[OPE-L:5877] Re: Re: Re: Re: Reply to fred

From: howard engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Mon Jul 09 2001 - 00:33:54 EDT

Paul B, thanks for the opportunity to clarify, and Paul C, I've made some
comments on your 5876 at the end.

Quoting from my post, Paul B writes in 5874,

>>"As I understand it, exchange value is predicated upon the autonomy of
independent producers >>who
>>produce values useless to them for others.  This is not a relationship of
>>property, at least in any legal sense, but a relationship concerning the
>>distribution of agents of production to the means of production." 
>PB: Now this is where I have a problem. Exchange value exists in many
societies, BUT subordinated to the central/ essential social relations of
production of those societies which were not capitalistic. This exchange
value is  occasional, secondary etc, and begins to take on some
significance with merchants acting between societies, or outside of their
home base. The exchange value itself  has not developed into a well
established social  form until then. Here is the key historical issue.
Nevertheless to say that this is not a relationsghip of property is quite
startling. The merchants purchased or had made up, the goods they traded.
Are you saying they didn't own them? If they were 'agents' did the
'principles' not own the property?Do those involved in exchange not own
their  products? If not who does? What do you mean? (legal form is not the
immediate issue here but I don't understand your note here either). Here
you speak of 'agents of production' being distributed 'to' the means of
production. This sounds more like the type of terms used by formal theory
of ' games' type, not the exposition of an historical method.

HE:  I agree exchange value exists in many societies (although, unless I
misunderstand, this has become a contentious point.  I do not understand
the position of value form theory that the value form does not make sense
or is not causally efficacious before the rise of capitalism.  Recently I
browsed the Digest of Justinian. Value shapes the legal relations there
presented enormnously.  I can understand the argument that as a historical
matter there was no mode of social production corresponding to "simple
commodity production," but I cannot understand the position of value form
theory that associated labor occurs only where there is universal commodity
exchange, that is, capitalist production.  Greek and Roman societies were
not societies of simple commodity production, but the value form was a
major generative force in their social and legal life.  No doubt there is
something I'm missing.)

I also agree with you that where exchange value exists historically, to
suppose that it was not embedded in relationships of property would be
quite startling.  But that is not what I am saying.  Suppose we want to
explain the action of the tides during a particular historical moment.  We
would have to account for the pull of the moon's gravity, ocean currents,
wind, the shape of the seafloor, etc.  But in order to give an account, we
might isolate the contribution of each of these and then show how their
intersection produces the particular result we observe.  Of course exchange
value always occurs historically embedded in particular relations of
property.  But can we consider the variety of forces operating separately
and then show, in their intersection, how they work to produce a particular
historical result?  I interpret Marx as suggesting three distinct social
forces: relations of labor, relations of force, and relations of
consciousness.  I also interpret Marx to say that of these, relations of
labor tend to determine relations of force and consciousness.  These are
relations of reciprocal causality, to be sure, but we want first to explain
superstructural relations in consequence of the "simpler abstractions" of
the base; then we can show how, in particular cicrcumstances, actions at
the level of the superstructure can in turn work to determine the base.

Property, for Marx, is, in any sense of the word, a relationship of
belonging.  This is clear in the PreCapitalist Economic Formations (PCEF).
If a relationship of belonging is supported by force, then it is a
relationship of property in a juridical sense.  (My assumption here is that
law without force is not law.  You may have regular standards of behavior
that result from morality or custom, but if they are not in the last
analysis supported by force, then I would not call them legal relationships.)

So can we understand relations of labor without reliance on relations of
force or consciousness?  At the level of a particular historical
conjuncture, the answer is no.  Corvee, for example, is an economic, legal
and ideological relationship all at once.  But can we use abstraction to
consider the distribution of the agents of production with respect to the
means of production, without taking into account relations of force or
consciousness?  It is like understanding the tides by starting with the moon.

The value form of labor (which, I should be clear, I think is not a concept
of VFT) I understand to be a particular relation of agents of production to
the means of production.  As you emphasize, this occurs across many
societies, and is recorded, for example, in the I Ching over 3000 years
ago.  By the value form of labor, I mean the circumstance of independent
producers producing use values useless to themselves but useful to others.
Now this does not historically occur without property relations, but
analytically I can think of this as a bare relation of labor disposed
toward means of labor and its result: a separation of producers who produce
things not useful to them.  A relationship of belonging necessarily will
correspond to that -- if a productive unit is separate then its means of
production must be beyond the zone of activity or control of other
producers.  That is what separate means.  If it is not separate then I deal
with some other form of production, not the value form.  So from the
condition of separation I can derive a particular relationship of
belonging.  The means of production and its results belong to the producer
and this is given recognition by others.  If it isn't they don't and we
don't have separation.  If we do have value production, other relations of
consciousness are also implied.  Because the producer has produced what is
useless to his or her own reproduction, he or she has to resort to
exchange.  On the one hand there will be formed an intent to obtain from
exchange and on the other an intent to induce by means of exchange.  This
gets codified in legal rules.  So, for example, in Anglo Amnerican law
where someone has promised x for y, in order for the promise to be binding
the other must first manifest an intention to obtain x and must manifest an
intention to obtain x by giving up y.  Comparably, the relation of
separation gets codified in the first rule of private property -- the
exclusion by law from interference.

So that's all I mean.  Can we start with bare relationships of laboring
producers to nature and each other and work out analytically relations of
property, including private property (the exclusion by law from
interference), from there.  I think we can.  Starting with separation we
get private property as a relaiton of belonging enforced by law.  

