Thursday, 16 March 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 10

As set out earlier, for me, as an individual consumer of the cook's labour, it does not reproduce for me the fund out of which the cook is to be paid. If I want the cook to prepare mutton chops for me again another day, I must obtain revenue once again from some other source, so as to be able to buy the use value of the cook's concrete labour. But, if I buy the cook's labour-power as a capitalist, in selling the cooked mutton chops to a customer, in the process, I reproduce the fund from which both the mutton chops and the cook's labour-power is to be bought once more, as well as in the process realising a surplus value.

“This distinction however is also to be found between commodities. The commodity which the capitalist buys to replace his constant capital (for example, cotton material, if he is a cotton printer) replaces its value in the printed cotton. But if on the other hand he buys it in order to consume the cotton itself, then the commodity does not replace his outlay.” (p 165)

For the vast majority of workers, this kind of labour, which exchanges directly with revenue has to be performed by themselves. They do not employ cooks, cleaners and so on to perform these functions, but undertake them themselves, in addition to their own productive labour.

“It can only cook meat for itself when it has produced a wage with which to pay for the meat; and it can only keep its furniture and dwellings clean, it can only polish its boots, when it has produced the value of furniture, house rent and boots. To this class of productive labourers itself, therefore, the labour which they perform for themselves appears as “unproductive labour”. This unproductive labour never enables them to repeat the same unproductive labour a second time unless they have previously laboured productively.” (p 166)

By contrast to Smith's second definition of productive, as labour fixed in a material commodity that does not perish in the act of its production, Marx sets out a number of such activities where this type of labour is productive.

“... an entrepreneur of theatres, concerts, brothels, etc., buys the temporary disposal over the labour-power of the actors, musicians, prostitutes, etc.—in fact in a roundabout way that is only of formal economic interest; in its result the process is the same—he buys this so-called “unproductive labour”, whose “services perish in the very instant of their performance and do not fix or realise themselves “any permanent” (“particular” is also used) “subject or vendible commodity” (apart from themselves). The sale of these to the public provides him with wages and profit. And these services which he has thus bought enable him to buy them again; that is to say, they themselves renew the fund from which they are paid for. The same is true for example of the labour of clerks employed by a lawyer in his office—except for the fact that these services as a rule also embody themselves in very bulky “particular subjects” in the form of immense bundles of documents.” (p 166)

In respect of this latter we might also refer to other similar types of labour, which on this basis qualify as productive. The financial advisor, employed by a bank or financial services firm, which sells financial advice to clients, on this basis also qualifies as productive labour. The advisor sells his labour-power to the firm, which in turn sells financial advice to customers, and out of the payments received from customers it not only reproduces the wages of the advisor, and any constant capital involved (cost of offices, electricity, etc.) but also produces a surplus value.

The fact that the wages of the advisor, or any of the other categories, such as the prostitute, are paid for out of the revenue of the customer is irrelevant. All commodities bought for personal consumption are bought out of revenue. The food and other commodities sold by a supermarket, for example, are bought out of the revenues received as wages, profits, interest and rent.

“It is true that these services are paid for to the entrepreneur out of the revenue of the public. But it is no less true that this holds good of all products in so far as they enter into individual consumption. It is true that the country cannot export these services as such; but it can export those who perform the services. Thus France exports dancing masters, cooks, etc., and Germany schoolmasters. With the export of the dancing master, or the schoolmaster, however, his revenue is also exported, while the export of dancing shoes and books brings a return to the country.” (p 166)

Of course, even in Marx's time, it was possible to “export” some of these services in reverse. That is rather than the dancing master themselves moving abroad, their students may come to them from other countries, and bring their own revenues with them. But, today, with the Internet, it is possible for the labour of individuals to be bought directly by the revenue of billions across the globe, without the individual having to move from their own home.  I can, for example, buy the labour of a Harvard Law Professor, in a two hour lecture, directly, whether I live in Cambridge Massachusetts, Cambridge in England, or in Cambridge, Western Australia, via the Internet.

But, just as some unproductive labour is embodied in physical products, for example, the labour of the cook embodied in the mutton chops, so productive labour may take the form of non-physical use values, of labour services. For example, an actor employed by a theatre owner provides productive labour, which not only creates the fund out of which that labour-power is reproduced, but also is productive of a surplus value for the theatre owner. As concrete labour, the actor's labour also preserves the value of the theatre owner's constant capital, in the shape of buildings, scenery, heating, lighting and so on, whose value is transferred to the end commodity – the performance – and thereby ensures that the fund is also created for the reproduction of this constant capital. Yet, the actual product here is not something physical. The performance disappears in the very instant of being given.

“In short, the production of these services can be in part subsumed under capital, just as a part of the labour which embodies itself in useful things is bought directly by revenue and is not subsumed under capitalist production.” (p 167)

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