[OPE-L:541] Re: abstract labour

Iwao Kitamura (ikita@st.rim.or.jp)
Wed, 22 Nov 1995 08:17:44 -0800

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Decoded Mino's message OPE.3
Caro Riccardo, che strana cosa dover discutere con te di Marx
in English! But such is life on Internet.

Let me answer your OPEİL 514 in a telegraphic style. Point
one. You write "One can agree with the idea that Marx's
abstract labour is physiological labour. But physiological
labour as a natural transİhistorical residue, or as the human
activity under capitalist control? Frankly, I would take the
second road." Me too. Actually, this is the thrust of my

Point two. You blame me because I do not elaborate on the
process of abstraction through which Marx reaches the notion
of abstract labour. May be. Yet, Marx's concept of abstract
labour *is* crystal clear. This does not mean that it is self
evident. We all know that this notion as well as the analysis
of the commodity is the result of arduous work. We also know
that Marx chose to begin Vol. I with the analysis of the
commodity (and thus of abstract labour) for reasons of
presentation. What I want to stress is that, having reached
this notion, Marx submitted it to the reader in unambiguous
terms. The physiological sense in which labour is abstract is
not Mino's Marx, it is Marx verbatim.

Point three. You say: "The labor of the individual is, in this
chapter, not immediately social: it *becomes* social only in
so far as that labor is productive of money." I think this is
an unsatisfactory formulation. Marx says that abstract labour,
which is a category of production, *realizes* itself, at the
moment of and through exchange, as money, not that it is
productive of money. This is important because it shows how
for Marx abstract labour is a category of both production and
exchange, where production is determinant. Abstract labour is
a category of production because it is the expenditure of so
many calories, proteins, etc. in the process of production.
But it is also a category of exchange because it must realize
itself as money in the realm of exchange (of course Marx
refers to abstract labour carried out under capitalist
production relations, i.e. value). Marx stresses that if that
labour does not realize itself through exchange (i.e. if the
commodities remain unsold), it is as if it had never been
carried out. Again, I am perfectly satisfied with this
theorization and would like to hear why it should be

Point four. You write: "Certainly, it is impossible consider
at the same time production *and* circulation when reading
chapter 1." Why? What is the problem? There is ample evidence
that throughout the whole of Vol.I abstract labour is already
social value, i.e. transformed value. Already in Vol.I Marx
stresses the difference between individual value (which is the
value contained din a commodity before realization) and social
value (which is realized value, i.e. value appropriated
through exchange). The latter is a modification of the former
and this modification is accounted for by Marx through his
transformation procedure. (As an aside, by misrepresenting
this procedure, i.e. by canceling time, some guys thought they
found a transformation 'problem'. Nothing further from the

Point five. You say: "This process of abstraction in
production cannot, in its turn, be reduced to a 'technical'
process". If you read this position in my post, then I must
have been as unambiguous as Berlusconi is when he denies any
conflict of interest between his role as a politician and his
ownership of Fininvest. In short, I never said, nor could I
have said, such a thing. Actually I take a number of people
(neoİRicardians) to task for having said this. I did stress
that the homogenization of labour (by which I mean the process
of deİskilling) is the real process which makes possible
thinking of labour as abstract labour.

Point six. You write: "Thus, Werner and Mino should discuss
their position with neo-Ricardians as Steedman , or with
people like Arthur and Geert Reuten." Yes, you are right. I
think we have been careless in speaking of 'the' value form
approach as if it were an homogeneous body of theory or, in
any case, as if the reduction of abstract labour to only a
category of exchange were a common feature of this approach.
If you feel you have been put in a category where you do not
belong, my apologies. In any case, if you are not of the same
opinion as Reuten and Chris Arthur on this point, there is
nothing to be worried. I said: "If, for example, abstract
labour is mutated into *only* an exchange category....". But,
I must admit that I still have serious difficulties in
understanding in which sense for you abstract labour is a
category both of production and of exchange. This leads me to
the last point.

Point seven. You write: "Note that in the preceding
interpretation the abstraction involved in abstract labor is
not a *mental* abstraction but a *real* abstraction: at first,
in exchange; then, in production." I have found no evidence in
Marx that for him abstract labour is "a *real* abstraction"
(what is a real abstraction? If it is an abstraction from a
real process, then what is the difference with a mental
abstraction?) nor that this real abstraction "is at first, in
exchange; then, in production". Neither Marx's letter nor his
emphasis on the primacy of production visİaİvis exchange and
thus realization seem to support this interpretation (yes,
Riccardo, *this* is an interpretation). Actually, if abstract
labour first comes to life in exchange, what is its connection
to production? How can something be the realization of
something else if that something else has not come to life
yet? You continue: "In both cases this abstraction has to do
with 'relations'. In Mino's position at first abstract labor
appears as a mental abstraction, of the individual labourer
alone (as in Adam Smith?); later it becomes real through the
homogenization of 'physical' labor (as in classical
Marxism?)". Sorry, Riccardo, but this hasn't the slightest
resemblance with what said. But I will not get upset. I
probably misrepresented you too.

Un abbraccio. Mino Carchedi