Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Value Theory, The Transformation Problem And Domestic Labour - Part 4

c) Necessary, Productive and Unproductive Labour

In addition to the State, Bradby points to other forms of Labour that are supposed to be “outside value”, such as Domestic Labour, Labour performed and distributed within large Corporations and Scientific Labour. These last two arise from the work of Sohn-Rethel. And, of these, the former I have touched on previously in looking at the question of whether Labour in Department I is productive of Surplus Value. It will be worthwhile coming back to this question at some point in the future. But, its the points Bradby makes in relation to Domestic Labour, which I now want to deal with.

Bradby refers to the argument put by Diane Elson that we should analyse domestic and state labour as subordinate to the value form, which is essentially the argument I have set out above, but says this is not compatible with Elson's central thesis that Labour in Capitalist Society necessarily takes the Value Form. It depends how strictly you want to interpret “necessarily”. Iy you want to interpret it in a strict literal sense, then the fact that the same Labour continues to eist as non-wage labour would nullify the hypothesis. But, that would be to argue in a purely formalistic manner rather than to understand reality in dialectical terms, as a process. Viewed that way, the argument that Capitalism drives towards a situation in which all labour is transformed into wage-labour, that the market and exchange value continues to expand into every sphere of human activity, can be seen as not only theoretically valid, but empirically confirmed.

In the aftermath of WWII, when Capital was faced with a relative Labour shortage, it sought to bring women workers into the market. As part of that process, the sphere of economic activity dominated by Use Value shrank as exchange value advanced. Just as in the workplace, Capital seeks to reduce Necessary Labour-time, to a minimum, so in the home. In the workplace it seeks to achieve that by replacing living labour with dead labour – machines. So in the home with the introduction of a range of labour-saving devices.

Bradby says that Value Theory is centred on a contradiction - “Its central commodity, 'labour-power' derives its value from an appropriation of unpaid female labour, primarily by men.”

There are a number of things wrong with this. Firstly, its not clear why labour-power is the central commodity. In fact, central to Marx's theory is the idea that labour-power becomes relatively less significant as a proportion of total output, due to a rising organic composition of Capital. More importantly, the assertion that female domestic labour is unpaid is simply false. It is not paid a wage, like wage-labour, but that is not the same as being unpaid. The implication is that the female domestic labour receives nothing back in return for the Use Values it produces. But, for wholly domestic labour that is as untrue as the idea that slave labour receives nothing back in return for the use values it produces. If that were true then neither slaves nor female domestic workers would live very long! As an argument, it also seems to completely ignore the concrete reality of the many single male workers who continue to reproduce their labour power without appropriating the domestic labour of anyone but themselves.

Its certainly true, as Bradby says, that this is “Necessary Labour”. That is the case whether it is performed by female domestic labour, which is itself reproduced as a result of appropriating Use Values bought out of the money wages o the male worker, or by a male worker themselves or by a combined effort. As such, it constitutes a part of the Value of Labour power, and for the same reason, Capital has an incentive to minimise it by revolutionising domestic production as well as capitalist production.

A number of studies have tried to place a value on this domestic production by comparing the tasks performed with those undertaken in commercial activities. But, such studies tend to overlook some basic economic realities. In his, “The Development of Capitalism in Russia”, Lenin meticulously demonstrated that wages and conditions improved, and often dramatically, the more labour was removed from the domestic sphere, and into the small manufactory, and upwards to the large enterprise. The reason is quite simple. Capitalist production – even using the same means of production – raises labour productivity by means of the Division of labour, and more efficient organisation of production. Consequently, it is able to pay much higher wages than could be obtained in domestic production, whilst still extracting a profit.

Bradby's further argument that this domestic labour has the potential to contradict “value regulated labour” is also false. She says,

“For Labour done in the home is not governed by time economy in the way that labour is inside the capitalist sector. Use values produced at home very often derive value from having more time spent on them, rather than less, as in capitalist competition. A three course meal has more 'value' in domestic terms than a quick snack, a carefully ironed shirt more than one pulled straight from the tumble drier....The Capitalist firm, on the other hand, increases surplus value by spending less time on each operation than does its rivals.” (p126)

This argument is wrong on so many levels. Its actually a version of those Narodnik arguments - what Lenin called Economic Romanticism - against which Lenin argued. Firstly, it is precisely the basis of the LTV that Value is a function of labour-time. A three course meal in a restaurant also has more value than a quick snack! In Capitalist production as much as in doemstic production value is higher where more labour-time is required. Bradby's argument that the capitalist firm seeks to minimise necessary labour to maximise Surplus value is correct, but she has moved from a discussion of value to Surplus value without seeming to notice the difference! That is why diamonds have a higher value than potatoes. But in both cases, value is not added by needlessly using more time than is necessary. For example, does the carefully ironed shirt, dried in the tumble drier, have less value than a similarly ironed shirt dried using a hand cranked mangle and washed in a dolly tub, or down at the river? A well prepared three course meal may have more value than something slapped together in ten minutes, but does it have more value, because it was produced using no mechanical aids, than the same meal produced in half the time using such assistance, and thereby providing the time for the production of additional Use Values?

