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Productive and Unproductive Labour

WHILE I found most of Brian Green’s analysis of the prospects for the world economy convincing ("The World Economy: Results and Prospects", What Next? No.18), I would take issue with him over his use of Marx’s concept of productive versus unproductive labour.

With regard to productive labour, Marx distinguished between productive labour in the general sense of "useful labour" (i.e. labour producing use-values – material wealth – which is the basis of human existence in all its historical phases), and the specific form which productive labour takes under capitalism. As Brian Green correctly states, from the standpoint of capitalism productive labour is that which produces surplus value – and ultimately, therefore, capital itself.

To quote Marx himself: "Productive labour, in its meaning for capitalist production, is wage-labour which, exchanged against the variable part of capital (the part of the capital that is spent on wages), reproduces not only this part of the capital (or the value of its own labour-power), but in addition produces surplus-value for the capitalist. It is only thereby that commodity or money is transformed into capital, is produced as capital. Only that wage-labour is productive which produces capital" (Theories of Surplus-Value, Part 1, p.153).

Marx pointed out: "An actor, for example, or even a clown, according to this definition, is a productive labourer if he works in the service of a capitalist (an entrepreneur) to whom he returns more labour than he receives from him in the form of wages; while a jobbing tailor who comes to the capitalist’s house and patches his trousers for him, producing a mere use-value for him, is an unproductive labourer. The former’s labour is exchanged with capital, the latter’s with revenue. The former’s labour produces a surplus-value; in the latter’s, revenue is consumed" (ibid, p.157).

However, while Brian is clear about the nature of productive labour, he loses his way when he comes to the question of unproductive labour. He defines unproductive workers as those who do not produce surplus value, which is correct, but then goes on to give as examples of such workers "those involved in buying, selling, administering, accounting and managing the concerns of the capitalist class".

He continues: "Information technology allowed corporations to delayer, to strip out tens of millions of these unproductive workers and managers. This continual renewing, or if you like re-engineering, of corporations, exemplified by General Electric, meant that they were able to reduce what had been an enormous drain on profits."

Here Brian seems to be falling into the error of seeing only those immediately involved in the production of material goods as productive workers, and therefore categorising those engaged in the various tasks of administration as unproductive. This is in clear conflict with Marx’s position. "Included among these productive workers, of course", Marx wrote, "are all those who contribute in one way or another to the production of the commodity, from the actual operative to the manager or engineer (as distinct from the capitalist)" (ibid, pp.156-7).

In a car factory, for example, a worker in the accounts department is no less productive than a worker on the assembly line. Each acts as "an organ of the collective labourer", as Marx put it (Capital, Volume 1, Penguin edition, p.644). Each is productive not only in the general sense that their different types of labour contribute jointly to the production of material wealth, but also from the specifically capitalist standpoint, in that they both produce surplus value.

"It is indeed the characteristic feature of the capitalist mode of production", Marx explained, "that it separates the various kinds of labour from each other, therefore also mental and manual labour – or kinds of labour in which one or the other predominates – and distributes them among different people. This however does not prevent the material product from being the common product of these persons ... any more than on the other hand it prevents or in any way alters the relation of each one of these persons to capital being that of a productive labourer. All these persons are not only directly engaged in the production of material wealth, but they exchange their labour directly for money as capital, and consequently directly reproduce, in addition to their wages, a surplus-value for the capitalist. Their labour consists of paid labour plus unpaid surplus-labour" (Theories of Surplus-Value, Part 1, pp.411-2).

There is thus no difference, in principle or practical effect, between the owners of a car factory introducing new technology in order to cut back on workers employed in the accounts department, and the company using new technology to cut back on workers employed on the assembly line. The result is the same. The company is able to produce the same number of cars with a smaller workforce.

It may well be true that the introduction of information technology has, as Brian argues, allowed corporations to boost their profits by reducing the number of workers involved in "buying, selling, administering, accounting and managing". But this has nothing whatsoever to do with the difference between productive and unproductive labour.

