What is the theory of productive labor

Productive and unproductive work

1. Productive work in general

“The work process is ... initially to be viewed independently of any particular social form. Work is first of all a process between man and nature, a process in which man mediates, regulates and controls his metabolism with nature through his own actions. He confronts the natural substance itself as a natural power. He sets the natural forces belonging to his body, arms and legs, head and hand, in motion in order to acquire the natural substance in a form that can be used for his own life. By acting on nature outside of him through this movement and changing it, he at the same time changes his own nature. ”K. Marx, Capital I, MEW 23, 192.

“We subordinate work in a form in which it belongs exclusively to people. A spider performs operations similar to those of the weaver, and a bee puts some human builders to shame by building its wax cells. But what distinguishes the worst builder from the best bee from the outset is that he built the cell in his head before building it in wax. At the end of the work process, a result comes out which at the beginning of the process was already in the mind of the worker, that is, already ideally present. Not that it only changes the shape of the natural; in the natural he also realizes his purpose, which he knows, which determines the manner of his actions as a law and to which he must subordinate his will. ”K. Marx, Capital I, MEW 23, 193.

“The simple ones elements of the work process are the purposeful activity or the work itself, its object and its means. ”K. Marx, Capital I, MEW 23, 193.

"If you look at the whole process from the standpoint of its result, the product, both means of work and the object of work appear as means of production and labor itself as productive labor." K. Marx, Capital I, MEW 23, 196.

“This definition of productive labor, as it arises from the standpoint of the simple labor process, is by no means sufficient for the capitalist production process.” K. Marx, Capital I, MEW 23, 196, note 7.

2. Productive labor in capitalism

“The work process was initially viewed abstractly, regardless of its historical forms, as a process between man and nature. It said: 'If you look at the entire work process from the standpoint of its result, both the means of work and the object of work appear as means of production and the work itself as productive work.' And note 7 was added: 'This determination of productive work as it is from the standpoint of the simple work process is by no means sufficient for the capitalist production process. 'This is to be developed further here. ”K. Marx, Capital I, MEW 23, 531.

“To the extent that the work process is a purely individual one, the same worker combines all functions that are later separated. In the individual appropriation of natural objects for the purposes of his life he controls himself. Later he is controlled. The individual human being cannot act on nature without exercising his own muscles under the control of his own brain. Just as head and hand belong together in the natural system, the work process unites headwork and manual labor. Later they divorced to the point of hostile opposition. The product in general is transformed from the immediate product of the individual producer into a social product, into the common product of a collective worker, i. H. a combined workforce, whose members are closer or further away from the handling of the work item. With the cooperative character of the work process itself, the concept of productive work and its carrier, the productive worker, necessarily expands. In order to work productively, it is no longer necessary to lend a hand; it is enough to be the organ of the collective worker to carry out any of his sub-functions. The above original definition of productive labor ... always remains true for the total worker, viewed as a whole. But it no longer applies to each of its members, taken individually. ”K. Marx, Capital I, MEW 23, 531f.

“On the other hand, the concept of productive work is narrowing. Capitalist production is not just the production of commodities, it is essentially the production of surplus value. The worker does not produce for himself but for capital. It is therefore no longer enough for him to produce at all. He has to produce added value. Only the worker is productive who produces surplus value for the capitalist or who serves for the self-evaluation of capital. ”K. Marx, Kapital I, MEW 23, 532.

Too often Marxists have cited only the first part of this definition of productive workers, that they "produce surplus value". The fact that productive work also serves to “self-exploit (increase) capital” is often overlooked. The so-called circulation workers in trade, banks and insurance companies fall into this category, although they do not produce added value.

See the article: Circulation work

“If you are free to choose an example outside the sphere of material production, then is a School teacher Productive worker, if he not only works on children's heads, but works himself off to enrich the entrepreneur. The fact that the latter invested his capital in a training factory instead of a sausage factory does not change the ratio. The concept of the productive worker therefore by no means merely includes a relationship between activity and usefulness, between worker and labor product, but also a specifically social, historically developed relationship of production which stamps the worker as the direct means of valorization of capital. To be a productive worker is therefore not luck, but bad luck. ”K. Marx, Capital I, MEW 23, 532.

