Marxism in rich countries

Greg Schofield gschofield at
Thu Jun 7 02:32:02 MDT 2001

After being away for a week it is hard to pick up all the threads of debate
comrade Jurriaan
below makes some excellent points.

On service industries we cannot have full commodification unless the
product is alienated from the worker, in this sense it must be exchangable,
rather than directly consumed - the singer and the haircut never become
commodities because they never become fully alienated from the worker - it
is the workers labour being sold directly as consumption.

I do not think such distinctions matter except in order to clear our own
minds, Marx after all was looking at the essence of social labour, not
creating as system of universal classification. Hence to understand the
barber, or the singer, one must understand the whole of capital and then
trace the particular histories which give reason to a particular phenomenon.

Non-productive labour is another thing altogether because it is a part of
the expanded production cycle. Now the mental labour required to produce a
commodity is realised within the commodity, however not all mental labour
is therefore productive.

When Marx speaks of spiritual production he is contrasting it to material
production in general. In particular the writer who engages in spiritual
production does not alienate the product from themselves in any systematic
sense. In so far as the words exist they belong and express the writer even
if the name is forgotten or suppressed. The book on the other hand is a
full commodity, but its use value depends on having this spiritual
component (very little in most books today) however, the price of a book
depends very little on its actual contents but on the cost of production
(partly expressed in the size of the print run but otherwise quite
regardless of the content) of the material item.

Now the other aspect of nonproductive labour is that which has to do with
profit realisation of which the First World has a predominant part in. Here
the workers alienate their labour (sell themselves) but it does not
concretise into an exchangeable object hence there is no commodification.
The workers like the singer and the barber commodify themselves but in a
sense that is as far as it goes, profits are realised but no new values are

Now the so called information economy is the greatest lark, because it has
no economy involved, at least in the sense of productive economic
relations. Instead this is about profit realisation and falls increasingly
into extra-economic means of realising profit. Information industries where
they do turn over a profit, do so despite the productive capacities of the
means of communication, by denying access, making private, and charging
entrance fees etc.,. Hence it looks like the commodity form is being
imposed on information, but information does not have a material being,
like the writer's words separate from medium. Insofar as information can
become a commodity, its actual costs of making it available is always very
very low.

The extra economic force that comes to bear is the only way to extract, not
surplus extraction, but more profit. Hence in Australia forwarding an email
is now a five year gaol sentence (the only problem is that it must be
enforced). Just how much of this is the result of capital relations of
production is debatable, it certainly makes more sense to see it as
historical derived and dependant on aspects of various social formations.

Comrade Jurriaan I know nothing of Shaikh, but I know Mandel a little, I am
not sure if any of the above is derived from him. I think where we disagree
is more on the different weight placed on historical contingency as against
theoretical necessity. Now I tend to see contingent history as the concrete
(therefore contradictory) expression of theoretical essential movement,
hence I limit the abilities of abstract theory to give definite
understanding of appearance by itself - that is without itself also moving
and transforming.

I see this as a matter of weighting, rather than error. Your definitions
below are all quite correct and with them I have no dispute, but the
assumption of commodification being imposed and then becoming real I think
is wrong. A thing may look like a commodity and be treated as one and still
not be a commodity - information as treated by capital appears to do this,
but it is to me a necessary illusion for what is at work is profit
realisation or the transformation of potential surplus-value into realised
surplus-value, the interesting thing is that the surplus generator may not
be where it appears to be (ie not directly, materially related to the
information per se), it may well just be the accruing of surplus made by
the Nike worker, passed through a thousand hands, to the salesman who
purchases some information to sell another product, realising profit by the
final sale at the expense of passing on some surplus as a cost of buying
some information. The information appears as a commodity but in fact it is
just a form of a bribe (I will give you $10 this if you tell me 100
potential customers).

Comrade I would be very interested in hearing your views - I am not
suggesting a debate, so much as whether what I have said makes sense or
not. The role of the non-productive worker is full of contradictions, it is
something I have been thinking about for sometime, it has a particular
importance for activism in the First World but no in the straightforward
way of labour aristocracy which we are all familiar with.

The non-productive worker is in a sense a doubly alienated worker, selling
themselves but also seeing their labour evaporate before their eyes leaving
nothing but someone else's profit behind. This may not be exploitation (in
fact cannot be) but it has far more historical potential in it than would
seem to be the case at first glance.

Greg Schofield
Perth Australia

At 11:37  6/06/01 +0200, you wrote:
>Actually, Anwar Shaikh does not show that use values are 'useful effects'
>in general.He more or less asserts that. 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. 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 don't think it is possible to
>devise a non-arbitrary, watertight definition of "material production"
>(since most production has some materiality to it). 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. 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 ?

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