Aufheben, unproductive labor, Fortunati

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Aug 15 2007 17:37
Aufheben, unproductive labor, Fortunati

I just read Aufheben's review of Leopoldina Fortunati's _The Arcane of Reproduction_, here - http://libcom.org/library/aufheben/aufheben-13-2005/the-arcane-of-reproductive-production
Anybody read the review and the Fortunati?

If I understand correctly, Aufheben argue that unwaged activity like housework is important for capitalism continuing "(No Marxist would deny that housework and reproductive work are functional and necessary for the whole process of capital's self-valorisation"), but it's not productive labor, in the sense that it doesn't produce any value. I understand 'unproductive labor' as labor which doesn't produce capital, like the gardener and landscaper and therapist etc etc that capitalists hire out of their profits. These activities are not important for the process of valorization and accumulation. They could go away with little impact on capitalism. Aufheben look to me like they're splitting the difference, if housework went away it would make a big difference to capitalism, but it's still not productive labor. I don't get it.

Other stuff on the review - Aufheben criticize Fortunati for claiming that reproductive labor (the production of labor power) produces value. They point out, rightly, that labor

"The very existence of labour power, of a 'capacity for producing' helplessly separated from the possibility of its realisation as production, is one with the very fact that we cannot produce anymore by and for ourselves, but we can produce value only as appendages of capital."

This doesn't seem to me an objection to Fortunati, though. Fortunati doesn't claim "all reproductive labor is value productive." She claims that a portion of surplus value appropriated by capital derives from unwaged reproductive labor. That is, where there is surplus value, a portion of that value will come from unwaged reproductive labor. This does not mean that some reproductive labor could be unproductive. For instance, the labor of reproducing someone who is laid off and never goes back to work.

I also fail to see why Fortunati's problem with the fact "that it is the husband who cashes the cheque, and the woman is not 'equal to him in front of the law' and cannot 'hold money herself'" makes Fortunati a liberal. I think Aufheben put forward a false dichotomy when they complain that "Talks of 'struggle' are eclipsed behind complains about economic and legal inequality."

Lastly, I find Aufheben's discussion of bourgeois freedom and the comparison between despotism on the clock at work and life in the home unconvincing. They write that

"There are in fact important differences between waged work and reproduction 'work', in the way the 'command' is given to us and how it relates to class antagonism. In the workplace, we are subjected to explicitly imposed orders, and we obey them consciously. Also, what we do is never 'for ourselves', but it is done for the sake of our employer’s business. (...) Outside the workplace we are 'free' to choose what to do, and how to do it. And we do what we do 'for ourselves'. However, this freedom hides an indirect command of capital (....) This command is indirect in the case of the family: it is for the sake of an economic income that both husband and wife act of their own free will. Of his free will, the husband will sign a contract with an employer and will submit himself to the despotism of production for most of his active day. In the same way, of her free will, the wife will try her best to manage their home so that the husband will be able to go and earn the money they need to live. The internalisation implied by commodity fetishism means that activity or work outside the sphere of production is a special 'work' in a special 'factory', where the 'worker' is the 'foreman' of himself. In this special factory the command of capital is the opposite of the despotism, organisation and discipline of any other factory: it is a command based on freedom. This situation implies contradictions. Paradoxically enough, the command which I impose on myself is indispensable for my submission to the explicit despotism of capital in the workplace - how would the capitalist keep me in the workplace, if I did not see my job as in my own interest? My unfreedom, my forced labour, my painful experience of being despotically commanded within production is then one side of the same coin of my bourgeois freedom outside production."

I find the picture of indirect command at home uncompelling. Many homes consist in very direct commands by the wage earner, backed up by physical violence reinforced by the economic and legal inequality which Aufheben apparently don't think particularly important. I also find the picture of 'freely' entering the waged workplace unconvincing. Marx's discussion of women and children entering the workforce contradicts this, he calls working class parents slave traders for their making their kids work and taking the kids' wages. In those cases, the workers are kept in the workplace by the coercion of parents and husbands. That this coercion itself derives from the interest of those parents and husbands due to capital-produced economic necessity does not mean that those workers are in the workplace as an exercise of bourgeois freedom or that their being in the workplace is experienced that way.

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Aug 16 2007 04:39

I agree with Aufheben here.

