(OPE-L) living and dead labor

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Sat May 10 2003 - 09:49:22 EDT

(Was: "is value labour?")

I found Howard's post yesterday, as it related to semiotics and signs,
to be quite interesting.  What he didn't mention was the role and status
of *metaphors* in Marx's theory of value.  I think it is more likely that
he referred to embodied and crystallized labor metaphorically (which, I
would add, shouldn't be taken too literally!) than as things to which a
sign refers to.  If understood more narrowly as metaphors -- and an
exercise  in artistic license -- then such formulations aren't as

Let us go on to consider the distinction between living and "dead"
labor.  We know what living labor is -- although it is clearly a redundant
expression since labor by its very nature is an activity that can only be
performed by laborers.  We know what dead laborers are -- i.e. corpses.
What, then, is "dead labor"?  Well, of course,  we know the context in
which Marx refers to living and dead labor. We know that he refers to
means of production as _representing_  "dead labor" and, since only "living
labor" can create value,  the value of the means of production can only be
transferred  in the production process.  Understood metaphorically _and_
very loosely _and_ with a large grain of salt,  this formulation -- while
imprecise and hinting of metaphysics --  should not be particularly
objectionable.  What _would be_  objectionable is to literally and
scientifically consider that means of production "contain" dead labor.

Marx also refers -- again imprecisely and metaphorically -- to *capitalists*
as dead labor.  E.g. in  Volume 1, Ch. 10 of _Capital_ he wrote that:

"Capital is dead labour, which, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living
labour, and lives the more,  the more labour it sucks" (Penguin ed., p. 342)

Here the presence of  literary and cultural metaphor is evident.  Clearly,
Marx didn't believe in vampires!  But, it was a literary and cultural
expression that helped him to forcibly articulate a point -- I think we
should understand the expressions  "dead labor"  and "crystallized labor"
in the same way.

In solidarity, Jerry

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