Re: [OPE-L] Complex and simple labour: English trans. of French Capital I?

From: Anders Ekeland (anders.ekeland@ONLINE.NO)
Date: Sat Jun 09 2007 - 06:02:43 EDT

Dear Rakesh,

other obligations make it impossible for me to 
devot as much time to this debate as it really deserves, so just a few points:

In Capital Marx outlines four different solutions:

- the custom/behind the back of the producers solution
- the eductation cost solution (Hilferding, Okishio, Roncaglia, Rowthorn...)
- the French - gold producing labour as benchmark 
- only Rubin + maybe some francophone authors
- The "American solution" all labour is abstract 
labour since a man can with little training work 
in any profession (the most explicit passage is 
from the "Introduction"/"Einleitung", but a 
similar passage is found in Capital too.)

These four solutions are mutually exclusive, 
eduction costs can only by a stretch of 
imagination be called a process going on behind 
the back of the producers. The special role of 
gold producing labour is neither education cost - 
maybe a hidden process, but why don't Marx 
connect gold producing labour and the process in 
the first place? The "American solution" is a 
logical consequence of the concept of abstract 
labour and does not need neither a hidden 
process, nor education costs nor gold producing labour.

I think it is clear from the fact that Marx only 
treated this question - en passent - saying that 
to assume that all labour is abstract (simple? 
complex?) just saves one of the trivial task of 
finding the coefficients. Marx quotes 
conservative economists like John Cazenove in 
order to emphasize the point, that neither for 
radicals nor for conservatives this is more than 
a trivial technical debate. But it is not.

All of what you say about complex and simple 
labour in my opinion is unable to explain why a 
damask-waver is complex labour and a brick-layer 
is simple labour - Marx complains that the two 
have "changed place" (in the long footnote to the "education cost" passage.

There are many simple kind of labour - like farm 
work - which skilled labour (damask-weaver, 
jeweler cannot immediately perform - indeed 
Braverman in his book argues that it takes years 
of farm life to master all the differend skills 
needed. So farm work would be a type of labour 
"plus difficile a former" seen from Bravermans point of view.

The conclusion is clear: Marx wants to "get rid 
of" the problem - and do nowhere analyse it at 
length - he uses various lines of arguments - 
just to be able to go on with his main argument.

There are several serious problem with the 
"education cost" solution, the "production" of 
labour power and complex labour transferring a 
part of the cost used to educate it are contrary 
to many places in Capital where Marx gives the 
impression that it is the nature of work itself 
that make it complex or simple (like the spinner 
and the jewler, the farm worker and the 
brick-layer versus the damask-weaver. When Marx 
uses the word "delicate" labour - this has no 
clear connection to education costs.

Nobody claims that (high) wages is the cause of 
greater value creating ability, only as an 
indication. But if that is so, is the (obscene) 
high wages of stock market brokers just an 
indication of their value creating ability? Or 
medical doctors versus nurses, or as Marx 
mentiones - a damask-weaver versus a brick layer.

It is precisely on this point that Marx cannot 
make up his mind. On the one hand he wants to 
make high wages an indicator of high value 
creating ability - on the other hand - like most 
of us - he don't see the existing high wages as 
justified. So he wants to be critical of the 
established wage skale as well (entirely correct IMHO).

But most importantly - if all labour can be 
reduced to abstract labour, disregarding a 
physical/physiologic aspects of the work - as 
expenditure of the human ability to work - tout 
court, how can we/Marx reintroduce the 
complex/simple dichotomy - based on what occupations are more "delcate".

Hope this makes it a bit clearer what my position is.


