Re: measurement of abstract labor

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Fri Jul 23 2004 - 19:17:33 EDT

Hi Hans,

You argue that the surface relation of money is a condition of the
possibility of commodity production because without money as an expression
of value in exchange, the producer would not produce something useless to
him embodying abstract labor.  Therefore in the priorities of analysis,
money must be considered the cause of producers producing rather than the
relational structure of production within which they produce.

1.    Why shouldn't we say that without an individual's need, there wouldn't
be any occasion for either production or exchange?  Need, therefore, is a
condition of the possibility of both.  Our causal analysis of political
economy should begin with need.

2.    At the level of the actual, for any organic whole each fundamental
process and part is a condition of the possibility of every other.  That is
the nature of reproduction.  Taking it as a given that these causal
relationships are reciprocal, does it matter where we break into the cycle?
Is depth realism helpful?

3.    "All production is appropriation of nature on the part of an
individual within and through a specific form of society,"  Grundrisse
(Penguin) 87.  Neither nature alone is the cause of production or labor
alone or even both together if we consider them in general; we must consider
the specific way they are joined.  If the social form is commodity
production, then exchange is a necessary "moment" of the appropriation of
nature to use.  But that doesn't mean that we get the causal order right by
starting with exchange or one of its incidents.  Wouldn't we say instead
that it is a particular composite structure of individuals in relation to
nature and to each other that generates the capacity for producing, the need
to exchange and the forms taken by exchange?  Considering the process as a
whole, it is the reproduction of this structure that is the goal of it (the

(Here's a small example:  it's the body as a composite structure that has
the capacity to run.  If I want to run a marathon I have to transform my
body.  I do that by running.  Running is the cause of the body's
transformation.  But when I run the marathon it is the body I have that has
the capacity to run it.)

4.    What do you do with Section 2(c) of the Grundrisse Introduction
starting in the Penguin edition at 98 and following, "Exchange, Finally, and



----- Original Message -----
From: "Hans G. Ehrbar" <ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU>
Sent: Tuesday, July 20, 2004 9:02 AM
Subject: [OPE-L] measurement of abstract labor

> Howard wrote:
> > Where the social relation that
> > generates the product as a commodity exists, then the product of labor
> > constituted by value, and value, which is not presented empirically like
> > texture or other physical qualities, must find a vehicle for its
> I agree with much in this formulation, but I think it is
> also a little problematic, because it suggests that first
> the social relations which generate the product as a
> commodity exist, and then value must find a vehicle for its
> expression.  This is not the right causal order of things.
> Rather, the expression of the value is a condition of the
> very existence of the commodity relations.
> Let me explain.  The social relations that generate the
> product as a commodity can only exist if the producers
> produce their products as commodities.  I.e., they do not
> produce things for their own use, or for the use of others
> with whom they share resources, but they deposit abstract
> labor into their products and then use the market to convert
> this abstract labor into something they can use.  Now
> practical individual activity can only achieve this if there
> is a vehicle which allows the producer to access the
> abstract labor in his or her product.  Or, as Marx put it,
> the commodity needs, in addition to its bodily form, also a
> value form.  Any exchange is such an expression of the value
> of the product, but individual product barters are not
> uniform enough to generate market signals that can be
> understood by the producers (these are the famous "defects"
> of the Simple and Expanded forms of value).  Only if these
> surface relations have taken the form of monetary relations
> are the producers truly enabled to treat their labors as
> equal abstract labor, because now they can access the
> abstract labor in their products by simply selling these
> products, and the prices which these things fetch on the
> market are reliable guidelines telling them how they should
> allocate their private labors.
> Money is therefore a surface relation which enables the
> private producers to equalize their labors and produce their
> products as commodities.  Money does not need always and
> everywhere to be a commodity for this.  While the US has
> world hegemony, the dollar, which maintains its exchange
> value due to the monetary policies of the Fed, and which
> owes its acceptance to the military might of the US, is a
> feasible compass allowing private producers everywhere in
> the world to produce their products as commodities.
> Stability is an important prerequisite for this role as a
> compass, and therefore I consider the recent fluctuations in
> the exchange rate of the dollar a serious threat to the role
> of the dollar as world reserve currency.  In fact, nobody
> knows how long US hegemony will last in its present form,
> that is why many central banks maintain part of their
> reserves in gold, just in case.
> Hans G. Ehrbar.

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