Re: Figurative statements in Marxist argumentation (from (OPE-L) is value labour?)

From: Michael Williams (michaelj.williams@TISCALI.CO.UK)
Date: Sun May 11 2003 - 16:46:18 EDT

At the risk of revealing my disposition to pedantry, it seems to me that
Marx(ist)'s arguments in this field (at least) are (for good or ill)
suffused with metaphor (and analogy).

> Howard Engelskirchen
> Sunday, May 11, 2003 5:47 AM

> ... 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.

Not literally: the literal statement might be 'labour (the expenditure
of labour-power for a period of time) produces the product'. There is no
literal sense in which labour power expended over time is embodied or
incorporated in the product. If there were, we would be able to detect
it in the product by dismantling it. Not only can we in fact not, but
with respect to Value, Marx's argues that we cannot.

> ...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.

True, but this doesn't support the notion of labour being embodied in a
product as a literal statement.

> ... They were material, we could
> see them, and they left traces in presently existing
> products 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.

True again - but that doesn't support the literality of embodiment,
incorporation, etc.
> 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.

This demonstrates that the 'particular structure of production' requires
exchange. It provides no support for the notion that 'Value' 'is there
from the beginning.'

> 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.

Similarly this allows us to conclude that the particular structure of
production and exchange is causally efficacious. That is not the same as
concluding that abstract labour is causally effective. Indeed, I would
argue that that structure, properly understood, generates and reproduces
abstract labour by actually abstracting from the specific moments of
concrete labour.

michael w

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