Unproductive labour and exploitation

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    • #193347
      robbo203
      Participant

      Hi All

       

      I am doing some reading around this topic at the moment, and wonder if people here might have some thoughts to contribute to deepen our understanding of it

       

      Marx, of course, built upon but modified Adam Smith’s distinction between productive labour and unproductive labour (unlike Smith for example he felt that workers providing services that were sold on the market could be productive too, not just tangible goods).  Productive workers are those workers who produce surplus value by producing commodities; unproductive workers are those who do not produce commodities or surplus value but are in effect paid out of surplus value. Examples of the latter would be commercial workers and state employees

       

      There are several ways of interpreting this distinction.  One extreme interpretation I’ve come across is that  only those workers who are productive are exploited and constitute the working class.  Unproductive  workers who are not directly exploited but live off the proceeds of  exploitation (surplus value) or the revenue of capitalists cannot by this definition be considered part of the working class.  In Marx’s day for example there were about a million domestic (female) workers in Britain – significantly more than the total number of workers working in factories.  Though they earned wages these domestic workers were not technically exploited according to this definition and do did not belong to the exploited class of capitalism – the working class

       

      The composition and magnitude of unproductive labour has changed considerably since  Marx – particularly in the advanced capitalist countries.  Fred Mosely, a Marxist economist has argued that this development alongside increasing mechanisation and automation has been responsible for the falling rate of profit since the war in countries like  the United States.

       

      Other commentators like the guy I am reading at the moment – Zac Cope –  argue  that that the growth of unproductive labour in the advanced capitalist countries coupled with mechanisms such as “unequal exchange”  means the entire workforce of those countries comprise a labour aristocracy that on balance is a net recipient of value and as such cannot be considered an exploited class.   In other words the workers in the West live off the proceeds of exploitation of workers in the global South albeit to a far lesser extent than the capitalists

       

      I think the argument is complete bunkum myself but a rebuttal of it hinges on the separation of this distinction between productive and unproductive labour, on the one hand,  and the Marxist theory of exploitation on the other.

       

      I think that can be done and there are suggestions in Marx’s own writings that he did not consider unproductive workers were not exploited even if the mode of exploitation was different, being more of an indirect nature.  After all unproductive labour, though it does not produce value, is necessary for the realisation of values.   Commodities dont just sell themselves.   And state employees like teachers provide an indispensable service in helping to create a productive workforce available for capitalist exploitation.

       

      The more tricky part of Cope’s argument is dealing with his assertions concerning the “hidden transfer” of value from the global South to the global north via the mechanism of “unequal exchange” which according to him has lifted the workers in the latter part of the world out of  a condition of being exploited  and has objectively aligned theirs interests with those of the capitalists in jointly exploiting the workers of the global South who now comprise over 80 percent of the global manufacturing workforce since the trend towards offshoring and contracting out manufacturing began a few decades  ago.

       

      Thoughts?

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

      • This topic was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by robbo203.
      • This topic was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by robbo203.
    • #193350
      alanjjohnstone
      Participant

      Isn’t this another expression of the Leninist “aristocracy of labour” where those in the developed world are bribed by imperialism to hold a complacent view about Third World exploitation.

      Yet isn’t off-shore out-sourcing part of the worldwide division of labour and job competition and is restraining wage-growth in the First World.

      But when for example workers in China organise to raise wages, capital simply re-deploys to even cheaper countries such as Myanmar and Cambodia so is there now a league table of aristocrats of labour?

      In fact the cheap Asian sweat-shops have in many cases switched to African countries such as Ethiopia.

      https://socialistbanner.blogspot.com/2019/05/sweat-shop-ethiopia.html

      And I have ignored the internal re-location of jobs such as the shift in America to the right-to-work states in the south. So is the Seattle aristocrats higher wealth based on exploitation of Alabama “white trash” or upon unionisation and the resistance to higher rate of extraction of surplus value

       

    • #193351
      LBird
      Participant

      robbo203 wrote: “Productive workers are those workers who produce surplus value by producing commodities; unproductive workers are those who do not produce commodities or surplus value but are in effect paid out of surplus value.

      I’d suggest that your ‘definition’ has serious problems, robbo.

      I’d ask the question of that ‘definition’ – ‘Productive for who?’.

      I think that you’d answer ‘Productive for surplus value’, and that ‘surplus value’ is an objective measure.

      But, according to Marx, ‘surplus value’ is a social product, and so is not simply an ‘objective’ entity, but is as much a ‘subjective’ entity. If so, at that point, we can provide the answer ‘Productive for a subject’.

      Further, if one defines various social subjects, like proletariat and bourgeoisie, then we’d have ‘Productive for exploiters’ and ‘Productive for exploited’.

      I think that your fundamental problem is that you accept a definition which has been provided by the bourgeoisie as a supposedly ‘objective measure’, and so your definition starts with ‘Production for exploiters’, rather than a definition for us, the exploited majority.

      ‘Surplus value’ cannot be measured, because it’s not a pre-existing ‘object’, but something that changes with class struggle. Measures and measurement change.

      We have to define ‘productive’, before we can begin to examine our notions of ‘Unproductive labour and exploitation‘.

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 3 weeks ago by LBird.
    • #193354
      robbo203
      Participant

      Isn’t this another expression of the Leninist “aristocracy of labour” where those in the developed world are bribed by imperialism to hold a complacent view about Third World exploitation.

      Yes but Lenin’s labour aristocracy theory did not deny that workers in the developed capitalist countries were exploited.   Cope’s theory on the other hand  does and on the grounds that workers there are the net recipients of value rather than creators of value

       

      I  am still trying to figure out Cope’s reasoning for this.  He claims for example that through the mechanism of unequal exchange  when ” goods enter into imperialist-country markets, their prices are multiplied several fold, sometimes by as much as 1,000%.” On the face of it that seems to suggest that workers the “imperialist-country markets” will need substantially higher incomes to afford these products anyway by comparison with the “oppressed countiries” – to use Leninspeak – where they are available at a fraction of the price.

       

       

       

    • #193355
      robbo203
      Participant

      LBird I am simply using Marx’s definition of productive workers as follows without making any assumptions

      From volume I of Capital: ‘That labourer alone is productive, who produces surplus value for the capitalist, and who thus works for the self expansion of capital…Hence the notion of a productive labourer implies not merely a relation between work and useful effect, between labourer and product of labour, but also a specific, social relation of product, a relation that has sprung up historically and stamps the labourer as the direct means of creating surplus-value”

       

      I understand the point you are making about the inherent difficulty of  “objectively” measuring surplus value.   You cannot measure abstract labour in the way that you can concrete labour with a stop watch.   It is a constantly shifting industrial average which only reveals itself, so to speak, in  aposteriori fashion in the exchange ratios of commodities – their prices – in the long run

       

      Cope’s argument is that GDP based figures, which are measurable, conceal or obscure the value transfers that are happening through global spatial economy and  that differential productivity rates between groups of workers in different parts of the world are thoroughly misleading precisely they are couched in terms of value added to GDP.   Yes, we can infer from pure theory that workers in  more capital intensive industries are more productive (and hence more highly paid) than in labour intensive industries and that there will be a redistribution of surplus value from the latter to the former via the tendency for profit rates to equalise.   But how exactly one is supposed to measure all this I cannot see.   Yet his argument depends on being able to measure this “value transfer” from the global south to global north which he says cannot be done using GDP data

       

    • #193369
      LBird
      Participant

      From what you’ve replied, robbo, you seem to agree with the point I was making.

      Which, as you say, leads us to Cope:

      Cope’s argument is that GDP based figures, which are measurable…“.

      This is simply the same problem, as saying “Cope’s argument is that Ghost-based figures, which are measurable…“.

      If one believes in ‘ghosts’, they ‘are measurable’.

      The point is, just what is being ‘measured’.

      Yet his argument depends on being able to measure this “value transfer”…“.

      I wouldn’t give his ‘argument’ much credence, robbo… ‘measurement’ always requires a ‘measurer’ and their ‘measures’… and all three are social products.

      My advice is to interrogate his political, philosophical and ideological beliefs, prior to trying to understanding his ‘measuring’. If you take his assumptions, theories and concepts without critical examination, you’ll fail to see the weaknesses of his ‘argument’.

    • #193371
      robbo203
      Participant

      If you take his assumptions, theories and concepts without critical examination, you’ll fail to see the weaknesses of his ‘argument’.

       

      I can assure you that’s exactly what I am not doing – taking his assumptions etc without critical examination.  I am particularly concerned with his argument about unproductive labour and exploitation and already have noted a number of inconsistences if not downright contradictions in what he has to say.     If people here want to look at the argument go to the link below. I suggest focus on Part 2 – Global Value Transfer and Stratified  Labour  Today”  – which gets to the heart of the argument.  Much of the rest is just sociologising.

       

      It is evidently a key book in the so called anti-imperialist milieu and in some respects deeply hostile to the outlook of revolutionary socialism.   It is a worth a read for that very reason.

       

      https://www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/books/Economics/DividedWorldDividedClass_ZakCope.pdf

    • #193372
      LBird
      Participant

      robbo203 wrote: “I am particularly concerned with his argument about unproductive labour and exploitation…“.

      Again, given what you’ve written, we seem to agree upon the need for philosophical criticism of Cope’s work.

      I’d advise you to define both your and his concepts, so that we have ‘robbo-unproductive-labour’ and ‘robbo-exploitation’, contrasted with ‘Cope-unproductive-labour’ and ‘Cope-exploitation’.

      So, in your concern quoted above, which pairs of concepts are you using, his or yours, or do you consider Cope’s to be identical with yours?

      It’d be very easy for any worker reading this, to assume that ‘unproductive labour’ and ‘exploitation’ are already fixed, objective, unchanging, non-dynamic terms, which can simply be ‘accepted as read’.

      This would be a big mistake for any socialist to make.

      We always lose arguments where we begin debates by accepting the ‘terms and conditions’ of our opponents’ making. Unsurprisingly enough.

    • #193382
      marcos
      Participant

      I think we have to be a little flexible on the controversy between  productive labor vs unproductive labor, and probably Karl Marx would have done the same things, because on his time industrial workers prevailed over the unproductive labors, but in our time most of the works belong to the unproductive sectors ( around 75% ) and as L Bird has indicated surplus value as a social value, and workers in our time are economical exploited in all spheres of our society, and directly or indirectly they  produce surplus value

    • #193385
      robbo203
      Participant

      I’d advise you to define both your and his concepts, so that we have ‘robbo-unproductive-labour’ and ‘robbo-exploitation’, contrasted with ‘Cope-unproductive-labour’ and ‘Cope-exploitation’.

       

      Well,   I would go along with Marx in saying that unproductive labour is labour  that does not produce surplus value but is paid for out of surplus value.   Where I disagree with Cope is in his suggestion that unproductive labour is not exploited.  Unproductive labour might not itself produce surplus value but it is necessary for the realisation of surplus value.  Commodities dont sell themselves. Capitalism needs unproductive workers as well as productive workers.   Both are part of the working class which encompasses  all those who are obliged to sell their working abilities for a wage or salary in order to live and exploitation itself  is a class wide phenomenon.   It cannot be simply be understood in terms of a single business exploiting its own workforce. It is social and it applies to ALL workers whether they do unproductive work or productive work and whether they live in the global north or the global south

    • #193394
      marcos
      Participant

      Economical explotación is extraction of surplus value, therefore, if unproductive labor is exploited they also produce surplus value

      • #193398
        LBird
        Participant

        marcos wrote: “Economical explotación is extraction of surplus value, therefore, if unproductive labor is exploited they also produce surplus value“.

        I have to agree with marcos’ definition, here.

