[OPE-L:2640] Re: estimation of abstract labor

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Thu, 11 Jul 1996 05:08:46 -0700 (PDT)

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Paul C:
Whether my views are ahistorical is a matter of opinion. I consider that
my starting point is the materialist view of history, as originated
by the Scottish enlightenment, developed by Marx, and more recently
elaborated by the French Althusserian school.

I take seriously Smith's proposition about labour being the original
currency with which we 'purchase' our wants and necessities from nature.
It is the job of historical materialism to examine the different social
forms and institutions under which this invariant necessity of labour
takes place. Capitalism is only such historical form, and it is one
of the systems of production in which part of the social labour time
comes to be represented as exchange value.

I use the word value to refer to quantities of labour time, I use the
term exchange value to refer to ratios between commodities. In a commodity
producting society the exchange values, more specifically the prices,
of commodities are one form in which a part of the social labour time
becomes represented as information. This information is then accessible
to economic agents allowing them to modulate their behaviour.

I therefore distinguish between abstract labour time and its historically
specific form of representation. It is however, the underlying objective
distribution of labour time that is the source of the information that
is transduced, albeit noisily, by the price system.

I suspect that some of the objections Michael has may be terminological,
he may be designating with the word value, what I term exchange value.

>Michael W.
>Would just like to point out that this seems to me to be contrary to Marx's
>dialectical method. The notion that value ' is an underlying reality that
>survives changes in the form of social organisation of labour' has of course
>appeared in Paul's posts before, in his teleological arguments about embodied
>labour value magnitudes forming the basis for socialist planning . If we
>understand, as I and othe value-form theorists do, value to be the specifically
>bourgeois form of social valuation of human creative activity and its products,
>then it is incomprehensible to use the same value-system to grasp some yet
to be
>realised socialist utopia, and actually existing capitalism. Not only needs and
>wants, but the form of their articulation with creative activity are all
>epochally specific. The 'underlying' metaphor seems to me to be completely
>misleading too. First, the ahistorical tendencies in Paul's method (what I
>call naturalistic Marxist economics) are again evident in the notion of the
>sub-structure underlying the capitalist system, and some socialist system which
>Paul prophesises is coming. Secondly, it goes with Paul's naturalistic
>tendencies: the value-system is a sub-structure analogous to the molecular,
>atomic and sub-atomic substructures of physical objects. But for me value is
>constituted by the market reproduced system - any 'underlying' sub-structure is
>pure speculation.
>I profoundly disagree with Paul's apparent method (although his specific
work -
>for example on the empirical correlation of vertically integrated labour times
>and money prices - is intriguing). But are we dealing here with
>world-views, or can Paul and I fruitfully discuss these methodological matters.
>Can anyone else on the list offer some assistance?
>Comradely greetings
>Michael W.
Paul Cockshott