It is, in fact, impossible to determine whether any part of female, domestic labour is unpaid, precisely because, outside a market, neither its payment nor its output is measured. Under those conditions, only part of its relation with a male recipient of a part of that output, and who pays for that output from their own revenue, are determined by Exchange Value. Outside a market relation the actual amounts exchanged will vary in each particular case. The longer such a situation continues, the worse the oppression of women. To that extent, the natural tendency of Capital to expand at the expense of domestic production, continues to be progressive, and a force aiding the liberation of women, because each household will have an incentive in maximising its Exchange Value by mechanising domestic production so as to free female domestic labour from that drudgery. Capital has an incentive in such a development for two reasons.

Firstly, in the absence of efficient means of performing domestic labour, more of society's available labour-time is taken up in performing thse functions, which constitute Necessary Labour-Time for the reproduction of of Labour-Power. It raises the Value of Labour Power with a consequent opposite effect on Surplus Value. There may well be other sociological and historical reasons why, within the household, the burden of this Labour falls on women. But, the reality is that the development of Capitalism and the extension of Exchange Value acts to undermine those other factors, to liberate women from the “idiocy” of domestic life. If those other factors continue – the role of paternalism, sexism etc. - then rather like the continuation of racism, homophobia etc., it should be viewed in terms of the fact that Capitalism has failed to do a thorough job of modernising society – just as it has failed to carry through consistently the bourgeois democratic revolution – has settled for compromise with the past in the interests of social stability rather than open conflict, has failed to settle accounts with these relics of the past, rather than that it has deliberately reproduced them.

In my post A tale Of Contradictions I wrote,

“It is also no wonder that after 100 years, in which that Social-Democratic consensus has papered over not just the contradictions of class society, but papered over the other divisions within it, the cleavages of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity and so on, and rather than dealing with them by thoroughly democratic means, which would have involved open struggle against the remnants of past ideologies, dragged down through the ages like shit through a sewer, has attempted to modernise society by bureaucratic and police methods – a good example is the legislation enacted in the 1970's on Equal Pay and Discrimination, which has not only failed to bring about the first, but has in some ways by criminalising the latter rather than dealing with it in people's heads, only driven it under ground, and, like illegal drugs, made it more powerful in the hands of its purveyors – that every time a crisis arises upon which the basis of that Social democratic consensus is undermined, these other contradictions become heightened, and exposed to the oxygen flare up.”

But, for capital, particularly Big Capital, any advantages that might arise from a division of the working-class, are almost certainly outweighed by the social costs of those same divisions, and the problems caused by social instability and uncertainty. Big Capital really only needs to so divide workers when its own existence is threatened. But such revolutionary situations are very rare. In the meantime, it is able to maximise its exploitation of Labour much more efficiently via that Social Democratic consensus it has fostered, which incorporates Labour, and limits its struggles within the manageable confines of collective bargaining whether in the workplace or within the forums of bourgeois democracy.

Secondly, Big Capital, in particular, needs to ensure that it can maximise the amount of Labour available to be exploited. That is particularly true in modern developed economies where the use of family planning means that large increases in Labour do not occur, and where the continuance of those relics of past society, such as racism, means that it is faced with a problem if it makes up the shortfall by an encouragement of immigration. Domestic Labour is necessary Labour, but it is not productive Labour i.e. it does not exchange with Capital, and does not produce Surplus Value. Like Peasant or slave labour, it may produce Surplus Use Values, and this means an increase in personal wealth. But, that is not an increase in Exchange Value, and, therefore, not an increase in the specific form of Capitalist Wealth – Capital. Consequently, Capital has an incentive not only to diminish the amount of Necessary Labour-time expended by this domestic labour, but, having done so, to bring that Labour into the Labour market to be sold as a commodity, to exchange with Capital, and, therefore, to become productive Labour, assisting in the accumulation of Capital.

Capitalism developed by the encroachment of Exchange Value into Peasant, domestic production. The basic mechanism was the Division of Labour, and then the application of technology. It would be surprising if Capital did not continue that process in order to continue its drive to reduce the Value of Labour Power, and in order to make available additional reserves of labour power to be exploited. The means of achieving that may be varied. Take the question of laundry. The initial response was the development of commercial laundries, but this tended to be inefficient because of the time taken between its collection and return. A second response was the development of the Laundrette, which could make available washing machines, and driers, but time was still required to go to and from the Laundrette. The development of technology such that white goods became readily available at low prices ultimately became the main solution.

The development of State provision of services has to be viewed in similar terms of Capital looking for the most effective means of reducing the Necessary labour-time required for the reproduction of Labour Power. Its within that context that the question of whether Labour employed by the State should be viewed as Productive or Unproductive. According to Marx, all Tax is a deduction from Surplus Value. That is true as I demonstrated in my blog Politics & Programme of The First International. But, there are a couple of caveats here. Firstly, Marx was talking about Tax raised to pay for Governmental activities i.e. for the administration of the State. He says, “Taxes are the economic basis of the government machinery and of nothing else.” But, clearly as I point out in that post the situation is different where what we are talking about is not the government machinery, but goods and services – commodities – produced and sold by the State. As I point out there, and as I have argued in Part 3 here, if this production is of commodities, which form a part of the wage bundle that constitutes the Value of Labour Power – and as I have pointed out it does not matter that the commodity healthcare or education is purchased collectively by the working-class, even though consumed individually – then essentially there is no difference than had workers purchased these commodities from any other Capitalist. All we have here is a collective payment for these commodities, in the form of tax paid by workers to the Capitalist State, which provides the contracted service as and when required, just as an insurance company provides the contracted service to get a car or house repaired as and when required.

The second caveat is that although all tax is a deduction from Surplus Value, it is also true that because Surplus Value stands in an inverse relation to Wages, then Tax paid for such commodities purchased from the State, is no different than any other necessary expenditure out of wages to purchase wage goods. Health and education merely become wage goods purchased from the State via the payment of tax, as opposed to purchased from a private supplier via an individual insurance premium or direct payment.

Where Tax simply goes to cover “the economic basis of the government machinery”, then this is an exchange of revenue with revenue. It is a payment by Capital to its State to cover its administrative costs. As such it is not an activity, which is productive of Surplus Value, and although the Labour employed in such functions may be classed as Necessary – certainly from the point of view of Capital – it is not productive labour. But, what about the labour-Power employed in the provision of the commodities Education and Health? These commodities are bought by workers as necessary components of the reproduction of Labour Power, just as necessary in a modern economy as food, clothing and shelter. The fact that workers buy these commodities collectively via the payment of tax does not change that fact. There are many forms of payment for commodities utilised by Capital. This is just one of them. But, in that case we can see that these Commodities are produced by a State capital, and the wage labour which exchanges with this Capital in order to produce these commodities must be Productive Labour, just as productive as if it were employed by a private Capital running a school or a hospital. Whether the State actually realises a Surplus Value out of such activity is as irrelevant as whether GM realised a Surplus Value – for years it did not – out of the Productive Labour it employed to produce cars, or whether a private hospital realised a profit from the Labour-Power it employed. But, it can be seen from this why Capital is keen that such commodities, which today form a huge component part of the Value of Labour Power should be produced by the most efficient means.

So long as various restrictions existed which limited the ability of Capital to exploit Labour on a global scale, the Value of Labour Power was largely determined on a national basis. That is it was the average socially necessary labour-time required to reproduce Labour-Power within that economy. That could lead to wide variations. However, the development of a global economy in the period after WWII, and more particularly over the last 30 years, means that Capital is able today to move quickly to most parts of the world to exploit available Labour Power. Increasingly, these variations disappear, and so it is the average necessary labour-time required globally that determines the Value of Labour Power. As a consequence, Capital searches out more assiduously, those methods of production, which minimise these costs. Hence, there is a tendency to move to the same kinds of provision of these commodities. Certain economies where a surfeit of Labour Power existed, such as China, could, for a time, substitute quantity for quality, but even China now has used up its vast available reserve. China too, is likely to have to respond by introducing some form of socialised healthcare similar to that in Europe, and for the same reasons.

A final argument has been raised in relation to socialised production in order to suggest that it is somehow different to commodity production, that is that the provision of healthcare to workers is beyond that which would be necessary just to provide suitable supplies of Labour-Power. But, the answer to this is quite simple. Engels, in his “History of the Working Class” writes,

“Again, the repeated visitations of cholera, typhus, small-pox, and other epidemics have shown the British bourgeois the urgent necessity of sanitation in his towns and cities, if he wishes to save himself and family from falling victims to such diseases.”

The bourgeoisie have no desire to die from Cancer, or Heart Disease, or to suffer from Alzheimer's either. But, the cost of producing cures for these things, or of producing treatments and so on as with the development costs of any new commodity are immense. And, as with any other commodity, once developed, the costs of production can only be significantly reduced by production on a mass scale. The working-class is many, many times larger than the bourgeoisie. Even were it not the case that the conditions of life make the working-class more prone to illness, the much larger numbers mean that for any illness it will be far more prominent within the working class. The working-class necessarily, then provides the large numbers needed to study any illness, to provide the required number of guinea pigs upon which potential cures and treatments can be tested out, and when available the provision of those drugs and other treatments on a mass scale, largely paid for out of workers taxes, makes them available at affordable prices to the bourgeoisie.

If workers want to develop production for need, if they want to begin to develop production based upon Use Value rather than the domination of Exchange Value then they can only do that on the basis of their own collective production, not by looking to production by the Capitalist State. But, just as Exchange Value pushed out Use Value, as generalised commodity production opened the potential for more efficient production based upon comparative advantage, specialisation, the division of labour, and ultimately Capitalist production, so that Capitalist production can only be pushed out, if collective, co-operative production itself demonstrates its superiority, demonstrates its ability to raise productive potential and efficiency. Upon that rests the question of whether Socialism is possible. The starting point is for workers to begin to re-establish their ownership of the means of production, and to begin that co-operative production on a sufficient scale, and by choosing the most suitable areas that begins to demonstrate its potential.

Back To Part 3

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