value and labour

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Mon May 12 2003 - 06:47:18 EDT

Hello all,

I argue (in my phd) that value is misconstrued by both critical
realists and by that branch of value-form theory which might be
termed 'Hegel-inspired systematic dialectics'.

The main points are:

- essentially missing from both Hegel-inspired systematic
dialectics and from critical realism is an adequate grasp of labour
in either its transhistorical or historical aspects. (I argue that
Ilyenkov's materialist dialectics to provides such a grasp)

- transhistorically, labour articulates the key aspects of nature and
humanity. Labour is the prime moment of production and the form
of labour actvity corresponds to the result of that activity, the
product, such that the product is the passive resultant form, the
embodiment indeed, of the former. Michael W's recent post
exemplifies the sort of Hegel-inspired miscomprehension of labour
that I argue against. Michael Eldred's contributions to OPEL, where
labour has no centrality, seem to be a connected if extreme
development of such a position.

- turning to the historical form of labour in value, then this is where
abstract labour becomes a 'substance'. The peculiarities of
commodity relations and capital entail that labour stripped of all
sensuousness takes independent effect as value. The key to
grapsing this is: (i) to grasp that there *must* be a 'third thing', a
material thing, constituting commodities as values, a necessity
which stems from basic materialist premises in the context of the
specific historical form of the commodity; (ii) to see that this thing
can only be abstract labour, since labour time is the only material
property of commodities not abstracted from in exchange (this
cannot be grasped without recognition of products as embodiments
of labour).

Value is, precisely, congealed abstract socially necessary labour.
Why 'congealed'? Why is abstract labour a 'substance'? Because
abstract labour is labour stripped of all sensuousness. There is no
natural materiality left in abstract labour. Hence the embodied
abstract labour constituting value has no body in which it can be
embodied! Instead, we have to say that this abstract labour itself
has become a substance, a highly peculiar social substance,
congealed abstract labour, pure and simple. This is peculiar
enough to a materialist dialectician. It is no doubt unfathomable to
anyone who does not recognise the crucial transhistorical features
of labour, and hence cannot distinguish between what is
transhistorical (embodied labour) and what is historical (abstract
labour becoming a social substance).

Whilst I can hardly defend much of this here, I do think it should be
clear that neither critical realism nor Hegel-inspired systematic
dialectics fully grasp Marx's own arguments such that the sort of
approach indicated above is pretty much absent from the literature
even though it follows Marx's own words pretty closely. On the one
hand we have Hegel-inspired systematic dialecticians trying to
construe a large part of Marx's essential position as metaphorical,
and another large part as failing to break from clasical political
economy sufficiently. On the other, we have critical realists who
must try to interpret Marx's labour theory of value as a more or less
plausible 'hypotheses', for 'testing', thereby strip away the claims to
*necessity* that permeate Marx's own account of the move from
exchange value to labor and value.

None of this is to deny the many great advances made by both
critical realism and Hegel-inspired systematic dialectics.


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