        That is, there is an unbreakable link between ‘surplus value’ and ‘exploitation’. One can’t ‘exist’ without the other. It’s hard to think of ‘exploitation’ not producing ‘surplus value’ (surely that’s what makes it ‘exploitation’), and likewise think of ‘surplus value’ not being produced by ‘exploitation’ (otherwise, ‘surplus value’ could be produced by non-exploited labour, or, indeed, machines). Marx was talking about a parasitic social relationship, when he was writing Capital.

        This can be put simply for workers. Marx regards the bourgeoisie as vampires, and the proletariat as their victims. In line with this metaphor, we can regard ‘exploitation’ as ‘biting of the neck with the purpose of drawing blood to sustain a vampire’, and ‘surplus value’ as ‘blood drawn by a neck-biting vampire in its compulsion to survive’.

        robbo203 wrote: “If that is the case and if unproductive workers are exploited, would it not be better to say exploitation involves any that enables the extraction of an economic surplus. This would cover both the direct producers of surplus value and unproductive workers

        Yes, I agree with you here, robbo.

        But then, if we follow your suggestion, why differentiate between ‘productive’ and supposedly ‘unproductive’?

        If for any political purpose you required a distinction, why not ‘directly productive’ and ‘indirectly productive’, and lose the unhelpful category of ‘unproductive’, which labels many workers, who work hard all their lives, as seemingly morally tainted?

        Again put simply, do you think that the Ford bosses could get along with only car workers (‘productive’) and have no-one to clean the shithouses in their mansions (‘unproductive’)?

        And once this issue is settled, where does Cope stand on this ‘exploitative social relationship’? Does he personally clean the shithouses in his academy, or just simply label this work as ‘unproductive’? And pat those workers on the head?

        Can the bosses survive with dirty bogs?

    • #193396
      robbo203
      Participant

      Economical exploitation is extraction of surplus value, therefore, if unproductive labor is exploited they also produce surplus value

      Well, not according to Marx. Marx is quite clear that unproductive workers dont produce surplus value.   If that is the case and if unproductive workers are exploited, would it not be better to say exploitation involves any that enables the extraction of an economic surplus.   This would cover both the direct producers of surplus value and unproductive workers

    • #193397
      ALB
      Participant

      I am sure we have had this discussion before, haven’t we?

      “Unproductive” (but “non-productive” might be a better description) workers, as those whose labour does not produce surplus value, can still be said to be exploited, only not for surplus value but in the sense of carrying out surplus labour.

      The non-productive work that individual capitalist firms or the capitalist class as a whole has to have done to keep their system going, as to circulate commodities or for national and local government, costs them money, which they seek to minimise. One way to do this is for them to get those they employ in these tasks to work longer than is needed to replace the value of their labour power; which means that some of the work these workers do will be unpaid and reduce the cost of the work. These workers are being exploited for this unpaid, cost-saving labour.

      The other way out of the dilemma is to argue that, as the costs of circulation and of government, are necessary from a capitalist point of view to keep the whole system going, the whole capitalist class is exploiting the whole working class without distinguishing between those who actually create surplus value and those who don’t. In other words, the work of the whole working class is necessary for the capitalist class to extract and share out surplus value.

    • #193408
      robbo203
      Participant

      That is, there is an unbreakable link between ‘surplus value’ and ‘exploitation’. One can’t ‘exist’ without the other. It’s hard to think of ‘exploitation’ not producing ‘surplus value’ (surely that’s what makes it ‘exploitation’), and likewise think of ‘surplus value’ not being produced by ‘exploitation’

       

      The problem with this, LBird,  is that if you assume there is an “unbreakable link” exploitation and the production of surplus value  then where does that leave workers who do not produce surplus value in Marx’s account? Are they not therefore exploited? I would say they are and the fact that they are unproductive has got nothing to do with it.

       

      You ask  why then differentiate between ‘productive’ and supposedly ‘unproductive’?   Marx actually talked of workers being “productive” in the sense that you probably have in mind –  that is, productive of use values.   But he also  used the term productive  in another more specific sense – productive of surplus value .  He argued that surplus value was peculiar or unique to capitalism,  in other kinds of class society the economic surplus takes other forms

       

      So contrary to what you say its actually quite easy to think  of ‘exploitation’ not producing ‘surplus value’.  In feudalism the serfs were exploited but they did not produce surplus value.   I mention this because of there are some strands of Marxism like the (late) analytical Marxist G A Cohen who insisted that Marx’s labour theory of value has little bearing on the question of exploitation  (Cohen himself seems to have regarded capitalist exploitation as not dissimilar to feudal exploitation)

       

      In a sense you are correct.    The production of surplus value lies at the capitalist exploitation.  But is only a necessary not a sufficient condition of the latter.  This is because surplus value has to be realised in circulation and for that you need unproductive workers.   Capitalism without unproductive workers in this sense would simply not be able to function.

       

      Why I am banging about this?  Its because I think the matter has quite significant implications.   Cope and his ilk  are arguing that in effect the workers of the Global North  are not exploited but constitute a “labour aristocracy” and that, in effect, their material interests are aligned with the metropolitan capitalists in exploiting the low paid workers of the global South.  This is a surprisingly common sentiment and  flourishes among handwringing liberals who go on about how “we” in the “West” live such a privileged and pampered existence at the expense of  the rest of the world.  As if poverty doesn’t exist in the West and privilege doesn’t exist in the non-West.

       

      One of the arguments Cope uses to support his thesis is precisely this argument about unproductive labour.   The  bulk of workers in the West are now  unproductive  -they dont produce surplus value – and we are invited to infer from this that they are therefore not exploited.  Manufacturing in particular has been steadily relocated and outsourced to the global South over the past few decades.  It is, thus,  in the global South  where  more and more productive work is to be found  and where wages are a fraction of the wages  in the global North  (Cope argues that this is not a reflection of differences in productivity and that such differences are far less than might be supposed)

       

      There are many aspects of his argument which simply do not add up to my mind.   But the important thing to note about it concerns what we  can infer from what he is saying.   Cope’s “Anti-imperialism” is emphatically positing that the basic cleavage in contemporary capitalist society as being not between the global working class and the global capitalist class but rather between what Lenin called the oppressor or imperialist countries and the oppressed countries.  Obviously that is  a view to which we would be fundamentally opposed!

       

       

    • #193410
      alanjjohnstone
      Participant

      As an aside, terminology often confuses me.

      At one time it was First World, Third Word, then it  became developed, developing and undeveloped countries and now its Global North and Global South.

      Which should i use and how are they defined?

       

       

    • #193412
      LBird
      Participant

      Thanks for your considered reply, robbo. I’m not ignoring the rest of your post, about the socio-historical specifics of the different ‘surpluses’ produced in different modes of production, but I don’t think that you’ve got to the core of the problem (which, to me, is the failure to question the ‘concepts’ being used by Cope and you).

      robbo203 wrote: “You ask  why then differentiate between ‘productive’ and supposedly ‘unproductive’?   Marx actually talked of workers being “productive” in the sense that you probably have in mind –  that is, productive of use values.   But he also  used the term productive  in another more specific sense – productive of surplus value .

      If there are two ‘senses’ in which ‘productive’ is being used, why not give them different names? Worse, why give one of these ‘senses’ the apparently opposite meaning of ‘unproductive’? Why not call them ‘non-surplus-value-productive’ and ‘surplus-value-productive’, for example?

      At least this mouthful would make it clear to any worker reading, who does this former type of work, that they are not ‘unproductive’, which carries moral overtones, and seems to suggest that these supposedly ‘unproductive’ workers are ‘wasters’ of some sort. It would be clearer to them that they are just as productive as any other worker who works hard, and the real issue is of ‘academics’ arguing over foggy terms, like ‘surplus value’, which they like to pretend are ‘objective’ concepts, which workers should have no place in determining, and so the academics can talk over the heads of those workers, as the academics are doing ‘objective science’, which doesn’t require the participation of workers themselves.

      The reason that I think you should critically examine Cope’s concepts, is to compare them with your own, see if they are actually different, and if they are, to realise that any critique that you make without this examination would be pointless, because you’d be arguing at cross-purposes.

      Further, it would make it obvious to any workers reading, that there are not actually any ‘objective’ terms, which everyone agrees upon (like ‘unproductive’ or ‘productive’), but that their own active, critical participation in any political debate about ‘production’ in their own society, is indispensable to that debate.

      It’s my political opinion that whilst ‘academics’ think that they have access to a set of ‘objective’ concepts, and so they don’t need to consult workers about concepts, those academics will continue to discuss ‘capitalism’ without the active participation of workers. To put it bluntly, bourgeois academics will continue to talk out of their arses about something which they don’t understand – and so, not surprisingly, workers will continue to ignore those academics, who aren’t half as bright as they think that they are.

      Let’s face it, as long as supposed ‘socialists’ are telling most poor, hard-working, struggling workers in ‘the West’ that they are ‘unproductive’, we shouldn’t be surprised when many of those workers prefer Trump and Johnson, to those ‘socialists’.

      I should finish on a positive note, that I’m sympathetic to your criticism of Cope’s elitist ‘Global North Labour Aristocracy’ assumptions; it’s just that I’d widen your criticism to other similar targets (like ‘Scientific Socialism’, for example, which has similar elitist contempt for democratic controls on its activities, as do the likewise Leninist-inspired ‘labour aristocrat’ theorists). Lenin’s ‘theories’ were patronising bullshit then, and still are now.

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by LBird.
    • #193414
      robbo203
      Participant

      Alan,

       

      I think the term “Third World” was introduced in 1950s by a French political scientist (whose name I forget) and popularised by the British sociologist Peter Worsley.   It was intended to distinguish this bloc from  the first world and the second world (the soviet bloc et al). I am guessing the distinction between developing world and developed world came into fashion shortly after that.   The rise of dependency theorists in the 1970s/80s also introduced another term – underdevelopment.  The developed core countries were said to systemically block development and industrialisation in the peripheral countries – thus “underdeveloping” them and forcing them to rely on the export of low value primary goods – agricultural and mining products – for processing in the industrialised countries .  The Dependency school of thought was proved wrong by the rise of the “Newly Industrialising countries”  -another term – exemplified by the Asian Tiger economies like South Korea, Taiwan etc. and of course China.  The global north/global south distinction tends to be the terminology currently in use but is confusing for obvious reasons

       

       

      LBird

       

      I take your point about the term unproductive labour sounding a bit pejorative but remember this is the term Marx himself used as an analytical category with which to examine the workings of the capitalist economy.  Marx made it very clear that by unproductive labour he was not suggesting that the work involved was not useful.  All he was saying was that it detracted from the production of surplus value since it was financed out of surplus value. The larger the component of unproductive labour in the workforce,   the less surplus value there was available for reinvestment as capital and the expanded reproduction of capital.   This was an argument Marx derived directly from  Adam Smith and I think the productive/unproductive distinction is not only legitimate but quite significant as a way of understanding  developments in capitalism  (though neoclassical bourgeois economists deny this).

      Here is a link to Marx.

      https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1864/economic/ch02b.htm

      Note his comment:  “Only the narrow-minded bourgeois, who regards the capitalist form of production as its absolute form, hence as the sole natural form of production, can confuse the question of what are productive labour and productive workers from the standpoint of capital with the question of what productive labour is in general, and can therefore be satisfied with the tautological answer that all that labour is productive which produces, which results in a product, or any kind of use value, which has any result at all”

    • #193415
      ALB
      Participant

      I think you are right, Robbo, to point out that the concept of exploitation can be separated from that of producing surplus value. As you say, all previous class societies have been based on exploitation but without producing surplus “value”, only a surplus product directly appropriated by their exploiters.

      This recalls the trick question in our Speaker’s Test: Do peasants produce surplus value? (not that you failed if you got the answer wrong ). The answer, if I remember, is that under feudalism as serfs they don’t and under capitalism, as peasant proprietors whose products are sold as commodities, they produce value but not surplus value. On the other hand, the slaves in the plantations of the southern USA produced surplus value because what they produced was sold on a market with a view to profit.

