[OPE-L:1465] Re: The audit of war

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Wed, 13 Oct 1999 08:36:00 -0400 (EDT)

Paul C wrote in [OPE-L:1453]:

> As Corelli Barnet points out the ultimate audit of an imperialist economy
> is war. In time of war, illusions about what is productive and essential
> get tossed to one side as the necessity arises for the entire surplus
> product to assume a particular material form - tanks, shells etc.
> The economists responsible for national planning have then to decide
> which categories of labour contribute to the production of this surplus
> and which do not.

Well, this _sounds_ good, but how true is it? (I think that too many
radicals take a position on something based on whether it "sounds good").
In particular, this seems to too narrowly limit what categories of labor
are productive to what labor produces "essential" goods (for e.g. only the
most basic consumer goods). Thus, by this standard, labor producing
"kipper" in Scotland prior to WWII would be productive labor, but since
"kipper" was viewed (I think) as "unessential" during the war, the state
would re-classify the labor as now unproductive. Yet, this is not a
consistent use of the productive-unproductive labor distinction. Either
the kipper producers were productive before and during the war or they
were unproductive. The conclusion that I would draw is that it matters not
a whit to the state whether an individual's labor is counted as productive
vs. unproductive in terms of possible military service. Rather, the skill
of the individual _can_ matter (see below).

> All unproductive workers except those in the
armaments industry > are then liable to be shot.

Aren't most workers in the "armaments industry" unproductive? Indeed,
isn't the proportion of workers in that sector who produce *commodities*
which are sold on the market (e.g. handgun sales to individuals) rather

This is somewhat irrelevant, though, since workers -- *regardless of
whether they are productive of surplus value or not* -- are sent to the
"front" to be shot. What is significant is not necessarily the material
form of the product that the worker produces, but rather the *skill* of
the worker. Thus, if one worked on an assembly line producing tanks then
that person might be *more* liable to be called up for "military service"
than, say, a skilled machinist or toolmaker in the toy industry. That is
because the assembly worker who is unskilled is easily replaceable --
"expendable" -- whereas the machinist can usually be re-assigned to
an "essential" military job.

In solidarity, Jerry

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