[OPE] Reply to critics (Cockshott mainly)

From: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@telfort.nl>
Date: Sun Oct 03 2010 - 06:10:34 EDT


Thanks for the comment. I regard the theory of information as "fully
independent of human minds" as a reified, reductionist ideology which just
assumes that the information is supplied, without understanding anything
much about the production process which created it. It has insufficient
regard for the fact that the meaning of information has to be constructed,
both by the creator and the user, the sender or emitter and the receiver or

No doubt a definition of information can be found that gives mathematicians
and physicists orgasms, because it neatly reduces the concept of information
to the smallest observable unit expressible with a number, but if it is a
meaningless unit, it cannot orient behaviour except in the absolutely
minimalist sense that one tries to disregard or avoid such meaningless

In information management, we can find literally hundreds of different
"scientific" definitions of "information", all of which have been proposed
by reputable scientists, and a historian would point out, that these
definitions continue to change. When Marxists embrace a new bourgeois
ideology as supremely "scientific" we ought to be critical, and not go along
with the fad.

In his little book "Class warfare in the information age", Michael Perelman
suggests that the categorization and definition of information is itself
subject to class struggle. Why? Because the form and content of information
is not simply a technical matter but inescapably involves social relations.

As I have indicated many times previously previously, I don't think a fully
"objective" concept is productive labour is possible in class-divided
societies, and more specifically in competitive capitalist societies. The
productivity of an activity is evaluated according to a purpose, and
depending on what purpose we have in mind, an activity may be more or less
productive. There is no labour which does not produce something, it always
produces some effect or result, and therefore all labour is productive in
some sense.

So you can say that "if the purpose is X, then labour activities A,B,C are
productive and labour activities P,Q,R are not productive". But if the
purpose is Y, then labour activities P,Q,R may be productive and labour
activities A,B,C are not productive. As a corollary, depending on purpose
certain definitions will be useful.

This is also exactly the sense in which Marx uses the concept of productive
labour - the same activity which is not capitalistically productive can
become capitalistically productive if the property rights pertaining to the
activity are changed.

This indicates already that a labour activity is not "intrinsically"
or unproductive. All you can say is, that an activity is intrinsically
incompatible or compatible with a given purpose. If, for example, a business
wants to put a new product on the market and make money from it, there are a
whole lot of different preconditions and requirements which have to be
satisfied - technical, social, financial, legal, etc. For this purpose, some
actions will be productive and others not, because they are compatible or
incompatible with the purpose.

There exists no neutral definition of productive and unproductive labour,
because what is productive from the point of view of one social class may
not be productive from the point of view of another. The only objective
definition of productive labour is in terms of what is as a matter of fact
productive within the social conditions of a given mode of production. From
the point of view of the capitalist class, labour is productive, if it
increases the value of capital or results in capital accumulation.

The definition of productive and unproductive labour is moreover not static,
as in Marxist dogma, but evolving; in the course of capitalist development,
the division of labour is increasingly modified, to make more and more
labour productive in the capitalistic sense, for example through
marketisation and privatisation, value-based management, and Taylorism.

If it turns out that the capitalist redivision of labour creates an
workforce incapable of producing what is required to sustain a healthy
and wealthy society, the problem is not a wrong definition of productive
labour but capitalist social relations.

The question is then how you would do things differently. But if
all you can offer is a managerialist theory of why certain tasks are
intrinsically productive and others not, this is not very interesting.


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Received on Sun Oct 3 06:13:16 2010

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