[OPE-L:496] Re: abstract labor

jones/bhandar (djones@uclink.berkeley.edu)
Thu, 16 Nov 1995 21:15:10 -0800

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>The terminology is impressive, but what does it mean. How in practice
>to you decide if a category is mistaken, if an abstraction is
>determinate or general?


First, there is the question of why determinate abstractions are critical
to Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge. It seems that it would be
important to compare Murray's conception of abstraction with Bertell
Ollman's, recently summarized by Jim O'Connor.

Second, there is the question of what sort of method of research was
required for Marx to arrive at hypotheses regarding the thinnest
abstractions or structuring core of the capitalist mode of production. It
seems that Marx was aided here by the classical economists.

Third, there is the question of how Marx validated his hypthoses regarding
the determinate abstractions of the capitalist mode of production.

On this, Postone writes on p. 141:

"The nature of the Marxian argument, then, is not supposed to be that of a
logical deduction; it does begin with indubitable first principles from
which everything else may be derived, for the very form of such a procedure
implies a transhistorical standpoint. Rather Marx's argument has a very
peculiar, reflexive form: The point of departure, the commodity--which is
posited as the fundamental structuring core of the social formation----is
validated retroactively by the argument it unfolds, by its ability to
explain the developmental tendencies of capitalism, and by its ability to
account for the phenomena that apparently contradicts the validity of the
initial categories. That is, the category of the commodity pressupposes
that of capital and is validated by the power and rigor of the analysis of
capitalism for which it serves as the point of departure."

Postone then supports this interpretation by quoting from Marx's famous
7/11/68 letter to Kugelmann. It would not be possible to unfold
dialectically the developmental tendencies of capitalism from general

Postone then goes on to comment on Marx's initial derivation of abstract
labor in physiological terms. He is quite aware of Andrew's criticism that
this was indeed how Marx presented abstract labor. But Postone's treatment
here is quite complex, it draws from Murray's work as well. The very
complicated argument here is that because of the immanence of Marx's
critique to his object (I do not understand this) Marx at this point in
argument derives abstract labor in the physiological sense in a manner
analogous to Decartes derivation of "abstract, primary-quality matters as
the substance underlying the changing appearance of a piece of wax." Only
as Marx continues to unfold his argument do we understand that the full
unfolding of the whole from the point of the departure of the commodity
also implies the finutude of the unfolding totality. For Postone, then
Marx's argument also become a metacommentary on the forms of thought of
modern bourgeois society, in this case modern philosophy. (142-3)

I only hope that by pointing out Postone's and Murray's analysis of Marx's
initial Cartesian derviation of abstract labor in the physiological sense
that Andrew can reconstruct the argument in its strongest form as he
subjects it to further criticism.

Sorry to stray away from Paul C's original question.