“Only the bourgeois narrow-mindedness, which considers the capitalist forms of production to be their absolute forms - hence for eternal natural forms of production - can raise the question of what productive work from the point of view of capital, is confused with the question of what work is productive at all or what productive work is at all and therefore seems very wise to answer that every work that produces anything at all results in something, of yourself is out of productive work. ... just work, which turns directly into capital is productive ... Work that creates surplus value or serves as a lever for capital to set surplus value and therefore to set itself as capital, as utilizing value. ”K. Marx, Theorien über denwert I, MEW 26.1, 369.Note the distinction: productive work,"the (directly) Added value "and productive work that"The capital (indirectly) serves as a lever to set added value ”.The latter is circulation work.

“The direct purpose of capitalist production is not the production of the commodity, but of surplus value or profit (in its developed form), not the product, but that Multi-product. From this standpoint, labor itself is only productive in so far as it is profit or Multi-product creates for capital. Insofar as the worker does not manage to do this, his work is unproductive. ”K. Marx, Theorien über dem PLUS II, MEW 26.2, 548.

“Productive labor is only an abbreviated expression for the whole relationship and manner in which the labor capacity figures in the capitalist production process. The distinction of other Kinds of labor, however, is of the greatest importance, since it expresses precisely the formal determination of labor on which the entire capitalist mode of production and capital itself are based. Productive work is therefore such - in the system of capitalist production - that added value for her Entrepreneur produces or which transforms the objective working conditions into capital and their owners into capitalists, i.e. labor that produces its own product as capital. ... Productive work can therefore be described as dealing directly with the moneyascapital exchanges or, which is just a shortened term for it, which deals directly with capital exchanges, d. H. with money, which is capital in itself, is destined to function as capital, or with labor capacity as capital facing. In the expression work that is right away With capital exchanges, lies included that work deals with the money as capital exchanges, and it really turned into capital. As for the determination of the immediacy as far as is concerned, that will be shown in more detail in a moment. Productive labor is therefore that which for the worker only reproduces the previously determined value of his labor capacity, while on the other hand it utilizes capital as a value-creating activity (increased) or the values ​​created by it are opposed to the worker himself as capital. ”K. Marx, Theorien über den Vorteil I, MEW 26.1, 371f.

“Ricardo shares all of A. Smith's distinction between productive and unproductive labor, insofar as the former with capital, the latter directly with revenue (= Means of subsistence / private consumption) exchanges their work. But he no longer shares Smith's tenderness and illusion about the productive workers. It's bad luck to be a productive worker. A productive worker is a worker who strange Produces wealth. Its existence only has meaning as such an instrument of production for foreign wealth. ”K. Marx, Theorien über denwerter I, MEW 26.1, 196.

"The expression that productive labor is labor that is directly exchanged with capital ... includes this:

1. the relation of money and labor as commodities to one another, buying and selling between the owner of money and the owner of labor;

2. the direct submission of labor under capital;

3. the real transformation of labor into capital in the production process or, what is the same, the creation of surplus-value for capital. It finds two exchanges of labor and capital instead of. The first just expresses the purchase of labor power and therefore in reality the work and therefore their product. The second is the direct transformation livelier Work in capital or its objectification as the realization of capital. ”K. Marx, Theorien über denwert I, MEW 26.1, 375.

“From what has been said so far, it appears that productive work to be is a determination of work that at first has absolutely nothing to do with it certain content the work, its particular usefulness or the peculiar use-value in which it is represented.Same Sort of work can productive or unproductive be. E.g. Milton, the the 'Paradise Lost' for £ 5 wrote, was a unproductive worker. The writer, on the other hand, who supplies factory work for his bookseller is a more productiveWorkers. ... A singer who sells her singing on her own is a unproductive worker. But the same singer hired by an entrepreneur who makes her sing to make money is a productive worker; because it produces capital. ”K. Marx, Theories of Productive and Unproductive Labor, MEW 26.1, 376f.

