[OPE-L:5695] Re: Re: Re: Re: Response to Fred - 1

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Wed May 30 2001 - 21:05:46 EDT

thanks again for taking up the discussion.  Of course, it is obvious -
given our different perspectives on the method of *Capital* and the
different meanings we attribute to the term 'abstract labour' - that we
will have different interpretations both of Marx's passage and of it's
place in his work as a whole.  

RE your objection to my use of the term 'concrete labour' to describe

On Marx's duality of concrete-labour/abstract-labour I went to some lengths
(Jerry might even call it a megapost?) to lay out what I consider to be the
problems in Marx's derivation of abstract-labour from concrete-labour, and
I also presented the brief outline of a critique of
abstract-labour-embodied value theory.  As you know, many of the debates in
the 1980s turned on this question of whether abstract-labour is a
physiological substance embodied in commodities during production (a
technical value theory, cf de Vroey) or a social form assumed by concrete
private labour when useful objects are produced for exchange by independent
producers (a social value theory, cf de Vroey).  I argued in my original
posts to you that both readings are subject to the same critique, *to the
extent* that they retain an abstract-labour-embodied theory.  Firstly, a
measure of value in labour time requires a simplification to homogeneous
abstract-labour, irrespective of whether the pre-market entities are taken
to be hours of concrete-labour (as in the technical interpretation) or
unobservable/potential quantities of abstract-labour (as in the social
interpretation).  Secondly, the 'paradigm of production' implicit in *all*
concrete/abstract-labour-embodied theories militates against an adequate
theorisation of the interpenetration of moments of production and
circulation within the circuit of capital as a whole.  

With respect to these two arguments, I agree with Geert Reuten and Mike
Williams that the 'embodied character' of abstract-labour is more
fundamental than the empirical question of whether, in principle, it is
possible to arrive at a pre-market measure of homogeneous labour.  In a
capitalist economy, where labour, consumption and production are separate
activities and subject to the imperatives of valorisation, private labour
must assume a social value-form (wages) and concrete-labour can be
abstract-labour only to the extent that it does so.  An adequate theory of
value must come to terms with this domination of value-form over
value-content.  One way to theorise form-determination is to see money as
ontologically significant in determining both the character and extent of
economic activity; in this case, the Ricardian essence and appearance model
(where money is but a veil over exploitation) breaks down, and the concept
of abstract-labour as labour embodied in production must be abandoned.
This argument is most cogently expressed, imho, in current reconstructions
of abstract-labour not as a pre-market substance measured (immanently) in
labour time, but as the determinate form of labour that comes about only
when the imperatives of valorisation dominate the technical labour process.  

What, then, is the point of your argument (below)?  In the first place, you
seem to me to be attacking a straw man (I am, of course, assuming that you
did read my longer post, so you know beforehand that I cannot use the term
'abstract labour' in the sense that you want me to use it).  Also, I have
already set out my view that the reductionisms of the first chapter of
"Capital" mean that abstract-labour as derived there is nothing but a
generalisation of concrete-labour.  Hence I would reserve the term
abstract-labour for a non-labour-embodied concept, and use the term
concrete-labour to describe the contribution of labour to the technical
labour process which creates the useful products to be exchanged.
Abstract-labour has meaning for me only as the wage *form* of socially
equalised labour - relevant only when the valorisation process comes to
dominate the technical labour process.  You disagree, fine.  But, it would
be nice if you didn't misrepresent my arguments.  Especially since I
explicitly stated that my interpretation of the passage in Marx can have a
value-form meaning *only* if the whole of Capital is taken to be a
systematic dialectical work.  Also, I expressed my reluctance to give a
'summary' of such an interpretation because I am fully aware that the
meaning of the terms I use will be disputed.  

Let's try to find a more constructive way to go forward.  I'm sure that
Chris does have a different VFT interpretation of the passage, and I too
would like to hear it.  


>Nicky, thanks again very much for your latest post and this very
>stimulating discussion.  My responses below. 
>On Tue, 29 May 2001, nicola taylor wrote:
>> You request a summary interpretation of Marx's passage.  Difficult since,
>> imho, no passage or chapter in Marx can be interpreted in isolation from
>> it's place in the whole of Capital, or in isolation from the debate on
>> Marx's method.  However...  
>> >"Political economy has indeed analysed value and its magnitude, however
>> >incompletely, and has uncovered the content concealed within these forms.
>> >But it has never once asked the question why this content has assumed that
>> >particular form, that is to say, why labour is expressed in value, and why
>> >the measurement of labour by its duration is expressed in the magnitude of
>> >the value of the product."
>> ...From a VFT perspective, the fundamental question posed by Marx is why
>> content (eg use-value/concrete-labour) is 'concealed within' or has
>> 'assumed' particular forms (eg value/abstract-labour)..  
>Nicky, I think you are fundamentally misinterpreting Marx's meaning of the
>term "content" in this passage.  You interpret content to mean "use-value
>/ concrete labor".  But Marx's meaning of content in this passage is not
>concrete labor; rather it is ABSTRACT labor.  Marx's use of the terms
>content and form in this passage (and elsewhere) refer to the content and
>form OF VALUE.  Marx's theory of the content and form of value abstracts
>altogether from use-value and concrete labor.
>I think this meaning of content is clear from the passages in Chapter 1
>that I reviewed in my previous post (5664).  Section 1 of Chapter 1
>derives abstract labor as the "content" or the "substance" of
>value.  Section 2 elaborates further the distinction between abstract
>labor, which is the content of value, and concrete labor, which is
>not.  Section 3 derives money as the necessary form of appearance of
>value, from the presupposed content of value, i.e. from the presupposed
>characteristics of abstract labor (qualitatively equal and quantitatively
>The passage we are debating is from Section 4.  Presumably Marx's meaning
>of content in this passage in Section 4 is the same meaning of content in
>Sections 1 through 3 - i.e. the content of VALUE, or abstract
>labor.  Marx's critique of political economy in this passage (and
>elsewhere) was that it never asked why the content of abstract labor
>assumes, or is expressed in, the form of appearance of money and
>prices.  Marx's critique of political economy in this passage was NOT that
>it never asked why concrete labor and use-values assume the form of
>exchange-values and abstract labor.  The necessity of money, which
>political economy was unable to explain, follows abstract labor; it does
>not follow from concrete labor.  For Marx, abstract labor was the content
>of value, not the form of value (as you suggest).  
>Therefore, I do not see how this passage supports the VF interpretation of
>Marx's theory as you (and Chris) have suggested.  (Chris, do you have the
>same interpretation of this passage as Nicky, or a different
>interpretation?  If different, please explain.  Thanks)
>> Given the concept
>> of form determination, as I have described it above, this question is not
>> concerned with a splitting of value and price into essence/content and
>> appearance/form as autonomous entities between which causal relations can
>> then be established.  
>I think I have shown in my previous post that Marx's own logic in Chapter
>1 (and I would argue beyond) is indeed concerned with "splitting of value
>into essence/content and appearance/form as autonomous entities between
>which causal relations can be established."  The causal relations are
>derived as necessary connections between the autonomous entities of
>abstract labor and money.  I have presented key passages in which Marx
>said precisely that, and I would be happy to discuss Chapter 1 in greater
>Therefore, if systematic dialectics does not allow such autonomous
>entities and quantitative causal relations, then I would have to conclude
>that Marx was not doing systematic dialectics, at least not in Chapter 1.

Nicola Mostyn (Taylor)
Faculty of Economics
Murdoch University
Telephone: 61-8-9385 1130

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