Saturday, 1 July 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 116

[18.] Pellegrino Rossi [Disregard of the Social Form of Economic Phenomena. Vulgar Conception of “Labour-saving” by Unproductive Labourers]

Pelligrino Rossi argues that there are direct and indirect means of production. The former are able to engage in production independently, whereas the latter contribute to production by making it possible, or facilitating it. So, for example, the government acts as indirect means of production, by engaging in activity to facilitate law and order.

In fact, Marx says, rather than this being a critique of Smith, in so far as these unproductive labours of the gaolers etc. only contribute indirectly, Rossi is making only the same distinction, as that made by Smith himself.

According to Rossi, Smith makes a false distinction between productive and unproductive labour, for three reasons.

“1. “Among the buyers, some buy products or labour for their own direct consumption; others only buy them in order to sell the new products that they obtain by means of the products and the labour that they have acquired.”” (p 293) 

But, Rossi contends a concentration only on exchange value leads to Smith's error, because it may result in no surplus value for the buyer of the labour, but will result in value for the seller. But, Marx points out that this is meaningless, because the seller of anything, who does not simply give it away, thereby obtains some value, and so the sale could be said to be productive. There is a further point, however, which Marx does not pick up on here, which is that for the worker, whether their labour is productive or not, what they obtain as a wage does not represent for them any kind of surplus, but only recovers for them the value of their labour-power. It is productive for them in the sense only that it provides them with a quantity of value, which otherwise they would not have obtained, but it is a quantity of value wholly required for the reproduction of their labour-power, and thereby permits no accumulation of additional wealth for them.

“2. “A second error has been not to distinguish between direct production and indirect production.” That is why Adam Smith thinks that a magistrate is not productive. But “if production is almost impossible” (without the magistrate’s labour) “is it not clear that this labour contributes to it, if not by direct and material co-operation, at least by an indirect action which cannot be left out of account?” (l.c., p. 276)." (p 293)

But, Marx says, its precisely this labour that only participates indirectly in production that is designated unproductive. If you are going to argue that the magistrate indirectly participates in the production of grain, then its just as legitimate to say that because the magistrate cannot live without the grain produced by the peasant, then the peasant is an indirect producer of justice!

“[3.] “The three principal facts of the phenomenon of production have not been carefully distinguished: the force or productive means, the application of this force, the result.”” (p 294)

Rossi argues that some people still employ people to come to their house to produce various commodities such as clothing. But, Marx points out that such activity has nothing to do with the capitalist mode of production, and in fact the type of production being described would find it impossible to bring with it all of the development of the productive powers that capitalism implies.

Rossi criticised Smith for only classifying manual labour as productive, but, as Marx points out, Smith does not do so.

“For him, a person who produces a book, a painting, a musical composition or a statue, is a “productive labourer” in the second sense, although the person who improvises, recites, plays a musical instrument, etc., is not. And Adam Smith treats services, in so far as they directly enter into production, as materialised in the product, both the labour of the manual labourer and that of the manager, clerk, engineer, and even of the scientist in so far as he is an inventor, an indoor or outdoor labourer for the workshop. In dealing with the division of labour, Smith explains how these operations are distributed among different persons; and that the product, the commodity, is the result of their co-operative labour, not of the labour of any individual among them. But the “spiritual” labourers à la Rossi are anxious to justify the large share which they draw out of material production.” (p 295)

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