Sunday, 2 July 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 117

In other words, for Smith, the producer of something material, such as a play, is a productive labourer, in his second (incorrect) sense, as someone who undertakes labour that produces value embodied in a material commodity. But, the actor who performs in the play, is not because their labour is not embodied in any material commodity. It is consumed as soon as it is produced.

As Marx described earlier, this second definition by Smith is wrong, because the actor, as wage labour, employed by a capitalist theatre owner, produces surplus value. It is this exchange with capital, and production of surplus value, that is determinant, not whether the labour produces a material or immaterial commodity or service.

Rossi clearly fails to understand this distinction, set out in Smith's first definition of productive labour, because Rossi's approach is ahistorical. It makes no distinction between commodities that are produced capitalistically and those produced by other means. For Rossi, the issue never gets beyond the superficial idea that a coat is just a coat, however it is produced. So, he says,

“Because instead of buying the result, I buy the force necessary to produce it, why should the action of the force not be productive and the product not be wealth? Take again the example of the tailor. Whether one buys ready-made clothes from a tailor, or whether one gets them from a jobbing tailor who has been given the material and a wage, as far as the results are concerned the two actions are perfectly similar. No one will say that the former is a productive labour and the latter an unproductive labour; only in the second case the man who wants a coat has been his own entrepreneur.” (p 295)

But, clearly the person who employs a tailor to come to their house to make them a coat has not acted as their own entrepreneur, but merely as a consumer. They have only acted as a buyer of commodities – material, and the product of labour – which they have bought from their revenue, and have thereby spent a certain amount of money, which has been transformed only into its equivalents, i.e. the same amount of value represented by the coat. They have produced no surplus value as a consequence of this exchange.

“That the “forms of exchange” seem to Rossi to be a matter of complete indifference is just as if a physiologist said that the different forms of life are a matter of complete indifference, that they are all only forms of organic matter. It is precisely these forms that are alone of importance when the question is the specific character of a mode of social production. A coat is a coat. But have it made in the first form of exchange, and you have capitalist production and modern bourgeois society; in the second, and you have a form of handicraft which is compatible even with Asiatic relations or those of the Middle Ages, etc. And these forms are decisive for material wealth itself.” (p 295-6)

The tailor who is a wage worker does not just produce a coat. He also produces surplus value, which thereby produces capital, which reproduces the capitalist, and reproduces the social relations between the capitalist as his employer, and himself as wage worker. Moreover, if this capitalist wears one of the coats made by his workers, in respect of this particular coat, his money did not act as capital, and he did not act as capitalist, but only as the buyer of commodities. He realises no surplus value from this transaction, and thereby accumulates no capital.

Marx makes another distinction between the domestic servant, who produces use values, for their employer, and the wage worker, who here similarly produces some use values consumed by their capitalist employer. It is not an economic distinction, which is the same in both instances. Rather then distinction is in terms of the different social relation.

“Both are simply buyers and sellers. But the way in which the use-value is enjoyed in this case in addition bears a patriarchal form of relation, a relation of master and servant, which modifies the relation in its content, though not in its economic form, and makes it distasteful.” (p 296)

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