At work, you are directly under the heel of the boss or the manager or the foreman. The representative of capital is there making you work hard and faster. True, as a prole you are not free NOT to work, so there is coercion in the abstract freedom of the contract. But these are experienced very differently. The boss is in fact not free either. He is subject to the laws of the market and competition. Still he sees his actions as his own subjective pragmatic response to these pressures. His time is not controlled like the workers is. The same is true for a modern housewife. Which is of course not to argue that housewives are not part of the proletariat, only that capital imposes itself on her indirectly through pressures and poverty. Her time is her own.

There are three categories of workers we have to talk about. Productive wage laborers, unproductive wage laborers and non-waged proletarians. A productive labor process is one where the wage labor modifies the use value of a product at the same time as adding value and creating surplus value for the capitalist to appropriate. This could be a factory worker or a landscaper or a teacher, so long as they are creating or modifying use values of a commodity, and adding value and surplus value to it. Unproductive labor is not about being unnecessary to capitalism. The activity of bank tellers or advertisers is very important to capitalism, but is still unproductive. Unproductive wage labor is largely about the activity of sales, or trying to steal other capitalists' market share. These workers still are wage laborers, still have an antagonistic relationship to their boss, still experience the "dead time" at work, but do not produce value. The third category (unwaged proletarians) would include housewives, unemployed people etc... They have a different relationship to work and capital. Although obviously they can be and are often combative proletarians.

The other thing to remember is that these categories are functional. Individual housewives often work part time, and most workers are sometimes unemployed and most unemployed people have plenty of experience of wage labor. Some jobs (like that of a waiter) combine tasks which are productive with tasks which are unproductive.

The point that Aufheben makes nicely in the article though, is that you don't have to be a productive laborer to be a radical proletarian. Productive vs. unproductive is a category for analyzing and critiquing political economy. Too many autonomists still buy into the moralistic idea that only productive workers can be subversive, so they try to redefine everything as productive labor. Which just muddles everything up.

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Aug 16 2007 08:00

(note i haven't read fortunati myself, so my comments are based only on the aufheben article.)

Nate wrote:
Aufheben look to me like they're splitting the difference, if housework went away it would make a big difference to capitalism, but it's still not productive labor. I don't get it.

if breathing or shitting went away, capitalism would have problems. does that make them value-producing activities? if i live alone, am i producing value when i do my own housework? what about when i play a video game? or go to the park and play football with my mates (is this replenishing my labour power or depleting it?)? As quint says, many autonomists cling to the value fetish of the CP orthodoxy they were reacting against, so in order to explain the struggles of unproductive proletarians they have to redefine everything as production (for negri, production even becomes ontological - Being itself is productive, for fortunati all activity from housework to a baby's smile is...). i prefer Dauvé's formulation that what is subversive in the proletarian condition is our alienation (which is qualitatively distinct from the alienation of the bourgeoisie), not the fact we produce per se (negri rejects anything with a whiff of dialectics as "bourgeois ideology").

a worker's wage is the cost of reproducing their labour power according to the prevailing social norms and customs. true, in the classic patriarchal household, some or most of this reproductive labour is done by unwaged members of the family (predominantly the wife), but the wage that covers the family's cost of living (i.e. reproducing itself as a sustainable unit) is paid only to the husband. hence "the patriarchy of the wage," but nowhere does this make reproductive labour value-productive in itself, any more than a worker who lives alone is producing value for capital when they cook themselves breakfast, or go to sleep for that matter. it's one thing to note how social life in its totality becomes ever-more structured around the circuits for valorising capital (everything from the rythyms of our daily routines to family planning and urban geography...), it's quite another to collapse the totality of social life into value production. there should be something expanding on this in the next aufheben.

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Aug 16 2007 11:52
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if breathing or shitting went away, capitalism would have problems.

Hey way to biologize housework.

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Aug 16 2007 12:11

care to elaborate?

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Aug 16 2007 12:37

Oh you know, the unwaged labor of selecting commodities, transporting them to the "private" sphere, and completing their transformations into use-values... it's just like respiration and defecation right?

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Aug 16 2007 12:39

did you read beyond the first sentence of my post? i was simply pointing out that there are activities necessary for capital accumulation which aren't necessarily productive in and of themselves. are you saying consumption can be collapsed into production too?

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Aug 16 2007 12:53
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are you saying consumption can be collapsed into production too?

