[OPE-L:8067] RE: Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Nicola Taylor (19518173@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Wed Nov 27 2002 - 08:57:51 EST

Hi Andy, great to hear from you again; Mike, loved your comments in
8064!  Also, this is wonderful:  

> I don't see labour as a substance (_ousia_), Aristotle's first
> Substance (_ousia_) is that which lies before us and presents itself
> us,
> ready to hand. Labour is what produces products; it is the potential
> labour (labour power) in the process of actualization, i.e. labour is
> labour-power _at work_ (_en-erg-eia_). Aristotle's most distinctive
> categories in his metaphysics are _dynamis_ (force, power) and
> (literally: being-at-work or at-work-ness, the standard, misleading
> translation being 'actuality'). Abstract labour is such labour-power
> work
> viewed from the abstract relation of equalizing different products of
> labour
> in commodity exchange. I.e. abstract labour is relational (_pros ti_)
> not substantive (_ousia_).

Maybe it is worth mentioning Roth and Suchting's translation of Marx's
Appendix on 'The Value Form' (in Capital and Class, also Mohun's 1994
book).  There commodity money gives Marx the 'tool' he needs to unite
private-concrete labour (expended in production) and abstract labour
(the real abstraction that comes about in exchange).  According to Marx:
only when a (particular) material commodity is brought into *a relation*
with the money commodity can the concrete-private labour that goes into
producing it achieve homogenisation (universality) as abstract labour.
So, if labour is abstract in production, this is can only be because the
concrete labour that produces the money commodity is immediately
abstract.  In other words the peculiarity of money as an 'equivalent'
commodity is that the two facets of labour are united in it, whereas in
all other commodities they fall apart (Marx also makes the point that
labour embodied in the production of particular commodities must be
'alienated' to count as abstract).  Rubin is good on this also.

Another interesting thing about the Appendix is that Marx's
justification for commodity money is based entirely on the argument that
a measure must share a common property with what it measures.  His
analogy to the way that the weight of iron comes to ideally represent
the weight of the sugar loaf is questionable, however, because value is
not a material thing like a sugar loaf but a purely 'social'
construction into which not an atom of matter enters.  The monetary
measure too is a purely 'social' construction that ultimately depends
for its validity on being a universally accepted means of exchange, with
its role in opposition to commodities (which in exchange with money
'play the role of use-value pure and simple') secured by institutions
and laws.  It will take too long to go into all the reasons why money
cannot be a commodity, so I won't go there.  Let's see instead, if we
can retain *abstract labour in production* once the argument for
commodity money collapses.

One way out of the conundrum is to push the circuit of capital to the
fore (hello Riccardo B!).  At the beginning of the capital circuit a
crucial exchange takes place, between capital and labour.  An exchange
of money (capital) for labour power (again paid for in money wages).
This relation comes about because capitalist production is predicated
upon the existence of dissociated labour: therefore predicated upon the
fact that wage workers *exchange* their labour *prior to production* on
labour markets because they have no other way in which to survive.  So:
no monetary exchange of labour power for wages, no capitalism.  Now, if
we take all capitalists together and all workers together, it is obvious
that in order for money capital to be transformed into productive
capital, capitalists must make a purchase external to their class.  They
also expect that this purchase will result (after a production process)
in a sum of money greater than that advanced.  Leaving aside issues of
bank finance (and the associated question of whether capitalist money is
really credit), if the *short-run expectations of firms* are fully met
we would then arrive at something like a law of value.  But more to the
point here, the concrete (living) labour expended in production would be
'ideally abstract' in the sense that labour expended in production
follows from an exchange relation in which capitalist 'ideally
pre-commensurate'.  In other words the alienation - characterising
abstraction from labour - is already presupposed when individual
capitalists make private decisions as to the allocation of labour.  

So, given some rather restrictive assumptions, one arrives at an
abstract labour theory of value!  While at the same time theorising
capitalism as a truly 'monetary economy' in which money is non-neutral,
indeed central to decisions over production, labour allocation and
distribution (since, in effect, capitalists decide the consumption
bundle, hence the real wage).  

Another way out is to derive the essential oppositions of
particularity/universality (abstract/concrete; usevalue/value) from
dissociation, for which the value-form of exchange is a first condition
of existence.  The need to establish a principle of equivalence (value)
of different privately produced commodities is then a *necessary*
requirement [in other forms of exchange 'use' is the reason for
exchange, whereas in capitalism the reason is monetary profit].  Along
this path, it turns out that there can be no (embodied) abstract labour,
since the articulation of production and exchange is tied up with the
doubling of concepts: real abstraction takes place in exchange and the
labour expended in production is only ever concrete labour.  I take this
to be your view Mike.  Also Geert and Mike W's view.  Also my view.
What I add is Chris's insight that labour (since it is private and
concrete and particular) does not create value. I'm also now persuaded
in favour of Chris's analysis of the dialectic of value forms, delaying
until after M-C-M' the introduction of the concepts of labour,
magnitude, production and all the issues to do with value content
(contra R&W who introduce production from the start).  

> > I rather doubt, however, that all this can define any true
> > transhistorical schema of substance and form. This is because a
> > defining feature of the above is its peculiarity, even absurdity.
> > whole notion of congealed abstract labour is a highly peculiar one,
> > defining, at the most abstract level, capitalism and not valid
> > of capitalism.
> Capitalist society, with its generalized or universalized practice of
> commodity exchange, realizes the abstractness most consummately, but
> abstractness can already be seen in the simple commodity exchange
> -- which Marx himself regards as the "cell".

The most abstract level of exchange (simple commodity exchange, C-M-C)
already posits complex forms (eg M-C-M'); at least this is the case if
you begin with some idea of the value-form of exchange as a capitalist
form where the C's presuppose a further conceptual development of the
concept of the commodity as a capitalist commodity (a material object
produced by capitalists using wage labour for purposes of profit rather
than use).  In fact, complex capitalist determinations are posited even
if you begin with the commodity, the C itself, since the principle of
dissociation already exists behind it (see chris A, banaji, tony smith).
With the more complex form the really essential methodological
development is the concept of valorisation! 

But enough already!  Thanks to all for this very stimulating exchange


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