[OPE-L:2275] Re: Chapter 5 and Marx's method

Duncan K Foley (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Sat, 18 May 1996 12:52:12 -0700

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On Fri, 17 May 1996, Gil Skillman wrote:
(among other things)
> But here I think I've already introduced a distinction that speaks to the
> source of Duncan's discomfort; Duncan, I wonder if you'd agree. The
> distinction is between "labor power" understood as simply the capacity to
> labor, and the *commodity* labor power, i.e., the condition in which the
> capacity to labor, and *only* the capacity to labor, is the basis of
> exchange between capitalists and workers.
> Re the former: I don't see how one could follow Marx's usage and still say,
> re "lending...to poor peasants, or sharecroppers" [spendthrift lords, I
> think, fall in a different category], that "there isn't any labor-power in
> those situations, only labor." This seems definitionally impossible, since
> Marx means by labor-power "the aggregate of those mental and physical
> capabilities existing in the physical form, the living personality, of a
> human being, capabilities which he sets in motion **whenever he produces a
> use-value of any kind.**" [I, 271, Penguin; emphasis added] By this
> definition, labor necessarily implies the expression or expenditure of labor
> power.

I guess I always saw the definition of labor-power as more "dialectical",
that is arising out of the real social situation. You could define it in a
dictionary sense as the capacity to labor in any situation, in particular
under any social relations of production, but it's striking that the
distinction only becomes necessary when, as Marx says, "labor-power
becomes a commodity". (There's already been some discussion on the list of
the peculiar and somewhat metaphorical sense in which labor-power becomes
a "commodity".)

I am somewhat puzzled on this point, and would like to hear what others on
the list think.