Of course not, but the traditional way to gloss over the fact that some of this socially reproductive activity is even work (setting aside the whole argument of value production) has been to blur it with biological reproduction -- childrearing as an extension of childbirth and so on. As if what sets us apart from other mammals is that some of us are waged workers. I don't think bringing those "breathing and shitting" analogies into this conversation is helpful to any of the distinctions we're trying to work through.

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Aug 16 2007 13:07

meh, it's pretty superfluous to the point i was making. that said, feeding myself is every bit as biological as shitting it out the other end, but i don't really consider myself working for capital when i cook my dinner, except in the kinda existential sense that the only reason for my being from capital's pov is as a source of valorisation, thus i exist for capital thus my keeping myself alive is for capital (which i guess is how we get round to negri's reading of spinoza's conatus as 'Being itself is productive').

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Aug 16 2007 14:28

If you pay someone to cook for you, are they working for capital?

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Aug 16 2007 14:36

not except in the existential sense no, that's the classic 'unproductive personal service' like a butler or whatever. of course that doesn't make them any less a proletarian, although it would make me an objectively lazy fucker.

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Aug 16 2007 15:50

Okay now what if five people pay them to cook?

What about childcare? Is an au pair providing "unproductive personal service"? Is a home childcare provider who watches 8 neighborhood kids providing "unproductive personal services?

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Aug 16 2007 15:52

well if there's no accumulation (M-C-M') going on there then yeah- but i'm not sure what you're getting at?

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Aug 16 2007 16:12

Wait so are you saying e.g. janitors and healthcare workers don't produce value? I guess if you view all service sector work as unproductive of value there's no convincing you that some unwaged services work is productive of value smile

Carry on (I'm agnostic about this value thing so as long as you're consistent that's fine with me).

Mike Harman
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Aug 16 2007 16:25

MJ, I'd say only a tiny percentage of workers produce value, and even then only as part of their jobs.

Workers in a paper mill whose paper goes into Readers Digest spam or "I'm a talented mystic from birth" leaflets - do they actually produce any value. I say no. It's part of the cost of maintaining capital accumulation like the defense industry.

Do they work for employers? Are they exploited? Do their employers invest capital and get a profit back? Do they therefore entitle their employers to a share in surplus value? Yes. But at the level of actual production of value they aren't really in the M - C - M' circuit whatsoever. Where's the M' in all this? Where's the use values?

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Aug 16 2007 16:33
Mike Harman wrote:
MJ, I'd say only a tiny percentage of workers produce value, and even then only as part of their jobs.

Workers in a paper mill whose paper goes into Readers Digest spam or "I'm a talented mystic from birth" leaflets - do they actually produce any value. I say no. It's part of the cost of maintaining capital accumulation like the defense industry.

Hmm, OK, so just to get this straight, if I spend all day bolting the sides onto stepstools at a dedicated subcontractor for the defense industry, I'm not producing value, but if I bolt similar sides onto similar stepstools in at some other company I might be producing value for part of my day, depending on where the stools get shipped? Just trying to keep track.

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Aug 16 2007 16:56
MJ wrote:
Wait so are you saying e.g. janitors and healthcare workers don't produce value? I guess if you view all service sector work as unproductive of value there's no convincing you that some unwaged services work is productive of value smile

Carry on (I'm agnostic about this value thing so as long as you're consistent that's fine with me).

i wouldn't say all service sector work is unproductive for capital. take your same home cook, multiply them by 100 and employ them to a home cooks agency and watch the circuit fly M-C-M' - the point is the 'what' of the activity is largely irrelevent, it's the social relations that are important. i mean unwaged chinese brick kiln slaves are productive for capital, a kid making mud bricks in his garden at play time isn't. likewise, a prostitute shagging punters for 100 bucks a time and paying $80 to her pimp is being productive for (his) capital, that doesn't mean all sexual activity is production for capital though.

like i say i don't think this is a big deal because i don't associate subversive subjectivity with productivity, so unlike the autonomists if i think something's unproductive it doesn't banish its doer from 'the multitude' or revolutionary agency in any way.