Dave Roberts

Socialist Alliances: The Way Forward

FOLLOWING ON from my letter ("Prospects for the Socialist Alliances") in What Next? No.18, I would like to take up the question of why the Socialist Alliance represents the way forward, and in doing so answer Matthew Willgress’s article ("Fighting New Labour: What Alliances Do Socialists Need?") in issue No.17.

The best place to start here is with a brief synopsis of the period that we live in. The notion that there is any kind of alternative society to capitalism is in ruins among the working class; it fell with the Berlin wall. Whatever we say, most people if they looked for an alternative looked to the Soviet Union (and this was aided unintentionally by large swathes of the Trotskyist left). That alternative has now been destroyed.

The significance of this is clear to see. The working class is atomised and no longer present on any sort of scale as an organised political presence. It is devoid of any sense of itself as a revolutionary class and what it should be fighting for; it only moves in a defensive way in order to retain the dwindling remnants of the gains that it made in happier days. The education provided by class struggle is gone. As a nineteen-year-old, I am part of a generation that has no practical experience of major working class struggles.

Meanwhile social reaction is rampant. Social Democratic parties are dead as vehicles for significant reforms. The Labour Party more than ever is a vehicle for the agenda of a wing of capital. It is not a pole of attraction for the organised working class, only for an atomised and defeated class. This is the objective situation that comrade Matthew Willgress appears so fond of.

Despite the scale of defeats suffered, this situation also works in a positive way. The possibility now exists to supersede social democracy, not by producing carbon copies of the old reformist parties but by organising on a higher level. Comrade Willgress, however, appears happy to preserve the current situation and the state of the class.

The comrade counterposes crass popular frontism to an opportunity to bring the working class into politics on the basis of its own independent self-activity. He revels in the broadness of the alliances he can build, neglecting the primary task which is building class consciousness on the basis of class independence. The comrade’s motivating principle appears to be to have no principles.

Comrade Willgress is under the bizarre impression that supporting the Labour Party will help resist the increasingly reactionary Tories – as if there is an iota of anything progressive about Labour’s programme. The reality is that the Labour Party and its policies feed directly the policies of Hague. Just as Callaghan paved the way for Thatcherite reaction, Blair paves the way for the next Tory government, which will unleash a further reactionary wave.

For the working class, the difference between Labour and the Tories is the difference between being strangled and being shot – the end is still the same. The fact is that the working class knows this, and could teach a thing or two to our allegedly educated Marxists. How else do you explain the apathy that the Labour Party is met with? The class knows – they say "Labour and the Tories, they’re all the same". Of course this is not strictly 100% true, but it displays a better grasp of reality than Matthew Willgress and those Labourites like him who provide a left cover for bourgeois politicians.

The only way to fight the Tories is to provide a political alternative to Blair – which is what the Labour left is failing to do and what the Socialist Alliance should be doing. The replacement of the Labour Party is essential for the progress of the British working class. There are two forms of destruction of Labourism, one positive and one negative. The negative one drives the working class out of politics. The Socialist Alliance poses a positive solution, where the working class can be brought into politics around a revolutionary programme fighting for a new society.

Comrade Willgress will no doubt be aware that the divergence between Labour and Liberalism came from a fight for class independence (ironic, given the fact that our partisans of Labour Party work now oppose such a notion). Of course, while the Labour Party organisationally broke from the Liberal Party, politically it never left the orbit of Liberalism and is now returning in that direction. And entirely missing from the comrade’s historiography is the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) – an advance for the class beyond Labourism to an organisation based on total class independence, political and organisational. This should serve as our model today.

It is significant that throughout comrade Willgress’s article he makes constant reference to "the Party". But whereas Lenin writes about "the Party" as a party of revolutionaries, our Labourite comrade uses the term in reference to a party whose leadership oppresses the working class on behalf of capital. The thing that is absent from the comrade’s perspectives is the link between what we are and what we must become. The revolutionary party is exactly that.

There are many revealing moments in comrade Willgress’s apology for deserting Marxism (for that is what this is). Let’s start with basics. It is "heresy" indeed to lie to the class, as Marx himself explained in the Communist Manifesto: "The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions" (my emphasis).

In broad formations we fight openly for our full programme; we do not abandon it for short term tactical advantage. Our politics are built on principle. That is why ultimately our present setbacks will be reversed, but only if we maintain our defence of basic principles like class independence. Compare this with comrade Willgress, who has no problem with not fighting for the "full socialist programme" (if indeed he has one).

In contrast to comrade Willgress, it is beyond doubt that objectively the left is in the process of breaking from the Labour Party. However, groups like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty (AWL) and Socialist Outlook are importing the politics of Labourism into the Alliance.

This explains the tactics adopted by the London Socialist Alliance (LSA) around the Livingstone campaign. Livingstone broke organisationally but not politically with the Labour Party, and the LSA moved to fill the vacuum. This was correct – however, it filled the vacuum with a reconstitution of reformism. Therefore politically the LSA did not use the crisis provoked by Livingstone’s independent candidacy as it should have, by fighting to break people from Labourism and win them to revolutionary politics.

This is undoubtedly something that needs combating. But it is a fact that the AWL and Outlook, along with those like the SWP who consistently up until now said "vote Labour", have made a break with Labour which makes further political development possible.

The irony of the situation is that those who will benefit from the success of our project include the Labour left. Part of the reason the left has lost ground in the Labour Party is that there has been no left force challenging the Labour Party for working class votes. The Labour leadership feels that the pressure comes from the right and acts accordingly. A strong left pole of attraction will change the situation. It stands to reason that in this situation the Labour leadership will concede more to the left.

This pole of attraction must develop externally, however. The mechanisms are well in place to deal with an internal opposition, as the failure of Militant shows. Internal opposition is also self-regulating, in that it does not fight for the "full socialist programme", or else feels the need to adopt schemas which leave groups like Socialist Appeal in practice advocating nothing more radical than Tony Benn.

In the future it may be desirable tactically for the Socialist Alliance to build fractions within the Labour Party. If they do that, then they will have an established base outside, which will enable them to operate effectively without compromising their politics. The most successful "entryist" job was done by the CPGB in the 1920s, when it built a base in the Labour Party through the National Left Wing Movement, whose paper the Sunday Worker achieved a circulation of around 100,000. It was the existence of an established organisation outside the Labour Party that enabled the Communists to do this.

If Labour lefts want to work with us, then you will find no opposition from me, and I am pretty confident that the majority of Alliance members would hold the same attitude. The fact is that it is some of those around the Labour left like comrade WIllgress who, in their hostility towards the Alliance, are actually the most sectarian.

Comrade Willgress also misunderstands the nature of the trade unions. They are a product of existing class society, but they are the defence organs of a wage-slave class, and therefore a party like the Labour Party based on the trade unions will reflect that. Trade unions do not provide the embryo of the socialist and then communist society. Of course, this in no way rules out participation in them.

In fact I am in favour of an active presence in the trade unions. SA supporters should be organised in fractions. Recent victories have been achieved on the part of the left outside Labour and we should be building on that. Comrade Willgress states a wish to bring "rank and file trade union activists into the Labour Party". But the problem is that an increasing number want to head in the opposite direction. The Socialist Alliances are actually an opportunity to stop these comrades going totally out of politics.

In short the Socialist Alliance project represents an opportunity to move the Marxist movement forward and at the same time move our class forward.

Darrell Goodliffe
CPGB and Socialist Alliance

Michel Pablo and Entrism

JUST ONE point arising from Matthew Willgress’s letter on Audrey Wise ("Audrey Wise: Some Further Comments", What Next? No.18). He says that the group led by John Lawrence was to "end up following the logical route of Pablo’s theses, into the Communist Party". No doubt Matthew has in mind the positive view of the official Communist movement which was a feature of the politics of Michel Pablo during the early 1950s, when he was secretary of the Fourth International (FI). However, as it stands, the statement might be taken as endorsing the myth propagated by some "orthodox Trotskyists" that Pablo advocated as a general policy the dissolution of the Trotskyist movement into the CPs.

