[OPE-L:565] Reply to Mino: 2nd round

Riccardo Bellofiore (bellofio@cisi.unito.it)
Sun, 26 Nov 1995 05:59:07 -0800

[ show plain text ]

Caro Mino, non e' solo una strana cosa, ma anche molto complicata - per
me! Comunque, ecco qui una risposta.

Comments on Mino: second round

1. As is natural in exchanges like these ones, Mino's reply opens more
questions than the original ones included in his post, and the ones in my
answer. The inevitability of this development comes from the fact that
abstract labor stays at the heart of the whole of Marx's project. Thus, in
the following I'll confine myself to what I see as the most fundamental
issues. But before doing that, I wish to thank Mino because I think that
his post helps clearing up the divergences among us. Some of these
divergences, as I'll try to show, are really important ones; others, I see
as minor ones.

2. The most important divergence relates to the reading of Marx's
deduction of abstract labor - Mino's point three. I fully agree with Mino
that for Marx "abstract labour is a category of both production and
exchange, where production is determinant". I simply say that this must
be, and in fact, is the *result* of Marx's argument. It is not in fact
already there, *crystal clear*, in Capital vol. I, chapter I. I add that
Marx's argument is different from the one put forward by Mino. And I
conclude that even Marx's original argument cannot be accepted in its
'original' form.

3. Let me restate my point in the following terms. Marx certainly says in
the first chapter that abstract labor is the expenditure of human labor.
Then goes on to the analysis of the value-form. As Tony Smith rightly
reminds us, recalling Geert Reuten 's chain of thought, Marx says, a few
paragraphs after having stated that abstract labor is physiological labor,
that the commodities' "objective character as values is therefore purely
social. From this it follows self-evidently that it can only appear in
the social relation between commodity and commodity." I think anyone is
obliged to see these different perspectives at least as a problem for a
too straightforward reduction to abstract labor to *only* a production
category, but also to any analysis wishing to see in abstract labor a
category representing production *before* the analysis of exchange. In
fact, as Smith goes on - but the same point was already in my post -
according to the second perspective, the value-form approach, "the only
possible way to measure the abstract labor in/value of a commodity is
through the social process of exchanging it with another commodity (which
soon turns out to be money). I (Tony S) myself think the later option is
more viable; no matter how we measure the physiological expenditure of
labor power we could be simply measuring concrete labor that turns out to
be socially wasted, not abstract labor that has created value."

(BTW: against Tony, I must protest at his strictures that "The
discussion on abstract labor in Volume I on the list has proceeded on the
assumption that Marx held one consistent view, and our job is just to find
out what it was." I said exactly the opposite, in the reply to Mino's
post, and also before - and I was attacked for that, e.g. by Andrew K.)

4. I think that the two perspectives, at least as presented in Marx are
not completely 'satisfactory', nor well integrated, contrary to what Mino
says. But before showing this, let me add that we should not think that
the two perspectives are immediately incompatible at the eyes of Marx. I
think there *is* an argument in Marx that makes them compatible. The
problem arises because this argument cannot be accepted - on this, may be,
there is a difference between Tony and me.

5. For Marx products of labor would not become commodities, were they not
products of separate private labors, carried on indipendently of one
another. The material social interconnection of private labors carried on
independently of one another is *mediated* only through the *exchange* of
their products. The product of private labor *only* has social form
insofar has it has *value-form*. Now, says Marx, there is a *commodity* -
the commodity which plays the role of equivalent - which has *immediately*
social form: the same cannot be said for any other commodity. The private
- definite, useful, concrete - labor producing the/contained in the
equivalent-commodity is labor in *immediately* social form. Then, for
Marx, the inner opposition between use-value and value is represented by
an external opposition - the equivalent-commodity playing the role of
exchange value. Then, the (immediately social) labor producing the
money-commodity as equivalent counts as the labor *representing* the
abstract labor (i.e. not immediately social labor, in the process of
becoming social labor) contained in the other commodity.

6. Let me summarize. Following this argument, we must conclude that the
abstract labor contained in the various commodities - in as much as it is
'realized' (on this, later) in exchange - is merely a quota of the labor
producing the money commodity, and *this latter labor is indeed
'physiological' human labor*. Note, however, that in this chain of
reasoning the 'physiological' labor embodied in the money-commodity only
represents abstract labor, but *it is not* abstract labor - because the
labor producing the money commodity, being immediately social, is not, as
abstract labor must be, only 'mediately' social. There is, in any case,
some problem in the exposition of chapter 1.

7. Thus, it is true - in a sense - that there is no 'contradiction' in
chapter 1. With two 'ifs': (i) if one holds to a commodity theory of
money; (ii) if the commodity of which we are talking in chapter 1 is not a
capitalist commodity. (Why there is here also the point (ii) will be
clearer in the following points.) As maybe all of you already know, I
object to both propositions.

8. I believe that the commodity which is the *presupposition* in chapter
1 is showed by Marx to be a *posit* of capitalist production (the implicit
reference is here to Hegel's thought, especially the Phenomenology and the
Logic). The private labors Marx is talking in chapter 1 are nothing other
than the collective workers's labour organized by particular capitals,
distinct and opposed to each other in competition . As I wrote in a
previous post, there is already *competition* in vol. 1, the dynamic
competion a la Schumpeter: look at Part 4, chapter 12, Penguin ed.(in a
previous post I referred to chapter 10, because the chapter orders in the
Italian edition is different, and the same chapter is indeed chapter 10. I
think the difference is due to the fact that the En glish ed. is mainly
based on the third German ed., while the Italian ed. on the fourth German
ed. Is it so?).