>>Propertyrelations as legal relations are relations of force and
>>derivative of that.  So if we want to speak of commodity ownership we would
>>speak of onwership of value and reach the reverse of your proposition,
>>namely:  private property is predicated upon the value form of labor.
>PB:  I'm lost again I'm afraid what is the 'value form' of labour? Do you
mean the commodity form, labour power sold in the market? If so why should
I sell my labour power if I have property (ie means of reproducing myself).
It is when property has been 'privatised' away from me that I sell  my
capacities to the property owner! The workers  do not sell their labour
power in order to bring into existence private property.   Try to convince
me otherwise, please. OR perhaps you mean by ''value form ' of labour' ,
money?  But then I don't get the logic here either.

HE: I hope my meaning is clear above.  I had no occasion to speak of the
sale of labor power (another point which has become contentious).

>>Capital is more complicated because it is intrinsically a relationship
involving the >>subordination of will, nonetheless we can start with the
>>distribution of agents in the sense of the separation of direct producers
>>from the means of production.  And this of course is immediately a class
>PB: Well, now you seem to have reversed your initial position above....
'in the sense of the separation of direct producers etc'...  Once private
property is established... separation.....class.. So it seems that
'primative accumulation does come first... (although of course we know that
there is a drawn out battle involved with the social categories coming into
being interdependently). The key point is that until we have labour power
sold as a commodity we can't speak of   systematic and self expanding
value in exchange.

HE: Again, as a historical matter I agree with you.  There cannot be
self-expanding value without the primitive accumulation of capital.  But
what is the primitive accumulation of capital?  It is (PCEF again) the
separation of workers from the means  of production (and on an ever
increasing scale).  So for the concept of capital (the capital form of
labor), the question is whether we can start with a distribution of the
agents of production of the means of production and work things out from
there as we did with the value form of labor.  I can take as raw foundation
direct producers separated from the means of production and subsistence.
But plainly no production can take place in such circumstances -- workers
are without the objective conditions of production.  These are held by
nonproducers.  So this circumstance is more complicated because we have
added a new element.  With respect to the value form of labor, the yoke
connecting the producer to the means of production was presupposed and
needed no explanation.  In the language of PCEF the worker looks upon the
objective conditions of production as an extension of his or her own being.
 But this is no longer possible with capital.  Now we must take into
account that joining.  But the joining involves intrinsically a
relationship of consciousness, a subordination of the will.  And since in
general a relationship of subordination, to be regularly reproduced, must
be reproduced by force, capital is also necessarily and intrinsically a
legal relation.  

I was interested in the following comment and wonder if you could explain
it more fully:

>Here you speak of 'agents of production' being distributed 'to' the means
of production.  >This sounds more like the type of terms used by formal
theory of 'games' type, not the >exposition of an historical method.

In solidarity!

Paul C,

We grasp reality under different aspects.  We can grasp labor as this
tailoring just as it is in itself as concrete labor, or, we can grasp the
same labor as a proportionate part of the total labor expended by society
on the totality of social needs.  It is the same labor.  

If I understand you, you argue that abstract labor exists wherever there is
the division of labor.  But isn't Marx's meaning for the term narrower than
this?  Abstract labor emerges where producers are separate and the division
of labor is a form in which their separateness is articulated.  (A division
of labor exists in a factory, but this, without more, does not give rise to
abstract labor.)  Moreover, the value form of labor requires that we
compare labors in order to exchange them.  So what we compare is the
proportionate quantities of aggregate social labor.  But our comparisons
are as a means to serve purely private purposes.  Certainly we compare
labor quantities under socialism, but we compare them for the purposes of
production, not as means of exchange, don't we?  

If I say I have to be at the train in an hour and a half and need 30
minutes to get there and 45 minutes to do x, that leaves me 15 minutes.  I
notice that y takes 15 minutes and z takes 15 minutes.  I can do one or the
other.  If I choose y because it has gone longer undone, this is not the
same sort of comparison made in exchange, is it?  The equivalence of y and
z makes a choice between them relevant, but as such it directs me to decide
globally on my purposes and to choose the means that fit my chosen end.  

The global social comparison relating labor to social purpose in abstract
labor goes on behind the backs of producers, is independent of their will,
and is opaque to them.  They search simply for equivalencies that will
serve particular private ends.  

Marx's critique of the utilitarians was that in order to know what's useful
to a dog, you need to know something about dog nature.  Wouldn't a plan
make decisions about social needs based on (fallible!) calculations of what
our flourishing requires?    Without a doubt this requires a social and
economic calculation that in some form measures labor, but it is not
comparable to the way we compare quantities of aggregate labor for the
purpose of exchange and as means of exchange, is it?  

So while I would agree with you that the absence of an explicit
(non-monetary) social and economic calculation was an impediment to the
effectiveness of attempts at socialist planning during the last century, I
wouldn't have thought that this was for lack of calculation in terms of
abstract labor time.  

If we associate the meaning of abstract labor more narrowly with the
production of value, then it does always involve monetary categories,
explicit or covert.  A social and economic calculation under socialism
would have as its objective precisely the purpose of supplanting categories
giving expression to abstract labor.  In the last analysis this will depend
on the plan being actually implemented in such a way that it succeeds in
overcoming, not merely formally, but really, the separation of productive
units that is the condition for the operation of the law of value.  This in
turn depends on overcoming the subordination of direct producers to the
will of non-producers.

In solidarity!


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