[OPE-L:542] OPE 540 (Converted)

John R. Ernst (ernst@pipeline.com)
Wed, 22 Nov 1995 10:16:35 -0800

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For those who might have had trouble decoding OPE 540,
I am reproducing my efforts below.

A reply to Riccardo Bellofiore from Mino

Caro Riccardo, che strana cosa dover
discutere con te di Marx in English! But
such is life on Internet.

Let me answer your OPE-L 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
trans-historical 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 different.

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 (neo-Ricardians) to task
for having said this. I did stress that
the homogenization of labour (by which I
mean the process of de-skilling) 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 vis-a-vis 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