The Post-Industrial, Post-Modern Theory of Value and Surplus Value

What Signifies Productive/Unproductive Activity under Neo-Liberal Bourgeois-State-Capitalism and How This is Essentially Bias

The basic principle of the post-industrial, post-modern theory of value and surplus value is that the human species produces surpluses of all types and kinds, regardless of his or her situation and/or social position. As a result, for the post-industrial, post-modern theory of value and surplus value, the human species by definition is constantly immersed in an existential process of value and surplus value production, wherever he or she is stationed in the capitalist socio-economic hierarchy. This is the human species raison d’être and the sum of “matter is the medium by which an insatiable drive for ownership/knowledge housed in the sum of existence, [i.e. the human species], transforms its intrinsic abstractions into concrete material utilities and surpluses so that it can transcend its own existential limitations”.1 The human species cannot escape the fact that it is a value and surplus value producing entity, manufacturing values and surplus values of all types and kinds. In this regard, the production of value and surplus value, contrary to Marx, is not solely the dominion of the production sphere, but is an activity transpiring day and night in all spheres and at all levels of society at all times. It is only the logic of capitalism, which places limits on what constitutes value and surplus value. For capitalism, only financial quantifiable value is deemed valuable and legitimate. Every other type of value and surplus value are ignored, devalued and de-legitimized. For example, paraphrasing the logic of capitalism, according to Marx:

Productive labor is only that which produces capital. The piano maker is a productive worker, but not the piano player, although obviously the piano would be absurd without the piano player. But this is exactly the case. The piano maker reproduces capital, the pianist only exchanges his labor for revenue. But doesn’t the pianist produce music and satisfy our musical ear, does he not even to a certain extent produce the latter? He does indeed: his labor produces something; but that does not make it productive labor in the economic sense; no more than the labor of the madman who produces delusions is productive. Labor becomes productive only by producing its own opposite [i.e. capital].2

Therefore, for Marx, even if the pianist “stimulates production, partly by giving a more decisive, lively tone to our individuality, and also in the ordinary sense of awakening a new need for the satisfaction of which additional energy becomes expended in direct material production… This is not productive [but] is  unproductive labor”.3 Consequently, Marx fails to see the music industry as a production process, a process that produces a commodity and continually extracts and accumulates capital in order to continually reinvest this capital in order to expand the tentacles of this particular industry.

For example, a pianist positioned in a concert hall, surrounded by paying art patrons, does, in fact, produce and reproduce capital. Despite what Marx says, the pianist, stationed in packed concert hall, is intimately involved in the production and reproduction process of an industry; i.e., the music industry, and capital itself. It is not that the pianist, by playing by himself or herself free of charge, for an intimate circle of friends, is unproductive in the sense that he or she is most certainly productive because the pianist may be cultivating a surplus audience, building a repertoire and refining his or her skills etc., but in the relation to the narrow definitional limits of capitalism, this is classified as unproductive. It is the contextual-value applied to where production takes place that determines what is productive and what is unproductive, and contextual-value is always based on the artificial parameters of the dominant ideational comprehensive framework.

In this regard, it is the dominating ideational comprehensive framework of a society that determines productivity and unproductivity by placing a contextual-value on specific activities, specific spaces and specific time frames. Different ideational comprehensive frameworks define productivity and unproductivity differently because they place different contextual-values on specific activities, specific spaces and specific time frames. It is a matter of the contextual-value that the pianist is playing in; it is a matter of the dominating ideational comprehensive framework that the pianist is playing in, which defines the pianist as productive and/or unproductive in a particular space and time frame.

By him or herself, devoid of context and ideational comprehensive framework, the pianist is, as Marx, correctly surmises, productive in the sense that the pianist produces music. The pianist produces capital, an intimate type of capital that only enriches the pianist him or herself, but this capital is not financial quantifiable capital; i.e., the specific type and form of capital that capitalism strictly favors, acknowledges and celebrates. As a result, according to the value-standards of the capitalist ideational comprehensive framework, a pianist, not involved in the socio-economic processes of the capitalist music industry, is defined as unproductive, but unproductive only from the perspective of the capitalist ideational comprehensive framework. It is only immersed in the production and reproduction process of the music industry and capital that the pianist produces and reproduces financial quantifiable capital, capital, defined according to the logic of capitalism, that is, the ideational comprehensive framework of capitalism itself.