See the article: Intangible production

Productive work is just the one who capital produced. Is not it crazy, asks z. B. ... Mr. Senior (English economist, 19th century)that the piano maker is one more productiveWorkers should be, but the Piano player not, although without the pianist on the piano Absurd would? But that's exactly how it is. The piano maker reproduced capital; the pianist only exchanges his work for revenue (= Means of subsistence / private consumption) out. But the piano player produces music and satisfies our tonal sense, does it also produce it, so to speak? As a matter of fact so he does: his work produces something; therefore it is not productivejob in the economicSenses; as little as the work of the fool is productive who produces phantasms. Labor is only productive when it produces its own opposite. “K. Marx, Grundrisse der Critique of Political Economy, 212.

“The same labor can be productive if I buy it as a capitalist, as a producer, in order to utilize it (ie to make a profit), and be unproductive if I buy it as a consumer ... in order to consume its use-value it is that this use-value disappears with the activity of the labor capacity itself or is materialized in a thing ... "K. Marx, Theories about productive and unproductive work, MEW 26.1, 135.

2.1. Special cases of productive labor in capitalism

2.1.1. Circulation workers as indirectly productive workers

In the following I limit myself to the merchant's capital. The same applies to bank and insurance capital.

"The extent to which merchant capital can be indirectly productive has already been indicated and will be discussed further later." K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 293.

“The transformation of commodity (product) into money and money into commodity (means of production) is a necessary function of industrial capital and therefore necessary operation of the capitalist ... The merchant, in carrying out these operations ..., merely takes the place of the industrial capitalist. ”K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 300f.

"Incidentally, it must be assumed that the division between commercial and industrial capital is associated with the centralization of trade costs and therefore a reduction in them." K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 303.


"If the merchant's capital does not exceed its necessary proportions, it can be assumed:

1. that, as a result of the division of labor, capital which is exclusively concerned with buying and selling ... is smaller than it would be if the industrial capitalist had to carry out the entire commercial part of his business himself;

2. that, because the merchant is exclusively concerned with this business, his commodities are not only converted into money earlier for the producer, but the commodity capital itself is his more quickly transformation goes through than it would in the hand of the producer;

3. That, considering the total merchant capital in relation to industrial capital, a turnover of merchant capital can represent not only the turnover of many capitals in one sphere of production, but the turnover of a number of capitals in different spheres of production. ”K. Marx, Capital III , MEW 25, 286f.

“The faster the merchant's capital turns, the smaller, the slower it turns, the greater is the part of the total money capital that figures as merchant's capital.” K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 288.

“Merchant's capital is nothing but capital that functions within the sphere of circulation. The process of circulation is a phase in the entire reproductive process. But no value is produced in the circulation process, so no added value either. There are only changes in shape of the same mass of value. ... If an added value is realized in the sale of the produced goods, it is because this already exists in them; ... The merchant's capital therefore creates neither value nor surplus value, i. H. not directly. If it helps to shorten the circulation time, it can indirectly help increase the surplus value produced by industrial capital. As far as it helps to expand the market and mediates the division of labor between the capitalists, that is social Capital enables it to work on a larger scale, its function promotes the productivity of industrial capital and its accumulation. In so far as it shortens the period of circulation, it increases the ratio of surplus value to capital advanced, that is, the rate of profit. To the extent that it locks a smaller part of capital into the sphere of circulation as money capital, it increases the part of capital used directly in production. ”K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 290f.

The social mass of profit is increased through trade, banks and insurance, in that the reproduction of total capital is economized and accelerated. This effect on the total capitalist profit is increased and magnified by the unpaid surplus labor of the circulation workers.


“The question now is: what about the commercial Wage workers employed by the commercial capitalist, here the merchant? ”K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 303f.

“Which causes difficulties with regard to the commercial Wage workers, is by no means to explain how they directly produce profit for their employer, although they do not directly produce surplus value ... Indeed, this question has already been solved by the general analysis of the commercial Profits. ”K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 304.

“There is one on one side more commercial Worker wage worker like someone else.First, insofar as labor is bought by the trader's variable capital, not by his revenue (= Means of subsistence / private consumption) spent money, and therefore only bought for private service, but for the purpose of self-realization of the capital advanced in it. Second, insofar as the value of his labor power and therefore his wages are determined, as with all other wage workers, by the production and reproduction costs of his specific labor power, not by the product of his labor. ”K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 303f.