In fact Pablo proposed three main tactical orientations for the FI’s sections, depending on the character of the workers’ movement in their respective countries. (See his February 1952 document, "The Building of the Revolutionary Party", in International Secretariat Documents 1951-1954, Pathfinder, 1974.)

In countries where there was no pre-existing mass-based working class party, Pablo argued that Trotskyists should fight to build such a party, around the programme of the Fourth International. This was the appropriate tactic in the United States, India, Ceylon, Latin America, the Middle East and the African colonies. In a country where a workers’ party was already established, however, Pablo argued that Trotskyists could make their most effective political intervention by forming a tendency within the existing mass party.

Where the mass political organisation of the working class was a social democratic party, Pablo argued that Trotskyists should work inside that party. Examples of such countries were Britain, West Germany, Austria, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Holland, Scandinavia and Switzerland. Within these parties, Trotskyists were to integrate themselves into emergent oppositional formations and assist them in their conflicts with the right wing party leaderships, with the perspective of an eventual split. At the same time, because of the relatively democratic character of mass reformist parties, Trotskyists were not to hide their politics but should publish a journal openly advocating the political line of the FI.

(Thus Pablo’s criticism of Gerry Healy’s work inside the Labour Party in the early ’50s was that the Healyites adapted politically to the Bevanite movement, in which they were working, and failed to produce a distinctively Trotskyist publication.)

Where the mass workers’ organisation was the Communist Party, as in France or Italy, Pablo argued that Trotskyists should work inside those parties. However, due to the highly bureaucratised character of the CPs, and the consequent impossibility of a Trotskyist tendency appearing openly as such without provoking immediate expulsion, Pablo proposed a tactic which he termed "entrism sui generis" (of a special type). This would involve a form of "deep entry" on the part of those Trotskyists inside the CP, while part of the organisation would remain outside the CP, publishing explicitly Trotskyist material aimed at backing up the work of the entrist fraction.

It is therefore difficult to see how the decision by John Lawrence and his comrades to join the CP in 1958 was "the logical route of Pablo’s theses", at least in organisational terms. Britain was the country par excellence of the mass reformist party. The Labour Party had a virtual monopoly on the allegiance of class conscious working people, and the CP, while it had built a base in the trade unions, was entirely marginal to mass politics. Pablo took it for granted that British Trotskyists should work inside the Labour Party and never advocated that they should enter the CP.

This perspective was stated quite clearly by Lawrence in 1958. When he was asked why he didn’t join the Communist Party, Lawrence answered: "Why should I leave a big party to join a small party? I want to get things done." He explained: "I would join the Communist Party if I lived in France or Italy, because in those countries it is the party of the workers. But in England, it [the workers’ party] is the Socialist Party and so long as the Labour Party permits me to express my views and lets me do the things I want to do, I have no intention of leaving it." (See "Red Flag Over St Pancras" Part 2, in What Next? No.8.)

When Lawrence and his comrades did join the CP, later in 1958, it was because they had been expelled from the Labour Party and had nowhere else to go, not because they were implementing any tactical prescription of Pablo’s.

Martin Sullivan

On Marxism-Lennonism

I SUSPECT that I am not the only What Next? reader to notice that the Imagine book from the Scottish Socialist Party as reviewed in the last issue makes use of a number of John Lennon song titles, but not "Revolution". Is this symbolic of a political shift on the part of said left wing organisation or perhaps an adaptation to parliamentarianism by comrade Sheridan? Even if it is not, the use of "Power to the People", a blatantly non-class-based analysis of the socialist future, shows just how far those petty bourgeois nationalists are prepared to go!

A. Sectarian

Livingstone and the Left

I HAVE been somewhat surprised by the Left’s response to the entire saga surrounding London mayor Ken Livingstone and his relationship with the Government/New Labour. This includes the responses of Neil Murray and especially Andrew Robinson to the arguments of Martin Sullivan on this question.

