[OPE-L:1367] Re: Re: still more on advertising and productive labour

From: Michael J Williams (michael@williamsmj.screaming.net)
Date: Wed Sep 29 1999 - 18:29:07 EDT

----- Original Message -----
>From: Gerald Levy <glevy@PRATT.EDU>
To: <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
Sent: Sunday, September 26, 1999 11:35 PM
Subject: [OPE-L:1351] Re: still more on advertising and productive labour

> > 1. I do not follow the logic of this. If no-one has a demand for chicken
> > legs, they would not be produced in the commodity form. There are many
> > things that are successful commodities independently of advertising.
> The logic is very simple: *in the absence of advertising, the commodity
> would still be produced* (this assumes that there isn't product
> differentiation and we aren't talking about new products).

The only commodity that would certainly not be produced in the absence of
advertising is advertising services. But so what?
> [Digression on "new products": in those newly-forming markets, a counter
> argument could be made. I.e. it _is_ the case that advertising labor can
> create a demand for a new product. In that case, one could argue that
> advertising labor could be a *pre-condition* to capitalist profit-making
> in that market. Yet, when we talk about new product development, and
> especially product differentiation in oligopolistic markets, then we are
> at a level of abstraction that is far more concrete than the one in which
> Marx used the productive-unproductive labor distinction.]

This is all a discussion about what it is that generates the demand for
advertising services, i.e. what endows them with use-value for their
purchaser. As such it speaks not at all the issue of whether the labour
producing advertising services is (un)productive.
> I must not have made myself clear. What I was suggesting is that the
> argument that managers can be productive of value and surplus value (even
> if one says that they are part of the "collective worker") comes
> perilously close to the claim that capitalists and managers who have
> "entrepreneurial ability" make a contribution to the production process
> and thus that they earn and justify any income they receive. And that, of
> course, is an argument that I know you are not making. *But* I think it
does come
> close to that argument.

I'm not sure what 'close' means here - but it seems to rest on some notion
about the social wastefulness of such labour - and my point is that such a
consideration is not germane to the (un)productive labour distinction.
> This is not some "moral" question. Nor is it even an abstract, theoretical
> question. This is a question about who is a member of the working class.
> And it is a question about what the role of management is. From my
> perspective, managers are the representatives of the Boss. Many times,
> they even are the Boss (especially in smaller capitalist firms). "They"
> are not part of "us". Their role is to *extract surplus-value from
> workers*.

No doubt - hence the huge literature on the contradictory class positions of
well-paid salaried labour in positions of authority. This discourse is at a
more concrete level than that at which the (un)productive labour distinction
is established.

btw, Note that charge-hands, typically with little or no extra wages, are
also in a supervisory role ensuring an adequate intensity of labour - does
that make their labour (un)productive too?
> Thus, you can see that there is no reference to some future (more
> "rational and humane") society in the argument above. Rather, it is a
> position rooted in a -- dare I say, class-conscious? -- understanding of
> contemporary class society. Consequently, your previous argument misses
> the mark.

I disagree. But even If I accept your denial that your understanding of the
class-lackey role of supervisory labour implies a comparison with a
notionally better state of affairs where such oppressive supervision would
not be possible, that doesn't help your case. The fact that they are lackeys
of the capitalist class does not make them unproductive of surplus value.
Why should it? The working class perspective on productive labour must be a
critical one. One might even applaud the unproductive labour for undermining
the capitalist system! Instead of which, you seem to want to applaud the
extortion of surplus value from workers, since it is that which makes them

> In the US, they (the courts and the Law) define lawyers as "agents of the
> Court". That is, they are considered to be agents of the State. Agents
> of the capitalist state.

I have argued since the beginning of this discussion that labour emplyed by
the state is unproductive, because it is not employed under capitalist
*direct* relations of production. Social workers are 'agents of the
capitalist state' too, and have a clear functional role for capital. But
still, I'd rather have a welfare capitalist state than a radical liberal
minimal capitalist state.


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