    • #193416
      robbo203
      Participant

      I have been wading through Cope’s book making notes as I go along.  This passage sums up the argument he advances and demonstrates how heavily he relies on the implicit assumption that unproductive workers cannot be exploited because they do not produce surplus value.   Since the size of the unproductive sector in the Global North is so large  (and the size of the productive sector so correspondingly small) it follows , according to Cope,  that it depends on the transfer of value from the global south to the global north via the mechanisms of  export capital (and repatriated profits) and unequal exchange.   In other words,   the working class as a whole in the Global North is a net recipient of surplus value rather than producer of it and to that extent is indistinguishable from the capitalists, depending upon the super-exploitation of the workers in the global South where the overwhelming bulk of the productive workforce reside:

      “It is the unavoidable conclusion of the present work that the profits of the capitalist class in the OECD (that is, the “top i%” fixated on by social democrats of various stripes) are entirely derived from the superexploitation of the non-OECD productive workforce. Whilst the above calculations indicate that no net profits are generated by the OECD (productive) working class (in the absence of superprofits, these would be completely nullified), there is, however, the matter of the wages of the OECD’s unproductive workforce to consider. Since our estimates of transferred superprofits do not cover the reproduction costs of OECD unproductive labour-power as well as profits, but only the latter, it may appear that the surplus value generated by OECD productive workers goes in its entirety to pay the wages of the unproductive OECD workforce. Even assuming that the wages of unproductive workers in the OECD are paid for out of surplus value generated by the productive workers in the OECD, it is clear that the OECD working class tout court receives the full value of its labour and is, to that extent, a bourgeois working class. Yet it must be understood that whilst the present work does not prove that OECD productive workers do not produce surplus value, it also does not prove that they do. In fact, were OECD profits to be wholly negated through equal remuneration of labour globally, according to equivalent “productivity” and wage levels, there would be a precipitate decline in nominal OECD GDP. Capitalism would collapse utterly, at least in the OECD countries. Given such a scenario, it is scarcely tenable to imagine that the tiny productive-sector working class in the OECD could possibly produce enough surplus value to pay the wages of the bloated unproductive sector. The conclusion reached here, moreover, follows from calculations which are almost certainly overly generous to the First Worldist position, despite demonstrating that the entirety of net profits in the OECD is derived from imperialism. A more reasonable account (one less friendly to First Worldist prejudices) would surmise that if around 80% of the worlds productive labour is performed in the Third World by workers earning less than 10% of the wages of First World workers, that provides not only the profits of the haute bourgeoisie in the OECD, but also the economic foundation for the massive expansion of retail, administration and security services.”

      P207-8

       

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by robbo203.
    • #193418
      robbo203
      Participant

      Ah yes and I forgot include the (very Leninist ) conclusions Cope draws from the passage quoted above

      “By the foregoing measures, then, there is absolutely no reason to suppose that the average OECD worker has any material stake in anti-imperialism. As Emmanuel astutely remarked:
      If by some miracle, a socialist and fraternal system, regardless of its type or model, were introduced tomorrow morning the world over, and if it wanted to integrate, to homogenise mankind by equalising living standards, then to do this it would not only have to expropriate the capitalists of the entire world, but also dispossess large sections of the working class of the industrialised countries, of the amount of surplus-value these sections appropriate today. It seems this is reason enough for these working classes not to desire this “socialist and fraternal” system, and to express their opposition by either openly integrating into the existing system, as in the United States of America or the Federal Republic of Germany, or by advocating national paths to socialism [sic], as in France or Italy.101
      In fact, the metropolitan working class has struggled to preserve its affluence politically within the imperialist state structure and has adopted concomitant ideologies of national, racial and cultural supremacy, including, but certainly not limited to, a complacent and conservative self-regard. As capitalist oligopolies come to dominate global production, workers in the dominant nations are able to secure better life prospects through their monopoly of jobs paying wages supplemented by superprofits”

       

      So basically according to Cope , we’re stuffed.  Workers in the global north are not going to opt for socialism (cos its in their material interests to stick with the capitalist exploitation of the global south).  And workers in the global south will presumably be too preoccupied in in engaging in so called national liberation struggles – linking arms with their own capitalists – against imperialism to be concerned with expressing solidarity with their brothers and sisters in the north  who have grown fat at their expense.

       

      Anyway, you can see now why this issue that I have raised in this raised is actually of quite fundamental importance and need to be addressed

       

    • #193420
      alanjjohnstone
      Participant

      He must be in bed with those environment pessimists who advocate degrowth but don’t expect a drop in the consumption patterns of consumers in the West and deny any increase in standards of living for the poorer countries to compensate.

    • #193421
      Matthew Culbert
      Keymaster

      He is doing a ‘Left’ version of Libertarian nonsense that workers are wealthier now and therefore not exploited, which ignores the increased rate of exploitation at the points of production (wherever they occur) and the precariousness of the service sectors.

      In any case capitalism is global and apart from workers in high volume low earning service sectors being acutely impoverished, the rest are using devices being manufactured in conditions resembling earlier capitalist development, child labour etc.

      This type of splitist focus takes us away from advocating the global common class interests of the immense majority, even those who think they are not working class any more, to relieve the superfluous economic parasite class of their ‘burden’ of ownership.

    • #193424
      marcos
      Participant

      Third world has been used incorrectly by the leftists and right wingers   Third world countries were those countries that were not aligned with any block of the Cold War but Cuba was aligned with the Soviet Union and they were part of the non aligned countries

      Mao created the three world theory, the first world was composed by the USA and the Soviet Union, the second war was composed by England France and Germany and the third world was Latin America Asia and Africa

       

    • #193425
      ALB
      Participant

      This article from 1998, by a member of the World Socialist Party (India), deals with the question of whether the workers of one country exploit the workers of another and why wages are different in different countries:

      https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1998/1990s/no-1125-may-1998/world-view-lenin-theorist-nationalism/

    • #193426
      marcos
      Participant

      Enver Hoxha rejected both concept of the Third World and the Mao Theory of the Three world and included China as part of the imperialist block, but he continued using Lenin concept of anti-imperialism, and he said that Albania was the only socialist country. All those theory are wrong including the so called underdeveloped, developed, north and south, this is a society divided between workers and capitalists, and does not many any difference about their geographic locations

    • #193427
      marcos
      Participant

      Despite that Marx took the definition from Adam Smith and Classical Economy, it is too rigid for our time, all workers around the world are exploited, and I second Mattew Colbert point of view, our message is for all workers despite belonging to the productive or unproductive sectors, rural or urban workers,  we can not pay too much attention to those so called innovators, for me Karl Marx was more than enough, and we are still digging into Marx’a  works. Engels himself when Marx died, he  was surprised to see that Marx was working in so many different aspect of the capitalist society , and he was not aware of that, and he was his closest collaborator. Like Peter Huis wrote in one of his book: “It was too much work for one man”

    • #193428
      marcos
      Participant

      Lenin theory of imperialism and anti-imperialism is totally wrong and it was only a way to cover up  the bourgeoisie nationalism of the Bolsheviks. I have always said that the so called Marxist-Leninist Parties are just communist/nationalist  parties of the countries where they have been created. I was able to see Communist Parties that were formed in a living room by two or five individuals and they called it the party of the working class, and in another town they were building two more workers parties using the members from another party, at the present they have vanished from the face to the earth. The worst conception of Marxism-Leninism Mao Tse Tung thought, and all oppressed nations to fight against oppressors nations, that is reason why many leftist said that the American workers are oppressors. Marx and socialist theory has been totally distorted, and it is just pure bourgeois nationalism

    • #193429
      marcos
      Participant

      Global North and Global South it is just a terminally created by IMF, but it is similar to the old definition of Mao Tse Tung, and as always the leftist like to adopt the definition of the capitalist class and turn ir or adopt into their own definition. At the present time for them the problem of the world is the banking system and the USA Federal Reserve Bank, the Sionists and the Rothschild family . The problem of capitalism is the whole system, it is not one aspect of capitalism, the German capitalist said that the problem is the jewish bankers, and the Japanese capitalists were anti-imperialists. The term economical expansion is not longer valid, now the new term is Globalization which is also capitalist expansion, so leftists are saying that Donald Trump is an anti-globalists. The blind continue guiding the blinds, and peoples are not reading books any more, libraries are empty,  they just go to you Tube which is propagating all those false theories. This is a world divided between workers and capitalists and Marx definition of class and capitalism is still valid, and our main problem is not Donald Trump, Neo-liberalism,  or the Banking system, it is capitalism

    • #193442
      ALB
      Participant

      The A to Z of Marxism (an updated version of which was put up on this site last week) has this to say under “Productive and unproductive labour”

      Productive and in productive labour. Productive labour is that employment which creates surplus value for the capitalist, whereas unproductive labour does not. For example, a chef employed by a capitalist to work in his hotel is productive, whereas if that same chef were employed to work in the capitalist’s home they would be unproductive. Nowadays, though, most unproductive labour is carried out in the state sector of the economy.

      The distinction is useful for analysing the structure of capitalism. For instance, it sets theoretical limits for the size of the state sector of the economy, since this must be paid out of the surplus value arising from productive labour. No judgement is implied on the importance or worth of either type of work and the working class carries out both productive and unproductive labour.

      Reading S. Savran & E. Tonak, ‘Productive and Unproductive Labour: An Attempt at Clarification and Classification’, Capital & Class, 1999

      • #193448
        LBird
        Participant

        ALB wrote: “No judgement is implied on the importance or worth of either type of work … productive and unproductive labour“.

        This encapsulates really well, the point I was making.

        For the vast majority of workers, the judgement is implied by the prefix ‘un’.

        They’re the ones working really hard for shit wages, being told by their academic betters, who really understand this sort of stuff, that they are unproductive.

        Still, as long as the ‘class conscious’ elite understand our world, socialism will be along in a jiffy.

        Hmmm… how long has Marx been dead? And how well has this ‘materialist analysis’ of the ‘objective facts’ fared in producing class consciousness in the masses? The unproductive masses, that is.

    • #193452
      Matthew Culbert
      Keymaster

      They’re the ones working really hard for shit wages, being told by their academic betters, who really understand this sort of stuff, that they are unproductive.

      They are not being told this by academic elites, but by their fellow workers.

      • #193454
        LBird
        Participant

        Matthew Culbert wrote: “They are not being told this by academic elites, but by their fellow workers.

        That’s not true, Matthew.

        At best, it’s ‘by some of their fellow workers’.

        That is, ‘by academic elites and some of their fellow workers’.

        I’d argue that those ‘some fellow workers’ have been ideologically duped by the ‘academic elites’. As you know, Marx argued that ‘the ruling ideas in any society are the ideas of the ruling class’. So, we’d expect ‘some fellow workers’ to vote for Johnson, too. There are all kinds of mistakes being made by our fellow workers, at present.

        As to your claim, there are clearly some other fellow workers who disagree with this use of ‘unproductive’ by the academic elite, like Cope. I’m one, and I think marcos also expressed his disagreement with this usage, earlier, but I’ll leave it to him to clarify his own position.

    • #193453
      ALB
      Participant

      As the  A to Z of Marxism explains, a distinction between labour that produces surplus value and labour that doesn’t is needed to understand how capitalism works (and could not work, e.g. made to be geared to individual and social consumption).

      Capitalism is an economic system of capital accumulation out of surplus value so labour that produces surplus value is crucial to it. The distinction between the two types of labour has to be made whatever name is given to each.

      Incidentally, in the terminology Marx inherited and used, a person employed by a cleaning firm to clean toilets would be a “productive” worker while academics employed by universities (except private profit-seeking ones) would be “unproductive” workers.

