[OPE-L:397] Re: andrew on abstract labor

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Thu, 2 Nov 1995 12:55:10 -0800

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Paul B argues that in pre and post capitalist society
the total labour time of society is not abstracted from its
concrete purpose.

It is probably true that it was hard for people to consciously
abstract labour from its concrete purpose in some pre-capitalist
societies and think of it as work in general. But this is not
entirely true, it would only be true in those societies governed
by a static caste structure - the simple Indian communities that
Marx refers to a simply reproducing themselves in perpetuity.
In a slave economy, a slave overseer could envisage his slaves
as a workforce that could be deployed between different tasks
as the needs of the moment arose. It is this flexibility in the
deployment of labour that is the precondition for the great
engineering achievements of such societies.

As soon as society, in distributing its labour between
different activities has the possibility of selecting a different
distribution from that prevailing today, then labour is
potentially abstracted from its current concrete manifestation.

Thus if in a socialist commonwealth the citizens wish to chose
what portion of the social working day is to be devoted to health
care and what to education, entertainment etc, they are abstracting
from the current concrete deployment of labour. If such decisions
can not be taken, then there is no possibility of collective
democratic control over the economy. Such decisions of course
imply that some people will have to change jobs, but whats wrong
with that.