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Aug 16 2007 17:03

Well, I change my mind on these questions depending on how they're posed, but that's basically how I think about it.

quint puts it well:

Quote:
There are three categories of workers we have to talk about. Productive wage laborers, unproductive wage laborers and non-waged proletarians. A productive labor process is one where the wage labor modifies the use value of a product at the same time as adding value and creating surplus value for the capitalist to appropriate. This could be a factory worker or a landscaper or a teacher, so long as they are creating or modifying use values of a commodity, and adding value and surplus value to it. Unproductive labor is not about being unnecessary to capitalism. The activity of bank tellers or advertisers is very important to capitalism, but is still unproductive. Unproductive wage labor is largely about the activity of sales, or trying to steal other capitalists' market share. These workers still are wage laborers, still have an antagonistic relationship to their boss, still experience the "dead time" at work, but do not produce value. The third category (unwaged proletarians) would include housewives, unemployed people etc... They have a different relationship to work and capital. Although obviously they can be and are often combative proletarians.

The other thing to remember is that these categories are functional. Individual housewives often work part time, and most workers are sometimes unemployed and most unemployed people have plenty of experience of wage labor. Some jobs (like that of a waiter) combine tasks which are productive with tasks which are unproductive.

Quote:
the activity of sales, or trying to steal other capitalists' market share

Our paper mill worker, the defense industry, state and private bureaucracies, loads of shit falls into this sphere of the operating costs of capital accumulation.

Basically to produce value work has to be useful, or directly contribute to something useful.

Quote:
so long as they are creating or modifying use values of a commodity, and adding value and surplus value to it.

In those terms the majority of work in contemporary society is useless, something I think we can both agree on.

The problem for Fortunati et al., although it's been put better than me - was that the productive proletarian is the be all and end all of class struggle. If almost nothing is productive labour, then everything must become productive or their whole world view collapses in on itself.

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Aug 16 2007 17:14
Joseph K wrote:
take your same home cook, multiply them by 100 and employ them to a home cooks agency and watch the circuit fly M-C-M' - the point is the 'what' of the activity is largely irrelevent, it's the social relations that are important.

Right, so you're willing to say no for the scale of 1-1 and yes for 100-100; what about 5-5?

Catch: if books and guns are not "useful", can you list the types of tangible exchangable goods that are "useful"?

Mike Harman wrote:
Basically to produce value work has to be useful, or directly contribute to something useful.

This is the most elastic definition we've seen so far in the thread.

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Aug 16 2007 17:20
MJ wrote:
Right, so you're willing to say no for the scale of 1-1 and yes for 100-100; what about 5-5?

i am begining to wonder if you read my posts tongue

Joseph K. wrote:
the point is the 'what' of the activity is largely irrelevent, it's the social relations that are important. i mean unwaged chinese brick kiln slaves are productive for capital, a kid making mud bricks in his garden at play time isn't. likewise, a prostitute shagging punters for 100 bucks a time and paying $80 to her pimp is being productive for (his) capital, that doesn't mean all sexual activity is production for capital though.

wall

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Aug 16 2007 17:29

Banging head yourself. Yes I'm reading what you're writing.

If I hire you as a cook, there's no M-C-M'.

If you establish an independent business of which you're the only employee, I pay the business account and you pay yourself a salary of the majority of it, a fraction goes into a website you use to advertise your services, and the rest goes into a savings account under the business name, has your labor become productive?

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Aug 16 2007 17:38

to the extent that that website constitutes accumulated capital yeah. but so what?

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Aug 16 2007 17:46

I'm glad we agree that it doesn't matter...

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Aug 16 2007 17:51

This has been discussed to death and will probably be discussed to death over and over again, without any clarification at all.

This would not be the case if people were at all clear on what the term "productive labor" meant in classical political economy, a term inherited by Marx, and then by many (if not all) Marxists.

"Productive labor" was a concept used in classical political economy, from the Physiocrats to Adam Smith. The basic thing being described by this term was labor that produces profit. As could be imagined, exactly what labor was included in this category varied from school to school depending on their view of profit. (E.g. The physiocrats viewed only agricultural production as productive of profit, and they therefore viewed only agricultural labor as productive labor. Adam Smith first extended the term to included all waged-labor which produces profit for capital, although he apparently still retained some physiocratic residues and thought that agricultural labor was especially productive.)

So this is a term that has a long history. It's not a word nor a concept that Marx invented.

When Marx deals with the term he basically agrees with Adam Smith, although he says that Smith was inconsistent (partially because of the physiocratic residues, partly for other reasons). Marx's own view of profit is that it is a portion of surplus-value. So the question of productive labor becomes a question of the production of surplus-value. And the production of surplus-value for Marx occurs only under certain circumstances, namely that the capitalist mode of production exists (thus the concept cannot be applied to a feudal mode of production), and secondly that the labor is involved in the production of a commodity, and that this labor produces more value in the production of this commodity than was advanced to it by capital (i.e. this labor produces a surplus-value). The general concept is discussed in Theories of Surplus-Value and in the Results of the Immediate Process of Production (the so-called unpublished 6th chapter of Capital). The exact details of what labor does and does not produce value are explained in Vol. 2 of Capital where Marx discusses labor that is involved in the circulation of commodities rather than the production of commodities.

In Marx, at least, there is no normative implication to this. He never claims that productive laborers are more proletarian or more revolutionary or anything like that. It is purely a scientific concept used to explain the capitalist mode of production. Marx actually emphasizes at one point in Vol. 2 that unproductive waged-laborers are still exploited, are still proletarians, etc. It's just that they don't produce surplus-value. So when people bring up things like the "usefulness" of certain forms of work (as Catch has) this is not an explanation or defense of the term productive labor as it has been used in political economy; and conversely, when it is brought up that much so-called unproductive labor is not biological (as MJ has mentioned), this likewise has nothing to do with the concept of productive labor as it has been historically used, since none of that has anything to do with the specific issue of whether that labor produces surplus-value. (This is of course assuming MJ agrees with Marx's general theory of value and profit production, which, judging by other posts of his, I assume he does. If he has a different understanding of what profit is then of course his explanation as to what produces it will vary, and accordingly his understanding of just which labor is productive and which is unproductive.)

99% of the confusion comes from mixing up a normative/political category with a scientific one. So you have autonomists whining about how they want to be productive laborers too. Why not just find a different term? Like "revolutionary laborers" or something? This is a classic case of trying to make theoretical breakthroughs by mere changes of vocabulary, when what is in fact going on is the creation of enormous confusion through a misuse of an already-existing vocabulary. The absolute stubbornness with which autonomists cling to this purely verbal confusion has always amazed me.

Mike

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Aug 16 2007 18:00
MJ wrote:
I'm glad we agree that it doesn't matter...

certainly not here or with regard to subjectivity as the autonomists would have it. it could have relevence elsewhere i guess.

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Aug 16 2007 22:11

Hmm,

The question I'd like to ask Quint is: if the category of productive/unproductive is not a determiner of whether a proletarian is rebellious or not, why exactly is important? I mean I like playing with the formulation of the declining rate of profit is fun and all but why does one worker contributing to the decline rate of profit and another not have relevance to proletarian resistance.

The autonomist position is indeed moralistic but it is an effort to turn around the just as moralistic position of traditional Stalinism, which give industrial factory workers a privileged position as the only revolutionary group. Do you oppose this, endorse this or pass over it without comment?

Red

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Aug 17 2007 00:30

I agree with the clarifications from Mikus and Jo K.

To respond to Red:

The category productive/unproductive is useful for two reasons in my opinion. The main one is in analyzing large scale political economy and crisis. On the one hand there are workers that create value, on the other there are workers that circulate value (to repeat they circulate value not commodities.) Whole sectors of the capitalist economy, like financial services, banks, advertising firms are unproductive of value. The distinction between unproductive and productive labor is a basis for large scale economic analysis, and the relations between different sectors of the economy. The other reason that the distinction is helpful, is that there is a tendency for the struggles of productive proletarians to be more disruptive than those of unproductive or non-waged proletarians. Disturbances in the factory in China, or with interstate truckers (i.e. with the productive workers), tend to have a greater impact than the disturbances of the cashiers where the goods are sold. But this is just one factor.

Now if you want to look at which workers are likely to be revolutionary, you have to look at much more specific things, not just abstract categories like productive and unproductive. How poor are the workers? How authoritarian is the workplace? How mechanized, repetitive, stressful? What is the history of workers struggles in the region and in the same industry? How are the workers divided linguistically, ethnically? What is the turnover? Does the work process allow people to communicate with each other? and dozens of other questions. So NO I'm not saying "the factory worker is the only revolutionary". Unemployed proletarians and soldiers, for example, have been quite radical and played their part in most major workers uprisings.

