Re: (OPE-L) is value labour?

From: Howard Engelskirchen (hengels@ZOOM-DSL.COM)
Date: Sun May 11 2003 - 00:46:38 EDT

I agree with Hans that for the essentials we are not dealing with metaphors,
and, in fact, probably the surest way to introduce imprecision is to
understand Marx's arguments metaphorically.  Suppose, for example, Jerry,
that we say labor is "embodied," or "incorporated in" ("body" also at the
root), or that we use any such other  words -- whatever the term, we are
referring to activity required for production.  This gets measured by time.
There is nothing metaphorical about the expenditure of labor in producing
something and nothing metaphorical about pointing at the aggregate of
activities responsible for a quantity of production over time.  Though the
material activities are no longer present as activity, or visible as such,
they were physically present just as the line drive in the baseball game
last night.  And even though they are no longer physically present as
visible activities, we can still refer to them the way we refer to a book
missing from the table.  They were material, we could see them, and they
left traces in presently existing producdts such that those products are
different physically from what they otherwise would have been.  The product
that presently exists is therefore a good sign of the activity that produced
it.  There is nothing metaphorical here.

Hans's further point is a more difficult one.  I think broadly I agree --
value first becomes empirically manifest in exchange.  But value is there
from the beginning insofar as we presuppose a particular structure of
production -- producers are related to land and the instruments of
production independently and are related to the products of their respective
labors as something useless to them.  The contradiction implicit here
generates necessarily exchange.  Now the really difficult point is the step
Hans introduces -- in what sense is abstract labor causally efficacious?
The point is, isn't it, that the reciprocal relationships of labor within
the totality of labors taken in the aggregate, and taken in relation to
social need, sets the terms for the exchange of products in exchange.  It
constrains the possibilities that can become manifest in exchange.

By the way, Rakesh, the real/actual distinction is not the same kind of
thing as the actual/virtual or actual/potential distinction.  Actual refers
to those things sensibly present that we can experience.  Real refers to
things that are causally efficacious, whether actual or empirical or not.
That is, the real can include those things that are causally efficacious but
that are in principle inaccessible to the senses.  The relationship of
labors within the totality of labors does not become empirically manifest
until exchange.  It cannot become empirically manifest as long as labor
remains private in form.  But it constrains the phenomena of exchange
nonetheless.  I'm not sure Ruben, who has shaped so significantly
contemporary debate, is quite prepared to distinguish between the empirical
and the non-empirical real.  As a consequence perhaps he tends to privilege


----- Original Message -----
From: "Hans Ehrbar" <ehrbar@ECON.UTAH.EDU>
Sent: Saturday, May 10, 2003 4:19 PM
Subject: (OPE-L) is value labour?

> Here is an amendment to Howard's post and also an answer to
> Jerry.  I think it is more or less just a reformulation of
> what Howard meant (do you agree, Howard?)
> Let us start with the observation that value has causal
> powers.  For instance, it expands itself, it is an automatic
> agent ("automatisches Subjekt") as Marx says in chapter 4 of
> Capital.
> Now in order to have causal powers it must be something
> material, it cannot just be in our minds.  It also cannot be
> a mere metaphor.  This material underpinning of value's
> causal powers is that value is the congelation of human
> labor-power.  Someone has worked, has spent hours of labor
> producing a certain use-value.
> However there are many societies in which people work
> very hard without producing value.  Here Howard's conditions
> come in:
> > What is the causal structure that defines value as a social relation?
> > social relation that generates the exchange of the products of labor as
> > values is the relation of autonomous producers producing products
> > to them) independently for private exchange.  Any social formation where
> > such structures exist will tend to generate relations of value; any
> > they don't, won't.
> If people produce under these conditions then they produce value because
> > Given that social relation, producers are driven to
> > market to obtain by means of exchange the objects they need for their
> > reproduction -- the structure is causally efficacious.
> Perhaps there is a small difference between my
> interpretation and Howard's.  Howard says that the
> "structure", by which he means "the relation of autonomous
> producers producing products (useless to them) independently
> for private exchange" is causally efficacious because it
> drives people to exchange their products.  I agree with
> Howard that the above structure is causally efficacious, but
> I would put an extra step in there: its effect is to make
> abstract labor causally efficacious; this structure is the
> precondition for abstract labor to produce value.  And this
> value itself is causally efficacious.
> In other words, if one spends one's labor-power under the
> above conditions, i.e., if one privately produces things
> which one does not need oneself but which are intended to be
> part of a very interdepent social division of labor of many
> specialized producers for the market, then one has set in
> motion two powerful causal chains:
> (a) on the one hand, this labor has not yet satisfied your
> own needs.  You are compelled to bring this product to market
> and sell it so that you can buy things you yourself need,
> otherwise you will starve.  (And others in the market
> will indeed accept the product of your labor in exchange
> for the product of their labor.)
> (b) on the other hand, you have produced some wonderful
> use-value which can be used for all kinds of things.
> Both of these are very material forces which make this
> expenditure of human labor-power causally efficacious in a
> specific way.  It is not a mere metaphor that Marx calls
> value "congealed" or "crystallized" abstract labor.  The
> person who spent this labor has to use the product as a
> conduit to get the things he or she needs.  Because of this
> necessity, Marx is justified to say that the labor has not
> yet disappeared, sublated in the product, but it continues
> to exist as labor in the product.  The producer first holds
> this labor in the form of a product he himself cannot use,
> then in the form of money, until finally he holds it in the
> form of a use-value which he can use.
> Value is therefore real.  The "content" of value as Marx
> calls it, i.e., the material underpinning sustaining its
> causal powers, is the abstract labor used to produce it,
> which society still remembers as such, i.e., which is
> "congealed" in this product.  This is why Marx says that
> value is congealed abstract labor.  Now Howard makes an
> additional important distinction in his posting: that
> between the real and the actual.  Things can be real but not
> actual.  A good example for something that is real but now
> actual is the tendency of the rate of profit to fall.  Even
> if the rate of profit actually rises, the underlying laws
> increasing the organic compostion of capital are still valid
> and are exerting a persistent long-run downward pressure on
> the rate of profit, even if this downward pressure is
> swamped by various short-run "counteracting influences."
> The value which a private producer produces comes into being
> and is real from the moment of production.  But it is not
> yet "actual" as far as society is concerned.  It is not yet
> useful for society, nobody in society may even know that it
> exists.  It only exists as a potential, as a capacity, and
> as a need of the producer who did not produce for him or
> herself but must enter now the market.  This value becomes
> actual only at the moment when the product is exchanged or
> sold.  Marx calls the sale the "realization" of the value, a
> more precise term would be "actualization" of the value.
> Hans.

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