During the GLA elections, writing in the What Next? London election supplement, I argued with London Socialist Alliance (LSA) supporters about what political direction Ken’s campaign and the Left as a whole should take ("Lessons of the Livingstone Campaign"). I hoped the results of the elections, expressing a stark contrast between the failure of the LSA and the success of Livingstone, would at least point some of the more sensible sections of the Left back in the right direction. I also hoped, as both comrades Murray and Sullivan did, that we would see a re-awakening of the opposition in the Labour Party after Ken’s victory.

On the surface, though, it seems neither of these have happened. However, as far as the level of struggle inside the Party is concerned, I think that this is not primarily due to subjective factors concerning Livingstone’s tactics and so on, but rather to the objective political/economic situation we currently face in this country.

What has Livingstone actually done wrong, apart from reveal the political flaws we all knew he had long before the Left (including, opportunistically, the LSA) backed him for London mayor? In my opinion Livingstone, and that section of the Left which supported and advised him, have generally understood the actual situation pretty well and responded in a tactically astute fashion. That is not to say that he has not made mistakes or decisions that I disagree with – but most of the far Left has responded to Ken as mayor in a denunciatory, propagandist style that often seems to have no purpose other than proving to the rest of the Left how principled this or that tiny group is.

One example was the howls of "popular-frontism" when Ken formed a cross-party coalition. Now I’m not convinced by these tactics myself, but to compare them to Blair forming a Lib-Lab government in Westminster is just ridiculous – Livingstone’s administration is purely advisory, the executive in London is the mayor alone.

Finally, I generally agree with the position put forward regarding economic perspectives by Richard Price in the latest Workers Action. The Left as a whole (especially the LSA, SLP and so forth) have exaggerated the level of dissatisfaction with the government, and this has led them to the tactic of raising the banner of socialism outside of the traditional labour movement, presumably in the expectation that the disgruntled masses will flock to it. As we all know, this has not happened.

Meanwhile, the Labour/trade union movement has been through the neo-liberal "revolution", along with the collapse of nearly all the workers’ states – the blow for the Left is inevitably enormous and it is taking a long time to recover. The US/world economy is now in serious trouble, but the key to the Left becoming a greater force in British politics is to locate itself within the labour movement and fight (and, if possible, at least help to lead) the struggles there at the level they are occurring.

Matthew Willgress

A Colourful Character Writes

IN REPLY to Bob Pitt’s article on Compendium ("Compendium’s Closure: No Loss to the Left", What Next? No.18), I totally endorse Bob’s criticisms of Compendium. I am the character referred to as the "colourful" Max at Housmans.

May I, on a point of political correctness, emphatically state that Housmans (with which I have been involved for many years) is not just a radical bookshop – it is owned by Peace News Trustees, and it has a core function to promote pacifism. We produce the Housmans Peace Diary every year.

Having said that, with the almost 100% elimination of radical bookshops in London, Housmans had become virtually the only home for most left/radical magazines.

While it is Housmans’ policy to sell the broadest range of alternative publications, on the premise that it is good to encourage the widest debate, Housmans itself does not of course necessarily support the policies of many of the magazines it stocks. (Not that it could, since so many of them are at odds with each other!)

Since Housmans is almost the last outlet for many of these papers and journals, and – like other radical shops – struggles financially, it would be good if readers of these various papers supported the shop more than just the once a month they come in for their own particular magazine....

(Please note that this is a personal comment from me, not from Housmans officially!)

Max McLellan

Critical Realism: A Critical Comment

MY FAITH in critical realism was severely shaken when I read in What Next? No.18 ("Response to the Modern Ranters") about Roy Bhaskar being brought to orgasm by a "female devotee". Is that the sort of thing that goes on in Roy’s philosophy seminars? Do the governors of Brahmes Hall know about this? Has Hilary Wainwright been informed?

Bill Henderson

The editor replies: According to my information, Hilary and Roy are no longer together. And, in any case, the business with the female devotee took place during one of Roy’s previous lives, comrade. Do try to keep up.