[OPE-L:2706] Re: Sources on abstract labour

Wed, 24 Jul 1996 09:41:28 -0700 (PDT)

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I'm in basic agreement with Duncan's comments in Post 2701. In my last
post I did provide a source for the "extreme" position on the "historical
transformation problem" that Ted (and perhaps Michael W. and others) seem
to be espousing. This is John Weeks' book "Capital and Exploitation"
(Princeton U. Press, 1981). There Weeks argues that not only abstract
labor but the commodity form itself are unique to capitalism: "To treat
the exchange of of products in precapitalist societies as evidence of
commodity production is to presuppose the underlying social relations of
the most developed form of exchange, particularly the monetization of the
means of production" (p.36). In an end note in my book "Invisible Leviathan"
(U. of Toronto Press, 1994), I point out that: "Weeks insists that value
relations must always and everywhere be associated with the "law of
socially necessary labor time" and the "law of the tendency of the rate
of profit to equalize." If this is so, however, the historical origins of
capitalist commidty production becomes a complete mystery [as Mandel
notes in his Introduction to Capital I, 1977].
"Few value theorists, even neo-orthodox [value-form] theorists, share
Weeks's extreme view. Rubin would certainly disagree: 'We can say:
labour-value (or commodity) is a historical 'prius' in relation to
production price (or capital). It existed in rudimentary form before
capitalism, and only the development of the commodity economy prepared
the basis for the emergence of the capitalist economy. But labour-value
[and by extension, abstract labor in the value-theoretic sense -- MS]
in its developed form exists only in capitalism' (Rubin 1973: 256).
This point is further extended by Ben Fine: 'Each commodity-producing
society has a set of relations of production which determine both the
conditions under which value is formed (what sort of value is produced)
and the conditions which lead to a divergence of market price from
value' (Ben Fine, "Introduction" to "The Value Dimension" , London:
Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986, p.149). See also Marx (Capital I,
Vintage, 1977: 1059-60)." (Invisible Leviathan: The Marxist Critique of
Market Despotism Beyond Postmodenrism, 1994, p. 244, note 1 for Chapetr 2).

Like Fine and Rubin, it seems that Duncan and I are staking out a middle
position between an essentially neo-Ricardian conception of "abstract labor"
(note: I am not saying that Ricardo himself employed the concept) and a
conception associated with some strains of value-form theory. I don't
have Fine's (ed.) "The Value Dimension" with me, but as I recall there
are a number of interesting articles in that volume that touch on the
thorny question of the "historical transformation problem."

Comradely greetings,

Murray Smith