[OPE-L:475] Re: abstract labor

Riccardo Bellofiore (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Sun, 12 Nov 1995 03:59:32 -0800

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On Thu, 9 Nov 1995, Michael A. Lebowitz wrote:

> I have always been inclined, however, to argue
> that insofar as there was commodity exchange in other societies and it
> occurred for the purpose of securing a general equivalent (rather than a
> specific use-value), then clearly value, abstract labour and money as the
> representative of abstract labour were characteristic of those societies. In
> this respect, the logical development in CAPITAL could be seen as not
> dependent upon but nevertheless corresponding to the historical development.
> I take this as the position that Duncan was advancing.

In chapter 5 (Abstract Labour, Exchange and Capital in Marx) of Smith,
Ricardo and Marx (Blackwell, Oxford 1975) Claudio Napoleoni wrote (and I
fully support his position here), p. 107-8:

"Production is mercantile in a general rather than sporadic or marginal
sense, only when production is capitalistic. According to Marx if a
commodity is on the one hand's capital's premise, on the other hand it is
capital specific product. While the birth of capital presupposes the
formation within an old society of determinate elements of mercantile
production, it is also true that the generalization of the production of
commodities - the assumption of the commodity form on the part of the
generality of the products - implies that capital has generally taken over
the production process. ... The thesis is therefore that labour does not
systematically produce money except in so far as it is a commodity -
labour power - and acquired by money and so governed by it. The so called
simple commodity society characterized by general exchange between
independent producers, owners of means of production, is, according to
Marx, impossible. If labour in fact where wholly owned by the labourer,
through ownership of the objective conditions of labour itself, it would
posses its essential characteristics, that of being social labour, and
would therefore not *become* social labour through its product [as a
commodity], that is through exchange."

(RB: The unpaid labor 'behind' the production of the labor power is partly
due to the fact that the latter is not the product of a capitalist

I have changed here and there the translation). Follow in Napoleoni quotes
from the Chapter VI, Capital vol. I, the Grundrisse.

Thus, Marx's reasoning is *circular*. To explain capital, he must start
from the notion of the commodity. Then it turns out that this
'presupposition' is the 'posit' of Capital itself. Here Marx is
(implicitly) utilizing elements from Hegel's Wissenschaft der Logik. The
capitalist or non-capitalist nature of the commodity at the beginning of
Capital must be judged from the point of view of Marx's Capital as a

There is *both* a sequence similar to the historical one, and a
sequence which is exactly the opposite of the historical one. The first
has to do with the commodity in exchange society, which are *not*
generalized exchange societies. The second has to do with the commodity
as the product of generalized exchange society, i.e. capitalism.

That said, it is perfectly legitimate to investigate what would happen in
the *impossible* society of general exchange without capital.

BTW, in that society production need not be financed (the labourer own the
means of production and the subjective conditions of production). It is
quite right, then, to deduce money as a commodity from exchange *before*
introducing capital.

in solidarity


Riccardo Bellofiore e-mail: bellofio@cisi.unito.it
Department of Economics Tel: (39) -35- 277505 (direct)
University of Bergamo (39) -35- 277501 (dept.)
Piazza Rosate, 2 (39) -11- 5819619 (home)
I-24129 Bergamo Fax: (39) -35- 249975