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

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Sat Jun 09 2007 - 12:24:11 EDT

Dear Anders,
I thank you for systematizing our discussion of 
the simple/compound labour problem, and I agree 
with Jurriaan that we have to read empirical work 
on this problem. It's been years since I read 
Francis Green and Adrian Wood.  A burning 
obsession in the US today is the competition now 
faced by qualified labor as a result of 
outsourcing and globalization. Wage differentials 
may be reduced now that not only simple average 
labor is facing global competition in the form of 

  Marx says that the reduction is effected behind 
the backs of workers. What does this mean? Of 
course a reduction in training time for skilled 
labor or the rising productivity of skilled labor 
as a result of better say design tools would 
reduce, ceteris paribus, the multiple at which 
the product of an hour of skilled labor exchanges 
for a product of an hour of simple average labor. 
But of course the productivity of simple average 
labor is rising too. So if it is rising 
relatively faster than the training time of 
skilled labor is being reduced and the 
productivity of skilled labor is rising, the 
multiple may not decline in spite of the rising 
overall productivity of skilled workers. Just as 
even if the productivity of gold production is 
rising, prices will not fall if the productivity 
in commodity production in general is rising 
faster.  So the multiple is ultimately determined 
behind everyone's back, that is in terms of the 
overall system behind one's particular sector. In 
other words, "behind everyone's back" roughly 
translates into the Marxian premise that a grasp 
of the whole is a condition of knowledge.

So I don't agree with you when you write: 
"eduction costs can only by a stretch of 
imagination be called a process going on behind 
the back of the producers."

I have obviously been influenced by Hilferding 
and Carchedi. I want to re-read Rubin too because 
my guess is that he is probably saying something 
different than attributed to him by value form 


>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 
>- 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 
>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 
>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 
>>>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 
>>>>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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