      • #193455
        LBird
        Participant

        ALB wrote: “The distinction between the two types of labour has to be made whatever name is given to each.

        Yes, I’ve already made this suggestion, ALB, earlier on the thread.

        And I’ve explained why ‘un-‘ isn’t a useful term, given that surely we’re writing to explain the world that workers live in, and surely it should be in terms that are easy to grasp, rather than those that are counter-intuitive.

        I’m a great believer in the theory that bourgeois academics consciously write as obscurely as possible, to actually prevent workers understanding what is being written, and so thus being able to criticise it.

        A lot of what passes for ‘learning’ in bourgeois society will disappear within a democratic socialist society, where any ‘learning’ would be entirely democratic, in its concepts, theories, methods and results. Marx thought that ‘science’ would be ‘revolutionised’, and I can’t imagine that not meaning ‘democratised’.

    • #193456
      robbo203
      Participant

      LBird I think you are making a bit of meal of this.  Marx himself  talked of workers being unproductive in the narrow technical sense of not producing surplus value.  But as I mentioned before, he also talked of workers being productive in the wider sense of producing use values.   So a person who is being unproductive in the narrow sense can be productive  in the wider sense that Marx referred to.   So long as you qualify what you are talking about I dont see that there should be a problem.

       

      Its not being derogatory  as long as you explain what you mean by the term.  Its not a reflection on the person but on the job they do.  Years ago I worked a brief stint in the tax office.   I was bored stiff with the job and would have readily concurred with anyone who said I was doing unproductive work in every sense of the term.  Workers DO often feel alienated from their work – particularly when the see it as being pointless and producing no obvious social benefit

       

      In the narrow sense, unproductive work as a category is, I believe, very useful from the standpoint of understanding the mechanics of capitalism.  I am quite interested in Fred Moseley’s argument  that the growth of unproductive labour has contributed to a falling rate of profit in the post war era at least among the advanced capitalist economies.   There are of course half a dozen or so counter tendencies to the falling rate of profit that Marx  touched upon but the interesting thing about Marx’s model and his prpductive/unproductive dichotomy  is that it enables you to see how certain structural constraints might come into play and even to predict or anticipate certain developments that might arise from the fact that there are limits to the size of the unproductive sector in the economy.

       

      However, this thread is essentially concerned with the relation between unproductive labour and exploitation.   I want to reiterate the central point that is being made –  that just because some workers perform unproductive work (dont produce surplus value) does NOT mean they are not exploited.   You dont have to produce surplus value to be exploited.  Productive labour is only the visible tip of the iceberg, for that iceberg to keep afloat it requires unproductive labour as well

       

      Exploitation is a class-wide and an economy-wide phenomenon .  It is not confined to one section of the working class (productive workers) or one part of the globe (the Global South) as people like Zac Cope maintain

       

       

       

       

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by robbo203.
      • #193458
        LBird
        Participant

        robbo203 wrote: “LBird I think you are making a bit of meal of this.

        Hmmm… I could translate this for other workers as meaning ‘There’s no room for a worker to question the concepts employed by academics, who know better‘… But I won’t.

        I think that I’ve made my point to you – if you fail to question Cope’s concepts, you’ll end up either agreeing with him about them (which you might want to do), or you’ll misunderstand his argument, and waste your valuable time attacking a straw man.

        Further, and specifically about ‘unproductive’, if you’re happy with the concept being employed by both sides, go ahead and write a critique of Cope’s text. Personally, I’d rip his theoretical framework to shreds, and probably ignore the thus pointless task of giving his text serious detailed attention.

        As for ‘exploitation’, if you agree that all ‘productive labour’ in this society is a product of ‘exploitation’, what’s the payoff for the average worker to spend time discerning between your ‘unproductive’ and your ‘productive’?

        I’m inclined to advise workers that the ‘angels on a pinhead’-type debates are alive and well in academia, and are irrelevant to workers. The ‘left-wing’ academics are about as accurate about the supposed ‘workings of capitalism’ as are the bourgeois economists! Whether the texts of Marx, Keynes or Hayek are invoked as ‘The Bible’.

        And I’d tell them to focus on your final statement:

        robbo203 wrote: “Exploitation is a class-wide and an economy-wide phenomenon .  It is not confined to one section of the working class … or one part of the globe (the Global South) as people like Zac Cope maintain

        Well, except for the bit I’ve deleted! I’d insert “… (black, white, men, women, gay, straight, domestic, immigrant, etc.)”.

    • #193460
      robbo203
      Participant

      if you fail to question Cope’s concepts, you’ll end up either agreeing with him about them (which you might want to do), or you’ll misunderstand his argument, and waste your valuable time attacking a straw man.

      There is no chance of that.   He is using the concept of unproductive labour in the sense that Marx used it to mean workers who do not produce commodities/surplus value and inferring from this that they are not exploited to back up his general point that the workers in the developed economies are not exploited  because according to him they consume more value than they produce.  THAT is what I am attacking and it is certainly not a straw man argument

       

      Of course, if workers in the developed economies consumed more in value terms than what they produced there would be no point in setting and operating a business anywhere in the developed world since there would be no profit to be made in doing so.  Where the developed world would acquire the means of purchase goods made in the Global South is anyone’s guess.  For more than two decades now many big corporations in the West have been cutting their ties with the whole business of producing stuff and have been focussing instead on branding the finished product for sale in Western stores  (see Naomi Klein’s book No Logo on this)

       

      Incidentally this idea of Cope’s  – that whether or not one is exploited as a worker depends on a net balance between the production and consumption of value – has a certain homologous relationship to the way sections of the left define imperialism .   An imperialist nation is defined as one which has net balance in terms of income flows in the form of profit rent  and interest.   So China by this criterion is considered not to be an imperialist country despite the fact that Chinese capital penetrates most parts of the world

      • #193461
        LBird
        Participant

        robbo203 wrote: “[Cope] is using the concept of unproductive labour in the sense that Marx used it…“.

        In itself, this argument from authority doesn’t mean that the concept (or its title) is invulnerable to criticism. Perhaps Marx should be criticised.

        Or, perhaps Cope or you (or both of youse) are misunderstanding Marx.

        I’ve had a good run at this issue, and you’ve understood my point, so I’ll leave it at that, and let you decide just what your critical approach should be to Cope’s text. On the whole, I think I’m a lot closer to you than I am to Cope.

        But… things are relative.

        I’m uncontrollably compelled to write “just as ‘material’ is relative to humans“, though I’m already slapping my own wrist!  🙂

        • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by LBird.
    • #193463
      ALB
      Participant

      Not all productive (in the sense of transforming materials that originally came from nature into something useful) labour under capitalism is exploited. Not that of self-employed plumbers for instance. And how!

      The description “unproductive” was originally used by the ideologists of the rising industrial capitalist class to criticise  the established ruling landed aristocracy. The intention was to show that the workers the industrial capitalists employed benefitted society by increasing the amount of wealth in existence while those employed by aristocrats (their servants) used up existing wealth and was a waste of resources — and to justify the industrial capitalists taking over as a new ruling class.

      It was like us calling the capital class drones and parasites.

    • #193464
      marcos
      Participant

      In this society everything has a historical explanation, like in the legal system is said that every law has a history. The concept of productive and unproductive labour has its history as I said in another message which it was described by Marx in an epoch when productive labour prevailed over unproductive labour, or unproductive labour was sub estimated,  and the capitalist supported the concept of productive labour vs unproductive labour. Nowadays we have plumber, carpenter and masonry workers who own their own business and they work independently,( They are called blue collars workers ) and we have independent accountants, lawyers, medical doctors ( called white collars workers )  and they are not exploited, and some of that business owner they also have their salary, and he/she can be called salaried worker too, but they are not exploited in the sense that Marx expressed on Capital. As I said we have to be flexible with both terms

    • #193473
      robbo203
      Participant

      Not all productive (in the sense of transforming materials that originally came from nature into something useful) labour under capitalism is exploited. Not that of self-employed plumbers for instance

       

      The question of self-employed labour is an interesting one from a Marxian perspective

       

      Marx own views on the subject can be inferred from his  criticism of the idea that the peasant proprietor was both a capitalist and worker wrapped up in the same person:

      ‘The means of production become capital only in so far as they have become separated from labourer and confront labour as an independent power. But in the case referred to the producer—the labourer—is the possessor, the owner, of his means of production. They are therefore not capital, any more than in relation to them he is a wage labourer.” Capital Vol 1

      So peasants and independent craftspeople were neither productive (in the sense of producing surplus value)

      ‘They confront me as sellers of commodities, not as sellers of labour, and this relation therefore has nothing to do with the exchange of capital for labour, therefore also has nothing to do with the distinction between productive and unproductive labour, which depends entirely on whether the labour is exchanged for money as money or for money as capital. They therefore belong neither to the category of productive or unproductive labourers, although they are producers of commodities. But their production does not fall under the capitalist mode of production”

       

      What of the self-employed plumber you mention above ALB? He or she is definitely a seller of labour.  Is this a case of self-exploitation?  Are worker co-ops a case of collectivised forms of self exploitation – groups of workers being their own capitalists?

       

      I have heard of some forms of self employment being described in Party circles as almost a disguised forms of wage labour.   The small shopkeeper, for example , though nominally self employed is in reality multifariously employed as a glorified salesperson on commission for the corporations whose wares she stock in the her little corner shop.   In the UK there are  4.8 million self-employed which accounts for  around 15% of the working population.

       

      There is also the wider question of the “informal sector” in the Global South especially.  As mentioned this is the largest chunk of the global workforce and comprises about 60% of the global workforce.  The informal sector encompasses both self employed individuals such as street hawkers or individuals providing a service e.g. shoe shine boys , informal tourist guides etc as well as small family run businesses largely operating outside of government regulation and control

       

      The formal sector based on the traditional wage labour contract with the attendant rights and duties this entails is comparatively small.  In India for example it is about 20 % of the workforce and is subject to erosion by contracting out or outsourcing production to the informal sector

       

      All these developments pose massive questions for how we conceptualise the process of capitalist exploitation.   It is something we need to pay much closer attention to in our literature

       

       

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by robbo203.
    • #193475
      LBird
      Participant

      robbo203 wrote: “All these developments pose massive questions for how we conceptualise the process of capitalist exploitation.   It is something we need to pay much closer attention to in our literature” [my bold]

      I’d also add ‘who’ socialists are conceptualising for (is it for workers, or for academics?), and ‘why’ the conceptualising is done in such an alienating way (is it meant to keep workers out of the debate?).

      To bring Marx into our critical focus, regarding translations, who is Capital written for, why is Capital so difficult to understand, and how can we in the 21st century make Capital answer the ‘who’ and ‘why’ questions?

      It is something we need to pay much closer attention to. ‘Conceptualisation’ precedes activity. Marx argued for theory and practice, not for the other way around.

    • #193476
      rodshaw
      Participant

      I know our declaration of principles is a historical document and all that (though slightly edited) but it makes no mention of a difference between productive and unproductive workers, and rather gives the impression, rightly or wrongly, that all workers are productive:

      “That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.”

      Nor do the explanatory notes. They don’t even use the word exploitation. There is a paragraph about surplus value but without actually calling it such or mentioning specifically that only some workers produce it.

      “The workers in the factory…are directly connected to the production. It is the labour of these workers (including the plant management) that creates the profits that keep the capitalists rich. It is vital that the capitalists pay their workers less than the value that their labour produces. It is this difference between the value of what workers are paid and the value of what they produce that is the source of profit.”

      And according to the wording of the membership questionnaire there is no requirement for new members to appreciate any difference between productive and unproductive workers.

