[OPE-L:1339] Re: Re: bacon and eltis and Smith

From: Michael J Williams (michael@williamsmj.screaming.net)
Date: Fri Sep 24 1999 - 06:12:23 EDT

----- Original Message -----
From: Paul Cockshott <wpc@dcs.gla.ac.uk>
To: Michael J Williams <michael@williamsmj.screaming.net>
Sent: Thursday, September 23, 1999 10:56 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L:1305] Re: bacon and eltis and Smith
> What strikes me about your position Michael is that you seem to reproduce
> the distinction of Bacon and Eltis. For them, as for you, any labour that
> produces
> a vendible commodity , whether service labour or not, counts as
> This of course is, as Bacon and Eltis recognised, a position originally
> up by Smith.

I'm a bit confused. Smith, as I remember emphasises the physical
product/service distinction - that I reject as a basis for the
(un)productive (of surplus value) distinction. It is certainly true that
vendibility, as an indicator of use-value, seems a good indication that the
product may be a commodity, and so that, if it is produced by labour under
capitalist direct relations of production, that labour is in principle
> The political effect of this revival of Smiths distinction was to provide
> justification
> for the policies of the Thatcher government in attacking public services.
> In terms
> of the Smithian position these are unequivocably unproductive.

A social democratic defence of the state sector - whilst something that I
applaud - is undoubtedly contradictory vis-a-vis revolutionary politics. We
wouldn't want to defend the state sector on the basis that it indirectly
enhances valorisation (based on the exploitation of labour), but rather in
as much as it tendentially undermines the value-form domination by injecting
criteria of social and human usefulness into at least the margins of
resource allocation under capitalism. The neo-liberals are quite right to
point (of course in their own terminology) out that this threatens to
undermine valorisation and capitalist accumulation. The same state of
affairs is just 'good' for 'us' and 'bad' for them.

> On the other
> hand the private unproductive sector - banking, advertising etc, appears
in the
> Smithian scheme to be productive and thus should not be a target of
> any public attacks.

I'm not sure you have Smith right here. But, be that as it may, the
productivity of the 'capitalist support services' can again be seen as an
agreed 'fact', that is evaluated differently by the left and the right. As
the apogee of of the concrete grounding of valorisation, I am certainly
happy for the financial sector to be 'a target of ... public attacks',
whether good-hearted liberal, Blairite, social-democratic or revolutionary
socialist. Of course, neo-liberals and conservatives will, for the same
reasons, wish to defend the financial sector.
> The Smithian theory of unproductive
> labour is a specifically capitalist and appologetic one which serves the
> interests of finance capital.

I agree - largely because it misses out the exploitation that is the source
of surplus-value, and makes no distinction between productive of surplus
value (the appropriate category for understanding the dynamics of
capitalism) and productive in accordance with the hiuman and social needs of
people - a category for the critque of capitalism. This has been my line of
argument all along. As an aside (shades of our distant discussion about
whether we should take Hayek seriously), the 'right' is often quite
perceptive about the needs of capitalism. And the 'left' cannot wish this
away by denying that these are the needs of capitalism, but must grasp the
internal dynamics of capitalism, and criticise it for its 'inhumanity'.
> In contrast, if one takes a theory of unproductive labour based on the
> Sraffian basic commodity, one can see that certain public services are
> materially productive and contribute to the production of the social
> whilst things like advertising are unproductive and reduce the social

So, I must ask, as I have before in this discussion: is 'materially
productive' to be read here as being the same as productive of
surplus-value? In which case, why should socialists be in favour of it?
Presumably we seek to move towards a system that is oriented towards the
satisfaction of human need?

[I hope that it is clear that I am aware that for as long as we live under
capitalism, workers will be most vulnerable to the effects of a capitalist
downturn. But this dialectic of revolution and reform is just a fact of life
that revolutionary socialists have to try and manage by struggling for
reforms that alleviate the lot of the working class, and staving off
attempts to make them pay for the resolution of capitalist crises.]

So, the (un)productive labour distinction is, imo based on that which is
(un)productive of surplus value. It is *not* based on the critique of
capitalism vis-a-vis some more humane system that capitalism generates a
waste of resources, production of socially/humanely non-useful or even
harmful 'use-values' and so on. Though capitalism undoubtedly does that.

Of course, If any body of theory wants to define (un)productive labour in
terms of the humane usefulness of the use-values produced, then they are
welcome to do so. But that theory cannot at the same time claim to be a
theory of capitalism. Anyway, most participants in this discussion have more
or less explicitly denied that they wish to base the (un)productive labour
distinction on use-value criteria.

> The two theories have quite different political consequences.

I agree. One is utopian in not facing the contradictory dialectic of reform
and revolution; and the other is not.

Comradely greetings,


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