[OPE-L:386] Re: abstract labor

ECUSER (ECBURKE@scifac.indstate.edu)
Tue, 31 Oct 1995 14:50:40 -0800

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Paul C. writes, in criticism of the specifically capitalist
character of abstract labor as the substance of value:

> If this proposition is true it implies that the analysis of the commodity
> in Capital is not an analysis of commodities at all, but an analysis
> of capitalistically produced commodities. It implies that the labour
> theory of value has no validity to other commodity producing modes of
> production.


> It is well established that commodity production was highly
> in Rome, with, if Tacitus is to be believed, even such phenomena as
> credit crises. Likewise the ante-bellum South, but these were slave
> societies, not capitalist ones, (unless of course we chose to
> side with Mommsen and Rostostozeff, against the entire body of
> Marxian historiography). In that case what was the substance of
> value in these societies?

If abstract labor is specific to capitalist-commodity relations, then
so is the category 'substance of value'. I do not believe that the
material reproduction of Roman society was dominated by the commodity
form. I would also question the dichotomy of 'slave societies,
not capitalist' when applied to the articulation of capitalist and
pre-capitalist relations characteristic of the ante-bellum South.
Such articulations raise complex issues but it is not clear that
defining away the capitalist specificity of value as the regulating
form of material reproduction because this seems quantitatively
convenient is a desirable way to approach these issues.

> Or did exchange value in those days depend only upon supply and
> demand, marginal utility etc?
> Similarly commodities have existed in all hithertoo existing
> socialist societies, are we to imply that there was
> no abstract labour in these either?

Exchange value depended on a lot of things; since material
reproduction in pre-capitalist societies is (was) not regulated by
value relations but rather primarily by relations of interpersonal
dependence and/or hierarchical dependence, based on the fact that the
producers were not socially separated from the conditions of
production as they are under capitalism. The answer to the second
question, in my opinion, is yes if by abstract labour is meant
abstract labour as the substance of value.

> Without the concept of abstract labour, there is no general
> concept of surplus labour - since this can not be defined in
> concrete terms - and thus no concept of exploitation applicable
> to non-capitalist societies. How then are we to analyse feudal
> exploitation?

By 'can not be defined in concrete terms' do you mean 'can not
be quantitatively aggregated and this aggregate quantitatively
measured'? This seems to be a somewhat narrow definition of
'undefinable'. I think the analysis of feudal exploitation does not
depend on the ability to quantify and aggregate any rate of
exploitation in feudal society in terms of qualityless labor time---
unless we conflate analysis with aggregate quantification in terms of
labor time.

> If abstract labour only exists under capitalism then we must
>reject everything that Marx Engels and Stalin wrote on the
> economics of communism - that it would use direct calculations
> in terms of abstract labour in its planning process.

I certainly do not respect anything Stalin wrote about
anything. I would like to see the pasages where Marx and Engels say
that communism would use direct calculations in terms of abstract,
value-creating labour in its planning process.

> Why if value and abstract labour are specific to capitalism does

> a) Marx never say that this is the case?

Marx certainly does say this is the case many times, in CAPITAL,
the GRUNDRISSE and elsewhere.

> b) Does he expend so much effort on distinguishing between
> value, and its form of representation as exchange value in
> commodity producing societies? This distinction only makes
> sense if value exists independently of its form of representation,
> and could potentially have other forms of representation.

Disagree. It seems to me that the distinction between value and
its form of representation need not hinge on value existing
INDEPENDENTLY of its form of representation. This would rule out any
use by Marx of the dialectical principle (adapted from Hegel) that
essence cannot but appear as something other than itself while the
essence is nonetheless ultimately determinant of the appearance.

> c) If abstract labour is peculiar to capitalism what are we to
> make of his outline of a communist economy (pages 171-2 Fernbach
> translation) in chapter 1, where he says that 'Labour time
> woul in that case play a double part. Its apportionment in
> accordance with a definite social plan maintains the correct
> proportions between the different functions of labour and the
> various needs of the associations. On the other hand, labour time
> also serves as a measure of the part played by each individual
> in the common labour'?

Cooperative allocation of (directly social) labor according to a
definite plan is quite different from abstract labor being the
substance of value. This passage is in fact a good example of Marx
clearly distinguishing value relations from non-capitalist relations.
Notice that Marx preambles this by stating "We shall assume, BUT ONLY
the share of each individual in the means of subsistence is
determined by his labour-time" (p.172, edition quoted).

I strongly suspect that this is one of those issues on which we
may have to agree to disagree. Nonetheless, it seems to me that
conceptual distinctions are being mixed together with aggregation and
other quantication problems here. I have to agree with Andrew's view
that Paul C. has a legitimate theory and quantitative approach, but
that its relation to Marx's approach seems very ambiguous.

Paul Burkett