[OPE-L:1403] Re: Still more on advertising and productive labour

Jurriaan Bendien (djjb99@worldonline.nl)
Sat, 02 Oct 1999 18:17:04 +0100

In reply to Michael Williams:

To recap: Marx's basic argument about productive labour is that it is
production of surplus-value. Further, that value and surplus-value are
produced when commodities are created within the capital relationship in
the sphere of material production. Commodities have a social form and a
material content (we can phrase that more precisely but that is what it
amounts to). Implicitly his argument seems to be that the production of
value and surplus-value is a social process which as it were "maps" onto
the transformation of the material (or physical) world by human labour. But
this argument contains analytical problems, as we have seen, since we must
inter alia specify the universe of commodities, the boundaries of commodity
production and the sphere of material production. Sometimes Marx appears to
contrast commodities with services, but in fact it must be admitted that
services can be produced and sold as commodities. If this is so, then where
then do we draw the boundaries and limits of commodity production ? Here we
get to the notion of "material production". Marx's claim is for instance
that activities which only transfer property rights and mutually convert
money, commodities and capital are OUTSIDE the region of material
production and that THIS is the reason they do not create net additions to
the value and implicitly the material wealth that is produced. They relate
to the social form of the production process only. So for Marx then it is
not true that whenever incomes are generated under capitalist conditions of
production, new value is being produced at the same time. Some capitalist
transactions reflect flows of new value, some do not. Implicitly then we
could argue the value product really corresponds to the net material
product. But to make sense of that we have to specify the sphere of
material production. We can only do that with reference to the specific
use-value of the labour involved, and the specific use-value which that
labour produces (its output). Once we begin to do that, it appears that the
notion of "material production" cannot be uncontroversially specified. In a
word, it's arbitrary. For instance, financial products and legal products
are sold as commodities with a tangible "material" existence. Maybe we
could argue that they are "fictitious commodities" or "ideational
commodities" but when we explore the distinction between the "material" and
the "ideal" or the "social" further this cannot be credibly sustained
either. Hence, Michael argues that the only consistent view is to say that
whenever anything is produced for exchange under the wellknown capitalist
conditions, the labour involved is productive of new value, and all other
labour within capitalist society is not productive of surplus-value. Even
so, residual problems remain such as what labour within a capitalist
enterprise actually contributes to the production of commodities. Once we
explore relations of dependence between different kinds of labour in the
enterprise itself, then we again get into difficulty if we claim that some
of the labour does not participate in the production of the commodites that
are the output. So we end up saying that all the labour within the
capitalist enterprise is in principle productive, including the labour of
managers. The only other arguments about the productiveness or
non-productiveness of labour that can then still be made concern (1)
alternative uses of resources (here there is nothing "structural" about the
productive/unproductive distinction anymore, and the distinction itself may
be indeed purely hypothetical or moral) or (2) that certain types of
surplus labour are not productive AT ANY TIME by virtue of the type of
labour they are, or by virtue of the output they produce, regardless of the
social relations of production involved (transhistorical argument). But
even if this could be operationalised, then we still have a paradox that
commodities can then be created under capitalist conditions by
surplus-labour, without creating surplus-value, and that seems an odd
result contrary to the thrust of Marx's social analysis.

>'Matters of fact' have to be located conceptually: is it necessary to the
>reproduction of the captialist sytem that there exists interest in
>use-values? or merely an, however ubiquitous, contingency?

Maybe I am mistaken, but I thought it was totally obvious to the point of
being a platitude that a real capitalist economy cannot be indifferent to
use-values. Indeed, my understanding is that Marx's Capital Vol. 2 is in
good part devoted to this very point, since it raises the question how
different classes of goods can be produced distributed and traded in
proportions such that a relative equilibrium and expanded reproduction can
result. In the real world this is not an automatic process and hence firms
cannot be indifferent to it, even though they do not control the production
and distribution process overall (for that you would need a planned economy).

I said:

>> Product innovations and technological revolutions
>> indeed modify the whole operation of the system, they create a whole new
>> modus operandi for capitalism.

Michael asked:


My reply:

So the system is not indifferent to the kinds of use-values being produced,
but profoundly influenced in its very functioning by those use-values.

>I have specified, from very early on in this discussion, a perfectly
>statistically operationalisable basis for the (un)productive labour
>distinction. *All* such specific, exact unfuzzy classificatory critieria are
>in their very nature abstract. Of course, in the process of articulating
>these abstractions in order to regrasp the empirical as the concrete, all
>kinds of real world ambiguities and fuzzy border regions emerge. That is
>just real life, It cannot be wished away with references to what is or is
>not 'vulgar'.

I agree with that. But I queried the correctness of your distinction,
because it has major implications for basic Marxian value ratios.

>OK - I have no problem with this - except a slight qualm about the selective
>drawing of the boundaries of an 'economy' in order to be able to show a
>*net* profit upon alienation, since overall that is a zero-sum game.

Unless you include criminal activity and legalised theft.

In solidarity


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