Saturday, 22 April 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 47

All labour that either has an exchange value itself, or else creates a product that has exchange value, is productive according to Ganilh. They are productive in the sense that they have produced something equal in value to what has been paid for it, whether that is a material or immaterial commodity.

But, Ganilh goes further than this, by suggesting that all material products are only produced, because those who produce them are led to do so, in order to exchange them for other commodities, including those that are immaterial. On this basis, all labour is productive, because if we take the labour say of a prostitute, who sells their labour directly, as a service to a client, it is to be able to buy this service that say a farmer engages in production.

“So according to this the “unproductive labours” are productive neither because of their cost, that is, their exchange-value, nor because of the special enjoyment that they produce, that is, their use-value, but because they produce productive labour.” (p 210)

Marx then adds in further comments which seem somewhat odd. He says,

“If, according to Adam Smith, that labour is productive which is directly exchanged for capital, then we have to consider, apart from the form, also the material components of the capital which is exchanged for labour.” (p 210)

But, rather than examining the exchange of capital with wage labour, he rather examines the exchange of wages with the commodities that comprise the commodity-capital. This is at odds with his analysis in Capital II, and III, where he demonstrates the following.

  1. Labour-power is a commodity owned by workers, but is not capital.
  2. Variable capital exists as a fixed sum of value (which may be directly in the form of commodities, or the money equivalent) in the hands of capital, equal to the value of labour-power. In the exchange, capital acquires the commodity labour-power, in exchange not for capital, but for an equal amount of value, either in the form of commodities (wage goods) or their money equivalent. The capital value remains in the hands of the capitalist. It is not capital that is passed to the worker. The capital is simply metamorphosed for the capitalist from its money, or commodity form to that of productive-capital.
  3. Where workers obtain their wages in money form, rather than directly as commodities, they use these money wages to buy commodities, not capital. The commodities they buy form a part of the commodity-capital of society, but these commodities are sold only as commodities, not as capital.
  4. As a consequence of these exchanges, capital is never sold, as capital, but simply metamorphoses into different forms. Variable capital metamorphoses into productive-capital (labour-power), productive-capital metamorphoses into commodity-capital, commodity-capital metamorphoses into money-capital. 
The exchange of wage labour with capital can never then be, as Marx goes on to imply here, about what workers spend their wages on, because that exchange is merely an exchange of commodities. No expenditure of wages can be considered productive or unproductive, in the sense that Marx has set out, i.e. productive of surplus value, in line with Smith's first definition. If I spend part of my wages on the services of a prostitute, it is not the nature of the service that determines whether this is productive or unproductive, but whether the prostitute is selling their labour to me directly as a labour service, i.e. an exchange of revenue with revenue, or else has sold their labour-power as a commodity to a capitalist brothel keeper, who extracts surplus labour and surplus value in the process. When Marx says,

“It resolves itself into the necessary means of subsistence; that is for the most part into commodities, material things. What the labourer has to pay from these wages to State and Church is a deduction for services which are forced upon him; what he pays out for education is devilishly little, but when he does, his payments are productive, for education produces labour-power; what he pays out for the services of physicians, lawyers, priests, is his misfortune; there are very few unproductive labours or services left on which the labourer’s wages are spent, especially as he himself provides his costs of consumption (cooking, keeping his house clean, generally even repairs).” (p 210),

this seems then very confused.  What Marx seems to be getting at, is what he previously discussed in the Grundrisse, that consumption is simultaneously production and production is simultaneously consumption.  That is, in so far as the labourer consumes, they thereby reproduce their labour-power, and in so far as the labourer produces, they consume their labour-power, and consequently the commodities consumed in its reproduction.

It was undoubtedly true, in Marx's time, that the majority of workers' expenditure was on commodities that took the shape of material things. Today, in developed economies that is not true. In the UK, 20% of household expenditure goes on entertainment alone. But, a greater proportion of expenditure goes on services and other commodities that are not “material”. The cost of satellite TV rental, or broadband rental, for example, is for the service provided, not for the actual cable or satellite TV. The same is true with the payment for mobile phone use, and so on.

The comment, “... what he pays out for education is devilishly little, but when he does, his payments are productive, for education produces labour-power...” is simply wrong, on the basis he has outlined. If I buy the labour of a private tutor, to provide education, that is an exchange of revenue with revenue, and no matter how effective the tutor in producing my labour-power, as a result, it cannot make that labour-power productive. By contrast, even a poor teacher employed by capital, is productive, if they produce surplus value.

Back To Part 46

Forward To Part 48

No comments: