[OPE-L:486] abstract labor

jones/bhandar (djones@uclink.berkeley.edu)
Wed, 15 Nov 1995 14:04:36 -0800

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In reply to Paul M:

Ah, so there is a difference between labor as the substance of value and
labor as a concept of transhistoric analytical utility. I wonder if this
could be related to JP Murray's chapter on general and determinate
abstractions: "Marx clearly distinguishes this determinate concept of
abstract labor from the abstract concept of labor, to set off his labor
theory of value from the classical theory. Marx calls this distinction
'the pivotal point [*Springpunkt*] around which the understanding of
political economy turns.' The classical labor theory of value fails to
make this distinction and thereby falls into a paralogistic naturalization
of the determinate concept of abstract labor." (Patrick Murray, Marx's
Theory of Scientific Knowledge, p. 128)

By paralogistic reasoning, Murray means "category mistakes" by which
"determinate abstractions" slip "into the place of general abstractions."
Moreover, "[w]hen [political economists] subsume the ENTIRE sphere of
production under the logic of general abstractions, the political
economists naturalize, or dehistoricize, this sphere. When subsumed under
the logic of general abstractions, the categories of production appear
immutable." (122-3)

Postone takes this further: he shows why labor as the substance of value
must take the form of physiological labor. The properties which belong to
labor in its determinate function as social mediation seem to inhere in
labor as such. This is why it is so difficult to grasp the determinate
concept of abstract labor.

So when Murray argues (128) that "[t]he most demanding point of all is that
Marx's concept of scientific knowledge requires us to ascertain which are
the determinate abstractions appropriate for a body of study and how to
move them orderly among themselves..." it seems that the point is made all
the more demanding because the fundamental determinate abstraction (value
producing labor) of capitalism actually takes the form of labor as a
physiological expenditure. For this argument, see Postone's section
"Abstract Labor and the fetish", pp. 166ff

To me, it does seem that Postone and Murray have strengthened Rosdolsky's
argument about the historic specificity of abstract labor on the one hand
by clarifying that specificity in terms of its unique function of social
mediation and on the other hand by deepening the concept of historical
specificity itself with new concepts: category mistakes, paralogistic
reasoning, and determinate and general abstractions.