Defining value

Issue section: 
(430)

I read with interest Joseph Choonara’s response (October SR) to Ken Muller’s letter arguing that education workers should be regarded as productive workers. I agree with Joseph’s essential point that education workers are not productive in terms of capitalism. As he pointed out, “productive labour is labour hired by capitalists to create a commodity (whether a tangible good or service) that contains surplus value.”

However, I struggled to find definition of when a good or service contains surplus value. Presumably, it is not a good or service which provides a profit to the capitalist, although profits come out of surplus value. If it was a case of generating profits then a teacher moving from the state system to the private privatised sector, and in the process becoming “a potential source of profit”, would now be productive.

I am not sure I can provide a workable definition either; perhaps Joseph can elaborate. However, I feel it does lie with the concepts developed by Marx to show how once a commodity is produced the whole of the surplus does not go to that capitalist. An array of merchants and financiers is involved in realising the surplus initially created, and in the process exacting a price as a reward. Equally, the costs of paid labour to provide the next generation of workers, the care of the old and the “policing” of the system must come out of the surplus initially generated.

Raymond Storry
London