[OPE-L:446] Re: abstract labor and social mediation

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Tue, 7 Nov 1995 16:33:23 -0800

[ show plain text ]

Andrew here.

A very few comments on Rakesh's latest post re Postone.

(1) There is no reason to believe that Rakesh is the least theoretically
sophisticated person on this list--which is not to dis anyone else.

(2) Rakesh refers to my "objections to Postone's conceptualization of
abstract labor." I did not raise any objections. I said that Postone
differs from Marx on this question.

This my seem nitpicky to others. To me, it is very important. This
century has been filled with too much rewriting of history. It is
crucial that Marx be examined in and for himself, and that others not
confuse "interpreters'" views with those of Marx, or use the phrase
"Marx said" for "my view is." So, when I say Postone's view is not
Marx's, please do not translate this as "Kliman thinks Marx is right
and Postone is wrong" or (even worse) "Kliman objects to Postone's
view because it differs from Marx's." That would be dogmatism.

(3) Near the end of his post, Rakesh refers to an article in the 1993
book edited by Fred Moseley, which argues that Marx's identification of
abstract labor with physiological labor was only an analytical stage in
the progression of Marx's argument. Rakesh thinks it was Patrick
Murray's article. First, it seems to me that this description better
fits Geert Reuten's article. Reuten criticizes the opening pages of
_Capital_ as analytical, instead of "systematic-dialectical." He
says it was pretty clear that Marx thought that abstract labor was
*also* embodied labor (which is not *exactly* the same as "physiological
labor," conceptually). Reuten criticzes this, arguing that abstract and
embodied labor are two different things. This last view is very
widely held.

Now, the interesting thing is that Reuten's article of a model of how to
avoid conflating one's view with Marx. Reuten advocates "systematic
dialectics," but states--and argues--that this wasn't the method in the
opening pages of _Capital_. And he says it is pretty clear that Marx's
concept of abstract labor differs from his own. This latter statement
is very important, since a lot of "abstract labor school" or "value-form"
theorists have traditionally sought to link their view with Marx's.
Reuten sees the differences clearly, and acknowledges them forthrightly.

(4) Rakesh writes that I seem to be "abandoning Postone's reinterpretation
in its statical state." No. As an interpretation of Marx, I think it is
wrong, even when Postone talks about how the imperatives of abstract labor
influence the labor process.

(5) Now, a few words on what I think about Postone's conception of
abstract labor. It does not easily lend itself to quantification. I'm
not trying to be a quant jock, but capitalism is all about quantitative
relations, so this problem is significant. If abstract labor is not an
aspect of labor on the factory floor, then it becomes very difficult to say
*how much* abstract labor workers do. One gets tangled up in problems of
how "concrete" labor is "transformed" into abstract labor--and this
becomes very problematic, since the notion that workers are only
performing concrete labor in the workplace places the determination of
abstract labor outside the workplace--and almost inevitably in the market.
This is not a direction in which Postone wants to go, but I think he
manages to avoid this implication of his separation of abstract and
physiological labor only by avoiding the difficult quantitative issues.

Postone's theory does recognize that production is transformed by the
imperatives of abstract labor. But his separation of abstract and
physiological labor makes this transformation an *external imposition*
on the labor process--a one-sided process of domination. His theory does
not recognize the *divided state* of the workers, doing things that are
concrete, but also abstract. This dividedness, or estrangement is
crucial to understanding workers as a social Subject--only that which is
contradictory in itself has the impulse to transcend its present situation.
And indeed, Postone sees *capital*, not the worker, as Subject, and
capitalism as a one-sided process of domination. There are still struggles
against capital, of course, but the downfall of capital is in his view
only a product of capital's own problems, not the drive of working
people to overcome it.

I think this is a biased and incomplete view of capitalism, and one that
leads to unfortunate political positions.

Finally, I think "capital" quests after "surplus labor" and not that
"capitalists" quest after "surplus products in themselves." Capitalists
as personifications of capital strive to accumulate, not eat.