[OPE-L:602] categories in historical time

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Wed, 29 Nov 1995 14:23:51 -0800

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Michael Perelman wrote:

> The recent debate about abstract labor reinforces my belief that Marx had
> no choice but to revert to a historical development of his categories to
> break the gordian knot that we see repeated here.
How is the "gordian knot" untied and demystified? Some thoughts:

1) I agree with the idea, expressed by Chai-on I believe, that the
commodity was selected as the starting point *not only* for reasons of
presentation, but because the dialectic of use value, value, exchange
value as at the heart of Marx's critique of political economy *and* his
understanding of the dynamics of capitalism. The commodity form
represents in latent form the contradictory nature of capitalist
production and allows Marx to go on to discuss money and the wage-labor
relation, etc. In this sense, there is a *logical* reason for beginning
with the commodity to understand *capitalist* production.

2) Abstract labour is a category that *arises* in production, but value
is a category that relates to *both* production and circulation.
Regarding when a commodity has value, I would, consequently, suggest that
while value is *produced*, a *potential* commodity can only become a
actual commodity through the process of exchange. Whether one wishes to
you the term "realization" or "actualization" the meaning that I ascribe
to this distinction is that commodities can only fully become
commodities, i.e. made "real"/"actual", through the exchange process. If
social necessary labor is expended in the production of commodities and
those commodities are unsold, then they cease to have value either
because they lack use value or exchange value or both.

3) While abstract labour is a theoretical category it is also a logical
category which mirrors an actual social and historical process that
occurs under conditions of capitalist production. That is, this abstract
category is a representation of an actual historical process whereby
labour becomes increasingly abstract over time under capitalism through
the production of relative surplus value (see Chapters 13-15). In this
connection, I do not believe that this is done merely for reasons of
presentation, but, rather to explain how abstract categories are
representations of actual social/historical processes.

4) Regarding abstract labour and value, I believe it is a mistake to
concentrate exclusively on the definitions and the form of presentation
in Ch 1. These categories are *processes*, not *merely* definitions, and
can only be fully grasped when they are placed in relation to other subjects
that Marx investigated. Consequently, these subjects, while initially
presented in Ch. 1, are clarified and developed in subsequent
investigations by Marx.

I'm not sure if the above is what Michael was referring to, but they are
some of my thoughts on this subject.

In OPE-L Solidarity,