[OPE-L:2824] Re: mattick and abstract labour

rakesh bhandari (djones@uclink.berkeley.edu)
Sat, 17 Aug 1996 10:19:01 -0700 (PDT)

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Paul C writes:

>What do you mean by this?
>1. that all kinds of labour power (not labour) are for sale?
>2. that all kinds of products of labour are for sale?
>In neither case is it very precise to talk about labour "taking the
>value form".
>In any case I am still looking for someone who, in print, has systematically
>argued that abstract labour only exists under capitalism. Mattick, as you
>conceed, does not argue this in full blooded form.
>Paul Cockshott

As *Marx and Keynes* is of course mainly an analysis of the mixed economy,
it is not surprising that Mattick's analysis at the categorial level is not
that well-developed. At this level, his most important work is probably the
first few chapters of *Marxism: last refuge of the bourgeoisie*.

In the chapter here under discussion, I think Mattick is pointing to how
the bourgeois economy itself grew out of the physiocratic and mercantalist
fetishization of only certain types of labor as value producing (now, as
Moishe Postone develops in dense argumentation, we simply fetishize value
producing labor, though it has become anachronistic, this being--he
argues--the fundamental fetish of bourgeois society).

As value and surplus value can be produced through a multiciplity of
concrete activities, one could argue that abstract labor has become a
practical fact.

Yet here is another twist to the argument. As Marx writes (I have been
pointed to this interpretation by Paul Mattick, jr in an unpublished
paper): "the individual man who is absolutely available for the different
kinds of labor required of him; the partially developed individual, who is
merely the bearer of one specialized function, must be replaced by the
totally developed individual, for whom the different social functions are
different modes of activity he takes up in turn." (Capital vol I, Penguin,
pp. 617-18).

Paul goes on to write" The worker is stripped of that individuality that
defined him or her as the master of some particular trade; instead we have
the worker as living abstract labor power, able to play a role in a variety
of areas of production." So for the majority of humankind, abstract labor
becomes a practical fact the more capital develops.

Lastly, I did mention several works other than Mattick's: Wm J Blake (who
argues that labor only produces value in determinate relations and insists
upon the distinction between the classical labor theory of value and
Marx's abstract labor theory of value), Patrick Murray (who develops the
concept of category mistake to understand how historically determinate
abstractions are confused for transhistoric ones), Tony Smith (who argues
that abstract labor is specific to and specifies a determinate form of
sociality--so, Tony, is Marx's dialectic historical as well as
epistemological?), and Moishe Postone (who argues labor plays the unique
function of social meditation in bourgeois society, referring to the labor
then which plays this function as abstract).