[OPE-L:1359] Re: Re: Re: bacon and eltis and Smith

From: Paul Cockshott (clyder@gn.apc.org)
Date: Mon Sep 27 1999 - 17:33:45 EDT

At 11:12 24/09/99 +0100, Michael J Williams wrote:
>> 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

Adam Smith:
A man grows rich by maintaining a multitude of manufacturers: He
grows poor by maintaining a multitude of menial servants. The labour
of the latter, however, has its value and deserves its reward as well
as that of the former. But the labour of the manufacturer fixes or
realises itself in some particular subject or vendible commodity,
which lasts for some time at least after that labour is past. It is
as it were a certain quantity of labour stocked and stored up to
be employed , if necessary, on some other occasion. That subject
or what is the same thing, **the price of that subject**, can
afterwards, if necessary, put into motion a quantity of labour
equal to that which had originally produced it. The labour of the
menial servant on the contrary, does not fix or realise itself
in any particular subject or vendible commodity. His services
generally perish in the very instant of their employment and
seldom leave any trace or value behind the for which an equal
cuantity of service could afterwards be procured.
( fromm first paragraph of chap III of the wealth of nations)

Paul Cockshott:
You will note that it is not the physical distinction between service
and manufature that smith emphasises, this is incidental to the
main point - is any value created by the labour, does it produce
a vendible commodity. You say that advertising is a vendible commodity
hence, on the Smithian definition it is productive.

However, Smith is more subtle than a simple reading of his definition
might lead one to suppose. His purpose was to uncover a deeper reality
of which the existence of vendible commodities is just a symptom.
He is primarily concerned in this chapter with the accumulation of
capital, and unprodutive labour is important insofar as it undermines

''that part of the annual product of land and labour of any country
which reproduces a capital, never is immediately employed to maintain
any but productive hands. It pays the wages of productive labour only.''

Hence for Smith, what Marx called department I is by nature productive.
If you read through chapter III it is clear that his primary concern
was accumulation of capital at the national level. Unproductive labour
is a deduction from this accumulation.

Marx continues Smiths concern with accumulation and hence defines
productive labour as that which produces surplus labour since that is
a precondition for accumulation. We can see that Smith had a two
stage arguement
1)Productive labour is that which contributes to accumulation
2)Empirically this requires that there must be a vendible commodity
produced for this to be the case.

Marx refines this by agreeing with point 1 but saying, in effect,
the proudction of a surplus is a precondition for accumulation, thus
we can define step 2 as that labour which produces a surplus.

You take Smiths empirical definition, and assume that because the
employer of advertising labour gets a profit, that labour must be
productive. The point however, is that Marx allows for the possiblity
of the redistribution of surplus value so that profit and surplus value
are not necessarily identical. The appearance of profit in the accounts
of advertising firms does not prove that the surplus was created there,
only that it ended up there.

If we move on to Sraffa and von Neumann they both in their different
ways show that the maximum rate of accumulation and the maximum rate
of profit are determined in the basic sector. In Sraffas model it is
the basic sector which produces the entire surplus which is then distributed
in the form of different revenues. This gives us a criterion other
than looking at the accounts of individual firms for deciding whether
they contribute to the production of the surplus. We can look at whether
they are part of the basic sector or not.

>> 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

The two concepts are not identical. All labour that produces surplus
value must be labour that contributes to the production of the social
surplus product, but not all labour that contributes to that product
is employed by capital.

>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?
Yes but to do that we need higher levels of labour productivity which
requires material accumulation in the productive sector. Thus socialist
as well as capitalist economies are very concerned about the production
of a social surplus product.

Paul Cockshott (clyder@gn.apc.org)

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