[OPE-L:2658] Re: estimation of abstract labor

Allin Cottrell (cottrell@wfu.edu)
Tue, 16 Jul 1996 10:55:38 -0700 (PDT)

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In response to Duncan on Paul's discussion of abstract labor:

> ... I think it is unwise to use the technical Marxist terms
> "abstract, social labor" for [the measurement of labor-times in
> pre-capitalist societies]. I think Marx reserved the
> term "abstract" labor for labor expended in a commodity producing society:
> what makes it "abstract" is that the product is exchanged for money, not
> that it represents some kind of "lowest common denominator" of labor (I
> think Marx used the term "simple" labor to represent the reduction of
> skilled labor to a common denominator, following Ricardo). Marx reserves
> the term "social" labor for labor expended as part of the social division
> of labor supported by commodity exchange. Now the labor of the Roman
> legions in constructing aqueducts and roads was in a common sense way
> "social", but I don't think Marx would have used the term in this way.

Marx's remarks in his "Notes on Wagner" seem to me consistent with
Paul's usage. For instance:

"[In the] dual existence of the commodity is reflected the two-fold
character of the labour which produced it -- of useful labour i.e.
the concrete Modi of labouring, producing use-values, and of abstract
labour, labour as the expenditure of labour power, regardless in
what "useful" manner it is expended..."

and particularly:

"[T]he 'value' of the commodity only expresses in a historically
developed form something which equally existed in all other
historical forms of society, even if in a different form: namely,
the social character of labour insofar as it exists as the
expenditure of 'social' labour power."

Allin Cottrell