Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 22

[7.] Germain Garnier [Vulgarisation of the Theories Put Forward by Smith and the Physiocrats]

Marx then turns to some of the critiques of Smith. In discussing these critiques, Marx was not suggesting that Smith was right. He was simply showing that they were attacking Smith for the wrong reasons.

(a) Confusion of Labour which Is Exchanged Against Capital with Labour Exchanged against Revenue. The False Conception that the Total Capital Is Replaced through the Revenue of the Consumers

Garnier picks up on the weakness in Smith's argument, both in relation to his insistence that it is only labour embodied in physical commodities that is productive, and that any labour that produces value rather than surplus value is productive. Garnier says,

“ “All labour is productive in the sense in which the author uses this word productive, The labour of the one as of the other of these two classes is equally productive of some enjoyment, commodity or utility for the person who pays for it, otherwise this labour would not find wages.”” (p 183)

But, in developing this argument, Garnier goes on to cite examples of where “unproductive” labour, in Smith's view, performs the same labour, or creates the same kind of use value as “productive labour”. These examples are similar to the ones Marx gave earlier about the people who come to your house to provide various services, although Marx points out that some of the “productive” labourers that Garnier contrasts them with are not considered “productive” by Smith either.

Garnier is correct in highlighting this contradiction, but he does not criticise Smith for the real weakness, which is that this contradiction exists, because he has slipped into the second, false, definition of productive, as merely productive of value.

Garnier also introduces another false idea here, in relation to that labour, which performs various kinds of maintenance. But, Marx points out that nowhere does Smith deny that productive labour can take the form of labour materialised in the form of such repairs rather than in new construction. The real critique of Smith here should be the insistence on productive labour being materialised in some physical commodity.

A further false concept follows on from this. It is that any labour undertaken to save time for some other productive labour thereby becomes productive itself by virtue of enabling the productive labour to function. So, for example, a menial servant may perform the functions of cooking, cleaning and so on, which thereby frees up the time of a productive worker to engage in productive activity. 

“But Adam Smith does not deny this “division of labour”. If everyone had to perform productive and unproductive labour, and through the dividing up of these kinds of labour between two persons both were better performed, according to Adam Smith this would in no way alter the circumstance that one of these labours is productive and the other unproductive.)” (p 184)

If we take the situation of a commodity producer, the time they require to take their goods to market and sell them is not productive; it adds no value to their commodities. This is why initially the markets were held on a Sunday, when they would not have been working anyway. It dos not change this situation when, instead of taking their commodities to market themselves, they turn this function over to merchants.

What was an unproductive activity for the commodity producer does not suddenly become productive because they hand this function over to a specialist merchant. All that occurs here is that the expense of taking goods to market, of selling, is reduced.

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