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>Do you think abstract labor is a 'conceptual property'? You seem to be in
>favor of Colletti. Does not this definition goes against his view of
>abstract labor as real abstraction?
Riccardo, this is the difficulty. Note that in Marx's first derivation of
abstract labor, he himself refers to it as a phantom-like objectivity,
instead of a real abstraction. As RP Wolff has pointed out, this absurdity
is as if oranges, apples, etc only counted as modes of expression of Fruit.
Similarly diverse concrete labors count in the exchange relation only as
modes of expression of the variable substance of Abstract Labor (which of
course is then directly incaranted in any one use value--coats, boxes of
chocolate, gold). So it is not Bohm Bawerk but Marx who first immediately
pointed to the seeming metaphysics of the labor theory of value.
We also had an earlier debate about Marx's derivation of a common substance
from the identity or equality of 20yds of linen=one coat. But if one reads
on, Marx undertands the value form as triple predicate (x,y,d)--that is,
any two commodities (x,y) can be made value equivalent in terms of the same
(money) denominator. It's the ability to express value equivalence in the
same denominator that has Marx conclude there must be a common substance.
Whether this makes the deduction or derivation any more valid I look
forward to comments by Gi or Stephen C who were most critical ealier of
Of course the extension (?) of the ternary predicate of the value form
however is broader than only those commodities which have the property of
variable value. For example, the commodities which can be rendered value
equivalent in terms of the same denominator include not only "values" but
land, rare art works and golden meteors. So it's not from value equivalence
alone that one can derive that commodities have or are value (abstract
labor). The pairs of objects which can be predicated by the value form
falls into a broader reference class than the objects which possess the
property of variable value.
Following Marx's famous letter to Kugelmann, I don't think however Marx is
actually trying to prove the social labor is the basis of value here since
it is perfectly obvious that only through the exchange value of commodities
can the distribution of social labor be effected. That is, Marx is
beginning with the totality of social labor (so he excludes land, other
gifts of nature) and then is trying to lay bare the metaphysical ill
formation of a society in which production is generally undertaken by
private firms by wage labor for money.
If is through commodity movements that our social labor is organized, then
commodities must be first and foremost be modes of expression of the
phantom like objectivity of Abstract Labor, which is thereby really
hypostatized. It is through being more or less of this that commodites
regulate the distribution of social labor, yet the abstract labor
represented by commodities is not reducible the energy or actual time
expended in making them!
So the mystery of commodities cannot discovered by inspecting them in
isolation or as things. So their essential property of being modes of
expression of so much abstract labor has no basis in thing itself and thus
seems to be purely conceptual.
So things not only have a conceptual property but the thing is subordinate
to its conceptual, as opposed to its thingly, properties--sensuous,
This seems to be part of what Marx is referring to as the necromancy of
commodities (I have called it the metaphysically ill formed nature of
commodities). But once we realize that the strange conceptual properties of
commodities do not derive from their own properties as things unto
themselves but rather derive their mystery from being parts of the social
labor of which they are part, while at the same time themselves regulating
the distribution of social labor themselves, then the necromancy
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