As a result, basing his political economic analysis on strict scientifically quantifiable value as defined by the logic of capitalism, Marx fails to understand the subtlety of artistic value-production. For Marx, the pianist does not produce a commodity; he or she only plays for revenue and not for the production and reproduction of capital, but, in fact, contrary to Marx, the pianist is the central pivot of the music industry in the sense that he or she definitively produces a commodity. The pianist most certainly produces and reproduces capital because the pianist produces and reproduces a commodity, that is, beautiful scripted sheet music. This commodity may be instantaneous, ephemeral and spectacle, but a whole series of capitalist consumption, production and distribution processes contextualize this pianist, this productive laborer, and his or her particular commodity, extracting and accumulating surplus value from this unsuspecting laborer in an effort to support a whole series of capitalists, whose socio-economic existence is centered upon the exploitation of artists.

To his detriment, Marx had to define artistic value-production as unproductive in the sense that to define artists as value-producing would have unravelled Marx’s basic assumption in Das Capital, that value and surplus value is only produced and reproduced inside the factory system, that is, inside the capitalist production sphere. The truth of the matter is that value-production and surplus value-production take place in all spheres of society. In general, all societies are giant all-encompassing factories, that produce all types and forms of values and surplus values, both quantifiable values and unquantifiable values, both material goods and immaterial goods etc. It is only the parameters of an ideational comprehensive framework that defines what is productive and/or unproductive and what has value and what does not, by placing certain arbitrary contextual limits and certain arbitrary values on specific activities, specific spaces and specific time frames.

In itself, every human activity is productive. This is the modus operandi of the human species, including Marx’s metaphorical madman who only produces delusions. It is only an ideational comprehensive framework, which favors certain activities over others, certain spaces over others and certain time frames over others that establishes what constitutes productivity, unproductivity, value and non-value. And an ideational comprehensive framework is always an arbitrary social construction, designed to benefit and enrich certain individuals and entities in relation to others by marginalizing and ignoring certain activities, spaces and time frames in relation to other activities, spaces and time frames etc.  As Marx states, “the ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas”.4 Due to the fact that “men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc., real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these”.5

Notwithstanding, these productive forces and material relationships are identified, defined and understood via an ideational comprehensive framework. These productive forces and material relationships are manifestations of an ideational comprehensive framework, a framework that pragmatically identifies and structures material relationships and productive forces in a particular mental and physical configuration and understanding, which is solely conducive to this dominant framework’s own means and ends. Without an initial framework of concepts, symbols, languages and/or references there are no such things as material relationships and productive forces, more or less, capitalist relationships and capitalist productive forces. Marx is correct to stipulate that ideas are the products of material relationships and productive forces, but just as much, material relationships and productive forces are the products of ideas etc., and both processes function within a comprehensive framework, in essence, an ideational comprehensive framework.

An ideational comprehensive framework graphs arbitrary mental and physical parameters onto reality and existence, enabling arbitrary definitions, understandings and meanings to be generated from such arbitrary parameters. The logic of capitalism is such an ideational comprehensive framework that, although possessing both material and immaterial characteristics, autocratically establishes a frame of concepts and a logical process that socially constructs an arbitrary edifice, which is both corporeal and incorporeal, conveniently describing and manufacturing a socio-economic reality according to its own narrow logical necessities. In this regard, it is not that certain types of labor are productive and/or unproductive, as it is the fundamental condition of the human species to be productive, it is in actuality the dominant ideational comprehensive framework, in this case capitalism, which limits the definitional parameters of productivity according to a narrowed definition so as to benefit of selfish capitalist means and ends.

For instance, according to Marx, under capitalism, the transport industry is considered productive labor, due to the fact that it is intimately involved in the production process, despite the fact that the transport industry is more or less an appendage of direct factory production. For Marx, the transport industry is a step in the production process in the sense that “bringing the product to market, belongs to…production… itself”.6 As a result, according to  David Harvey, paraphrasing Marx, “the transport industry is therefore productive of value because it is a sphere of material production that effect a material change in the object of labor—a spatial change, a change of place. The transport of industry sells change of location as its product”.7 Thus, for both Marx and Harvey, the transport industry produces value and moreover it produces surplus value, due to the fact that the transport industry sells change of location at a profit. The transport industry produces change of location for commodities, by transporting these commodities to market. Notwithstanding, according to Marx, and in my estimation, as well, according to David Harvey, banks, who strictly deal in the money-commodity are not productive in the sense that they merely redistribute money and credit without adding any new value to the capitalist system in general. As Marx states:

The business of banking consists…in concentrating money capital for loan in large masses in the bank’s hands, so that, instead of the individual lender of money, it is the bankers as representatives of all lenders of money who confront the industrial and commercial capitalists. [Banks are] the general managers of money capital. . .A bank represents on the one hand the centralization of money capital…and on the other hand the centralization of the borrowers.8

For Marx and Harvey, the banks are not productive, “the banking system…[is about] the distribution of capital”9 and nothing more. Marx and Harvey do not see banks as providing the same service as the transport industry, when in fact, they do.

Contrary to Marx, who classifies banks and bankers as unproductive, like the transport industry, banks sell change of location, specifically for the money-commodity. Marx’s definition of the transport industry as productive also fittingly applies to banks and other financial institutions in the sense that they also sell change of location, a change of location not for all commodities as does the transport industry, but for the specific universal commodity, that is, money. Like the transport industry, banks move commodities, specifically the money-commodity, they sell change of location; i.e., the ability to transport money around the globe to any location for a profit. And moreover, they sell change itself; i.e., the metamorphosis of money, namely, the transformation of money into any currency imaginable. In addition, banks sell the ability to augment money instantaneously via credit. In this regard, banks produce change of location, money metamorphoses, and instant financial augmentation via credit, for a profitable fee.  As a result, contrary to Marx, banks, like the transport industry, conform to the Marxist definition of productive labor.

Banks are productive akin to the transport industry in the sense that they sell change of location, change of sum and change of form pertaining specifically to the money commodity itself. As well, banks are tied to the production process in the sense that they enable the augmentation, the transport and transmutation of funds to new locations, new currencies and new sums, so as to facilitate other productive forms of capitalist exploitation, accumulation and extraction. Hence, contrary to Marx, banks do more than just facilitate distribution. They produce money, the universal commodity, in new forms, new sums and new locations for a fee/profit.  Just like the transport industry, they sell change of location, in addition to change of form and change of quantity. If this is correct, namely, that banks are as productive as the transport industry, which appears to be the case, than this fact negates Marx’s assumption that value-production is solely relegated to the capitalist production sphere.

In essence, this fact pushes the limits of the production of value and surplus value outside the factory; i.e., the capitalist production sphere, by extending the limits of the factory to the sum of society itself. Society, by and large, under post-industrialism and post-modernism becomes one vast systemized factory system, where the production of value and surplus value, the consumption of value and surplus value and the distribution of value and surplus value admix with each other seamlessly and/or side by side, encompassing the sum of all social relations and all socio-economic processes.

No longer are there any designated areas and spheres of production, consumption and distribution within post-industrial, post-modern democratic-state-capitalism in the sense that production, consumption and distribution are so intimately inter-connected that each is simultaneously a moment in the process of the other etc., and, in fact, so much so that production, consumption and distribution blend with each other effortlessly to the point of skewing all initial Marxist definitions outlined in Marx’s Das Capital. As a result, contrary to Marx, the production of value and surplus value is no longer relegated to the confines of the production spheres, but meld simultaneously embedded in the consumption spheres and distribution spheres and vice versa. For instance, as Marx states:

The banking system … is… on the one hand, an immanent form of the capitalist mode of production and on the other hand a driving force of its development into its highest and last possible form. The banking system, by its organization and centralization, is the most artificial and elaborate product brought into existence by the capitalist mode of production. Hence the tremendous power an institution such as the bank…has over trade and industry.9

Although Marx states that banks “remain completely outside…[the] orbit”9 of trade and industry, that is, the abode of value and surplus value production, he, nonetheless, recognizes the power that banks have in influencing production, consumption and distribution. All the same, Marx fails to make the link and the similarity between the banking industry and the transport industry, namely, how each can be conceived as selling change; i.e., commodity change, as the basic fundamental commodity each industry offers in the marketplace. While not to fault Marx too much, this is again a matter of the dominant ideational comprehensive framework, which in a bias fashion, privileges certain socio-economic phenomena in contrast to others. As an ideational comprehensive framework applies certain artificial parameters to reality so as to generate specific forms of understanding and meaning, understandings and meanings, which are valid only within the arbitrary parameters of the specific ruling capitalist ideational comprehensive framework.  In effect, an ideational comprehensive framework is “is an in-built set of concepts that manifests an artificial ideational reality, a framework of ready-made automatic ideas, opinions and answers to all social, economic and/or existential problems”.10 Between productive and unproductive labor, which Marx makes, are, in fact, antiquated terms in the sense that in contemporary capitalism the two distinctions blend with each other so much so as to generate confusion and distortion. For Braverman:

