[OPE-L:458] Re: abstract labor

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Thu, 9 Nov 1995 02:32:18 -0800

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In message Wed, 1 Nov 1995 12:44:00 -0800, akliman@acl.nyit.edu writes:

> A few comments and questions on the inter-Paul abstract labor exchange.
> 1. What is meant by commodity production? Before one can say whether a
> certain society is a commodity producing society, this must be defined.
> In my view, an initial working definition is that commodity production
> occurs when things are produced for the purpose of being exchanged. So
> we can have a system of exchange without commodity production, even a
> system in which a lot of produced stuff is exchanged without it being a
> commodity-producing society. ... On the other hand, Engels
> unconscionably inserted a remark at the end of section 1 of Ch. 1 of
> CAPITAL I, in which he said that to be a commodity, the thing had to be
> transferred to another by means of exchange. Marx to my knowledge,
> said no such thing, and indeed affirmed in several places that, e.g., a
> capitalist farmer who uses some of his corn output as seed corn is
> employing it as a commodity--it has value without going to market. Marx
> of course also affirmed that value is produced before the thing is
> sold--thus the object is a commodity prior to exchange. So these are
> some qualifications to what I regard as a working definition.

I think Andrew is a bit tough on Fred E. there. In Chapter 2 of Vol I
(Penguin/Vintage, 179-80), Marx noted that commodities "must stand the test
as use-values before they can be realized as values. For the labour expended
on them only counts in so far as it is expended in a form which is useful
for others. However, only the act of exchange can prove whether that labour
is useful for others, and its product consequently capable of satisfying the
needs of others."
I don't see this as far from what Engels was saying. Further, despite what
Marx may have said elsewhere, here in this vital section he is clearly
saying that the commodity only is a commodity as such (only is "actualised")
insofar as it is validated as a use-value in the act of exchange. Ie., until
that point, it is a mere product and the labour expended upon it is concrete
and private (and merely potentially abstract and social).
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 255-0382
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e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca