[OPE-L:8075] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Wed Nov 27 2002 - 11:04:17 EST

Cologne 27-Nov-2002

"Nicola Taylor" <19518173@student.murdoch.edu.au> schrieb Thu, 28 Nov 2002
00:57:51 +1100:

> Hi Andy, great to hear from you again; Mike, loved your comments in
> 8064!

Hi, Nicky -- thanks for your enthusiasm. But I have never been able to be a

> Also, this is wonderful:
> > I don't see labour as a substance (_ousia_), Aristotle's first category.
> > Substance (_ousia_) is that which lies before us and presents itself
> > to us,
> > ready to hand. Labour is what produces products; it is the potential to
> > 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
> _energeia_
> > (literally: being-at-work or at-work-ness, the standard, misleading
> > translation being 'actuality'). Abstract labour is such labour-power at
> > work
> > viewed from the abstract relation of equalizing different products of
> > labour
> > in commodity exchange. I.e. abstract labour is relational (_pros ti_)
> and
> > 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).

Yes, Mike and Wal -- two of my teachers in these things.

> 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.

Rubin, in my opinion, is one of the best thinkers on commodity exchange,
festishism, etc.

> 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.

Aristotle himself points out that this "purely 'social' construction" called
money (_nomisma_) is related to  _nomos_, i.e. 'custom', 'usage'. He says
with regard to the mediation of exchange by money: “Thus as a kind of
substitute for use, money has come about by agreement.” (_hoion d'
hypallagma taes chreias to nomisma gegone kata synthaekaen_ 1133a29). The
Greek word for 'substitute' _hypallagma_ is also related to 'exchange'
_allagae_. One should not take it too lightly that money is somehow 'in
exchange for' use (_chreia_) and based on usage (_nomos_). The phenomenon of
exchange itself is richly perplexing. (Not only goods can be exchanged, but
also words, communications, insults, glances... The German word for 'moment'
in time is 'Augenblick' -- the short glance in which the eyes take in the

> 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.

Yes, if they were met...

> 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.

Labour-power in its concrete particularity is 'always already' understood
through its abstract other (alien), namely, the dimension of monetary value.
The wage-labour relation with the capitalist enterprise is itself a usage.

> 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.

Yes, on this one I'm not alone in seeing the abstraction in the practice of
exchange itself.

> What I add is Chris's insight that labour (since it is private and
> concrete and particular) does not create value.

The notion of value creation is indeed highly problematic, but child's play
if a labour theory of value is posited. Interestingly, business management
itself thinks in terms of value creation (chains). Such creation is a
creation post factum and ex nihilo insofar as exchange relations themselves
are groundless and are as they are only for as long as they are so, i.e. for
the most part, _epi to poly_, and subject to change without notice.

Explanations for changes in monetary relations are sought post factum, after
the event. Economic theories are always chasing what has been.

> 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).
> > Capitalist society, with its generalized or universalized practice of
> > commodity exchange, realizes the abstractness most consummately, but
> > the abstractness can already be seen in the simple commodity exchange
> > relation  -- 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

Enough from me too,
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