      So we don’t seem to think that appreciating such a difference is a prerequisite for becoming a socialist and wanting to abolish capitalism, and theoretically a majority could establish socialism without having the first idea about any difference. So in what sense is it important? And if it is important to differentiate between different kinds of worker, is it important enough to mention it in our D of P and other publications? Isn’t it simply enough to understand that all workers, whether teachers, professors, council workers, shop workers, factory workers, civil servants, the self employed, and indeed pensioners, are trapped in the capitalist system and have a common interest in abolishing it?

      • #193490
        LBird
        Participant

        rodshaw wrote: “So in what sense is it important?“.

        I agree with your question, rod, and also add “And who is it important for?”.

        If, as you suggest, “theoretically a majority could establish socialism without having the first idea about any difference” [my bold], who needs to draw this distinction, and why?

        Why does a minority need to draw a distinction between supposedly ‘unproductive’ and ‘productive’? Who are this minority writing for? What’s the political point of this distinction?

    • #193477
      robbo203
      Participant

      Isn’t it simply enough to understand that all workers, whether teachers, professors, council workers, shop workers, factory workers, civil servants, the self employed, and indeed pensioners, are trapped in the capitalist system and have a common interest in abolishing it?

       

      I’m inclined to agree with what you say,  Rod, but on other hand we are burdened with this historical  legacy  that seems to place the exploitation of  productive labour at the heart of the wage labour-capital relationship that defines capitalism.  Exploitation is narrowly equated with the production of surplus value.

       

      This is a line of argument that people like Zac Cope, who I have mentioned several times on this thread, seem to take.  The implication is that those who are not engaged  in productive wage labour producing surplus value are not exploited which in turn leads to absurd propositions such as the one Cope makes, that the entire working class of the  developed countries are labour aristocratic and as such have a common interest in joining with their capitalist employers in exploiting the workers in the Global South.  The effect of this is to blur the class distinction and to detract from the class struggle within the developed countries themselves.

       

      I would submit that most workers in the West dont feel like they are some sort labour aristocratic elite living the life of Reilly off the backs of workers in the Global South.  Since the 1970s things have got significantly worse in relative terms.   Years of austerity and  stagnant wage growth, notwithstanding significant increases in productivity, have contributed to a widespread feeling that we are being increasingly short-changed in a world of growing financial pressures, mounting debts  and a steadily widening gulf between rich and poor

       

      We need to redefine what we mean by exploitation in the narrow sense of productive workers generating surplus.   For sure this is the beating heart of capitalist system of exploitation but the body politic of capitalism consists of more than just the heart.  It consists too of all those other organs  which interact with the heart and enable the system to live and grow.

       

      We need to  be more explicit in naming and drawing attention to, them

    • #193483
      ALB
      Participant

      Rod, the point of distinguishing between labour that producing surplus value and labour that doesn’t isn’t, and never was, to draw an invidious distinction between different members of the working class. Not at all. It is to understand the workings of capitalism.

      As capitalism is a system of capital (as value) accumulation out of surplus value its priority is employing productive-of-surplus-value labour. This is another way of saying that capitalism is a system in which profits come first. As the ABC of Marxism and Robbo have pointed out, it sets limits to the amount of labour the state can organise to provide “public services” (education, health, libraries, museums, meals on wheels, rubbish collection, etc) as this has to come out of surplus value and in fact is at the expense of producing it, and is why when profits fall or threaten to fall then state spending on services that people benefit from are cut back.

      I agree that to be a socialist you only need to understand that capitalism cannot work, and cannot be made to work, in the interests of “the many” without necessarily understanding exactly why; it’s a conclusion that can be drawn on the basis of experience. However, the party should be in a position to explain why, and the distinction between labour that produces surplus value compared with that which doesn’t is crucial to this,

    • #193491
      LBird
      Participant

      ALB wrote: “productive-of-surplus-value labour … sets limits to … the state…”.

      Then, surely, ‘unproductive-of-surplus-value labour’ undoes or extends those ‘limits’ to state activities?

      Can you give an historical example of a state reaching those ‘limits’, as determined by ‘surplus value’?

      Surely, prior to that supposed ‘limit’ being reached, the state would collapse due to political factors, rather than this ‘economic’ factor? For example, the Nazi state collapsed because of human activity (mainly the Red Army’s), rather than any issue about ‘un-‘ or ‘productive’ factors.

      The more we discuss this, the more I’m becoming critical of the concept, whether Marx is invoked in its support or not.

      Did Marx think that this distinction was vital for the building of communism? And if not, why bother? Who benefits from reading texts like Cope’s?

    • #193492
      marcos
      Participant

      Roosevelt created the Civil Service and the state employed millions of workers to work for the state and most of the jobs belonged to the unproductive sector of the US capitalist economy.

       

      • #193494
        LBird
        Participant

        marcos wrote: “Roosevelt created the Civil Service and the state employed millions of workers to work for the state and most of the jobs belonged to the unproductive sector of the US capitalist economy.

        Good point, marcos.

        So, surely the adherents of the ‘unproductive/productive’ dichotomy would have to argue that these millions of ‘unproductive’ workers at least hampered, and at worst hamstrung, the US capitalist economy.

        But, without these millions, how would the US capitalist economy have expanded and have come to dominate all others?

        It seems obvious that without these millions, the US would have collapsed. No bureaucracy, no economy.

        I still don’t get the point of regarding these issues as just one of ‘productivity’ (or ‘unproductivity’), because capitalism is as much a political as an economic system, and if the political input of ‘unproductive jobs’ strengthens and develops a capitalist economy, it makes a nonsense of theoretically separating the two.

        Of course, at some point any capitalist economy will go into recession, but this has more to do with the nature of the system, than with supposedly ‘unproductive’ labour.

    • #193493
      ALB
      Participant

      Robbo, the points you make had occurred to me but I didn’t mention them.

      The advocates of workers cooperatives instead of socialism, who come in for regular criticism here, argue that workers in such cooperatives are not exploited as any surplus value over and above their wages legally belongs to them; this gives them the “right” like any property-owner to decide how to use it. Our argument is that this legal right comes up against economic reality which forces them, as the price for staying in the competitive struggle to sell their products (and so have a surplus income over their wages and other costs), to reinvest their profit in improving productivity by introducing more up-to-date machinery and methods of production. In other words, to make the same sort of decisions as a capitalist enterprise would. Hence the concept of “self-exploitation” that we have used. I doubt, though, that this can be applied to the self-employed in the same meaningful sense.

      The other point you make is that productive (of surplus value) labour is not all that widespread in the countries Cope refers to (you mention 20% as the percentage of the workforce in the “formal sector” in India and that will include many who don’t produce surplus value). Since he claims to adhere to the same definition as Marx of “productive labour” this rather undermines his case as stated by you (not read him myself) as I would think it could be open to doubt that more surplus value is produced in the so-called “Global South” than in the developed capitalist countries. Though the distinction isn’t really between countries but between sectors of the world economy, the capitalistically advanced one of which is to be found in all countries if in varying degrees.

    • #193495
      robbo203
      Participant

      So, surely the adherents of the ‘unproductive/productive’ dichotomy would have to argue that these millions of ‘unproductive’ workers at least hampered, and at worst hamstrung, the US capitalist economy. But, without these millions, how would the US capitalist economy have expanded and have come to dominate all others?

       

      You are still missing the point LBird.  Nobody is saying the unproductive sector is not necessary for capitalism to function effectively, only that unproductive sector does not generate surplus value.   But capitalism needs MORE than just workers producing surplus value,  It also needs workers to realise surplus value at the point of sale.  And it needs to workers to perform the various functions of the state.    You cannot operate capitalism without a state

       

      But as Adam points out the usefulness of the unproductive/productive dichotomy is that it enables us to see that there are limits  to the size that the unproductive sector can grow before the economy starts feeling the pinch.  This is because the unproductive sector is financed out of the productive sector and the smaller the latter becomes in relation to the former the less surplus value there is available for capitalisation.  In short the competitive accumulation of capital – the driving force of capitalism – starts to get choked off and the rate of profit starts to decline.   We can see evidence of this in the long term secular decline of economic growth rates in countries like the US

       

      That at any rate is the argument behind Fred Moseley’s book. The Falling Rate of Profit in the Postwar United States Economy., (1992) which  you might want to read up on.   The point is that from capitalism’s point of view there is an optimal ratio in the proportions of the productive and unproductive workers in the economy (though this optimum can shift as circumstances change).  Too much or too little of one vis a vis the other can have adverse consequences for the economy and in some ways the whole neoliberal project can be seen as a (failed) attempt to prune the unproductive part of the economy as represented by the state sector which the high priests of neoliberalism saw as being bloated and excessive in size.  Hence Thatcher’s “rolling back the state” mantra

       

      I dont think it is necessary for workers to understand the ramification of the unproductive/productive dichotomy but it is useful in the same way that Marx’s labour theory of value or his materialist conception of history is useful.   Workers can establish a socialist society without any familiarity with these theories at all  but understanding them helps

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by robbo203.
      • #193499
        LBird
        Participant

        robbo203 wrote: “But as Adam points out the usefulness of the unproductive/productive dichotomy is that it enables us to see that there are limits  to the size that the unproductive sector can grow before the economy starts feeling the pinch.“.

        Well, I’ve responded to ALB’s statement, but he hasn’t explained this theory of ‘limits’. I’ve given examples (as has marcos) which undermine this theory of ‘limits’, so perhaps you could give a explanation of why those examples are not relevant, in your opinion.

        robbo203 wrote: “You are still missing the point LBird.“.

        I disagree, but I’m prepared to have it explained to me why I am supposedly doing so, by ALB or you. If neither of you can do so, I’ll be inclined to think that it’s not me who’s ‘missing the point’.

        robbo203 wrote: “I dont think it is necessary for workers to understand the ramification of the unproductive/productive dichotomy but it is useful in the same way that Marx’s labour theory of value or his materialist conception of history is useful.   Workers can establish a socialist society without any familiarity with these theories at all  but understanding them helps“.

        If this is true, what’s the point of these concepts, theories and conceptions? Who do they benefit? What’s the point of a socialist party discussing issues that are (apparently) irrelevant to their interests? Especially in these times of extremely low class consciousness, haven’t socialist parties got better things to do? Like explaining in language that workers can understand, employing concepts, theories and conceptions that they understand.

        This is actually ‘the point’ that you and ALB seem to be ‘missing’.

        This issue about ‘unproductive/productive’ is just a microcosm of a far bigger problem, which is: just who are these discussions meant to develop? Workers or academics? Are we building for socialism or for bourgeois universities?

    • #193497
      robbo203
      Participant

      The other point you make is that productive (of surplus value) labour is not all that widespread in the countries Cope refers to (you mention 20% as the percentage of the workforce in the “formal sector” in India and that will include many who don’t produce surplus value). Since he claims to adhere to the same definition as Marx of “productive labour” this rather undermines his case as stated by you (not read him myself) as I would think it could be open to doubt that more surplus value is produced in the so-called “Global South” than in the developed capitalist countries.

       

      Adam

       

      I should  perhaps qualify what I said about Cope in that he does concede that some workers in the developed countries “might” produce surplus value but insofar as they do this thus surplus value, he suggests,  is entirely  used to finance the unproductive sector so that in effect both the capitalists and the workers in the  developed countries live off the superprofits generated by the exploited workers in the global south.

       

      On the question of the informal sector versus the formal sector I wouldn’t want to suggest that productive labour is limited exclusively to the latter in the Global South.  Though clearly a huge chunk of the informal sector is unproductive I am not quite sure to what extent “supply chain capitalism” (as it is called) penetrates into the informal sector through arrangements such as  subcontracting and  outsourcing (no doubt based on piece work – what Marx described as the most ruthless form of wage exploitation).  The  historical equivalent in the UK would be the cottage industry and the “putting out system” involving  agents travelling around rural communities providing rural families with the raw material to transform into finished goods (textile products) to be  sold in the urban markets for a profit.

