Thursday, 23 March 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 17

5. Vulgarisation of Bourgeois Political Economy in the Definition of Productive Labour

The polemics against Smith's distinction between productive and unproductive labour were mostly undertaken by the second rate economists and vulgar apologists. It wasn't difficult to see the motivation behind these polemics. In its growth, bourgeois political economy, like the bourgeoisie itself, is revolutionary, in setting itself up against all of the restrictive monopolies and absurdities of feudal society.

The bourgeoisie has no reason to wish to see its profits eaten up in rents paid to landowners or in taxes paid to a bloated bureaucratic feudal state, or payments to any of the other lackeys and functionaries associated with it. But, all of these individuals and functionaries, having held positions of high status for generations, are not likely to sit quietly by whilst their position in society, and the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed is called into question.

People of such wealth and status are in a good position to hire apologists to fight their corner.

“The great mass of so-called “higher grade” workers—such as state officials, military people, artists, doctors, priests, judges, lawyers, etc.—some of whom are not only not productive but in essence destructive, but who know how to appropriate to themselves a very great part of the “material” wealth partly through the sale of their “immaterial” commodities and partly by forcibly imposing the latter on other people—found it not at all pleasant to be relegated economically to the same class as clowns and menial servants and to appear merely as people partaking in the consumption, parasites on the actual producers (or rather agents of production). This was a peculiar profanation precisely of those functions which had hitherto been surrounded with a halo and had enjoyed superstitious veneration. Political economy in its classical period, like the bourgeoisie itself in its parvenu period, adopted a severely critical attitude to the machinery of the State, etc.” (p 174-5)

All of those that were not involved in some actual production of commodities “... are regarded by Adam Smith, as by the industrial capitalists themselves and the working class, as incidental expenses of production, which are therefore to be cut down to the most indispensable minimum and provided as cheaply as possible.” (p 175)

But, once the bourgeoisie has established its own hegemony, it reproduces, “in its own form everything against which it had fought in feudal or absolutist form.” (p 175) But, also economists representing the interests of one or another group came forth to declare that some other group was unproductive.

Ricardo, representing the industrial capitalists, came forth to declare that the landlords were unproductive; Carey declared the merchants to be unproductive; and the capitalists themselves were declared unproductive.

“Many intellectual workers seemed inclined to share the scepticism in regard to the capitalist.” (p 176)

This was only likely to increase, as those intellectual workers took on the role of functioning capitalist, and as with the worker owned co-operatives, the distinction between the wages of supervision and the profit of enterprise became ever more apparent, as well as ever wider. That was sharpened itself as the workers themselves developed their own critique of the unproductive labourers, and as public education expanded, thereby reducing the difference between the wages of the functioning capitalists and other workers.

“It was therefore time to make a compromise and to recognise the “productivity” of all classes not directly included among the agents of material production. One good turn deserves another; and, as in the Fable of the Bees, it had to be established that even from the “productive”, economic standpoint, the bourgeois world with all its “unproductive labourers” is the best of all worlds... Both the do-nothings and their parasites had to be found a place in this best possible order of things.” (p 176)

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