Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Chapter 4 - Part 119

What is correct in this, Marx says, is that it is merely a reflection of the division of labour. Everyone has a function to perform that can be performed by someone else, and to the extent that someone else can perform them more efficiently, this may result in a real saving of time. I can paint my house myself, but a professional painter may do it better and quicker than I could do it. To the extent my time is released, I may be able to use this time to work myself, and earn more in wages during this time, than it costs me to pay the professional painter. This is always one of the things that the get rich quick property programmes gloss over, in talking about the costs of property renovation, when looking at the time the amateur speculators have devoted to the work themselves.

But, for many tasks for workers, this does not arise, for the reasons described above. Suppose there is just a 100% rate of surplus value – in fact, it is much higher. If it would take me a week to paint my house, but a painter can do it in 3 days, I pay the painter 3 days labour. But, I have released 5 days labour, which I can now perform. However, my wages for this 5 days will be only equal to 2.5 days, the other 2.5 days being appropriated by my employer as surplus value. I would then be 0.5 days worse off.

Unlike capitalists, and other exploiters, therefore, workers end up undertaking this unproductive labour themselves, in addition to their normal work. For the exploiters, it is only the desirable or pleasurable activities which they undertake themselves, rather than having some other unproductive labourer perform them.

“If these “services” are pleasant, then sometimes the master performs them for the servant, as the jus primae noctis shows, or as is shown by the labour of ruling, etc., which the masters have always taken on themselves. This in no way obliterates the distinction between productive and unproductive labour, but this distinction itself appears as a result of the division of labour and thus furthers the general productivity of the labourers by making unproductive labour the exclusive function of one section of labourers and productive labour the exclusive function of another section.” (p 297-8) 

According to Storch, even the labour of a number of servants, just for show, is not unproductive, because it produces a feeling of satisfaction for the employer's vanity. In that case, everything becomes productive. But, as Smith had pointed out, many even of these labours may produce value, in that they produce a use value that someone wants, but this does not make them productive of surplus value, of productive wealth.

Storch goes on to argue that there are as many commodities that are immaterial and yet are more durable than material products. For example, the Iliad is the result of immaterial labour, whereas a palace is the product of material labour, yet the former may be more durable. He compares the material labour that produces champagne to the immaterial that performs a piece of music, and also argues that nothing is left of either after they have been consumed other than a memory.

But, in the sense that any of these things constitute wealth, it is only as a use value, and they only have use value in the sense that someone wants to consume them, whether the process of consumption is short or prolonged.

“If the music is good and if the listener understands music, the consumption of music is more sublime than the consumption of champagne, although the production of the latter is a “productive labour” and the production of the former is not.” (p 298)

Marx uses “productive” here in Smith's second sense as being productive of material wealth, not in his first sense of being productive of surplus value. An orchestra comprised of wage workers could, of course, be engaged in productive labour in Smith's first, correct, sense of the term.

“If we consider all the twaddle against Smith’s distinction between productive and unproductive labour, we find that Garnier, and perhaps also Lauderdale and Ganilh (though the latter said nothing new), exhausted [these polemics]. Those who came later (apart from Storch’s unsuccessful effort) [produced] merely pretentious literary arguments, learned prattle. Garnier is the economist of the Directory and the Consulate, Ferrier and Ganilh are the economists of the Empire. On the other hand Lauderdale, the Earl, was far more concerned to make apologies for consumers by presenting them as the producers of “unproductive labour”. The glorification of servility and flunkeyism, of tax-gatherers and parasites, runs through the lot of them. Compared with these, the rough cynical character of classical economy stands out as a critique of existing conditions.” (p 299)

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