[OPE-L:479] abstract labor & interpretation

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Tue, 14 Nov 1995 15:02:04 -0800

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Andrew here.

I thank Riccardo for his response to my concerns about interpretation. I'll
say something about that in a moment, but I first want to respond to a few of
the other points he makes:

(1) I fully agree that saying that, for Marx, abstract labor is physiological
labor doesn't express the whole significance of the concept of abstract labor.
I certainly don't want to reduce abstract labor to physiological labor. I
do think that the physiological character of abstract labor is an inseparable
part of Marx's concept of abstract labor, however.

(2) When I said that for Postone, abstract labor is a kind of social "glue,"
I wasn't trying to be unfair, though the metaphor was a weak one. My real
point is that--as I interpret Postone--workers physiological labor is
*solely* concrete. Abstract labor is not something extracted from them in
production. I'd be interested in others' interpretations here, especially
Rakesh, who has read Postone very carefully.

(3) Riccardo's thoughts about interpretation are not all that far from my
own. However, I think he implicitly makes a division between how "substantive"
issues can be discussed and how "interpretative" issues can be discussed that
I don't find fully tenable. True, none of us is Marx. True, each has an
interpretation. But Riccardo also says that (a) he thinks a discussion of
interpretations will not be fruitful because we disagree, (b) others have
different interpretations and we must accept that they are good faith
interpretations, and (c) all the differences in interpretation are rooted
in Marx. How is this so different from the situation with "substantive"
theoretical and even empirical issues? There are lots of theoretical and
empirical disagreements out there; I think we must accept that others'
theoretical positions and empirical claims are made in good faith; and all
the theoretical and empirical disagreemnets are rooted in the *same* real-

So why should the way one discusses Marx's texts, and the criteria for
evaluating the adequacy of different interpretations be so different than
the methodology used to discuss "substantive" theoretical and empirical

One thing that bothers me about a lot of "interpretations" of Marx--
particularly those engaged in "rational reconstruction" (Riccardo is not
among them)--is that when it comes to interpretation, the same folks who
are oh-so-"scientific" and "objective" about other matters all of a sudden
become the most subjective--as if a text were not objective and an
empirical artifact. "Everyone's got their own interpretation," "there's no
way of deciding among them," etc.

I suspect that the underlying problem is that these "objective" "scientists"
are not especially concerned with rigor and objectivity per se--their
attitude to interpretation shows the opposite. I think that, instead, they
are enamored with *external reality* to the exclusion of ideas. Ideas become
reduced to tools or instruments used to "explain" external reality. And you
do what you have to do to make the tool work, no matter what happens to the
ideas in the process.

Maybe this isn't a correct conclusion. But I can't think of another
way of accounting for the way such folks deal with interpretative matters
so differently from other theoretical and empirical matters. Maybe someone
else can?

Andrew Kliman