       

      This preceded the emergence of large scale production  – the industrial revolution –  in the shape modern factory system  that we associate with the formal sector.  But these days the formal sector in the global south is incapable of providing employment for the vast numbers of unemployed or underemployed workers there (notwithstanding the shift in manufacturing to the global south).  So something like a cottage industry system seems to have sprung up around the formal sector to serve its needs in the form of sweatshop labour etc

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by robbo203.
    • #193500
      ALB
      Participant

      If you are a leftwing Keynesian then naturally you think that capitalism can be, has been, or is propped up by state spending. This in fact is the economic theory that reformists embrace as it provides justification for their case.

      Marxian economics, on the other hand, shows that state spending has to be financed by taxation that ultimately falls on the surplus value producing sector of the economy. If such spending on public services is extended  beyond what is required to ensure a trained and healthy workforce, it will undermine the competitivity of products produced within the state’s borders due to less surplus value being left to invest, and actually being invested, in new cost-cutting methods of production. There will eventually be a financial and/or economic crisis and state spending will have to be cut back to allow the economy (profitability) a chance to recover. It used to be called “retrenchment”. Now it’s called “austerity”.

      In other words, there cannot be a permanent “public services” economy where the state diverts surplus value from capital accumulation to providing services for its subjects. Reformist governments everywhere have failed every time this has been attempted.

      Another misunderstanding held by leftwing Keynesians is that capitalism has an inbuilt tendency to underconsumption and so to permanent stagnation (some even think it has a tendency to collapse because of this). If you believe this then, again, you will think that capitalism can be saved by state spending whether on arms or on public services. In fact, however, capitalism has no such tendency and so doesn’t need to be “saved” by the state stepping in to boost consumption. Capitalism always recovers from a slump because during it the conditions are eventually created (restored profitability) for capital accumulation to resume (until the next slump).

      • #193504
        LBird
        Participant

        ALB wrote: “If you are a leftwing Keynesian…reformists embrace…Reformist governments everywhere have failed every time…Another misunderstanding held by leftwing Keynesians…“.

        Yes, but if your arguments are directed at Keynesian reformists, who start from an entirely different set of political and ideological assumptions, to us democratic communists, what’s the point of mentioning a concept like ‘unproductive’ which they won’t recognise as legitimate? And if your audience is workers, why use it at all?

        Why not just argue that the capitalist system works like a set of lungs, expansion followed by contraction, for ever, a mechanism that can’t be prevented by Keynesian reformist policies, which any worker can understand, and then themselves be able to argue with any other workers or academics who try on the reformist bluff with them?

        robbo203 wrote: “Part of the explanation as to why this is the case lies precisely in this discussion we are having about the relationship between productive and unproductive labour which clearly shows the priority in capitalism is to make profits above everything else.” [my bold]

        Yes, ‘profits’. Easy to understand. But why relate ‘profits’ to the unnecessary and dismissive concept of ‘unproductive labour’? It would be better and simpler to say:

        Part of the explanation as to why this is the case lies precisely in this discussion we are having about the relationship between exploited labour and exploiting capital which clearly shows the priority in capitalism is to make profits above everything else.” Profits come from exploited labour. All of it. No worker gets called ‘unproductive’.

        robbo203 wrote: “The need to make profit via productive labour imposes limits on  the extent of the unproductive sector – including state spending on the very reforms  that the workers want the politicians to implement“.

        Why mention ‘unproductive’? It’s more simple to say ‘The need to make a profit’ when combined with the contraction phase of capitalism ‘imposes limits on reforms’?

        After all, Keynesian reformism does work… but only in the expansion phase of capitalism. The reforms must come to an end.

        The whole point is… capitalism as a system doesn’t and can’t continuously expand – which is what Keynesian reformism relies upon, continuous expansion.

        Simply ask any worker to inflate their lungs… and hold… hold… for ever… they’ll soon get the point about ‘necessity’ within a system. And no calling (many of) them ‘unproductive’.

    • #193502
      marcos
      Participant

      Do workers care about this? What is the importance of workers knowing about this?  The only thing that workers care is about producing enough money to support their family and they do not care if they part of the productive or the unproductive sector. Personally, for me, Karl Marx is more than enough

      • #193506
        LBird
        Participant

        marcos wrote: “Do workers care about this? What is the importance of workers knowing about this?  The only thing that workers care is about producing enough money to support their family and they do not care if they part of the productive or the unproductive sector. Personally, for me, Karl Marx is more than enough“.

        I’d argue that workers do have to care and know about these issues, marcos.

        If they want to themselves build socialism. They are the ‘active side’, to quote Marx, they must ‘self-determine’ their world.

        Where I do agree with you is about the pointlessness of many academic debates, which play no part whatsoever in developing workers’ consciousness of their own abilities and tasks.

        But, nevertheless, workers themselves must be able to win ‘academic debates’ – just the ones that they determine are worth winning. And workers must determine, not ‘academics’ for themselves.

        Most workers, given half a chance, can run rings round the most educated academic. Our role is to ‘give half a chance’, but only they can grasp this ‘half’ and make it a ‘full chance’ of success.

        • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by LBird.
    • #193503
      robbo203
      Participant

      Do workers care about this? What is the importance of workers knowing about this?

      Clearly workers dont care about this at the present time just as they dont care  about socialism.  But they DO care about what they can get out of capitalism and this often takes the form of supporting this or that politician or political party offering a platform of reforms.   As socialists we hold that capitalism cannot be reformed in the interests of workers.   Part of the explanation as to why this is the case lies precisely in this discussion we are having about the relationship between productive and unproductive labour which clearly shows the priority in capitalism is to make profits above everything else .  The need to make profit via productive labour imposes limits on  the extent of the unproductive sector – including state spending on the very reforms  that the workers want the politicians to implement

    • #193505
      ALB
      Participant

      Actually, in Britain at least, it is a sociological fact that people do in effect make a distinction between “productive” and “unproductive” workers — and get it wrong.

      The most common usage of the term “working class” is those who work with their hands, ie produce something material, while “pen pusher” is a common term of abuse of those who work in offices, ie just shuffle paper. And we have seen “workerist” attitudes and antipathy to theory and “academics” expressed here, In the US too, I think, a distinction is made between “blue collar” and “white collar” workers.

      Maybe people aren’t interested in the issue as an aspect of economics but you can’t say that people are not interested in the type of job people do. In fact, people widely judge and judge themselves on the basis of it.

      Of course we are all agreed here the Marxian distinction is not a value judgement on people for the job they do. The working class is made up of all those obliged by economic necessity to go out on to the labour market and find an employer to pay them a wage (or salary!), irrespective of what job they do. For those of us who accept the Marxian distinction, it is only a tool for analysing how capitalism works.

    • #193508
      Young Master Smeet
      Participant

      Part of the productive (for capital)/unproductive critique is in enabling criticism of capitalism.

      Maria Mazzucato in her ‘The Value of Everything’ take a look at national accounting (where the state is by definition unproductive, and things like housework don’t appear), she also has looked at the role of the state in R&D and how much real value it is worth.  The problem is, from the POV of the owners of capital, that which does not make them a profit is unproductive, so the same type of labour, say a nurse in a state hospital and a nurse in a private hospital and unproductive and productive respectively.

      I think Mattick is worth reading on this:

      “To pay off its debts and the attendant interest, the government has to use tax money, or make new borrowings. In other words, the products which the government “purchases” are not really purchased, but given to the government free; for the government has nothing to give in return but its credit standing, which, in turn, has no other base than the government’s taxing-power and ability to increase the supply of credit-money. However the credit expansion is brought about, and however it is dealt with in the course of an expanding government-induced production, one thing is clear – that the national debt, and the interest on it, can be honored only as a reduction of current and future income generated in the private sector of the economy. ” [My emphasis]

      https://www.marxists.org/archive/mattick-paul/1969/marx-keynes/index.htm

      Other reasons why it is relevant can be seen here:

      https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1885-c2/ch06.htm

      For the capitalists, the costs of administration are things they would like to shrug off because they are a sunken cost, likewise transportation.  We can look at the tenacity by which leftists want to nationalise railways, which are an unproductive sector, and leave productive sectors alone.  Indeed, in the context of HS2 it is doubtful the railways (except for land swindles) have ever been directly productive for capital.

       

      • #193509
        LBird
        Participant

        YMS wrote: “…from the POV of the owners of capital, that which does not make them a profit is unproductive…”.

        But that requires them to define their terms.

        Who determines what counts as ‘makes a profit’? An individual capitalist? The capitalist class as a whole? A sector of capital? A nation? These would all have differing views, depending upon their varying interests.

        And why would any socialist accept a bourgeois definition?

        You’re still not giving any clear political reason why workers should accept that any of the members of their class should be deemed ‘unproductive’. It’s certainly not any ‘objective’, ‘real world’, ‘true’ concept, which reflects a ‘thing’.

        For me, marcos earlier hit the nail on the head, with his mention about US policies, which were clearly intended to strengthen capitalism, even though there was an outcry from some US capitalists about ‘unproductive state spending’.

        It’s clear to me that what’s ‘unproductive’ for one, is ‘productive’ for another.

        It’s a bit like the ‘terrorist/freedom fighter’ label.

        I can’t take seriously any political argument provided to workers, that doesn’t (or can’t) define its terms. The again, perhaps the politics aren’t aimed at workers, but those academics already ‘in the know’. Good for them, eh?

        • This reply was modified 1 month, 2 weeks ago by LBird.
      • #193517
        Young Master Smeet
        Participant

        Who determines what counts as ‘makes a profit’? An individual capitalist? The capitalist class as a whole? A sector of capital? A nation? These would all have differing views, depending upon their varying interests.

        Exactly.

        And why would any socialist accept a bourgeois definition?

        To criticise it.

        Some try to adopt it, on the basis that they see the law of value continuing into socialist society, but it is best IMNSHO used as part of a criticism of how capitalism is not run in our interests.  tehre may be some element that can be used in decadence theory.

         

      • #193518
        Matthew Culbert
        Keymaster

        And why would any socialist accept a bourgeois definition?

        To criticise it.

        Some try to adopt it, on the basis that they see the law of value continuing into socialist society, but it is best IMNSHO used as part of a criticism of how capitalism is not run in our interests.  tehre may be some element that can be used in decadence theory.

        Absolutely so. As an active trade unionist I found the party’s critiques of capitalist economics at the time re inflation indispensable, as workers were being assailed on all sides, with their wage demands being called ‘inflationary’ even though in their guts we knew those claims to be nuts, the theoretical underpinning stiffened our resolve.

    • #193521
      marcos
      Participant

      I have been around factories workers, workers unions, office workers, retiree,  peasants and professional workers and all of them consider that they are exploited by the capitalist class, for me, this is only an intellectual discussion, the reality is at the factories, workers unions, agricultural field,  and all places where the workers are sweating. Marx made a critique of the capitalist mode of production and he took many concepts from bourgeois economists and we do not have to accept everything that he said, and time have changed

    • #193522
      robbo203
      Participant

      I have been around factories workers, workers unions, office workers, retiree, peasants and professional workers and all of them consider that they are exploited by the capitalist class, for me, this is only an intellectual discussion.

      But this is precisely why I raised the whole  issue of  unproductive labour and exploitation.  I fully agree with you!  Workers as a class – whether they be productive in the sense of producing commodities/surplus – or unproductive, are ALL exploited.   Exploitation does not depends on you being in the productive sector of the capitalist economy

       

      The point is  that there are some people who say that unproductive workers are NOT exploited because they dont produce surplus value.    Cope  himself seems to think that becuase the unproductive sector in the developed capitalist economies is so large that this helps to explain why workers in this part of the world , in his opinion,  are  NOT exploited.  He believes that the working class as a whole in the West is fully “labour aristocratic”,  is not exploited as a class and  has a vested  material interest in supporting “imperialism” and the super -exploitation of workers in the global south.

