Monday, 15 August 2016

Productive Labour - Part 4 of 15

Marx points out that there are many activities performed by labour that do not create a material commodity, including the transportation of commodities from one location to another, which nevertheless create value. Moreover, the immaterial production of an actor, employed by a capitalist theatre owner, produces surplus value, as much as the labour of any worker employed by capital to produce a material commodity. It complies fully with Smith's first definition of productive labour, therefore.

Smith is led into a definition which conflicts with his original definition, whereby labour is productive which produces not just value, but surplus value.

Smith's analysis of productive labour, like other aspects of his analysis, Marx says, demonstrates the same two-sided approach, where both approaches, one correct the other incorrect, are jumbled together. Its necessary to separate these approaches from within the jumble, to analyse what is correct and what is incorrect.

The correct approach of Smith, which flows from his analysis of surplus value, as arising in production, is that that labour is productive which produces surplus value. For labour to produce surplus value, it must be wage-labour, which exchanges with capital. Wage labour may be exchanged with revenue, but this labour is not productive; it is not bought for the purpose of creating surplus value, but solely for the purpose of providing the buyer with a use value.

In this case, the wage labourer sells a commodity - labour-power - just as they do when selling it to capital, and consequently they sell this commodity at its value, but the buyer of this commodity does not thereby obtain any surplus value to realise, and with which to expand their capital. That was the situation with retainers, for example. It has to be distinguished from those conditions whereby workers sell not their labour-power, but the product of their labour, or provide a labour service.

“Productive labour, in its meaning for capitalist production, is wage-labour which, exchanged against the variable part of capital (the part of the capital that is spent on wages), reproduces not only this part of the capital (or the value of its own labour-power), but in addition produces surplus-value for the capitalist.” (TOSV 1, p 152)

The existence of capital, and a class of capitalists, depends not on the absolute but relative productivity of labour. That is all labour that is expended on the production of use values is productive of value, but it is only if this labour reaches a level of productivity that is sufficient to produce a quantity of value greater than the value of the labour-power that produces it, that a surplus value is possible.

“Productivity in the capitalist sense is based on relative productivity—that the worker not only replaces an old value, but creates a new one; that he materialises more labour-time in his product than is materialised in the product that keeps him in existence as a worker. It is this kind of productive wage-labour that is the basis for the existence of capital.” (TOSV 1, p 153)

This conception of productive labour as being that labour which produces a surplus value is also found in the theories of the Physiocrats, and the Mercantilists. The Physiocrats correctly analysed the source of surplus value as arising in production, as the workers produced a greater quantity of use values than was required for their own reproduction.

The Physiocrats were right to locate the origin of surplus value in production, and indeed its nature as being the fact that the worker creates a greater mass of value than is required to reproduce their own labour-power, and they were right, therefore, to define productive labour in those terms. But, the Physiocrats were wrong because they defined value in terms of use value, and surplus value, therefore, as being a surplus product. Adam Smith had freed their theory of this limitation, by identifying value with labour, and so demonstrating that all labour, not just agricultural labour, could produce surplus value.

The Mercantilists believed that surplus value arose from foreign trade, such that a surplus arose whereby the value of commodities exported was greater than the value of the commodities imported, which were required for the production of those exports. On this basis, only that labour employed in the production of these commodities to be exported was productive.

The basis of this view of the Mercantilists was that they saw that in those economies like the Netherlands, and then Britain, which were able to export more than they imported, they were able to amass increasing stores of gold and silver, which they equated with wealth.

“They saw that in these countries there was a rapid growth of wealth and of the middle class.” (p 154)

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