[OPE-L:428] Re: abstract labor and social mediation

Riccardo Bellofiore (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Sun, 5 Nov 1995 01:41:14 -0800

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On Sat, 4 Nov 1995 akliman@acl.nyit.edu wrote:

> 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.)

Quite right. But cannot one say that the same labor in the physiological
sense become 'practically true' as a measurable and manipulable (?)
quantity only after and in consequence of the abstraction of labor? So
that, while at the beginning we seem to go, in a sense, from labor in the
physiological sense to abstract labor, at the end the sequence is in the
other direction? If I remember well, Marco Lippi in his book on Marx (New
Left Review editions) stressed the 'naturalistic' interpretation of Marx,
while in Rubin we find hints at this second, more 'sociologic', sequence
from abstract labor to physiological labor as historically determined
category. But maybe this latter idea on Rubin is an inference from mine.

Behind that, there is the more fundamental question: how can we talk of
transhistorical categories? I suggest that people read (or reread) Alfred
Schmidt, The Notion of Nature in Marx (or something like that, I have
here only the Italian edition), NLB. It sems to turn out that we can only
talk of 'natural' dimensions from an historical point of view...

> -- 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?

Because, Andrew, somebody out there (and also out here, in OPE-L) thinks
that in Marx there are mixed different, incoherent, views. True or false,
I suggest just to discuss the relative merits and demerits, and not the
fidelity to Marx.


Riccardo Bellofiore e-mail: bellofio@cisi.unito.it
Department of Economics Tel: (39) -35- 277505 (direct)
University of Bergamo (39) -35- 277501 (dept.)
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