[OPE-L:2340] Re: value-form theories

From: nicola taylor (nmtaylor@carmen.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Wed Feb 09 2000 - 17:04:08 EST

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>> > 2) Exchange is the only process whereby the private, concrete labour of
>> > individuals becomes validated (socially constituted) as social, abstract
>> > labour. There is thus, in this sense, no "independence" of abstract
>> > labour and price.
>> This is again ahistorical in that it eternalises capitalist conditions
>> of production. The appearance of abstract labour as money is a
>> limited phenomenon according to the communist viewpoint.
>An alternative, of course, is that in your scheme of things it is abstract
>labour that is an a-historical category . It is indeed clear that you seem
>to ground abstract labour primarily in biology. From the value-form
>perspective (and I suspect not only from this perspective) abstract labour
>is a social (and therefore socially specific) form. Physiological 'abstract
>labour' would then be merely potential abstract labour; a potential that is
>ultimately actualised only under developed capitalism.
>The disanalogy of Smith's Beaver/Deer hunter story is that there was no
>social mechanism to ensure that Beaver and Deer actually systematically
>exchanged in proportion to the hunting time required for each. Not
>withstanding various pre-figurative partial forms, such mechanisms come to
>dominate 'economic' intercourse only with the advent of capitalism.

The performance of labour in production is necessarily physiological, so
the concept *labour* can be thought of as a transhistorical category. I
would argue however that abstractions like 'concrete labour' and 'abstract
labour' - and the critical distinction between them - are only meaningful
under a system of generalised *production for exchange* (they are
historical categories). Under such a system, 'concrete labour' is the
performance of particular labour to produce particular products for
particular markets. When we are talking about *capitalism* as a specific
system of *production for exchange* the objective is of course
valorisation, but this is always 'ideal' in production since there is a
requirement that a product actually be sold in order that it should have
value. If the market were not the crucial mediating mechanism, it would be
as Marx sarcastically said - the longer the worker took to complete a job,
the lazier she was, the more recalcitrant and reluctant to work, (or these
days, the better she was at bargaining for wages, or the less efficient are
the horizontal markets for managers), the more value the product would
have. But concrete labour (its duration and intensity) cannot be the
measure of value, since it does not create value directly. Concrete labour
creates only use-values, and under capitalism, not even that - since the
usefulness of the object must itself be verified through sale.
In short, value cannot represent labour embodied in commodities prior to
exchange, because (1) value is not a meaningful concept until the products
of labour are actually brought into an exchange relationship. To go back
to the analogy that someone mentioned some time back, bananas rotting on a
shelf don't have value, no matter how much labour has gone into producing
them - so long as they remain rotting on the shelf. Also, (2) the
abstraction from concrete labour and the abstraction from the use-value of
commodities is affected only by exchange, since it is only then that the
performance of labour without regard to its form becomes meaningful as the
common substance in the commodities that are being brought into equality.
Prior to exchange there is no abstract labour (value substance). By which
I mean to say that the concept has no meaning, i.e. Smith's beaver/deer
hunter story is a nonsense.

To clarify, i'm not implying that there is no sense in comparing the number
of hours, on average, that go into tailoring and the number of hours that
go into making a microchip - so long as we recognise that accounting of
this sort is only meaningful if we are talking about capitalism. Even then,
we must be very clear about what that measure actually means, what it tells
us, and what it doesn't tell us. I don't think that we can know anything
about the value of commodities as the result of any such measures. The
meaning of these measures is to be found in the context of struggles over
the length of the working day, or working conditions, i.e. if we are
talking about the *process* of producing *surplus value* (not the
*definition of value* per se).

Incidentally, Geert has suggested to me that all of these differences in
interpretation of *abstract labour* possibly arise from the question of
what Marx actually meant when he talked about the 'equalisation' of labour.
 Did he mean abstraction from particular labours (concrete labour), or did
he mean an abstraction that brings the products of labour into a
relationship of equality (an abstraction from use-values that takes place
in the market). Of course he meant both. This doesn't mean that Marx was
inconsistent or wrong, but I personally think that he wasn't very clear
sometimes as to which aspect of the abstract-labour/value or
concrete-labour/use-value dualities he was talking about.

What does seem clear is that Marx set up the category of the commodity to
represent a double duality. A duality of use-value and value; and a
duality of concrete labour (the labour that creates use-values) and
abstract labour (the labour that creates values). Under capitalism - a
system of *private production for exchange* - the dualities are
irreconcilable since independent producers create only use-values for
others, while depending upon the sale of the products of labour (in the
case of capitalists) or the sale of labour-power (in the case of workers)
in order to have their own needs met. I don't see how this opposition
between concrete/abstract and use-value/value can be overcome (reconciled),
except through socialism/communism. All talk of socialism/communism that
reduces these distinctive features of capitalism (the historicity of the
abstract/concrete and value/use-value duality, and therefore the importance
of the market) doesn't make much sense to me.

Sorry this is long and a bit cumbersome - no time to edit.

>btw, I have switched from Outlook *Express* 97 to Outlook 2000. Does that
>help the problem with the 'reply to' field?

Afraid not, Mike: I had to over-ride the automatic *reply* and put in the
OPE-l address.


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