[OPE-L:1249] Labor and Language

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Wed, 28 Feb 1996 13:31:22 -0800

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Andrew here, still struggling to respond piecemeal to all the issues
Gil, Paul C., and Allin have raised in responses to me.

This post is in connection with Gil's ope-l 1106. There Gil again accepts
that I proved the consistency of the TSS interpretation with Marx's
statements that the value of a commodity is determined by the labor-time
required for production, albeit only by an "utterly arbitrary use of

Now, of course we disagree about whether my use of language was so
arbitrary. But let me accept for the sake of argument that my use of
language here was indeed utterly arbitrary. Does this affect the
validity of my proof? Not per se. Gil did not challenge me to prove
that the TSS interpretation is consistent with Marx AND that the
interpretation of "labor-time required" is plausible to Gil. I was
challenged to do only the former. The point is: what if Marx himself
was using language in an utterly arbitrary way here? For the sake of
argument, again, let us assume this is the case. THEN MY PROOF
utterly arbitrary way in which we were using language was the same).

To refute my proof, then, it is up to Gil to PROVE that Marx was NOT
using language in this "utterly arbitrary" way. What Gil will
probably attempt to do (if anything) is again to argue that the
meaning of the statement (and ones like it) can be inferred from
the context in which it appears. But I flatly reject this view, given
that what Gil means by "context" is a passage in isolation from
_Capital_ as a whole. _Capital_ has a dialectical structure, so that
categories almost never have a FIXED meaning. Hence, to prove that
Marx was not using language in an "utterly arbitrary" way (and thus to
refute my proof), Gil must either first prove that _Capital_ is not
dialectical in the sense I have just stated, or find some OTHER
way to prove that Marx's use of language here was not arbitrary.
Until then, I submit, my proof stands and thus all the available
evidence suggests that the TSS interpretation replicates Marx's
value theory whereas other interpretations do not.

Now, I might seem here to be playing with words, but I don't think so.
I think Marx regularly used language in ways that the Vienna Circle,
John Roemer, Karl Popper, and others loathe and consider arbitrary.
To take one absolutely crucial example, I'd like Gil and others to
comment on how arbitrary (utterly, mostly, partly, slightly, not at
all) they consider Marx's use of language in his repeated references
to capitalism as a mode of production in which DEAD LABOR DOMINATES
LIVING LABOR. Or even take the category of DEAD LABOR itself.

Don't explain to me that this is a "metaphor"; that begs the question.
I take the statement and the category literally. If it is meant
literally, has Marx used language arbitrarily here? And if you insist
on calling it a metaphor, why shouldn't I insist that "labor-time
required for production" is a metaphor?

I have chosen a statement and category that also concern labor for
obvious reasons--I think Marx understood "labor" in a manner very
different from Gil, Allin, Paul C., Morishima, Joan Robinson, etc.
(Robinson once wrote that she didn't need "Hegelian stuff and nonsense
" to recognize that constant capital is an embodiment of dead labor.
"What else could it be?," she asked. Answer: it "could be" that
labor was expended to produce the machine or whatever, but that the
labor is not contained in, does not belong to, is not embodied in, the
machine. It "could be" that labor exists only in fluid, living,
subjective form, but not as objectified labor.)

Andrew Kliman