Marxism in rich countries

Julio Huato juliohuato at
Wed Jun 6 18:05:59 MDT 2001

Jurriaan Bendien <j.bendien at>:

>Actually, Anwar Shaikh does not show that use values are 'useful effects'
>in general.He more or less asserts that.

IMO, Shaikh shows that the idea of use values as 'useful effects' is most
consistent with Marx's view.  It really makes a lot of sense to me.  The
alternative idea, that use values are tangible products not only is
inconsistent with Marx's discussion of transportation (of people and things)
as a branch of industrial production and with what Marx says in the Theories
(the example of the singer), but it doesn't make much sense in understanding
modern production.

>For Marx, a service is the useful
>effect of a use-value, where the use-value is concrete (specific or
>specialised) labour. That is one of his definitions anyway. The issue that
>arises is whether the provision of services can be a production of
>commodities, even if they don't result in any tangible product. Marx never
>satisfactorily defined the boundaries of commodity production, hence his
>concept of productive labour remains a bit vague.

I think you have a point here.

>According to Mandel,
>services in the Marxist sense cannot be commodities, although many
>activities listed statistically as "services" are really straightforward
>commodity production. The trend a la Mandel would then presumably be for
>more and more services to be transformed into, or substituted by,
>commodities. You get a sense of that when so many services these days are
>presented and accounted for as "products".

I'm not well acquainted with Mandel's view on this.  But if what you say
about Mandel's view is right, then I disagree with Mandel's view.  As you
said above, for Marx, a 'service' is the useful effect that comes out of
consuming a use value.  The problem is when the production of the use value
and its consumption coincide (haircut, transportation, etc.) or when the
product is not in a tangible form (data, etc.).  In the former case, the
'service' is the use value.  In the second case, the use value is a
non-tangible product.

>I don't think it is possible to
>devise a non-arbitrary, watertight definition of "material production"
>(since most production has some materiality to it).

Well, I deny that this interpretation of 'material production' makes sense.

>Marx actually sometimes
>contrasts material production with "spiritual production" (geistliche
>produktion) such as when a writer writes a book. And sometimes he contrasts
>material production with the production of ideas as well.

I have studied the Theories in Spanish (Cuban edition, which is the Soviet
edition, not the Kautskyan edition) and I am not sure I follow you here.
I'll check on the English edition (International Publishers), and get back
to you on this.  If you're right on this, then I may be inclined to revise
Marx here and follow Shaikh.  I think that'd be the 'Marxist' thing to do.

>The issue is of
>some importance for understanding the future of capitalist development. How
>compatible is the growing "information economy" with capitalist social
>relations anyway ? How does the commodity form get imposed on information ?
>How stable a commodity is information ? How does the imposition of the
>commodity form on information affect the pattern of communication ?

I'm not sure I understand you here.  What do you mean by stability of the
commodity form?  I may be thinking along similar lines though.  IMO, modern
production -- technically speaking -- is increasingly demanding forms of
deployment of labor power that are less and less compatible with the carrot
and stick mechanism of capitalist exploitation.  Productive progress, say,
in high-tech industries seems to depend increasingly on a very subtle, hard
to measure commitment of the labor force, which cannot be elicited simply
through the old means.  The modern managerial literature is full of
sloganeery and cheap ideology but it allows you to glimpse into the
contradictions facing modern production.  In conventional economics, there's
a whole literature in the 'principal/agency' problem, etc.  That's what
comes to my mind.  And it is entirely compatible with Marx's theses.  But
not sure we're in the same wavelength here.
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