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

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Tue Jun 12 2007 - 17:26:57 EDT

Hi Hans,

The abstraction of labor you speak of here is a problem, I think, and
probably for Critical Realism as well as Marxism.

For Marx there is no production in general.  It follows that there is no
labor in general.  There is only labor in socially and historically specific
social circumstances.  So the physiological expenditure of labor to which
you refer only ever occurs in historically specific social circumstances.
If you think of the physiological expenditure of labor in the abstract and
without regard to social and historical circumstance, you have only a
thought abstraction with no causal efficacy whatsoever.

This is a common error in reading the last paragraph of section 2 of Capital
and goes back to Backhaus -- he accuses Marx in section 1 and section 2 of
Capital of having a conception of only the physiological expenditure of
labor when a concept of social form  is needed.  But Marx starts section 2
of Capital by explaining exactly what the social form is that accounts for
the commodity.  He hasn't forgotten that point when he gets to the last
paragraph of the section.  So when he refers to the physiological
expenditure of labor realizing itself in labor that is homogeneous and
identical, abstract, the notion of social form he previously made explicit
is presupposed.  What we mean by abstract labor is specific to the social
form that gives us commodity producing societies.  In relation to capital as
such, the phrase 'abstract labor' gets used differently, but this is still
historically and socially situated and still not the concept of
physiological expenditure you have in mind.

My concern with the problem for critical realism is the way the dimension of
the real, in the way it is sometimes portrayed, serves as a location of
things that are causally efficacious but non-material and maybe only
virtual.   That is not the kind of materialism we need to bring to Capital.


----- Original Message -----
From: "ehrbar" <ehrbar@LISTS.ECON.UTAH.EDU>
Sent: Tuesday, June 12, 2007 9:48 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Complex ... and the French edition of capital

> Howard, the society I am speculating about will not have the social
> relation "value", but it is still possible to talk about abstract
> labor.  Abstract labor is an aspect of every labor process in every
> society.
> Since you know Critical Realism, let me put it this way.  Value is
> real, i.e., it has causal powers.  Now according to Bhaskar, RTS,
> causal powers are the ways of acting of things.  Marx's emphasis on
> the quality of value is simply his awareness that he has to find the
> ``thing'' which underlies the causal power of value.  This thing, I
> claim, it the expenditure of human labor-power.  It is not strictly a
> physical presence in the commodity, since the labor was performed in
> the past.  Only its effects are physically present in the commodity,
> but the labor is no longer there.  I think Rakesh's characterization
> of value as the *carcass* of abstract labor is apt here.  But the
> person who has performed this labor must watch over it that he or she
> gets rewarded for it, and will only give the commodity away if he or
> she gets paid for it.  In this way, society remembers the labor which
> was performed to produce the good, and this is how abstract labor has
> causal effects even after its death.
> Those who say that there is no abstract labor outside commodity producing
> societies are right in one sense: only in commodity producting society,
> all abstract labors are set in relation to each other and are compared
> with each other.  The concept of socially necessary labor-time is
> specific to commodity societies.  But if you think of abstract labor
> as the expenditure of human muscles, mind, etc., it is a "physiological
> truth" that every labor process everywhere is the expenditure of abstract
> labor.
> Hans.

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