“Like the unpaid labor of the worker, there is direct surplus value to productive capital creates, the unpaid labor of the commercial wage workers creates a share of that surplus value for commercial capital. ”K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 305.

“The commercial worker does not directly produce surplus value. But the price of his labor is determined by the value of his labor power, that is, its production costs, while the exercise of this labor power, as a strain, expression of strength and wear and tear, as with every other wage worker, is in no way limited by the value of his labor power. His wages are therefore in no necessary relation to the mass of profit which he helps the capitalist to realize. What it costs the capitalist and what it brings in are different sizes. He brings him in, not by directly creating surplus value, but by helping to reduce the costs of realizing the surplus value insofar as he does some unpaid work. ”K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 311.

The wage workers in trade, banks and insurance companies increase the profit of the capitalist class through unpaid work and thus contribute to the valorisation and enlargement of social capital. These wage workers can be described as "indirectly productive", in no way as "unproductive".

2.1.2. Mind work as productive work

The total productive worker, i.e. H. the wage working class or the proletariat, however, necessarily combines mental and manual labor.

“With the development of specifically capitalist production, where many workers work together to produce the same commodity, the relationship in which their work stands directly to the object of production must of course be very different. E.g. the ... henchmen in a factory have nothing to do directly with the processing of the raw material. The workers who form the overseers of those directly involved in this processing stand a step further away; the engineer has a different relationship and works mainly only with his head, etc. But that All of these workerswho have work capacities of different values ​​... produce the result that ... in Wouldor one materialproductpronounces; and all together ... are the living production machine of this Products, how they, considering the entire production process, exchange their labor for capital and reproduce the capitalists' money as capital, d. H. as utilizing value, increasing value. It is precisely the peculiarity of the capitalist mode of production to separate the different work, including the head and hand work - or the work in which one or the other side predominates - and to distribute them to different people, but what does not prevent the material product from the commonproductof these persons, or their common product, is objectified in material wealth; which, on the other hand, just as little prevents or alters nothing from the fact that the relationship of each and every one of these persons is that of the wage laborer to capital and in this eminent sense that of productiveWorkeris. All of these people are not just right awayengaged in the production of material wealth, but they exchange their work right awayagainst money as capital and therefore reproduce directly outside of theirs wage an added value for the capitalist. Your work consists of paid work plus unpaid overtime. ”K. Marx, Theories about productive and unproductive work I, MEW 26.1, 386f.

See the article: Hand and brain work

2.1.3. Management work is partly productive work

With part of their activity, capitalist managers are productive wage workers, part of the productive total worker.

“All intellectual work that is consumed directly in material production concludes A. Smith Of course, part of the work that is fixed and realized in a purchasable and exchangeable product ... Not just the direct manual worker
or machine workers, rather Overseer, Engineer, manager, clerk (Managing Director) etc., in short, the work of all the staff working in a given sphere of material production necessaryis, in order to produce a certain commodity, of which Working togetherof work (cooperation) is necessary for the production of the goods. In fact, they add their total labor to constant capital and increase the value of the product by this amount. ”K. Marx, Theories of Productive and Unproductive Labor, MEW 26.1, 134.

Insofar as managers do necessary management work, they are productive workers, insofar as they carry out exploitative functions (hiring and firing, disciplining, setting wages, determining working conditions, etc.) they are an instrument of capital.

“The work of supervision and management necessarily arises wherever the direct production process takes the form of a socially combined process and does not appear as the isolated work of the independent producers. But it is twofold. On the one hand, in all work in which many individuals cooperate, the context and the unity of the process is necessarily represented in a commanding will, and in functions that do not affect the partial work but the overall activity of the workshop, as in the case of the Conductors of an orchestra. It is productive work that must be done in any combined mode of production. On the other hand ... this work of supervision necessarily arises in all modes of production that are based on the opposition between the worker as the direct producer and the owner of the means of production. "K. Marx, Capital III, MEW 25, 397.

See the article:Manager

3. Unproductive work (servant class)

“Only the labor that produces capital is productive labor. ... This also defines absolutely what is unproductive work. It is labor that is not against capital, but directly against revenue (= Means of subsistence / private consumption) exchanges ... “K. Marx, Theories of Added Value I, MEW 26.1, 127.

