This started out as a comment here at Roger’s blog. But it got too long. Roger’s got a series of posts up on the idea of unproductive and productive labor in Marx, well worth reading.

hi Roger,

I wish I’d had the time to follow all these posts as you were putting them up, I think this is a fantastically interesting thread your following, and across many books by Marx that I’ve still not read. For whatever it’s worth, I suspect you’re right in all this – just like Marx changed his mind about his sometime and silly philosophy of history (I think the letter to Vera Zasulich late in life about the Russian Mir shows this), he probably did the same re: productive/unproductive. Or like Marx’s insistence on the peg between waged labor and capitalism and missing out other forms of labor, which is a pretty hard mistake to forgive. (For instance, “The wage-labourer lives only by the sale of his labour-power”, Capital v2, p33, being very literal that’s simply false, and makes the same obfuscation as that in the ideology of male/waged breadwinners as the sole source of working class subsistence.)

I’m too tired to be of much coherence, but I wanted to point out two passages from the bit of v2 of Capital I’ve read. “Productive consumption (which essentially includes the individual consumption of the labourer, since labour power is a continuous product, within certain limits, of the labourer’s individual consumption)” (93)

That seems to me to mean that the tailor making pants is a productive laborer, as long as they’re for the workers. I think (and I apologize if you’ve covered this) that it’s a question of what contributes to the capitalist getting a return of M’ from the initial outlay of M. I believe there’s a bit somewhere that Marx talks about luxury coming to be a requisite of business for capitalists beyond a certain level of wealth. In that case, that would also suggest that the tailor is productive. I think the distinction is sort of one of public vs private – if the someone (the worker or the employer) does some work or spends some money which contributes to surplus value, then it’s productive in a sense. But some activities must not be productive, right? Like having a beer at lunch alone (as opposed to for business or whatever). Anyway, sorry to ramble off topic, I’m curious what you make of that quote.

Second quote – “what the transportation industry sells is change of location. The useful effect is inseparably connected with the process of transportation, i.e., the productive process of the transport industry (…) the exchange value of this useful effect is determined, like that of any other commodity, by the value of the elements of production (labour-power and means of production) consumed in it plus the surplus-value created by the surplus-labour of the labourers employed in transportation. This useful effect also entertains the very same relations to consumption that other commodities do. If it is consumed individually its value disappears during its consumption; if it is consumed productively so as to constitute by itself a stage in the production of the commodity being transported, its value is transferred as an additional value to the commodity itself.” (capital v2, p52-54)

That seems to me mean that at least some truck drivers are productive. I get bogged down in thinking about the productive consumption of a commodity vs value production in the production of that commodity. This is easy, I think, in considering candy: workers in a candy factory are productive. Children who eat the candy do not perform productive labor when they eat the candy. For some reason I find it harder to sort out with transport, I think because the consumption and production is simultaneous – the driver is performing labor even if the passenger is just consuming transport for fun? (The sense of the quote seems to me to make it claer that this is so – there’s nothing to suggest that “the surplus-value created by the surplus-labour of the labourers employed in transportation” depends on the transportation being consumed productively.) In that case, isn’t the driver just like the tailor who comes to the capitalist’s house to make pants?

It seems to me in all this (and here too sorry if you’ve already gotten to this) that a lot here is tied to the idea of productive vs unproductive consumption.

Again sorry to ramble at you, it’s late.

take care,
Nate

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