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By accident we seem to be carrying out an interesting experiment on libcom in the thread on those 1911 articles from the Socialist Standard on anarchism, with you as Mr Nice and me as Mr Nasty, you as the good cop me as the bad cop, which has gone on for more than 60 posts. But the response from dyed-in-the wool anarchists has been the same: hostility. I get accused of being a dogmatic Marxist while you get accused on opportunism.
It makes me wonder if anarchists really are our “fellow travellers” as in the Conference resolution passed last year. Personally, I never thought they were but then we are not expecting to win over dyed-in-the wool anarchists but only those who consider themselves vaguely anarchist and anti-capitalist. There are also those following the debate as by-standers.
In any event, at the present stage of the revolutionary movement, I think it best that each group keeps its independence and puts its own views before other workers.
Well, well, another of the mighty falls but at least he recognises the need for some form of political action, so perhaps he is a better anarchist than them.
There is a passage in Kohn’s articles saying that in France anarchists also sometimes voted :
“They condemn political action but vote for politicians who promise Government subsidies for union premises !”
Unfortunately he doesn’t give a source, but I am sure it will have happened.
This is a good read :
Great title too.
I think the word you are looking for, Wez, is “unproductive”
This classic criticism of classical anarchism, from 1911, has just been added to the Study Guides in the Education section of this site. Stirner, Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Jean Grave, they are all dealt with.
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.
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).
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
I don’t know why he calls himself an anarchist since he clearly isn’t. In fact in this interview he undermines the whole anarchist case that self-styled “direct action” alone is sufficient to get reforms. As he points out, you also need a sympathetic administration to consolidate them, which has to be voted in. In other words, if you want reforms, the best strategy is a two-pronged one of both direct and electoral action — that is, if your goal is some reform as in practice is the immediate goal of nearly all anarchists. If you will the end, you’ve got to will the means. He’s being logical, they are not. It also the best strategy to get socialism, where we are being logical and, once again, anarchists are not.
Chairman Mao may have promoted TCM (for others) because it was cheap but the present Chinese government promotes it because it is also a profitable export item. As an article in the September/October 2019 issue of the Skeptical Inquirer explained:
“Outside the WHO domain, the Chinese government is pursuing a similar agenda—TCM as an export product—by attempts to have an International Organization for Standardization (ISO) certification for, for example, TCM herbs and sterilization procedures for acupuncture needles (Dorlo and Timmerman 2009). These attempts fit the overall goal of the Chinese government to enlarge China’s herbal exports and to gain recognition for Chinese herbs, given that the Chinese herbs will never be able to receive a formal medical product registration for European or U.S. markets due to the “strict” requirements to demonstrate efficacy and safety. At this moment, ISO standards provide a false aura of reliability to thirty-three TCM products and “activities” of planting, from the sowing of ginseng seeds to an infrared moxibustion device, and another forty-three standards are in the making (International Organization for Standardization 2019). In a direct meeting between then WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and President Xi Jinping, the latter said straightforwardly that he counted on a good collaboration between China and WHO and that he expected the WHO would help with “promoting TCM and Chinese herbs to foreign countries.” The Chinese government lobbied Chan repeatedly while attempting to increase TCM’s acceptancy and suitability for export. This culminated, among other things, in the publication of purely commercial paid advertising supplements in Nature in 2011 and Science in 2014, in which the pseudoscientific articles received an approval in a preface written by then WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. (See David Gorski, “Science Sells Out: Advertising Traditional Chinese Medicine in Three Supplements,” Skeptical Inquirer, May/June 2015.) In 2017, the value of the growing Chinese export of medicinal herbs had peaked to $295 million (Cyranoski 2018).”
Chan, though not a Chinese subject, was a Chinese appointee and having someone who believed in TCM at the head of the World Health Organisation, for 10 years from 2007-2017, was like having a representative of Saudi Arabia as the head of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
Another article here, Alan?
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: