Digital Value - Letter to Raoul

On Wed, Jan 18, 2006 at 01:39:36AM +0100, Raoul wrote:

Just a remark. I know that the question of productive/unproductive labour/consumption is not the kernel of your vision of the question of the value of software. But I wanted to tell you that I agree with your formulation: "a service worker may be productive for a particular capital without being productive for capital as a whole," except that I think it is true not only for service workers. I wrote some thing in that sense, some years ago, within the "réseau". The question was raised from different points of view: is the development of the share of services in social production a sign of senility of capitalism? Are the service workers members of the proletariat? You can have a look at the discussions at

OK, now I've read some of that...

I am more doubtful about the idea that: "In that case, he is simply helping to redistribute surplus value created elsewhere to increase the capital he works for." It depends on how you see the "redistribution of surplus value". You seem to mean that a worker who is unproductive for capital as a whole doesn't create surplus value. Surplus value is first surplus labour. Things appear in a different way when you consider the global surplus *labour* extracted by capital as a whole. Any worker, independently from the form his specific activity takes, contributes to it. He is part of the "collective worker", collectively exploited and supplying capital with surplus labour. The fact that capital "sterilize" as unproductive consumption part of this surplus doesn't mean that the workers of the concerned sectors do not participate to the creation on that surplus.

I saw you used this argument in the discussion on the reseau as well, but I'm afraid I don't find it at all convincing.

Of course all workers are exploited, and in a theoretical world with perfect competition and no variation in skill they would all be exploited equally. So in this sense a fraction x of their work is paid and 1-x is unpaid, whether or not they have generated surplus value in their individual work. But this calculation can only be done after the formation of an average rate of profit, ie. when we are not talking in terms of surplus value but of profit. If you want to look at it like this then you can say that all workers have produced k(1-x) euros of profit for their employer. But the way Marx understood what he was doing was as stripping off this apparent form to reveal the real process of surplus value generation which underlay the appearance. And in this real process, some workers create surplus value and others do not.

However, I don't think this means workers who do not produce surplus value have no positive role from the point of view of capital: on the one hand the use values they produce can be essential to keep the system running; and on the other, they provide a market for commodities produced by those who do create surplus value without which it would not be possible to realise that value. So I don't understand the urgency for you in proving that all workers generate sv.

You say: " if you two are happy to go on discussing this, I am too". For me it is very useful. I think it is the same for Sander and other members of IP who follow the discussion.

It feels a bit like a return to the past for me... hopefully I will discover the utility too :-)


January 23, 2006

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