[OPE-L:495] Re: abstract labour

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Thu, 16 Nov 1995 15:16:20 -0800

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If socialist production is to be production of use values, what will
mattr will be the concrete activities rather than the time within which
these activities are carried out. And those concrete activities will be
paramount because they will be the way in which we will be able to
develo all aspects of our personality through, rather than in spite of,
work. This, of course, presupposes an egalitarian and humanist and
particpatory process of decision making, i.e. a revolution in the
producton relations, as well as a complete revolution in the productive
forces. My hunch is that it will be concrete labour, rather than
abstract labour, which will inform our lives under socialism.

If one has no concept of abstract labour, how do you rebut von Mises
critique of socialism as having no rational form of economic calculation?
The position above leads one to have no means of comparing the relative
efficiencies of different production processes, since this can never
be done in concrete terms, since the concrete inputs are non-comparable.
Only by using abstract labour time can one determine which technology
is most efficient from the social viewpoint.

If one refuses to make this abstraction one is condemning humanity
to unnecessary toil, condemning socialism to economic regress and
discarding the progressive achievements of the capitalist mode of
production. It is economic romanticism of the worst sort. If we
are to present a coherent opposition to bourgeois attacks on the
very possibility of socialism this is hardly the way to go about it.

I am more than ever convinced that it is impossible today to approach
political economy purely from the standpoint of capitalist production.
We should not be in the business of performing a philosophical analysis
of the existing order of things, but of putting forward a new political
economy that says not only that things can be changed but how they
can be changed. In this I agree with Bordida that Capital was not so
much a work of political economy as a manifesto for communism. If
we forget this, if we do not inform every aspect of our analysis of
the existing society with a contrast with a possible socialist society
then we can never continue the work begun in Capital.