From: Paul Cockshott <>
Date: Thu Dec 11 2008 - 04:18:52 EST

McDonough, Terrence wrote:
>> Labour is a property of the market or is 'simple undifferentiated
> expenditure of human energy'
> And as such something prior to and a condition of existence of, markets.<
> I've missed this discussion but -
> Isn't it possible for 'simple undifferentiated expenditure of human energy' to be a condition of existence for markets and simultaneously for markets to be a condition of existence for 'simple undifferentiated expenditure of human energy'.
> Or have I stepped in a hornet's nest...

Well you have stepped into a relatively long running dispute about just
what abstract labour means.
My view is that the ability to perform abstract labour is part of what
Marx in his early writings calls
the human species being. It is what differentiates humanity from other
animals. Our species has
an abstract ability to perform work of widely different sorts. The sort
of work that a person will
eventually perform is undefined at their birth, it is an abstract
potential that upbringing and opportunity
subsequently shape. Adam Smith spoke of a farmer having 'labouring
servants' and 'labouring cattle', but
the labour of the ox is from the start concrete not abstract. The ox can
draw, albeit either a cart or a plough,
but still he draws. The labouring servant 'lends her hand' to any toil.
She has the abstract ability to do
any work in general to which she is be set by her master. In any of
these she expends her energies.

But this is true whether or not the farm is producing for a market. The
feudal seignior or classical
dominus had the same power of command over the abstract labour of his
servants as Smith's lowland farmer.
So historically abstract labour preceeds the market economy -- long
preceeds it if we follow Engel's argument
in 'The Role of Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man'.
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Received on Thu Dec 11 04:20:51 2008

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