[OPE-L:2766] Social labour vs socially necessary labour

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Tue, 30 Jul 1996 15:39:36 -0700 (PDT)

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>Paul C:
>What I am concerned to show was that:
>1. Socially necessary labour time is an objective underlying fact about
> socialized production whether or not it is capitalist.
>Michael W:
>We disagree on this - or perhaps on its import. Of course human productive
>potential has been allocated in a variety of different more or less conscious
>ways throughout history. But, IMO, this has been too intermittent, fragmented,
>unsystematic and partial to deserve the adjective 'socialized', until the
>development of capitalism. It is only then that a near-universal structure of
>sanctions and incentives imposes the imperative to economize in the use of
>resources in general; and it is only because of the tendential commodification
>of labour-power that labour times are incorporated in this economization.

The concept of social labour is distinct from that of socially necessary
labour. Labour is social if the product is consumed by somebody other than
the immediate producer - if it is labour for the benefit of others.
By socialized production I meant production in a social formation with
an organised division of labour where a significant part of the products
are consumed by those other than their immediate producers.

When talking about social labour I am opposing it to private labour.

Socially necessary labour as a concept relates to the possible waste
of labour, by its inefficient use given the standards of the society
in question. Mike focuses on how effective the mechanisms are in different
societies for enforcing the expenditure of no more than what is socially

This is a valid issue, but it is distinct from that of whether production
is socialized of private.

Lets look at Mikes point about whether there is an imperative to economise
labour time in pre-capitalist societies, or more generally, whether this
imperative is weaker in pre-capitalist societies.

The relevance of socially necessary labour time as an explanation of
relative prices in pre-capitalist societies would be significantly
undermined if it could be shown that the variation in labour
productivity within any given branch of production was higher in
pre-capitalist societies than it is today. I am not aware that there
is any evidence that this is true. Indeed I would think that the
opposite is the case, and that in pre-industrial societies, where
production is mainly handicraft production, there is an
effective uniformity of production techniques.

It should be recognised that even a relatively informal comparision
of relative labour costs, such as could occur prior to the payment of
labour by the hour, can provide a feedback mechanism causing the
law of value to operate. The adjustment process might be slower
than that occuring in a competitive capitalist economy, but given
that technological change was also much slower, it could still be
good enough to lead to an effective uniformity of production techniques.
The need to accurately and rapidly calculate labour costs only
becomes so pressing in the face of constant mechanical innovations.

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)