[OPE-L:5827] RE: RE: Re: form and content re value-form and abstractlabour

From: Michael Williams (michael@williamsmj.worldonline.co.uk)
Date: Thu Jun 07 2001 - 17:38:48 EDT

My replies to Fred are interjected in his message:

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Fred B. Moseley [mailto:fmoseley@MtHolyoke.edu]
> Sent: Thursday, June 07, 2001 3:21 PM
> To: Michael Williams
> Cc: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
> Subject: Re: [OPE-L:5812] RE: Re: form and content re value-form and
> abstractlabour
> ...
> By contrast, Marx defined abstract labor (and my last post was mainly
> about Marx's concept of abstract labor, not the VF concept) in units of
> LABOR, independent of money (in Sections 1 and 2 of Chapter 1).  Marx
> assumed that abstract labor exists in units of labor, and in specific
> quantities of labor, although not directly observable as such.
> Michael, do you agree or disagree with this interpretation of Marx's
> concept of abstract labor?

I think Marx tried to do this - it is one strand in his work, which, imo,
reveals his incomplete emancipation from Classical Political Economy. But
the position is unsustainable. Conceptually, it is incoherent to try to sum
incommensurable concrete labours; and empirically you cannot in principle
measure that which is unobservable or indeed that which has no form. I am
not currently in a position to make a detailed text based argument about
what Marx said/meant, since I am focussed on the validity and usefulness of
post-Hegelian Marxist theory of 21st Century capitalism.
 Michael, would you please briefly summarize what you
> mean by "unpacking the notion of `being'," and how this relates to the  VF
> concept of abstract labor?  Or refer me to your published works where you
> have dealt with these issues.

It is unclear from the current thread  what it means to say that abstract
labour has an independent existence. You have since withdrawn from this
position in favour of logical priority and Andrew B. talks, metaphorically,
of 'congealed labour' and 'quasi-existence'. All this seems to me to be
fumbling around to justify (some of) Marx's text. With the VF we are, with
one bound, free of these mysterious entanglements: Abstract Labour exists
only as a moment* of Commodity, and more generally of the capitalist system.

[*moment: an element of an interconnected system that may be posited in the
conceptual presentation, but can have no independent existence.]

As I said before, Abstract Labour, Value, Money as such have existence only
as moments of the capitalist system. This captures their interdependence,
and makes any insistence that abstract labour exists independently or prior
to money incomprehensible.

So - being is not a simple concept. Or Abstract labour has no simple
existence. What has simple existence is (concrete) labour. Note that this is
to claim more than that abstract labour can only #be understood# in its
interconnections within the capitalist economy; Abstract Labour can only
exist within these interconnections. (Of course, this rejects the
physiological account of abstract labour as some kind of expenditure of
human mental and manual effort.)
> What I mean by money being derived from abstract labor is that the
> specific characteristics of money - qualitative equality and quantitative
> comparability - are derived from the fact that abstract labor has these
> same characteristics.

Then this is a point of disagreement: qualitative equality and quantitative
comparability cannot be predicated of Abstract Labour independently of, or
prior to, the expression of Value in Money.

> These are the characteristics of abstract labor
> that require an observable "form of appearance".

So, it is only as expressed in Money that Abstract Labour has these
characteristics. The value-form is not a mere 'form-of-appearance' it is the
Form=Shape in which abstract labour necessarily  manifests itself. Prior to
Money, abstract labour is 'without shape and void' - i.e. it #is# not!

> That is why the simple
> form and the expanded form of value are "insufficient" - because they lack
> the characteristic of qualitative equality.

Quite. But these 'forms' are also prior in Marx's development of the
Value-Form in chapter 1; yet I assume you do not claim that they have some
kind of logical priority or independent existence?
> Furthermore, specific quantities of money function as the form of
> appearance of specific quantities of abstract labor.

Yes, in the concrete reproduction of the system of which Abstract labour and
Money are moments*. Abstract labour does not pre-exist the actual
abstraction from concrete labour performed by the capitalist market system.

> The quantities of
> abstract labor are assumed to exist (although unobservable),

No! They are posited as moments* that cannot exist independent of the system
that is being conceptually re-constructed.

> these quantities of abstract labor determine  the quantities of money that
> serve as their observable form of appearance.

I would be interested to know by what mechanism a non-existent assumed
quantity of abstract labour can determine a sum of money?
> Michael, isn't this deriving money from abstract labor, and quantities of
> money from quantities of abstract labor?  If not, please explain why not.

I think I have done so in my interjections above. Can I talk casually for a
moment: which is a more plausible ontological commitment: to a formless
something called abstract labour that can exist independently of its form?
or to Abstract Labour as a moment of a clearly definable and
conceptualisable dynamic capitalist system? Your assumed abstract labour
threatens to reduce to the same kind of 'useful fiction' as orthodox
economics utility

Comradely greetings,


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