[OPE-L:419] Re: abstract labor and social mediation

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Sat, 4 Nov 1995 11:28:46 -0800

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In ope-l:404, Rakesh notes that I (Andrew) am "critical of Moishe Postone's
analysis of the concept of abstract labor." Yes, but why?

Postone attempts an *interpretation* of _Capital_. But when it comes to
abstract labor, specifically the passage we've been talking about, in which
Marx writes that abstract labor is the expenditure of human labor-power in
the physiological sense, Postone says that's wrong. Like Paul C. and many
others, Postone thinks that this implies abstract labor is a transhistorical
phenomenon. (I've recently argued that the passage doesn't necessarily
imply this. Labor is only abstract if and when separated from its concrete
aspects, and this is an historically specific phenomenon. Paul B. was right
to look at this from the worker's view--s/he is just working, not concerned
with the process or result, just as long as s/he gets paid. It is also true
from the capitalist's point of view--the capitalists' put workers to work
for the sole purpose of making profit. SOME use-value must be produced, by
SOME particular process, but they don't care which one. Rather than questing
for concrete surplus-products as did exploiters in earlier modes of
production, capital has a boundless thirst for surplus-labor itself.)

Sorry for the long digression. Back to Postone. His interpretation of Marx
is built to a large extent on his (Postone's) own view of abstract labor,
which, as he forthrightly acknowledges, diverges from Marx regarding whether
abstract labor is physiological. Abstract albor becomes a kind of social
glue instead of something extracted from workers. Postone even substitutes
the term "dual function of labor" for Marx's "dual character of labor,"
consonant with this displacement of abstract labor from the factory floor
-- now, whatever the relative merits or demerits of Marx's and Postone's
views may be, my question is: how can this be called an *interpretation*
of Marx?

Andrew Kliman