Although productive and unproductive labor are technically distinct, …despite these distinctions, the two masses of labor are not otherwise in striking contrast, and need not be counter-posed to each other. [As today] they form a continuous mass of employment which, at present and unlike the situation in Marx’ day, has everything in common.11

In this regard, productive and unproductive labor are more or less unified terms, that although having once described two distinct forms of labor, today are useless, due to the fact that both terms blend with one another seamlessly. As a result, following Braverman’s lead, and extending his logic a bit further, it is not a stretch to describe labor today under post-industrial, post-modern bourgeois-state-capitalism as first and foremost productive. All labor, whatever it may be, produces and reproduces capitalism in its own right. Even Marx’s madman, who solely produces delusions, is a productive laborer in the sense that his delusions, from the capitalist ideational comprehensive framework, instill a profitable fear and apprehension in citizens in the sense that they should strictly adhere to the socio-economic processes of capitalism. Likewise, the madman’s crippling poverty, paraded every day on the street corner, serves productively as a constant reminder that the logic of capitalism is to be respected, feared and obeyed, less one strays too far from the logical necessities of capitalism, and finds oneself jettisoned from his or her position in the capitalist socio-economic hierarchy, forced to live on the same street corner, producing similar delusions.

Within post-industrial, post-modern bourgeois-state-capitalism, “today, surplus value can come from any micro-sector of the military-industrial-complex, thus in turn should a living wage also follow suite”.12 However, in order to maximize profit, the capitalist ideational comprehensive framework, only acknowledges and recognizes certain arbitrary forms of labor as productive and as deserving of wage; while a great sum of human activities, although vital to the capitalist’s drive to maximize profit, are ignored, marginalized and denied a basic income. It is in this regard that the capitalist ideational comprehensive framework structures mental and physical reality, by validating certain arbitrary activities, spaces and time frames as financially meritorious, while denying other activities, spaces and time frames as financially useless. Revolutionizing the dominant ideational comprehensive framework results in the deconstruction and reconstruction of mental and physical socio-economic reality, and vice versa, revolutionizing mental and physical socio-economic reality results in the deconstruction of a dominant ideational comprehensive framework and the reconstruction of a new ideational comprehensive framework. A new framework, which may finally change all capitalist definitions, capitalist perspectives and the capitalist socio-economic parameters of what genuinely constitutes financial merit as all citizens are in essence productive, and thus, have ultimately “a right to a living salary…regardless of employment or unemployment, background, education, gender, age, race and/or culture etc.”13

  1. Michel Luc Bellemare, The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism), (Montréal: Blacksatin Publications Inc., 2016) 1.b). []
  2. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Trans, Martin Nicolaus, (London, England: Penguin Books, 1993) 305. []
  3. Ibid, p. 305-306. []
  4. Karl Marx, “The German Ideology,” The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker (New York, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1978) 172-173. []
  5. Ibid, p. 154. []
  6. Karl Marx, Grundrisse, Trans, Martin Nicolaus, (London, England: Penguin Books, 1993) 533-534. []
  7. David Harvey, The Limits To Capital, (New York: Verso Books, 2006) 377. []
  8. Karl Marx, Capital (Volume Three), Trans. David Fernbach (London: Penguin Books, 1991) 528. []
  9. Ibid, 742. [] [] []
  10. Michel Luc Bellemare, The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism), (Montréal: Blacksatin Publications Inc., 2016) 15.a). []
  11. Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, (New York, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1998) 292. []
  12. Michel Luc Bellemare, The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism), (Montréal: Blacksatin Publications Inc., 2016) 26.j). []
  13. Ibid, 59.d) # 12. []

Michel Luc Bellemare is the author of The Structural-Anarchism Manifesto: (The Logic of Structural-Anarchism Versus The Logic of Capitalism) Read other articles by Michel Luc.