9. If the 'if' (ii) is not fulfilled, also the 'if' (i) breaks down,
because the capitalist economy as a monetary economy is an economy in
which production must be financed, not only sold on the market. And, for
reasons I've already stated by me in the first three megaposts, this kind
of economy *cannot* be based on a money-commodity, but on money as a
symbol. From this point of view I think then that those who wish to hold
to the 'physiological' reading of abstract labor must: (a) be
sophisticated enough to incorporate in their reading the value-form part
of Marx's argument; (b) adhere to the commodity-theory of money.

10 In any case - though certainly Marx used the term 'realization' of
value in exchange - I think that this way of speaking is contradictory
with Marx's approach to abstract labor and value - or, to put it in a
mildler way, not very convenient. It is , for me, crystal clear that
Marx's value is a category that arises at the meeting point of production
*and* circulation - as against Ricardo's 'difficulty of production',
which was Ricardo's basis for the labor embodied approach.

11. Note that even Mino in his first post protested against the idea that
abstract labor is transformed into 'only' an exchange category. In his
reply Mino says: "for Marx abstract labour ... 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." I agree with that
(and wonder in what this differs from Tony's 'value-form' rendering of the
role of exchange: we have here abstract physiological labor expended, and
then by some trick say that we look at the situation 'as if' that labor
was not carried out ...). My objection is that speaking of 'realization'
is confusing, because make people forget the value-form approach in Marx,
all its richness and its problems - and Mino is a wonderful example here.
Speaking of 'realization' is to my eyes *as wrong as* speaking of abstract
labor or value as 'created' in exchange. Both lose what is most important
in Marx, value arising at the intersection of production and circulation,
*and* the central role of the former - but is not there so crystal clear
that we can merely 'extract' it from the texts! Hic Rhodus, hic salta.

12a. Let me clear (I hope), though concise, on this uneasy point. I
repeat that it is important, as Mino says, to recognize that for Marx
production is 'determinant'. I think this determination by production
should be developed *in coherence* with Marx's value -form analysis: but
how can be coherent an analysis which says that abstract labor is
'physiological' labor already there in commodities, if we read in the same
chapter 1 that value can only appear in the social relation between
commodity and commodity? The original Marx is far more coherent that this
picture, as I showed.

12b. But this original Marx, which linked the labor theory of value
with the commodity theory of money when talking of money as the general
equivalent, cannot be defended: or, at least, he is not defended by me. I
accept the labor theory of value, but do not accept the commodity theory
of money. Then, how to develop the former without the latter? I tried to
do that, mainly taking into account the Grundrisse in reading Capital. I
wish to stress here only one point on the labor teory of value. I think
that what is important in Marx's labor theory of value is the idea that it
is *living* labor which makes value come to life in a capitalist economy.

12c. Capitalist economy is an economy where, as Alfredo reminds us: (a)
labor is performed by workers hired on the labor market, whose labor
power is exchanged for (variable) capital; (b) the mode of consumption of
the commodity labor power (the work patterns etc) are set by the needs to
valorize the advanced capital; *but also*, I add, (c) production is
financed by money; and (d) general exchange is monetary.

12d. (aside) For myself, I'm convinced that the history of the debate on
Marx in the last century taught us that when Marx's labor theory of value
is translated in the terms of 'dead labor', all the novelty of Marx's
approach is lost: he is (un)happily reduced to Ricardo, and his labor
theory of value is shown *redundant* (I'm not enthusiast of the results
which shows that Marx's transformation can be shown to be correct, or
useless because the value magnitudes are already transformed: the real
blow to Marx is the charge of redundancy; thus a 'correct' transformation
is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the validity of the labor
theory of value). (Most of us now know that) It is almost impossible to go
back from dead labor to living labor. It *can* be otherwise - i.e. the
labor theory of value can be shown to be essential to the analysis of
capitalism -if we stick to the extraction of living labor as the core of
Marxian labor theory of value.

12e. How to reconcile the theoretical centrality of production with the
value-form nature of Marx's argument? Exploiting the idea - which is there
in Marx, though not fully developed - that exchange only *actualizes*
something which is already *latently* there. Living labor is abstract
labor 'dunamei' (in process), i.e. the 'real potentiality' of value;
whereas exchange is what makes this real potentiality 'actual', i.e. is
the process of the eventual 'coming into being' of value in circulation.
Once accepted that - i.e., having explained that the 'realization' of
value in exchange must be meant as an 'actualization' - I have no
quarrel, Mino; against the use of the verb 'realize'.

13. Of course, in Capital vol. 1 things are simpler because: (i) at the
level of 'capital in general' there is no need to worry on potential
abstract labor which does not actualize (realize) in exchange; (ii) Marx
is there studying the *origin* of surplus value, so the hypothesis on
distribution is that surplus value is not reallocated in the economy in
sectors other than the ones where it was extracted. But if what I'm saying
is right, then there *are* hypotheses on circulation (exchange and
distribution) in Capital, vol. 1. And frankly, I don't understand how Marx
could have analysed capitalist production (production in a system
characterized by *all* the a-d points recalled above in 12c) without
making such hypotheses.

Indeed, Mino, I've commented only one point in your post. There are
many other issues raised in your post on which I would like to intervene.
But I wish to remain in reasonable byte quantities. So I stop here. Let me
only conclude that I strongly disagree with the idea that abstract labor
has anything to do with the process of the deskilling of labor -
empirically doubtful (look at the post-Braverman debate), and to my eyes
theoretically reducing abstract labor to concrete labor.

Un abbraccio


Riccardo Bellofiore e-mail: bellofio@cisi.unito.it
Department of Economics Tel: (39) -35- 277505 (direct)
University of Bergamo (39) -35- 277501 (dept.)
Piazza Rosate, 2 (39) -11- 5819619 (home)
I-24129 Bergamo Fax: (39) -35- 249975