[OPE-L:2817] Re: Social labour vs socially necessary labour

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Sat, 10 Aug 1996 12:23:57 -0700 (PDT)

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>However, the concept of socially necessary labor is specific to capital.
>Actually strike that. That the social necessity of labor can only be
>revealed by the expression of a commodity's value in the use value of
>another commodity is other than being madness--historically specific. That
>is, only under capitalism do products of labor generally take the commodity
>Now we have the problem of the nature of this labor--the product of which
>takes the value form and, in doing so, produces not only a use value but
>also a potential and indeed the only mediation between private labor and
>social labor. That the commodity must serve as such mediation for the
>private producer to social labor follows from the fact that Paul has
>emphasized: under bourgeois relations the products of labor are not
>intended for private consumption, they are rather social use values.
> I am not sure however whether we agree this labor is historically
>specific. This is where we may disagree. In Theories of Surplus Value Marx
>faults Ricardo for only determining the relative values or exchange values
>or commodities by the quantity of labor while failing to examine the
>peculiar characteristic of labor that creates exchange values...the nature
>of this labor.

Paul C:
I would say that exchange value is a historically specific form of
representation of socially necessary labour time, but that it is a
highly restrictive form of representation which is only capable of
representing a portion of the total labour time of society.

Whilst the basis of all exchange value is the representation of
socially necessary labour, not all socially necessary labour has
to be represented as exchange value. If fail to recognise this
we make an analogous error to Ricardo and find ourselves only able
to see that labour which produces commodities, we come to view the
world through historically specific blinkers. Then the labour of
parents looking after children, or of nurses in a system of socialised
medecine becomes invisible, not part of the economy.

>Another note on the idea of value as socially necessary labor time. We
>know that this means that the labor time of the individual producer only
>counts as that of normal productivity for the industry. But as Mattick jr
>has argued, there is another restriction as well. Once noted, it becomes
>clear why the value which is (mis-)represented through exchange value is
>not simply a representation of socially necessary labor time but more
>specifically labor time under the command of capital. Or as he puts it,
>"As value production is thus the organizational principle of production
>specific to capitalism, values are defined for products that are exchanged
>as products of capitals, not just as products of 'social labor.'"
>What then is this second determination of the concept of socially necessary
>labor time: "The production of goods that cannot be sold at a satisfactory
>rate of profit will be discontinued. Supply-demand equilibrium, therefore,
>must be understood as a result of profit-maximization: capital stops
>migrating between spheres of industry when no capital can increase its rate
>of profit by moving. 'Value,' thus refers to the allocation of labor time
>that would obtain if all capitals were to receive profit at the same rate."

I think that this passage from Mattick involves an unnecessary confusion
between the concepts of value and price of production.

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