File spoon-archives/marxism2.archive/marxism2_1996/96-04-30.191, message 149


Date: Sun, 28 Apr 1996 13:37:54 +0200
Subject: The value pump and productivity


The following discussion may be of interest to M2.

Jorn asks with reference to service workers:

>>What does this mean - "not exploited"?
>>Does it mean that they don't produce surplus
>>value? No profit for the capitalists?
>>How come? I find it difficult to accept this.

and Rakesh replies quoting Carchedi:

>"What is the role of the unproductive laborers?  They do not transform use
>values.  Therefore, neither does their concrete labor trnasfer the vvalue
>of themas of production used by them to that of the product, nor does their
>abstract labor create new value...."
>
>While unproductive labourers are not exploited in the technical sense, they
>are oppressed. As the total mass of surplus value, though produced only in
>the productive branches, is tendentially distributed equally over all the
>branches in the system, unproductive capitals require the oppression of
>their workers if they too are to realize  the average rate of profit.
>
>So unproductive labor must be oppressed if 'their' capitals are to receive
>the average rate of *profit*, though they do not produce *value* and
>*surplus value.*

This is an example of what I meant by the fetishization of Marx's concept
of the commodity in my piece on the value pump in February. Here is what I
wrote:

>I've long been thinking about what I call the 'value pump'. It works
>something like this:
>
>Because of the equalization of profits under capitalism, although some
>sectors produce a lot of surplus VALUE and others very little the
>difference is neutralized and made invisible. Sectors with an average
>composition of capital get the same amount of profit as they produce value,
>but the interesting things start when composition of capital is not
>average. High composition sectors employing little labour (eg oil,
>chemicals etc) receive a lot more value in their profit than they produce
>themselves. Where does this extra value come from? Sectors with low
>composition and a lot of labour. The value is siphoned off by the
>equalization of profits.
>
>Historically the great value producer has been agriculture. This has been
>changing under capitalism and particularly in the post-war period with the
>industrialization of agriculture and the growth of agribusiness. From a
>two-tier system with industry (low value production) and agriculture (high
>value production), we now have a three-tier system with industry (low
>value), agriculture (middle value) and services run on capitalist lines,
>services as commodity production with wage-workers and capitalists (high
>value).
>
>This set-up works like a value pump. It's based on industry, value is
>pumped to industrial capital from agricultural and services capital. (I
>abstract from finance capital for the moment). It's completely orthodox
>Marx, all in Capital and Theories of Surplus Value.
>
>The really interesting and explosive thing is the relevance of this 'value
>pump' to the class analysis of present-day capitalism. The working-class
>far from shrinking expands. The class antagonisms become more and more
>purely a conflict between capital and wage labour.  And of course the
>socialization of all spheres of production proceeds apace with services
>being brought in and subjected to the discipline of capitalist production.
>I give you McDonalds. Television soaps and muzak, too.
>
>This relates to big discussions such as the character of the working class,
>deskilling, impoverishment, urbanization and so on. And it's central to the
>whole question of the revolutionary subject.
>
>The thing preventing an appreciation of this process has been the fetishism
>of Marx'sconcept of the commodity, for which the Social-Democrats and the
>Stalinists must take most blame. A commodity is NOT a thing. It is a bearer
>of social labour, and as such it has materiality, but it is not a THING. As
>soon as the socially necessary labour (time and effort) involved in
>producing something can be quantified and reliably repeated, and as soon as
>the producer is organized as wage labour, then we have capitalist commodity
>production. This involves the relations of working class to capital and the
>production of surplus value.
>
>This sketch makes it clear that I disagree with Doug that we 'may for quite
>valid reasons see the industrial worker as the ultimate source of all
>economic value'. Industrial, agricultural and service workers all of them
>produce commodities and thus exchange value, and are thus all the ultimate
>source of economic value. In fact the agricultural and service workers more
>so than the industrial workers, as their high value production is siphoned
>off by the profit mechanism to the low value industrial sector.
>
>But Doug obviously feels intuitively that the world working class as such
>is not shrinking, and that US society is not showing the huge changes that
>might be expected if its national class basis were radically shifting. I
>think the value pump provides a good Marxist, scientific explanation for
>this intuition.


