[OPE-L:2691] Re: More on abstract labour

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Sat, 20 Jul 1996 18:25:30 -0700 (PDT)

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> The whole sense
>of Marx's analysis of value production is that labor is made abstract through
>the process of production itself and it is these exploitative, oppressive
>relations at the point of production which must be abolished by freely
>associated workers.

This is very questionable, the concept of abstract labour is logically
prior to the analysis of capitalist production. It occurs in the chapter
on the commodity, before capitalist production is examined.

> On the history of economic thought of this issue: the "Marxist"
>orthodoxy prior to 1943 was that value was not operative in a socialist
>society (see the Outline of Political Economy texts by Leontiev). In 1943
>an article "On the Teaching of Political Economy..." appeared in Russian
>which was translated and commented on by Raya Dunayevskaya in a 1944 issue of
>the American Economic Review. Oscar Lange, Leo Rogin, and Paul Baran debated
>against Dunayevskaya's contention that this marked a revision in Marxist
>teaching of political economy or in some cases they argued the revision was a
>good idea. One of Dunayevskaya's main contentions was that the concept of
>Value was inseparable from the production of surplus value in Marx's analysis
>and to make Value transhistorical and apply it to a socialist society was to
>justify continuing exploitation of labor.

This seems to be a highly abreviated history of the role of abstract
labour time in socialist economic calculation. The idea
originated at least a century earlier with Owen, and, insofar as Marx and
Engels wrote on socialist economic calculation they either explicitly
endorsed Owens views,
<< ON this point I will only say that Owen's `labour money' , for
instance is no more `money' than is a theatre ticket. Owen presupposes
directly socialised labour, a form of production diametrically opposed
to the production of commodities. The certificate of labour is merely
evidence of the part taken by the individual in the common labour,
and to his claim to a certain portion of the consumption. But Owen never
made the mistake of presupposing the production of commodities, while,
at the same time juggling with money, trying to circumvent the
necessary conditions of that form of production.>> Capital 1, 188.

or in well known passages in Anti-Duhring and Critique of the Gotha
program, put forward the idea that socialist economic calculation would
be based on abstract labour without reference to Owen. Marx's presentation
of the 'lower phase of communism' in the critique, is the pure milk of

If you are going to put forward the idea that abstract labour is irrelevant
to socialism, you will have to engage with Owenism and the Owenist roots
of Marxism.

> Because abstract labor is the
>substance of value, and value categories imply surplus value production, the
>existence of abstract labor in a "socialist society" would also mean
>exploitation continued in so-called "socialism."

If by exploitation you mean the extraction of surplus labour then
of course socialism will be characterised by exploitation. If you mean
the involuntary extraction of abstract labour, then it depends
upon how democratic the political superstructure is.

But this does bring a focus onto a very important point, the mode of
extraction of surplus labour under a communist mode of production. If we
take seriously Marx's proposition that the modes of production are
distinguished by the specific form of extraction of surplus labour that
they have, then we must ask what the specific mode of extraction
of surplus labour under communism is.

>What Paul and
>Allin seem to be advocating is a form of state capitalism.

I am of course an advocate of state capitalism when it is a question
of contrasting state capitalism to private capitalism, since the former
provides a better transitional form for communism.

That is just orthodox Leninism.

But in discussing the role of abstract
labour time in economic calculation, we are considering communist
production, the abolition of money and its replacement with units
of account that are `no more money than theatre tickets are'.
Paul Cockshott