[OPE-L:499] Re: abstract labor

Michael A. Lebowitz (mlebowit@sfu.ca)
Fri, 17 Nov 1995 02:54:01 -0800

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In message Sun, 12 Nov 1995 12:53:32 +0000 (CUT),
Riccardo Bellofiore <bellofio@cisi.unito.it> writes:

> On Thu, 9 Nov 1995, Michael A. Lebowitz wrote:
>> I have always been inclined, however, to argue
>> that insofar as there was commodity exchange in other societies and it
>> occurred for the purpose of securing a general equivalent (rather
>> than a specific use-value), then clearly value, abstract labour and
>> money as the representative of abstract labour were characteristic of
>> those societies. In this respect, the logical development in CAPITAL
>> could be seen as not dependent upon but nevertheless corresponding to
>> the historical development. I take this as the position that Duncan
>> was advancing.
> In chapter 5 (Abstract Labour, Exchange and Capital in Marx) of Smith,
> Ricardo and Marx (Blackwell, Oxford 1975) Claudio Napoleoni wrote (and I
> fully support his position here), p. 107-8:
> "Production is mercantile in a general rather than sporadic or marginal
>bsense, only when production is capitalistic. According to Marx if a
> commodity is on the one hand's capital's premise, on the other hand it is
> capital specific product. While the birth of capital presupposes the
> formation within an old society of determinate elements of mercantile
> production, it is also true that the generalization of the production of
> commodities - the assumption of the commodity form on the part of the
> generality of the products - implies that capital has generally taken over
> the production process. ... The thesis is therefore that labour does not
> systematically produce money except in so far as it is a commodity -
> labour power - and acquired by money and so governed by it. The so called
> simple commodity society characterized by general exchange between
> independent producers, owners of means of production, is, according to
> Marx, impossible. If labour in fact where wholly owned by the labourer,
> through ownership of the objective conditions of labour itself, it would
> posses its essential characteristics, that of being social labour, and
> would therefore not *become* social labour through its product [as a
> commodity], that is through exchange."
> (RB: The unpaid labor 'behind' the production of the labor power is partly
> due to the fact that the latter is not the product of a capitalist
> process).
> I have changed here and there the translation). Follow in Napoleoni quotes
> from the Chapter VI, Capital vol. I, the Grundrisse.
>tThus, Marx's reasoning is *circular*. To explain capital, he must start
> from the notion of the commodity. Then it turns out that this
> 'presupposition' is the 'posit' of Capital itself. Here Marx is
> (implicitly) utilizing elements from Hegel's Wissenschaft der Logik. The
>hcapitalist or non-capitalist nature of the commodity at the beginning of
> Capital must be judged from the point of view of Marx's Capital as a
> whole.
> There is *both* a sequence similar to the historical one, and a
> sequence which is exactly the opposite of the historical one. The first
> has to do with the commodity in exchange society, which are *not*
> generalized exchange societies. The second has to do with the commodity
> as the product of generalized exchange society, i.e. capitalism.
> That said, it is perfectly legitimate to investigate what would happen in
> the *impossible* society of general exchange without capital.
> BTW, in that society production need not be financed (the labourer own the
> means of production and the subjective conditions of production). It is
> quite right, then, to deduce money as a commodity from exchange *before*
> introducing capital.
> in solidarity
> riccardo

We are in agreement. (Note that I went on in 457 to indicate that my
position had altered, however.) What I wanted to stress, too, was that we
shouldn't try to explore that "impossible" society but, rather, should
consider explicitly the characteristics of commodity, money, etc in
differing non-capitalist commodity-exchanging societies because the parts
take on qualities as the result of the specific wholes of which they are
parts. No one was interested in pursuing this (not even Paul C, who I thought
would find this congenial), but that's fine.
in solidarity,
Michael A. Lebowitz
Economics Department, Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, B.C., Canada V5A 1S6
Office: (604) 291-4669; Office fax: (604) 291-5944
Home: (604) 255-0382
Ldsqueti Island: (604) 333-8810
e-mail: mlebowit@sfu.ca