[OPE-L:2727] Re: More on abstract labour

andrew kliman (Andrew_Kliman@msn.com)
Fri, 26 Jul 1996 11:42:34 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

A reply to Allin's ope-l 2724:

I had written:
> Abstract labor as Marx understands it is the opposite of "directly
> labour." The amount of one's labor-time that "counts" as abstract labor is

> only the amount socially necessary. It does not directly, immediately,
> 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...

Allin responded: "This would seem to reduce the concept of the "direct
socialization of
labour" to a case of "I'm OK, you're OK"."

Andrew: Huh?

Allin: "Marx's point re. Owen is that Owen is talking about a planned
economy, in which there are
definite social mechanisms for ensuring that (a) labour-time is expended in
socially useful rather than wasteful/redundant activities and (b) that
individuals work up to reasonable norms of
productivity -- mechanisms *other than* those of the market. Given the
existence of such mechanisms (but not otherwise), it is OK to take the actual
hours worked by an individual as so many hours of "social" labour."

Andrew: First, it is impossible to measure individual productivity directly,
in *physical* terms instead of value terms, because of the collective nature
of much work, because of the delay between input and output, and because what
"output" is is often multifacted and/or ambiguous. So although there can be
non-"market" mechanisms for ensuring "reasonable" pumping out of surplus-labor
from the individual worker, such as piece-rates, there can be no non-value

Second, Marx's view was quite clear, esp. in the CGP, that when society is
just emerging from capitalism, a worker would be compensated proportionately
to the amount of time---individual labor---s/he works. This implies equal
compensation for unequal productivity.

Otherwise the same "old crap" will immediately return.

Third, Allin gets to part of what makes Marx's view different from labor-money
schemes, namely, that a wholly different mode and relations of production will
be needed to make labor solely concrete instead of abstract (or, if you like,
count directly instead of thru and abstract mediator). But in addition to the
problems with his concept of productivity, Allin avoids the question of the
NATURE OF WORK. Under present labor processes and workplace institutions, I
and almost everyone would much rather be a college professor than a coal
miner. Will coalmining cease in the new society? If not, and if the
material/social relations of coal production aren't *fundamentally
revolutionized*, why would anyone voluntarily go into the mines in the new
society, where presumably 'it is OK to take the actual hours worked by an
individual as so many hours of "social" labour,' whether expended in the
classroom (or even better, the seminar room or faculty lounge) or down in the
shafts, and presumably be compensated equally for equal hours?

How, then, to ensure that the free-rider problem doesn't overwhelm society,
precisely on this basis, instead of on the basis of economic or extra-economic
compulsion? That is the whole question. It will surely be a difficult
problem, but if it isn't addressed precisely on this basis, the old crap will
re-emerge. The 3 keys, I think, are (a) the methods and purposes of
production, and the role of the individual worker within production, will have
to immediately be reorganized so fundamentally that people are not alienated
from their work, and so want to do it rather than want to shirk it, (b)
rotation and minimization of tasks deemed unpleasant but still necessary (if
any), and (c) active promotion of a cooperative outlook.

Andrew Kliman