[OPE-L:2789] Re: Social labour vs socially necessary labour

rakesh bhandari (djones@uclink.berkeley.edu)
Fri, 2 Aug 1996 10:19:50 -0700 (PDT)

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In thinking about Paul C's juxtaposition of concepts in the header to this
post, I asked myself yet again what is the significance of Marx's claim in
that famous letter to Kugelmann that in a class divided system of
production for private profit it must be through exchange value that the
collective or social labor upon which society is dependent must be
organized? Does this not suggest that value of a commodity can be nothing
other than the quanta of *social labor time* required for its production
in the specific proportion necessary for the reproduction of society, not
simply the individual labor time that happened to go into its production?

(While this may be the value of a commodity--Marx has a social labor theory
of value, I would argue--it is of course possible the price form in and
through which this value is discovered and expressed tends systematically
towards misrepresentation; that is, the law of value may not be the law of
exchange value, as Marx makes clear from vol I of Capital.)

Another way of looking at this question: why can't time chits simply
serve as the necessary mediation between private labor and social labor;
also why did Marx argue that in *Critique of the Gotha Programme* that
one's relation to social labor should not be determined by the value of
one's labor anyway? (In the chapter "Value and Socialism" in *Marx and
Keynes* Mattick takes up these questions with characteristic succinctness
and incisiveness, I believe.)

While I would agree that Marx's destructive critique requires a precise
quantitative theory of price in a way developed by Carchedi, I think that
Marx is initally concerned with an analysis of the determinate forms of a
historically specific society--in particular the value form, not the
magnitude of value. That is, why the products of labor in the determinate
social relations of bourgeois society must (and can only) express their
*value* in the *use value* of another or actually singular commodity. This
is absurd, yet it is socially valid.

"When I state that coats or boots stand in a relation to linen, because it
is the universal incarnation of abstract human labour, the craziness of the
statements is self-evident. Nevertheless, when the producers of coats and
boots compare those articles with linen, or what is the same thing, with
gold and silver, as the universal equivalent, they express the relation
between their own private labour and the collective labour of society in
the same crazy form."

Most commentators have not delved into exactly what Marx finds crazy here
and how his consciousness of this craziness determines his relation to
bourgeois social life and the style in which he writes about that form of
life (exceptions would include Hiroshi Uchida, Marx's Grundrisse and
Hegel's Logic, ch 2; Robert Paul Wolff, Moneybags Must Be So Lucky; Patrick
Murray, Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge, section on the
'peculiarities of the equivalent form'; Hans Georg Backhaus in Open
Marxism, vol I, ed. W Bonefeld; Cyril Smith, Marx at the Millenium; Paul
Mattick, Jr. "Theory as Critique").