[OPE-L:2659] Re: estimation of abstract labor

Duncan K Foley (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Tue, 16 Jul 1996 13:07:57 -0700 (PDT)

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On Tue, 16 Jul 1996, Allin Cottrell wrote:

> 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

This is a persuasive citation, but I don't think it quite jibes with what
Marx says in Capital itself. If the interpretations don't appeal, I don't
suppose there's anything stopping everybody from using these terms any way
they want.