[OPE-L:2718] Paul C on estimation of abstract labor

Thu, 25 Jul 1996 14:37:43 -0700 (PDT)

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The following post sent by Paul on the 19th wasn't posted for some reason
only known to listserv. -- Jerry

Date: Fri, 19 Jul 1996 02:26:56 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: [OPE-L:2676] Re: estimation of abstract labor

"Between the dream and reality first you must touch the hard
hard ground." Lou Reed

"All is maya maya maya" Robin Williams

Mistorical materialists have to distinguish between the reality of
production and the ideological forms in which it is experienced.
In labour one is forced to touch the hard hard ground even if the
product of your labour then enters a world of maya.

>I feel that we have to distinguish between the history of
>an idea and the history of what the idea describes.
>Michael W.
>This is very suggestive of our differences. Of course we CAN make that
>distinction, and no doubt there are epistemological purposes for which it might
>be helpful. But I do not see that 'we have to'. I do think that abstracting
>the unity of an idea and its referent is highly conducive to Paul's position.
>But I think by doing so we lose the dynamic of human life. The productive
>interaction between humankind and nature ('work' for short) is what people in a
>particular epoch, intersubjectively, think it is. It is in accordance with
>systemic idea that people interact with nature, with each other and with their
>social context, and thereby reproduce and transform their 'world'. Of
course, in
>as much as they conflict with laws of nature, they may be forced to re-think.
>But humans are social as well as natural beings. And, IMHO, Marx was concerned
>with their social nature, about which there appear to be no laws on a par with
>natural laws.

Work is not 'what people think it is', not intersubjectivity,
but intercourse with reality. Working, nature binds us by its
dictates; we are 'material girls living in a material world'.

To work, we form conceptions of our acts. Our conceptions
may be partial, illusory, yet adequate. But the cunning of the
world hides behind our illusions. When our efforts extend beyond
the adequacy of our dreams, the world teaches us hard lessons:
look on the bent pyramid at Medum, the piers of the first Tay
bridge, the dance of the Taccoma Narrows bridge, and tremble.

As we uncover nature's cunning, so grows our power. The
breakthough of historical materialism was to reveal
a law governed social world beyond our illusions, which,
once understood, allows social reality too to be worked on.
This distinguishing feature of scientific socialism is,
I believe, the real justification for being interested in
historical materialism.

>It seems plausible that for the concept of labour time to become
>the modern one, it would have needed both the ready availablility
>of clocks and the habit of hiring workers by the hour or the
>day. Whilst the hiring of labour is a very ancient institution,
>at least for seasonal agricultural work, the invention of the
>clock and the ability to precisely time the working day would have
>enabled the concept to be made more precise.
>Michael W.
>The narrow focus on two innovations, one social-insitutional and one
>technological, needed for the emergence of abstract labour betrays Paul's
>different, perhaps physically and biologically determinist, approach. It
>neglects what I perceive to be the far more significant, social conditions for
>the emergence and development of abstract labour: the emergence of the
>consciousness of the individual self separated from the social group; the
>separation of 'consumption' from 'production'; the development of a social
>surplus; the separation of work and liesure; the extensive social division of
>labour; the separation of workers from the means of production;

The above all well pre-dated the rise of capitalism.

>the emergence of
>a social mechannism enforcing 'economising';

It did not take the bourgeoisie to invent the economisation of effort.
The history of tools reflects the accumulated efforts of working people
over thousands of years to economise on their labour.

>the tendential universalisation of
>generalised commodity production and exchange, etc, etc.

The above is relevant if one is considering the generalisated representation
of labour's products as money. But this, if anything, tends to hide abstract
labour, requiring a definite work of discovery by 18th century economists to
reveal labour hiding behind the money.

>Michael W:
>The need to
>coordinate collective labour projects is not a sufficient, and probably not
>a necessary condition of the emergence of abstract labour. The coordination
>could well have been - and given the lack of a social structure providing the
>systematic incentives, sanctions and ability to do otherwise, almost certainly
>was - one of the coordination of specific work, by specific persons, in
>accordance with social tradition.

Tradition will work so long as society does the same thing each year. As
soon as it engages on new large collective projects economic calculation
becomes necessary, and with it the development of arithmetic. Remember that
the monuments of Egypt were build by free wage labourers not slaves.

>It is people and their time. So long as they are in one place doing one
>thing they are not doing something else. Abstract social labour time
>is what is conserved over the possible distributions (assuming population
>is constant). This is true whatever the society one is dealing with.
>Michael W:
>This is a very clear statement of the concept of abstract labour which neglects
>the crucial social determinants of the form which this human capacity takes in
>different epochs. The physics-envy metaphor of 'conservation' is also
>of the nature of our disagreement. Since abstract labour does not emerge before
>the coming about of capitalism, it cannot be conserved in earlier societies.
>What you (like the Sraffians) are referring to is some kind of outer
>physical/technological constraint on human potential, which could not be
>expressed (even in principle) quantitatively, because it involves summing over
>disparate objects: different and changing kinds, intensities and productivities
>of human productive activity.

Do you deny that it is possible to construct a manpower budget for a
Paul Cockshott