       

      I think Cope’s basic argument is absolute nonsense but it is view that is widely held among workers.  All the more reason to deal with this argument about unproductive kabour and productive labour.   It is not some arcane “intellectual discussion”.  It has real world consequences and  it is being used by the so called “anti -imperialist” brigade to promote  ideas that are deeply divisive as far as the global working class is concerned

       

       

       

       

    • #193523
      robbo203
      Participant

      robbo203 wrote: “The need to make profit via productive labour imposes limits on the extent of the unproductive sector – including state spending on the very reforms that the workers want the politicians to implement“.
      Why mention ‘unproductive’? It’s more simple to say ‘The need to make a profit’ when combined with the contraction phase of capitalism ‘imposes limits on reforms’?

       

      No.  The whole point of the unproductive sector is that it doesn’t produce surplus value but is financed out of surplus value produced by the productive sector.  The larger the unproductive  sector,  the greater the share of surplus value that is diverted away from capitalisation  or capital accumulation.   You are thus in effect killing (or at any rate slowly strangling) the goose that lays capitalism’s golden eggs by spending too much on the unproductive sector .  At some point this will make start to make a particular national economy less competitive .    A negative feedback loop will then kick in.  What will happen is “capital flight”  in response to rising taxes to fund the unproductive sector.   The capitalists will relocate their investment elsewhere .   Your national  economy  will start going down the pan and so your capitalist state will feel obliged to start sharply pruning back on unproductive spending in a bid to attract back capital and  restore a better balance between the size of the unproductive sector  (which, though it is unproductive, is also useful up to a point from capitalism’s point of view) and the productive sector which has to take priority in capitalist terms

       

      After all, Keynesian reformism does work… but only in the expansion phase of capitalism. The reforms must come to an end.

       

      Does Keynesian reformism “work” or does it only appear to do so in the sense of being responsive to the contingent needs of capitalism at the time – notably,  in the early post war era when capitalism was an in an expansive phase after the destruction of so much capital during the Second World War.   If Keynesian reformism worked why did it end in such dismal failure? The whole point of the exercise was to moderate and even eliminate  the capitalist trade cycle which it singularly failed to do.

      • #193564
        LBird
        Participant

        robbo203 wrote: “If Keynesian reformism worked why did it end in such dismal failure? The whole point of the exercise was to moderate and even eliminate  the capitalist trade cycle which it singularly failed to do.

        Yes, I pointed this out to you – that the attempt to ‘eliminate the capitalist trade cycle’ always ‘ends in dismal failure’.

        robbo203 quoted LBird: “After all, Keynesian reformism does work… but only in the expansion phase of capitalism. The reforms must come to an end.

        The point is – it’s to do with the workings of capitalism, ie. expansion and contraction.

        This would happen whether or not some concept termed ‘unproductive labour’ was present or not.

        This is my ‘whole point’ – why should workers be told some of them are necessarily ‘unproductive’?

        What is the political purpose of employing the term ‘unproductive labour’?

        It’s almost as if an elite seems to think it knows better than workers themselves, what terms and concepts to employ, when analysing and describing the workers’ own reality to them.

        I’m afraid I’d vote to remove ‘unproductive labour’. Then, if it was carried by democratic methods, any workers’ delegates would have to analyse without that concept. I’m sure that the academics who have invested so much wasted time and effort in this concept will be pissed off to be told they can’t use it anymore, but… democratic revolutions, eh?

    • #193565
      robbo203
      Participant

      What is the political purpose of employing the term ‘unproductive labour’?

       

      Again, LBird, you keep on making this assumption that unproductive labour is a some kind of derogatory reference to workers classified as such.  Its not.  Unproductive labour in this context has a very specific, very narrow, meaning referring to labour that does not produce surplus value .   It does NOT mean these same workers are not “productive” in the more ordinary sense of the term as meaning doing “useful work”

       

      So long as you clarify what you mean by unproductive labour  I really cannot see  that there is any cause for concern whatsoever.    You can use another term if you so chose but that does not diminish the importance of the concept itself and its relevance to understanding the workings of capitalism and the limitations of reformism imposed by the competitive need to accumulate capital out of surplus value.

       

      It stands to reason that the more surplus value you divert towards the financing of the unproductive sector,   the less surplus value you have available for capitalisation.  Surely you can see the significance of this?

      .

      • #193566
        LBird
        Participant

        It’s probably best that we bring this particular exchange to a friendly halt, robbo. 🙂

        I’ve read your (and others’) arguments, and I fully understand that youse don’t regard ‘unproductive labour’ as ‘derogatory’, and that youse regard it as ‘productive’ in the ‘ordinary sense’. You’ve said this several times, but ignored the actual questions that I’ve asked.

        I’m asking why you employ such a confusing term. By your own argument, it’s likely to confuse any worker using ‘ordinary sense’.

        I suspect that your answer would be either: a) an argument from authority: ‘Marx used it, so, so do we’; or, b) that ‘unproductive labour’ really exists as an ‘objective reality’, and that your concept merely reflects that ‘reality’.

        My reply would be either: a) If he did, Marx was mistaken; or b) how do you have access to this ‘reality’, if ‘ordinary sense’ doesn’t/can’t?

        As I’ve tried to make clear, I’m asking a political question – why baffle workers? What’s the political point of the category ‘unproductive labour’?

        Put simply, robbo – Cope mightn’t give a shit about being understood by the masses, perhaps he isn’t a socialist, or is a career academic, but surely the SPGB has an interest in explaining the world we live in, in familiar terms.

        Who benefits from ‘unproductive labour’? And I mean the concept.

        Please don’t reply, just to reiterate what’s already been said on the thread. I know that. Thanks anyway, I’ll just remain baffled.

    • #193567
      Wez
      Participant

      ‘I’ll just remain baffled.’

      Yep, that about sums up your inability to understand politics L Bird. No doubt you will regard that as another insult but the evidence is clear. ALB and robbo have made a clear and coherent explanation but you cannot, or will not, concur. I can only speculate why you are like this time and again. Perhaps you’re just argumentative by nature? Again I can only admire comrades who take the time to try and communicate with you. Is it ever possible that you can be mistaken? Look to yourself and either help us in the struggle or stop wasting our time.

      • #193593
        LBird
        Participant

        Wez wrote: “ALB and robbo have made a clear and coherent explanation…“.

        If you can point that out, Wez, I’d be glad to read it.

        Wez wrote: “Is it ever possible that you can be mistaken?“.

        Of course it is! I was a member of the SWP, and used to believe all their Leninist crap about ‘materialism’! 😛

        We seem to have come to the usual end to a critical discussion with the SPGB. A resort to personal insults, which go unpunished by the moderators, and a refusal to engage with questions.

        But.. if I answer Wez with the same insulting tone, I’m banned.

        Perhaps there is still a member (or even just a sympathiser) who reads these threads, and can explain why no-one in the SPGB can answer questions like “what is the political purpose of calling some workers ‘unproductive’?“, and why this failure is always accompanied by personal insults, like Wez’s post?

    • #193568
      ALB
      Participant

      I think the word you are looking for, Wez, is “unproductive”

    • #193594
      robbo203
      Participant

      LBird, the political purpose of saying that some workers do not produce surplus value but are financed out of surplus value is to show that there are structural limits to what reformism can achieve.  The need for profit has to take precedence over the need for reform when these two things come into sharp conflict as they will if the unproductive sector gets too bloated and the capitalists are burdened with mounting levels of taxation to pay for it.  All they will do is move their capital elsewhere

      • #193596
        LBird
        Participant

        robbo203 wrote: “LBird, the political purpose of saying that some workers do not produce surplus value but are financed out of surplus value is to show that there are structural limits to what reformism can achieve.” [my bold]

        Thank you for an answer to my question, robbo.

        But you’ll already know that I’ve said a number of times on this thread that I agree with youthat there are structural limits to what reformism can achieve‘.

        My point is that this political purpose can be achieved much more simply and closer to ‘ordinary sense’ by simply using the analogy of the operation of a pair of lungs, with which every worker is already physically familiar.

        That is, simply say ‘Keynesian reformism can’t work because capitalism always contracts, and so reforms are removed‘. That is, the ‘structural limit’ is the working of capitalism.

        Neither you nor any other poster has explained why this simple explanation needs to be replaced with a far more complex ‘explanation’ involving, not just unfamiliar terminology, but downright contradictory, non-intuitive, complex terms like ‘unproductive labour’ (which even youse here say is productive – but which just isn’t productive for yet another concept which is not commonly used). Plus, ‘unproductive’ is morally-loaded, no matter what your protestations are.

        My other main question, which also hasn’t been answered, is: ‘Who is the audience for which this concept of ‘unproductive labour’ is aimed?‘.

        If you simply answer ‘academics’, that’s fine by me.

        But then, I’ll just ask ‘Why?’.

        ‘Why academics and not workers, who are supposed to be who socialists are interested in influencing?’

    • #193595
      alanjjohnstone
      Participant

      Just to go off on a tangent

      “the political purpose of saying that some workers do not produce surplus value but are financed out of surplus value is to show that there are structural limits to what reformism can achieve.”

      Our case which very much goes against the intuition of our fellow workers that they do not bear the burden of taxation but that it also come out of the employers share of surplus value extracted via the Labour Theory of Value and determination of wages also leads to the conclusion that there is a limit to reforms that the State can pass and pay for since the capitalist class as a whole will not sacrifice too much of their profit to pay the State’s social budget.

    • #193597
      Young Master Smeet
      Participant

      To go back to Charlie’s original concept: when a direct producer was going to market, or doing their accounts, they weren’t making anything, that was sunken time away from production of wealth.

      Now, part of that may have been an attempt on Marx’ part to demonstrate that the capitalist class itself was not productive, and did not add value, so even where agents/employees do the work of the capitalist, going to market and doing accounts, they must remain unproductive.

      This is attractive to those who want to talk of a ‘middle class’ and thus exclude those who do not directly produce surplus value from the working class.

      Perhaps by way of analogy we can clarify the situation: chattel slavery is built on the extraction of surplus, not surplus value, that surplus gets transformed into value in the market later.  The slaves in the fields produced the crop that would be sold, the house slaves most certainly did not, indeed, they did not produce any surplus.  they were still essential to the slave holders operations, and they could not have run the plantation without the house slaves.

      Nonetheless, the house slaves were still slaves, and still exploited by the slave system.

    • #193600
      LBird
      Participant

      Thanks for your reply, YMS.

      YMS wrote: “To go back to Charlie’s original concept…Now, part of that may have been an attempt on Marx’ part to demonstrate…“.

      As I suggested earlier, one form of reply to my question would be to argue from authority. And I’ve already given my reply.

      LBird wrote: “My reply would be … If he did, Marx was mistaken…

      I think Marx is very useful, but in the 21st century, nearly 137 years after his death, and with us socialists having had no success whatsoever in building socialism amongst the proletariat, I think it is necessary to critically engage with Marx’s ideas. Sometimes he is plain wrong, sometimes he expresses himself very unclearly, sometimes he contradicts himself, and sometimes he is right, but needs re-writing for a modern audience. I’m sure you can think of other reasons to do this.

      YMS wrote: “This is attractive to those who want to talk of a ‘middle class’…“.

      So, are you saying that the political purpose of employing the term ‘unproductive labour’ is to persuade academics, who regard themselves as ‘middle class’, to change their political and ideological views?

      That is, the audience for the concept ‘unproductive labour’ is not workers? If so, again, that’s fine by me.