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Aug 17 2007 04:46
MJ wrote:
Joseph K wrote:
take your same home cook, multiply them by 100 and employ them to a home cooks agency and watch the circuit fly M-C-M' - the point is the 'what' of the activity is largely irrelevent, it's the social relations that are important.

Right, so you're willing to say no for the scale of 1-1 and yes for 100-100; what about 5-5?

Catch: if books and guns are not "useful", can you list the types of tangible exchangable goods that are "useful"?

Mike Harman wrote:
Basically to produce value work has to be useful, or directly contribute to something useful.

This is the most elastic definition we've seen so far in the thread.

Sorry late night, was talking shit.

With the original example of child care - if it's a nursery where people are employed, people send their kids there, pay some money etc. etc. - then it's producing value. There's a tangible commodity of child care - use-value, exchange-value and surplus-value are all there. Where it's family members or close friends doing it for free - swapping kids for the day or stay-at-home parents, then there's still a use-value (kind of), but no exchange or surplus value since there's no commodity relationship involved. i.e. it's not a capitalist relationship even if we can say it's affected by capital or necessary for the reproduction of proletarians (which isn't really relevant to this discussion except that the autonomists have muddied the waters)).

Where labour isn't contributing to the production of commodities (quite a lot of labour really), then it's not producing value. I'd say the amount of labour involved in producing value (and therefore commodties) has massively, massively diminished - and this has been part of the same process as the diminution of "useful" labour (and the profligacy of objectively harmful labour) - but it's a different issue to what is and isn't value-producing.

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Aug 17 2007 04:53
RedHughs wrote:
The question I'd like to ask Quint is: if the category of productive/unproductive is not a determiner of whether a proletarian is rebellious or not, why exactly is important? I mean I like playing with the formulation of the declining rate of profit is fun and all but why does one worker contributing to the decline rate of profit and another not have relevance to proletarian resistance.

I think we can identify areas of work which are strategic, they're generally pretty obvious (energy, transit, food etc.), but simply being employed in them isn't a guarantee of rebelliousness. Their strategic nature can put workers in a strong bargaining position and lead to greater militancy though, partly since many of these functions can't be relocated easily and often have to be centralised - UK post office for example. However as the post office becomes less important for capital (electronic banking, payroll etc.), we see greater and greater attacks on it. A greater proportion of what postmen deliver isn't commodities or items essential to the creation of commodities (invoices, payslips etc.) - it's junk mail, and I think that's at least part of what's allowing for the current break up and attacks on it as a service.

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The autonomist position is indeed moralistic but it is an effort to turn around the just as moralistic position of traditional Stalinism, which give industrial factory workers a privileged position as the only revolutionary group. Do you oppose this, endorse this or pass over it without comment?

Red

Yeah but it holds exactly the same premises as Stalinism, the same logic, just tries to make everything into factory work and therefore devalues the particular nature of factory work, or even work itself "baby's smiles" etc.

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Aug 17 2007 05:19
Mike Harman wrote:
Quote:
The autonomist position is indeed moralistic but it is an effort to turn around the just as moralistic position of traditional Stalinism, which give industrial factory workers a privileged position as the only revolutionary group. Do you oppose this, endorse this or pass over it without comment?

Red

Yeah but it holds exactly the same premises as Stalinism, the same logic, just tries to make everything into factory work and therefore devalues the particular nature of factory work, or even work itself "baby's smiles" etc.

indeed, the explanation of the revolutionary potential of non-factory (white, blue collar, male) proletarians was indeed a theoretical advance, but one that was made by magnifying the orthodox error not correcting it. so a 'wrong step in the right direction' imho.

fwiw i reckon some advertising work is productive, i mean a branded hi-fi is not the same commodity as an otherwise identical unbranded one, we're semiotic creatures and the signs created by advertising labour form a part of the value of commodities to which they are attached.

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Aug 17 2007 06:30
Joseph K. wrote:
indeed, the explanation of the revolutionary potential of non-factory (white, blue collar, male) proletarians was indeed a theoretical advance, but one that was made by magnifying the orthodox error not correcting it. so a 'wrong step in the right direction' imho.

On their own terms maybe, but it's not as though plenty of others hadn't worked this out already without having to come up with convuluted bollocks like immaterial labour.