Unproductive labor

Hugh Rodwell m-14970 at mailbox.swipnet.se
Wed May 1 16:21:45 MDT 1996

Rakesh, thanks for posting to m1, so I could read you directly! You write:

>3. Marx does analyze how by reducing turn-over time, merchants' capital can
>act as a *productive force*, yet he also insists that merchants capital is
>not productive of additional value.

Well, actually it allows more capital to be in the productive phase than
would otherwise be the case, thus increasing the amount of surplus value
available in society for divvying up as profit.

>4. I am trying to locate this passage from Vol III quoted in Sydney
>Coontz's Productive Labor and Effective Demand, including a critique of
>"For this reason, the industrial capitalist endeavors to limit these
>expenses of circulation to a minimum jsut as he does with expenss on
>constant capital. Hence industrial capital does not maintain the same
>relation to its commercial wage laborers that it does to its productive
>laborers. The greater the number of productive wage laborers employed under
>otherwise equal circumstances the more voluminous is production, the
>greater the surplus value or profit....The commercial laborers does produce
>surplus value directly...He adds to the income of the capitalist, not by
>creating any surplus value but by helping him reduce the costs of the
>realization of surplus value. "

Your passage (and by the way you forgot a 'not' in the sentence 'The
commercial labourer does *not* produce surplus value directly') is in ch 17
Commercial Profit, two pages or so from the end of the chapter, Prog Publ
1966 p 300.

An interesting passage of a page or two starts a few pages earlier on p 292
(my remarks in square brackets):

        The question now arises: What about the commercial wage-workers
        employed by the commercial capitalist, here the merchant?

        In one respect, such a commercial employee is a wage-worker
        like any other. In the first place, his labour-power is bought
        with the variable capital of the merchant, not with money expended
        as revenue [and here some of us, myself included, have slipped up
        by assuming that in-company work of this kind is exchanged directly
        against revenue -- the relationship is more complicated], and
        consequently it is not bought for private service, but for the
        purpose of expanding the value of the capital advanced for it.
        In the second place, the value of his labour-power, and thus
        his wages, are determined as those of other wage-workers,
        ie by the cost of production and reproduction of his specific
        labour-power, not by the product of his labour.


        The relation of merchant's capital to surplus-value is different
        from that of industrial capital. The latter produces surplus-value
        by directly appropriating the unpaid labour of others. The former
        appropriates a portion of this surplus-value by having this portion
        transferred from industrial capital to itself.

        It is only through its function of realizing values that merchant's
        capital acts as capital in the process of reproduction, and hence
        draws on the surplus-value produced by the total capital. The
        mass of the individual merchant's profits depends on the mass
        of capital that he can apply in this process, and he can apply
        so much more of it in buying and selling, the more the unpaid
        labour of his clerks. The very function, by virtue of which the
        merchant's money becomes capital, is largely done through his
        employees. The unpaid labour of these clerks, while it does not create
        surplus-value, enables him to appropriate surplus-value, [by way of
        the mechanism of the equalization of profits -- all dollops of
        capital acknowledged as such by the capitalist class get their
        proportional share of the aggregate value in the form of
        profit, regardless of whether the 'capital' is invested in a
        productive activity or not], which, in effect, amounts to the
        same thing with respect to his capital. It is therefore a source
        of profit for him. Otherwise commerce could never be conducted
        on a large scale, capitalistically.

        Just as the labourer's unpaid labour directly creates surplus-
        value for productive capital, so the unpaid labour of the
        commercial wage-worker secures a share of this surplus-value
        for merchant's capital.

There's more a couple of pages later (p 299-300) that I might post tomorrow
if nobody beats me to it. It's about the vulnerability of the labour-power
of these commercial workers to devaluation with the progress of education,
among other things.

I think we're beginning to close in on our quarry now!

Cheers, and good hunting!


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