At 07:35 08.06.2007, you wrote:
>The organization of the division of labor can be 
>left to the market only if the labor available 
>to society has become practically abstract and 
>homogeneous. General commodity production is 
>inherently anarchical and requires the 
>continuous redeployment in light of price 
>fluctuations of what has to have thus already 
>become a homogeneous abstract workforce.  In 
>this sense the Foucault who closed in on Marx 
>the more he repudiated him may well be quite 
>right about the autonomy of dispotifs: the 
>economy has as its condition of possibility the 
>social technologies required to produce such a 
>workforce.   There is also unsurprising anxiety 
>about the the averageness and levelling down 
>of  mass anonymous society--that  any-one, das 
>Man could (if motivated) quite easily do one's work with identical result.
>As David Gleicher long ago argued, such a result 
>depends on the general education of the 
>workforce, the simplification of labor tasks, 
>and the general mobility of  doubly free 
>proletarians.  Simple abstract labor is simply 
>no mental abstraction to the modern workforce.
>Unlike value per se, simple abstract labor as 
>the substance of value  is  not posited by  or 
>brought into existence through exchange but the 
>condition of possibility for anarchical 
>commodity exchange relations to have become 
>generalized in the first place. Simple abstract 
>labor is a practical abstraction and a 
>historical product. For those who perform it, it 
>may well often be more central to their identity 
>than any other life activity or social role; for 
>those who do not, it has often been the object 
>of either a radical aristocratic revulsion or 
>what Luc Boltanski and Eva Chiapello call artistic critique.
>There is no chance that bourgeois economists 
>would allow a science of society to be built on 
>such a humble, albeit solid, foundation and to 
>be centered on questions of the (monetary) 
>representation, allocation, employment levels 
>and exploitation of simple abstract labor.
>Now we can move to skilled labor which cannot be 
>immediately  performed by simple average labor. 
>But this labor is no different in qualitative 
>terms:  it too must be trained and socialized, 
>it too creates value in accordance with the 
>expenditure of social labor time its work 
>represents, it too is exploited, its high wages 
>will also elicit greater competition (even if 
>there is a delay for training); and the unit 
>values of its respective products fall 
>absolutely and possibly relatively as a result 
>of both the rising productivity of qualified 
>labor due say to CAD/CAM and the rationalization 
>of its training (so that it 'embodies' less 
>labor time and thus discharges less compounded 
>labor in its work). The multiple at which a 
>product of skilled labor exchanges against a 
>product of unskilled labor changes behind 
>everyone's back  but the dynamics find their 
>cause in the law of value, in intersectoral 
>variations in the rates of productivity growth.
>At any rate, while wage differences may reflect 
>differences in value creating capacity, they are 
>not themselves the cause of those latter 
>differences. It also goes without saying that we 
>are talking about skilled labor, not "symbolic 
>analysts" such  as qualified managers, legal 
>counsel and creative CFOs of or for the capitalist class.
>>Dear Rakesh,
>>>I would like to read a copy.
>>I'll send it to the list when it is readable.
>>It's difficult to see what the problem
>>>is once one remembers that for Marx commodities exchange in terms not
>>>of the actual hours expended on their production but the socially
>>>necessary time required for their reproduction. Marx carefully
>>>undermined the individualist foundations of the classical labor
>>>theory of value.
>>I do not think the "labour reduction problem" 
>>is directly connected to the "socially 
>>necessary time" either production or 
>>reproduction. The question Marx answers is if 
>>some types of labour creates more value per 
>>hour than others - given that the intensity is 
>>average, that the work done is socially accepted etc. etc.
>>>If society did not count products of complex
>>>labor--say a report on a X ray or architectural blueprints--as some
>>>multiple of simple labor, then the socially necessary supply of X ray
>>>reports and blueprints would not be forthcoming.
>>It is not clear to me that this example is really to the point.
>>When Marx thinks that a brick-layer is simple 
>>labour and a damask-weaver is complex labour, 
>>that the spinner does simple labour and the 
>>jeweler complex labour - the latter creating 
>>2-3-6 times more value per hour - it means that 
>>the "reduction coefficients" become important. 
>>The relation between labour creating ability 
>>and wages is also a very important question. 
>>Are the observed wage differences a reflection 
>>of differences in value creating ability, i.e. 
>>that the rate of exploitation is uniform. Do 
>>top managers deserve their wage? Do jewelers compared to weavers?
>>Marx was very critical of existing income 
>>differences - and it is not clear what Marx 
>>regarded as the just differences and what he 
>>regarded as "blosse Illutionen" (pure 
>>prejudices) - he gave no real criteria for drawing that line.
>>>However, to the
>>>extent that the acquisition of such skills becomes rationalized and
>>>democratized, the multiple declines over time. Which is what
>>>Hilferding emphasized. Custom, monopoly, and intellectualist
>>>prejudice cannot prevent such a leveling. The law of value regulates
>>>exchange over time.
>>Hilferding's solution - his answer to 
>>Böhm-Bawerk merits a detailed analysis, but for 
>>Marx democratization and rationalization is not 
>>a primary issue. To Marx there are more 
>>"delicate" professions and less "delicate" ones 
>>- and that is independent of technological and democratic changes.
>>>But I look forward to hearing about Anders' analysis as well as
>>>Makoto's. And then there are the older responses of Rowthorn,
>>>Carchedi and Hilferding.
>>Neither Carchedi - who has a lot of interesting 
>>general, methodological comments - but no 
>>solution. Hilferding has also a lot of 
>>insights, but as Rosdolsky points out - does 
>>not really hold water theoretically.
>>As I said before - I think the only solution is 
>>to make this a non-problem - abstract labour 
>>abstracts from all specificities of labour - 
>>and measure labour only in time - and then you 
>>cannot reintroduce the complex/simple dimension.
>>>Yours, Rakesh
>>>>My own solution became different from Marx or 
>>>>his followers, as you may be awa
>>>>re of it in my paper 'Skilled Labour in Value 
>>>>Theory' (in Capital and Class, 3
>>>>1, Spring, 1987, and chap.6 of my book, The 
>>>>Basic Theory of Capitalism, Macmil
>>>>lan, 1988.). I shall be happy if I can hear your comments on it too.
>>>>All the best,
>>>>Makoto Itoh
>>>>----- Original Message -----
>>>>>Date:         Wed, 30 May 2007 20:15:56 +0200
>>>>>From: Anders Ekeland <anders.ekeland@ONLINE.NO>
>>>>>Subject: [OPE-L] Complex and simple labour: 
>>>>>English trans. of French Capital
>>>>>Dear all,
>>>>>I am working on the problem of the reduction of complex to
>>>>>simple/abstract labour. In the French edition of Capital Marx has a
>>>>>somewhat different "solution" to the comlex/simple labour problem.
>>>>>This is discussed by  French (and Russians, using the French edition)
>>>>>Marxists, but generally overlooked in the English and German debate.
>>>>>Is there an English translation of the French Capital?
>>>>>Are anyone aware of authors discussing the different "solutions" in
>>>>>the German and French editions?
>>>>>Anders Ekeland

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