[Marxism] Productive and Unproductive Labour

Joonas Laine jjonas at nic.fi
Sat Jun 26 06:43:52 MDT 2004

Thank you for your reply, I didn't understand all of it, though I'm pretty
familiar with the basics I think. I decided not to get stuck with every
detail, but I would like to ask some further questions.

> It does not matter in principle what exactly the product is or what type of
> labor is performed, what matters is the social relations within which it is
> carried out. Is it production for the market ? Does it create profit ? Does
> it increase capital ? That is what is important.
> The clerk could be creating new value or not, depending on the social
> relations involved. Clerical service could be converted into a product, the
> sale of which generates profit. In that case, it is productive. The trend is

Productive in the sense of producing surplus-value for the capitalist,
yes, but could you give an example of a situation in which a clerk's
labour could produce also *new* value? Or if you can think of an example
with another kind of worker, that'll do just as well. I think the creation
of the new value is what is most puzzling to me at the moment, and not so
much the distinction between productive and nonproductive labour. For example,
I often get the impression that if the worker doesn't produce something
physical, concrete and tangible objects, he cannot be producing new value.

Even if on a theoretical level I can say (can I?) that in general service
jobs don't produce new value but are possible only though the huge advance
in the forcds of production in the sphere of material production, I'm still
left puzzled as to how I can decide which kind of service labour in the last
analysis does create new value (I take it that you mean that it is possible
under certain circumstances), and which kind does not. I don't know if it is
easy to describe what the social relations might look like, even on a 
level.. maybe I'll have to do some more homework.

> No new value is created simply through transactions which only facilitate
> the circulation of products, and consequently the labour involved does not
> create new product value. But a product exists and is consumed in a given
> time and place. Therefore the labor which has to do with technically
> necessary physical preservation, physical storage, packaging, transportation
> and display costs enters into the value of products, as well as the
> production cost.

So this means that value in the means of transport, preservation etc. is
transformed into value in the goods transported, preserved etc. How does
the value of the worker's labour power relate to this? Does it mean that
the worker's labour power is transformed into value in the goods he is
transporting etc, alongside with the value in the means of transport? Can
the worker be said to _transform the value of his labour power_ into the
commodity he is producing, up to the point where he has laboured enough to
preserve his own labour power? And only after that comes the distinction
between him and a machine, because machines cannot create new value? Or
should these be treated as qualitatively different, because it is only
labour power that can transform value from one form into another? Should
we just talk about the dual nature of labour in this sense, of value-
transforming and value-creating labour, and have one set of concepts for
the value of labour power entering the final product on the one hand, and
another set for the value of the machine entering it on the other?

> A large portion of labor in modern society is service labor, simply because
> the productivity of labor creating physical goods has become so great that
> much less labor is required than in the past (mechanisation and automation).

Do you think this kind of development (or something like it) was 
necessary? I'm
not too familiar with the details of economic development from Marx's time up
to the present, but I have an idea of the general scheme he had which 
overproduction crises during which the cycle of capital grinds to a 
halt, and that
these crises would get more and more violent until the system collapses. 
So, this
is probably just an ill-informed association, but do you think that given the
stage of development of the forces of production today, capitalism found 
a temporary
way out with the service industry and other "immaterial production", or has it
perhaps more to do with - esp. quite recently - with the opening up of 
new markets
and possibilities of expansion.. is the service industry a means to 
stretch the
possibilities of expansion? Probably I shouldn't burden the list with wild
associating too much further, but do you think the ever-swelling "virtual
economy" is another trick of the capitalist juggler to keep more and more
objects in the air..?

> But the general tendency of capitalism is to convert labor-services into
> mass reproducible commodities, through automation and mechanisation. Because
> this creates more profit in less time.

Can you give an example?

jjonas @ nic.fi

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