[OPE-L:404] Re: abstract labor and social mediation

jones/bhandar (djones@uclink.berkeley.edu)
Fri, 3 Nov 1995 01:18:43 -0800

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Though I find myself partial to PaulZ's attempt via Rosdolsky to establish
the historical specificity of value and abstract labor, I do not think
PaulC stands refuted. If abstract labor is defined as that which all acts
of labor have in common, then it seems to me tautologous to say that
abstract labor has always and everywhere existed. It does then become a
question of determining the material and social conditions necessary to
develop a concept of universal validity.

I know Andrew is critical of Moishe Postone's analysis of the concept of
abstract labor, but MP's analysis of Marx's basic concepts continues to
illuminate the whole of Marx's critical theory to me.

Postone seeks to show that Marx attempted to determine the historically
specific function which commodity-producing labor plays in capitalist
society. Postone introduces and carefully elaborates his arguments; here I
will quote from an initial formulation of his analysis of the relationship
between "abstract labor and social mediation":

"In commodity-determined society, the objectifications of one's labor are
means by which goods produced by others are acquired; one labors in order
to acquire other products. One's product, then, serves someone esle as a
good, a use value; it serves the producer as a means of acquiring the labor
products of others. It is in this sense that a product is a commodity: it
is simultaneously a use value for the other, and a means of exchange for
the producer....Labor, in other words, becomes a peculiar means of
acquiring goods in commodity-determined society; this specificity of the
producers' labor is *abstracted* from the products they acquire with their
labor. There is no intrinsic relation between the specific nature of hte
labor expended and the specific nature of the product acquired by the means
of that labor.

"This is quite different from social formations in which commodity
production and exchange do not predominate, where the social distribution
of labor and its products is effected by a wide variety of customs,
traditional ties, overt relations of power, or, conceivably, conscious
decisions. Labor is distributed by manifest social relations in
noncapitalist society. In a society characterized by the universality of
the commodity form, however, an individual does not acquire goods produced
by others through the medium of overt social relations. Instead labor
itself--either directly or as expressed in its products--replaces those
relatins by serving as an 'objective' means by which the products of others
are acquired. *Labor itself constitutes a social mediation in lieu of overt
social relations.* That is, a new form of interdependence comes into
being: No one consumes what one produces, but one's own labor or labor
products, nevertheless, function as the necessary means of obtaining the
products of others. In seriving as such a means, labor and its products in
effect preempt that function on the part of manifest social relations...."
pp. 149-150


this passage does not do justice to the subtlety of Postone's treatment; it
is meant only to be indicative.

Moishe Postone, 1993. Time, Labor and Social Domination: a reinterpretation
of Marx's Critical Theory. Cambridge.