[OPE-L:581] abstract labor -Reply

MATTICK@adlibv.adelphi.edu (MATTICK@adlibv.adelphi.edu)
Tue, 28 Nov 1995 13:27:51 -0800

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Dear Tony:

Re your 527: I don't see the contradiction you see. To my eyes, Marx
is saying (a) capitalism has seen the development of general
commodity production, that is, the social practice of equating
different forms of work by way of the money-form-mediated exchange of
commodities. (b) Kinds of work once thus equated in practice can be
equated conceptually (KM says this more or less in the fetishism
section of ch. i). This has allowed us to classify a large range of
human activities as kinds of "labor." What they have in common is
that they are the expenditure of effort by humans (in a goal-directed
way) AND that their products are exchangeable. Thus "physiological
labor in general"--a transcultural phenomenon--is recognized under
the culturally specific form of "value." In other social systems, the
category didn't exist (though we, having it, can analyze those
systems using it; thus we can speak of the "surplus labor" performed
by slaves in Greek society); in a future social system, we may well
still use it, though we might include different activities under the
classification (childcare, perhaps, though probably not eating), and
we would quantify it quite differently. The "physiologically
abstract" character would play a role, as it does in capitalism, as a
kind of limiting case: there are so and so many people, with so much
time available; whatever social determined system of representing
(and quantifying) labor we use, it must fit into these constraints.
But the value-form would no longer be the form in which labor is

Paul M.