[OPE-L:1272] Re: Re: Advertising and productive labour

From: Michael J Williams (michael@williamsmj.screaming.net)
Date: Fri Sep 17 1999 - 09:58:28 EDT

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From: <zarembka@ACSU.BUFFALO.EDU>
To: <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
Sent: Friday, September 17, 1999 8:42 AM
Subject: [OPE-L:1268] Re: Advertising and productive labour

> Paul C. responds to this by pointing out that unproductive labor is a
> subset of labor employed under capital, that just being employed by
> capital is insufficient as a definition of productive labor.

I am still wrestling with Paul C's argument. So far it seems to me to be
begging the question (a question?) at issue: on what grounds do we assume
that labour is unproductive just by reference to the nature of the use-value
it produces?
> "In other words, anything goes. If the product produced under capitalist
> relations is "successful" (it sells?) then "productive labor" is involved.
> Whatever shall be, shall be. Using the result ("success") to describe
> the antecedent (type of labor involved) is circular, i.e., there is no
> definition of use-value involved, only the result."
> I didn't notice if you answered this which was my responding to your
> request for more specificity on circularity (no being sarcastic is being
> intended in this answer).

I did answer this by arguing that the (un)productive labour distinction has
nothing to do with 'the definition of the use-value involved'. It has to do
with whether the labour creates value and surplus value. This requires only
that it produces a commodity - and a commodity must have *a* use-value, but
the logic of capital is indifferent as to what use-value it has (and is
particular indifferent as to whether the use-values produced are, in any
sense, humanly or socailly desirable - just so someone is prepared to buy
them at an adequate price. This is, if you like, a 'defintion', but it is
not circular. Rather it is embedded in a systematic account of capitalism
and the bourgeois epoch.

Note that I used the word 'successful' in this context only as an
acknowledgement that we are talking abstract conceptualisation here. Of
course putatively productive labour may turn out not to have created
surplus value (or even to have fully replaced the value consumed in its
reproduction) because of the exigencies of the market. But contingently
'unproductive' labour is not the same as conceptually, in principle,
unproductive labour - which seems to be what is under discussion.

> To extend the debate into a completely
> different turf: if someone says "person x is dead" (a result), it would
> not necessarily be correct to infer gangrene.

I am not inferring a *cause* from a result (if this is what you are
suggesting?). Not least because it is not here a question of what causes
labour to be (un)productive, but what coherent *meaning* can be given to the
distinction in the context of a Marxist account of capitalism.

Dr Michael Williams
Economics and Social Sciences
De Montfort University
Milton Keynes

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