      But… why would robbo, and anyone else employing this term, spend their valuable time arguing with academics who aren’t going to agree with democratic socialists, whose main categories are ‘proletariat’, ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘petit-bourgeoisie’ (non-property owners, big property owners and small property owners), about our views of a ‘middle class’ (a Weberian, not a Marxist, category, which Weber intended to obscure ‘class’ as an exploitative relationship)?

      Why wouldn’t robbo just challenge Cope’s categories (and underlying, often unconscious, political assumptions, theories, methods, philosophy, ideology)?

      I still don’t see the political purpose of the category ‘unproductive labour’. It’s usage can only damage our political efforts.

    • #193601
      Young Master Smeet
      Participant

      Clipping out the bits where I actually go back to the basic concept to explain that to then claim I’m arguing by authority is hardly friendly discussion, especially when that is the exact opposite of what I was doing.

      As for:

      “So, are you saying that the political purpose of employing the term ‘unproductive labour’ is to persuade academics, who regard themselves as ‘middle class’, to change their political and ideological views?”

      No, I’m saying the swans fly over Vienna at midnight, I thought that was plain enough.

      Productive and unproductive are useful concepts when discussing useful work versus useless toil, and especially when we can show that productive labour is useless,

      • #193602
        LBird
        Participant

        Ahhh, I thought you’d struggle to keep it civil, YMS – nice to be proved right, once again!

        Anyway, as you simply echo what’s already been said:

        YMS wrote: “Productive and unproductive are useful concepts when discussing useful work versus useless toil, and especially when we can show that productive labour is useless,” [my bold]

        I’ll simply ask once again, who defines ‘unproductive’ as ‘useless toil’?

        Surely even thinkers with your ideological views can see that calling any worker’s work ‘useless toil’ is making a moral judgement about their labour, which can only alienate them from socialist politics?

        I was going to write ‘from our politics’, but I’m not convinced that you are a democratic communist. You never mention either ‘democracy’ or ‘communism’ in your discussions. I’m inclined to think that you see yourself as some sort of ‘expert academic’, who has an access to ‘reality’ (like supposedly ‘unproductive labour’) which can’t be done by an ordinary worker.

        If you are one of these ‘experts’ (sic), no wonder my questioning annoys you!

        • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by LBird.
    • #193605
      ALB
      Participant

      This is a good read :

      https://www.marxists.org/archive/morris/works/1884/useful.htm

      Great title too.

    • #193608
      rodshaw
      Participant

      He certainly puts the doctors of his time in their place.

    • #193637
      Young Master Smeet
      Participant

      To briefly expose my ideology, I am a Jethroist Tullist Flautist, and the main tennets of Jethroism Tullism Flautism are famous and need no further elaboration.

      I think the obvious answer of who finds the work unproductive and useless is the people doing that work, and as for alienating workers who do useless work, Shirley, the useless work itself should be a motivation for socialism and we should help clarify that there is a means to end that toil?  Demonstrating that although a type of work might be profitable for capitalists it might not contribute to neither the happiness of the worker nor anyone they know’s also adds grist to the scrocialist mill.

    • #193661
      Young Master Smeet
      Participant

      Just to underline the importance of understanding and contesting notions of “productivity”, I’m just ploughing through a history of the Holocaust which notes that notions of “overpopulation” and productive population predominated in the Nazi ideology regarding moving (and reducing the population of Europe: essentially for what we would call primary accumulation).  They even managed to classify informal and household labour as unproductive mouths to feed, because it didn’t contribute to capital accumulation and savings.  And, of course, this notion of “overpopulation” and optimum productivity was itself a means of masking the real underlying cause of poverty in capitalistic production relations (they did, however, look to Stalin’s forced collectivisation as a model of how to resolve the ‘rural crisis’).

      Of course, this is the apogee of alienation, of seeing people made to fulfil the abstract ecojnomic model, rather than looking to human need.

      As to productivity and surplus value, it is worth noting that as capitalist relations of production develop, so prices diverge more and more from value, and a given firm will be realising surplus value produced at an entirely different firm, as production, productivity and division of labour become more pronounced it becomes impossible to say who contributed what to the economic output, and this gives grist to our mill of abolishing the need for money and pricing altogether, replacing it with co-operative production for needs.

      Finally, I’d just like to mention democracy and communism.

      • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by Young Master Smeet. Reason: Foolish negative
    • #193666
      alanjjohnstone
      Participant

      Eugenic social engineering was implemented far wider than just Nazi Germany

    • #193671
      Young Master Smeet
      Participant

      Indeed, that’s just the book I’m reading, and it specifically mentions the demographic economics the Nazis pioneered.

      This all has contemporary resonances:

      https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/51560120

      Patel claims there are 8.5 economically inactive potential workers in the UK, but if the Tories are determined to restrict immigration and compel British citizens to come out of retirement, then an Aufheben style ‘refusal of work’ campaign becomes a sensible strategy.

      Finally, I’d just like to mention democracy and communism.

       

    • #193729
      alanjjohnstone
      Participant

      The  gunman who shot dead at least 10 people  was a far-right eugenicist

      The justification for killing entire populations was made in “explicitly eugenicist terms”

      https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/germany-mass-shooting-gunman-eugenicist-deaths-injured-hanau-manifesto-a9347056.html

    • #194125
      robbo203
      Participant

      I’ve been doing some reading around the question of the informal economy versus the formal economy.   It ties in with the question of productive versus unproductive labour  since according to Marx’s definition of “productive labour” –  productive from the point of view of capital in the sense that it contributes to the expansion and accumulation  of capital  – the great majority of people working in the informal economy  (and  we are talking here mainly of people in the global South) would NOT be productive  in this  narrow technical sense.  Meaning they would not be generating surplus value

       

      This is apparent from Marx’s discussion of the role of independent peasants and handicraftsmen  “who employ no labourers and therefore do not produce as capitalists”. He seems to advance the idea that:

       

       

      “The independent peasant or handicraftsman is cut up into two persons*. As owner of the means of production he is capitalist; as labourer he is his own wage-labourer. As capitalist he therefore pays himself his wages and draws his profit on his capital; that is to say, he exploits himself as wage-labourer, and pays himself, in the surplus-value, the tribute that labour owes to capital”  (Theories of Surplus Value part 4)

       

      But then offers this criticism of that idea

      ‘The means of production become capital only in so far as they have become separated from labourer and confront labour as an independent power. But in the case referred to the producer—the labourer—is the possessor, the owner, of his means of production. They are therefore not capital, any more than in relation to them he is a wage labourer 

       

      Consequently with regard to the products they produce:

       

      In this capacity they confront me as sellers of commodities, not as sellers of labour, and this relation therefore has nothing to do with the exchange of capital for labour; therefore also it has nothing to do with the distinction between productive and unproductive labour, which depends entirely on whether the labour is exchanged for money or for money as money as capital. They therefore belong neither to the category of productive nor of unproductive labourers, although they are producers of commodities. But their production does not fall under the capitalist mode of production.

       

      The point that I am making here is that this could well describe the situation for a very large chunk of the workforce of the “developing economies”  – the Global South.   For it is in this part of the world the informal sector is the dominant sector in terms of the numbers of workers it represents.  For instance, in India the formal sector employs only about 10 % of the nation’s workforce – 48 million of India’s 472 million economically active people – in the financial year 2011/12, the vast majority working in the informal sector according to this source (https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/indias-informal-sector-backbone-economy)

       

      Now the informal sector which as stated is far larger than the formal sector in the developing countries consists of 2 main subsectors

       

      1. self-employment and unpaid family work
      2.  insecure and unregulated wage labour or paid employment

       

      According to this source:

       

      In the developing countries, self-employment and unpaid family work are more important, and paid employment is less important, than in the developed countries. The shares of working people who earn their livelihoods in these ways are more than 80% of women and 70% of men in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, more than 50% of both men and women in East and Southeast Asia, and more than 30% in the Middle East and North Africa and in Latin America and the Caribbean (Kucera and Roncolato, 2008). The ILO combines the self-employed and unpaid family workers into a category they call “vulnerable employment.” Vulnerable employment accounts for half of the world’s employment, with rates ranging from 77% in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa to 32% in Latin America and the Middle East to 10% in the developed economies and the European Union (ILO, 2009). (https://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1151&context=workingpapers)

       

      And this source:

      As noted earlier, the informal economy is comprised of both self-employment in informal enterprises (i.e., small and/or unregistered) and wage employment in informal jobs (i.e., without secure contracts, worker benefits or social protection). In developing regions, self-employment comprises a greater share of informal employment outside of agriculture (and even more inside of agriculture) than wage employment: specifically, self-employment represents 70 per cent of informal employment in sub-Saharan Africa, 62 per cent in North Africa, 60 per cent in Latin America and 59 per cent in Asia. If South Africa is excluded, since black-owned businesses prohibited during the apartheid era have only recently been recognized and reported, the share of self-employment in informal employment increases to 81 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.
      Informal wage employment is also significant in developing countries, comprising 30 to 40 per cent of total informal employment (outside of agriculture). Informal wage employment is comprised of employees of informal enterprises as well as various types of informal wage workers who work for formal enterprises, households or no fixed employer

      (https://www.un.org/en/ecosoc/meetings/2006/forum/Statements/Chen%27s%20Paper.pdf)

       

      Capitalism (and its productive/unproductive labour distinction) is unquestionably the predominate mode of production on the planet today.  But is useful to understand that it coexists with what are essentially non- or pre-capitalist modes of production even if it completely dominates and even exploits the latter for its own purposes.

       

      For instance, since the 1970s and the start of neoliberalism when big corporations started to outsource and contract out manufacturing to the global south (where 80 percent of the global industrial workforce now reside) in order to focus more on stuff like the branding of commodities at the high end of value chain,  I suspect some of this work  contracted out is not just to be found in the so called “export processing zones” of developing countries which would presumably fall mainly under the heading of the ” formal sector”.   Some of it would also presumably have been subcontracted out to the much larger informal sector  ( a bit like the “putting out” system that operated at the start of England’s Industrial revolution when the processing of textile products was still largely a cottage industry and merchants went round the homes of rural workers dropping off raw materials and picking up finished products)

       

      The “self employment/unpaid family labour” aspect would, of course, be more obvious in the case of peasant production and the sale of food commodities that enter into the capitalist value chain e.g. via rural cooperatives in the developing countries

       

      I haven’t read it myself but apparently this book gives a good general overview of the many ways in which the informal economy connects with and serve the interests of the formal capitalist economy – though the book itself is a bit dated

      World Underneath: The Origins, Dynamics and Effects of the Informal Economy (1989)

       

    • #194129
      ALB
      Participant

      Let’s hope that those in the sector don’t feel insulted at being called “informal” or, for that matter, those in the formal sector at  being called “formal”.

    • #194130
      marcos
      Participant

      As I had said it several times, for me, Karl Marx is more than enough until now he has been the only one who has accurately described Capitalism, the rest are just innovators. Richard Wolff is one of them, he said that he has read Marx economic, and he calls himself a Marxist economist, but at the end, he always distorts Marx

    • #194137
      robbo203
      Participant

      Let’s hope that those in the sector don’t feel insulted at being called “informal” or, for that matter, those in the formal sector at being called “formal”.

      Can’t really see why anyone should feel insulted.  The “informal sector” – the term itself was coined by British anthropologist Keith Hart in 1971 – simply refers to economic activities of either a market or non market kind that are not taxed and fall beyond the scope of government regulation or protection.  By contrast, the formal sector, which by its very nature is exclusively market based, is taxed and does fall under government regulation

       

      I’ve worked in both sectors at different times in my life as I’m sure have a lot of others on this list.  I think it is useful  to make these kinds of  distinctions in order to put across a more realistic  picture of contemporary capitalism.   After all, lets not forget that a majority of workers in the world today actually work in the informal – not the formal – sector and this does have quite significant implications for these workers

       

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