Re: value and labour

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Wed May 14 2003 - 09:53:23 EDT

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the very helpful overview.

The bottom line is that we disagree, and we disagree at various
levels, and our disagreement makes us political opponents.
Nevertheless we do also agree on a number of issues, such as the
inevitability of metaphysics, though, for me at least, this does not
make metaphysics a priority any more than any other level of
abstraction is a priority: any enquiry or debate or practice
necessarily entails all levels of abstraction are at stake though few
are made explicit.

For what it is worth, I think that your own philosophy fails to
adequately address the relationship between thought and being. I
would trace the development of materialist dialectics from Spinoza
(his critique of Descartes) through Hegel to Marx and Engels to do
this (no doubt I would involve various ancient Greeks if only I had
read them). You are just as much stuck in a failed problematic
(where we apparently have to be experts on Greek philosophy if we
are to fruitfully debate metaphysics at all), from my perspective, as
I am from yours. For me the arbiter of truth on metaphysics as on
everything else is material reality, not the ancient Greeks; the
ultimate origin of terms is material reality. This is not to argue that
a reading of Aristotle, for example, would not be extremely helpful,
it is, rather, to argue that I can have a valied argument without
having read him because I, like you (and him once upon a time) live
in the material world.

My amateur views stem from E.V. Ilyenkov's work by the way
(check out his work if you want to see a proper engagement with
Greeks and everyone else, rather than my desperately partial and
amateur interpretation of the same)

> 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 questions.

From your perspective not mine. Your political views are clearly
extreme *relative* to everyone else on this list, and we can surely
both agree on that!

Many thanks


> Thanks,
> Michael
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> >
> >
> > - 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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