5. Value and productive labour

In a short unpublished text entitled « A purely social conception of value and productive labour » (pdf 0.28 Mo) (2008), J. Gouverneur gives a synthesis of the main theoretical conceptions underlying his latest textbook. The viewpoints adopted, justified by the sole concern for conceptual consistency, contribute to renew some basic aspects of the Marxist economic theory. The text is primarily intended for specialists.


Value is defined as « indirectly social labour », i.e. labour which is recognized as socially useful through the sale of the product. This sole criterion is used to define commodity, which includes all goods as well as all services (on condition that they be sold).

The traditional distinction between production activities and circulation activities is abandoned : insofar as they consist of indirectly social labour, both types of activities produce commodities and value. A new distinction, however, is made between circulation activities (which require time) and circulation acts (which are instantaneous) : the former, which belong to production in the broader sense, can create value and surplus value; the latter, on the contrary, cannot.

The same criterion of indirectly social labour is used to question traditional conceptions of more skilled and more intensive labour. The latter do not create more value than average labour. But they are possible means of increasing labour productivity and are treated as such : if limited to a particular enterprise, they give rise to transfers of surplus revenue ; if generalized throughout the economy, they give rise to one form of production of relative surplus value. A new distinction is introduced between economic exploitation and physical exploitation, which may move in opposite directions.

The criterion of indirectly social labour is also used to question traditional conceptions concerning the « value of labour-power » and the relations between the latter and the money wage.

The non-conventional viewpoints adopted completely separate the issue of productive labour and that of social classes. At the level of economic theory, the viewpoints adopted combine the advantages of precision and simplicity : on the one hand, they make the theoretical approach more rigorous and coherent ; on the other hand, while justified on purely theoretical grounds, they present the additional advantages of making the theory simpler and allowing a much easier quantification of various key-concepts.

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Table of contents


1. Labour and value

1.1 Labour in capitalist society

1.2 Value as indirectly social labour

2. The debate concerning commodities and productive labour

2.1 Traditional approaches

2.1.1 The exclusion of circulation and supervisory activities

2.1.2 The exclusion of immaterial services

2.2 An alternative approach

2.2.1 Principles

2.2.2 A reply to two objections

2.2.3 Relevance of the two concepts of productive labour

2.2.4 Productive labour and social classes

3. The debate concerning more productive, more intensive or skilled labour

3.1 Traditional approaches

3.1.1 The creation of value

3.1.2 The effect on the rate of surplus value

3.2 An alternative approach

3.2.1 Critical comments on the traditional approaches

3.2.2 Alternative principles

3.2.3 Physical exploitation and economic exploitation

4. The debate concerning wages and the value of labour-power

4.1 Traditional approaches

4.2 An alternative approach

4.2.1 Principles

4.2.2 Criticism of competing views

5. Conclusion

5.1 A short synthesis

5.2 Impact in the field of Marxist economic theory

5.3 Impact in the ideological and socio-political field

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