Re: [OPE-L] Complex ... and the French edition of capital

From: ehrbar (ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU)
Date: Wed Jun 06 2007 - 09:07:01 EDT

Here is my attempt to translate the second paragraph from French to
English. (It is MEGA II/7, p. 163).  I am not very good at French, and
I may have guessed wrong, but here it is:

 On the other hand, whenever the production of value is the issue,
 higher labor must always be reduced to average social labor, for
 instance one day of complicated labor to two days of simple labor.
 If the mainstream economists are full of indignation about this
 ``arbitrary assertion,'' isn't this an occasion to say, according to
 the German proverb, that the trees prevent them from seeing the
 forest!  What they claim to be an artifact of the analysis is simply
 a procedure which is practiced every day in every corner of the
 world.  Everywhere, the values of the most diverse commodities are
 indistinctly expressed in money, that means, in a certain amount of
 gold or silver.  By this very act, the different kinds of labor
 represented in these values have been reduced in various proportions
 to determinate amounts of one and the same kind of social labor, the
 labor which produces gold and silver.

Gold producing labor is not the same as simple labor.  But Marx does
not say here that all complicated labor is reduced to gold producing
labor.  He argues that in the production of commodities, the
qualitative differences between concrete labors are reduced to mere
quantitative differences in abstract labor, with simple abstract
labor, as it is possessed by every worker in the given country, being
the numeraire.  In order to support his claim that such a reduction
takes place, he shows that in circulation, all commodities are reduced
to gold, therefore the labor in them is reduced to gold-producing
labor.  But this is in circulation, not in production; from the second
peculiarity of the equivalent form we know that in circulation,
``concrete labor'' (i.e., the labor producing gold) ``becomes the form
of manifestation of its opposite, abstract human labor.''

Therefore I don't consider the French text to be a change from the
German or English, it just makes one argument in more detail than the
German or English.

BTW, there is a long and interesting footnote (just before the passage
translated here) where Marx argues that the difference between skilled
and unskilled labor is often based on tradition of other exterior
influences.  I think Marx is saying here that yes, a reduction takes
place, but there is no general law governing how this reduction takes
place.  In some instances one can say that skilled labor is multiplied
simple labor because of the training costs, but this does not cover
all qualitative differences between labor powers.  For instance
because of the exhaustion of the labor force in general (due to
excessive length of the workday) muscular bricklayers counted as
higher labor than the much more skilled tailors.

This is not the only place where Marx says that certain economic
magnitudes are not governed by economic laws but depend on other
circumstances, for instance, the force of the contending parties.  Two
other famous examples for this are, of course, the length of the
workday and the interest rate.


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