Re: value and labour

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@T-ONLINE.DE)
Date: Tue May 13 2003 - 13:18:19 EDT

Cologne 13-May-2003

Andrew Brown schrieb  Mon, 12 May 2003 11:47:18 +0100:

> 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 OPE-L, where
> labour has no centrality, seem to be a connected if extreme
> development of such a position.

Hi Andy,

Some general clarification here may or may not help. It seems to me to be,
at least in part, a matter of perspective or what Geert Reuten calls the
"research project" one is pursuing, or, as I would put it, the questions
which move and motivate one's thinking.

It would be foolhardy (and an embarrassment) to claim that my perspective
and questions have not changed over the last quarter century, but they may
be said to have a sameness in the sense that they 'belong together'. The
perspective has become more encompassing, deeper and simpler.

>From the start (in the Sydney-Constance Research Project 1976-1984) the
research focus was on a theory of capitalist-civil society (including the
state and the private sphere) based on Marx's critical theory of
capitalism. This involved taking the scope of Marx's original project into
view (which went far beyond capitalist economy) and reconstructing his
theory in a way to make it amenable to a comprehensive social theory of

In the first published paper 'Reconstructing Value-form Analysis' published
in Capital and Class No. 13 1981 (without Michael Williams having been on
the C&C editorial committee at that time, the article would have remained
an unpublished typscript in some drawer or other), a break was already made
with claiming a causal link between amounts of "socially necessary labour
time" and quantitative commodity exchange relations. My doctoral
dissertation, published in 1984, attempted a systematic dialectical theory
of the bourgeois social form in which dialectics was understood as a
dialogue, i.e. literally a talking-through, with everyday knowledge
(influenced by Ivan Glaser's interpretation of the introduction to Hegel's
Phaenomenologie des Geistes and Volkbert M. Roth's Sprachphilosophie).

In the intervening time, reading and thinking through the texts left to us
by Heidegger, Plato and Aristotle have significantly changed the
formulation, scope, depth and simplicity of the questions. Today I would
formulate the question as the question of human being as a sharing of
world. There are thus several questions here:
i) the question of human being,
ii) the question of world,
iii) the question of the sharing of world.
The question concerning the sharing of world can be formulated also as the
question of social being: What is the form of being sociating human beings?
How do human beings as-sociate? If the question concerning value is a
question concerning a social relation (gesellschaftliches Verhaeltnis,
_pros heteron en polei_), then it cannot escape being posed explicitly as
an ontological question regarding social being.

These questions exceed the scope of even Marx's most comprehensive research
project of a theory of bourgeois society (including phenomena such as law
and morality). Not only that -- the question of social being cannot be
adequately posed within the metaphysics of subjectivity, which is based on
the distinction between subject and object originally introduced into
metaphysics by Descartes with the distinction between res cogitans and res
extensa and continued on under various guises through Leibniz, Kant, Hegel,
Marx and many others up to Husserl. It was first Heidegger who, with his
phenomenological re-reading of Aristotle, showed the way out of the dead
end of the metaphysics of subjectivity. (The question of whether commodity
value is subjective or objective is only one among very many falsely posed

Recent discussions on this list on the "reality", "potentiality",
"realization", "actuality", "representation", etc. of value indicate just
how much metaphysical-ontological questions are ineluctably involved in the
question of commodity value. Without the question of being in view, I don't
think that any of these metaphysical terms can be adequately brought to
light. This means, in particular, that the bounds of economic theory are
necessarily exceeded. There is no way of fencing these questions in within
the scope of the kind of questions posed by economic theory, which are
generally explanatory in nature. Ontological questions are not explanatory

An explanation aims at making plain something which is still obscure, i.e.
in the dark, in terms of something which is plain, i.e. in the light, e.g.
commodity exchange ratios in terms of (perhaps even empirically measurable)
quantities of labour performed. Explanations always explain beings in terms
of other beings and are therefore ontic in nature.

Ontological questions, by contrast, question the being of beings or being
itself. The former is the traditional metaphysical-ontological kind of
questioning first explicitly formulated and pursued by Aristotle. The
latter is the question posed in stepping back from metaphysics first
explicitly posed and pursued by Heidegger.

In my view it is not possible to pursue questions regarding the "reality",
"potentiality", "realization", "actuality", "substance", etc. of value
without having a clear phenomenological view of how the Greek equivalents
of these terms arose in the context of the beginnings of metaphysics with
Plato and especially Aristotle. Use of these terms otherwise remains
without orientation and ultimately arbitrary.

In previous posts since last November I have said a little on the
phenomenological interpretation of these metaphysical terms in going back
to Aristotle. I cannot overemphasize that metaphysical concepts such as
those mentioned above arose in the context of an ontological analysis of
_production_ (_poiaesis_, _technae_). The question thus arises as to
whether and to what extent and in what way metaphysical concepts apply to
the phenomena of exchange and intercourse between human beings. In other
words, in what way do standard metaphysical concepts retain their
applicability where phenomena of social being are explicitly in view?

There is also a lack of orientation when one refers to the "(materialist)
premises" (cf. Aristotle's conception of _epistaemae_) of Marx's theory, or
its "logical consistency" (cf. Leibniz's metaphysics). Such conceptions of
what constitutes a valid theory of scientific method (including testing
hypotheses empirically) may apply for modern (social) science, but they are
on hold when any ontological question is being posed. One cannot simply
assume without further ado that notions of causality, first principles,
premises, logical deduction, logical consistency, etc. apply. Those who
think they can do (social) science without being necessarily entangled in
metaphysical-ontological preconceptions are, in my view, extremely naive.

So, Andy, you may think that my position is "extreme", but in truth it is
situated right in the middle of the deepest and ultimately most ineluctable

_-_-_-_-_-_-_-  artefact text and translation _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_- made by art  _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ _-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

> - 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.
> Andy

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