examine the forms of circulation of capital he notes that it is unimportant
whether production results in a "commodity," arguing that M-C ... P ... C'-M'
and M-C ... P ... M' are essentially the same process.

"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'm not quite sure what you mean here because *you* seem to mean two different
things by "interpretation," and in one sentence! The first usage seems to
refer to an interpretation of Marx's theory, while the latter sees to refer to
an interpretation of objects and relations out in the world. But maybe you
mean by the latter "interpretation of Marx's concepts of commodity, of
commodity production, and of services"?

If that's what you mean, then you are arguing that the prima facie
contradiction is *only* prima facie; he's not really guilty of "logical"

"I think that Marx had some difficulty with the boundaries of productive
labour because 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 marketisation)."

I don't think there can be any doubt that he had a lot of difficulty here --
he wrote so much on the matter, and it hardly figures into Vol. I at all, so a
lot of the time he was clarifying things for himself. Partly, I suspect, the
difficulty is due to what you describe; partly it is due to the complexity of
the matter -- the variety of contexts in which the differentiation of labor
into productive and unproductive comes into play. Partly it is due to the
difficulty of sorting out confusions among the economists. When I was a
graduate student, I read pretty much all the literature of the 1970s thru
mid-80s on the topic, and put together a color-coded chart to sort out the
positions and sub-topics. That only made things more confusing -- the chart
was so complex as to be unreadable.

Jurriaan: "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."

If by saying you cannot "leave it like that" you mean that you need to make
Marx's various "definitions" fit together, I have no problem with that. I
note that, if you succeed, then you will have proved that his concept of
productive labor is internally consistent. BTW, I put "definitions" in
quotation marks because a statement containing "is" is not always a definition
(such as this one). I've noted that some people read Marx as providing a
definition where I think he is simply describing a situation or relation.

"Personally I am not interested in disputes about norms of conduct, only in
clarifying and solving problems."

Well, sure. I don't think any of us are *interested* in disputes about norms
of conduct. I'm not at all interested in cleaning my apartment, either, but
unless I do so there's crap all over the place. I think the time is overdue
to clean up the way economics, including "Marxian economics," deals with
Marx's work.

Jurriaan: "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."

I'm not sure what this means. But I'm wary of your "dialectic between
theoretical tradition and experiential evidence." Especially because Marx may
have been "wrong" about anything and everything, I think it is important
clearly to differentiate between what Marx's theory was and what reality is,
for instance to avoid attributing something to Marx because one thinks it is
true and to avoid claiming Marx was inconsistent because one disagrees with
what he wrote or finds it impossible to understand. While some may regard
such methodological cautions as procedural whinges, what will happen
--indeed, what has happened -- when the distinctions are not adhered to, is
that one's own views and Marx's views become so jumbled together that the
latter no longer exist. His own Marxism could be anything and therefore are


Andrew Kliman