[OPE-L:2698] Re: More on abstract labour

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Sat, 20 Jul 1996 18:25:30 -0700 (PDT)

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A reply to Paul C.'s ope-l 2691:

First, I'm a bit bemused that Paul is engaging in this "scholastic" exercise
of discussing what Marx wrote and meant.

Second, that "abstract labor" is discussed in _Capital_ before (is "logically
prior to") the analysis of capitalist production is a red herring. All it
suggest is that "abstract labor" as a category is needed to understand
capitalist production, not that abstract labor precedes capitalist production
or is separable from it.

Marx was quite clear that "This division of the product of labour into a
useful thing and a thing possessing value appears *in practice* only when
exchange has already acquired a sufficient extension and importance to allow
useful things to be *produced for the purpose of being exchanged*, so that
their character as *values* has already to be taken into consideration *during
production.* From *this* moment on, the labour of the individual producer
acquires a *twofold social character*."

This is from Ch. 1 of Vol. I (p. 266 Vintage, my emphases), which is
"logically prior to" capitalist production. Note the inseparability in Marx's
view between abstract labor and value, and not only value, but value

Third, the quote from Marx on Owen says the opposite of what Paul wants it to
say. Marx writes: "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."

Abstract labor as Marx understands it is the opposite of "directly socialised
labour." The amount of one's labor-time that "counts" as abstract labor is
only the amount socially necessary. It does not directly, immediately, count
as labor. Marx's point is that Owen's labor money presupposes that society
recognizes all the workers as immediately equal, such that an hour of one's
work counts as equal to an hour of another's, irrespective of what the
Stalinists termed the "quality" of their labor (in the compensation formula
"payment according to quantity and quality of labor"). Moreover, it must be
noted that "quantity ... of labor" meant not-quantity-of-labor, but quantity
of output. Piece-wages, which Marx noted were the form of payment most
adequate to the capitalist mode of production-i.e., the extraction of
surplus-value--were rechristened as "socialist emulation."

Fourth, I know of NO passage in the _Critique of the Gotha Program_ that puts
forward "the idea that socialist economic calculation would be based on
abstract labour." Indeed, it puts forward the opposite:

"Within the collective society based on common ownership of the means of
production, the producers do not exchange their products; just as little does
the labour employed on the products appear here _as the value_ of these
products, as a material quality possessed by them, since now, in contrast to
capitalist society, individual labour no longer exists in an *indirect*
fashion but *directly* as a component part of the total labour.

... "the individual producer receives back from society-after the deductions
have been made--*exactly* what he gives to it. What he has given is his
*individual quantum* of labour.

... " principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange
of equivalents in commodity exchange only exists _on the average_ and not in
the individual case."

Yet Marx emphasizes that even this is a "bourgeois limitation" applicable only
to the "first phase of communist society ... when it has just emerged ... from
capitalist society." The true communist principle of distribution, he says,
occurs in "a higher phase of communist society ... From each according to his
abilities, to each according to his needs!"

(Coll. Works 24, pp. 85-87, only starred emphases added).

In these paragraphs we have the same opposition which I noted with respect to
Marx's view of Owen's labor money. Moreover, payment even according to the
immediate amount of work one does was certainly no principle of communism for
Marx, but a bourgeois defect.

Fifth, although Engels' views are not relevant when we are discussing what
Marx thought and wrote, Engels happened to share Marx's views on this matter.
As far as I know, there is no direct reference in _Anti-Duehring_ to "abstract
labor," but this text, too, argues that what distinguishes value production is
that the individual's work doesn't count as such; see especially Part II, ch.
VI, "Simple and Compound Labour." Also, Part III, Ch. IV (pp. 294-95, Coll.
Works, Vol. 25):

Under socialism, "the labour of each individual, however varied its
specifically useful character may be, becomes at the start[,] and directly[,]
social labour. ... society will not assign values to the products. People
will be able to manage everything very simply, without the intervention of
[the] much-vaunted 'value.' ... The value form of products therefore already
contains in embryo the whole capitalist form of production, the antagonism
between capitalists and wage-workers, the industrial reserve army, crises."

I would like to know if Paul (and other relative value theorists) can make any
sense of the last sentence especially. Mull it over, and then re-examine what
Ted wrote and Paul's reply:

> 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.

No, I'm pretty sure that Ted (like Engels and Marx) understands the category
of value as containing in embryo all the contradictions of capitalist society.
So I suspect he was not wrongly equating "labor" and "value," but meant
exactly what he wrote: "value categories imply surplus value production."
Getting rid of capitalist exploitation requires getting rid of the value form
of the products of labor.

Sixth, Paul also acknowledges that Ted was correct in characterizing him as an
advocate 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. "

The problem, Paul, is that reality has moved on. Lenin didn't have Stalimism
to overcome as the new form of the class enemy-though he began to see what was
coming; we do. It is a tired, formalist argument to say that state capitalism
is a better transitional for for communism (in Marx's sense of "The free
development of each will be the condition for the free development of all").
The opposite is the case. State-capitalism, falsely calling itself
"communism," has SET BACK by untold decades the struggle for free human
relations by turning "socialism" and "communism" into swear words among the
common people, precisely because of what it did and did not do. Not many
people are going to be willing again to put their lives on the line unless
they are convinced that the new society will not again turn into its opposite.

That is what we need to be discussing.

Seventh: forgetting about who said what and all the definitions for the
moment, the concrete thing to recognize is that abstract labor-time, i.e.,
production according to socially necessary labor-time, sucks. If that isn't
the case, how come we and anyone else able to do so flees the factory and into
academia? To produce the most in the least time possible is not human, not
humanly rational, not necessary, not a transhistorical goal of all societies.
Neither is allocating members of the society to those tasks in which they have
a comparative advantage. It doesn't matter in the least how "democratic" the
political superstructure is, the forms of property and distribution, and so
on. This is what must be abolished, and new, fulfilling, human, work
relations must be established that make work not a mere means of living but
the prime necessity of life. If one wants to discuss rational economic
calculation, one must first answer: "rational for what?" Value
self-expansion? Or free human self-development? There is no suprahistorical
, classless, rationality.

First things first. And the first thing is to be critical of all the

Andrew Kliman