Re: [OPE-L] Smith and Marx on the materialisation of labour [was'basics v. non-basics']

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Sun Oct 02 2005 - 14:42:53 EDT

I think a distinction is necessary here between social labor and average
social labor.  Marx's chapter on Cooperation is helpful.  There is nothing
abstract about two people carrying a canoe over a portage or of two eggs in
a cake.  It's always important to distinguish between the mental tool that
abstraction is and the causal structures we might use that mental tool to
refer to.  We don't turn the real causal force of social labor into
something conceptual because we need the mental tool of abstraction to refer
to it.  On the other hand a baseball player who hits .300 probably never on
any day hit 3 for 10 and the average social labor that a commodity
represents need not correspond to the concrete social labor used to produce

The passage from TSV, 1, p. 171 this started with is interesting.    This
much can be said.  Marx writes, "When we speak of the commodity as a
materialisation of labour . . . "   Importantly he does not refer to the
*product* as the materialisation of labor.  The transforming power of labor
is *in* a product the way motion is in the thing moved (Aristotle), and Marx
refers to that later in the passage when he writes that "In manufactured
commodities this trace remains in the outward form given to the raw
material."  A plow gets bent to shape and the shape is social labor's trace.

Secondly, the social mode of existence of a *commodity* has nothing to do
with its corporeal reality, so it is not the relation of one commodity to
another in exchange that is bending the plow to shape.  I think that's
Marx's meaning here.  But the social relation of one commodity to another
does express the material relations of people in production and there is
nothing imaginary about that; these too leave their causal trace.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Diego Guerrero" <diego.guerrero@CPS.UCM.ES>
Sent: Sunday, October 02, 2005 7:08 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Smith and Marx on the materialisation of labour
[was'basics v. non-basics']

> In my opinion, social labour is of course an abstraction. But it is like
> other thing that is not an individual or monad. To sum is to abstract. Two
> apples is a sum of two different (not exactly equal) objects that can be
> added in order to achieve a summation that is util for people. We can sum
> two apples and three oranges and we have five pieces of fruit. And we can
> sum five pieces of fruit and four yoghourts and we have nine possible
> desserts in a restaurant. Summation is a practical need. Ortodox authors,
> while critizicing the idea and reality of abstract labour, are in fact
> abstracting it (like they abstract many other things) when they say that
> unemployed in a country are two millions, or that the yearly journey is
> hours or the labour is one two hundred millions people, etc.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Paul Bullock" <paulbullock@EBMS-LTD.CO.UK>
> Sent: Saturday, October 01, 2005 12:21 AM
> Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Smith and Marx on the materialisation of labour
> [was'basics v. non-basics']
> > Gerry,
> >
> > I think you are quite right here.. it is perfectly simple. With respect
> > your final points. Social labour, a concept of uniform quality,  can
> > be
> > quantitatively  expressed in the market by money. There is no other way
> > that social labour  -  an abstraction -  can be uniformly expressed in
> > capitalist society.   I see the 'or' as ' in other words'...or 'as it
> > appears'.
> >
> > Paul Bullock.
> >
> > ----- Original Message -----
> > From: <Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM>
> > Sent: Thursday, September 29, 2005 2:25 PM
> > Subject: [OPE-L] Smith and Marx on the materialisation of labour [was
> > 'basics v. non-basics']
> >
> >
> >> > I think it is in Theories of Surplus Value, when critizicing Smith
> > because
> >> > of his conception of the productive labour that did not include
> > productive
> >> > labour performed outside the material (sensually tangible)
> >>
> >> Diego:
> >>
> >> The reference I believe you are thinking of is from _TSV_, Volume 1,
> >> Ch. 4 ("Theories of Productive and Unproductive Labour"), Section 4
> >> ("Adam Smith's Second Explanation: the View of Productive Labour as
> >> Labour Which is Realised in a Commodity").  See ||313|, about a page
> >> before ||314|
> >>
> >>           "The materialisation, etc., of labour is however not to be
> >> taken
> >>             in such a Scottish sense as Adam Smith conceives it.  When
> >>             speak of the commodity as a materialisation of labour -- in
> > the
> >>             sense of its exchange-value -- this itself is only an
> > imaginary,
> >>             that  is to say, a purely social mode of existence of the
> >>             commodity which has nothing to do with its corporeal
> >>             it is conceived as a definite quantity of social labour or
> >>             money."  (Progress ed. -- Emile Burns translation -- p.
> >>
> >> To begin with, Marx -- at least in the above translation -- didn't use
> >> the expression "too Scottish."   (but, I didn't check the _Collected
> > Works_
> >> translation or the German original for comparison).
> >>
> >> When he refers to "such a Scottish sense"  it sounds to me, put within
> >> the context of the above passage and Marx's time, that KM was
> >> basically saying that Smith conceived of the materialisation of labour
> >> in such a Scottish Enlightenment sense, e.g.  in a sense that  might
> >> been used by David Hume, who of course was a contemporary and
> >> friend of Smith.
> >>
> >> [It seems to me that this has a _very_ different meaning today -- and
> >> for a long time historically -- than the expression "too Scottish."
> >> "Too Scottish"  is  today a pejorative and a nationalist slur against
> >> Scotts.  The stereotypes against Scotts -- which I won't repeat -- are
> >> similar to many of  the stereotypes  against Jews.  Even in  Marx's
> >> Scottish workers (and Scottish immigrants to the US)  suffered from a
> >> culture of "Scottish jokes"   and the stereotypes that were created
> >> (by English national chauvinists?) served as a pretext and ideological
> >> rationalization for discrimination.  Of course, many other
> >> were also negatively stereotyped --  e.g. consider the whole flood of
> >> "Irish jokes" that continue to be spread in many places of the world
> >> today.  It is certainly an expression that progressives should avoid --
> >> even had Marx used it.]
> >>
> >> *In any event*, I think I now grasp why you called attention to
> >> part of Marx's critique of Smith in the context of your exchange
> >> with Paul C.   In the passage above, Marx seems to be arguing that
> >> the materialization of labor in a commodity should not be taken
> >> too literally and "corporeally."   Thus, your criticism of the tables
> >> constructed by Paul C  in which there were natural units (physical
> >> quantities) such as "kilograms per annum say for iron and coal".
> >>
> >> Do you and others think the above passage has any implications for
> >> how we interpret passages which refer to "crystallized"  and
> >> "congealed"  labor time?   Doesn't it suggest that these expressions
> >> do not refer to "corporeal reality"  but rather concern a "social
> >> mode of existence of the commodity"?  In that sense,  these terms
> >> should not be taken too literally and are rather metaphors for
> >> a social relation.
> >>
> >> Note also in the quote above that a commodity is "conceived
> >> as a definite quantity of  social labour or of money."    Isn't Marx
> >> saying here that the  quantitative value of a commodity can be
> >> expressed as so much labour time _or_ as so such money?
> >> Should Marx have written _and_ instead of _or_?   In this passage
> >> isn't there clearly a link between the commodity,  money and labor
> >> time -- which is a very different understanding  than that of Sraffa.
> >>
> >> In solidarity, Jerry
> >>
> >>

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