(OPE-L) is value labour?

From: Hans Ehrbar (ehrbar@ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Sun May 11 2003 - 11:42:51 EDT


Regarding the terminological questions you are addressing I
think it is very important to say that value is "congealed"
abstract labor, rather than just saying that value is
abstract labor.  This is not a metaphor but a description of
the social relations associated with the commodity.

To clarify what it means to speak of metaphors, let me first
say that it is strictly speaking incorrect to say that a
product contains labor just because this product was
produced by labor.  This is a metaphorical expression which
does not describe a real relation.  The labor is sublated in
the use-value of the product but the labor itself it
extinguished; it no longer has effects as labor but only
through the use-value it has produced.

Here is an analogous example from the natural sciences:
water is necessary to mix concrete, but this does not mean
that the concrete contains water.  The water has undergone a
chemical reaction.  The oxygen and hydrogen atoms which
constituted the water can be found now in the concrete, but
no longer in the chemical binding H2O, i.e., no longer as

If Marx says that the value of a commodity is the abstract
labor congealed in that commodity or represented by the
commodity, then he does not mean it in such a metaphorical
manner.  This is not a contradiction to what I said above
because he does not refer to the concrete labor sublated in
the use-value of the product, but to the social relations
attached to the commodity which focus on the abstract labor
spent while producing it.  Society remembers that part of
the social labor-power has been spent on this commodity and
associates this abstract labor with the commodity.  This is
why society is willing to exchange this commodity for other
commodities which represent other chunks of the overall
abstract labor available to society.  For the individual
this means that the labor-time he or she put into the
commodity is not irretrievably lost, but can be recaptured,
not as living labor but in the form of a different
use-value.  This is (as I understand it) the meaning of
Marx's formulation that the abstract labor is congealed in
the commodity: it is no longer liquid labor, but it is still
present as labor and manifests itself in the exchangeability
of the commodity.

The concrete labor has disappeared, it is sublated in the
use-value of the product.  But if the product is produced as
a commodity, then the abstract labor still lingers on as
labor, albeit congealed labor; it constitutes the value of
the commodity.

Here we have the situation that something that happened
in the past, the expenditure of human labor-power
yesterday, has an effect today, because it constitutes
the value of the product today.  This is so because
the person who has produced this commodity yesterday
is hungry now, therefore he or she has to go to the
market to sell this commodity and buy other commodities.

There is another interesting quirk: qualitatively, the
substance of value is past labor, but quantitatively it is
not measured by the labor-time spent yesterday, but the
quantity of value is measured by the socially necessary
labor-time that would be needed today to reproduce the
commodity.  Yesterday's labor drives the producer to the
market and forces him to exchange the product, but it does
not guarantee the outcome of these exchange efforts; they
are determined by the production conditions prevailing


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