The important thing in relation to productivity is the organization of the
activity by a capitalist for the purposes of profit. This means that given
the nature of the service provided (impersonal or personal) the road is
more or less open to automation, reduction of the labour force and a drive
to become more capital intensive and hence more privileged with respect to
the share of aggregate surplus value appropriated by means of the mechanism
of the average rate of profit.

(Tele)communications is an example of 'service' production which has great
scope for becoming capital-intensive. Restaurants and fast food outlets
have some scope for rationalization. Hairdressing and massage are examples
of services which do not. These irreducibly personal services are the last
great reservoir of surplus value production on a social scale for capital
as the labour input in industry and agriculture shrinks. Where will the
surplus value shared out among the capitalist class as a whole come from
otherwise?

The central thing in relation to Marx's analysis is the concept of the
commodity. In Theories of Surplus Value (Bk I in relation to Adam Smith, ch
IV, 'Theories of Productive and Unproductive Labour', sections 1-5,
especially sections 3 and 4), he is very clear about the fact that a
commodity is a bearer of social value in the first instance, the expression
of a social relationship between capital and labour, not a thing that has
value physically heaped on to it.

The difficulties of appreciating this in Marx's day sprang from the huge
scale of personal services organized as pure revenue consumption in the
form of servants etc, with no capitalist intermediary between immediate
producer and consumer.

Given Marx's view of, say, transportation, as one of the 'processes of
production' (ie creating surplus value) 'added in the process of
circulation' (Capital Bk III, ch 17 'Commercial Profit', almost half-way
through; and in more detail, Capital Bk II, Pt1, ch1.4 'The Circuit as a
Whole'), whose effect on the use value of the product involves change of
place rather than any material alteration to the commodity being
transported; given, as Marx puts it 'the definite use-value (imaginary or
real)' possessed by services purchased, the question of 'transforming use
values' should not arise as an objection to defining services as capitalist
commodities - IF THEY ARE PROVIDED BY A CAPITALIST EXPLOITING THE IMMEDIATE
PRODUCERS OF THE SERVICE FOR PROFIT.

The most important distinction for Marx is the following:

        In itself, as has been said, this distinction between
        productive and unproductive labour has nothing to do either
        with the particular speciality of the labour or with the
        particular use-value in which this special labour is
        incorporated. In the one case the labour is exchanged with
        capital, in the other with revenue. (TSV I, chIV, section 3 end)

'Productive' merely refers to the production of surplus value, as Marx
illustrates a page or two earlier:

        For example, the cooks and waiters in a public hotel are
        productive labourers, in so far as their labour is transformed
        into capital for the proprietor of the hotel. These same persons
        are unproductive labourers as menial servants, inasmuch as I
        do not make capital out of their services, but spend revenue on
        them. In fact, however, these same persons are also for me, the

        consumer, unproductive labourers in the hotel.

The final remark may appear confusing. It refers to the fact that 'I', as
end consumer, exchange my revenue for the services capitalistically
provided at the hotel, and thus consume them unproductively, not for
profit, as opposed to the capitalist proprietor, who exchanges his capital
(variable) for the cooks' and waiters' labour-power, and sells the results
of their labour, pocketing the unpaid-for difference between the value of
the labour-power and the value of the labour (given of course the
distortions introduced by the equalization of the rate of profit and other
effects of competition, etc). As 'menial servants', that is, without a
capitalist intermediary, the cooks exchange their labour directly with
revenue - the whole process is a single-stage process aimed at 'end
consumption', not a two-stage process partly producing surplus value and
profit for a capitalist and partly end consumption for an end consumer.

Cheers,

Hugh







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