“Productive labor is only that which is exchanged with capital; those with Revenue (= Means of subsistence / private consumption) as such, never. ”K. Marx, Theorien über dem PLUS I, MEW 26.1, 228.

"All ... unproductive Members of society can only obtain their share of the annual commodity product - that is, their means of consumption - from the hands of the classes to which the product falls in the first place - productive workers, industrial capitalists and landowners. To that extent are their revenues (= Means of subsistence / private consumption) indeed derived from wages (of the productive workers), profit and rent on land, and therefore appear to be derived from those original income. ”K. Marx, Capital II, MEW 24, 372.

3.1. Wage-dependent servant class

This includes the "Service class, the direct wage workers of the idle capitalists". K. Marx, Capital II, MEW24, 481.

These servants are those who live from the surplus product “Part of the serving class, not of capital but of revenue (= Means of subsistence / private consumption) lives. There is a essential difference between this serving and the working class. ”K. Marx, Grundrisse der Critique of Political Economy, 305.

“An actor z. B., himself a clown, is, according to this, a productive worker if he works in the service of a capitalist, to whom he gives more work back than he receives from him in the form of wages, while a tailor who comes to the capitalist's house and mending his pants ... is an unproductive worker. The work of the former is exchanged for capital, that of the latter for revenue (= means of subsistence / private consumption). The former creates added value; in the second a revenue (= means of subsistence / private consumption) is consumed. ”K. Marx, Theorien über den Vorteil I, MEW 26.1, 127.

This unproductive service class includes the entire domestic staff of the rich, their loved ones and all others who live from the private coffers (= revenue) of the capitalists and landowners and are only there to make life pleasant for the rich.

Together with all wage workers, these unproductive service providers have to live from their own work. But the capitalists do not pay their wages as an advance from their capital in order to receive from them an enlarged product and from it an increased capital. The capitalists and landowners pay these service providers from their private consumption fund for private servicing. Therefore, these servants have common interests with their masters: the richer their master, the more the servants lose.

You receive, “Part of the luxury spending of the capitalists for their services ... (these workers themselves are a total of Luxury items) ... “K. Marx, Capital II, MEW 24, 409.

3.3. Salaried civil servants

Marx also included all civil servants in the unproductive but wage-dependent service class - with the exception of the productive civil servants in the railroad, the post office, etc. Karl Marx counted"Government, priests, lawyers, military, etc."expressly out of the wage working class. K. Marx, Capital I, MEW 23, 469.

The higher positions of the state are usually reserved for the children of capitalists and the capitalist clientele. So complements the ruling class “In the form of government funds, which it cannot pocket in the form of profits, interest, pensions and fees.” K. Marx, 18. Brumaire, MEW 8, 151.

„... A.on the basis of capitalist productionwhere most of the material goods ... are produced by wage workers under the rule of capital, the unproductive labor (or services, be it the whore or the pope) can only be paid for ... either from the wages of the productive workers or from the profit of the capitalists (and their partakers in the profit) ... the productive workers produce the material basis of the livelihood and existence of the unproductive workers ...“K. Marx, Theories of Added Value I, MEW 26.1, 157.

See the article: Taxes

3.3. Self-employed whose services are consumed privately.

In addition to the wage-dependent servant class, there are independent, but unproductive service providers who are statistically recorded by the self-employed owners.

“The whole class of so-called services from the shoeshine to the king falls into this category.” K. Marx, Grundrisse der Critique of Political Economy, 369f.

In contrast to today's wage-dependent heads of state, kings were more or less economically independent through state domains, state shelves, etc. The "Large numbers of so-called 'higher' workers - such as civil servants, the military, artists, doctors, priests, judges, Lawyers etc. - are ... partly not only not productive ... but essentially destructive, but ... know one To acquire a very large part of the 'material' wealth partly by selling their 'immaterial' goods, partly by forcibly imposing them ... "K. Marx, Theories about productive and unproductive work, MEW 26.1., 145.

As capitalist wealth grows, that part of the service class can grow as well, by doing “A mass of parasitic bodies build themselves around capital, which, under one title or the other, attract so much of the total production ...” K. Marx, Grundrisse der Critique of Political Economy, 643.

See the article: Self-employed