[OPE-L:494] Re: abstract labour

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Thu, 16 Nov 1995 15:15:02 -0800

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Ref Carchadis post:
POINT THREE. Marx also stresses the historical specificity of the notion
of abstract labour, i.e. that it is only under capitalism that the
concep of abstract labour can emerge, due to the constant process of
homogenization of labour inherent in the capitalist production process.
It is this real process which makes possible the generation of the
notion of abstract labour (Grundrisse, 1973, p.104). It is therefore
onlyunder capitalism that abstract labour can be contrasted to the
notion of concrete labour, which is the expenditure of human energy as a
specific type of activity. Thus, it is only under capitalism that the
distinction between concrete and abstract labour can be made.

Paul C
The last sentence is a logical non sequitur. The existence of
capitalism was a historical precondition for the formulation of
the idea of abstract labour, but it does not follow from this
that the idea can not be applied to the analysis of earlier
society. If the idea is that of human labour as physiological
exertion in abstraction from the concrete form of that exertion
then we can apply it wherever human exertion existed. That it
would not have occured to the participants to express it in
this way is another matter. The key to the anatomy of the ape etc.
Or the Owl of Minerva.

Consider the concept of natural selection, the foundation of
biological science. This idea, certainly had as a precondition
the malthusian concept of population growth being geometric etc.
Multhusian population theory had as a precondition political economy
which in turn presupposed capitalism. Thus only capitalist society
could give rise to the idea of natural selection, the forays towards
evolutionary theory by Lucretius being quite different from those
of Wallace and Darwin.

Were we to accept the argument in C's last sentence, we would conclude
that since the concept of natural selection presupposed capitalism
its application was restricted to the modern epoch. This is clearly
false. The concept of abstract labour provides a similar key to
understanding the social relations of all past societies.