Sunday, 2 August 2015

Marx and Machines - Part 6 of 7

To return to the point made in the beginning, in relation to Paul Mason's new book, it seems to me to make the same mistake that Marx himself made, but for which he could be forgiven considering the time he was writing. Marx, in Theories of Surplus Value I, in discussing productive and unproductive labour, examines the views of Charles Ganilh and others.

Ganilh believed that the larger the number of unproductive labourers in society the more civilised it was. For that reason, he sought to have capitalists spend less on accumulation and more on supporting such unproductive labour. He failed to recognise that to support more unproductive labour, its necessary to increase the productivity of the productive labour, and this requires additional accumulation.

Ricardo also wanted to minimise the number of productive labourers by increasing productivity, because he saw the position of labourer as an undesirable one.

Marx goes on to discuss the release of productive labourers, who become then employed in service production. Marx has arrived at a conclusion that all commodity production is undertaken by productive labour, i.e. wage labour that exchanges with capital, whereas service production is undertaken by unproductive labour, which exchanges with revenue.

There are exceptions he says, where services such as education are provided in capitalist education factories, with teachers employed as wage labour by capital, but these represent only a small part of social production. But, this has long since ceased being the case. Education itself has expanded massively. Large numbers of teachers are employed as wage labourers, in huge education factories, run by state capital. The same is true of healthcare, and a range of other welfare services.

Today, service industries account for the vast majority, 80%, of output value, and this consists of commodities in goods and services provided by wage labourers employed by capital. Increasing components of this service industry production consists of things which, in Marx’s day, would have been, and some of which he describes as being, produced by individual workers such as entertainment, which was a minor activity then, but is a huge industry now.

Even some of those most personal of personal services, which were provided on an individual basis in Marx’s day, have today been brought within the remit of capitalist production, as a multi-billion dollar sex industry attests.

In fact, therefore, just as rising productivity in agriculture first made surplus value possible and then made the expansion of industry possible, so now that same expansion of productivity, based on ever more powerful, ever smarter machines, has reduced industrial production itself to a minor role in social production, and facilitated an expansion of that service production.  This is a point I made more than 30 years ago, predicting this development.

Formerly, the task of industrial production fell to the artisan, and then, as industrial production expanded, it was undertaken by the wage worker, whilst the services required were provided by individual unproductive labours. Today, the services are produced by wage workers too.

Part 7 Will Appear Tomorrow

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