[OPE-L:5832] congealment: a metaphor?

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Jun 08 2001 - 07:26:05 EDT

Michael, Fred, and all,

To further confuse matters I managed to make a mistake:

On 7 Jun 2001, at 18:56, Andrew Brown wrote:

> Does congealed abstract labour exist, even though 
> non-sensuous? Well, yes it does, but only in a very banal sense. 
> Abstract labour as such is transhistorical

In fact, 'congealed' abstract labour is specifc to the CMP.
'Embodied' abstract labour is transhistorical, but 'congealed' 
Message-ID: <Pine.OSF.4.21.0106072347070.130911-100000@mhc.mtholyoke.edu>
MIME-Version: 1.0
Content-Type: TEXT/PLAIN; charset=US-ASCII
Reply-To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
Sender: owner-ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
X-Listprocessor-Version: 8.2.08 -- ListProc(tm) by CREN

On Thu, 7 Jun 2001, Michael Williams wrote:

> My replies to Fred are interjected in his message:
> >
> > 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. 

IMO, I don't think the "VF strand" in Marx's work has been adequately
demonstrated.  I would appreciate any textual evidence to support this

> But
> the position is unsustainable. Conceptually, it is incoherent to try to sum
> incommensurable concrete labours; 

I think this position is sustainable, as I have argued in my paper
("Abstract Labor: Substance or Form?  A Critique of the Value-Form
Interpretation of Marx's Theory", available on my
website: www.mtholyoke.edu/~fmoseley).  I am not arguing that Marx tried
to sum incommensurable concrete labors (Marx was quite explicit about
this).  Rather I am arguing that Marx converted different concrete labors
to abstract labor by means of reduction coefficients, which he took as
given.  This is a logically valid procedure.  Its usefulness depends on
the explanatory power which can be derived from this assumption, which I
have argued is considerable, and is greater than VF theory, because Marx's
theory provides a quantitative theory of surplus-value and all the
important conclusions that follow from that.

> and empirically you cannot in principle
> measure that which is unobservable or indeed that which has no form. 

I am not arguing that one can empirically measure abstract labor.  But I
am arguing that Marx assumed that abstract labor nonetheless exists, and
determines prices.

> >  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.

What I mean by the independent existence of abstract labor is expressed in
the following equation:

	Y = m L

L is assumed by Marx to exist independently of Y, and to determine Y.

On the other hand, if L does not exist independently of Y, then L cannot
determine Y, in which case one is left with no quantitative theory of Y
and surplus-value, which I argue in my paper is the end result of VF

> > 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.

Yes, a point of disagreement between VF theory and Marx's theory.  Marx
assumed that abstract labor is qualitatively equal and quantitatively
comparable, and that these are the characteristics of abstract labor that
require expression in money.

> > 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?

As I have argued, quantities of abstract labor are assumed to exist and to
determined value-added according to the equation Y = mL.

> 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

The former, because it (and it alone) provides a quantitative theory of
surplus-value, which in turn can be used to deduce important conclusions
about capitalist economies, including: conflicts over wages, over the
length of the working day, and over the intensity of labor, inherent
technological change, etc.


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sun Jul 15 2001 - 10:56:29 EDT