[OPE-L:5083] Re: question

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Tue, 20 May 1997 06:26:13 -0700 (PDT)

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Ajit wrote in [OPE-L:5082]:

> I think any kind of work, no matter how simple or difficult it is, is
> concrete labor. Some literary Marxist scholars like Lukacs tried to suggest
> that capitalist factory production has reduced concrete labor to abstract
> labor in its concrete form.

I agree. Even if there is *some* sense to viewing the creation of
"abstract labour" in the production process as a historical process, the
labour performed by individuals in the capitalist labor process is
concrete labor.

> Most of what you say suggest to me
> that overall you agree with me that abstract labor is in the end nothing but
> unskilled labor, and the theoretical problem is the problem of reduction of
> skilled to unskilled labor.

That's one problem ... but I was thinking of another issue when I wrote
the post.

One point I was trying to make is that while labour can be viewed as
abstract to the extent that labour-power is exchanged against money and
that, within the context of "modern industry", the overwhelming amount of
workers hired have the physical (physiological) _capacity_ to perform
different operations within the labor process, the very nature of the
production process requires that the labour performed by individuals is
concrete rather than abstract.

Consider an assembly line. To an untrained observer, it might appear that
all of the unskilled workers on that line are performing the same labor.
This, however, is an illusion created by the assembly line itself, i.e.
since the speed of the line is necessarily the same for all workers, it is
assumed that the intensity of work (and other characteristics associated
with different operations) are also the same. Yet, the division of labor
associated with the assembly line does not, by itself, create an equal
intensity of labor. This is a fact which is well-known to the workers
themselves, and as I argued previously, while the time required to perform
an "operation" (i.e. a series of tasks associated with a particular job)
is uniform (e.g. approximately 1 minute if the line speed is 60 cars/hr),
the amount of tasks, and the time required to perform those tasks,
allocated to individual workers varies significantly. Thus, workers tend
to view certain jobs as more "desirable" than others.

Another point I tried to make is that "stopwatches" and time-and-motion
studies can not, by themselves, create an equal intensity of work. This is
because workers have subjectivity and attempts to increase the intensity
of work through "speed-up" [NB: "speed-up" does not mean that the assembly
line itself is necessarily increased in speed; rather it generally means
that workers on that assembly line are "speeded-up" by being given _more_
tasks to perform in the _same_ amount of time) frequently meet with
resistance (sometimes successful, sometimes not) by workers.

The most fundamental question that the above raises in *my* mind is the
following: If abstract labour is the source of surplus value, yet the
labour performed in the production process is concrete labour, _who_
produces surplus value? I.e. if one takes the position that abstract
labour is a category created in production prior to exchange, then who
are these "abstract laborers"?

In other words, the position that the labour performed in production is
abstract reduces labor to homogeneous labor and workers to robots or
clones! Yet, this is absurd since one does not _completely_ check one's
individuality and will at the factory entrance before starting work.

On the other hand, if one maintains that it is the act of exchange of
labour-power for money that creates abstract labour, then the workers
themselves bring their individuality with them as they perform work. This
can lead to competition or solidarity among workers depending on the

In solidarity, Jerry