Sunday, 27 August 2017

Theories of Surplus Value, Part I, Addenda - Part 27

[(G) Supplementary Definition of Productive Labour as Labour which is Realised in Material Wealth]

“In considering the essential relations of capitalist production it can therefore be assumed that the entire world of commodities, all spheres of material production—the production of material wealth—are (formally or really) subordinated to the capitalist mode of production - for this is what is happening more and more completely; [since it] is the principal goal, and only if it is realised will the productive powers of labour be developed to their highest point. On this premise—which expresses the limit [of the process] and which is therefore constantly coming closer to an exact presentation of reality—all labourers engaged in the production of commodities are wage-labourers, and the means of production in all these spheres confront them as capital. It can then be said to be a characteristic of productive labourers, that is, labourers producing capital, that their labour realises itself in commodities, in material wealth. And so productive labour, along with its determining characteristic—which takes no account whatever of the content of labour and is entirely independent of that content—would be given a second, different and subsidiary definition.” (p 409-10)

But, as discussed earlier, capitalist production has moved on considerably in the 150 years since Marx wrote that. Marx refers to the capitalist production of services in his time being an exception, but today service industries account for more than 80% of output in all developed economies.

“Non-material production, even when it is carried on purely for exchange, that is, when it produces commodities, may be of two kinds:” (p 410)

Firstly, it can result in an actual commodity, such as a book, painting and so on. Marx comments,

“Here capitalist production is applicable only to a very restricted extent: as for example when a writer of a joint work—say an encyclopaedia—exploits a number of others as hacks. In this sphere for the most part a transitional form to capitalist production remains in existence, in which the various scientific or artistic producers, handicraftsmen or experts work for the collective trading capital of the book-trade—a relation that has nothing to do with the capitalist mode of production proper and even formally has not yet been brought under its sway. The fact that the exploitation of labour is at its highest precisely in these transitional forms in no way alters the case.” (p 410)

But, again, today that is not the case. The modern equivalents of the examples that Marx gives, are the film, TV, and video production industries, computer games production and so on, and these are vast and very profitable industries, in which a lot of the labour employed is highly complex and highly paid.

The second is where the commodity is a service the consumption of which cannot be separated from its production. The examples Marx gives here are the performances of a singer or actor, or the work of a teacher. Again Marx notes,

“Here too the capitalist mode of production is met with only to a small extent, and from the nature of the case can only be applied in a few spheres. For example, teachers in educational establishments may be mere wage-labourers for the entrepreneur of the establishment; many such educational factories exist in England. Although in relation to the pupils these teachers are not productive labourers, they are productive labourers in relation to their employer. He exchanges his capital for their labour-power, and enriches himself through this process. It is the same with enterprises such as theatres, places of entertainment, etc. In such cases the actor’s relation to the public is that of an artist, but in relation to his employer he is a productive labourer. All these manifestations of capitalist production in this sphere are so insignificant compared with the totality of production that they can be left entirely out of account.” (p 411)

But they certainly cannot be left out of account today. Besides the fact that many of the commodities of this second kind can now be transformed into those of the first kind, because a performance, a lecture, or a football match etc. can be recorded, as well as instantaneously transmitted across the globe, even the live performance of these activities has been transformed into mammoth industries.

Live performances of singers, actors, sports people and so on are now multi-billion dollar events. The “educational factories” that Marx describes in his day appear as mere workshops compared to the mammoth Fordist education factories that capital has established as part of the welfare state, and the same is true of the health and social care factories. The same is true with the provision of environmental health services and so on, all produced by a huge army of wage labourers, exchanging their labour with capital.

Back To Part 26

Forward To Part 28

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